Thu 27 Aug 2015
Recently I posted to my Facebook page a question that asked why people, especially in public relations and marketing, will write, for example, “So-and-so currently resides in Atlanta” instead of “So-and-so lives in Atlanta.” My contention is that “currently resides” is phony formal and pretentious, an attempt to inflate a small and ordinary claim by large rhetoric. Any book on grammar and writing will tell you that the best prose is simple and direct.
One of my Facebook friends who works in PR responded to my post, saying: “Being in PR it really is the way PR people talk and write. There is a certain format we use and have been shown since day one. It might not be traditional or ideal but it is very universal in PR!!”
To which my response is that PR needs to go back to school.
If you do an internet search on “principles of good public relations,” you will come up with entries like “10 Principles of Public Relations” or “7” or “6” or a distillation down to “5 Principles of Effective Public Relations.” Interestingly enough, many of these lists don’t overlap a great deal, but the basics elements remain the same: Know your client. Tell a compelling story. Tell the truth. Know the target audience. Stay on good terms with the media. Keep it simple.
These are all excellent suggestions or tenets to follow, but not one of the articles I encountered mentioned these important factors, which I see violated every day: Write well. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t pontificate. Don’t condescend. And, to reiterate: Write well, not just grammatically but idiomatically correct, and don’t succumb so damned blithely to the temptation of language fads and fashions. Fowler, in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage — I’m following the 1944 edition that belonged to my former father-in-law Ed Harrison (1917-2015) that he acquired while serving in the Army Air Corp in World War II — mentions what he calls “Illiteracies” and “Illogicalities,” the negligent little blips and common mistakes in language and writing that call attention to the inexact thinking of the writer and that — more important — detract from the effectiveness and believability of the message. Yes, truly, PR and marketing persons, the medium is the message, and the more wayward, faddish, “cool,” sophomoric and hyperbolic a press release is, no matter how sincere the author, the faster I will delete it.
Tell me that your client “takes the art and alchemy of winemaking to unparalleled heights” and I will deep-six it faster than a duck on a June bug.
Tell me that your client “possesses a passion for exceeding perfection beyond all expectations,” and I will hook that press release off the stage.
Tell me that your client “literally created a nationwide buzz with this unique Moscato blend, now trending in sophisticated cocktail venues,” and you are completely out of luck in my book. I mean, please, who the hell do you think you’re talking to?
I realize that press releases are often composed by interns or recent hires at PR and marketing agencies, but age and inexperience don’t necessary demand writing like a 12-year-old. Someone needs to be responsible.
And, since the subject is wine, all you writers of press releases need to know the spelling of grape varieties and how various wines are blended and the differences among wine regions in this country and abroad, and please, for the love of god, Montresor, include the prices of the wines.