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Originally post on CUinsight.com

The rise of Ron Burgundy in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues reminds me of a toolkit I have tucked away in my office. It’s a media relations guide. From 1983.

Although the process and tools of the trade may have changed in the last 30 years, one thing has stayed the same for communicators…the need for basic, solid writing skills.

Despite new ways to reach your members and consumers, the ability to write well and convey a clear and consistent message is essential. That Facebook post (and yes, even a tweet) should be written professionally, using correct grammar. The whitepaper or e-book must draw people in and hold their attention. Invitations, newsletters, blog posts, annual reports, and product sheets have their own tone, but that doesn’t mean you can skimp on the writing.

People notice poor writing, and it doesn’t help your brand. According to Media Bistro, a pet peeve among consumers is poor spelling and grammar from brands using social media. Although this study only involves social media, consumers notice poor writing in traditional marketing and advertising too.

To make sure you don’t annoy any consumers, here are three easy tips to increase your writing skills:

  • Own an AP Stylebook. AP Style is a guide for grammar, punctuation and principles and practices of reporting. It is used by journalists, magazines and public relations and marketing firms. According to the AP Stylebook,  numbers below 10 are spelled out, the period goes inside the quotes, and as of three years ago, Web site is now website and there’s no hyphen in email.
  • Go easy on the excitement. When did we start overusing the exclamation point? A recent Inc.com article indicated you should only use two or three exclamation points per 100,000 words. That means if you are writing a book, you should use one exclamation point every book and a half. So before you hit Shift + 1, ask yourself if that annual golf tournament is really that exciting.
  • Get to the point. Use simple words. People do not have a lot of time to read, especially if your content is filled with industry jargon.

You don’t have to be the next William Shakespeare to incorporate good writing. Simple words, correct use of punctuation and some knowledge of AP Style can go far in your writing.

“We would like to use our brains…”

I love this ad. The ad is set to a Beastie Boys song, and the premise behind GoldieBlox is to encourage girls to go into the engineering industry. It basically makes fun of the pink and frilly princess-y girl toys that cram stores. Tea sets. Baby dolls. Feather boas and tiaras.

Not all girls like those things. I know…

Sure I played with dolls and occasionally had a tea party or two. But what I really like were matchbox cars and Tonka trucks. In high school I got a better grade in shop than home economics (and STILL can’t sew on a button). I hate wearing makeup, cooking and cleaning. I would have made the worst 1950s housewife. Ever.

It’s important to young girls to have loftier goals than “becoming a princess.” I think we are on our way encouraging older girls to be smart and successful…now we just need to work on the younger ones.

Originally published on CUinsight.com.

Last month, ABC News Correspondent Elisabeth Leamy spoke to Credit Union League and Association communicators about media relations and the elements of a good news story.

Her presentation reminded me of an acronym used in public relations to determine if your idea had news value.

TIP CUP represents the words timeliness, impact, proximity, conflict, unusual and prominence. A newsworthy story will have one or more of these components:

Timeliness
Is it happening now? Or will it happen soon? Don’t send a journalist information about an event that happened last week.

Impact
Will this have an impact on readers or viewers? Will they be interested? How can it help them or make their lives better? What is the “wow” factor?

Proximity Is it happening in your town or nearby? Will it affect your community? If it’s a national story, how can you make it local?

Conflict
Are there two sides to this story? Another angle is an individual struggle against a life event or tragic situation.

Unusual
Novelty is always a plus. Are you announcing a new innovative product? Or a fresh approach to something old and traditional?

Prominence
If your story involves a well-known person, the news value increases.

Two other tips that Leamy covered during her presentation are worth repeating:

  • Know what kinds of stories the journalist covers. Don’t pitch how your credit union member destroyed their debt to a reporter that covers local crime or state legislative issues.
  • Be mindful of where the journalist works. If you are contacting a TV station, make sure you have good video opportunity, or can supply it to them. If it’s a print publication, high quality photos work best. Radio interview? An interesting sound bite will carry the story.

Journalists are busy and many receive hundreds of news releases a day. Make yours stand out by ensuring your information passes the “who cares?” factor by asking yourself, why would people care about this? What value does the information have for consumers? And be sure it passes the TIP CUP test.

It seems credit unions have been trying to attract the younger crowd for a while now. HubSpot ran an interesting article about what Millennials want from a nonprofit’s website. Although this article is geared towards a charity, you can apply these points to your credit union’s website.

Your website should be current, simple and visual.
In this “real time” world we live in, it’s important to keep your website up to date. According to Millennials (75 percent of them!) an out of date website is one of their biggest pet peeves. If you have a blog or are using social media, keep those up to date too. Simple text and graphics are key to getting your point across quickly. A page loaded with heavy text is a roadblock…consider using infographics, video or images. Stay away from stock photography, and use your own photos.

Explain what you do.
People search online for information. Explain the credit union philosophy and what a credit union is in a prominent place on your website. Recent surveys have shown the majority of young people have no clue what a credit union is. Use words they understand and don’t talk down to them.

Show them the proof with stories.
Use images, testimonials and stories to show how you have helped your members save for something important, get their finances back on track or helped them put their child through college. Sharing your own member’s stories will resonate with young people, and increase awareness of what credit unions do for others. Almost half of Millennials are looking for information about your organization on your website, and they want to hear how your credit union has supported a member or their community.

Connect with them.
You must connect with this crowd to draw them in. Use your stories and show your impact to encourage young people that they want to be involved with an organization that is concerned with helping people, not making a profit. Young people don’t know the world without social media. Use this interactive channel to talk with them, not at them.

Make it easy to give.
Credit unions aren’t charities, but credit unions do invite their members to help support non-profits like Children’s Miracle Network, and local organizations in their community. Is there a way a Millennial can make a donation to a non-profit you support on your website? Or maybe it’s just as simple as having a link to a non-profits donation center. Millennials want an easy way to make a difference.

Are you mobile friendly?
The majority of Millennials, 83 percent, say they own a smartphone and use it to read emails and articles from nonprofits. Young people like mobile-friendly websites and action-oriented headlines that link to more information.

Often, PR pros and marketers are running around in six different directions and the last thing we have time for is to sit down and proof…an advertisement, press release, letter, marketing piece, blog post, annual report, even a Facebook or Twitter post!

This Ragan article, 7 proofreading steps every writer should follow, has some good reminders about ways to ensure an error-free message.

Here are six more that might be helpful:

Always check that any phone numbers listed are correct as well as dates. Call the phone numbers and make sure it’s a working number. Check the date (including the day of the week) for accuracy. For example, if the event is Tuesday, September 17, make sure that September 17 is a Tuesday.  This is especially important on an invitation, or if people are RSVPing for an event.  I once sent an invitation to the printer with a correct date, but the wrong day of the week. He caught the error and we were able to fix it before the invitation was printed. Whew! While we are talking phone numbers, check ANY contact information…address, email address, names, and fax numbers.

 If there are web addresses listed, check those too. If it’s a printed document, type in the url. If it’s an electronic piece, click the link to make sure it works, AND goes to the correct page. This goes for the checking the “shortened” url that lots of us use when posting to social networks.

Have someone else read it. And by someone else, I mean someone who knows nothing about the  project, if possible. The most obvious typos, formatting errors, missing punctuation are sometimes the hardest to see when you’ve read it a million times.

The Ragan article mentions formatting…which can be just as important as finding spelling errors. Make sure your photos, text and graphics are lined up. Check headlines for font issues and consistent colors.  If you’re proofing multiple pages (like an annual report or program book) run through it one time just checking the page numbers. If you reference something on another page, make sure it’s on the page!

Ensure the captions for photos are correct. Check people’s names, titles and organization or place of business.

Proofread your social media entries at least three times before clicking the post button. There is nothing more irritating than a typo in a Facebook post or Tweet. In fact, a recent survey “What Consumers Hate About Your Brand,” reveals that poor spelling or grammar is the number one thing that consumers hate about brands using social media. Almost half of consumers in the UK (42 percent) say a brand’s poor spelling or grammar is annoying, and can damage a brand’s reputation.

Taking the time to proofread may take a few extra minutes now, but it can save you hours of heartache later.

My One School Year Request

August 12, 2013

DSC_0260 cropped(Disclaimer:  I think teachers are one of the most important people in a child’s life. Teachers posses more patience, more energy and more excitement in one school year than I have in one hour. Teachers are helping our little ones become responsible members of society. And the last thing they need to be hearing is me complaining about something. But here goes…)

On this First Day of School Eve, I want to send a request to all teachers and room parents:

When sending home papers, please include something that tells me which room/grade/teacher/child this particular paper is meant for.

Here’s the deal…I’m usually organized. I have two calendars that sync together with my phone, meshing my work and home life into one big calendar. We’ve never been late for the bus, and I’ve never missed a parent teacher conference, a music program or school party (that I said I would go to…)

But here’s where it all falls apart: When one child’s papers, assignments, notes or classroom instructions get mixed up with the other child’s papers, assignments, notes or classroom instructions.

Example:

“For our Halloween party we will be making scary snacks! Please bring one of the following to class by Friday. For questions, contact Jane (Jordan’s mom) at XXX-XXX-XXXX .”

“We are doing a special project at school! Please bring 3 empty paper towel cardboard inserts to school by Wednesday.”

“In order for me to better get to know your child, please fill out the following questionnaire and send it back with your student on the first day of school.”

Do you see the problem here? I don’t know who Jordan is. And what if both my children have a Jordan in their class? Which class is doing the special project? Which one of my boys do you want to get to know?

And don’t say “just ask your child,” Anyone with children knows how this turns out.

“Whose paper is this?” –> “I don’t know.”

Well, did your teacher say you were having a party?” –> “I don’t know.”

“Do you have a child in your class named Jordan ?” –> “Um…maybe. Well…no, I guess not. But there’s a Jordan in the classroom next to me.”

“Who has a child in their class named Jordan?” –> “I might, but can’t be for sure.”

This probably wouldn’t be that big of a deal if I had a 5th grader and a 1st grader. Maybe I could figure it out based on the content of the paper. But you see, my boys are one grade year apart. Which makes it extra tricky.

I did buy some magnetic file holders that each child is supposed to put their papers in. But come on, do they do this every day? No. Sometimes all the papers end up on the kitchen table. And that’s where the trouble begins.

So please, teachers and room parents, help a sister out and include something on your take home papers that would tell me which paper goes with which child. A simple “5th grade party!” or a room number or the teacher’s name would work just fine. I know I can’t be the only one who has mixed up papers…am I?

Amtrak trainOur family took our first Amtrak train trip during the Fourth of July holiday. We thought it would be fun to ride the train from Lee’s Summit, MO to St. Louis and back.

The trip was five hours, with six stops in Missouri: Warrensburg, Sedalia, Jefferson City, Hermann, Washington and Kirkwood.

It was fun, and here are a few of my observations of train travel.

At each stop, the train usually stops for only two to three minutes, so you better be ready!

An Amtrak train is nothing like the train in Harry Potter or the Polar Express (a nine-year old’s observation).

Our train traveled between approximately 45-70 miles per hour, depending on where we were, and what was in front of us (like a freight train). The mph was determined by a free app I downloaded…I’m not sure how accurate it is.

Train seats have more room than airplane seats.

Rural MissouriI was looking forward to looking out the window at the scenery, but most of the time the tracks were flanked by trees on both sides. We did get a few breaks to see the Missouri countryside. I have heard that other routes are better, especially ones that go through the mountains.

It’s nice that you can walk around on the train, and there’s room to do so. Although be advised, it can be a little tricky walking between the train cars while the train is moving.

Train food is not the best. Next time we’ll bring our own food. But to be fair, trains aren’t known for their gourmet cuisine.

The power outlets at every seat is a major plus.

Just as in any service industry, people can make all the difference. A fun train conductor can sure make a mundane stop seem exciting!

Would we take the train again? Probably, but maybe for a shorter trip next time. Although it’s not the fastest way to travel, it is cheaper than flying, and does take a few cars off the already busy highways.

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