The Little Shop Of Media Horrors

By A. Grant Lee, M. C. Inst. M. Editor

With Halloween just behind us, I am still thinking of crisp days, warm sun and bursts of colour -- and, appropriately, some rather macabre communications efforts of many so-called communications businesses. It seems as if some people believe they are communications specialists if they are moderately literate and have computers loaded with word processing software.

Like Halloween, the macabre sometimes enters the vision if you ever see the sloppy, almost pathetic attempts some of these communicators make at presenting their material. If only their clients knew of the contempt their work elicits among editors and other targeted audiences Ð work their clients have paid handsomely for!

A good friend of mine has been a journalist for more than 30 years. Now a publisher and editor, he has seen it all, and I see some. We share our media horror stories and discoveries like the backslapping pals and arm-punchers seen in the movie, Stand By Me and we learn from them.

An occasional typo in a long submission might be excusable. After all, most English word processors are set to the American lexicon, and spell checkers do not catch words that are spelled the same, but have different meanings. With the availability of this technology, I am hard-pressed to understand typos in ads, and other marketing communications materials, unless intended by style and graphics.

I remember an announcement for a seminar that I received that was filled with spelling and grammatical errors. I redlined the piece and returned it (without comment) to its source. I did get a telephone call (return address on my envelope) from the organization's marketing director. He made many excuses for why his release went out that way, but the damage had been done. I have remembered the piece through all these years, not for the otherwise outstanding promotional message, but for the image of ineptitude of a careless marketer.

My journalistic colleague constantly receives material that has no call-back telephone numbers, and E-mail without return telephone numbers or facsimile numbers included. Added to these irritations are unidentified photographs and illustrations. He says, ruefully of the photos, he is not clairvoyant. He is a very busy editor who does not have time to search for company addresses or chase down corporate labyrinths to find people who have submitted interesting but incomplete material. If you snooze, you can lose because of an incomplete news release. Many public relations submissions are trashed, or miss valuable windows of opportunity for clients simply through needlessly sloppy presentations.

My friend recounts occasions when communications opportunities worth tens of thousands of dollars to an industry have been lost because of the financial myopia of an events planner's minion in charge of communications for major seminars, or luncheon meetings. A typical scenario might go like this: "Yes sir, we want you to cover the presentation of the Premier as she will be speaking about our industry. There will also be seminars in the morning leading up to her announcements." The editor responds eagerly to the invitation but asks: "Will you please give us the usual complementary registration and lunch ticket so I can do a photo reportage on her lunch time speech?" Many times my editor friends have been told: "Everyone must pay to attend!"

If this sounds reasonable to you, ask yourself if you would charge a plumber to come and fix a leaking toilet just before the sold-out performance of the City's symphony orchestra? I think not. Of course, my colleague declined the invitation. He obtained a copy of the Premier's press release and reported the information deep within his magazine as a general report, not at all tied into the nuances and issues of the industry's business elite. The $30.00 lunch was extremely costly in lost opportunities. A half page article in the Globe could be worth tens of thousands at regular ad rates. The space might be free if a well written press release is dispatched.

Here's the kicker. Communications are far more than writing well, then submitting material to a researched media. Those who believe that this is all there is, are building their little shop of media horrors. There are unwritten rules for dealing with people who are targeted to "receive the message." Much like rules as you go, of the spontaneous baseball game in the park when we were younger, the rules are in motion when it comes to communications. Textbooks guide. Relationships and experience bind. The way we communicate is often far more important and valuable than the actual message. I believe that marketers must be ever vigilant when it comes to communications, as they are the very fabric of our profession. The fabric is somewhat tattered according to many media releases which I have personally witnessed submitted to my friend.

A. Grant Lee, President of AGL Marketing Limited, is Director of Communications and Public Relations with the Canadian Institute of Marketing. He can be contacted by telephone at: (905) 877-5369, or e-mail: [email protected]

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