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On the morning of Halloween in 2012, something stirred within the agency and things would never be the same again. Citizens of The Underground, the creative team’s lair, were up to business as usual when the sultry notes of “Careless Whisper” started flowing through the basement.

Bobby Brinton, copywriter savant, sauntered into The Underground and serenaded everyone as the Sexy Sax Man. Everyone stopped what they were doing, instantly enamored by Bobby’s dance moves to George Michael. Rumor has it that Major Street’s shenanigans are attributed to the sweet, sweet music that Bobby created on that fateful day.

More than just a pretty face, Bobby also possesses the highest power of the pen at Penna Powers: senior copywriter. His nationally-recognized creative has earned awards ranging from an Emmy to multiple Addys. He strikes fear into the heart of the content team with his red pen and is the ultimate authority on AP Style. Every other copywriter pales in comparison to Bobby… except when it comes to skin color.

Intentional and articulate in everything he does, Bobby has commandeered the creative team on many occasions. Account services often refer to him as “Father Bobby” for his role in keeping everyone on track. His direction, along with partner-in-crime and fellow Kelly Osbourne fan Kenny Hammond, steers Penna Powers’ creative team toward an innovative future.

Bobby makes sure that any and all creative tactics are executed flawlessly, even if it means providing thousands of dollars in talent for free. If he had a nickel for every time he provided free voiceover, he would already own a Tesla. For now, he’ll just have to settle for being the agency rock star as the former lead singer of the Sony-signed Hudson River School band.

Thank you, Bobby for five years—minus eight days—of kickass work as our copywriter. While we appreciate your impeccable writing, we admire your sense of humor and witty personality even more. We’ll never be able to get the sight of your Sexy Sax Man costume out of our minds and we’re pretty okay with that.

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Is the student ‘very interested’ or ‘fascinated’?iStock_000068846113_Medium

Do you prefer being described as ‘very smart’ or ‘brilliant’?

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Is the celebrity ‘very attractive’ or ‘pulchritudinous?


Don’t worry, I had to look it up too. But I wanted to prove a point. This point: The English language holds a flood of wildy descriptive words, ripe for the choosing. Nothing should be ‘very scary’ when there’s ‘alarming’, ‘chilling’, ‘horrifying’, ‘spine-curling’, ‘hair raising’, ‘bloodcurdling’ … the list goes on.

‘Very’ does nothing to support your writing, rather, ‘very’ subverts it. None of us are perfect. I’m the first to admit ‘very’ sometimes feels right. When that happens, let’s apply the following:

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” — Mark Twain

Got it? ‘Damn’ good.

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Writer's Block Pic 800 It’s already creeping up on me as I begin this post: pressure in my chest, straying thoughts, the feeling that what I write needs to be brilliant, together with the voice in my head telling me it’s not… All of this could be called writers block.

This creative block was more frequent before I discovered a cure: give yourself permission to write garbage. This sounds contradictory at first. Writing garbage isn’t an option for communications professionals but that’s not what this sentence means. Giving yourself permission to write garbage just asks your inner critic to hold for a moment while you write as much as you can.

Writer’s block is your inner voice paralyzing your creativity with the need to be perfect. Ironically, perfectionism is the very thing that makes us create inferior work. An excerpt from David Bayle’s book Art and Fear illustrates this well.

‘A ceramics teacher divided his class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right would be graded solely on the quality of one piece.’

A twist to the story is that when grading day came the teacher found that all the highest quality pots came from the group graded on quantity. While the “quantity” group was busily churning out work, and learning from their mistakes, the “quality” group spent their time theorizing about perfection, and in the end, had little to show for it.

Giving yourself permission to write garbage is what gets everything moving for any writing project. Writing becomes much easier once you have words on the page, then you can let your inner critic help you strengthen the piece.

Do you have any personal remedies for writer’s block?

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I don’t know how many times my cohorts at the Las Vegas Review-Journal grumbled that I was headed to the dark side when I accepted a public relations position three years ago.

The dark side? Is it really that bad?

The dark side is a term used to describe public relations professionals because in many journalists’ minds PR folks are hired to be obstacles, to cover up corruption, to put their own “spin” on an issue rather than speak the full truth.

Here’s a quick example and one that taught me my first lesson in PR–don’t give a negative story legs:

As a traffic columnist, I called up the airport communications office after witnessing and experiencing firsthand traffic attendants’ boorish behavior toward motorists picking up passengers.

The PIO, a former colleague at the paper, returned the call and asked the make and color of my vehicle and the date and time I was at the airport, etc. It became clear what he was doing–an investigation into whether I was there and in the wrong. He wasn’t willing to provide the information requested.

A week later, when the results of the my-car-at-the-airport investigation were released, my potentially mundane column suddenly became captivating. The story gained traction when more than 150 readers chimed in about the rude officers and the airport’s response, leading to another column about others’ experiences.

I never believed I veered into the dark side when I joined Penna Powers. If you believe in an issue or project, it is rewarding advocating for it.

That’s not to say the transition from journalism to public relations is simple. There are distinct differences in the two professions.

PR experts are upbeat and optimistic; journalists are typically cynical and hardened– they’ve seen more bodies and tragedy in general than most can imagine.

Journalists are accustomed to proceeding without a concrete plan. That’s the way it’s supposed to be unless you are covering recurring events (e.g. elections, holiday stories). If you have an agenda about how you plan to cover a news story, you will not likely tell it in an objective manner. A story unfolds and the reporter covers it fairly and comprehensively.

This might sound unworldly in the PR realm.

In PR it’s imperative to have a communication plan. You must have sources ready to speak to the media on issues. You must identify that there is news worthy of media coverage and then think of creative ideas for your pitch to stand out to reporters to gain coverage on a particular issue. You must gain approval from the client before acting on your strategy.

There are distinct differences in communication and working styles too.

For instance, journalists are procrastinators and typically do their best work under a tight deadline. I learned to write fast and accurately early in my career when I was a sports intern and assigned 10 game briefs due within a half-hour. On election nights, journalists make calls to candidates when the projected results are in with the understanding that the quotes won’t be published if the numbers change. That’s a tight deadline.

In public relations, because of the planning involved, rarely are you on a tight deadline. In the end, the planning and strategizing invested in campaigns pays off with well thought out initiatives.

Exclamation points. Exclamation points! In journalism, this is rarely used punctuation typically spared for a direct quote to describe someone shouting. Not even in emails do reporters use exclamation points, unless they are angry.

I’ve caught the bug. In public relations, exclamation points are not taboo. People use exclamation points to show enthusiasm or support. So, I’ve learned to still use sparingly so they don’t lose their meaning, but don’t drop the explanation points!

Overall, journalists making the transition to public relations firms and government agencies can bring an invaluable perspective.

They instinctively know what stories will intrigue reporters and know what it takes to get crews of journalists to cover an issue. They know which press releases grabbed their attention when they were reporters and which were tossed into the trash.

Similarities also exist between the two fields.

In both professions, it’s important to build healthy relationships to be successful. A PR expert’s robust relationship with a reporter can lead to positive news stories.

Both professions are in the business of selling. Journalists are interested in selling newspapers, PR professionals are in the business of pitching stories to raise public awareness on particular issues and programs.

I had always heard in the newsroom that 20 percent of reporters actually make it with a PR agency. That was the unofficial word in the newsroom. I say believe in what you do and you are going to succeed.

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Blunders

I’ve heard people say that print is dying. Regardless of the validity of that statement, one thing that is definitely not dying is good writing. In fact, the world has maybe never had a greater need of people who can adequately and competently communicate ideas and thoughts through words. Unfortunately, brands don’t always get this. Here’s a list of five common errors brands can’t seem to stop making online (specifically in the things they post).

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1. Spelling and Grammar.
English is hard. There are a lot of grammar and spelling rules, and sometimes the things we do don’t seem to make sense. It’s fun to poke fun at our friends when they use the wrong “your,” or when they put that comma in the wrong place, but when someone is pointing the finger of ridicule at your brand? Yeah, that’s not so fun.

A very recent example of this blunder was committed by video game developer Square Enix Inc. They recently released their video game “Dragon Quest IV,” for iPads and iPhones. Only one problem: They spelled their OWN GAME wrong. Meet Dargon Quest.

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In today’s fast paced and social world, simple mistakes like this spread like wildfire. #DargonQuestMyGame quickly became a trending hash tag on the Twitter sphere, where everyone poked fun at Square Enix’s misfortune.

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Solution: Spell check gets it wrong a lot more than you’d think, so when you’re writing some content for the Internet don’t rely on spell check to fix all your mistakes. Before you post it, read it out loud. Then have someone else read it out loud. Just getting multiple eyes on it will help immensely.

2. Lack of Follow-Up
The Internet has opened up many doors for brands and companies to engage with their customer base. Brands everywhere are trying to take advantage of this by starting conversations with their loyal fans and followers. Here’s the catch though, you’ve got to finish every conversation that you start. You might be asking all of the right questions and posting the best content, but if you aren’t following up with your fans, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Take a look at Taco Bell.

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Taco Bell goes beyond sharing content, they start, engage in and finish conversations. When someone says “I love you Taco Bell,” they respond in kind. There’s a lesson there that every brand would do good to remember.

Solution: Take some time every day to respond to some of your fan base. You don’t need to systematically address every comment or question out there, but taking the time to interact with a few followers will go a long way in building brand loyalty.

3. Asking Bad Questions
There’s a common expression, “there’s no such thing as a bad question.” Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that is definitely a lie. While asking questions to your followers is a good thing, bad questions can actually hurt a brand’s online presence. Here’s an example of a not-so-great question.

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Questions like the one above are great if you’re talking to a fellow co-worker. Not so much if you’re asking a large group of people online. That’s not even the worst of it though. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen brands ask something like “Finally it’s Friday! What’re your plans for the weekend?” First of all, questions like this are generally difficult to follow up on; they aren’t going to generate a good conversation. Second, questions like this rarely have anything to do with your brand. And finally, most people don’t care to share their coffee preferences or weekend plans with a bunch of strangers.

Solution: Before you ask a question online, ask yourself this: Do I really care what the answer to this question is? Would I feel comfortable asking this to a large group of people I don’t know? Will other people feel comfortable answering this question publicly? Based on your answers to those questions, you may want to reconsider whatever you might be saying.

4. Word Repetition
I don’t care how incredible something is, repeating it ten times isn’t convincing anyone. I think the expression is that actions speak louder than words? Keep that in mind when you’re posting anything online. Otherwise you might look a little something like this:

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Just remember: Saying the same thing over and over is an easy way to disengage your audience over and over.

Solution: Similar to when you have a typing or grammar error, the easiest way to avoid this blunder is to read your content out loud (numerous times if you have to). There’s rarely a good reason to repeat yourself (unless it’s ironic). Even if you want to say the same thing in two separate sentences at least use a thesaurus.

5. Lack of Anything
Probably the worst things you can do for your brand image is establish an online presence only to completely neglect it. Some might call it social suicide; Social media suicide that is (I’m so sorry about the terrible pun, but it had to be said).

It’s not just that fans will be disappointed that you aren’t doing anything online either. The problem is that if you aren’t populating your pages with content, then disgruntled fans will, and I’m willing to bet you might not like what they have to say. Take Zynga’s Facebook page for example. It’s filled almost entirely with unaddressed customer complaints.

poor poor zynga

Solution: Here are your options: Remove yourself from the Internet entirely (probably a bad idea), or just, you know, take the time to manage your online presence. Hire someone to help if you need to.

Now, these aren’t the only mistakes when it comes to how brands present themselves online, but these certainly cover some of the big ones I see every day. Hopefully your brand has never committed one of these blunders in the past, but even if you have, now is the perfect time to stop.

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Proofreading

More likely than not, your job title is not “Proofreader.” But it is just as likely that your position requires at least a little bit of proofreading, which does make it… your job. In communications, it is obviously a huge part of what we do and is a very important part of the process. So here are some quick tips on how to make the most of it.

Choose a style guide and stick to it: You will run into a lot of circumstances where there is not really a right or wrong answer. Choosing a style guide will give you an answer to most of these questions and eliminate a lot of confusion.

Watch for the most common mistakes: According to The Everyday Writer, these are the top 10 most common writing mistakes made.

Know the proofreader’s marks: Being able to properly mark-up a document can go a long way. When the editor receives that paper, they will know exactly which changes to make, and that saves a lot of time.

Know the writer: It isn’t always possible, but if you are proofreading for the same writers over and over, be sure to make note of common mistakes that they make. The better you know their writing style and tendencies, the easier it will be to catch everything.

Look for formatting as well as spelling and grammar: Some key things you can check for are:

  • Spacing between words, sentences and paragraphs
  • Widows (a single word separated from the rest of the sentence)
  • Orphans (the first line of a paragraph ending up at the end of a page)
  • Margins
  • Font size and style
  • Overall aesthetics

Read like you’re from another planet: You might know exactly what the writer is talking about but will the intended audience? The readers may not know your industry terminology, so be sure that everyone can understand what is trying to be said.

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Why We Love It

Undeniably, content marketing has taken the lead in how we communicate. More than 27 million pieces of new content are created daily. And beyond the mind-boggling number, it has earned this stature because of its value. Never before have we been able to connect, interact and deliver in the way that they want it.

For marketers, self-publishing can eliminate many barriers and waste to directly communicate ideas and information, build trust, create awareness and build relationships. But the biggest advantages are in its power to convert consumers into taking a desired action—and then (the holy grail!), measuring and tracking the impact of that action.

Creating valuable content is the first step. Once you set your strategy and objectives for what your content needs to accomplish, build your editorial content calendar by:

  • Curating content ideas from your current brand ambassadors. What do they want to know?
  • Interviewing company experts for ideas.
  • Providing tips to solving a problem.
  • Commenting on industry news and trends.
  • Sharing your brand stories.
  • Compiling lists of resources.

Next, get it out, but mix it up. The key is to get your content out to the many, many places where people are already spending their time. Use:

  • Websites and microsites (make sure they are mobile friendly)
  • Blog posts
  • Infographics
  • Slideshare
  • Social channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Vine)
  • Use hashtags
  • Webinar
  • Videos

Millions of pieces of content are created each day and have the potential to be shared billions of times.

How are you planning to incorporate content marketing into your communications this year?

Sources:

 

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Social Media and Writing

Contributed by Jane Putnam

No, I’m not talking about the lost art of communication with the ‘LOLs’ and replacing entire words with a single letter (e.g., “r u coming to dinner 2night?”). That’s a topic for another day. Today, I’m talking (or writing) about how communicating with our key audiences and stakeholders through social media pushes us—forces us, rather—to be better writers in order to get our point across and work within our key messages.

1.    140 Characters – Twitter has revolutionized a lot of things, and character limit is definitely one. The challenge? Get your message across in a succinct, clear way in 140 characters, including any URLs or photos. I love this challenge because it cuts the fluff and forces you to stick to the meat—the main point—of the message.

 2.    Engagement – Write to be engaging. What action do you want followers or fans to take? We don’t (or shouldn’t) write to ourselves, so having our key audience in mind, along with a desired action (click, like, sign up, tell us what you think, etc.) keeps our content and writing smart and most importantly, engaging. In reality, all of our communications should be engaging, so hopefully this will have a ripple effect on all other areas.

3.    Attention Span – Though this is nothing new to many areas of the communications arena (billboards, radio spots, etc.), it is important to note that social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram are not places for long-form writing (I’m sure there are a few exceptions, but for the most part, no). Our key audience is short on time and has lots of people and brands competing for it. Very few people will stop, click “read more” and take minutes out of their day to read an essay-of-a-post on Facebook. Write to be understood, in a short amount of time. Make the most of those seconds we get in front of our stakeholders.

4.    Specific Audiences – Thanks to some killer analytics now available from social media channels, we can now see the demographic make up of our audiences. Additionally, with some features, you can make sure your posts go out to specific sub-groups. Knowing who is (or hopefully will be) reading our content helps us reign it in even more, targeting it to our precise group.

5.     Testing – This is being able to see what works and what didn’t, and move ahead accordingly. You can try out new types of content, writing styles and calls to action, and see the response (or, lack of response… awkward). Whatever the outcome, treat it as an opportunity to refine your writing based on the feedback and perfect it for the type of writing your audience responds to best.

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Photograph: Frank Ockenfels/AMC/AMC

Contributed by Patty Clark

(Spoiler Alert: While I’m not actually talking about major plot points, I might give some things away about the characters in Mad Men. So if you haven’t watched, go watch it already!)

If you’ve ever even seen one episode of Mad Men, you’ll quickly learn that everyone on the show is a terrible human being, least of all someone you’d actually want to work with on a client-relationship basis. If anyone tries to tell you they’re just like Don Draper, then hide your wife and fire them. But Peggy Olson is one character I find myself constantly admiring. As a female copywriter myself, it’s no surprise. While she doesn’t fall in the category of saint, the barriers she breaks down and her thirst for great work makes her one of the few role models in the show. Here are a few of the things that I’ve learned from her.

Grow a Little
Peggy has by far the most dramatic transformation of any of the characters . She starts as a twerp of a secretary and grows into the talented right-hand man for Don Draper. When you first start out, you’re probably not going to be very awesome. That’s OK. Just don’t stay that way.

Take Advantage of Opportunities
Peggy is soon promoted from secretary to copywriter, a rare move for a woman of the time, all because someone saw a spark of talent in her. Ask for extra projects, stay late, speak up, but don’t be annoying about it.

Learn From Others
Don Draper remains the creative genius of the agency, even if he is a scumbag. Peggy is constantly following his lead, taking note of his process and then doing an even better job. Drop the cocky attitude and be a sponge for information and ideas.

Stand Up For Yourself
Because she’s a woman, Peggy has to constantly stand up for herself and her work. Don Draper takes her ideas and wins awards all without giving her any recognition. Now, I’m not saying that you get butt-hurt anytime someone takes one word from your original headline and doesn’t bow down to your genius. I’m saying take care of yourself and make sure you work in a healthy environment.

Be Personally Invested in Your Projects
When everyone goes home, Peggy is often the last person in the office, taking it upon herself to fix something that just isn’t quite right. Good enough isn’t good enough for Peggy, and it shouldn’t be for you either. Your cats and favorite show can wait. Put in the extra hours and take your projects to the next level.

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social media

Contributed by Jane Putnam

We’re back with the second part in a series on curating content for your brand or company’s social media channels. In case you missed part one, read it here.

 1. Host a brainstorm and gather ideas. If you’re struggling to even get started or not sure what type of content to use, hold a group brainstorm with people from different teams. This means even those who are not involved in social media—take advantage of different perspectives, insights and new ideas. Keep the brainstorm open and take down all ideas; pare it down post-meeting.

 2. Mix up the types of posts. Whether it’s a text-only post, an image, a photo album, a link or something else, mix up the types of posts you use. Keep in mind, visual posts (an infographic, photo, image or other) often perform better on Facebook, but that doesn’t mean every post needs to be the same. Also, experiment with different ways to present/share content.

3. Build in a strategy for sharing, retweeting and giving credit. Support your partners and other collaborators by supporting their content. For example, if your business in City X, which is commemorating its X-year anniversary, share your support or congratulations through your content. There are dozens of other ways to share, retweet and give credit too. Moral of the story, don’t get so lost in your content that you forget about what’s going on around you and your company or brand.

And, one final thought: whatever the content you’re sharing, make sure it shares well on mobile phones and devices other than laptops or computers. The Pew Internet and American Life Research Project found, as of April 2012, that 55 percent of adult cell owners use the Internet on their mobile phones; nearly double 2009 numbers.

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