Fact: Generally, journalists – at least those that still take their trade seriously – have a love-hate relationship with public relations. At best, the media tolerate PR because sometimes it is their only source. At worst, they regard PR as a pain in the backside.
Another fact: PR people do not do themselves or their profession any favours in trying to reverse this toxic relationship with their number one resource, the media.
Last fact: Journalists – at least those who still care for journalism – are language snobs and grammar police.
Therefore today I want to focus on one cardinal sin of PR that drives the media up the wall to no end and, more often than not, can stand between a good story and mass publicity. This is the one sin that the PR industry is just not doing enough to cleanse itself of. And that is grammar.
Journalists will tell you of the countless times they receive media releases laced with grammatical errors, making it impossible not only to understand what is being communicated but also to finish reading the communication.
I have personally fought with my own staff about the quality of the grammar of their work because I know that on the other side, the recipient may just lose the story on the basis of bad grammar.
And don’t even start with the nonsense that “but English is not my first language”. If you cannot write it well, hire someone who can. Finish en klaar.
By the way this is not only about English. I can imagine journalists in Afrikaans media face similar challenges, if there are any PRs who still issue releases in Afrikaans, that is.
Perhaps the latter day biggest culprit of bad grammar is the apostrophe used as plural. How many times have you seen things like “PRO’s, CEO’s, 1970’s, CD’s etc” when what was communicated was actually “PROs, CEOs, 1970s, CDs etc”?
When exactly the universe invented an apostrophe as a shortcut for plural I don’t know, but what I know is that whoever did, a firing squad will be a milder punishment to face.
And then there is word order. If you do not put your words in the right order, you may just kill the story. This often happens when writers use words like ‘only’ and ‘just’.
Take the word “only” and fit it in anywhere in this sentence “I love you” and see how the meaning changes dramatically every time you move it.
There are many other phrases and clichés that are used in everyday language but are not always right grammatically. These include “of which” and “in terms of”.
It is easy to blame social media for where we find ourselves now. With the advent of platforms like SMS and Twitter, humans had to devise new ways of brevity to stay within the limited character space required by these platforms.
As a result, a whole lot of creativity crept in and we have now become familiar with words such as “u, btw, lol etc”.
Most media houses have sub-editors, people appointed to fix grammar and typographical errors among others, but even this won’t save your badly written release, which may die on arrival at the journalist’s desk.
Public relations is not social media. It is a profession and should be treated professionally. You have to write in the very same way as you would like to see news written.
The best media release is the one that even a good journalist cannot help but publish as is, word for word. Any PR that can achieve that has not only produced a newsworthy release, they have also produced a well-written piece of work.
And before the new Afro-revolutionaries accuse me of being a lackey for the English language, I am not even referring to pronunciation. Frankly, I couldn’t care less for pronunciation. I care for communication.
I am not even interested in people writing in the English idiom. I hardly ever do. This is absolutely unnecessary in communication.
Although typographical errors are a lesser crime compared to grammar, these too must be managed, especially because today, deep into the 21st century, all computer software comes with spellcheck.
The minute your device underlines any (English) word you have typed, be afraid. Be very afraid. All you have to do is to run a spellcheck.
No good story should be sacrificed at the altar of bad grammar and laziness.
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