Monday, February 22, 2016

5 Simple Tips for Checking the Accuracy of Your Content

By Sarah Larson

If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

So goes an old journalism adage that has guided generations of young reporters, editors and producers along the career path to becoming seasoned, trusted sources of accurate information.

It's a good rule to live by for everyone, not just journalists. Verifying that the information your organization is putting out is accurate should be a top priority for all, whether your organization is a nonprofit, a professional services provider, a consumer-focused business, a major corporation, or a small local business. Too often, however, information is published that clearly never went through a final fact-checking or copy-editing step.

It is particularly important for those working in the communications business to ensure that those two steps are hard-wired into everyday work processes. Mistakes do happen - but they happen a lot less frequently when accuracy and verification are respected parts of the process.

And that doesn't mean just for "big" projects, or for information from certain sources. Go back to that saying again: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." It means that information should be verified regardless of how obvious it seems or how esteemed the source might be.

Here are some tips and tools that should help.

  • Get the names right. This is one of the most basic tenets of journalism, and back in the day when I walked uphill to school, both ways, barefoot in the snow, misspelling someone's name was a transgression that could get a young reporter fired. Don't let your organization publish a flyer for an event honoring your largest donor with the donor's name misspelled. Check business cards, v-cards, website biographies and more to verify names. The one time you don't check the spelling of John Smith is the one time it actually will be Jon Smythe.
  • Don't assume the client is right. If a client emails you information about an event for use in a press release, don't take for granted that the names, dates or spellings in the email are correct. Look elsewhere to verify that information first. Websites, business cards, directories, event calendars and news coverage are good sources to check, but if there are discrepancies, sometimes a phone call to the source is needed to clear things up.
  • Don't rely on spell check. Even when it works properly (and it often doesn't), a spelling check program can't catch instances where a word is spelled correctly but is simply the wrong word. 
  • Use the dictionary. Yes, a dictionary. And don't just google or go to dictionary.com. Anyone who calls herself a professional communicator should have an actual hard copy of a dictionary within arm's reach of her desk. Everyone in the organization should use that same one, too, so decide whether you will use the Merriam-Webster or Oxford American or Oxford English, and then stick with it.
  • Follow established grammar and usage rules. Whether you are drafting pitches to send to the media or a press release to publish on a newswire, your news will be taken more seriously by professional journalists if it follows expected style guidelines. For most U.S. publications, that means following the Associated Press Stylebook. Violations of AP Style stand out like neon lights to veteran journalists, so mastering the quirks, such as when to abbreviate a month and when to spell it out, will help you establish and maintain a professional reputation. 

If you are a professional communicator, it is your job to help the organization you are supporting look its best. That means taking the time to verify information that clients might not have spared the time to check, themselves. It also means doing everything possible to ensure that that event flyer promoting a forum about "public education" didn't leave out the "l."

What tools or processes does your organization use to ensure the information it is publishing is accurate?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

6 Tips on Working With Professional Focus Group Providers

By Laura Powers

When it comes to launching new marketing initiatives, many businesses don't guess at what their target customers want, need or desirethey ask them directly, through the use of focus groups.

A focus group is a specific group of people brought together to elicit feedback on a particular product, service, message or tactic. Just about anything can be evaluated by a focus-group: advertising campaigns, product innovations, positioning statements, brand designs or even simply logo colors.

Working with focus groups is a good way to gather data on how the marketplace is likely to react to a new offering or a change in approach. As effective as they can be, however, there are a few critical steps to keep in mind:
  • Research local focus group providers to ensure that their facilities and participant solicitation process meet high standards.
  • Schedule a meeting or call with the focus group facilitator(s) to ensure that they understand the objectives and strategies behind the campaign, product, positioning, etc.
  • Review the participant solicitation criteria to ensure that the assembled group will reflect the desired audience.
  • Ensure that the meeting date(s) and time(s) are convenient for all company team members that should be in attendance.
  • Review and edit the focus group facilitator's meeting script to ensure that questions and clarifying questions will garner in-depth responses that meet your team's objectives.
  • Clarify the details and specifics for the post-meeting report and negotiate the date for report receipt.
Deciding to engage a focus group is an important decision. If your company invests the budgetary resources required to contract with a professional focus group facility and meeting facilitator, ensure that that money is well spent by keeping close watch on the process using the above tips.

Has your organization used a focus group in the past? Share your own tips and lessons learned in the comments below.

Monday, February 08, 2016

An Internal Communications Tool for Today’s Teams


By Megan Quinn

When I was told that we were implementing Slack in the office, my first reaction was, “What is a Slack?”

Slack is a collaboration platform that enables teams to converse and share files in various channels. It allows for open channels, private channels and direct messages and is accessible on all types of devices, from desktop computers to smartphones.

I enjoy Slack as a means of internal communication. What’s great about it, particularly when compared to basic instant messaging tools, is the fact that multiple people easily can be looped into a conversation about client work, regardless of their location. And if a certain project doesn’t concern all members of the staff, they don’t all need to be in the same channels. This makes group communication much more efficient and effective.

Our office administrator, Rose Strong, said, “Slack is such a great tool. I like being able to go back and forth in groups, channels and one-on-one. Slack is most productive when we communicate in well-organized channels, some about clients, some for internal use, and even one for articles that we want to share and access again and again.”

Managing separate client channels ensures that all messages don’t get mixed together like in an email inbox. You also can go back through a single conversation easily to pinpoint particular notes. If you have several channels, searching with the find tool can help you sift through multiple conversations.

Taking the Slack app to your smartphone makes travel easy. You can keep up with the latest client conversations even while traveling, which is very helpful.

We are far from the only ones enamored of Slack. Founded in 2014, the San Francisco-based startup is now the team communications tool of choice for everyone from NASA’sJet Propulsion Laboratory to Walmart to Comcast to the New York Times.

How do you help your internal teams communicate effectively and efficiently?

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The 15-Minute Internal Communication Tactic That Also Could Save Your Life

By Gina Rubel

One of the most frequent concerns we hear from clients during assessments for practice management is that the organization lacks effective internal communications. Often, management fails to tell the rest of the staff what is going on on a day-to-day basis, contributing to frustration and resentment and resulting in a wide variety of missed opportunities to grow and improve the business.

Thankfully, we have an easy solution to this problem that costs nothing and takes no more than 15 minutes of staff time: daily “stand-up” meetings.

A few years ago at Furia Rubel, we implemented daily stand-up meetings where we would all stop what we were doing and gather in the center of the office to reconnect and refocus. They began as two per day one at 9 a.m. and the other at 4 p.m. Over time, our daily stand-ups have changed a bit. Rather than the whole office meeting in the morning, only those who need to check in with one another do so. In the afternoon, a reminder pops up at 4 p.m. for the entire available staff to meet.

What I like about these brief stand-ups is that they force all members of the Furia Rubel team to connect with one another and highlight only the most pressing and important issues of the day. It also helps us to know what is going on with our clients and who on the team is responsible for what. It is important to us to foster a culture of inclusion.

When we asked our colleagues to tell us what they felt was most valuable as it relates to internal communications, everyone mentioned daily stand-up meetings as one of the valuable tools.

Heather Truitt, our senior graphic designer said, “Before coming to Furia Rubel Communications, I worked at small agencies and larger, in-house agencies. Some places had email distributions, which were great, when everyone remembers to reply to the email distribution list, or reply to all on emails. But in a day and age when you send an email instead of picking up the phone, and communications can get so misconstrued, our daily, in-person stand-up meetings promote regular interaction with everyone on the team.”

Heather said, “Being able to stand up and move around a bit and interact with the team is a great exercise towards the end of the day. We interact with each other in person and talk about projects, ask what people need help with for the rest of the day, or just receive a daily reminder that a team stands ready to support each and every person.”

On top of the communication and productivity benefits, there are inherent health benefits to standing up and moving away from the computer. We don’t call them “stand-ups” for nothing.

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