Writing and Editing Writing and Editing Writing and Editing Writing and Editing

Blogs Away!

Welcome to your section of our website.  Up to this very keystroke, I’ve never -- not once -- contributed to a blog, anywhere, or even to “your space,” and now here I am launching this interactive format because a few folks I respect urged me to create a spot on my site for musings and feedback.  So here ‘tis.  Enjoy.

My goal for this component of the site?  I believe site visitors would enjoy reading interesting, informative and entertaining comment on matters tied to words and writing, of course, but I won’t put restrictions on the content.  If observations regarding business, nonprofits, journalism, public relations or news of the day spark your plugs, fire away.  Ditto if you want to quarrel with or opine on thoughts I’ve posted.  Additionally, if you come across a terrific website related to words and language, please share it so we can all benefit.

To get started, I’ve dropped a few ruminations here that I hope will entertain and give thought to further reflection and perhaps even debate.  Moreover, I’ve provided links to a few sites that I believe are worthwhile for one or a variety of reasons.

Of course, I possess the golden hook.  We can make it as salacious as Red Sox versus Yankees, but let’s keep it clean so that I don’t have to show you what a terrific editor I really am!  :)

Thanks for stopping by … 

Lee Cooke

Wowzer Sites for Logophiles

No matter your skill level and aptitude, some talented soul out there has, in all probability, created a better mousetrap -- or at least a more entertaining one that’s chockfull of worthwhile information.  Below are a few of my favorites, focused, of course, on words, language and editing.  Obsessed with details as I am, I find them inspiring and enlightening. 

Note that I’ve not listed websites for consultants.  Polished Image’s stable of professional friends and peers stand ready to assist you.  Simply contact Polished Image and outline your goals, objectives and projects, and we’ll match up your desired focus and outcome with some of the best talent in the business world.  You won’t be disappointed.  

This blog’s purpose is to educate, not sell products or services.  It’s posted simply because I believe these are terrifically useful sites.  If you’ve got some favorites that could help others, send the URL to Polished Image and we’ll do a quick evaluation and (likely) add it to the list.  Thanks in advance.

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Common Errors in English -- From my perspective, a Doctorate in Words and English can be had with enough time spent on this incredibly detailed, award-winning site.  Sound boring?  You’ll be surprised how easily the site’s lists of words will hypnotically pull you in -- I promise that you will find yourself checking “just one more word.”  Amongst other features, it has a terrific list of reference sites.  It’s a wonderfully useful site that you’ll find yourself visiting time and again.

Welcome to Professor Gibson’s Wonderful World of Editing -- The introductory copy for this site (aka Making Words Work) says it best -- this site is a “ … warm and fuzzy electronic guide to good editing.”  From employing the correct word to using proper grammar, you’ll thank me for the reference … and it will become a bookmarked site for you, too.

Guide To Grammar and Style -- A bit irreverent and even blasphemous at times, but you have to embrace the professor’s straight-forward approach to suggestions that are likely to work and “have an effect on your audience.”  You’ll enjoy the analogues, the education and the journey.  There are some interesting links and lists herein also.  I’d really enjoy sitting in on this professor’s class!

One Word at a Time

I may later come to regret penning this rant, but one can only scrunch up one’s prudish nose so many times before blowing off some steam and expressing concern.

What’s bugging me is the disturbing trend toward poorly written communications.  As an employer, I was continually and sadly astonished to witness the poor caliber of writing skills that came across my desk and computer monitor, especially from the younger “now” generation.  Whether from applicants seeking to make a good impression, but doing just the opposite by butchering cover letters and resumes, or employees with seemingly so much on their plates that they couldn’t take a few seconds to utilize the spell-check function or proof their emails, methinks we’ve got a problem here in the work place and in society in general.  

But the problem goes much deeper than the actual botching of the English language.  What has me most concerned is our creeping acceptance of it.  It is one thing that the use of proper grammar, punctuation and spelling seem to more and more often resemble the scribbling of some sort of undecipherable code, especially since the advent of the Internet, email, instant messaging, blogging and text messaging.  It is quite another that we tolerate it.

Why do I use the term “creeping acceptance”?  Because with each typo that makes its way into a business letter and is deemed acceptable, with each misspelled word on the job application of an employee who is hired anyway, with each professional email that contains neither a proper greeting nor a proper salutation but is allowed to stand with impunity, with each grammatically flawed e-flier that is whipped out to audiences urging action, we offer our approval through our silence.

Yes, we live in a hurry-up-and-finish world.  We have deadlines, crunch times and obligations bearing down on us.  But how much time would it really take to stop and read that email before we hit the Send button?  How hard is it to use spell check?  What happened to the word “proofing”?  Somewhere along the way I fear we have overlooked the importance of words and the impression they have on others.  We only get one chance, as they say, to make a first impression.  So why would you allow yourself to send a business letter or email to a prospective employer, customer or client that has not been scrutinized and at least quasi-polished?  Or even to a member of your Board or your co-worker down the hall?

Here is my suggestion.  Take to heart the adage, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Starting today, renew that pride you felt as a grade-school student over a paper that was well written.  Start making painstakingly sure that any email, text message, instant message, business letter, even a thank-you note you write to your Aunt Hazel, contains the proper spelling, punctuation and grammar.  If you haven’t been doing this, if you’ve been guilty of negligence with your written emails, epistles and pitches, I believe once you start paying attention and stop allowing this to be acceptable, once you make a concerted effort to change your wayward writing habits, you will begin to experience a great sense of personal satisfaction.  I promise that it will make a difference on the recipient’s end, partly because the quality of your message is enhanced, but in part, also, because you will have elevated yourself from amongst the slackness in others’ communications.

If we all begin to take just these simple steps, we can change this trend from one of creeping acceptance of the slow death of decorum in writing to an inclination toward proud intolerance.  Let’s not leave a legacy of illiteracy for our children.  Parents and teachers -- without question, the noblest of professions -- can’t do it all.  Administrators, take time to instill pride in your employees’ writing efforts by gingerly and constructively pointing out less-than-sterling efforts that reflect on your company and the individual.  Let’s -- everyone -- look over our messages.  Together, we can change the future of the English language one word at a time.

The Writer as Myth

As referenced in the introductory blog post to this … well, blog … I’d not previously added “blogger” to my writing background.  Now I can assert “been there, done that.”  And you know what?  It’s not so difficult. 

In the course of three afternoons recently, I was surprised by the comparable reaction of four friends who, when I mentioned to them I was, indeed, prepping a few blogs, say to me, “Oh, I would love to do that, but I’m not a writer.”  I found that comparable feedback very odd.

Of course, now armed with my eons of experience on this subject, I told each of them that one doesn’t have to be a writer to blog.  As I see it, the only requirements of a good blogger are the ability to express oneself in a clear and concise manner, and the passion to discuss topics in which readers are interested.  However, the “I am not a writer” responses have prompted me to wonder about the myth so many of us seem to have about writers. 

As a society, we have always been fascinated by writers and held them in high esteem.  And that is as it should be.  Great writing has taught us, delighted and entertained us, kept us company, made us squeamish, beget tears, and even wrought great change.  Celebrated prose has introduced to us everything from muggles to “M” to Morrie.  But writers are not gods, and flowery words do not a writer make.  Read any good advice book on writing and the main thing you will learn is that it is the job of the writer to simply tell their story to the best of their ability, to share their emotions in a way that touches the reader.  Sure it takes talent to be able to do this, but you don’t have to be Ernest Hemingway or JK Rowling to get your message across.  Just tell your truth and tell it to the best of your ability.  (And check your work before hitting the Send key!)  And no, I am not inferring that anyone can be a writer, but by George (Orwell … or perhaps Will), anyone who cares to put forth the effort can be a blogger!

This leads me to wonder about something I wrote about in a previous post -- poor writing habits.  Could it be that one of the reasons time and care is not taken with writing is that people believe, because they aren’t real “writers,” that their words don’t matter?  If this is the case, then I am here to state that this is the furthest thing from the truth!  Words are the only way we, as humans, have of expressing ourselves.  They are a reflection of who we are.  And no matter how far advanced we become technologically, no matter how digital the world becomes, nothing will change that basic fact. 

Therefore, verily I say unto thee, shed the myth that writing is about flowery words, immortality or best sellers!  Whether business executive or blogger, consider thyself a “writer” in the purest sense of the word by putting your best writing foot forward!  Methinks that you’re probably a heckuva lot better than you believe you are. 

Want proof?  Get out of my website and pull up a “new” blank email page.  Think of someone you love.  Or perhaps someone to whom you have wanted to tell how important they are in your life.  Or even someone who has been long owed an apology.  Write a letter.  Just start it, Dear So-and-so … and let it flow.  Think about what your heart wants to say to that person.  Talk it out, but also type it out.  Go stream-of-consciousness.  Let it roll off your tongue, out of your mind and from your heart.  Don’t think “writing.”  Think of the message.  What you want to say to the person.  Keep hitting those keys.  And don’t stop until you end the letter with something akin to “I hope that you know how important you are to me and how much better a person I am because of you.  I just wanted you to know these feelings because, for some absurd reason or another, we don’t express ourselves honestly near often enough.  And it’s important that you know how I feel.”  And then type an appropriate closing for the circumstances and person. 

Now … go back and read what you’ve written.  That’s a blog or message doubtless well delivered and one, too, that will hit home for and be appreciated by the recipient.  Read it over again.  Then hit the spell-check function (the F7 key for you Word speed-key freaks).  Then proof it once or twice more.  That’s a great habit to get into -- not only will you likely find some words you will want to change, but you may find yourself adding more message.  Go for it.  But then be sure to spell-check, reread and proof it again. 

Congratulations.  You’ve penned your first novelette!  One for the ages, I bet, that will receive far better reviews than most writers receive for their first manuscripts.

Why Design Matters

You should see this guy work.  It’s inspiring.  Let’s keep this between us, but I’m extremely jealous of his talent.  While I articulate and “connect” in words, he enduringly and quickly bonds with the mind’s eye and who-knows-how-many-other senses when he unveils his work.  Pow!  With the speed of thought! 

My buddy is a graphic artist, a truly gifted visual communicator.

Don’t get me wrong.  Words can, indeed, convey the desired picture.  The inspired writing talent paints with a broad brush on the fabric of our consciousness, indelibly creating images in the mind, inspiring emotion, engagement and action.

As talented as they might be individually, the marketing writer, the PR practitioner and the ad man all have a dirty little secret.  The honest ones amongst us know that we can’t hold a candle to the truly gifted visual communicator in getting across a message.  It’s true!  And, Lordy, do we crave such a talent for our team!  After all, the graphic artist or designer is the one who literally controls that brush (or pen or computer program)!  For every wildly successful campaign or business initiative there is a creative artist behind the scenes helping put the oomph into the winning concept and the message.

Why are these talented professionals so important to your business canvas?  Simply put, a story can be made more compelling with strong visuals.

Look, we live in a highly visual society.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is we are victims of the very culture we have created.  Inside and outside of our homes, our capitalist culture squeezes us with the kind of pressure that turns to coal into diamonds.

Research indicates that every day each of us is bombarded with more than 3,000 advertising and marketing messages designed to inspire us to part with our hard-earned coin or do … something.  They tell us what to drink, where to eat, what to wear, how to communicate, where to put our money, how to be healthy (and easily lose those extra pounds) and, yes, even how to smell.  Amongst these thousands of intense, urgent messages, what truly sets one apart from the horde?

I humbly submit that the defining difference, for the writer and the visual artist, is The Story.

We all have a story to tell.  Your business certainly has story to tell.  You have to approach your promotional efforts by knowing that good stories breathe meaning into our otherwise mundane lives.  Clearly, every good story and idea shapes the world around it to some degree.  Ideally, the message you are trying to convey -- the all-important story that you or your company have to tell, the little idea jumping up and down, crying out for attention in a seething crowd of ideas of similar importance (to your competitors) -- stands on its own merit and requires no assistance.  But probably not.  The website you’re currently visiting speaks voluminously (and hopefully convincingly) to the value of good writing and the importance of using the right words to tell your story distinctively, intelligently, attractively and effectively.  (Okay, I’ll say it: so as to beat your competitors into submission.)  But what about visuals?  Can good, solid graphic design tell a great story?

My buddy would answer that question by stating that the tricky part for the artist is in telling your story without the benefit of all those maddening little words filling in the gaps in meaning.  That in the absence of outstanding visuals, your message might well amount to nothing more than Morse Code, church bells, a distant train whistle, a soft Summer breeze, a spray of orchids, a glass of milk on the counter.  Just pieces.  White noise.  And you know what?  He’s right.  Think about it, Geico is just another cut-rate insurance broker without talking geckos and introspective cavemen.  Remember the question, “Where's the beef?”  That campaign is ancient history, but we still recall that crotchety little old lady with her tiny burger and oversized bun.  And we can thank Coca-Cola for turning the tall, lean, dashing Santa Claus atop a magical white horse into a short, overweight old man in a reindeer-powered sled.  Didn’t know that?  In 1931, Coca-Cola hired an artist named Haddon Sundbloom to illustrate their Christmas campaign.  Under Sundbloom's magical brush, Santa Claus assumed his present, adult dimensions, clad in brilliant red and white -- a truly unforgettable visual.

Because every good story has character, conflict and resolution, really good stories invite an audience to participate in a resolution or transformation.  For graphic design, this formula can result in persuasion or at least clear the path to it.  From watching these talented individuals work their magic over the years, I submit that an outstanding graphic designer will:

  • Know where to go. -- Like any good marketing mind, a solid designer listens.  The proven, experienced designer or illustrator will understand where you want your audience to end up.  He’s driving the bus with the visuals.  You talk.  He’ll listen.  He’ll have the trip mapped out soon enough.
  • Know that character is key. -- Character equals plot, and your plot drives the story.  Visually, the company or subject is the lead character.  The simpler, clearer and less ambiguous the design and imagery, the stronger your story will be.  The visual communicator will bring that point home in draft after draft.
  • Embrace simple pleasures. -- The designer will instinctively know that you must simplify.  Edit.  If it is unimportant or distracting, he’ll encourage you to “cut it out.”  (Well … most will.  But like all talents, editing sometimes comes not so freely!)  If it doesn’t add something to your story, it detracts -- so he’ll cut it loose.  Let him do his job and watch with amazement.
  • Use color. -- Uh-duh?  Not so fast.  The talented designer will use color to impart meaning, not to be pleasing.  You want to be safe with color?  Don’t be.  A visual communicator will liberate the meaning of your message by being brave with color.  He’ll buck the trend.  Take a chance.  Color evokes motion, and what’s a good story without emotional connection?
  • Be big. -- You’re trying to make a point, right?  A great visual communicator will let your audience in on the secret.  He’ll exaggerate.  King Kong is bigger than the average ape.  He’s huge!  The visual artist knows it works.  And he knows that you don’t want to be pictured as average.
  • Minimize. -- The designer knows you need to make your point quickly.  He’ll use visual symbolism.  Better yet, he’ll create or introduce new ones, weaving an implication into your message through the use of photography, graphics or illustration.  A good graphic designer is capable of a sort of visual shorthand.  Remember, a picture really is worth a thousand words and symbols are very powerful tools.  They often tell us where to go and what to do better than words ever could.  Think:  milk moustache.
  • Embrace the Yin and the Yang. -- A good designer will often concentrate on contrast.  Purple never looks so purple as when it’s next to yellow.  Contrast and juxtaposition -- whether through type, color, size, density or even putting something somewhere it doesn’t “belong” -- produce noticeable differences that can propel and enhance your meaning.

Before closing, there are two other points that I believe are important when looking for a good graphics talent for your project or team.

First, understand the importance of pace in communicating your message or brand through advertising.  Believe it or not, you are in control -- take your time and communicate what you want to your designer (and the others on the creative team).  You can choose to swat flies with a sledge hammer by slamming your audience with information, or tease them a little and reveal it slowly.  You can choose to overwhelm and entertain (confuse) the audience with a barrage of words and pictures, or get to the point through a clean, logical, orderly presentation of your message.  It all depends on the outcome you intend to create.  Keep in mind that graphic design -- heck, storytelling in general -- is like a first date:  too much too soon and you can blow the whole enchilada.  Despite recent trends, advertising and marketing is not about compressing your entire history into a single ad.  It's about communicating your story in a reasonable, comprehensible and, hopefully, inspiring way.  Be cool and stay in control.  A good designer will employ those characteristics, and you’ll work better together if you do, too.

Second, always go with experience.  One who has an impressive track record of been-there-done-that might appear expensive at the front end of the project, but, believe me, rookies rarely deliver the goods to the same high degree of quality.  I'm going out on a limb and a rant here, but could it be that the Internet age has led to a gradual decline in the value of expertise?  Just 15 or 20 years ago, you went to a doctor to find out about the pain in your elbow.  Now you Google “elbow pain,” diagnose the problem yourself and tell your doctor what medicine you need.  People who once trusted stockbrokers and insurance agents now buy and sell at E*Trade and compare policies online.  Simple folks who, back in the day, looked to the experts for guidance on topics as diverse as politics to pet grooming now blog their own idle punditry and postulations.

Unbelievably, I’m afraid that we are living in the Golden Age of the Amateur, and in this new frontier, suddenly experience is downright suspect.

Don’t fall for it, friend.  Any hack with a laptop and a cheap clip-art CD can “do design.”  What you want is a visual communicator.  An experienced storyteller.  A qualified graphic designer does more than go through the motions of the design process.  They know all this stuff inherently.  A good designer is a deep thinker, a keen observer who is influenced by individual experience.  They draw inspiration from unique sources and interesting, unexpected places.  They have uncommon perspective and the knowledge, training and experience to invest their distinctive point of view with a “voice.”  They generally have a portfolio that’ll knock your socks off and, like you, they have something worthwhile to say.

To tell your story well, believe that good graphic design matters.  Then trust a visual communicator to help you tell it.

If you’d like our Polished Image team to get you in touch with such experienced talent, give us a shout.

Mini-rants and a New \"ism\"

Occasionally it does the soul good to raise the Andy Rooney mask up in front of one’s face and shake it back and forth. 

The English language, it seems to me, has been afflicted with a disease that I christen “syllablism.”  It is the opposite of racism or sexism in that, rather than discriminating against something, syllablism in modern language discriminates in favor of useless, extra syllables.

For instance, somewhere along the way the perfectly useful word “active” became “proactive.”  The simple “preventive” oddly became the bloated, pretentious “preventative.”  A situation is no longer just a “problem”; it is “problematic.”  It’s not good enough that they’re “facts”; they can be ratcheted up or down by the media to the status of “factoids.”  Some no longer embrace a “method” to process information; they have to explain their “methodology.”  It’s not “curing”; it’s “curative.”  It’s not “new”; it’s “new-fangled.” 

And, although it’s a bit off-kilter to the above examples, folks do love their “irregardless” -- “regardless” of the fact that it is not a word!

These useless, extra syllables give the appearance of substance without actually imparting any real value.  You could even argue that they represent a refutation of Einstein’s theory of relativity; i.e., not all mass can be converted into energy.  Some of it just sits there.

In somewhat the same vein, when did we decide that it was acceptable to replace a word with a longer version, to in essence sound smarter … only to change the actual meaning of the word?  Take the word “attorney” versus “lawyer.”  Simply put, they don’t mean the same thing.  Anyone who has passed the bar is a lawyer, but an attorney needs a client.  The word implies a relationship.  There are thousands of lawyers who do nothing all day (How many of you wanted this sentence to end there?) apart from research, but, still, they call themselves attorneys.  Why?  Because “attorney” is a three-syllable word and three-syllable words sound classier than two-syllable words.

See what I mean?  Syllablism, plain and simple.  The fancier the word, the more weight we think it carries.  Consumers pay attention to more bling, and products must be new and improved and super sized to get us moving in desired directions.  Syllablism is the embracing of bigger words because bigger is better.  Syllablism is also pretentiousness at best, bordering on pompousness.  And, sadly, this partiality for bigger words doesn’t always equate to the proper use of such words -- or even real words at all! 

I’ll close with thought-provoking quote from George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" (1946):  “Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers.”

Be watchful for creeping syllablism in your copy!

A Tribute to the Trooper

I’m a huge baseball fan.  As strange as it might seem on the surface, that has application to this business-oriented site.  Without question, a measure of my business acumen came from my participation in and adulation of our National Pastime.  For example, early on I learned how to add, subtract, multiply and divide by working batting averages, slugging percentages, ERAs and the like -- providing a formative foundation for later analyses of budgets and spreadsheets.  I also learned that sticktuativeness and patience are all-important -- in baseball and in business you can do something about yesterday tomorrow.  

Other lessons?  I learned that, in business as in baseball, nothing is trivial and that the devil is in the details and repetition.  That it’s always important to respect the game and your competition.  That, if you’ve truly prepared -- if you’ve faithfully put in the time, effort and study -- you’re ready.  I learned that you should always field the tough chances with confidence … and expect to flub one every now and then -- and that you’ll often get booed (frequently by folks who have no clue).  But not to worry -- in baseball as in business, another opportunity will be coming at you before you can say Willie Mays. 

I learned that you can’t hit every pitch out of the park, and that if you try to do so, you’ll soon be sitting on the bench; it’s far better to be consistent and reliable with your deliverables in the field and in business.  I unquestionably learned early on that the game will humble you; ditto with business.  I learned that it’s about the team’s success, not yours as an individual.  And that camaraderie and chemistry are keys to the ultimate achievements.  Check your ego at the clubhouse (or office) door.

(I also painfully discovered that I couldn’t hit a curve ball, but my difficulty with a nasty yakker is neither here nor there for purposes of this blog.  I just finally needed to confess that sad realization about Uncle Charlie.)

What got me on this tangent?  Being a Maryland boy growing up, I note with pride that my all-time favorite player -- Cal Ripken -- was recently elected (first ballot, of course) to baseball’s Hall of Fame.  A skilled player who practiced meticulously, studied intensely and worked at his craft vigorously, Ripken played the game the “right way,” getting every ounce of production out of his God-given talent. 

Of course, baseball’s Iron Man is known mainly for breaking the consecutive games played mark.  For the non-fan amongst readers, here are the key stats:  the “unbreakable” record was 2,130; Ripken ended his streak with 2,632 consecutive games played -- the equivalent of more than 16 seasons where his managers could head to the ballpark and know that an important cog on the team could be penciled into the lineup … in indelible ink.

Ripken’s induction to the Hall underscored for me another tenet that I long ago embraced as a successful business operator.  This symbol of consistency -- who showed up for work day in and day out, who never gave in or gave up, who was as dependable as a happy Labrador -- is a great example of what we should want and admire in an employee.

As an administrator, one cannot offer enough praise nor give enough thanks to the HR god in the sky for the employee who is always there, always on time, who insists on staying late to finish a project, who offers help to others with their efforts even though his or her own workload may be stacked intimidatingly high.  I’m speaking reverently about the co-worker who is hardly ever sick and certainly not wimpy -- a headache or minor ache or pain does not keep them home (as so often occurs in today’s workplace).

This type of skilled employee isn’t by nature a complainer and they don’t participate in office politics.  They come to work and do their job.  You won’t find them by the water cooler chatting it up about their fellow employees.  They are not skeptical by nature and never a PITA.  They don’t start packing up and powering down at 4:45pm so as to ready themselves for the sprint to their car at 4:58pm … almost every single day.  This type of colleague puts the team first -- always.  Hence, they are a well-respected and critical cog in the workings of the office’s production efforts.  If they can’t find a way they will generally make one.  In other words, they are the full package -- talented, dedicated, consistent, reliable and of good character.  They’re Cal! 

Look, it’s hard to corner the market on excellence.  We can’t all be the Yankees -- budgets are real and sacred in most solid businesses, and superstars are expensive.  While there is no doubt that a team of megastars make for an impressive organizational chart, give me a lineup of unassumingly skilled, devoted, trustworthy, dependable, focused, lunchpail-type co-workers -- the under-the-radar talent that gives you a smile and an occasional raspberry -- and I’ll take a lot of your market share.  I’ll probably have more fun at work, too.  (And fun is an important ingredient to success … but that’s for another blog post.)

What is true for sports so often applies to business.  Whether manager of a team or a business, you are only as strong as your weakest player/employee.  Surround yourself with employees who are consistent and dependable -- forevermore two of the traits we admire most in people.  They are the individuals who create the solid foundation of successful businesses.  Such troopers should be praised and honored and certainly appreciated more than they are in most workplaces.  Conversely, your enterprise will be stronger still if you take the additional (courageous) step of not pussyfooting around with the malcontent, the complainer, the naysayer, the whiner and the gossip -- regardless of their talent, such employees have potential to tear up a clubhouse or business, and actually bring down productivity and morale.  Counsel them.  Document.  Warn them.  Document.   Bench them.  Document.  And then cut them.  You’ll thank me later.

In conclusion, there is nothing tedious or lackluster about consistency and dependability.  Heck, a business should do the dull things right time after time so that the extraordinary will not be required too often!  Believe me -- extraordinary is very difficult to deliver day in and day out.  That’s why I shout, “All hail the trooper!”  On my ballot, they are your hall-of-famers.

Oxymorons and Homonyms

Thanks, Spencer, for the knock-knock jokes and the suggestion that I bring to the attention of blog-readers my recommendations for sites tied to Oxymorons and Homonyms.  If you’re interested in these resources, go here and scroll down to #3 and #4. 

On Brevity and Editing

I’m sad to say that Mark Twain probably wouldn’t have cared much for me.  I’m a pretty nice guy, adore my wonderful wife, frolic with my Yellow Lab pups each day, respect my elders, hold the restaurant door for ladies, and still “sir” and “ma’am” folks I don’t know, regardless of their age.  I don’t drink, do drugs or smoke.  I work very hard, show up on time for appointments, meet my deadlines, sweat the details, and treat people the way that I would want to be treated.

So why wouldn’t Huck’s maker warm up to me?  You see, the Because “the father of American literature" (so said William Faulkner) had an immense aversion to excessive verbiage.  Mr. Clemens -- world-renowned satirist, writer, lecturer -- embraced brevity the way our elected officials embrace earmarks, pork, sincerity and ethics.  Or perhaps the way Ms. Lohan or Ms. Hilton embrace maturity, restraint and moderation.  With regard to the subject of brevity, not so much me.  I plead guilty to writing long

(Editorial aside to do some charity work:  If you’ve known me for awhile and just emitted some sort of a chortle, chuckle, guffaw or even uh-duh tied to the incongruity of this post coming from me, I’ll forgive you if you send a $50 check to your favorite charity before your head hits the pillow tonight.  I confess my writing sins and you cackle.  Nice.  You’re forgiven … if you write the check.)

Communication ratchets up in quality is best when words are used judiciously.  Like garlic, rouge, a compliment and a good change-up, moderation is key with words, too.  Indeed, there is no question that brevity is sacred to first-rate writers for one simple reason -- it most effectively delivers your message.  Such a state It is not always easy to achieve succinctness because it’s sure as shootin’ a heck of a lot far easier to write long than to write tight and crisp copy.  An experienced, capable writer/editor can reach back and tap uses what I refer to as the Three Ps of Copyediting -- Proficiency, Persistence and Penchant -- to cull out the frill from the fluff and make copy and points pop with the gusto and passion intended by the writer.  That’s why talented editors and copywriters hold such an esteemed place in agencies and throughout the media world.  As well they should.

My buddy Mr. Twain wrote often about his annoyance with wordiness.  One of my favorite of his many quotes on the subject is:  “To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself.” 

Indeed.  Loquacious, rambling vVerbosity can make for dull reads and a wandering audience, especially so if you’re not having fun with and otherwise pulling your readers into the story you’re telling.  In other words, though you might feel that you have a lot to say,.  If you want to get your point across precisely and memorably take the time to, go back to your copy and lose some of the adverbs and adjectives, tighten up your prose, and replace the $9 utterance word with a $2 word.  You’ll get your point across just as effectively (probably better), and you’ll be less likely to lose your audience.

To be sure, sometimes cranking out copy is all you have time to do.  Other other factors have to be weighed when writing.  For example, wWhen sitting in the VP’s or Director’s chair, there are times, as irrational as it sounds, when you simply don’t have time to write a short report or email -- so you write a longer one.  Indeed, tThere is absolute legitimacy truth to the assertion that, on occasion, one just doesn’t have time to be brief.  When there’s a lot going on, time is tight and deadlines are pressing down, you just crank -- thoughts to fingers to keyboard -- especially when your audience needs the information and you need to move on to another item on your to-do list so as to be optimally productive.  After all, you’re a manager, and if you’re a decent one, the first thing you have to manage well is your work flow.  If you’re even a reasonably talented communicator and if your audience has a responsibility tied to the epistle, just write it -- they’ll read it.  Knock out a first draft, edit and rewrite quickly but thoroughly.  Go back and rRead through your copy again to assure clarity of message and proper grammar, and … Pow!  Gone.  Message delivered … what’s next? 

It should go without saying that tThis grind-it-out mentality can not often be tapped for important outreach projects and campaigns.  Fliers, advertising and marketing copy, by necessity, must quickly grab the reader’s attention, creating a desired action on the part of the readerIf you’re cognizant of the importance of good writing and if you’re a decent editor, you’ll aApproach each such assignment with discerning eyes -- with an editor’s focused mentality.  Or select those on your team who can do this better than you.  The bottom line is that sSomeone must be able to turn back the word faucet’s volume to a carefully selected, finely tuned stream, with no messy splashing about, to make the points you or your client need made in such outreach vehicles.

Blogging, by its very nature, isn’t a medium that is going to get overly scrutinized by readers for copy length, but you can just as easily lose blogosphere readers due to diarrhea of the keyboard as you can in a newsletter article, magazine editorial, press release or annual report.  Long-windedness will only get you less readers of your thoughtsIf you’re going to go on (and on), mMake your key point or points early in your copy -- tap the metaphorical inverted-pyramid or triangle approach to writing whereby the most important and interesting information is presented first.  If you’ve done that in a fashion that pulls readers into your copy, they will keep reading more of your thoughts on the subject at hand you’re good to go.

Web copy is an altogether different sort of beast.  Such copy needs to elicit a more immediate response, quickly guiding the reader to an action while at the same time offering further information should that be the route preferred by the visitor to your site.  Moreover, wWriting and editing search-engine friendly content and incorporating keywords is a must with web copy regardless of whether you’re enlightening, educating, promoting or selling. 

To me, language is a breathing organism.  Good-to-great editing -- and, again, it’s a learned skill -- is simply a higher state of writing.  It’s okay on occasion to turn the editor off (or at least down) and just have fun stringing together rational thoughts.  As long as you use proper sentence structure and don’t butcher the grammar, you’re not hurting anyone.  In fact, you’re probably making someone think and perhaps react or smile or tap into another emotion or action, which is a pretty darned good byproduct of a written communication, is it not, whether in a business environment, a personal blog or a heartfelt letter? 

So, for goodness sakes, tell your story and sell it passionately.  There is a place for the conversational writing style; however, on the whole, strive to write tight and crisp.  Be sincere.  Get your point across.  Be brief.  Do those things well, and you’ll be successful and in demand.

One last comment before I close -- a message for the inestimably brilliant and rightfully revered Mr. Twain:

“To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as itself a prized composition just by itself.”

*************************

Addendum #1:  For more thoughts on the importance of words, visit here on our website.  If you want our team to help you polish your copy efforts, drop us an email or give us a call.

Addendum #2:  If you would like to read the blog above minus the strike-through edits, see below.  Please note that if someone needed this blog to fit a designated space, the copy -- as with any copy -- could easily be edited to do so.  That’s what good editors do. 


On Brevity and Editing (edited version)

Mark Twain wouldn’t have cared for me.  I’m a nice guy, adore my wife, frolic with my pups, respect my elders, hold the door for ladies, and still “sir” and “ma’am” folks I don’t know.  I don’t drink, do drugs or smoke.  I work hard, show up on time, meet deadlines, sweat the details, and treat people the way I would want to be treated.

So why wouldn’t Huck’s maker warm up to me?  Because “the father of American literature" (so said William Faulkner) had an aversion to excessive verbiage.  Mr. Clemens -- satirist, writer, lecturer -- embraced brevity the way our elected officials embrace earmarks, pork, sincerity and ethics.  With regard to the subject of brevity, not so much me.  I plead guilty. 

(Editorial aside to do some charity work:  If you know me and just emitted a chortle or uh-duh tied to the incongruity of this post, I’ll forgive you if you send a $50 check to your favorite charity.  I confess my writing sins and you cackle.  Nice.  You’re forgiven … if you write the check.)

Communication is best when words are used judiciously.  Like garlic, rouge, a compliment and a good change-up, moderation is key with words, too.  Indeed, brevity is sacred to first-rate writers for one simple reason -- it most effectively delivers your message.  It is not easy to achieve succinctness because it’s far easier to write long than tight and crisp.  An experienced writer/editor uses the Three Ps of Copyediting -- Proficiency, Persistence and Penchant -- to make copy pop.  That’s why talented editors and copywriters hold such an esteemed place in agencies and the media.  As well they should.

Twain wrote often about his annoyance with wordiness.  One of my favorite of his many quotes on the subject is:  “To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself.” 

Indeed.  Verbosity can make for dull reads and a wandering audience.  If you want to get your point across memorably, go back to your copy and lose adverbs and adjectives, tighten up prose, and replace the $9 word with a $2 word.  You’ll get your point across just as effectively (probably better), and you’ll be less likely to lose your audience.

To be sure, other factors have to be weighed when writing.  When sitting in the VP’s or Director’s chair, there are times when you don’t have time to write a short report or email -- so you write a longer one.  There is absolute truth to the assertion that, on occasion, one just doesn’t have time to be brief.  When there’s a lot going on and deadlines are pressing, just crank -- thoughts to fingers to keyboard -- especially when your audience needs the information and you need to move on to another item on your to-do list.  After all, you’re a manager, and if you’re a decent one, the first thing you have to manage well is your work flow.  If you’re a reasonably talented communicator and if your audience has a responsibility tied to the epistle, just write it -- they’ll read it.  Knock out a draft, edit and rewrite quickly but thoroughly.  Read your copy again to assure clarity and proper grammar, and … Pow!  Gone.  Message delivered … what’s next? 

This grind-it-out mentality can not often be tapped for important outreach projects and campaigns.  Fliers, advertising and marketing copy must quickly grab the reader’s attention, creating a desired action.  Approach each assignment with discerning eyes -- with an editor’s mentality.  Or select those on your team who can do this better than you.  Someone must be able to turn back the word faucet to a finely tuned stream, with no messy splashing about, to make the points you or your client need made.

Blogging, by its nature, isn’t a medium that is going to get overly scrutinized by readers for copy length, but you can just as easily lose blogosphere readers due to diarrhea of the keyboard as you can in a newsletter article, magazine editorial, press release or annual report.  Long-windedness will only get you less readers.  Make your key points early in your copy -- tap the metaphorical inverted-pyramid or triangle approach to writing whereby the most important and interesting information is presented first.  If you’ve done that in a fashion that pulls readers into your copy, you’re good to go.

Web copy needs to elicit immediate response, quickly guiding the reader to action while at the same time offering further information should that be the route preferred by the visitor to your site.  Writing and editing search-engine friendly content and incorporating keywords is a must with web copy regardless of whether you’re enlightening, educating, promoting or selling. 

To me, language is a breathing organism.  Good-to-great editing is simply a higher state of writing.  It’s okay to turn the editor off (or at least down) and have fun stringing together rational thoughts.  As long as you use proper sentence structure and don’t butcher the grammar, you’re not hurting anyone.  In fact, you’re probably making someone think and perhaps react or smile or tap into another emotion or action, which is a pretty good byproduct of a written communication, is it not, whether in a business environment, a personal blog or a heartfelt letter? 

So tell your story and sell it passionately.  There is a place for the conversational writing style; however, on the whole, strive to write tight and crisp.  Be sincere.  Get your point across.  Be brief.  Do those things well, and you’ll be successful and in demand.

One last comment before I close -- a message for the brilliant Mr. Twain:

“To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as itself a prized composition just by itself.”

PR Firms and Creatives

A client of mine told me about a PR firm that offered to do his advertising creative.  It turned out to be ineffective work because, in the end, it didn’t address his marketing objectives, nor did it communicate to his target audiences.  He was surprised because this firm did such a bang-up job at PR.  His disappointment led to a complete dissolution of his company’s relationship with the PR firm.

Why the failure?  In this case, the PR firm did not recognize its limitations, and therefore did not recognize the opportunity to come through for their client by bringing in qualified, experienced creative professionals.  The assumption that because a person can write a press release means they can come up with creative concepts, or even write effective ad copy, is a bold one and, more often than not, a mistaken one.

I relayed this story to a friend of mine who has been a successful freelance copywriter for more than 15 years.  She rolled her eyes and said, “Been there. Done that.”  In her experiences, she has worked with consultants who insisted on acting as “account executives,” but lacked advertising and marketing expertise.  Still, they would not bring her into the room to meet with their clients.  As a result, they couldn’t help their clients determine their objectives, and were therefore unable to communicate those objectives to the creative team.  As a successful creative professional, my friend possesses a great deal of marketing savvy, or else she would not have been able to do successful work for so many clients over the years.  “My work is only as good as the input I get,” she told me, adding that she can spend an hour with a client and usually glean more than she needs to know because she knows what questions to ask.  She felt that the consultants with whom she worked in some instances were well aware that they were not needed in the creative process, and feared that their clients would realize the same thing if they were to meet the creative team face-to-face.  So they tried to fake their way through client meetings alone and then expected the creatives to perform miracles with inadequate input.

Risking your reputation and your client relationship for the sake of making a mark-up is short-sighted.  Imagine if my client had been told by his PR firm that the work he needed done was out of their depth.  My client would have found someone else to do the work and would have respected the firm’s honesty.  If the PR firm had told him they couldn’t do the work, but referred him to a top-notch creative who could, they would have been heroes and shown their commitment to helping their client succeed.  In doing so, they would have retained the account.

I’m glad to be guided by the experiences of other professionals.  I find that I learn something in virtually every conversation I have that’s related to business.  Of the things I’ve learned, some of the most important are: 1) How to recognize talent; 2) How to recognize an organization’s needs; and 3) When to get out of the middle in order to let talent and organizations make magic together.  And I’m proud to make such referrals.

The lesson?  There are truly remarkable, highly talented PR firms out there -- one in particular, I’m proud to state, is amongst Polished Image’s first-rate, professional references.  They’re top shelf in every respect.  The principals of these types of firms and their top administrators don’t misrepresent their reach, their in-house talent or the clout they will bring to your team.  But if you’re in the market for PR, do your homework at the outset before signing on -- especially with smaller firms.  Ask the tough questions.  A firm that delivered supernatural performances for one business may not offer the in-house talent that your business needs.  Ask them who on their team delivers the goods you need.  Be smart -- meet them! 

Don’t let consultants misrepresent themselves -- those who do are the ones that give all of us with such hung shingles a bad name.  The bottom line is that some projects are out of a firm’s comfort zones.  The unprincipled ones will be very hesitant to declare that with consulting ducats on the line.  The rock-solid ones are generally quick to size up your wishes and requirements, and to point you in another direction if someone amongst their stable of professional connections can better serve you.

A Word Snob?! Nah!

I am not a word snob.  There.  I’ve said it.  And ohmygoodnessgracious … do I feel better!

I am not in denial, that convenient if not clichéd defense mechanism so often tapped when faced with a fact that is too painful to accept.  Indeed, I am not rejecting anything, despite what may be overwhelming evidence to the contrary throughout this website.  Truth be told, I wholeheartedly embrace the fabricated word, the concocted declaration, the made-up phrase or chic slang.  I believe they all have a place -- a strong and important place -- in life, in business and in marketing.  The invented word or words shrewdly utilized can pound home a heckuva point and often get you the props and bling you desire. 

Doubt me?  

What other than a-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom could have delivered the goods with more panache?  What else do you call a whatchamacallit?  What’s hmm, hmm good?  Who doesn’t want to be a Pepper?  And don’t you think that copacetic is just about the coolest word ever to describe how everything is alright? 

If your wife (like mine) is beautimus and you adore her morethanlifeitsownself, you’re a darned lucky man.  You’ve possibly achieved the revered state of hacunamatada! 

“Special” words -- un-words? -- take on meaning in the mind’s eye even if not defined.  And that’s a very good thing for marketing and PR types!  What’s the Un-Cola?  I don’t know exactly where the valley of the jolly (ho, ho, ho) Green Giant is, but his green beans can be found in WestByGodVirginia (amongst other places).  You can usually find one of those flippydoos at the same store, but if you can’t find one, look for that tube of a little dab’ll do ya. 

Tell me that you don’t know what’s finger-lickin' good or that you’re not expecting lots of drivelspeak the closer we get to the presidential elections.  You know prezactly what I’m talking about!  If someone told you to MacGyverize something … well, you’d reflexively know to improvise and figure it out, wouldn’t you?  Heck, I had a punch-buggy in which the thingamabob constantly required ingenious efforts on my part to keep it rolling, rolling, rolling (Rawhide!).

If your son was up until o-dark-thirty doing homework, you’d be proud of his sticktuativeness.  If he ducked out of the way of chin music on the ball field, you’d jump up and shout, “S'up wit dat?!?”  If your son then skootched up on the plate and cranked the next pitch out of the ballpark, it would be unsportsmanlike, indeed, if he were to direct a “Whosyurdaddy?!?” at the pitcher as he rounded third, wouldn’t it? 

If your company designs the latest and greatest wowzer of a widget, your profits could be gianormous -- oops, “they” just made that a real word -- next quarter and you could well end up controlling your market … yep, the whole kitandkaboodle.  Don’t forget to change your @addresses if you move uptown! 

Do those sentences and words not present clear visions to the mind’s eye?  It’s almost, but not quite, WYSIWYG, yet you won’t find many of those words and phrases in your standard dictionary. 

Yes … Lordy, I’m picky -- check out my preaching throughout the rest of the website.  However, when I state that the use of the right word is important, I’m not always referring to complementary versus complimentary, ensure versus insure, disburse versus disperse, effect versus affect.  If your focus is ratcheting up business … or if you want to touch a sweetheart’s soul … or underscore your frustration with a service poorly delivered … or scold your local editorialist, there is a difference between the right word and the right word.  The latter is the best choice for the situation or the superior pick to sell the product.  To get everyone to pay attention, keep paying attention and remember you.  Besides, if everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about or promoting, who’s to say that it’s not a word?  If “it” gets to the heart of what makes consumers tick, it’s fair game.

Anyone who disses the use of well-placed, made-up words that effectively get the point across and make folks remember the goods probably believes that Paul McCartney’s best band was Wings. 

Fuhgetabout!

The Importance of Branding

For those of you who are new to the world of business and don’t yet quite understand the whole concept of branding, as good a place as any to start is with how the American Marketing Association defines the word: “Name, term, sign, symbol, design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”

In simpler terms, branding is the art of creating a name for yourself that sets you apart from the herd.  You want to not only strive to have your target market choose you over the competition, you want them to see you as the only one who can provide the product, service, feeling or solution they desire.

As examples, take a look at some wildly popular brands.  What comes to mind when you think of tissue?  Why, Kleenex, of course! In fact, Kleenex has done such a stellar job of branding that Kleenex has practically replaced the word tissue in the English language. Ditto with Windex.  Do you need to clean your windows?  Most people don’t say, “I need glass cleaner.”  They say, “Hand me the Windex.”  Then there’s Kool-Aid.  Kids don’t say, “Mom, I want a glass of that powdered stuff you add sugar to.”  They say, “Mom, I want some Kool-Aid.” 

Can you imagine what it would feel like to have that sort of sway over consumer decisions?  Heady stuff, isn’t it?  Are you getting excited?  Can you hear that money machine going ka-ching, ka-ching?

So maybe your product or service will never replace a word in the English language.  I’m here to state, however, that shooting for the stars is the best way to assure that you will at least make a name for yourself, one that won’t be easily forgotten.  To secure this exalted state requires passion, time and research (and perhaps a little luck) to make sure that the brand you choose perfectly exemplifies your company, its offering and its goals.

Can one successfully brand a small business?  Absolutely.  The leading example is probably Starbucks.  Utilizing almost zero advertising over their first decade, they developed such a strong brand that their competitors got the shakes … and today are all pretty much just lumped together products in the Big Guy’s rear-view mirror.  (And these folks are not closer than they seem or would have you believe!)  From Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, "A great brand raises the bar -- it adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience, whether it's the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness, or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you're drinking really matters."

We all know that competition in the business world is stiffer than ever.  Nevertheless, if you do your homework, if you create a brand that is strong, clear, concise, memorable and impressive, with a reputation to back it up, before you know it you will have customers knocking down your doors.

Okay, so maybe that was an exaggeration.  Forgive me.  I get excited about this branding fixation, but only because I know how well it works.

Now get busy creating!  And holler our way if you want some assistance in crafting your branding strategy.  We know people, which means you’ve got people … which (with a nod of recognition and tribute) is H&R Block’s latest marketing campaign.  That’s yet another company that’s done a wonderful job of branding over the years; where else does one get their taxes prepared?  See?  This stuff works!