Archive for the ‘Design & Editorial’ Category
Why We Crave (and Deserve) Credit
Picture this: You’re in a staff meeting, and a colleague serves up the great idea you expressed during an earlier brainstorm as her own. You want so desperately to raise your hand and say, “Um, excuse me? That was MY idea.”
Think of inventors. Songwriters. Visual artists. WRITERS. Don’t you wish you would have thought of Post-Its®? Wrote “Jingle Bells?” Developed the storyline for the “Twilight” series? (That would be 3M, James Lord Pierpont, and Stephenie Meyer, respectively.) The medium for idea sharing may vary, but it all comes back to the creative process. When the result of that process generates a masterpiece, creators naturally want (and deserve) credit.
On Jan. 18, several major Internet sites blacked out their content for users in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and predictions were flying that another major blackout was planned for Jan. 23. The latter blackout didn’t pan out as predicted, but the Jan. 18 blackout made people pay attention to the issue. Seems a good time to revisit what’s both appropriate and required in giving credit in PR communications.
As you draft that brochure or conceive a campaign tagline, keep in mind that Plagiarism.org lists the following as conditions for committing plagiarism:
1) Turning in someone else’s work as your own
2) Copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
3) Failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
4) Giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
5) Changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
6) Copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not
Similarly, citing your work — and doing so completely — is the responsibility of all communicators. If your heart is where it should be (directing readers to the original source for more information), then there’s really no excuse for sloppy citations. Dig deep, look up the exact page online, do whatever is required so that you can feel good about what you’ve contributed to the process.
As someone who spends a lot of time working on the issue of electricity grid modernization, I get a number of trade publications every day. They love to cover (and we love to weigh in on) the power industry’s struggles to engage customers. Since most utilities are virtual monopolies, most have never really talked with their customers, much less asked them what they want or need. One of these trades, an online publication, covered the most recent study asking electricity customers what they think about upgrading the power grid. The subject line read “Consumers still don’t grok smart grid, though buy-in key: studies.”
[Insert sound of stereo needle screeching to a halt] Grok? In over 20 years working in communications and marketing, I have never run across that term. But it’s quite possible I missed something along the way, so I conducted a quick poll of my colleagues. Of 29 employees, eight thought they had seen the word before but only two — less than 10 percent — knew what it meant.
So you don’t have to Google it, the word originated in the 1961 Robert Heinlein novel Stranger in a Strange Land. In the book, it’s a Martian word! It has entered our vernacular and now is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish a rapport with.”
Whether the average customer will ever understand, much less “establish a rapport with,” the smart grid is material for another post. But the point here is that the publication used a word in its subject line that likely grabbed attention, but distracted from the larger message. I and others spent so much time looking it up and chuckling about the word choice that we never did read the article thoroughly — and the article was about communicating with customers! The ironies in this situation were stumbling over each other to present themselves.
The New York Times recently ran an article about words in our language that are better left unwritten. The list had originally been compiled by a certain New York magazine editor, and is thus quite subjective, but still a good rundown of words that are, as the writer called it, “phony baloney vocabulary.” Words such as authored, celeb and dubbed were listed. Both that list and the situation above spotlight the urge that writers sometimes feel to get fancy with language — and the folly in doing so. Writing should be greater than the sum of its parts. If you want your reader to “grok” you, avoid over-taxing his or her vocabulary. Otherwise the reader, whether dumbfounded or smug, will spend too much time thinking about you — and not enough time absorbing your message.
Surname Translation Can Challenge Cultural and Linguistic Competency
Have you noticed in the coverage about the protests in Libya that the name of the country’s leader is spelled differently depending on the news organization? I’ve seen his name reported as Muammar el-Qaddafi, Moammar Gadhafi, Muammar Qaddafi or Muammar Gaddafi. Are some reporters spelling his name incorrectly? If so, which is the correct spelling?
Slate recently posted an article exploring this issue. The answer? All of them are correct. According to Slate, each version is an acknowledged transliteration — changing letters or words from one alphabet into the corresponding letters or words from another alphabet — or Romanization — converting a language from another alphabet or a pictographic system into the Latin alphabet — of his Arabic name. However, the article did not answer an important question — which version is the most culturally and linguistically appropriate?
When communicating with audiences who speak a language other than English, it is critically important that translation extend beyond the alphabet. Culturally and linguistically competent communications takes into account both native language and culture, and is a key component to ensuring that a message is understood.
Languages based on alphabets or pictographic language systems, such as Arabic, Asian, Mediterranean and Eastern European, can present unique challenges when we attempt translation. Because these languages are written using characters that are vastly different from the Latin-based alphabet, adaptation may require the use of transliteration or Romanization for translating names and cultural terms. However, its important to test your adaptation and your messages with your audience to be sure that the transliteration does not affect the meaning. For example, how a name or word is spelled impacts how it is pronounced; pronunciations alone can confuse terms, such as Slate’s example regarding the spelling of Muslim.
Finally, Kathy Park wants to know why “Moslem” is considered an offensive spelling. The problem with spelling the Arabic word meaning “one who surrenders to God” as “Moslem” and not “Muslim” is that people end up pronouncing it mawslem, which is a different word that means “oppressor.”
When in doubt of how best to spell a name or word from a non-Latin alphabet language, create an informal focus group of your target multicultural audience for guidance. While you may receive differing opinions, you should be able to gather at least an informed recommendation to guide your spelling and provide the backup you need, if your language selection is questioned.
What Pantone Color Are You Wearing?
One of the first questions Oscar attendees are always asked by reporters as they stroll the red carpet is “who are you wearing?” As we do every year, my friends and I will gather this Sunday to watch E!’s Live from the Red Carpet at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards and find out who — and what — the stars are wearing. One of our favorite things to comment on is choice of color. “Why did she think she could pull off that color with her skin tone?” “Really, black again for her??”
Now that Pantone has revealed its 2011 Color of the Year — PANTONE 18-2120 Honeysuckle — I’ll be curious to see how it influences color trends on this year’s red carpet.
According to the folks at Pantone, Honeysuckle is “a dynamic reddish pink, … encouraging and uplifting. It elevates our psyche beyond escape, instilling the confidence, courage and spirit to meet the exhaustive challenges that have become part of everyday life.”
Since 2000, Pantone’s Color of the Year declarations have influenced several industries, including fashion, home and industrial design. Companies like Liz Claiborne, Apple and KitchenAid have hired Pantone to research, track and forecast color trends. Pantone’s 2010 color, turquoise, was seen across a wide range of products.
Fashiontrendsetter.com tells us that “Honeysuckle is guaranteed to produce a healthy glow when worn by both men and women.”
So, I’m left wondering a few things. Will men feel confident enough to include a splash of the pinkish hue as part of their look on the red carpet this year? Whose stylist will be on top of the latest color trend and outfit their client in the festive reddish pink? Will honeysuckle dominate the red carpet and be the subject of many post-Oscar articles, fashion blogs and water-cooler discussions?
As a long time graphic designer and lover of fashion, I will be paying close attention to which colors will be setting the trends for 2011, and which will appear as so last year.
A Year of InSites: A Focus Group of One
This guest blog post is from LeAnne DeFrancesco, Editorial Director for Vanguard Communications.
Ever been to an ugly sweater party? They seem to be sweeping the nation, inducing mostly laughter, but some uncomfortable situations as well. “Um, these are just my normal clothes,” I heard one party guest say this December, where he sported some reindeer on his zip-up as part of the Christmas theme. Remember the old adage about how one man’s trash is another man’s treasure? In this situation, one person’s “fashion tragedy” is another’s “fashion triumph.”
It got me thinking about how we weigh opinions in communications. In a profession filled with niche specialties — be it social marketing, media strategy or creative design — it’s easy to sell your opinions short when asked to respond to an idea or product that falls outside of your traditional area of expertise. This could be because when give your honest feedback, the folks on the receiving end want to know “why” you feel that way. In other words, can you back it up? To avoid having to provide research via an extensive literature review or focus group results, I often start by saying, “Well, this is just my opinion. Take it or leave it.” And that usually gets me off the hook.
Having that fresh perspective that exists outside of a particular realm of communications expertise can add tremendous value to an end-product. You don’t always have to justify the why. All opinions are valid and are based in something legitimate, whether it’s a previous experience, a memory of something somebody said long ago, or just personal instincts. You could be anticipating a potential audience response or recognizing a brand infraction that you can’t quite put your finger on. Products and strategy can only be helped by meaningful discussions among a variety of brains – be they “left” or “right.”
As long as you’re willing to live with the possibility that your feedback won’t be applied, or at least applied to the letter, I say, offer it up!
A Year of InSites: P.C. Language is Always P.F. (Person-First)
In a technology-driven world where face-to-face interaction is often limited and more communication is taking place digitally, it’s easy to lose sight of the person on the receiving end of our messages. As good communicators, it’s our job to take a careful look at each audience we are trying to reach and develop messages that are tailored to that audience’s beliefs, behaviors, and traditions. This is very important, as we have all been taught that no two audiences are the same. Generally, that is true and should be used as a rule of thumb. However, there is one case where that line of thinking isn’t necessarily accurate.
At the fundamental level, before we are all separated into “audiences,” we are people first. And as people first, we define who were are. With that in mind, the language we use as communicators should be person-first as well. This is especially true when talking about people with disabilities and/or health-related challenges, but can and should be applied across the board.
Using person-first language, you would say:
- a “person with a disability” rather than a “disabled person”;
- a “person who is hearing impaired” rather than a “deaf person”;
- a “person with schizophrenia” rather than a “schizophrenic”;
- a “person who is homeless” rather than a “homeless person”; and
- a “person with an alcohol addiction” rather than an “alcoholic.”
Person-first language places the focus on the person and not their disability or challenge. It shifts the focus away from the disability/challenge. It makes us think about the person as coping with a disability/challenge rather than being thought of only in terms of the disability/challenge. Ultimately, it enables each person to define who they are without being labeled and stigmatized.
Language Saves Lives
In this day of texting and emoticons, we communicators often mourn the demise of our beloved language. How can the beauty and importance of tiny little parts of speech like prepositions survive in a world too busy to bother with whole sentences?
Well, the importance of a preposition just got a new life in Virginia. In fact, you might even say a preposition can save lives.
Most of us stop our cars, however grudgingly, when a school bus turns on its red lights and pulls out its stop signs. But one Virginia man who whipped on past a school bus loading children was found “not guilty” by a Fairfax County Circuit judge.
Two little letters. The law says: “A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop, when approaching from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children.”
Did you catch it? Stop…any school bus. Not stop AT any school bus. The school bus was already stopped, so the man didn’t need to stop the school bus. He needed to stop AT or maybe even FOR the bus.
Virginia lawmakers say they won’t be able to edit the legislation until January, and most new laws won’t take effect until July.
Not such good news for students getting on to school buses. But a major victory for the importance of language.
Reminder: Switch Time Zone Abbreviations When Resetting Clocks
When you turn back your clocks because of the end of daylight saving time, remember to also switch your time zone abbreviations in your materials too.
During daylight saving time, time zone abbreviations replace the “S” for standard with the “D” for daylight saving time. For example, PST becomes PDT and CST becomes CDT.
But when time falls back and daylight saving time ends, AP Style dictates that the “D” disappears and is replaced by the “S”. So now, references to the Eastern time zone in press releases, invitations, announcements and/or websites should list it as EST instead of EDT.
But if you’re communicating with audiences in Arizona and Hawaii, use the standard time zone abbreviation. Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation) and Hawaii and the territories of Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa are the only places in the U.S. that do not observe daylight saving time. Federal law does not require any area to observe daylight saving time and these locales have opted out of an extra hour of sunlight. For more information about who observes daylight saving time domestically and internationally, check out this Infoplease article.
In keeping with our “switching” theme, don’t forget to use daylight saving time ending as a reminder to change the batteries for your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Like the switching of the time zone abbreviations, replacing batteries in these lifesaving devices should be an annual occurrence.
DNC and RNC Rebrands Create New Promises and Potential for Challenges
Rebranding is not a new concept in politics. We see political campaigns and candidates reinventing or rebranding themselves all the time. As soon as poll numbers start heading south, branding gurus appear and try to salvage the candidate’s political aspirations by changing the campaign’s look and feel, messaging and direction.
Today, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is hoping that their rebranding reveal will salvage their mid-term election hopes in November and keep the White House in 2012. At George Washington University, DNC chairman Tim Kaine revealed the party’s re-branded logo, tagline and website.
In his blog post announcing the new brand, Kaine stated:
Some may think: it’s just a logo—it’s just a brand. Well I don’t believe the Democratic Party is a logo or a brand—we are much more than that. We are Democrats. We create change that matters. Ours is a party of ideas and ideals, of policies and people, history and purpose.
So call it what you will—this new identity for our party captures the spirit that unites us all. Democrats—all of us—are working for the change that matters.
Whenever I hear about an organization rebranding, I flinch because so many organizations rebrand without a process. Developing organization names, logos and taglines should be a research-based process. Hopefully, the DNC and the Republican National Committee (RNC), who also launched a new look and feel earlier this year, surveyed their target audiences and used that intel to create a look and feel that would be appealing and meet the needs of current and potential supporters. If they didn’t, they may have spent a lot of money on a new brand that will offer little return on their donor’s investment.
What must we keep in mind when conducting the branding or rebranding process?
- A brand is a promise. It’s important that organizations and campaigns create brands that they can live up to the expectations of their key audiences.
- A brand is a combination of attributes, communicated through a name or symbol, that influences a thought process in the mind of an audience and creates value. Effective brands are memorable, communicate meaning and inspire action. However, a brand is more than a mere identifier of an organization.
- Branding is about internal communication as much as external communication. Engaging internal audiences, such as employees, board members and key stakeholders, as well as external target audiences, is an essential element for a successful branding effort.
- Brands must be founded on audience research. Organizations should discover their brand touchstones or six levels of meaning—an organization or campaign’s attributes, benefits, values, culture, personality and user—by interviewing or surveying their target audiences. Analysis of these findings will be the foundation for the logo design, tagline development and materials development, such as websites, print materials and even social media profiles.
After the November election results, we’ll know if both the DNC and RNC rebrand efforts fulfilled their new brand promise to supporters. If they missed a few branding steps in their process, negative feedback is sure to follow.
To learn more about branding, especially for non-profit organizations, watch the Progressive Communicators Washington DC (PCDC) webcast about branding for non-profit organizations with Vanguard’s Deanna Troust and Cyndi Fernandez. On September 23, PCDC will be discussing how to develop and manage a brand identity. You can register for the event on the group’s Eventbrite site.
Is Twitter Helping Millennials Destroy the English Language?
Earlier this year, Maria Enie discussed the impact of texting on the English language in this blog post. While I understand that texting and micro-blogging is part of an evolution of the English language, I am concerned that the informal texting language is becoming the English language for Millennials. This Ragan.com article discusses the negative impact that texting and tweeting can have on the English language, or as this article calls it “an erosion of the English language.”
A 2008 study by the Pew Research Center on “Writing, Technology and Teens” found that “nearly two-thirds of all teens use some informal styles from their text-based communications in their school assignments, a fact that should trouble most educators.” Do you talk to your friends the same way that you speak to your professors or your boss? You do if you bring your texting and tweeting language into papers, assignments and…gasp…cover letters or other business communication.
As a Millennial myself, I find it disheartening that my peers are bringing their texting and tweeting language into the classroom and workplace. Sure, none of us can remember a time without Internet and cell phones, but does that mean that we can no longer separate informal conversations from formal ones? According to the Ragan article:
There are growing signs that excessive use of direct messaging, especially Twitter, leads to an erosion of the English language. College professors are seeing LOL-speak, fractured grammar, informal acronyms and emoticons crop into college essays. Teachers are noticing more punctuation errors (especially apostrophe errors), spelling mistakes, and inconsistent capitalization usually found only in text messages and Twitter posts. More students are failing English exams due to a lack of basic grammar skills.
I find this disturbing because while the concise, micro-blogging style of writing may help the English language evolve, texting language becomes a problem if people are unable to differentiate tweeting from college essays or business communication. This is not just a problem for the public relations and communication world–all industries need employees that can write well.
My advice to college students and recent graduates is to always think about your audience. As PR professionals know, we have different messages and mediums for different audiences. When you are talking with friends it is okay to use the abbreviated texting and tweeting language. However, when communicating with a professor or business colleague, either in person or in writing, it is important to take on a more formal and traditional style of speaking and writing.
This is especially important when you are first entering the professional world, as many Millennials are, because you want your colleagues to take you seriously and you will spend (at least) the first few years of your career proving that you are capable of handling the tasks that are expected of you. However, you should also think about how you can use your knowledge of the micro-blogging language to your advantage when you enter the professional world. For example, you could demonstrate your concise (and grammatically correct!) writing skills honed on Twitter.