Category Archives: Backstory blog

My journalist’s blog hosted by Times Community Media.

Than versus then – the rules

Monday blues, anyone? You know what always cheers me up? A little bit of grammar time.

The same mistakes are being repeated in email copy and social media posts, so I figured it’s time I spell it out.

Than and then are not the same.

then_vs_than
Courtesy of The Oatmeal

Than is mainly used when comparing two (or more) different things. I repeat: than is a conjunction most often used in comparisons.

Examples:
I am taller than my sister.
My banana bread is better than Lauren’s cornbread.
Give more than just the numbers when executing your strategy.
I write my emails differently than you do.

Then is kind of like a time placeholder. A more scholarly explanation: then is an adverb that you can use to situate certain actions in a set timeframe.

Examples:
First I take the subway and then I walk four blocks to get to work.
If you’re late to this meeting, then you might have to skip lunch.
I wanted to bring print-outs, but then the printer broke down.
We had Cyber Monday deals today. It was then that the delegates decided to register.

A trick, thanks to the smart people at grammarist, is that then can be replaced by many other synonyms, but than cannot.

I am taller than my sister (No other word would work here.)
Vs.
First I take the subway and next I walk four blocks to get to work. (Bye, bye then.)

Extra credit!!
Up-to-date has hyphens
Onsite is one word
Sneak peek = take a peek = you’re peeking into something. Peak is the top of a mountain
The U.S. always has periods since it is an abbreviation

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Why less is always more in marketing emails

What differentiates a good marketing email from a bad one, in your mind? Perhaps it’s the imagery or the use of fonts. Maybe it’s the copy – or lack thereof.

My theory of “less copy is more money” was proven valid last week in one of my company’s sponsorship emails.

The entire email is an image with strong calls-to-action.
The entire email is an image with strong calls-to-action.

This is an example of the email for our upcoming event, SSOW. The subject line was simply (Your company’s) Involvement in Shared Services & Outsourcing Week. 

This is why I thought this email was so great:

  1. The calls-to-action are extremely apparent
  2. The use of colored fonts against a dull background really pop aesthetically and are very professional
  3. There are no block lines of copy – because that is really all that’s necessary!!!
  4. It treats the reader with respect – want to see the agenda? Click there. Want to see the list of attendees? Click here. Want to Register. Click here. The imagery and words are implied, therefore we don’t need to tell them what to do, which leads me to …
  5. The epitome of great writing, and therefore great marketing emails, is to “show” and not “tell.” What does this mean? We’re showing them how to navigate the email and more importantly, we’re showing them the value they’ll receive at the event through easily digestible tidbits.

Anddddd….. drumroll please.

How did it perform??

The marketing manager says,

While still aesthetically appealing, the reader is drowned in copy here.
While still aesthetically appealing, the reader is drowned in copy here.

“There were three things that we did differently with this email that we were a little bit worried about:

  • No downloadable links. Only requests that pop up to an email
  • We had only TWO items they would request: Spex Prospectus and Current Attendee List
  • A image based email with hardly any text. So almost like sending an infographic. And of course making it look fabulous and pretty :)”

All three test  had very positive results:

  • 19 actives. 7 of these we received in the first 10 minutes.
  • 21% open rate

Compare that to the previous email (on the right) that had:

  • 1 active
  • 11% open rate

Well done, well done.

Create great copy: Things to remember

Who says that writers don’t know science? Writing is a science! If it weren’t, then anything that was ever written for marketing or advertising purposes would do its job and make you fast cash.

Know your audience.

The more you know, the better targeted and relevant your copy will be. Ask yourself:

  • —What does their everyday life look like? Who do they work with? What websites do they read?
  • —What are they passionate about? Hobbies?
  • —What past products/services have they purchased and how does your offering compare? Once this is identified, however, it’s ineffective to use comparison words in the copy itself. For instance, instead of saying “Our vacuum cleaner is better than the common household brand.” You identify how it is better, ie., “Our vacuum cleaner has five times the suction as other brands.” Now you’re showing them, not just telling them.

Identify key motivators.

A gerund is a noun acting as a verb. It ends in
A gerund is a noun acting as a verb. It ends in “-ing.” Awesome cartoon courtesy of Boggletondrive.com.

Great copy motivates people to feel, think or do something. One way of achieving this is by addressing them personally.— I don’t mean to say that you should call them out by name – I mean that they need to trust you. They need to like you.

  • —You can reach users by speaking directly to them – be conversational and as specific as possible. Avoid sweeping statements.
  • —Don’t use passive voice — write in the present tense (avoid gerunds, or, the “ing”)
  • —Short, Simple and Sincere (one way of doing this is by avoiding adjectives)

Layout matters.

The way you position words, pictures and paragraphs in your website copy or email are important.

  • —Indent sections & number paragraphs
  • —Capitalize and BOLD sparingly. Does anyone underline anymore?

What’s next. 

—Include a testimonial.

  • It’s always better to have someone else say how great you are so that you don’t have to. A brief and convincing quote from a respected source adds credibility to your campaign.

—Keep your copy clean and concise.

  • Cut unnecessary words and consolidate ideas.
  • Have someone else read it to see if they understand the message.

—Avoid weasel words.

  • Weasel words include: may, maybe, hope
  • Instead, use words that emote power and prestige:  will and can

11 phrases you’re misusing

We all fall short, including me (however rarely). This morning a friend sent me a link to some of the most misused phrases and I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait until Friday to send! Please note the first phrase – it’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

I CouB letterldn’t Care Less, (could NOT care less)

“I couldn’t care less” is what you would say to express maximum apathy toward a situation. Basically you’re saying, “It’s impossible for me to care less about this because I have no more care to give. I’ve run out of care.” Using the incorrect “I could care less” indicates that “I still have care left to give—would you like some?”

First-Come, First-Served

The actual phrase is “first-come, first-served,” to indicate that the participants will be served in the order in which they arrive. “First come, first serve” suggests that the first person to arrive has to serve all who follow.

Sneak Peek

A “peek” is a quick look. A “peak” is a mountain top. The correct expression is “sneak peek,” meaning a secret or early look at something.

Shoo-In

“Shoo-in” is a common idiom that means a sure winner. To “shoo” something is to urge it in a direction. As you would shoo a fly out of your house, you could also shoo someone toward victory.

Emigrated From

The verb “emigrate” is always used with the preposition “from,” whereas immigrate is always used with the preposition “to.” To emigrate is to come from somewhere, and to immigrate is to go to somewhere.

Peace of Mind

“Peace” of mind means calmness and tranquility. The expression “piece of mind” actually would suggest doling out sections of brain.

For All Intents and Purposes

The correct phrase, “for all intents and purposes,” originates from English law dating back to the 1500s, which used the phrase “to all intents, constructions, and purposes” to mean “officially” or “effectively.”

By and Large

The phrase “by and large” was first used in 1706 to mean “in general.” It was a nautical phrase derived from the sailing terms “by” and “large.” While it doesn’t have a literal meaning that makes sense, “by and large” is the correct version of this phrase.

Due Diligence

“Due diligence” is a business and legal term that means you will investigate a person or business before signing a contract with them or before formally engaging in a business deal together. You should do your due diligence and investigate business deals fully before committing to them.

Piqued My Interest

To “pique” means to arouse, so the correct phrase here is “piqued my interest,” meaning that my interest was awakened. To say that something “peaked my interest” might suggest that my interest was taken to the highest possible level, but this is not what the idiom is meant to convey.

Case in Point

The correct phrase in this case is “case in point,” which derives its meaning from a dialect of Old French. While it may not make any logical sense today, it is a fixed idiom.

A love letter response to my post …

“It gives me peace of mind to know that our team of producers and marketers will have a resource that is not exclusive or first-come, first-served to conduct ample due diligence on the proper use of idioms that will, for all intents and purposes, improve our overall application of the English vernacular and emigrate from our brutish, rudimentary applications of this form of fixed expression.  By and large I could care less about the grammatical prowess of others but I feel this resource will make us all a shoo-in for impressing our contemporaries and will pique their interest in our events thusly providing a case in point for why the proper use of idioms works like a charm for separating sheep from goats

Idioms are the bees knees, yo!”

Published: It’s what happens when your press release rocks

The Detroit Business Journal wrote an article on my work’s upcoming military event off the back of a press release we sent out via PR Newswire. The end goal of any press release is to have it turn into a story, but that very rarely happens. Well, today is that day.

I’ll keep it short and sweet, but read this article I wrote if you want more information on how to write a press release.

Here’s the press release in its entirety:

Press Release

And, in summary:

IDGA’S LIGHTWEIGHT TACTICAL VEHICLES SUMMIT COMES TO DETROIT THIS MARCH
Advancements and Opportunities within the Lightweight Tactical Vehicles Programs

New York, NY (February 2, 2015) – IDGA is pleased to announce its debut event, the
Lightweight Tactical Vehicles Summit this March 16-18 in Detroit. The Summit will feature more than 20 highly qualified speakers, which include five military program managers who boast a combined 300 years of military experience.

This new program will bring together some of the military’s key decision makers in an intimate forum to give insight into future vehicle acquisition projects. Since fewer vehicles contract opportunities are available due to drawn down conflicts abroad and sequestration, the military must be more proactive in identifying best value solution providers. This event will serve as an ideal platform for the military decision makers to achieve that initiative.

The summit will bring together 20+ high profile speakers including; COL Kmiecik, Director of Mounted Requirements, COL Mike Milner, Program Manager, Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, COL Jason Craft, Program Manager, Mine Resistant Ambush Proof Vehicles and COL James Schirmer, Program Manager, Armored Fighting Vehicles.

Never before has IDGA had the pleasure of announcing such a powerful faculty with speakers representing programs ranging from the AMPV to the ULCV.

2015 sessions will cover:
• Future of the Ultra Lightweight Combat Vehicle
• Ultra-Light Tactical Mobility and the Expeditionary Force
• Mine Resistant Ambush Proof Vehicles
• Alternate Vehicle Programs – The Future Fighting Vehicle
• Introducing the AMPV
• DAPRA Presents: The GXV-T
• Army’s Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy

And many more!

Join the vehicles community as they come together to learn best practices, programs and processes for 2015 and beyond. This will be a rare opportunity to speak with such a broad range of program managers, while meeting your future clients within this hard-to-reach military vehicles community. To access the full agenda or to register for the conference, visit http://www.lighttacticalvehiclesummit.com

About IDGA

The Institute for Defense & Government Advancement (IDGA): (www.idga.org) a division of IQPC, is a non‐partisan information‐based organization dedicated to the promotion of innovative ideas in public service and defense through live conferences and events. We bring together speaker panels and events comprised of military and government professionals.

Capitalization in Headlines & Subject Lines

Fix yo grammar.
Fix yo grammar.

Lately I’ve seen some inconsistencies between who is capitalizing what in certain subject lines and titles.

So, stop. It’s grammar time!

Opinions are divided across stylebooks on what words should be capitalized, but throughout my career I’ve been able to develop a universally-accepted, three-rule guideline:

  1. Always capitalize the first and last word of the subject line/title (you all are perfect with this rule.)
  2. Capitalize any and all words that are four or more letters in length
  3. Do NOT capitalize conjunctions (and, or, but, nor, yet, so, for), articles (a, an, the) and short prepositions (in, to, of, at, by, up, for, off, on).

Here’s a quiz I pulled off the World Wide Web to test you on these rules. Which words do you think should be capitalized in these titles/subject lines?

  • made to stick: why some ideas survive and others die
  • the story factor: inspiration, influence, and persuasion through the art of storytelling
  • fierce conversations: achieving success at work and in life, one conversation at a time
  • a funny thing happened on the way to the boardroom: using humor in business speaking

Think on it …

Still thinking ….

Do you know which words to uppercase yet?

Ok, let’s test those skills:

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (to is a short preposition; and is a conjunction)

  • The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling (through is a preposition, but is capitalized because it is greater than four letters)
  • Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time (one is capitalized because it is an adjective)
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Boardroom: Using Humor in Business Speaking

The most common errors I see are with short words that are not conjunctions, articles, or prepositions. Words such as one, it, its, it’s, him, and own should all be capitalized no matter where they appear in a title.

I hope this helps! Next week a note on prepositions? Email me to let me know what you have questions about.

BONUS: Did you know there’s a name for the the “dot, dot, dot” … you see in emails and other correspondence? It’s called an ellipses (eee-lip-seas), and is used most frequently in writing when summarizing quotations.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda Had Better Grammar Tips

Does anyone even know the definition of an infinitive? It’s one of the most basic forms of a verb “to be, to have, to hold” are some examples. When a verb is accompanied by the “to” they are always supposed to be written together. Oftentimes, we separate the “to” from its verb friend “have” in a way that is incorrect. But, as the degradation of the English continues, this probably won’t be an issue in the future.

Examples:

I have to gently hold the baby. (the infinitive is being split by “gently” and is not correct)

I have to hold the baby gently. (this is correct)

Side note: This isn’t an issue in many foreign languages, such as French, Spanish, etc.,  because they use one word to express the infinitive.

French: Aller (to go)

Spanish: Hablar (to speak)

Here are two more common errors:

Woulda, coulda, shoulda

Most people incorrectly pronounce these as “would of, could of, should of.” Blame Southerners.

Correct: Could have, should have, would have

If I could have seen my mom last night, I would have requested her famous pasta dish for dinner. I should have created a shopping list for her.

Who vs. That

This is simple, but is often written and spoken incorrectly. A way of remembering when to use “who” vs. “that” is to associate who with people and that with nonliving things

Our speakers, who are experts in the industry, will join us at the Summit.

The brochure details the sessions that you can attend at the event.