MarComedy: Don’t make me laugh

For what tickles my fancy in media, communications and life in general.

Tell Me What You Do In 100 Words Or Less

with 7 comments

One of my tasks at work is to manage our relationships with the various relevant industry associations. Our CMA membership was up for renewal and I was asked to provide a company description in 100 words or less for our memembership directory listing.

A standard request but one that is harder than it seems. Here’s what I ended up with:

Vortex Mobile creates mobile solutions that deliver measurable results. Our marketing services group provides full cycle project management for SMS and multi-media messaging programs, WAP site development, J2ME mobile and desktop widget development and Facebook applications leveraging mobile technology.

Our technology services group offers a suite of mobile business tools using two-way mobile messaging. The services are offered as web-based applications using proprietary programming for easy customization and integration with your existing business systems. Our solutions include platforms for managing staffing shortfalls, crisis and other stakeholder communications, and mobile coupons and ticketing

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 92 words. Fairly succinct but I’ll confess it benefits somewhat from loaded jargon-y type terminology to paint the picture.

Recently over at ProPr there was a good debate about a plain language definition for social media. There were some wonderful comments & suggestions but the one that really caught my attention came via Twitter from David Jones of PR Works who said,

Reading @thornley’s “what is social media?” post again. I’m thinking that if you can’t define it 140 characters, it’s too long.

We’re always being asked to describe what we do or define a product or service in a short but insightful way. There’s the famous elevator pitch (link is to the a good post about the elevator pitch 2.0) or when we first meet someone and they ask the inevitable ‘so tell me what you do’ question. And then there’s Twitter and Facebook status updates. Text messages and instant messaging have their own lexicon of symbols and abbreviations.

Clients and prospects, in my experience, lose interest very quickly if you offer a rambling and tangential response to a question. If you’re in PR you have milliseconds to catch a journalist’s attention so what you’re saying better be interesting and snappy.

There’s an increasing premium on a ‘what’s in it for me’/instant gratification mentality. We value connectivity & responsiveness. There are millions of people worldwide who have Blackberries surgically fused to their person. We get our information on demand and consume it how and when we want to (See RSS & PVR).

With attention spans shortening and information consumption increasing, the need for brevity and clarity in communication is tremendous. So here are 6 basic tips that I try to keep in mind:

1. Keep it in plain language. If you can’t walk up to someone on the street and have them understand what you’re talking about, go back to the drawing board.

2. Use a ‘features & benefits’ approach. People will zone out if they can’t easily digest what’s in it for them.

3. Avoid industry jargon. By its nature it’s dense, clouds meaning and hinders interpretation. It’s hard, just take a look at my corporate description. Do you know what I’m talking about? Partially? This goes for double hyperbole and meaningless terms like ‘new & improved‘.

4. Use the active voice. This is grade school grammar stuff but can’t be repeated often enough.

5. Edit, edit, edit. Your brain will inevitably spew out more information than you need. Sharpen that red pencil. Take time away from your work. A refreshed view will often lead to greater clarity.

6. Collaborate whenever possible. You’ll find that another’s perspective helps in focusing your message.

I’d love to hear other thoughts. I’m no expert. I’m sure even in this post I’ve neglected to follow some of the tips. And, well, see point # 6.


Written by Jonathan Dunn

April 23, 2008 at 6:25 pm

7 Responses

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  1. […] Original post by sms – Google News […]

  2. I am a plain language and health literacy writer in the science and medical fields. Plain language is a lot of things, but to sum it up, it is writing to your readers’ needs. You must know your audience. One document cannot meet everyone’s needs, but if you use plain language, you have a greater chance of reaching a wider audience.

    That’s my 2 cents.

    Kristina Anderson

    April 24, 2008 at 9:48 am

  3. Thanks for commenting Kristina. A good point. One version may not satisfy all audiences. Customization may be necessary.

    Jonathan Dunn

    April 24, 2008 at 10:15 am

  4. Here’s 113 characters:

    Vortex Mobile creates multi-media marketing programs to connect companies and people through their mobile phones.

    I’ll send you a bill.

    David Jones

    April 24, 2008 at 11:58 am

  5. Much obliged Dr. Jones. Cheque is in the mail. But you neglected our business tools group (the non-marketing mobile apps).

    Please go back to the tweet box and re-submit.

    Jonathan Dunn

    April 24, 2008 at 12:06 pm

  6. Jonathan,

    I hadn’t seen David’s tweet about 140 characters. I like your 100 word parameter. And it caused me to check my definition of social media. Only 49 words. I didn’t know I could be that brief! 😉

    Joseph Thornley

    April 24, 2008 at 9:47 pm

  7. LOL. Love this blog already.

    KΔSEN (@KwameAdjaye)

    December 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm

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