Category Archives: Tools & Tactics

Grammar Hammer: Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

the Grammar Hammershould-of-could-have

I grew up in a southern West Virginia and heard phrases like “would of went” and “should of went” all the time. Thanks to my late grammarian grandfather, The Colonel, those phrases never made it into my vernacular. I heard “would of went” as recent as a few weeks ago listening to a group of adults discuss a recent happy hour. I winced and kept walking. There are two major grammatical problems with that phrase.

“Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda” are actually slang for the contractions “should have,” “would have,” and “could have.” I think the confusion starts with how things sound when you’re speaking.

“I shoulda called my sister last night.”

The “uh” sound gets misinterpreted for “of” instead of the contraction for “have.” I have yet to find any grammatical construction that supports “should of,” “would of,” or “could of” (and let’s go ahead and add “must of” to that list).

If we dig a little deeper, “should ___” requires a verb in the blank. “Have” is an auxiliary verb and should be used with should, would, could, might, must, and may. “Of” is a preposition.

What we’re trying to communicate here with our modal verbs (shoulda, woulda, coulda) is the correct from of the verb “go,” which is an irregular verb. Let’s conjugate, because it’s all about the participles.

Indicative

  • Present: I go.
  • Past: I went.
  • Future: I will go.
  • Perfect: I have gone.
  • Pluperfect: I had gone.
  • Future perfect: I will have gone.

Subjunctive

  • Present: I go. / I have gone.
  • Imperfect: I went.
  • Pluperfect: I had gone.

Conditional

  • Present: I would go.
  • Perfect: I would have gone.

Instead of saying, “I would of went,” or even “I would have went,” we now know that the correct phrase is “I would have gone.”

When you decide which modal verb you’re going to use, remember that the modal verb will give you more information about the function of the main verb it governs. “I should have called my sister last night.” “I would have gone to happy hour if you had called me before I fell asleep.”

And, finally, “I could have gone on and on about this topic, but I figure you have the gist of it by now.”

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: Comma Drama

via Grammar Girl

via Grammar Girl

In the thousands of news releases that cross the desks of the PR Newswire Customer Content Services team on a weekly basis, placing commas outside of quotation marks ranks as one of the most commonly made errors. Though misplaced commas are not a major grammatical offense in comparison to some others we’ve seen, its frequency makes this a topic worth exploring.

What’s fascinating about this topic is really how the U.S. grammar rules vary from the British. In the U.S., the comma (or other punctuation) goes inside the quote marks, regardless of logic. I refer you to English Grammar for Dummies, 2nd Edition, which gives a great recap of the scenarios in which this rule applies. On the other hand, British grammar rules focus on the context and want the punctuation placed “logically” versus “conventionally”. (See what I did there?)

For historical context, good old-fashioned typography is the primary reason Americans place punctuation inside their quote marks. According to the Guide to Grammar and Writing, when printing used raised bits of metal, periods and commas were the most delicate keys and writers risked breaking off or denting the face of the piece of type if they had a quotation mark on one side and a blank space on the other. Hence the convention arose of always using periods and commas inside the quote regardless of logic. In today’s digital age, it seems that we could eliminate this rule as easily as the rule of two spaces following a period.

My advice is to pick a style and stick with it. In 99% of my writing, I’ll follow the American rule of tucking my punctuation marks neatly inside the quotation marks, except for that teeny tiny 1% where context or logic necessitates it being outside (and please know that inconsistency makes an editor’s brain hurt).

In other grammar news, the Associated Press announced they were relaxing their stance even further on “more than” vs. “over.” A part of me has died; I just talked about this topic in February. How do you feel about AP’s new position on this rule?

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: GoBankingRates.com Goes Off Without a Pitch

ContentWeLove

Click to view the entire press release from GoBankingRates.com

Click to view the entire press release from GoBankingRates.com

The digital age has enabled content creators to become content distributors in their own right by engaging on social platforms. But in the mix of today’s owned, earned, and paid media environment, social channels can be limiting in their ability to reach beyond their followers and garner attention from new audiences. Over the holidays, GoBankingRates.com issued a press release to share the findings of a study they conducted on leading retailers titled “Stores with the Best and Worst Return Policies.” The release- which the company told us they did not pitch in advance- generated excellent media coverage on major outlets such as Good Morning America and ABC News.

Click to view the video of GoBankingRates.com featured on Good Morning America

Click to view the video of GoBankingRates.com featured on Good Morning America

The brand used a PR-savvy combination of engaging, informative content with the power of press releases to raise awareness of their message and build credibility, and the results they experienced are a testament to the fact that press releases are still highly regarded sources of information for both journalists and consumers.  For these reasons, GoBankingRates.com’s story is the subject of this week’s Content We Love.

In addition to a strong story and excellent timing, several notable elements of this press release made it optimal for earning media coverage:

  • Visual assets stop the eye and grab the reader’s attention against a sea of text. Most press releases don’t contain a visual element, which allows this company to differentiate their message against competitors and increase visibility.
  • The copy is stripped of corporate jargon and supplies readers with just the facts. In just 46 characters, the direct and to-the-point headline provides readers with a complete context of what the story is about and encourages them to read on and share on social channels.
  • Bullet points break down the results in an easily digestible format.
  • A call to action links to a blog post that drives traffic back to the company website.
Assets from the GoBankingRates.com press release are republished in a Fox News article

Assets from the GoBankingRates.com press release are republished in a Fox News article

GoBankingRates.com shared a story so valuable to their audience that all it needed was distribution to propel it forward. As evidenced by their impressive media coverage, even though distribution comes in a variety of formats today, journalists still look to press releases as a source of trustworthy information and creative story ideas. But it’s not about what a single platform can do for your message; it’s about how integrating distribution in all its forms to promote truly interesting content can drive an ongoing conversation and maximizes visibility for your brand. The exposure that GoBankingRates.com generated through original media coverage firmly positioned the company as a thought-leader in personal finance. Kudos to GoBankingRates.com on a job well done!

GravatarAuthor Shannon Ramlochan is the Content Marketing Coordinator at PR Newswire. Follow her on Twitter @sramloch

4 Best Practices for Distributing a Global Press Release

Brand Marketer Summit

Your boss comes into your office and says that the major new product release you’ve been working on for the past month now needs to be sent all over the world.  “Global” is what he says before walking out the door and into a meeting, leaving you in a panicked frenzy of where t0 even begin. These four tips can help you reduce your anxiety when distributing a global press release:

Decide on the specific countries or regions you wish to target

The first step is to determine exactly what your boss means by “Global.”  Unless this is truly breaking news and you have a large budget, sending it to every country on the planet isn’t likely what he meant.  You’ll need to pin down the countries that are most important to your company, your client, or your news. If you don’t know which countries to target, check with your marketing department.  Mirroring their efforts is usually a good idea.

If they come back to you with general regions, such as “Europe” or “Asia,” it’s best to try to pin it down a bit more.  Western Europe?  Scandinavia?  The EU? What about Eastern Europe?  Do the same for all regions where you received generalities until you have a target list of countries or mini-regions.  This will help you keep your costs down, and your boss happy.

Modify your release to create localized versions

Sending one release to all markets globally sounds like the easiest way to go – one release to run up the corporate approval chain – but that is not always the best way to get your news to generate quality earned media.  Having tailored versions targeted at specific countries, regions, or mini-regions is your best bet if you’re measuring results by the number of clips your receive. I usually counsel clients to prepare a few different versions of the news release, clearly marked for the destination, and send them up the approval chain at the same time.

You don’t have to make too many changes to see a tangible difference in your results.  Modify the release in the headline, subhead, first paragraph, any bullet points or quotes, and make sure the changes are specific to the target area.  For example, “XYZ Inc. announces a new chip designed to regulate power in ________” as a headline.  Insert country, region or mini-region in the space. The quote can be completely localized in each version, and frankly, works best that way.

If you have a local contact, be sure to list that person first on the release destined for that country or region.  It will increase your chance of getting a journalist call if there are any questions, or if a follow-up interview is requested.

Provide accurate translations

Once you have your list of countries, you will need to translate the copy into those respective languages or adjust certain phrases to accommodate specific markets. Look to see if you have translation capability in your local offices that will help you keep your costs down.   If you don’t have those resources, or your local teams don’t have time, be sure to ask if they want to see the translations you’ll have done to further localize.

Translations take about 1-2 business days per 800 words of your release, so plan accordingly when working on your timeline.  If you have requested to approve the translations prior to sending out, please add time for your internal approval chain to the processing time.

Coordinate your distribution times  

Sending to all regions of the world simultateously isn’t a good idea.  Because of that whole ’round world’ thing, someone important  is going to be asleep and miss your news.   You can target the timing for simultaneous distribution in Europe, Middle East and Africa at the same time as the Americas (if you don’t mind a very early distribution time), but Asia will need to wait until later on in the day, when they get in.  You don’t need to change your dateline for the Asian release if you don’t wish – it should only slightly affect your results, if at all.

Distributing a global press release doesn’t have to be as daunting as it seems. It essentially all comes down to targeting your news specifically to each country and paying close attention to cultural distinctions and time zones of each region.

Interested in learning more about sharing your news around the world? View the on-demand webinar, “Thriving in a Mobile Driven World” and learn how to format your press releases to reach the global audiences who are increasingly relying on mobile devices to consume information.

Register here

Author Colleen Pizarev is PR Newswire’s Vice President of Communications Strategies in International Services. 

Grammar Hammer: Are You Taking Preventative or Preventive Measures?

preventive_maintenanceThis week’s grammar conundrum stems from someone correcting me (ME! The Grammar Hammer) when I made mention of “preventative” measures I needed to take to curtail further water damage from the gutters that are falling off of my house at the moment. Needless to say, I felt somewhat disgruntled by this remark.

I courteously smiled, acknowledged the correction and bolted home to start my research. Preventive has always been one of those words that just sound wrong to me, so I’ve always used preventative instead. Have I been wrong this entire time?

Merriam-Webster says that preventive is used more frequently than preventative and we are free to use either one, but if you use “preventative,” you are more likely to have someone try to correct you.

I tried to persuade myself out of using “preventative” with the same argument I make when I hear the cringe-worthy word “orientated.” You orient things, you don’t orientate things. That means I should stick with “preventive” because I’m trying to prevent something bad from happening. If I say “preventative,” it would be like saying I’m trying to preventate something, right?

Grammar Girl tackled this subject recently and affirms my position on this word. She acknowledges “preventative” as a “troublesome” word – some reference books say preventative is incorrect while others say it’s fine to use.

If I’m being honest, I think I’ve taken sufficient preventive measures to stop using the word preventative. I know that both words are correct and mean the same thing. I also know that “preventive” is more common than “preventative,” but if someone chooses the longer word, they’ll get no corrections from me.

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: March Forth on March 4th to Speak Well, Write Well, and Help Others Do the Same!

National Grammar Day

For my fellow grammarians and word nerds, March 4th marks what should be a national holiday for us. National Grammar Day was established in 2008 by Martha Brockenbough, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG). I started writing posts for Grammar Hammer in late-2012, and March 4th has a permanent place on my calendar as a day to celebrate my obsession with grammar rules.

Why is it so fun to celebrate National Grammar Day? I don’t remember ever having this much fun diagramming sentences in grade school. Now that I’m older, I can take advantage of this day to make myself a Grammartini, read some Grammar Noir, or make up a grammar haiku or two. Last year, Arika Okrent won the National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest with this brilliant entry:

I am an error

And I will reveal myself

After you press send

Truer words have never been written. The American Copy Editors Society is

My favorite grammatical error found at a local gas station

My favorite grammatical error found at a local gas station

sponsoring the 2014 contest and will announce the winner on March 4th. Okrent is one of the judges for this year’s contest.

In celebration of National Grammar Day, I will be listening to the Grammar Hall of Shame Legacy Playlist and finding all the grammatical mistakes I can in each song. I’m always on the lookout for typos in public places.

I encourage all of you to march forth and celebrate National Grammar Day.

 

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: A Press Release That’s Not So Airheaded

ContentWeLove

Click to view the entire multimedia news release

Click to view the entire multimedia news release

While fame-seeking is hardly a new phenomenon, social media has enabled its users to imitate feelings of stardom by seeing their own faces on a screen and gaining friends, followers, likes, or retweets for sharing their personal stories. Celebrities like Justin Bieber who transcended the digital barrier after gaining popularity on YouTube, have given hope to aspiring stars that they too have a chance in the spotlight.

Social Media Pew

via Pew Research Journalism Project

Airheads Candy is now capitalizing on this peculiar phenomenon by promoting their social media video contest which offers fans a chance to be featured in their new ad campaign. Pew research shows that channels like YouTube and Twitter are the most popular among younger age groups, which fully aligns with the audience that Airheads hopes to capture. The multimedia press release titled, “#Airheadsneeded: Brand Searches for Airheaded Commercial Star” employs a mix of humorous storytelling, clever social elements, and colorful imagery to earn a spot as this week’s Content We Love.

Multimedia components are indispensable to a press release if you intend to raise awareness amongst the greatest audience possible. By including both videos and photos, Airheads reaches audiences on channels that text alone cannot such as YouTube, Vine, and Instagram, which are purely driven by visual content. Additionally, the brand is highlighting all video contest submissions in a dedicated Tumblr page that are truly hilarious, memorable, and more importantly, shareable.

The headline commands attention from readers with an interesting news hook in fewer than 140 characters and includes a hashtag, with a subhead providing more context. Who hasn’t daydreamed at least once about what it would feel like to be famous? Airheads is highly aware of whom they are targeting and encouraging social interaction, which heavily influences the results we see on search engines.

A specific call to action after the lead paragraph drives readers to your objective regardless of whether they read the entire release. Considering this is a social media contest, Airheads wisely includes a click-to-tweet button in their call-to-action to further promote the campaign.

Quotes from a brand leader communicate a new opportunity that the audience can gain. In this case, the quote from Associate Brand Manager, Jen Redmond is telling readers that if you’re already creating funny videos on your own time every day, why not get famous for it?

An interesting and engaging story that takes the focus off the brand is key to persuading the audience to take your desired action. Despite being the first major advertising campaign that Airheads has ever launched, the brand draws attention away from itself and puts the spotlight on sweet-toothed fans instead.

Even though Airheads have been a longtime staple in candy aisles across America, this press release re-establishes the brand’s cultural relevancy to a new generation of candy-loving, digital-savvy consumers and is bound to generate greater awareness from employing a few simple writing tactics. Kudos to Airheads on a crafting a very smart press release!

Nowadays it seems like everyone is taking selfies, causing a major shift in content creation over the last several years. How can your brand compete and stand out to get your message seen?

Register now to join Michael Pranikoff at PR Newswire’s Lunch and Learn series “How to Keep Your Content Relevant in the Age of the Selfie” in Atlanta, GA on March 4th: prn.to/ATLSelfie 

Grammar Hammer: When Do You Imply or Infer?

Imply_Infer-e1331580516953I always consider the words “imply” and “infer” as the ability to “get the hint.”

I was having dinner with some friends one night. At the end of our meal, the host excused himself from the table and left for a few minutes. When he returned, he had changed into his pajamas and was walking through the house, flossing his teeth. I inferred it was time to say goodnight to my host and head home for the evening. I got the hint. Granted, that wasn’t a very subtle hint, but nevertheless, I got it. If I was trying to wrap up an evening (i.e., I’m tired and ready for everyone to leave), I would have opted for a more subtle approach. I would have started yawning, implying that I was beyond tired and hoping everyone got the hint that it was time to say goodnight. I’d wait until everyone left before changing into my jammies.

Are infer and imply interchangeable if the intended meaning is whether or not you “get the hint?” Once again, we look at the common vernacular, and it is increasingly accepted either way. But, that’s not the point of this post, is it? This is why we fight.

To imply is to indicate or suggest without being explicitly stated (using my example above, I’m tired, so I start yawning a lot to subtly state that I’m ready for you to leave so I can to go to sleep).

To infer is to derive by reasoning; conclude or judge from premises or evidence (my host left the dinner table and changed into his PJ’s – time to go).

Here are a couple of quick tips to help you keep these two straight:

  1. Writers or speakers imply. Listeners or readers infer.
  2. A circle of communication has three parts – sender, message, and receiver. The sender can imply, but only the receiver can infer.

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: Whether You Like it or Not

Today’s burning grammar question – are “if” and “whether” interchangeable? If (2)Let’s consider the possibilities:

The easy part

Use “if” in a conditional sentence and “whether” when you are offering options.

RIGHT: We’ll be able to make it to the football game if it stops raining by noon.

RIGHT: We’ll go to the football game whether it rains or not.

Now, the tricky part

Which word would you choose for these examples?

Example #1: She didn’t know if/whether her test scores were high enough in order to secure a scholarship.

Example #2:  I couldn’t remember if/whether I paid the lawn service bill.

In both of these cases, either word is correct. “If” or “whether” can be applied interchangeably for indirect questions (example #1) or yes/no questions (example #2).

Finally, the grammar geek part

Use “whether”:

  • After prepositions
  • Before infinitives
  • When the sentence contains a two-part option
  • If the alternatives lead the sentence

EXAMPLE: Whether or not I’ve saved enough money, I’m going to Paris next spring.

If this helps, remember that using “if” introduces one condition and “whether” introduces alternative possibilities.

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.

6 Last Minute Tips for PR Success at the American International Toy Fair 2014

Scenes from the American International Toy Fair 2014

Scenes from the American International Toy Fair 2014

We’ve made it to the final stretch for the American International Toy Fair.  If you’re anything like us at Virtual Press Office, the last few days leading up to an event become a blur of last minute to-dos.

So- you’ve secured your online press kit and release distribution through the Toy Fair Virtual Press Office? That’s great! But before you move down your list, let’s take a few minutes to fine-tune. Below are some tips from VPO to help you tidy up all the content for Toy Fair you’ve been working to create these past few months.

Do The Research For The Media

Journalists love the free candy you have waiting for them. But want to know what they really appreciate? When you package up everything they could possibly need to cover your story in one space. Be sure your press kit includes:

  • Your booth number
  • Your current logo
  • A phone number and email where you can be reached during the show
  • Your calendar of events during the show. Do you have a press conference? Celebrity appearance? Panel discussion? Happy hour? Let them know.
  • Links to all of your social network channels
  • Product shots
  • Company bios
An exhibitor on the show floor

An exhibitor on the show floor

The Best Time To Send Your News Release

We get this question a lot, especially because Toy Fair falls on a Sunday. Don’t shy away from sending news for Toy Fair over the weekend. The media are tuned-in and looking for updates. In 2013 the majority of the news issued through VPO for Toy Fair was sent on Sunday- day one of the show. And if you’re sending during the week, the general rule of thumb for any release is to avoid the open and close of the financial market.

Second Guess Your Headline

Does your headline sound something like “XYZ Company announces new line of products at 2014 Toy Fair?” Yawn.  You are at Toy Fair because you have an exciting story to share, right? Draw in your reader. During a recent PR Newswire media panel discussion, contributing journalists challenged the PR industry to change the format of the traditional press release.  Break the rules. Make your headline short, snappy, include a hook, and get your reader excited. Check out this headline from Whole Foods:

This is what your grocery store looks like without bees.

Whole Foods Market® partners with The Xerces Society to “Share the Buzz” and protect pollinator populations

This Whole Foods story ended up as a cover story on Time Magazine.

Break out of that boring template and tell your story!

Multimedia Increases Engagement

Click to view the entire press release from Saban

Click to view the entire press release from Saban

Toy Fair is one of the most visual trade show events.  What images, graphics and videos do you have that will help tell your story?  Press releases that include multimedia get more views- up to 9.7 times more views than releases that do not include multimedia.

The most viewed news release from the VPO Toy Fair in 2013 came from Saban Brands- this release announcing the Power Rangers 20th Anniversary addition of Monopoly. Saban included a multimedia gallery that featured product shots and a logo. The result? They led the pack in release engagements, online views, media views and search views. PR Newswire’s multimedia capabilities are now more affordable and easier than ever to utilize.

Be Social

Keep your online buzz going during the show. The Toy Fair hashtags are #TF14 and #TFNY. Be sure to have someone updating your social media throughout the day, and be conversational. Follow the bloggers and influencers that most interest you at Toy Fair, and chime into their online conversations that pertain to your brand.

Look At The Big Picture

Take a step back and look at how your product has affected or changed the market. Have you set a new standard for outdoor play at Toy Fair this year? Write a follow-up release from a feature writer’s perspective- maybe a release listing 10 activities for families who want to spend more quality time outside. Then add a quote from your CEO, link your Youtube video, and product image. Don’t wait for the media to tell an incredible story- be your own storyteller!

For more ideas visit the Toy Fair PR Boot Camp page. Now go get a manicure- you’ve got lots of firm hand shakes in your near future.

Author Lisa Kopec-Miller is a member of the Virtual Press Office staff.