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The joy of lex (icography)

This blog post first appeared in Somerset magazine in 2015.

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I like words. First; last; in-between: in my mind they’re all good.

I have my favourites: “onomatopoeia” just sounds right and “edgy” appears, well, edgy. “Somnambulant” makes me feel drowsy even saying it, whereas “vibrant” is a little disturbing if said too loudly. I spent most of my university years describing things “ontologically” or arguments as “ontologically sound”. Somehow I managed to achieve a theology degree without ever really understanding what ontology actually was. But it seems to fit anywhere. Whatever it is, it’s great.

But even though English is a rich, resonant and colourful language, you have to go to the continent to get the true richness of words. Some foreign words are just so packed full of meaning that they are very difficult to translate, even though we will all recognise the feeling or concept they try to convey.

Take Spanish for example. “Sombremesa” means the period of time after a meal when you have food-induced conversations with the people you have shared the meal with. Perfect. And we have all been there.
Or Italian. “Culaccino” is the mark left on a table by a cold glass. Nice. Just writing it makes me thirsty, and longing to book a holiday.

Russian is a little more edgy (see what I did there?). “Pochemuchka” sounds a little harsh, and when you realise that it refers to someone who asks a lot of questions, in fact probably too many questions, the harshness takes on a sinister feel. Polonium anyone?

But my absolute favourite, probably because it seems to happen to me a lot, is far closer to home. In Scots there is wonderful word: “tartle”. It describes beautifully that panicky hesitation we all experience just before you have to introduce someone whose name you should remember but can’t. Social oblivion and worse looms.

So the next time you relax somnambulantly into a sombremesa with your friends having experienced the joy of a culaccino filled lunch without a pochemuchka in sight, just remember that you have the joy of words to thank. Ontologically anyway.

A creative mess

This blog post first appeared in Society magazine in February 2016.

February 14th is, of course, a very special day in the calendar. It is a day many of us look forward to with anticipation. It celebrates the greatness of life; the triumph of hope over pain; the possibility of happiness and the ending of misery.

On 14th February 1929 it is said that Penicillin was discovered.

Penicillin is a drug that we now take for granted, but it has saved literally millions of lives. Before its introduction there was no effective treatment for infection. Hospitals were full of people with blood poisoning contracted from a cut or a scratch, and doctors could do little for them but wait and hope.

As with many truly revolutionary discoveries, this one was by accident. Alexander Fleming worked at St Marys in Paddington. He returned from the First World War very aware that infection and bacteria were as great a killer as artillery. He was determined to find a chemical that could stop the rot.

Fleming was very disorganised. His lab and office were a mess. One day late in 1928 he was trying to clear up a pile of petri dishes that had been left about. He noted that on one dish a mould had formed, and around the mould, the bacteria had been killed. This was a breakthrough. The next year, on Valentine’s Day, he announced his findings and a few months later published a paper and wrote a report with his findings. Unfortunately, no one took much notice.

It was another ten years before a team at Oxford picked up Fleming’s work and started more development and testing. By the end of the Second World War, 650 billion units of penicillin were being manufactured every month. Infections were being treated effectively, and lives were being saved.

So, this February 14th, if you are tempted to tell your partner that they need to clean up more often, or put things away, or perhaps wipe clean all the surfaces. just pause and think. If it wasn’t for a disorganised, war weary scientist, many of us would not live past 50

Happy Penicillin Day!

Working With The Media

Narrative – why stories work and statistics don’t

Writing Press Releases (“quote…unquote”)

Now that we’ve covered introductions and the structure of a press release, breathing life into a story requires the human touch.

Quotes bring people into a story and, by definition, give it personality.

Adding at least two quotes – ideally from two different people – about a third of the way into the text and again, towards the end, allows you to introduce different perspectives on the idea at the heart of your story. (more…)

Writing Press Releases (order, order!)

With introductions out of the way, (see below) we can move on to the second part of our look at what makes good press releases.

Like news stories, good press releases tend to adopt a standard journalistic structure, widely known as the ‘inverted pyramid’.

Essentially, this means thinking of what you’re writing as fitting into a triangle where the bigger, wider part is at the top and the point is at the bottom. (more…)

Writing Press Releases (part one!)

Most of the news we read, see or hear in the media every day, starts life as, or includes content from press releases in some shape or form.

Whether they inspire the story, provide a different perspective on it, give the right of reply, or add a position statement, they remain at the heart of the public relations toolbox.

Over the next three blog posts, I’ll cover some basic tips and advice on writing press releases, starting (appropriately enough) with introductions.

Every story must have a beginning, a middle and an end. The trick is getting all of them – or at least a flavour of all three – into one sentence.

Traditionally, the beginning of a news story (and that’s essentially what a press release is) has to cover the five W’s:

  • Who the story is about
  • What is happening (or has happened)
  • When , Where and Why

So, that single sentence of 20-30 words (ideally) has a lot of heavy lifting to do, in covering the essential facts, as well as being engaging and lively copy.

This also illustrates why a press release has to have an angle – a single idea that provides a hook and gives the narrative shape.

Imagine trying to sum up the entire plot of a complicated movie like one of my favourites, The Third Man, with all its twists, turns, character points and themes in just one line (try this synopsis for starters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Man#Plot).

But key events from the plot or elements of it can be encapsulated in a sentence covering all five W’s. For example:

Writer Holly Martins began a personal investigation into the mysterious death of his childhood friend, Harry Lime, in Vienna, today.

Not exactly Graham Greene but you get the idea: 20 words long and, at 132 characters, just the right size for a Tweet, too.

Keep an eye out for part 2.

Three Little Words

The rule of three is a powerful one.

Whether it’s in speech, in print, or online, the fact is that emphasising three points in a sentence works.

Deploying the technique carefully can make you seem clear, knowledgeable and authoritative, which is why a lot of politicians pepper their speeches with moments like that.

But there are other ways in which you can make three words work for you.

At the centre of great brands and great marketing are great ideas. Many of the most memorable company slogans are key messages condensed into three words, for example:

Just do it

Every little helps

Vorsprung durch technik

Beanz meanz Heinz

In any business, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of branding. Everyday concerns like managing people, dealing with customers and balancing the books leave very little time to focus on the heart of what makes you stand out from the crowd.

And if you don’t have a strong grip on your brand, you’re probably just treading water.

Or you could be sinking.

Branding is about more than successful PR, marketing, websites, events, graphic design etc… Underpinning all that ‘fun stuff’ is a lot of hard work on making sure that every aspect of an organisation relates to a powerful central idea.

To see how three little words can start to make a big difference, try this exercise:

  • Get a large, blank piece of paper and a pen
  • Think about your business and write down all the words you can think of to describe it, until you have at least 30 words on the page
  • Spend a few moments looking at the words again
  • Circle the words you think are most inspiring ways of describing what you do
  • Pick your three favourite words and write them down on a separate, smaller sheet of paper (a Post-it note is ideal)
  • Keep that note close at hand and look at those three words at least once every working day.

If you’d like to put more energy into getting to the heart of your brand and making it work harder for you, drop me a line: mark@markwall.co.uk

Elementary

All successful brands have a set of guidelines that underpin every aspect of the way they communicate – from marketing and advertising, through to key messages and PR.

I thought it might be helpful to summarise the main elements:

Name

What’s in a name? Pretty much everything. The word, or words in themselves can’t convey too much in the way of ideas but whether a name is descriptive (Mark Wall Communications), associative (Vodafone), or abstract (Orange), its job is to become loaded with meaning… and it helps if it doesn’t mean something rude in another language.

Logos

Sometimes a picture speaks a thousand words and having a recognisable symbol, badge or insignia attached to your brand opens up a whole world of visuals, including…

Typography

From the style of your logo (whether it includes, or sits alongside your business’s name) to the choice of font your emails are composed in, using a distinctive form of typography (definitely not ‘Comic Sans’) creates and reinforces brand recognition.

Colours

Another key part of your logo and your overall style is consistency in the way you use colour. Think of Barclays, for example and it’s hard not to recall the particular shade of blue that’s used in everything from their signage to the edges of their credit cards. Or take the main supermarket chains: green (Asda), orange (Sainsbury’s), blue (Tesco) and yellow (Morrison’s). Colour is all about creating a sense impression and brands increasingly think about things like sound, texture and taste in the same way.

Tone of voice

What you say is important but not so much as how you say it and making sure that both things are consistent. Do you want your brand to sound calm and authoritative, or maybe your style is cheeky and anarchic? Getting your tone of voice right is vital – and it has to match your visuals.

For help with branding and making sure your business gets the recognition it deserves, drop me a line: mark@markwall.co.uk

Crisis Management

‘Hope for the best but plan for the worst’ is a useful saying in any walk of life.

In my experience, most businesses – certainly the successful ones – tend to be run by optimists.

Enterprising, adventurous risk-takers tend not to wonder whether their glasses are half full or half empty. Instead, they see an opportunity to fill the glass… then sell more glasses and more drinks to fill them.

Most of the time, PR is about telling people the good news that their glasses are more than half full, or that they could be.

But sometimes things go wrong and (to stretch the metaphor) people can see the glass is half empty, because it’s cracked or broken and making a mess.

Tough times like these call for ‘crisis management’, which is often the point where people realise they never planned for the worst.

And this is where the first rule of dealing with a crisis comes in:

DON’T PANIC

The second rule (unless you’re happy to see all your hard work wasted) is to get help – particularly with your communications and public relations.

I’ve worked in PR long enough to have seen businesses and organisations through some very serious difficulties – everything from making people redundant, to being accused of killing someone.

Ask for my professional help and what you tell me might surprise me but nothing you can say will faze me and none of it will go any further.

I can’t make the media go away but I can help you manage your crisis communications; then help you rebuild your reputation once the rest of the world has moved on.

So, whether you’d like help preparing for the worst, or it’s already happening, give me a call on 01823 271508, or drop me a line: mark@markwall.co.uk