I’ve had my copy of the AP Stylebook for more than eight or nine years and it sits on a shelf over my desk. I’m working with the 2007 edition and I search its pages more than a few times a week. When I have a pressing style question and my copy isn’t within reach, I’ll go online and I usually find the guidance I need. The combination of resources works well, and it’s easier than memorizing all the rules. Especially when the rules change.
One rule – or guideline – that has stayed with me throughout my career is the use of “more than” vs. “over.” In my early working days, my manager explained the difference: “More than” is used with numbers; “over” is used with physical space.
It was a simple explanation and aligned with the AP Stylebook guidelines. In my 2007 copy, “more than” is described as the preferred choice with numerals, while “over” is described as generally referring to spatial relationships.
In 2014, the AP made a change and the updated guidelines to allow for the use of “over” when referring to numbers or quantity. That opened the doors so that it is acceptable to say that I’ve had my copy of the AP Stylebook for over 10 years. While I prefer to hold true to the pre-2014 guideline and use of “more than”, I didn’t cringe when I typed “over 10 years.”
Rules and guidelines change, and we adapt as best we can. That also means adapting guidelines for different audiences. During my time working in corporate employee communications, our internal usage guidelines didn’t always match up with the AP Stylebook. For example, we always capitalized an employee’s job title, even if the job title didn’t precede the employee’s name – as is the preferred AP style, at least in the 2007 edition. We used bold text for the employee’s name to make it stand out. We used internal acronyms on first reference. There were so many acronyms that we created a list of their definitions to help new employees learn our language.
The readers of our intranet and newsletters didn’t seem to mind – or maybe they didn’t notice or care – that our style was a hybrid that fit our needs. We didn’t always follow the AP Stylebook (or any other external style guide), but we when we landed on our own preferred style, we remained consistent.
Whatever style you follow as you write or edit, be consistent and don’t be afraid to adapt. I’m staying consistent and using “more than” with numbers. And if you choose to use “over” with numbers, or you decide to use the Oxford comma, that’s just fine, too.
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By Will Memmott
As a college senior who has had various internship experiences, and as the current President of the Public Relations Students Society of America (PRSSA) at St. John Fisher College, a lot of what I do focuses on professional development and seeking out experiences that will benefit our chapter members—as well as myself.
Of course, being in a marketing and communications program, having internships under my belt before graduating and going out into the real world is highly recommended. When it comes to having a leg up on the competition, actual hands-on experience can make all the difference.
In job interviews, you’ll always be asked to talk about any experience you’ve had in the field you’re applying for—which can be challenging if you don’t actually have any. So here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind when you’re hunting for internships:
Do apply early. If you’re looking to find an internship for the fall semester, start your search a few months ahead of time during the summer. Looking for opportunities early will mean that there are more options to choose from; it also minimizes chances of you getting stuck with something you’re not excited about, but had to take because you waited until the last minute.
Do ask for informational interviews. If you don’t know exactly what a position might entail or want to learn more about the kind of work you’d be doing, never be afraid to reach out to someone within the industry and/or position you want to get into. Professionals are always willing to talk about their career paths and help proactive students who show interest.
Do get organized and know your stuff. You may have applied for 10 internships, hoping to land one and gain some experience any way you can, but that doesn’t mean you’re automatically “in.” Do your homework on each of the companies you’re applying to—it will come in handy in the event you get invited in for an interview! Showing up prepared and interested will demonstrate that you actually care about the opportunity and truly want to be part of the team.
Don’t be afraid to try different things. As a student, you’re still learning about the different types of work you can get into. In the marketing and communications field alone, there’s so much to choose from. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do when choosing an internship, but having different experiences is when you’ll learn what you do (and don’t) want to do.
Previous professional practice is a must-have, especially in the communications industry. Learning as much as you can, coming in each day with a positive attitude, and putting in the effort will make for a successful and worthwhile internship experience, and pay off when it comes time to look for a job in the real world.
By Allie Rudy
As I sit here staring at my vintage Underwood typewriter, my mind drifts back to a time revisited in Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, The Post. Forgive me for being nostalgic, but with all that’s been happening in the world, a little fantasy time travel doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
The year is 1971. A little girl pounds her index fingers on the manual typewriter in an empty newsroom, feet dangling from the swivel chair. The silence is interrupted by the staccato sound of the keys making contact with the paper, with a carriage return flourish at the end of each line.
She grew up the daughter of an old-school, roll-up-your-sleeves broadcast journalist. A booming baritone with an Edward R. Murrow appearance and delivery, he was the quintessential newsman on the brink of a seismic shift. News, at the time, had to be objective. There was no room for opinion; that was saved for the occasional editorial. Any hint of bias was taboo. If a reporter tried to become part of the story (or worse, became the story itself), that was a cardinal sin.
It was before Watergate, but after the race riots, women’s movement, and Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations punctuated the turbulent 60s. And in Washington, trouble was brewing.
In June 1971, The Washington Post received copies of the classified Pentagon Papers from a reliable source. Post reporters frantically gathered at editor Ben Bradlee’s house where they combed through their contents, uncovering the then-shocking revelation that presidents since Harry Truman had been concealing truths about the conflict in Vietnam—and lied to the American public about it for years. The Justice Department tried to stop the Post and its rival, The New York Times, from publishing the story, citing a violation of the Espionage Act and a risk to national security. Post publisher Katharine Graham, the first female American newspaper publisher, made a brave decision—risking everything—to publish the story. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the right to publish—a major victory for freedom of the press.
It was a pivotal decision—one whose echoes resound today. In the current climate of “opinion journalism” and “fake news,” it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Stories are polarized depending on which news outlet you choose. As a result, many organizations are opting to share their own stories, and they’re doing it across all platforms—websites, blogs, social media, e-newsletters, podcasts, and more. Here are some tips on how to be successful in creating owned content:
In memory of Chuck Stevens, father, grandfather, retired executive news editor, WPIX-TV Channel 11, New York City, and longtime anchor/reporter WHEC-TV and radio, Rochester, NY.
A colleague of mine is a huge Syracuse University basketball fan, so much so that she came into the office decked out in her orange gear when March Madness officially kicked off. She asked me if I was planning to watch the game that night, which I was, and followed up by asking how I thought the Orange would fare against TCU*. I was concise in my response, saying that I thought it would be tough, but “as long as ‘Cuse can handle the ball and defend against the other team, they have a solid chance of winning.”
“You don’t know anything about basketball, do you?” she asked.
A beat passed before I replied, but by then it was clear that I, in fact, know nothing about basketball.
I originally thought it was my pause that betrayed me, but really, I betrayed myself when I opened my mouth. While my response may have been concise, it was generic. It lacked insight. I couldn’t help but think how a lot of PR practitioners have surely felt the same way at some point or another in their career.
Picture this: You start working with a new client or hop onto an unfamiliar account and need to hit the ground running. The problem is that this client represents a niche or complex industry, one you have yet to learn much about. Never mind, you think, I’m a pro and can dive right in. So you draft up a pitch and start going after key trade publications. You’re firing off emails left and right, and you’re feeling productive. Cut to the offices of Respective Trade Publication Times, where Bob Woodward (not that one) is busy writing a detailed, highly technical article. Your email pops up in his inbox and, by some miracle, he reads it immediately. He then scoffs and deletes your email without any hesitation. It wasn’t poorly written, Bob thinks to himself, but this person clearly knows nothing about my industry.
Had you sat down and taken the time to familiarize yourself with this industry, this scenario could have been avoided. Instead, you dove in too quickly without doing the proper research, and now Bob Woodward thinks you’re an idiot.
PR practitioners need to be experts in every field they represent. There’s no room for any sort of pseudo-expertise, so make sure you’re taking the time to properly and thoroughly research your client and their industry. It’s easy to get caught up in the tactics, but we all need to see the forest for the trees and keep the overall strategy in mind.
That being said, I still can’t tell you about the intricacies of college basketball. But that’s on me.
By Nick Guadagnino
*The colleague in question would like to specify that SU did end up winning that game.
To be or not to be on social media?
Anyone living in 2018 knows the obvious: there’s no escaping social media. Facebook and Twitter are now household names, with platforms like Instagram and Snapchat following suit. And while it might feel like everyone—particularly millennials— considers themselves an expert, there is still a lot brands can learn on how and when to leverage social media for tangible results.
This feat isn’t helped by some of the questionable misconceptions you hear floating around meetings and offices, so here to set the record straight are a few of those social media myths, debunked:
You don’t really need social media
“Social media is great for e-commerce, but we’re selling services, not goods!”
This was recently said to me by someone who works in an attorney’s office. And I see where he’s coming from; it’s easier to see the value of social media when clicks can translate directly into concrete sales. That being said, having a solid social media presence is still useful, if only to reinforce your organization’s tone, mission, and values. It also gives companies a good way to showcase culture, which you might not get to convey through other channels, and can be great insight for potential employees.
Customers don’t appreciate social media
Think of it this way: If your website is your 24/7 store-front, the same can be said for social media profiles! While your business might not operate past 5 p.m., your customers are still trying to reach you, so why not give them a way to do so? In fact, a study by Sprout Social found that social media was the preferred way for clients to get customer service—ahead of even the website. So when it comes to choosing between you and a competitor, a good social media presence just might be the thing that tips the scale.
Metrics are hard and need a full-time position to really make a difference
Yes and no. Metrics are an essential aspect of good social media practices (why post something when it hasn’t performed well in the past?) and while they can be tricky, there are plenty of existing tools to help you find your way without having to opt for a specialist. For instance, analytics from the platform itself, such as Instagram or Facebook Insights, can help you determine what type of content performs best and when to post it based on your target audience’s preferences. This article also gives a great overview of the best times to post on each platform according to 20+ studies.
You need to be everywhere
On the flip side, too often do organizations and brands fall into the trap of thinking they need to ‘do it all.’ But while it’s easy to start an account, maintaining one with enough shareable, quality content is another thing altogether—especially since social media platforms that haven’t been touched in a while are more likely to paint a negative or confusing picture of your brand.
Do your homework. Determine which platforms your target audiences are spending time on and start there. Starting off strong with two to three accounts will always be better than haphazardly managing six different ones.
By Vanessa Pearce
Over the last few years, there has been a lot of discussion around Facebook’s impending death. Today’s teens supposedly view the platform as “old”, and don’t want to be where their parents and grandparents are. Meanwhile, others have been put off by the “fake news” epidemic that has seemingly run largely unchecked, at least until recently.
But is Facebook really on its way out? Nah.
Remember, this is the same internet responsible for (incorrectly) reporting that countless celebrities, from Will Smith to Betty White to Jeff Goldblum, have died. You can’t believe everything you read, and Facebook continues to live and breathe today.
According to a January 2018 report from Statista, Facebook remains the most popular social network in the U.S. by a pretty large margin, and its lead grows even bigger on a global scale. The platform continues to play a pivotal role in brands’ efforts to connect with their customers—and it should. Still, as public relations and social media professionals, we can’t help but wonder if—or rather, when—the world will crown a new king. Will it be something completely new? Or something we already have?
A recent New York Times article suggests that Facebook has been “testing” society with two of its platforms: Facebook and Instagram. (Let’s not forget that Facebook owns Instagram!) The differences between the two applications are obvious to anyone who uses them, but perhaps the most notable is the ability to share. While Facebook thrives off of shared content from anywhere and everywhere, Instagram’s sharing is more restricted. Users can only share content privately via direct message, or by utilizing clunky third-party repost applications. And there are only limited ways to share external links. As a result, Instagram essentially forces us to interact with the content in a much simpler way: you can like, or you can comment.
As a social media manager, it is easy to become frustrated by Instagram’s limitations. We can’t post a working link to our article in a post? Or to our product page? If users can’t broadly share our content, how will our audience grow? But what is often perceived as Instagram’s weaknesses are actually the platform’s strengths. The New York Times columnist goes so far as to say that Instagram is a “healthier” version of Facebook, and appeals to Mark Zuckerberg to use Instagram’s principles to help improve Facebook.
Now, I don’t think Facebook will be doing away with external links any time soon, or limiting text, or deactivating the share button. And the thing is, it doesn’t need to. We already have that platform and it is Instagram. What will be interesting to see over time is if people really do migrate to spending more of their time on this platform, and how Instagram adapts in response.
For us and for clients, Instagram presents some unique challenges, but also opportunities. When it comes to social media content generation, external links are a crutch. We have so much to say, and can’t do it all in a status update or tweet (even with the expanded 280-character limit!). We write enough to capture attention and paste a link for more information—which users may or may not click on. But not with Instagram.
Instagram pushes us to stretch our creativity, and prioritize the message. How can we communicate with our target audiences with just a photo and a caption? Not only is it possible, it is fun. Catchy graphics, beautiful photos, pithy captions. Lots of hashtags. Instagram Stories. It’s a different world, but brands should learn it, and love it.
Just in case.
By Heather Kowalczyk
It was a good decision: a decision based on facts, one made with key audiences in mind, informed by best practices.
Until it wasn’t, and the CEO went from being viewed as a sound, competent leader, to one whose commitment and competency were suddenly thrown into question.
That same scenario played out three different times with three different senior leaders over the course of four days, and I had a front row seat for each. After sleeping on their decisions, each suffered from what Nick Tasler, writing in Harvard Business Review, calls ‘planner’s remorse’. Overthinking and retrenching, each one started heading in the opposite direction, quickly confounding their teams, concerning their partners, and arguably pointing their organizations the wrong way.
Yet what’s often overlooked in these situations are the long-lasting effects on employees, whose confidence in their leaders suffer a blow following reversals. A single instance may not make for a problem, but repeated recalculation using the same data has a cumulative, damaging effect on trust and retention. A 2012 Deloitte report revealed that among employees who plan to leave an organization, 27% trust their corporate leadership, compared to almost 62% of those who plan to stay.
Reconsidering a path when presented with new information is the mark of a good leader. Next morning waffling is a skill for short order cooks at the local breakfast joint. Choose wisely.
By Mike McDougall
The endless possibilities of writing are what excite me most. The notion that I can put a pen to the paper—or, more appropriately, fingers to the keyboard—and create something new and unique is why I find so much joy in it.
Sure, my writing for clients requires a commitment to brand standards, but a certain creativity exists nonetheless. It’s because of language—the words we use, the punctuation we choose—that I’m able embrace this creativity. I favor some techniques and bits of punctuation more than others, and if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that I already used one of my personal favorites four times so far in this blog post. I’m talking about none other than the em dash.
When it comes to writing, you just can’t beat a good em dash. According to The Elements of Style—my preferred writing guide—a dash (or em dash, as it’s also known) is a mark of separation that’s “stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon, and more relaxed than parentheses.” Its versatility—and the countless opportunities we have to use it—are what make it so appealing. It’s a vital tool in a writer’s toolbox—one that shouldn’t be ignored.
Now, in case you’ve lost track, we’re up to nine uses of the em dash in just two paragraphs. Sure, it’s a versatile tool, but that can sometimes lead to over usage. The last thing a writer should be is repetitive, so it’s up to us to identify the proper time and place to use an em dash. The Elements of Style gives us some guidance, stating that we should, “Use a dash only when a more common mark of punctuation seems inadequate.” Take the following sentences, for example:
His novels—especially those written in the 1960s—explored the human condition.
She proved her coach wrong—it wasn’t just her talent that made her a great athlete—it was her camaraderie with the team.
Now, although these sentences still make sense, the em dashes aren’t necessary. Let’s see what they look like with an alternative structure:
His novels, especially those written in the 1960s, explored the human condition.
She proved her coach wrong. It wasn’t just her talent that made her a great athlete, it was her camaraderie with the team.
So, before you shoot from the hip and throw the em dash into your writing, ask yourself a few questions: Will a comma suffice? Am I using an em dash just for the sake of using it? And most importantly, am I effectively communicating what I want to say? If you’re not, then you’re in trouble—big trouble.
By Nick Guadagnino
Snowflakes are in the air, lights are being strung, and kids are furiously writing (and texting) to Santa. Believing is central to the holiday season, and it should also be part of how you evaluate an agency partner — or any partner, for that matter.
If a firm is helping manage an organization’s reputation and promoting its products and services, shouldn’t it be consuming them too? It’s an obvious connection, yet one too often missed — a flag redder than the jolly old elf’s suit.
Working with another agency on a shared banking account, I was stunned that its strategic lead, who’d been on the business for several years, had no personal accounts there — not even a debit card. When I asked her why, she replied that she'd “never got around to it.”
That’s not believing in your client.
Is it worse when a firm pitching your business submits materials that favor your chief competitor? That’s what one shop did during my Kodak days, sending us digital files on Fuji DVDs. They went to the top of the naughty list, and were chagrined by their lump of coal.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, look at firms such as Giles Communications. Its founder has represented Yamaha for decades, and his love for the brand is found throughout his home, with well-used keyboards, pianos and pro audio gear abound.
The Santa test is not a perfect or complete evaluation method. We have clients in specialty industries for which my business or I aren’t the target buyer. There’s only so much an agency can do with premium high-voltage resistors, as much as I’d love to try.
But for others, we live and breathe their brands. Banking with banks we represent. Wearing and using the medical devices about which we write. Buying season tickets and passes for organizations we promote. Serving in board roles for nonprofit clients we champion.
Even when projects are over, we continue. Those Yamaha speakers on my desk? You guessed it. They're from my first project more than 20 years ago, are still pumping out music, and I’d be happy and proud to explain the technology behind their sweet sound.
So as you’re asked to believe this season, take a few moments to consider if your prospective partners, or even your current partners, reinvest in their clients’ brands. You may be surprised how how fleeting and fragile — or magical and valuable — true belief really is.
By Mike McDougall
This blog post is part two of a series. Read part one here.
While the gap in online vs. TV news quickly narrows, the public relations profession is in the midst of a major transformation. As communicators well know, the rules of the game have changed, and proactive, out-of-the-box strategic thinking is required. The days of “Put me on the cover of The Wall Street Journal,” have evolved to “Share a social media post that goes viral!” While the medium may have changed, one thing remains constant: the demand for great content. But what exactly qualifies as ‘great’?
In the race for killer content, compelling stories always win. Think about some of the great storytellers of our age: Steve Jobs was a master at sharing stories to inspire innovation and risk-taking in order to change the world. Sheryl Sandberg shared her experience with grief following the untimely death of her husband, to educate and enlighten others going through similar challenges. Richard Branson uses stories to build brands and achieve buy-in. Bill and Melinda Gates launch movements to help humanity. Oprah Winfrey motivates, relates, teaches, and inspires. The common denominator: it all begins with compelling content.
Less is more. Content doesn’t have to be lengthy to be compelling. It can be as simple as a great photo, or a 15-second video shared on social media that goes viral around the globe. Content that works is engaging, timely, relevant, and concise. For example, one photo of a house encased in ice on Lake Ontario shared on social media became a global sensation in seconds. The now infamous “Ice House” was covered by every major news network around the world, plus Fallon, and Kimmel! And it all started with a great photo (I would know—the photographer just happens to be my husband).
Traditional, one-dimensional storytelling is no longer relevant. The one-off lead story in a national media outlet is quickly being eclipsed by a multimedia approach to creating owned content that maximizes reach and engagement. Innovative, multifaceted ways to tell stories are required.
A prime example of a creative approach to great multimedia storytelling is The New York Times’ Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. It the harrowing story of a group of skiers who risked it all to ski the fresh powder back trails of Cowboy Mountain in Washington State, with tragic results. A masterful combination of narrative, video, audio, graphics, and animation take you to the back-country Tunnel Creek section of Stevens Pass— and the result is breathtaking. The critically acclaimed story won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. Memorable stories make a connection with their audience.
The number one trait for great storytellers is curiosity. That desire to know more drives the storyteller to proactively seek the extraordinary among the ordinariness of daily life, seen through the camera lens, the keyboard, the infographic—the media are many, but the common thread is curiosity.
In the spirit of inquiry, communicators need to be proactive in seeking stories of relevance, thinking creatively about how to tell them, and following our instincts. In the end, regardless of the medium, compelling content is always king.
by Charla Kucko