Category Archives: Tools & Tactics

Grammar Hammer: It’s the Principle of the Thing

the Grammar Hammer“The principal is your PAL!” With apologies to Ferris Bueller, that’s how I learned the difference between “principle” and “principal.” Here again, we have two words that sound the same but have two completely different meanings.

“Principle” refers to a fundamental law, doctrine, or tenet. It can only be used as a noun.

“Principal” actually has a lot of heft as a word. It can be an adjective (meaning “main, or highest rank in importance”); an adverb (meaning “for the most part” – example: “Norman was principally a life studies model.”); or a noun (meaning “the head of a school,” “the non-interest portion of a loan,” along with a bunch of other meanings, which you can see for yourself here).

From a business perspective, the difference between principle and principal gets most confused when talking about someone who is most important in a business or organization. For example, “Jane Doe is the principle/principal designer for XYZ Designs, Inc.” Which is the correct word? I see this mistake pretty often. The correct answer is “principal.”

The old “the principal is your pal” trick does work in helping you determine which word to use. Talking about a person? Principal. Talking about a belief? Principle. If you’re standing on the principal, you’ll probably be arrested. If you’re standing up for something that is a deeply-held, long-standing belief, you are someone who holds strong to your principles.

Just remember, “It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.” – Alfred Adler

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Content We Love: Visteon Demonstrates the Future of Automotive Technology and the Future of Press Releases

ContentWeLove

Click here to view the complete press release

Click here to view the complete press release

Marketers today strive towards a mutually beneficial relationship between brand and consumer.  More and more companies are recognizing the advantages that press releases deliver to marketers in distributing owned content that educates their target customer. Visteon Corporation’s recent press release “3-D Gesture Recognition, Virtual Touch Screen Bring New Meaning to Vehicle Controls,” reminds us that the brand mention doesn’t have to be front and center. Instead, the customer benefit is the focal point of this announcement.

Get to the point, literally.  An easy-to-read bullet point list outlines the benefits of Visteon’s new invention. 3-D gesture recognition is a complex concept for people to understand, so it’s important to eliminate jargon when introducing new information.

Include visuals for further understanding. I was personally intrigued by how this new technology functions in everyday practice. Visteon offers a look at how their new “automotive cockpit” concept actually works by adding short and to the point video to their release demonstrating each of the features highlighted in the bulleted list.

Provide research that validates a need for your new product or concept.  For instance, Visteon noted that 70 percent of the participants who test-drove the cockpit concept were very interested in not having to search for a physical volume knob. That’s a large majority!

A focused call to action linking to Visteon’s blog, offers more supporting evidence and drives reader traffic directly to the company’s owned content.

Given the complexity of this topic, this press release serves as a great example of how to leverage distribution in order to effectively communicate and educate consumers. Nice job, Visteon!

Author Alyse Lamparyk is a Customer Content Specialist for PR Newswire. Follow her on twitter @alyselamp.

Content We Love: You Can’t Touch This

ContentWeLove

The staggering rate at which technology continues to advance leads many of us wonder just how much of our daily lives can be controlled or influenced by a gadget.  Well, as evidenced by the recent press release titled,“Kohler’s Touchless Toilet Technology Marks a New Era in Toilet Flushing,” the possibilities are boundless. The amount of media attention that this announcement is generating throughout the tech community signifies the value of using press releases to communicate a great story, strike a chord with readers, and generate measureable ROI for marketers. While we usually highlight press releases on this blog containing visual elements, ironically this one stood out for its ability to grab reader’s attentions without it. For these reasons, Kohler’s magical touchless toilet is the subject of this week’s Content We Love.

Great stories stick with your audience and inspire them to act. In this case, it is an opportunity for Kohler to generate more sales for their groundbreaking new product. While automatic toilets already exist in public restrooms, this is the first time that they’ve become available for private use in all homes. It’s cutting-edge, futuristic, and clean, a narrative which is simply irresistible to our tech-savvy and health conscious culture.

Use compelling stats and figures to support your claim and be persuasive. Kohler conducted a study which finds that 51 percent of people are paranoid about germs in the bathroom. In a genius effort to drive that point further, they put the focus on just moms and children which increases that figure to 65 percent. A clear problem among a significant population has been established, and Kohler uses this release as an opportunity to raise awareness of a simple solution.

Provide readers with information that will improve their lives. An excerpt of a quote from Brian Hedlund, marketing manager of Kohler toilets and bidets says, “Homeowners are of course worried about the hygiene and health of their family members, and the toilet trip lever is an obvious area of hygienic concern. Touchless takes that concern out of the equation, utilizing new technology to provide a touchless way to control the flush.”Not only does this quote from an executive leader humanize the brand, it also states the point of view from an audience perspective and not the brand’s. When you use distribution to spread awareness of this message, it makes the intention of the message to be about helping more people, not selling more products. This slight nuance in the way your content is presented greatly impacts whether the audience will care about what you have to say or simply tune it out as another advertisement.

Kohler earned media pickup on major websites such as Yahoo!, Gizmodo, and Engadget, each of which links back to their press release and underscores that journalists still look to news releases as a source of ledes. Furthermore, Kohler benefits from the additional traffic that flows back to their company website after readers click on the links in their press release to find out more information.

This press release showcases the fundamentals of a great PR story: one that the audience strongly relates to which fulfills a demand or need and spurs interaction. Congratulations to Kohler on a job well done!

ShannonAuthor Shannon Ramlochan is PR Newswire’s Content Marketing Coordinator and was forbidden from making any bathroom puns. 

10 Tips for Developing Your Organization’s Visual Strategy

A look at the data around use of visuals by public relations professionals tells a few different stories.  On the one hand, use of visuals in press releases has increased steadily over the last few years, and the majority of communicators (76%, to be exact) surveyed about multimedia use in PR indicated they plan to increase usage.  That said, the great majority of press releases issued by PRNewswire are text-only, with no visual elements.

MediaStudio-Visual-Storytelling At the same time, data around the effectiveness of visuals is incontrovertible. Press releases with more visual elements garner more views. Search engines and social networks reward visual content, which is one reason why messages that contain a visual element get more views.  But there’s more to the story than just more eyeballs.

Content with visuals also generates better engagement among the audience, arresting their attention and keeping them on the page longer – especially in the case of video. This helps brands build affinity, and encourage important following actions by the audience is engaged with the messages. An additional benefit – when audiences spend more time on your web site, and interact with the content there, it sends a powerful and positive signal to search engines, indicating that the your web site content is valuable.  This contributes positively to search rank.

The case for using visuals in press releases, content marketing and other digital communications is clear, but for many organizations, doing this is easier said than done.  According to the PR and marketing pros responding to our survey, budget isn’t the primary constraint when it comes to producing multimedia messaging.  The principal challenges are time and resources.

The demand for content across the board puts high demands on an organization’s resources.  In-house designers have high workloads and external designers carry high-prices.  Developing compelling visual content also takes time, which can be problematic when a fast-moving team is developing a campaign.

  1. Getting organizedSo how can your organization get ahead of the curve when it comes to employing visuals in your messaging?  A great way to get started is to simply organize your brand’s visual assets, and centralize their storage.  If you’re a PR Newswire customer, you have free access to Media Studio, where you can upload, store and organize images and videos in a secure environment for future use.
  2. Gathering content – getting it out of hard drives, off the intranet and  downloaded from social channels – and consolidating it for easy use by all of your communications teams will help your brand immediately improve communications effectiveness.  Additionally, your organization will realize more value from the content it has produced and teams will save time.
  3. Developing galleries of go-to visuals, such as logos and executive head shots that are ready to go for breaking news and crisis situations as well as for ongoing, regularly scheduled communications.   Pro tip: while you’re collecting those head shots, update the bios too, adding links to published articles, active social presences, slide presentations, etc.
  4. If your company does webinars, check with your webinar provider. You may be able to easily extract elements of a recorded webinar and turn them into the video.
  5. Mine the presentations your employees create for sales meetings and external presentations, for new story lines and fresh content.
  6. Be sure to have screenshots of any web-based services or customer portals created and stored.  Bonus points will be awarded for video demos or walk-throughs.
  7. Infographics do not have to be complex, lengthy affairs. A single data point turned into a colorful graph can be just as compelling as a longer form graphic.
  8. Conversely, if you do produce a long form infographic, be sure to have your designer create stand-alone images of key points.  Large infographics don’t render well on every platform.  A single, highly visual point can also drive attention to your message.
  9. Don’t despair if you don’t have a bevy of great research data with which to build an infographics. Processes, decision trees, and building blocks type learning scenarios also make great fodder for infographics.
  10. Mine white papers and research reports, as well as market research done by product teams, for trends and data that can be turned into simple graphics.  Don’t forget to look into interviewing customers quoted in papers, researchers and others associated with the content – videos add new perspective and can humanize a data-rich story.

So if you’re among the majority of communicators who want to utilize more visuals in campaigns, but are challenged by constraints on your time and resources, start by organizing – and then utilizing – the visuals you have.  Be sure to tally your results and benchmark progress – that data will help you make the case to secure more budget for content development in the future.

And if you’re a PR Newswire client that uses the Online Member Center, learn more about Media Studio here.  This great tool provides you a place to upload, store and organize your visual assets. It’s  available to you now … and it’s free! 

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Grammar Hammer: Stationery or Stationary?

the Grammar Hammer

via PigsPaperclip.wordpress.com

via PigsPaperclip.wordpress.com

It is funny to me how one little letter can change the meaning of a word. “Stationary” and “stationery” have completely different meanings and uses, but I think these words are often used incorrectly.

Stationary (with an “a”) is an adjective that means not moving or incapable of being moved.

Stationery (with an “e”) is a noun that refers to writing paper and envelopes. Of course, these days, I think it’s safe to include those e-mail stationeries that you use in your work life.

Quick test:

  • “Choose your writing instrument and card or stationary carefully.”
    Answer: Something on which to write? Wrong, it should be stationery.
  • “…has a small, lightweight design and may be used as a stationary unit.”
    Answer: Something that isn’t going to move? Right. It’s stationary.
  • “Users have the ability to select from a wide range of products – co-branded open house flyers, rate sheets, corporate flyers, advertisements, tri-fold brochures, email signatures, business cards, stationery, and much more.”
    Answer: Right.

An easy way to remember the two is to think about this:

  • Stationery (with an “e”) is the stuff you write on. Write (ends with an “e”) = writing on stationery.
  • Stationary (with an “a”) is something  that’s standing still. Stand (with an “a”) = stationary (with an “a”).

By the way, if you haven’t seen this, Grammarly has a fun thing going on Mondays. Search Twitter for #MontoyaMonday. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” It’s a fun way to kill a few minutes if you need a break.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire and has a lovely collection of stationery.

Content We Love: A Lesson in Education Reform and Press Release Writing

ContentWeLove

Click here to view the entire press release

Click here to view the entire press release

As public relations evolves from a segmented business practice into an integral tactic of marketing and sales strategies, press releases have advanced as a tool to support these new relationships. In a recent announcement titled, “BBVA Compass economists say U.S. should adopt national curriculum in education overhaul,” economic research company BBVA Compass aptly demonstrates what a modern day press release that gets results should look like; one that is written and formatted in a way that creates several opportunities for the audience to engage and interact with their content in order to drive ongoing visibility for their message and establish trust with the organization.

A hard hitting headline and lead instantly presents the story angle and demands attention. Education reform continues to be a hotly debated topic in the United States, and BBVA seizes the opportunity to share their expertise. They have immediately provided a strong story angle for journalists to cover and earn media attention for their cause.

Visuals explain a complex issue in an understandable and emotionally engaging way. In the embedded YouTube video, BBVA Compass economist, Kim Fraser, exercises her thought-leadership on the issue while bringing sincerity and humanity to the message.  Its hi-res quality makes it readily available for broadcast media pick up, while allowing the message to extend to all social media channels where audiences are engaging mostly with visual content.

A call to action in first paragraph quickly leads to reader towards the intended goal of the message, which is to showcase the findings of a study that sheds light on the current challenges of the public education system while establishing BBVA as a trusted source of economic research.

Finally, the release provides an additional opportunity for engagement by inviting interested audiences to a web conference and Q&A session, further driving the discoverability of BBVA Compass in search results and credibility of the organization among the public.

BBVA Compass showcases the dynamic capabilities of a press release to spread awareness of a message in all relevant spaces, fostering a direct and emotional connection to the audience, and building trust with the public. Congratulations to BBVA Compass on an excellent release!

ShannonAuthor Shannon Ramlochan is PR Newswire’s Content Marketing Coordinator. Follow her on Twitter @sramloch. 

Grammar Hammer: A Flair for Flare?

the Grammar Hammer

via HudsonHorizons.com

via HudsonHorizons.com

Flair/Flare  is one of my favorite homophones. Even though these words sound the same, their meanings are very different and these words are not interchangeable.

Flair – a natural talent or aptitude; distinctive elegance or style

Example: She had a real flair for soufflé.

Example: He wore that hat with a lot of flair.

Flare – a fire or a blazing light (noun); to burn with an unsteady flame, or a sudden or brief burst of light, or to start up or burst out in a sudden, fierce activity (verb)

Example: My father always concluded his lectures by flaring his nostrils.

Example: The forest fire flared up with the increased winds.

Quick tip:

Flair – with an i – describes something that an individual is good at. Individual = i; flair = i.

Flare – with an e – describes a flame (either literal or figurative). Flame = e; flare = e.

If you have a flair for flares, you can plan the next July 4th fireworks celebration. If you have a flare for flairs? Well, I picture a flame-wielding actor. Not sure I’d want to see that.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire, and (hopefully) has a flair for words.

Grammar Hammer: Champing at the Bit

the Grammar Hammer
chompingIf your friend is being impatient, is he “chomping at the bit” or “champing at the bit?” The phrase originates in reference to a horse and the bit that goes in his mouth that’s attached to the reins.

I will admit to being guilty of saying someone is “chomping at the bit.” Now, in my defense, there are some good reasons why I’ve been mistakenly saying “chomping” instead of “champing.”

First, chomping and champing have very similar meanings.

Chomp – to chew (food) noisily

Champ – to bite upon or grind, especially impatiently; to make vigorous chewing or biting movements with the jaws and teeth

Second, “chomping at the bit” is the Americanization of the English idiom “champing at the bit” and there are references to this change as early as 1920 in the United States.

I certainly don’t want to offend my friends who raise, care for, and train horses, nor do I wish to offend the grammatical purists who carry on the battle of preserving these idioms and phrases. It’s been an interesting history lesson on the etymology of these phrases and I’m champing at the bit to learn more.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: For All Intents and Purposes

the Grammar HammerKing Henry VIIIEvery once in a while even I, the Grammar Hammer, must admit when I am wrong. Suffice it to say, I am confident in my use of “in spite of” and I can properly “beg a question.” So, for all intensive purposes…

This one hit me squarely in the face last week and I was shocked that no one had ever corrected me. Now that I know, I am forced to come clean and profess that I’ve been using the phrase “for all intents and purposes” incorrectly for years. Mea culpa.

In my defense, there’s a good reason that this phrase gets garbled so easily.

The idiom, which actually originates as “to all intents and purposes,” dates back to the 1500s when it was first recorded in an Act of Parliament under King Henry VIII. As a quick history lesson, King Henry VIII was given the power to legislate by proclamation in 1539. Basically, if you didn’t agree with what King Henry proclaimed as law, you probably found yourself at the short end of a noose, or with a date with the executioner.

From the 16th century to the 21st century, the phrase has evolved from “to all intents and purposes” to the more common “for all intents and purposes.” When phrases like this get muddled, it’s usually traced back to some internet reference. However, this one goes as far back to about 1870 when it was published in an article in The Fort Wayne Daily Gazette:

“He has never had a representative in Congress nor in the State Legislature nor in any municipal office, and to all intensive purposes, politically speaking, he might have well have been dead.”

Linguistically, “for all intensive purposes” is called an “eggcorn.” That’s when a phrase has a meaning that is different from the original intended phrase, but plausible in the same context (think “old-timer’s disease” instead of “Alzheimer’s disease”). The difference between an eggcorn and a pun is that a pun is intended by the writer (or speaker) to have a comic effect, whereas with an eggcorn, the writer or speaker is unaware of the mistake. The more you know…

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire, and for all intents and purposes, reasonably good with grammar.

Grammar Hammer: Irregardless, I still wouldn’t use this word

the Grammar Hammer

nonstandard wordsIrrespective. Irrational. Irregular. Is irregardless a word?

Even though I, the Grammar Hammer, would never use the word “irregardless,” it is in fact listed in the dictionary and used over and over in conversations, on blogs, social networks, and other websites.

“Irregardless” is used when people are describing something “without regard” to something else.

For example: “Irregardless, I’m taking that trip to Vegas this weekend,” said Bob.

What that sentence is trying to communicate is that despite having neither time nor money, Bob is still going to Vegas.

Adding the prefix –ir to regardless creates a double negative (essentially saying something is without without regard).

So, why is this word in the dictionary? The American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, and Oxford English Dictionary all list irregardless as a word with the notation that it is considered a “non-standard” word.

Non-standard words include dialect, colloquialisms, and jargon. Yes, these are words too, but their usage is considered common language (examples – “gonna,” “ain’t,” etc.) compared to the “standard” words (those words defined as the language spoken by educated native speakers).

My advice is, as always, to consider your audience for whom you are writing or speaking. If I’m scheduled to give a presentation to my work colleagues I’m not going to say, “Irregardless, I ain’t gonna go into too much detail.” If I’m writing something more casual (it is, after all, National Poetry Month), I still wouldn’t use irregardless, but I might use “gonna.” (I like that one.)

What are your favorite non-standard words that are in the dictionary but not words you would actually speak or write?

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.