Archive for April, 2008

Who do you trust?

Chris Scott

PR professionals and marketers rely on a variety of media sources to get our clients’ names and accomplishments in front of business leaders that may be in a position to hire them. And smart business leaders are influenced on those decisions by information gleaned from traditional media as well as online sources.

But it appears that our next generation of business leaders is more willing to accept homegrown – or unverified – information than ever before. In fact, the 25-to-34 demographic ranks the online do-it-yourself encyclopedia Wikipedia as one of the top-trusted sources of information available anywhere. It has had profound implications for the way agencies do business.

This is the message from the Edelman PR’s 2008 Trust Barometer. The survey showed generally higher levels of trust in all forms of media among the “younger elites” than their older counterparts. That included articles in business magazines, television coverage, newspaper articles, company-issued communications, blogs and online message boards.

To me, this raises a huge red flag. The line between researched, documented fact in a journalistic product vs. opinion, counter-opinion and speculation offered by many online venues apparently is becoming blurred. And this is the generation that will be in positions of power within the next two decades.

For every well-researched Wikipedia entry like the one on General Electric Co., there are others that are either incomplete or just plain poorly researched and written. These entries are generally noted by warnings about a lack of sourcing or questionable sourcing at the top of the entry, but doesn’t that make the information that’s there even more suspect? (It must be noted that the site’s managers also seem to be proactive about disruptive edits.

And this is the information source that the next generation of business and political leaders trusts the most right now? Should PR and marketing professionals take advantage of this situation and pump up the volume on client achievements? Where do ethics come in when it comes to using a proven method to reach this group?

This former journalist finds it appalling to think that the level of healthy skepticism toward any source of information is on the decline. Questioning information, whether from company sources or from newspaper or magazine articles, is as critical to making smart decisions as it’s ever been.

Wikipedia’s standing as the most trusted information source by this group could have repercussions for our businesses. An unscrupulous agency might be tempted to create faux entries to boost the profile of a client, relying on whatever impact the entry might make before it is removed or revised. Or clients might request that agencies create entries for this express purpose as yet another “news outlet.”

Participating in the Wikipedia concept isn’t the problem here. The potential for abuse along with the lack of that “grain of salt” skepticism among this particular demographic is. Let’s hope that Wikipedia managers remain vigilant and that our future leaders develop a healthy skepticism that’s needed when it comes to information sources.

April 29, 2008 at 8:15 pm 1 comment

Verbal vs. written: The same but different

Helena Bouchez

I just received 1to1 Marketing’s e-mail previewing the May/June issue. I like this magazine a lot and read most of every issue – unlike many others, which barely graze the top of my desk before sliding into the trash. In the e-mail was a link to a podcast titled “Can Online and Offline Channels Get Along?” I’ve been writing a lot on the importance of marrying online with offline channels for one of our clients and so it piqued my curiosity. I fired it up.

Oh. My. God. The sound that screeched forth from my computer was nails-on-a-chalkboard bad. Noise cancellation anyone? Tone control? Moreover, whose idea was it to pass off this recording of a phone interview as a podcast? I listened for a few painful minutes and then bailed out.

This had to be a writer’s idea. Writers are used to communicating in relative silence. We type the words and others read them in similar solitude. And when we read, we “hear” the words inside our heads. Good writers know how to control this; good business writers, for instance, aim for an internal voice that is confident and authoritative.

Once words move from the page onto the airwaves, however, the rules change. That’s because the perception and comprehension of writing and speech are not the same. Written and spoken English are different.

Here are some guidelines for creating good audio assets.

1. To maximize comprehension, spoken words must sound good. Sounding good is the responsibility of the speaker. If you are a writer who is required to express your ideas verbally as well as in written form, get training. If you need a vocal communications coach, call mine. She’s fabulous. (Surprising bonus: Vocal communications training also will make you a better writer. You’ll see.)

2. Trust your ears. Someone must have listened to this recording before it went up. If this were my shop, my response would have been “Gee, it’s a little rough, we really need to fix it. Let me find some software or a partner who can help.” I wouldn’t have let it go up as is. No way. Someone like me might blog about it!

3. Test and learn. If this was recorded over the analog phone line and it didn’t come out very well, next time try Skype. Or ooVoo. Experiment. And even if it’s meant to sound homegrown, keep the standards on the high side. Today’s professional information consumers (read: marketers) have very sophisticated ears. That means your recording is probably not good enough to post unless it’s pretty darn good.

Good: 1to1 Marketing Magazine, a well-written and useful source of information for readers. Better: Well-produced audio-based communications vehicles that match the publication’s high standards.

April 15, 2008 at 3:31 pm 3 comments

The dying art of good writing

Sally Saville Hodge

Just when I’m ready to sound the death knell for the craft of good writing, out comes a New York Times article saying “not so fast.”

The piece outlines results of a nationwide test that suggests one-third of U.S. eighth graders and a quarter of its high schoolers are “proficient” writers. Now, that doesn’t sound so hot to me, but the folks with the federal government’s school testing program said the overall results were heartening and counter other studies citing a decline in our society’s ability to write.

Maybe I’m just harder to please than your average bureaucrat.

Frankly, I’m with the National Commission on Writing, which back in 2003 issued a call to put “the neglected ‘R’” back as an emphasis into the school curriculum at all grade levels. Other studies have found that a large proportion of college professors believe high schoolers advance to college with limited writing skills. And businesses are concerned as well: Another survey suggested blue chip companies are spending billions in remedial writing training.

But to my way of thinking, writing “training” only goes so far. It does impart the rules, for example. You know. The “never start a sentence with an ‘and’” and “every sentence must have subject and verb” kinds of things. (Rules that really great writers break with panache.) It may help with ways to plot your outline as a means of organizing the chaos of your thinking. And it may provide those who really want to do better with good resources to guide them on their journey. (One that I recommend to all my staff as a must-read is a terrific blog called Word Wise.)

But you can’t train people to love good writing and how it comes about. You can’t train them to understand the nuances that differentiate an okay word from the right word for the context. Or to understand why “it was a dark and stormy night” is cliché, while “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is classic. Or why a spare writing style is fine, but sometimes you need to add meat to those potatoes to make your copy sing.

We need to find ways to instill that love in our young people from a very early age. I wish I had a sure-fire way to do so. I hate to contemplate a world where communication is dominated by staccato blasts of texted acronyms and video sound bites. But that does seem to be where we’re heading.

April 7, 2008 at 4:39 pm 2 comments

Electronic communications (r)evolution

Helena Bouchez

Something weird has happened to e-mail. People have stopped answering it. Or it takes them a week to reply. And it’s not just one or two people anymore. I have to follow up on about half the e-mails I send now, when just six months ago I received responses from most within 24-36 hours.

Electronic communications methods are evolving quickly – and some say away from e-mail. In fact, e-mail bankruptcy, a desperate act in which the overwhelmed e-mail account owner highlights his or her entire inbox and presses the delete key, is becoming commonplace. People are increasingly protective of their e-mail addresses and many have figured out how to set up e-mail rules and filters to screen out unwanted – and unsolicited – messages. (Great video commentary on e-mail bankruptcy and what to do about it from French entrepreneur Loic LeMeur here.)

This e-mail tune-out is happening across realms: business and personal. In business, it’s across industries. Editors who used to respond to us almost immediately need to be nudged two and three times for the barest acknowledgment. For a current (annual) research project, I’ve even resorted to (gasp) phoning some of the sources to get some response to my time-sensitive requests. When I do get an e-mail reply, it tends to be extremely short. Like a text message. Or a tweet (Twitter communiqué – 140 character limit). I’ve also noticed a steady uptick in the number of actionable messages received via Facebook and LinkedIn.

Because things are changing so rapidly, we must stay on top of what messaging is relevant to our clients’ target markets and the best way to get it in their way. Every tactic has to be reassessed every time, especially if the last time we executed it was more than six months ago. We must be curious and experiment. How many of you Twitter? Use Skype or OoVoo? Belong to a forum? Are aware of the next generation of social networking sites? (I’ll help here: Brain gym and brain training site currently in beta, is one such site.)

As if keeping up is not enough, we also need to remember to inform clients as to the degree of flux the entire communications industry is in (and is likely to stay in) and educate them about the new communications channels and choices out there. It’s more work for us, of course, but will pay off big in the end – also known as Web 3.0.

April 2, 2008 at 3:42 pm Leave a comment

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