MarComedy: Don’t make me laugh

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

Archive for the ‘Plain Language’ Category

Tell Me What You Do In 100 Words Or Less

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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

Brain hurt – too much thinking outside of box

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Seth Godin has started a Squidoo lens on the Encyclopedia of Business Cliches. There’s a top 10 that has morphed into a Top 83 (and counting) and that  will change as votes are cast in favour of one or another & other cliches are added. The current top 3 are: Best Practices, Synergy & Thinking outside the box.

The main thrust is that these terms, though (arguably) once useful, have been discredited through over-use and by functioning as a shield agaisnt actually saying something useful, insightful or relevant.

Cliches are more than just linguistic shortcuts, they’re typically also intellectual & creative shortcuts. It’s easy to fall back on one of these vacuous expressions, deferring responsibility for saying something meaningful or least forcing the reader (listener, etc..) to interpret for themselves. In fact, its probably better that these cliches are used so often. It allows the consumer/interpreter to come to their own conclusions.

I’m sure if business rhetoric all of a sudden became honest, transparent, insightful and useful, we wouldnt have a clue what was going on & what was expected of us. At least now, when some someone says "lets think outside the box" we know they don’t have clue what they want and are expecting us to come with the answer that will save their skin.

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Written by Jonathan Dunn

August 14, 2007 at 9:21 pm

Refreshingly Honest Obituary or This really is your life.

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Hat-tip to Matthew Ingram for pointing out the Best.Obituary.Ever.

Obituaries, unlike eulogies, aren’t bound to the convention of presenting the deceased in the best possible light. In fact, good ones are highly accurate accounts of an individual’s life & impact – whatever it may be. However, it’s still common for them to paint a favourable portrait as the person writing them is often intimately acquainted with the person (friend, family, etc..).

So what to make of one that starts:

Count Gottfried von Bismarck, who was found dead on Monday aged 44, was a louche German aristocrat with a multi-faceted history as a pleasure-seeking heroin addict, hell-raising alcoholic, flamboyant waster and a reckless and extravagant host of homosexual orgies.

and ends:

He never married.

You can find the full obituary here. It’s definitely worth reading.

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Written by Jonathan Dunn

July 6, 2007 at 3:28 pm