Wednesday, May 29, 2013

AP Stylebook Turns 60


PR pros everywhere are eagerly awaiting to receive their ordered copies of the 2013 edition of the AP Stylebook as our handy dandy guide, often referred to as the "Journalist's Bible," was released today.

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the AP Stylebook, this latest edition includes nearly 100 new or updated entries, along with an expanded chapter on social media. Some of the new additions are in sections on food, fashion, numerals and weapons. There are others on mental illness and illegal immigration.

Among word-specific new and revised entries are Advent, Alaska Native, Asperger’s syndrome, athletic trainers, disabled/handicapped, doughnut, dumpster, ethnic cleansing, homicide/murder/manslaughter, moped, populist, rack/wrack, red carpet, swag, underway, wacky and wildfires.

All in all, the spiral-bound version comes in at 510 pages.

Cheers to turning 60!


Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Science of Communicating Science


I had an interesting conversation with reporters this week at a Washington Women in Public Relations lunch series at the American Chemical Society. We discussed the science of communicating with scientists and how to turn technical matters into compelling stories.    

Anna Edney of Bloomberg and Kimberly Leonard of US News and World Report, who often write about the latest medical technologies, emphasized the importance of remembering your audience: people.    

Readers like to hear stories, and more than anything, want to know what’s in it for them.

The reporters shared the techniques they use to create personal connections on technical matters—techniques that are very much a part of the PR world and the work we do at PCG:    

·         Use analogies. Comparisons can put technical subjects into terms with which your audience can relate.

·         Remember the big picture. Readers want to know the implications of the science. How does it affect society and the way in which we live?

·         Add a human face. Anecdotes can spruce up your story with emotion, personality and suspense. Tell the story of the scientist, or of a person affected by the science.

·         Incorporate multi-media. Videos, pictures and infographics are effective tools to break down complex information.

At PCG, we’re in the business of helping our clients communicate complex information and we know firsthand the effectiveness of these techniques.

After all, that’s what keeps our work fun. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

What's in a URL? Usability


When branding a company, product, or program online your URL must be descriptive, succinct, memorable, and above all: user-friendly.

If only the Transportation Security Administration would have realized that sooner, they could have avoided their embarrassment this past week. Since 2011, they have used a URL for their website that promotes a pre-screening process that travelers can use to expedite domestic travel. Unfortunately for them, the URL, www.tsa.gov/tsa-pre✓™, included check mark and trademark characters, both of which most people don’t know how to access from their keyboard. End result? Many people were unable to access the website.


(Screengrab from TSA.gov via Slate)

Those two symbols scrambled the URL and led visitors to a 404 page, meaning the page could not be found. The TSA has since changed the URL to www.tsa.gov/tsaprecheck. Maintaining the symbol usage in the URL may have initially seemed like a nice commitment to branding standards, but ultimately made an agency not known for efficiency appear more inefficient.

So how can you avoid making TSA’s mistakes? Here are tips on choosing a URL that conveys your desired message without driving away traffic or garnering criticism.

1. Ensure the URL is succinct. If cleanliness is next to godliness, brevity will gain you online divinity. If your company, product, service or initiative’s name is verbose, think about using initials, or just the first one or two words. For instance, the White House uses http://www.whitehouse.gov and not www.thewhitehouse.gov, or theuswhitehouse.gov) because the URL is short, concise and memorable.

2. Avoid common misspellings.  Try to avoid words that are commonly misspelled and words with silent or double consonants, or an extra vowel, like “column” or “vacuum.” For added insurance, you can easily buy up common misspellings of your URL and have them redirect to the proper spelling. It’s a one-time fix that will prevent you from losing traffic.

3. Avoid hyphens and other symbols that could cause confusion. They are easily forgotten and lost in translation, and are best reserved for subpages where hyphens are a necessity. Also, keys that do not appear on most keyboards – i.e. check marks and trademark characters should be avoided as they’ll discourage users from accessing your website.

4. Consult an expert. In theory, a skilled web developer and designer should be involved in the production of your site as well as a communications strategist you can provide insight into proper branding and messaging. Your website should be the first online entry point into information about your organization. It’s important to make a good first impression. 

These are a few of the basics to get you started in deciding on a URL. Of course we’re happy to help you advance the process. Visit www.pcgpr.com to learn more.

The Power Surge and Perception

Yesterday afternoon I walked over to the New America Foundation to hear Michael Levi, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), discuss our increasingly dynamic energy landscape and his new book, The Power Surge.

While I have not yet read Levi’s book, it’s high on my list. His Energy, Security, and Climate blog is a must-read. As an energy communicator, I’m both thankful for and jealous of his uncanny ability to make the complex digestible.

Not surprisingly, he said quite a bit yesterday that was insightful, but I found his remarks about public perception and the onshore oil and gas industry particularly poignant for communicators. It seems that many onshore oil and gas companies believe that a mistake by a competitor will not have ramifications on their brand and their ability to operate. As Levi suggested, in this moment of intense scrutiny over hydraulic fracturing and drilling, this perception is likely flawed.

The public, by and large, doesn’t distinguish carefully between different oil and gas companies. A drilling accident by one company is perceived as an accident by the entire industry.

This is a lesson the nuclear industry learned during Three Mile Island and one that has helped nuclear energy communicators prepare for challenges down the road, such as the accident at Fukushima in Japan. 

Protecting brand reputation, especially in the energy industry, often means not only preparing for challenges within your organization but also preparing for challenges within the industry that can drastically affect perception of your organization and its ability to do business.