Category Archives: Stuff

Why AP style matters everywhere

A few days ago, one of my twitter followers, who is an engineer, asked if writing in AP style or having an APStylebook matters in engineering. I responded with a whole-hearted and emphatic “YES! AP style matters regardless of your industry.”

Here’s why.

Everything is media-ready
We live in a 24/7/365 media world. When you write in AP style, all your reports, product descriptions, blog posts, field notes, etc., can be quickly repurposed into a media-ready, editorial-friendly press release or quote. When your press releases are the first to market and the easiest for reporters to use, you will become the go-to expert source for your industry whenever any news breaks. Reporters will trust your releases more because they are organized like a news story, not sales-y and gets to the point quickly. And they really appreciate not having any typos.

Think like a reporter
It is the job of a reporter to tell a story quickly and clearly. When you practice writing in AP style, you sharpen your ability to tell your industry story in terms others can quickly understand. Your product descriptions, process explanations and field notes become clearer and more organized, making them more valuable for your company. You will also begin to see almost everything as an interesting story to be told instead of just “normal stuff we do every day.”

Your writing becomes more consistent
Few things are as frustrating or confusing as inconsistent writing that describes the same process or story. Same location as that? Is that the same person doing that thing you were describing before? When you write in AP style, you hone your writing discipline by adhering to the rules when they exist.

There you have it. Three good reasons why you should write in AP style, regardless of the industry you are in.

What does your job title say about you?

I am unofficially advising on designing some identity stuff for a New York restaurant that will be opening next month and was doing up a business card mock-up with their new logo.

“What is the title?” I asked.

“Owner/General Manager,” came the reply.

I paused to choose my next words carefully. Here is what I was thinking.

When I hear Owner/General Manager, I think this is the one partner in a group that has put in the least amount of cash, but also the most amount in percentage of his personal wealth. He may even have taken out a second mortgage on his home.

As a guest, I may be more willing to push him into giving me a discount or a free meal or something, knowing that he is driven more by fear of losing his investment than growing his business.

As a vendor, especially in creative services, I want to steer clear of him, knowing that he will try to beat me back on price at every step and try to micro-manage the process too much, driven by desperation and fear. Quality hardly matters as long as the price is cheap.

As a restauranteur, your title should be Owner OR General Manager, but not both. What your contract says is one thing. What you tell guests and vendors you are is a marketing choice.

What does your title say about you? Have you thought about this?

I apologize for that expectation

I apologize for setting that expectation. Apparently it was done during a weak moment of kindness, one that you are now making me wholeheartedly regret.

I’m sorry I answered the phone on a Sunday morning. You mistook a moment of genuine helpfulness for permission to call me and demand that I now put down my Sunday paper, cup of coffee and quit petting my dog to update your website because you failed to plan your resources in advance.

I’m sorry I returned your phone call switching planes while on a flight home Friday afternoon instead of waiting until Monday morning. You now have my cell phone number which you mistook for permission to call me any time, night or day and demand that I answer because it is a cell phone and not a call my receptionist has to process.

I’m sorry I answered your email at 5:30am on a Monday. You mistook that as permission to call me and email me before 9:00am and expect an answer right away since you now know when I start my work day.

I’m sorry I went out of my way to fix that database issue “on the back end” which you could have done yourself using the administration tools we spent thousands of dollars writing for you. In my eagerness to save you a few clicks, you now have the expectation that it is my job to do yours.

But mostly, I’m sorry I unwittingly set an expectation to be available for you on a 365/24/7 schedule. Apparently now when I am not available, I am crap to work with.

Will you now take my calls after 5:00pm and pay your invoices on time?

Yup, thought so.

One little thumbtack

I find myself in a real life “the cobbler’s kids” story with the latest #LetsBlogOff. I am one of the editors there who promoted the creative writing exercise aroud the most banal of all themes to date; thumbtacks.

And I find myself with nothing to write.

Then it hits me that I am right where I should be at the moment.

I don’t need to be inspirational, witty, informative or clever about thumbtacks. I just need to write a post about thumbtacks to support Jane Devin‘s Kickstarter. The only thing required of me is to post up something — anything — to tick off a donation of $10 so she can start off a book tour and change the world.

One little thumbtack.

That’s all I need to be right now for her dream to start.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, Thumbtacks To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

Why you are unemployed

I recently responded to a LinkedIn posting about why employers find it hard to find qualified employees despite the 9.x% unemployment rate. Someone responded to my comment with a long diatribe about why I was wrong.

And he started off by calling me Gerald.

For anyone who knows me, they know this: I have what I call the “Gerald Test.” Any resumé, cover letter, vendor email, sales letter, etc. that calls me Gerald gets thrown in the trash immediately because my name is Gerard. I simply do not care at that point how talented the person tells me s/he is, how great their product is, whatever; her/his performance says otherwise. As someone who needs to rely on the impeccable skills of his staff, that error is a nonstarter. A full 70%+ of all applicants and salespeople fail this test, making my job of sifting through the remaining stuff a whole lot easier.

It’s not hard to verify my name. If you get it wrong in a conversation, I’ll correct you. Once. If you get it wrong after that, I’m simply no longer listening to anything you have to say.

But here is where the comment thread went off the tracks quickly. He apologized for getting my name wrong and then followed up with a justification of why typos may not matter all that much. He cited another LinkedIn thread where others felt it was ok to have typos in resumés and cover letters.

You are unemployed because you showed an initial disrespect to the person you are talking to, you failed to pay attention to the relevant details and you appear to have a rationalization for every mistake you make or will make.

And that shows up readily in your resumé, your online presence and your interviews. Employers have neither the time nor the patience to deal with mistakes that cost the company money nor do they wish to engage in battle with you at every turn.

Don’t be that guy.

In case you really want to read the LinkedIn thread, here it is.

Who are you really branding in social media?

I was discussing the state of social media and how Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter are shaping — actually engineering — us. I said, “For example, take that Ford commercial where the recent college grad makes fun of her parents for only having nineteen friends…”

“Ford?” she said. “You mean Toyota.”

“What? Whatever,” I said. “Ford, Toyota, it is a commercial for Facebook.”

Oh, snap.

This does not matter one little bit. Unless you are the brand manager at Toyota.

Makes you think about who really has the power over your brand, doesn’t it?

Retro commercials, Boomers and Hipsters

I found myself in Times Square this past week, waiting on my daughter to finish her “quick” run into Forever 21 when my eye caught the giant Hershey chocolate bar ad stuck in the advertising mess that the corner has become. I found myself singing the Hershey bar jingle, “Hershey is… the great American chocolate bar…”

And I realized that all these brands that have been around forever that are now fighting to regain relevance already have it in the vast libraries of retro commercials. Boomers will revel in nostalgia — like I did for a brief moment — and Hipsters will connect with the retro commercials to retain their cool status.

The upside of this for brands is they can “produce” at least a year’s worth of media and marketing all for the lower cost of royalties instead of new creative costs. Will they do it?

Look, man. We ain’t Starbucks

This past week, I was visiting with a friend in New York. There is a shop around the corner from his office. We stopped in on our way back from lunch to grab some coffee.

“I’ll have a small,” he told the guy behind the counter.

“Tall? Look, man, We ain’t Starbucks,” the server shot back.

Even if you overlook the server’s obvious hearing problem and surly attitude, you can’t ignore one of the biggest problems coffee shops have — how to order the size you want.

There used to be three sizes, small, medium and large. Then along came Starbucks who sought to change the coffee culture. Everyone in the “club” would be ordering coffee their way, short, tall, grande, venti.* It was fun; for a while. Now, it’s really a giant pain in the butt as other shops look to reproduce that magic cultship.

The next morning, I went to a Dean & Deluca’s for a coffee. They had three cups on the counter labeled small, medium and large.

“I’ll have a medium,” I ordered confidently knowing exactly what I was going to get. No sass-back, no attitude, no inferiority complex. Just coffee.

Here are the two basic problems all coffee shops have. Fix them tomorrow.

Coffee sizes labeled
It used to be cool for Starbucks to “own” their unique ordering language when they were hip. Now, they are the McDonald’s of coffee. Most people go to a Starbucks because they know what they are going to get. Almost no greater than than.

I can’t memorize your sizes. I don’t want to. Can you just put a display with the cups clearly labeled with how you want me to order? I’ll say “tall” if you prompt me to say the right thing. All I know when I belly up to the barista is that I don’t want the small one and I don’t need the 55 gal drum of coffee. What do you have in the middle? I’ll take that. Call it what you want.

Coffee-only line
I know you are supposed to suggest sell me when I order just coffee, but when I really, really, really only want coffee, selling me your daily baked good for only 1.99 just ticks me off. If you had a coffee-only line, it would move quickly and you would be setting some explicitly clear expectations for us both right from the start.

Set up a “coffee-only” line. You could even make it self-serve and we would not mind one little bit pushing our own button that says “tall” and swiping our own card.

The coffee shop did more damage to their brand in five little words than any twitterstorm or social media intern going wild could have done. They did it in real life, to real people who visited their shop every afternoon. And they exported their brand damage four states over and to several thousand readers, all sipping on their Sunday morning coffee, nodding in unison.

At least we know this ain’t Starbucks.

*I had to Google for the sizes. Really.

Who does that?

“Who does that,” he asked? But that was not his real question. The answer to that question was simply Google for someone.

I was talking with an associate about an animated instructional video I had found that illustrated how to use a complicated product. The video boiled the product down into its basic functions and presented it clearly and concisely. He wanted an animated video for his product that was equally as complex.

His real question was:

“How do I find someone who knows what I need and want, won’t take me to the cleaners, won’t frustrate me by making me responsible for the tiny details of the project and will just handle it? How do I find someone I can trust?”

Be that person and you have a loyal client for life.

Quit promoting yourself. Now promote yourself

Chis Brogan wrote this post yesterday about how to do SXSW right. Marjorie Clayman popped into the comments and said “Make sure you send out a press release” that started a debate of sorts.

I think Marjorie is more right, but I’m going to offer an abbreviated case study of how my company, Rivershark, helped “promote” a client on a recent speech he gave at St. Joseph’s University to a group in the retail and food industry. Short story long, he walked his own talk and stood out.

A week before David Rich of ICC/Decision Services was to speak at the annual Food Industry Summit, his company put out a press release saying he was going to be there and what he was going to talk about. It was short, direct and to the point. There were no platitudes, no grand statements.. just a standard 5W, AP-styled release. We posted it to his company’s web site, sent it over to PR Newswire and published it to trade associations like NARMS of which he is a member. (BTW, few people do this last step. Few trade associations do member news. All of them should.)

We then helped distribute through the various social media outposts like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook.

We wrote a series of blog posts on social media and retail, one of them written by David. He had been writing on the use of social media in mystery shopping, customer intercepts and experience for a couple years so this wasn’t a “shell game” we were running. In fact, ICC/Decision Services is very much walking their talk and has been for a while. You can check out their blog posts, Google David for other connections about the use of social media in retail, find out he is the past president of the MSPA and all that. He has the credentials.

And I’m sure a lot of people attending the conference did just that. Some of them did it in real time.

The day before David went on, we wrote a blog post that gave a preview of his talk, outlining his main points.

The day after his talk, he wrote a summary blog post. All of this was supported by tweeting out, posting to LinkedIn discussion groups, etc.

Does this seem like a lot of work for a 15-minute speech to a small group of folks in the food industry? Sure does, but in the 365/24/7 business world, this is probably the new minimum. Being the leader in something means you are willing and able to do just a little bit more than the pack. The reward is you stand out.

Is this what Marjorie Clayman meant when she said “make sure you send out a press release?” Probably not entirely. Hopefully we are able to take that advice and move out into the social media space with a little more deft than thumping our chest and say, “Look at me, look at me.”

Hopefully all this helps our potential clients find us and make quick decisions about how legit we are. That we walk our own talk.

*I didn’t tell you EVERYTHING my company did for David and ICC/Decision Services nor everything David did for himself. That’s the part that cost money. :-)