Tell it to someone who cares

In the past 24 hours, I’ve received press releases announcing a book about preschools, a new product for geocachers, and an invitation to interview “the only expert who knows the true cause of the financial crisis.” The most amazing part is that someone is being paid to send this “news” directly to my junk file.

I know it’s difficult to keep press lists up to date. And it’s true that I used to be a journalist. But my last significant job in that area ended ten years ago, well before my current email address even existed.

So authors, experts, and communications professionals of all stripes: Before you buy a mailing list or hire someone to distribute your exciting news, ask yourself who really cares. Then do the research to find members of the National Geocaching Association or people who write about families. Even if you reach 20 people instead of 2,000, your success rate will skyrocket.

Quote me on this

Direct quotes can create an instant, personal connection between your company and its target audience. But a corporate-speak sound bite will have the opposite effect. Compare the following quotes, both on the subject of pro bono:

“It gives me pleasure to report that 85 percent of the firm’s attorneys engage in work on a pro bono basis, primarily with  distressed populations in the metropolitan area.”

“I’m proud to say that nearly all our lawyers volunteer in the community.”

Which makes you feel more positive about the firm? How can you reduce the jargon in your company’s direct quotes?

Mission statement fail

I’ve written my share of mission statements. I’ve lauded the “commitment to diversity” at companies where less than ten percent of the managers were diverse (one had a gay, Puerto Rican, female director and counted her three times), and talked up “ongoing initiatives” with no budget, staffing or deliverables. With this in mind, here are my nominees for the emptiest, most irritating phrases in current use.

  1. Creating an environment of…. Visions of terraria and zoo enclosures come to mind.
  2. Corporate values/goals. These terms are interchangeable and cancel each other out. For instance, “Our corporate values of inclusion and mutual respect will achieve our corporate goal of $50 million in profits this year—or you’re all fired.”
  3. The next level. We are afraid to put a number on this because we think it’s going to fail.
  4. Leverage our strengths. What’s wrong with, “Do more with what we’ve got?”
  5. Bring it back full circle. Start over without admitting we screwed up.

A four-word social media policy

Every organization now has a social media policy, and most of them boil down to the same thing: Don’t be an idiot. For some reason, companies feel compelled to spell out every form that idiocy might take. IBM’s guidelines include items like “don’t pick fights” and “don’t pretend to be someone else;” Kodak suggests you “know what you are talking about.” Coca Cola goes even further, specifying that “it’s not okay to violate other people’s rights.”

It’s as if, instead of saying the dress code is business casual, companies are telling their employees to wear pants. Does the nature of social media somehow lead to corporate overthinking?