NORAD Santa Tracker: It all started with a little typo…

NORAD Santa Tracker
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has been tracking Santa since 1955…and it all started with a little typo.

The story goes that an advertisement for Sears Roebuck & Co. listed a phone number for children to call Santa.

Sears Roebuck & Co Santa ad

No one bothered to proofread the ad, and it was published with the phone number to NORAD, then called CONAD (Continental Air Defense Command). That’s why it’s important to proofread. And yes, that includes calling phone numbers.

Rather than be annoyed that CONAD would have to field calls from children wanting to talk to Santa, the Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, embraced the issue and had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way around the world. Children who called were given updates on his location.

The tradition still lives today as hundreds of volunteers man phones and continue to update children who call. There’s also an online tracker as well, as Santa makes his way around the world.

Shoup did what any great PR pro would do: took what could be an unfortunate situation and turn it into a positive public relations story. Sure, it took more staff hours and probably put them behind on their “real” work, but the ability to make Christmas magical for children, and the community spirit that came out of it was worth it.

The moral of the story? Proofreading matters. Unless you want to end up tracking Santa every Christmas.

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Back to Basics: Six Proofreading Tips

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.