Almost More Than an Advertising & PR Word Dink Can Take

Over vs. More Than in Public Relations

 

It’s almost over English-major advertising and public relations word dinks* like me can take.

Wait. That makes no sense. Read it again …

I’m over happy to help you understand.

What!?

Blame it on the powers that be – the Associated Press editors – who have buckled to popular application when it comes to using “over” and “more than.” The announcement came during the American Copy Editors Society Conference in Las Vegas in March 2014, where the AP presented this and other changes to the bible for journalists, the AP Stylebook.

Henceforth (but probably not forever, because the language constantly evolves), “over” and “more than” can be used interchangeably.

Almost more than night, we went from strict adherence to the old-guard rule governing the use of “more than” vs. “over” to using the two interchangeably.

OK, so I’m being a bit disingenuous. They didn’t say the two could be used interchangeably for everything, but only when describing quantities. So what was once strictly “more than 50 people” can now be “over 50 people.” What before was strictly “over 10,000 feet higher” can now be “more than 10,000 feet higher.”

Unless you’re a word dink, you probably didn’t realize there was a difference in the first place or you don’t give a rip. But for grammar snobs like me, the weeks following the AP announcement provided some great, cheap entertainment, not to mention consternation.

Here’s a sampling of reactions from hard-core journalists and editors on the Poynter Institute’s blog. The Poynter Institute calls itself “…a global leader in journalism. It is the world’s leading instructor, innovator, convener and resource for anyone who aspires to engage and inform citizens in 21st Century democracies.”

Mike Shor:  More than my dead body!

Uriel Heilman:  I have put up with this crap for MORE THAN 15 years and I’m glad it’s OVER!”

Robin Loveman:  The world, as we know it, is more than.

Adina Solomon:  I don’t care. I still like the distinction. This is over I can handle.

You probably didn’t realize there was a difference in the first place or you don’t give a rip. Or maybe you knew there was a difference but didn’t give a rip, anyway. As for me, it’s almost over what I can take. My nuts-n-bolts journalism professor was adamant on this point, as has been every editor I’ve run into since.

Over and under are used for height comparisons:

  • The plane was over 15,000 feet in the air.
  • The Spartan center towered over the Fliers forward.

More than and less than compared everything else:

  • More than 1,000 journalists and editors are protesting the change.

The fact that we can now write, “Over 1,000 journalists and editors are protesting the change,” and be correct drives some of us crazy, and always will. But there’s one point I have to concede; as I always advise other writers, we should write like we speak. And, like it or not, this is how people speak.

At the end of the day, we’ll all just have to get more than it.

* “Word dink” was the phrase my first creative director used in good fun to describe me and what I did. I was the only copywriter in the integrated advertising, marketing and public relations agency at the time. As such, I was the one who provided what the graphic designers called “blah, blah, blah” to their awesome designs. Ergo, word dink.

Listen Up! – 10 Things Your Marketing Copywriter Should Do When Learning About Your Business

 

One of the most underrated skills for a writer – especially a marketing copywriter, content creator or PR specialist – is listening.

Marketing copywriter, how can you help sell a business, organization, product, service or cause if don’t fully understand it? You can’t.

Business or organization owner, manager or leader, how can you effectively sell your product, service or cause if your copywriter, content creator or PR specialist doesn’t understand what you have to offer your target markets? You can’t, either.

You need to get down to answers to these questions, and I mean Get Down!

  • What are the benefits of working with you?
  • What pain points will your product or service solve?
  • How much time and/or money will members of your target market save or earn with your product or service?
  • Above all, how will they ever be able to answer the Golden Question of Marketing (GQM) – What’s in it for me?

To craft answers to these questions and create a messaging strategy that compels your target markets to action, your copywriter, content creator or PR specialist first needs to listen. They need to do it:

  • Closely.
  • Carefully.
  • Actively.

As for you marketing copywriters, here are 10 things you should do when gathering information:

  1. Clear your mind.
  2. Maintain eye contact with the speaker, whether it’s a one-on-one session with the CEO or a group dialogue with the leadership and sales teams.
  3. Focus, focus, focus on what is being said.
  4. Ask follow-up questions. (Coincidentally, this is where you’re most likely to find the gold for the GQM.)
  5. Request clarification. Never be afraid to say, “I don’t understand.”
  6. Rephrase what you hear and say it back to the speaker so you’re sure you fully understand, e.g., “So what you’re saying is…. Is that correct?
  7. Think about the implications of what someone says about one aspect of the business to other aspects, and ask about it.
  8. Ask the speaker to repeat something if you missed it.
  9. Never, ever spend the time while your subject is speaking thinking about what you’re going to ask next.
  10. Close with a question like, “Is there anything I haven’t I asked you but should have?” or “Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to?”

So, listen…

Copywriter, content creator or PR specialist, if you aren’t doing these things, start. Business owner or organization leader, if the person crafting your messages isn’t interacting with you and your staff this way, find someone new.

XXX, The End of a Press Release

XXX in Press Releases

The question comes nearly every time I write the first press release for a new client. “This looks great,” s/he’ll say, “but what does the little – 30 – mean at the end?”

“Exactly,” I say.

“Huh?”

“It means ‘The End.’ ”

That little – 30 – indicates to any copy editor who reads the press release that they have come to the end. S/he doesn’t need to search for any more information or worry about missing any.

For decades, -30- has been the traditional marker for the end of a press release, along with its close Roman cousin, – XXX -. More recently, many PR practitioners have replaced it with – ### -.

But where did it come from?

There are many theories, but the most common is that -30- got its start during the American Civil War. In his book, “Newswriting from Lead to 30,” William Metz says the most widely accepted explanation holds that the first message sent by telegraph to a press association during the war contained exactly 30 words. “From this, some say, ‘30’ became the standard signal for the end of a telegraphed news story…”

According to another legend reported by Metz, in the days of longhand newswriting “X” marked the end of a sentence, “XX” a paragraph’s end and “XXX” a story’s end.

Yet another suggests that when a reporter with the last name Thirtee submitted his copy, the telegrapher changed it to 30 for the sake of brevity.

As my regular readers know, I’m all for brevity, so…

This history lesson, aka this post about press releases, has reached The End.

– XXX –

Image to illustrate radio to blog post

Blog Posts: Topic, Interview… Airwaves?

Blog posts. I’ve been writing and optimizing a lot of them for clients lately.

One of those clients is Lifetime Vision in Grand Forks, N.D. FredComm worked with Lifetime to create its new logo and website last year, and this year we have the privilege of working with them on new content.

Different clients like to have their blog posts developed in different ways.

Some like to provide a topic and nothing more. I do research and draft the post.

Others, like SnowWolf and Stonebrooke Equipment, provide the topic and make the appropriate people on their teams available for interviews. I talk to those folks for a while and ask them a lot of questions about the topic and the equipment they sell that relates to it, do some supplemental research on my own, then write the blog post.

The blog post creation process Lifetime Vision is unique, not to mention fun.

Lifetime owner Dr. Jeff Yunker is on KNOX radio with its morning hosts a few times a month discussing various issues related to eyesight and vision correction. I receive the audio from the 5- to 7-minute segment and, based on Dr. Jeff’s discussion with the hosts, look up some medical terms to ensure everything will be understandable to the average blog reader and wrap it all together in an interesting package.

The final few steps for any of these three processes are the same:

  • Share draft with client.
  • Make edits provided by client.
  • Repeat until blog post is approved.

For some clients I also handle locating and downloading appropriate images to go with the posts the physical act of posting to their websites, as well.

Whatever the process you will work best for creating and sharing your blog posts, I can help. Let’s share some good words for your business today!

Nasty Philly Fans and the BlackRidgeBANK Brand

As a branding guy, I can’t help but wonder if the despicable behavior by Philadelphia Eagles fans before, during and after the NFC championship game last weekend will hurt BlackRidgeBANK.

BlackRidgeBANK signed an endorsement deal with Carson Wentz, Bismarck native, North Dakota State University star and 2nd overall pick in the National Football League draft in 2016. BlackRidge has 11 locations in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Most North Dakotans, like most anyone in the country who is a football fan, are familiar with the narrative from there.

Wentz gets elevated to starting QB before the regular-season kickoff in 2016, works his butt off during the off season, leads the Eagles to a 10-2 start in MVP-like form in 2017 and, unfortunately, goes down to a knee injury (torn ACL) against the Los Angeles Rams. Backup QB Nick Foles takes over and gets the Eagles to the NFC title game against the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings travel to Philadelphia, followed by many of their diehard fans. The Eagles manhandle the Vikings in a 38-7 drubbing and hand Minnesota fans yet another disappointment in a long string going back to the team’s founding.

No Skin in the Game

Full disclosure:

I’m a Carson Wentz fan, big time. This young man is a tremendous ambassador for Bismarck, my alma mater (NDSU) and North Dakota overall. From everything I’ve seen, read and heard, he’s a standup guy with integrity to spare. Not to mention, he’s one heck of a quarterback.

On the other hand, I’m not much of a pro football fan. As for the Vikings, I haven’t cheered for them since 1999. (Two words for you – Gary Anderson.)

Flying in the Face of Decency

Based on firsthand reports on social media, in Philadelphia the people in purple were heckled, spat upon, targeted with full beer cans thrown at great velocity, flipped off, beaten and subjected to numerous other degradations people can inflict upon other human beings.

I’ve seen the videos and read the accounts.

I’m pretty sure this is not what the Philadelphia Eagles organization has in mind when it uses the hashtag #FlyEaglesFly. Its brand is about soaring achievement, not violence or expletive-laced insults.

I also read a heartfelt open letter from KFGO talk radio host Joel Heitkamp to Amazon, asking that the company locate its new multibillion dollar facility anywhere but Philadelphia because the people there don’t deserve it.

“I have never seen such a display in my life,” Heitkamp wrote.

This represents a call to change business practices based on the whole ugly scene, and perhaps, by extension, a change in consumer behavior toward a specific business. Keep that in mind.

The worst of it, if it’s real, is a video that shows two Eagles fans marching down a street after the game with a sign reading “F#!k Millie.” It’s a reference to 99-year-old Vikings fan Millie Wall, who was featured in feel-good stories leading up to the game.

Millie handled it with grace, of course. Here’s part of the Facebook post from a member of her family the day after the insult:

“STATEMENT: Millie Wall and our family would like to extend our sincerest thank you to the Minnesota Vikings, the NFL, and the community for following her story over the last few weeks. We would also like to congratulate the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles on their trip to Super Bowl LII here in our home city of Minneaplis on February 4, 2018. Our family and the state of Minnesota look forward to welcoming both teams and their fans to our community over the next couple of weeks….”

Such class.

Which takes me back to BlackRidge and Wentz, who is a brand unto himself and seems to be a first-class guy.

The Grudge

There are lots of Vikings fans nursing this new grudge, not just because of the smackdown on the gridiron but because of the way they and their fellows were treated in the so-called “City of Brotherly Love.”

The Wall family’s rise-above-it-all message notwithstanding, folks here in Vikings country don’t seem disposed to follow her lead. Not for the time being, at least.

To my knowledge, BlackRidge does not sponsor the Philadelphia Eagles and the Philadelphia Eagles organization does not endorse the bank. The sponsorship deal is between BlackRidge and Carson Wentz.

Who happens to be the star quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.

A Clean Game

The question remains.

Will Eagles fans’ deplorable behavior influence decisions Minnesota fans otherwise might have made to do business with BlackRidge? Will its loan business decrease over the next few months? If so, will there be a direct correlation or relationship between that and what happened in Philly?

In short, will the BlackRidgeBANK brand suffer, or will reason prevail?

If nothing else, it would make a great case study for a university-level business or marketing class.

As for me….

I believe most people in Vikings country are reasonable enough to understand Wentz is not responsible for Philly fans’ behavior. The Eagles organization, the city of Philadelphia and the Eagles fans who display good sportsmanship aren’t either.

I do not believe BlackRidge will be impacted significantly. People won’t allow what happened to change the way they think of or interact with the bank, which seems to be an upstanding organization. Nor do I think it should affect the bank’s relationship with Wentz.

But if I were responsible for the BlackRidge brand, I’d definitely be thinking about it right about now. I might even be making plans to get out ahead of any negative backlash.

One way or another, I hope reason and sportsmanship prevail when the Eagles and their fans show up in Minneapolis to play in Super Bowl LII, even if some of those fans don’t deserve it.

Image of telephone for business telephone customer service post

Three Phone No-Nos for Relationship-Driven Businesses and How to Turn Them into Customer Service Yes-Yeses

Owners and employees of a lot of small to mid-size companies are out there every day building strong brands by working their tails off and insisting on customer service that leaves people feeling like royalty.

As self-defined “relationship-driven companies,” they take pride in it. And they should, because it takes a lot of pride to make sure every interaction with customers, prospects and vendors is positive.

Every. Single. One.

Brand is EVERYTHING, from your website to your return policies to the cleanliness of your parking lot.

It is every single contact a person has with your company anywhere. As it is with so many things in life, personal or business, it’s not the huge proclamations, offers or gestures that make the difference. It’s the little things.

“Devil’s in the details,” right?

Which is why I’m surprised when relationship-driven organizations trip over one of the most basic brand details, leaving the queens and kings, dukes and duchesses of their business feeling anything but royal.

Second First Impression

Before the brand relationship comes the crucial first impression.

Even if the first touch is through an e-mail or website contact form, a relationship only truly begins when a prospect or customer speaks to a human being. That’s the second first impression, and it happens…

On the telephone.

Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200. Or Any Other Amount.

If your business claims to be a high-touch, caring one, a human being needs to answer the phone.

Call some companies and you’ll hear, “click.” followed by muzak. No recorded greeting, nothing. Others provide the obligatory, “Your-call-is-important-to-us…,” then go to muzak.

Muzak. Muzak. Muzak. Wait, wait, wait. Dum-de-dum-de-dum-de-… Dumb.

We’re not talking huge corporations with thousands of employees and billions in sales here. Those brands can afford to sic their robots and instrumental 1980s one-hit wonders on callers.

You can’t. Yours is a relationship-driven business. Remember?

When more than one call is coming in at a time, it’s just as effective – and much more relationship-y – to have a designated person pick up, greet the caller and ask them to hold for a moment. At least the caller will be assured they’ll be speaking with a human soon.

Answer the general business phone. Always. Or your next relationship might not get past the “Go” muzak, either.

Five Killer Words

“May I ask who’s calling?”

It’s called screening calls. It’s what underlings do for muckety-mucks who are so important (self-important?) they’ll only take calls from certain other bigwigs.

Here’s how it goes down:

“It’s a magnificent day at ACME! How may I help you?”

“I’d like to speak to Ms. Muckety-Muck, please.”

“May I ask who’s calling?”

“It’s Bob Par.”

“One moment please.”

<on-hold muzak>

“I’m sorry, but Ms. Muckety-Muck is not available at the moment. May I give you her voicemail?”

<pause>

“Um, well, OK….”

Par can’t help but wonder if, had he been Mr. Bigwig, his call would have been put through. That’s the implication he more than likely takes away, even if Muckety-Muck was, honest-to-goodness, indisposed and couldn’t take a call.

Now. Replay the conversation again, but leave out the five killer words. Without them, Par has no reason to believe his call didn’t go through because of who he was or who he wasn’t. He’s left believing Muckety-Muck was busy and will call back as soon as she can.

People are busy. I get it. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a receptionist or admin or other designated person answering the telephone. But those who want to wear the relationship-driven crown can’t give even the sniff of an impression that they’re picking and choosing who they will or won’t talk to.

Answer the phone, direct the call to the right person or inform the caller that the person they’re calling for isn’t available before getting the caller’s name.

Right Back?

Last but not least is the call to a direct or mobile line.

This is the, “Oh, hi. I can’t talk right now. Can I call you back?” response.

If they can’t talk right now, why’d they answer?

Do this and the caller hangs up wondering if:

  1. You’re waiting to hear from someone infinitely more important than he is.
  2. Whatever you’re doing is infinitely more important than he is.
  3. You don’t care to talk to him now, and maybe not ever.
  4. You’re a Pavlovian nincompoop who immediately answers every ring.
  5. All of the above.

No matter what the answer is, it’s the wrong answer for a relationship-driven brand. Because what the caller really hears is, “Oh, it’s you. I was hoping it was someone else.”

And that, my friend, is poor customer service.

We all have caller I.D. on our mobile phones, and we all know when we’re too busy to talk on the phone. If you have no intention of speaking to a caller when you answer, don’t answer. Period. Let it go to voicemail, instead.

No-No-No to Yes-Yes-Yes

“We don’t just take care of our customers; we genuinely care about our customers.”

That assertion becomes a little disingenuous when callers are greeted with numbing instrumentals, are forced to run the receptionist gauntlet or need to cope with the undefined call-back sluff-off.

So, to review….

There are three easy ways for relationship-driven businesses and organizations to make sure customers, prospects and vendors don’t feel disrespected when they call. To deliver the kind of customer service you strive for:

  1. Designate a human being to answer the general business phone.
  2. Put people through or tell them the staff person they’re calling for isn’t available right away, without asking callers to identify themselves first.
  3. Only answer the direct business line or mobile if you have time to talk at that moment.

Treat people like royalty when they call and they’ll have a positive impression of your brand when they hang up. Who knows? They might even call back sometime.

 

© 2018 Fredricks Communications

"About Faces" Masthead

Real People. Real Stories. Fargo-Moorhead.

Fredricks Communications is proud to be teaming up with Darren Gibbins Photography on a Fargo-Moorhead community project collaboration, “About Faces.” Darren shoots the portraits, I write the feature stories and people who make our community great get a little free publicity.

Mary Cannon, owner of Moler Barber College of Hairstyling in Fargo, N.D.“About Faces” is a collection of profiles – in both images and words – about people who make Fargo-Moorhead and the surrounding regions what they have been, what they are and what they can be. Here you’ll find fewer “movers-and-shakers” and more “doers-and-makers” – people who do the little and big things that make a difference in communities and individuals’ lives. Some have lived through unbelievable times or created monumental shifts. Others have made sudden changes (about-faces) in their personal or professional lives, or their stories speak to us because they’ve held the line for years or even decades.

We launched this week wtih our first photo/story installment, which features Mary Cannon, owner of Moler Barber College of Hairstyling on South 8th Street in Fargo.

We hope to publish at least every other week.  If you know someone who has a good story, please let us know!

New Work – Ventoco Messaging & Website Content

Managerial Expertise and Experience for Renewable Energy Companies

 

It’s not often that a website content creator gets triple exclamation points.Ventoco Logo

Lars Møller, partner and chief executive officer at Ventoco in Bensenville, Ill., hit me with two sets of them in the same email last week, much to my surprise and delight. The previous week I had completed a rewrite of the company’s website content.

Here’s what he had to say:

Finally slowed down after a busy week and had time to review your revisions.

Awesome, Martin!!! 

So much so, that I will copy/paste tomorrow to our website. I am back in USA next week and suggest we discuss what’s next. Thank you again for your words!!!  

P.S. – a few tag lines to TM (trademark) by the way!

Lars and I go back a ways, to when he was president of DMI Industries, a wind tower manufacturer in West Fargo, N.D. I helped rebrand the company and create a range of marketing materials, from print advertising campaigns to marketing videos. I also provided media relations services.

Today Lars and his Ventoco colleagues are helping renewable energy companies gain traction or expand their operations and footprints in new markets around the world. They deliver years of experience and expertise that clients don’t have in-house to help leadership teams make better, more informed decisions, achieve company goals more quickly and avoid pitfalls along the way.

Ventoco has an extensive global network, direct connections to decision makers and valuable resources its clients might not be able to access on their own. These guys really know what they’re doing.

Ventoco – everything you need to lead. Check them out.

And if you need help with your brand messaging, copywriting or website content, give me a call.

“Special” Copywriting and Content for “Special” Organization

Built on Bravery Builds Athletes of All Abilities

Andrew Cameron knows how to train athletes, especially special needs individuals and Special Olympics athletes. He recently started a new organization – Built on Bravery – to help them become the very best they can be.

Built on Bravery provides individualized personal training and more focused Special Olympics coaching that helps clients meet their health and fitness goals. They can take engage in person at Built on Bravery’s Eden Prairie, Minn., facility, or online if they don’t live in the Twin Cities area.

Andy’s mantra is “Believe It, Achieve It!” and that’s exactly what he helps his athletes do. He believes in “any body,” meaning Built on Bravery’s science-based health and fitness programs are built on the conviction that every individual has the potential to get stronger, healthier and happier regardless of any perceived limitations.

Built on Bravery athletes learn how to eat right, lose weight, gain weight, build strength, tone muscles and improve skills in everyday life and their chosen sports. “They just need the courage to try, and we’ll guide them the rest of the way,” Andy says.

To help spread the good word about his new business, he turned to Nubson Design and Fredricks Com

munications. Nubson took care of Built on Bravery’s website and design work, and I handled the copywriting and content creation for several marketing and public relations pieces.

Since the beginning of our relationship, I’ve helped Andy with copywriting and content creation for a sales flyer, a press release, an email to coaches of special needs athletes, a letter to education professionals who work with special needs individuals and a script for introductory video on the Built on Bravery website.

You can help special needs individuals, Special Olympics athletes and Built on Bravery by checking out its sales flyer and website and directing special needs individuals, their parents/guardians, coaches and teachers there, as well.

It’s been a pleasure working with Andy because he is pretty special, himself. While he doesn’t have Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome or any of the other conditions that his clients deal with every day, he’s dedicated himself to seeing them prevail. And in my book that makes him very special, indeed.

Advertising & Public Relations Thanks – It Goes Both Ways

Fredricks Communications PartUs Logo

I was delighted this past week to receive a thank-you card from Krista Andrews & Tim Brookins at PartUs. Now it’s my turn to say thanks; you really made my day.

It’s one thing when an advertising, marketing and public relations service provider sends a thank-you card to a client. It’s good form, and really should be expected. But it shows real class when a client acknowledges your good work. I feel fortunate whenever it happens, and I’m reminded the people I work and with and for are truly awesome.

People like you make it possible for me to do what I do and love.

PartUs is a company built around an app. that helps people who are considering a divorce. It prompts users for quantifiable information and calculates estimates of potential outcomes, thus removing uncertainty about assets, budgets and the support people ultimately might receive or pay. It also reduces stress and empowers them by providing more control over what can be a complicated, emotional and frightening experience. Last but not least, it saves users time and money.

PartUs currently has a website for attorneys, who also can benefit from having their clients use the app.

So, a huge THANK YOU to every company, organization and individual I’ve worked with over the years on branding and messaging, and advertising and public relations tools to deliver it.

And to you, PartUs. It truly has been an honor to be of service to you. And, yes, I think I’ll take you up on that reference you offered in your note one day soon.