When Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade organizers announced the event this year would be produced as a television show rather than a live experience, we decided it was time to talk turkey – about going virtual and the best way to ensure your production is successful.
Strategist John Wall has evaluated lots of virtual events forced by the COVID-19 virus, sharing with Robert his tips for those still wondering if it’s worth it to attempt any online gatherings before the pandemic subsides.
Also, longtime copy editor Rob Reinalda joins Robert for a discussion about his snarky new book, “Why Editors Drink.” The two discuss the most common writing foibles Reinalda suffered during his career editing others' copy.
Podcasting from sea to shining sea. Here's the host of PR Nation and Summer, Johnson a partner at restir a public affairs in Washington, DC.
Summer Johnson (24s):
Good morning. Good afternoon. And good evening. PR Nation it's Thanksgiving week and we are so glad to have you along for this special early edition of the show, whether you're with loved ones this week are staying at home this year to avoid the virus. We wish you the very best here at PR Nation we're thankful for your friendship, for your support of the show and for the feedback we get from you on our personal social media channels. By now, you might be checking your calendar in your right, this isn't Friday, we're coming to you early this week because we're talking about the Virtual Thanksgiving day parade. And it just didn't make sense to us that we would discuss it after organizers are doing their best to make it fun.
Summer Johnson (1m 7s):
But the Johnsons have been to the parade in New York city. And we know about the thousands, if not millions of people in attendance, it's just not going to be the same this year. Robert's along to talk about all kinds of virtual events with a guest. Who's studied the topic and gives us his take on all of those virtual events we're doing this year. Conferences shows and even Parades all done without an in person audience. And also we find out Why Editors Drink and this has nothing to do with PR Nation editor, Tim who is quite responsible. This is a conversation about the Writing mistakes people make that are so Bad their copy editors can't wait to drown their frustrations in a Drink or two or three.
Summer Johnson (1m 53s):
There's no drinking here on PR. Nation just a conversation about a new book called Why Editors Drink all of this. And the latest PR news is coming up next on PR Nation This Thanksgiving we're also thankful for John O'Dwyer and his team in New York city, Kevin McCauley, Steve Barnes, John Gingrich, Jane Landers and Christine O'Dwyer. They work so hard every day bringing you the latest PR news and information firstname.lastname@example.org and here on PR Nation.
Summer Johnson (2m 34s):
Here he is now John O'Dwyer publisher of O'Dwyers PR Newsletter reporting the latest PR news this week.
John O'Dwyer (2m 45s):
This is the O'Dwyer PR news roundup for the week of November 23rd. I'm John Dwyer. Posted on O'Dwyer PR tthis week. Wendy Lund, CEO of GCI health since 2010 is leaving the BCW unit to take the chief communications officer job at Organon and company. Kristen Cahill North America president will succeed Lund on January 1st. Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck has ranked a $65,000 per month contract to provide government relations and strategic counsel to Egypt, which is headed by Abdul Fatah, a Trump favorite.
John O'Dwyer (3m 31s):
President elect Joe Biden has promised to get tough with Fatah whom the Washington Post has called the most repressive ruler in Egypt's modern history. The Virginia state police department wants to hire a firm to devise a diversity equity and inclusion plan. The selected firm will help VSP leadership evaluate, clarify, define measure, and implement D and I strategies and goals to enhance diversity to optimal levels across all career groups. Finally, virtual events and webcasts are booming in today's work from home world.
John O'Dwyer (4m 12s):
According to a study from Intrado digital media and try to study found a 362% increase, and the number of client virtual events and webcasts on 2019 to 2020 is the number of live unique viewers Rose by 510% in total registrants for virtual events jumped 268% that resulted in over 1.8 billion minutes of viewing time. That's your O'Dwyer PR news Roundup for this week. Log on to a O'Dwyer PR newsletter for the latest PR news and commentary. I'm John O'Dwyer.
Summer Johnson (4m 46s):
Sign up for a Dwyer is PR Newsletter using the link in the show notes, the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade first March through the streets of New York city in 1924, it made its TV debut in 1953. The Parade with its floats bands and other surprises is as much a part of American Thanksgiving celebrations as the Turkey dinner itself, but like everything else in 2020 this year, his Parade is different. It's still happening, but the route isn't the same television is the only way to see it. And it's pretty much already happened by the time you tune in Thanksgiving morning. This year, the Parade is virtually a television show rather than a live event on TV.
Summer Johnson (5m 29s):
John Wall is a partner at trust insights in Boston. He's written a lot about the virtual event trend forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. He's also a podcast host logging almost 14 years at the MC as co-host of a podcast called marketing over coffee. Here's Robert's conversation with John Wall about the pitfalls and possibilities of virtual events.
John Wall (5m 54s):
So yeah, I've been in events, you know, as a marketer events have been in my career for since like 1999. I think it was when I started with this company DCI that used to do tech events. And so the thing that we see right now is taking your event. Virtual doesn't mean making it a webinar, you know, that's basically what so many people have done and nobody needs more webinars at no point back in February before this all went down. Did anybody say, yeah, I could really use a lot more webinars. That's a wonderful thing. Yeah. The Macy's day parade is an interesting thing for, so from what I've seen on that, you know, there's still going to have the floats. They'll be driven by cars. They're saying, okay, no kids, you know, anywhere in the thing, no bands, the bands aren't going to go and the musical stuff is still going to be there.
John Wall (6m 37s):
The cast of Hamilton is going to be there and there's, you know, I apologize. I have two young kids, so like I'm not up on what's cool on Broadway. That's just not. And if it was a Disney channel, I got a nail, but the big thing would the Macy's parade and think about all the different stakeholders, like what are they trying to do? And you know, one part of it is having a great TV broadcast. Well, that's nothing new. I mean, I hate to say it, but you know, especially for most of the audience, they could use 80% of last year's Parade and most people wouldn't even know. But the interesting thing we'll be kind of, where will they extend it? Where will they go further? As far as like it spread more over time, they actually have more time to do things. And this is something we've seen with virtual events. You can actually spend a lot more time planning. You don't have to go and shoot it all in one day.
John Wall (7m 19s):
You can stretch it out over time so you can do a much better job, but then there's also the question of where else can you go? What else could you do to create a better experience? That's more engaging for people. So make it more engaging. And then another one is making the decision of, do you really want it to be an event? Because one thing with an event is you say, okay, it's on this day and this time, and if you're not there, you miss out forever. You know, FOMO is a piece of real events. And so you have to decide if you want to do that or not. And that's a big mistake I've seen with a lot of virtual events right now is people are just saying, Hey, yeah, we're live on Thursday, come on Thursday. Oh. But the recording will be available for the next six months over on YouTube. And what always happens with that is you're like, Oh yeah, I want to see that.
John Wall (8m 2s):
But then Thursday comes, if something comes up and you don't go, and then you're like, Oh, well, it's okay. It's on video. And then you never watched the video. Yeah. So that's thrown out a whole bunch of stuff right there, but you know, make it more engaging. Is it going to be a formal event that you can miss out on? And are you going to go anywhere new, nearly one in five people.
Robert Johnson (8m 19s):
I heard today a lot of people say they probably will skip Thanksgiving dinner altogether. So I wonder if they're going to dump the Parade too, since it is basically just a TV show this year?
John Wall (8m 30s):
Yeah. That's a great question. I mean, its kind of the classic thing is it's everybody eats and then everybody falls asleep on the couch with a Parade going on and it is interesting. You know, the Parade is kind of a great vehicle for delivering up like, okay, here's the movies you're going to catch over Christmas and movies are dead. So it's kind of a, you know, what else do you want to do with it? I think the musical thing, that's the one thing that seems to be massive for me. Their revenue model is totally different, but like if it was my event and I was involved with it, I would say, Hey, go over and on to eBay, top five bidders raised money for charity. And you get to talk to the producer of the musical that you want to talk to. I mean, who wouldn't open up their wallet to talk to somebody that's in Hamilton right now. There's ways to do that.
4 (9m 11s):
The other thing is to try and find a way to let people engage with each other. You know, if you could talk with other people, this is one thing that we've seen in successful virtual events is they try and recreate that, you know, going to event to meet five people that you've never met before and learned some new things. Just that kind of serendipity. It's weird in that the TV aspect doesn't have that, but the live Parade totally has that. Right? Like people go to the live Parade because they want to see what's going on in New York city and come to the shop and all that kind of stuff. And yeah, the whole shopping angle is something else you could try and come up with something around. But yeah, I don't know. It's going to be interesting.
Robert Johnson (9m 47s):
You've surveyed some people who have been around or experienced virtual events during this pandemic. And I'd like to know what you're hearing back from them. How is it?
John Wall (9m 56s):
Yeah. Yeah. So it, you know, this wasn't one of those, like we send out the survey to thousands of people, but on the show we talk a lot about tactics, just like you guys talk about it's all about it. You know, getting feed on the ground. And we said, Hey, what are people doing in virtual events? Come back to us, tell us what you've got going on. What's working and not working. Cause we want to hear about it. And the biggest one was an agency out of England that was doing a lot of virtual events. And the big thing for them was a virtual stage. You know, they actually have built a studio that is set up so that it can look like it's anywhere. You know, you can look like you're out on the waterfront or a you're in a large government building. You know, you have these areas where you can completely do a product launch of some kind of talk about something and make it look like it's a regular event.
John Wall (10m 38s):
And then another component of that was the studio in a box. They actually have a full crate that they ship out to the guests. And so the guests get this at their office or wherever it's got the full camera and it just needs, you know, RJ 45 connection to a high speed internet. And it's like, you've got a TV studio on site. And then so you combine that person out in the field. Would that box would the person on the virtual studio? And you can actually, they digitally merge them on the stage. So it looks like there, you know, a classic talk show sitting in the chair. So that was a really interesting one. And the other theme that we keep seeing, I'd mentioned Tony Robbins, what they've been doing. He has a virtual room where he can have 2000 zoom attendees all around him and you know, more than a, a 180 degree screen and he can even go up and be like, Hey David, how you doing Robert?
John Wall (11m 23s):
What's going on with Sarah? Good to see you today. So they've seen it a little more intimacy there. And then Seth Goden is the other person to that. I was talking with a couple of weeks ago about how he's doing training and education. And it was again, a similar vein, have you do some teaching, but then you use the breakout rooms and you let people go off in groups of three to five for 10, 20 minutes and solve a problem and come back and the ideas to solve it well enough that you could teach it or present it. Maybe you haven't presented. Maybe not. You don't have to go that far, but you do have these people getting a lot of personal engagement and problem solving and networking, meeting new people. You have that baked into the process because that's the big deal. You don't have everybody in the same room.
John Wall (12m 3s):
So you want to find a new way to create that and be able to give people the same engagement and she has to, and again, it gets more unique in that they can solve their own problems. They're not just listening to case studies from a keynote. They can actually bring some stuff to the table.
Robert Johnson (12m 17s):
Unfortunately, I think the latter example you just mentioned about case studies on a keynote, that's where most people are, right? Because they don't have the budget to build a wall of a thousand monitors to surround their host. How is that going? I assume fairly poorly.
John Wall (12m 33s):
Yeah. I, you know, I don't want to call out any specific events, but so with trust insights, we measure that stuff and we have a lot of clients who say, you know, Hey, we want to see how's the Virtual doing compared to the last three years. And that is very common for us to see, you know, virtual events doing one 10th of the traffic and social media chatter and kind of buzz. Do you just don't get that same level of engagement and leads and action. I've seen some big shows that would normally have, you know, a hundred to 200 people in a closing keynote have 20 people on the livestream for the closing keynote, you know, and in air quotes. So yeah, if you're just going to webinar your existing show, you're going to take a, a huge hit.
John Wall (13m 13s):
You are not going to get the same kind of interactivity. And I think people don't think about the user experience, right? Because when you go into a conference center, right there signs everywhere to all the major keynotes and you see the big names and you're like, okay, this was great. But for these virtual events, people just dump you to a webpage. That's got to a hundred speakers just in a list. Like there's no control over the experience. If you're going to scroll down three or four screens and then give up. And that's it. The other thing that people don't think about is the power of getting everybody in a single geographic area. 'cause if you can't do that now, suddenly everybody is spread around the globe. Like I got a digital event coming up that would normally be in London in January. I'm not going to wake up in the middle of the night to go. Why not yet to see this stuff is just not going to happen.
John Wall (13m 55s):
So it's been a rough year for the event industry. There's no doubt about that.
Robert Johnson (13m 59s):
A lot of people just go to the event so they can travel.
John Wall (14m 3s):
Yeah. In fact, like I've been in this position where I go to the event because it has a travel ROI for me, instead of me going to 10 different cities to meet with people, I can go to the big show in San Francisco and October. And I can over four days meet with all of those people and save myself 30 flights. I get the free badge. Sometimes they don't even go to any of the events. And yeah, as much as people are low to admit it, a lot of the huge events are in Vegas. People going to the sessions is not their number one concern. They're going to have the vendor take 'em out for steak dinners and get away from their family for a week. And you know, it's educational, but it's a break in your normal routine. So now just plugging another appointment in your calendar during your workweek.
John Wall (14m 43s):
It doesn't compare.
Robert Johnson (14m 44s):
I've attempted to attend a couple of conferences on topics that are of great interest to me. And in one case, a conference that I've been to in-person twice, but when I'm at my computer, working for clients getting work done, it's just hard to multitask that way. You can't really listen to what's going on with a presentation and then, you know, to try to do work. And I used to be in TV newsrooms, where I was watching news and answering phones at the same time. So it's hard for people to concentrate. I think if they're still in their office, wherever that might be now.
John Wall (15m 19s):
Yeah. You know, the big value of hopping on a plane and go into another city is that you jettison all of that stuff. Nobody is going to come by and say, Oh, can you just give me two minutes on this? And yeah, I can't even put a number on the number of events over the past three months. I've looked at it like, yeah, I would really love to sit down and check that out. And then I look at the report, it was like, Oh, it's actually a two day thing. All the cool stuff was yesterday. You missed everything. You know, that just, you can, it was the tyranny of the urgent. You just can't defeat that if you stay in the office.
Robert Johnson (15m 48s):
And then of course the giveaways, all of the freebies, my t-shirt stock is going to be greatly depleted this year. I'm counting on 2021 to get it back to where it belongs.
John Wall (15m 59s):
Yeah. I don't know the joke we always used to have with, from the far East of the landfill. That's the lifecycle of trade show, schwag and giveaways. You know, I could probably use it a few more stress balls. And now that's another thing that you can pull back off with this though, is, come and get your $20 Amazon gift card. If you come check out a session, you can still do giveaways and free stuff. You know, if it will at least give you something, you can kind of recreate the experience. And yeah, it totally touch-free if you just e-mail on the Amazon card is there is no health risk to that. So you can get away with it.
Robert Johnson (16m 28s):
I lobbied the podcast movement guys. That's the show that I've been to twice before and attended virtually this year. I'm like, how about a swag bag? I mean, come on, you don't have to rent the hotel. You don't have to pay all of that overhead. Can you just mail us something? And it was a digital kit, which was kind of a bummer. I opened it. I'm like, I don't know what I'm going to do with this. I've had enough digital today this year.
John Wall (16m 50s):
Yeah. You know, and that's something that we've seen across the boards. A lot of people talking about it and the direct mail is making a huge comeback right now. I say, you should come back. But I mean, there's a lot of mailing being done. You know, the companies that have a Christmas catalog are cranking up their mailing as usual. And then there is a number of vendors I've seen that are kind of doing these larger 3d mailings, you know, mail out a box with a Bluetooth speaker in it or something like that. So this is a great trick that I picked up years ago from Oracle, which is you do those campaigns. Right? So the Oracle campaign that I had got was, you know, they were, this was a classic Oracle write. They're going for the CEO. Who's got a yacht. Somehow they mistakenly thought we were in that demographic, which we're not.
John Wall (17m 30s):
Or maybe they weren't thinking that maybe they were just playing a game. Cause the idea was I got a box. It was about, you know, a foot by a foot and it had a picture of a yacht on it and you opened it up and there was a space in the box for this $200 set of binoculars that are just super high-end binoculars. And it said like, you know, take the demo and we'll send you the binoculars. And I thought, wow, that's the best way. Getting like the impact of the box in front of people. But the binoculars are actually not in there and you're not going to send 2000 pairs. You're only going to send the 50 or 20 that actually gets the demos. So that's a good tip to steal. If you want to try and dip your foot in the 3d mailing space, you can use it more of a tease and save yourself some money you could do.
Robert Johnson (18m 8s):
You can do that with any sort of a surprise, as long as it was worth a little bit, Right?
John Wall (18m 13s):
Yeah, absolutely. You know, you could go off on eBay, right? Everybody loses their AirPods. You could go get 20 air pod cases that are empty and throw those in the mail and just say, yeah, Hey, if you take a demo, we'll send you a real set. You know, so many places nobody's getting a FedEx. Now it is totally weird. Now, too. You've got to figure out if you can't get them at home or they're not going into the office even once a week, that's a little bit of a challenge and that's a whole nother rat hole. If you know what happens is now that everybody's getting their email at home and not in the office and all that stuff, you know, the nature of work at home has changed everything. But yeah, you can at least try and be remarkable and try and still knock on the door.
Robert Johnson (18m 47s):
So you talked about some of the things you could do when we kicked off this conversation. It was sort of wrapped in your answer about the Thanksgiving day parade. But let's go through those again for folks who might be trying to figure out how to salvage their virtual event, if it's still planned this year, or if they're thinking about first quarter of 21, what can they do to make their event successful? If they don't have a Tony Robbins budget.
John Wall (19m 14s):
The one thing you really need to decide on is can you gather a crowd? Are you able to say, Hey, it's going to be on this day. And if you're really gutsy say it's only gonna run on that. Day are you going to be able to get a bunch of people to show up at the answer to that is no. Then you pretty much have to give up on appointment media. You want to switch to a content calendar mindset. So instead of saying, you know, Hey, on this one day, there's going to be 10 speakers. Instead, you want to say, OK, over the next month and a half, we're going to record all these 10 speakers and we're going to roll them out as a series once a month. And it's not going to be a one day, but it's still all gonna be on the intranet. You can at least kind of create a little bit of this buzz and the big wind with that it's instead of having a webpage with 20 speakers on it, that people can't get through its every month, if you're sending out an email, it was just like, Hey, this speaker is here today.
John Wall (20m 1s):
They're going to talk about this thing and still you want to make the decision. So since you're on that path, now you've probably given up on appointment media. So you really want to make it available as a recording. You don't want to tie it to a date and time. It's just, Hey, this thing is open right now. Go watch it if you want. And if you want to pull the live component back, you can do in that video at the end of the video, you can say, okay, we're going to have a live Q and a on this date. And so that way you do still kind of bring that live component back. But yeah, if you can't pull off the show up for the circus, you need to switch to a content calendar approach. And the big one with that is if you're hitting them every week over for months at the end of it, you're going to say, okay, here's the five that they open. So we know that they're interested about these topics.
John Wall (20m 43s):
So you've got at least now again, a picture of who those attendees are and that's the kind of stuff that the vendors are interested in, right? Because your vendors aren't getting their list from showing up. But if you can go back at the end of, for weeks and say, okay, here's 400 people that are interested both in databases and marketing automation, software, you know, you're at least giving them some value for their sponsorship and you know, a chance to catch back. Some of that value.
Robert Johnson (21m 10s):
What can cause a virtual event to fail? Are there two or three things people should not do if they want to have a chance at this?
John Wall (21m 17s):
Yeah. You know, it's pretty cut and dry right now as that you run it and nobody shows up. I mean, that's it, you just don't get the attendees. That's the crash and burn have the whole thing. So no ways to get around that are, make that transition to a content calendar. So you're not just having everything ride on one specific day and time, which, you know, everybody more than three times zones away with you is not going to be able to take advantage of any way. So that's the big one other failures, you know, not engaging at all is the big deal. If you're just going to have somebody sit up there for 40 minutes and do the keynote, you are really going to have a hard time creating any value there to really plan for more interaction. And it doesn't have to be breakout rooms. It doesn't even have to go that far, but even if you can have, Hey, over in the chat bar, you know, raise your hand.
John Wall (22m 1s):
If you're using this marketing automation tool or raise your hand, you know, tell us, what's your number one problem with this so that the conversation can move and migrate to what their actual needs and wants are that can at least give you some interactivity that can make it better than just a recording that could have been done any day, anywhere.
Robert Johnson (22m 19s):
Should you expect to charge the same amount of money for a virtual event as you would an event that's in person.
John Wall (22m 27s):
A great question, because it's different for everyone, you know, for a super high premium level of events, you know, like the classic one has the Tony Robbins, right? He has completely at the extreme thousands of dollars to show up and you get personal interaction. They can still do that kind of stuff. At the other end of the industry trade show that runs this year. We've seen most people having to cut their prices by a 10th, you know, cut it at 90% or more to just get the body's in there. It's the same thing though for these expos have always been challenged with is okay, we need it to look full. We want it to have thousands of people, but we would also like to get some attendee revenue. And so the, you know, most live events would have a hybrid model where the people that pay the money get to go to the good sessions.
4 (23m 8s):
And then if you want an expo pass that's for free, and that gets you to the tonnage on the show floor to keep it busy. And so you can try and work that same kind of model to you could do, Hey, these big name keynotes are free, but if you want to get in to the more specific sessions that are a topic oriented and where you are really going to walk away with some education, you have to pay for those. But yeah, unfortunately it's wild West. You just have to test it and see how it can go. But yeah, we've seen events able to make money and still draw. And a lot of that too is how much Goodwill the event has. You know, we have seen certain events where they're kind of attendee favorites that they make the time and money for every year and they just wanna continue to support the business.
4 (23m 48s):
So they're willing to roll the dice on a virtual event. And then there's that the other extreme, you know, there's some of these shows that are huge, that run every year that charged their vendors, five, six figures for booth. And they're like, yeah, you guys, this is our chance to tell you to go blow for a year. You know, we don't need to write you this giant check if you're going to deliver one 10th of the traffic. So we are going to put that marketing budget someplace else for this year and wait for things to blow over.
Robert Johnson (24m 14s):
Well, that's what I wanted to ask you. How do you know whether you should go Virtual or just wait?
John Wall (24m 19s):
Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, from what I've seen, there have been a lot of events that are just like, look, this is our one big cash hit for the year or so. We just have to do it no matter what we need to experiment and take our best shot and go. I don't see any reason why you would just give up. I mean, you definitely want to try something to keep the engagement and not lose it from year to year. Because I think the big concern is if you don't adapt and try something new many industries have more than one show. And if another vendor cracks the nut on what is going to work in your space, they won't come back ever. And so that's the real concern with that. So yeah, you've got to experiment and go the cash cow model of just the event company.
John Wall (24m 59s):
That's how that works. We do see a lot of stuff though with, okay, so you're a vendor and you're doing your user event every year and it doesn't really make money for you, but it is huge because you're bringing in prospects like you close deals from it. And it's just kind of a cultural thing. A lot of those companies are saying, Hey, we're really going to scale back this year because it's just, there is no way for us to get that same bank for the buck. So, you know, we may even take a complete pass this year and try doing some training or whatever. But a lot of those people, if you're in that space where your footing, the entire logistics bill, like you're going to take a pass on this year just to make it to next year.
Robert Johnson (25m 39s):
Speaking of next year of the pandemic will end. We hope in 21, when that happens, is it the end of the line for a virtual conference? Or do these things stick around somehow?
John Wall (25m 49s):
Yeah. It's going to be really interesting to see how things shake out. I mean, I think Virtual will grab some ground and not give it up because a lot of the stuff I talked about with Virtual stage, it pulls a lot of expense out of the content creation loop. You know, if instead of bringing 24 people into a studio or to a conference center for one day, you are able to mail a studio on the box around over the space of three months. You know, your expenses are one 10th of what it takes to produce that thing. It takes a lot more logistics and planning, but you can take a lot of money out of a loop and, you know, literally do four or five shows for what you are doing for the price of one.
Summer Johnson (26m 36s):
Writing good copy is hard for many PR pros and editing. What others have written can be even tougher. You might say it's the kind of work that could lead one to make bad decisions like drinking too much, longtime copy, editor Robert and all that is out a concise and useful guide to the most common Writing foibles. He suffered during his career editing, what others have written the new book titled Why Editors Drink is smirky by Rob his own admission, but it's also witty and helpful presenting readers with advice he hopes will improve their writing and save their Editors from drinking too much. Save the Editors.
Summer Johnson (27m 16s):
This is what happened when Rob Bernalda and Robert got together to talk about his book, Why Editors Drink.
Rob Reinalda (27m 23s):
It started out as a joke on particularly trying days, the fellow editor, and I would remark past the gin that began with a post-it note after a frustrating exchange with another colleague who was trying our patients, I just stuck a post-it on her cubicle wall. It said past the chair. And then from that, it evolved into this is Why Editors Drink when I would see a, a particularly daunting passage that needed fixing, and I thought this could be a performance piece, and this could be a presentation for the audience of writers and editors and communicators that we serve PR people and marketers and so on.
Rob Reinalda (28m 5s):
And the idea was I would have a bottle of Pinot Grigio or a scotch or whatever stage scotch of course, or vodka and take a shot or a glass. As I went through all these examples of terrible Writing and how to fix them. And you know, this is Why Editors, Drink take a drink and then go on to the next one and then get fake sourest over the course of the 45 minutes to an hour that presentation, it never materialized. So I put it into a book, the focus and the objective of my writings has always been to help people write better and better serve the reader. This helps leaven what can be a very dry topic with humor.
Rob Reinalda (28m 47s):
And even though it's a very funny book, or at least I hope so, the objective is how do we serve the reader better? 'cause the reader is at the top of the hierarchy and hopefully surf. And the text is the client, the person who hires us to edit the stuff or to provide the communication. And then below that is the writer. The writer might be the client who asked us to look something over. But basically what we want to do is we want to make sure that the reader is served, that the reader gets to the messaging because too much communication is this amalgam of stuff. It's unclear. It's like having half gravel and half pudding.
Rob Reinalda (29m 28s):
You might think the pudding is delicious, but you can't eat it because there's gravel in it. Or you might need the gravel, but it's covered with pudding so that renders aid useless. This clarifies what we're delivering to the audience and otherwise need to be really brilliant ideas that these communication professionals have to offer.
Robert Johnson (29m 49s):
The book is full of Writing blunders, and that's what you call them. You also say a lot of people are guilty of jaw dropping violations of common sense. Can you explain those two references?
Rob Reinalda (30m 3s):
That's the problem. I think stems from this notion that people should, right? The way they talk, that originated as a means to, or a focus on eliminating jargon in corporate speak and puffed up Writing from discourse online, offering of ideas. And I'm all for that conversational tone is great, but it just gets to lax. If, for example, you listen to people on political talk shows, and if you just wrote down or transcribed what they had to say verbatim with no editing, there would be run on sentences and repetitions and all sorts of things that are structurally not right detrimental to the point they're trying to make the point comes across because it stream of consciousness as I'm doing now.
Rob Reinalda (30m 55s):
But if I were to take what I'm saying right now and put it as a single paragraph in written form, it would not hold together as well as I would like. Hence editing is important probably as the people don't edit, they, they write their stuff and somebody else says, Oh, that's great. And without honing it without pairing it down without getting it to the purest assets, and that's a lot of the bladder and that we see online, again, it's detrimental to the communication itself. Common sense is not looking up words to see what they mean, hearing a word and thinking that it means something else penultimate, for example, when they mean exceedingly ultimate, whatever, that might be the pinnacle of something, but it means next to last.
Rob Reinalda (31m 48s):
So they think that that extra syllable provides emphasis and it doesn't, it changes the meaning of what the person is trying to say. And by not looking that up or not looking up references, for example, someone wrote rinse lather repeat rather than the leather rinse repeat, which is the common thing that you see on the bottle of shampoo and the right process, the right sequence of steps to make sure that your hair is free of suds. That's in the book. And those common sense elements are lacking in a lot of Writing people don't take the time. It's like if you're putting together a meal and you have all these ingredients, but you don't do them in the right order, or you use dairy that has curdled or meat that has spoiled vegetables that have gone rotten and putrid.
Rob Reinalda (32m 42s):
That's not going to be a tasty dish. It's not going to be presented well. And its not going to be. And putting together a piece of writing is very much like that. You'll have to have the proper ingredients. They have to be well presented and they have to be full and hearty for the reader to gain intellectual nourishment from them.
Robert Johnson (33m 3s):
You've made a career out of writing and editing. Are the mistakes and blunders in the book gleaned from all of those years of work?
Rob Reinalda (33m 14s):
Those are from about the last decade, actually probably more than the last five years when I was in online publishing and they were called and curated from outside sources for a company website. And my job was to make sure that they fit our editorial standards, which I helped establish again to serve our readers and our readers were and are discerning about their communications. So a business blog that might not have that rigorous editing process that would have to go through me and our team of Editors.
Rob Reinalda (33m 54s):
And we would make sure that the text itself serve the readers as well. I spent 28 years in newspaper, journalism and newspaper articles. I used to anyway, go through a half a dozen levels of editing. Now copy editors. Aren't quite as valued in newspapers anymore. So errors get through that shouldn't and that's unfortunate, but the industry being what it is, they cut out levels of editing and copy editing.
Robert Johnson (34m 23s):
And of course, people who write for organizations may not have anyone editing their copy. That's dangerous. Isn't it?
Rob Reinalda (34m 29s):
This, even if you have a colleague, a colleague, you trust to take a look at something and say, if you ask them, Hey, please be hard on this. Please be stringent about the way you read this before it goes out, because my name is going to be on this. My reputation's at stake. Our company reputation is at stake. So we don't want to screw this up. We don't want this to go out with basic errors or huge fundamental errors that would compromise our integrity, our public face, our reputation and our level of expertise.
Rob Reinalda (35m 9s):
So you want to make sure that that text does go through a trusted filter. When I was writing pieces about writing, about grammar, about structure, about syntax, about anything about proofreading, I would ask at least one highly skilled colleagues to look through it and nitpick and find any fault that they could with it to make sure that it was right, because it's very difficult to offer authoritative insights on something. If you have all kinds of errors.
Robert Johnson (35m 44s):
Of course you have to make sure the person who is editing your writing actually knows something about writing themselves.
Rob Reinalda (35m 49s):
That certainly does help. And so you, you choose trusted colleagues, you know, who has a reputation, you know that the quality of their work, you know, their dedication. And if someone says, I can give this a quick read to say, Nope, I'll find someone else. You don't want a quick raid. You want someone who is going to take the time to read it forward and backward. One of the best ways to proofread is to start at the last paragraph and go backwards. So you don't get caught up too much in the narrative arc, you are looking at the individual sentences, you are looking for misspellings and things like that. So for proofreading, that is a very important practice, but to get to the thread again, the narrative arc started at the beginning and make sure everything holds together.
Rob Reinalda (36m 33s):
And there were multiple levels of editing. This content is structure, grammar, and syntax and so on.
Robert Johnson (36m 38s):
I've never heard anyone say start at the end of a piece and work forward.
Rob Reinalda (36m 44s):
It's not original to me. I'd love to take credit for it, but it's sort of acquired wisdom. And I worked with wonderful editors over my decades and the business and newspapers and in online publishing and you learn from them, you pick up tips from them and that's what I'm trying to do with Why Editors Drink is to pass it along, passed some of that wisdom along in a highly digestible way and mode two readers, let them drink it in the funniest one to me is someone was citing William Strunk and White and they inverted them and made it a Bill Strunk and William White. And they wrote the elements of style,
Robert Johnson (37m 23s):
They gave me a hard time when I was 18 years old attempting to write college essays as a freshman. So I'm not a really big fans of theirs. I would like to though talk about some of the blunders specifically. And you've mentioned the funniest already. What is the most egregious blunder you note in the book?
Rob Reinalda (37m 46s):
Each in their own way has sort of a jaw dropping aspect to it. And overriding problem is that people don't look up words. They don't understand what the words mean when they use them. And that's a problem. The other one is just overriding. It's using a 117 words to say what 27 words could convey again, rinse, lather, repeat it is one of my favorites. If you can't get to shampooing, right? And if you can't even quote a shampoo bottle, right, that how can a reader trust you with their PR campaign or with their internal communications or a with any of their business writing if they don't pay attention, there were three words in that.
Rob Reinalda (38m 35s):
Two of them are out of order. If that negligence in writing and conveying information is part of what you're offering. Then a reader or a potential client wouldn't and shouldn't and trust their product. They're a brand to them.
Robert Johnson (38m 49s):
When you were an editor and you would get a piece of copy, what would turn you off most about it if it was bad? Spelling?
Rob Reinalda (38m 57s):
Some people can't spell. Some people simply can't spell, and sometimes it's a muscle memory. And when people use larger that it started to larger, then that's just muscle memory. So the spelling is not as big a deal as people who don't get to the point. If there is bloat, if you take a thousand words to say what 300 words will do that waste reader's time and time is more important than money. Will you say time is money is far more important because you can always make money back, but you can't get time back. So bloat wasting reader's time. And I got very good over the years in newspapers at trimming stories, I worked for a tabloid newspaper, the New York daily news.
Rob Reinalda (39m 46s):
And one of the things that we have to do was to take 20, 25 inch stories and fit them into a nine inch news hole. So that requires significant pairing, but also sometimes you just have to make a paragraph fit by trimming a line or two. And so you learn the internal editing as well. And that's where I learned a lot of these tricks on how to condense text, which not only helps the reader, but it also makes the text, the word powerful. If you use stronger verbs, you don't need adverse. You can condense what you have to say. And then four to five to 10.
Robert Johnson (40m 23s):
The book's efficient, 64 pages to the point, easy to read, nice and clean. If people want to learn to write like that, how do they do it? How can they be the next Rob Reinalda?
Rob Reinalda (40m 40s):
Well, the book I hope we'll help to do that. I give examples of lengthy paragraphs and how to boil that down. Exactly what to cut, how to concentrate, what the message is. And to look for maybe you, you have three key words or three key points and a lengthy paragraph. So after you've written the long paragraph to say, okay, I've gotten the oldest out of my system. Then you start again, okay. How can I do that? In a tweet length offering, I had the luxury of writing headlines for newspapers and that practice of taking a thousand word story and putting it in the six or eight words is really good practice.
Rob Reinalda (41m 23s):
And then you have a deck head that expands on it, but focusing your mind to pick out the key points and then settle on them is very important. I'm a great believer in turf leads, short, brief, concise leads, the lead being the first sentence of a piece of writing. There's a rule unspoken rule unwritten rule in newspaper journalism. Shouldn't be more than 28 words. Why 28 because that's about an inch of column, text and inch deep. I like eight, 10, maybe 15 words. I like one line across a computer screen at about 12 point. That's just how I do it.
Rob Reinalda (42m 3s):
Use state the premise. You do it in an engaging way to draw the reader into what you'll have to say. And then you can elaborate. A lot of people like to start with, well, back in 1985, such a such I'm immediately turned off. That is 35 years ago. Tell me now what you're going to tell me. And then you can get into the backstory. Then you provide the details. That's my approach. An anecdotal lead a story. Lead works a different way, but I think for business, Writing, you're better off letting the reader know what they're in for. And if they choose to proceed, then they can proceed. But at least they know what they're getting into. You know,
Robert Johnson (42m 40s):
You don't see many news releases written that way these days, which is why I think most of them don't work for you.
Rob Reinalda (42m 48s):
Yeah. That's the problem word counts matter. And not because the recipient will say, Oh, this is 584 words. They'll do it. The word count. And, and Microsoft visually they'll take a look. And if they see big blobs of text, they'll be turned off right away. That's why bullet points work well, that's a concise lead works. Well,
Robert Johnson (43m 5s):
Are there other resources that you would direct people to once they've read your book, why Editors Drink, if they're thirsty for more to keep this whole line of thought going? What can they do? Where can they go?
Rob Reinalda (43m 18s):
Well, Grammar Girl stuff was wonderful. Full disclosure. I write for her. We've been friends for over 10 years. So Writing podcast gives for her when she was, I think introducing her stuff and we've maintained a friendship and the Alliance for years and years. So her stuff has really good. I understand Ben Dryer's book is very good and that's Dryer's English, but basically read your own stuff and see where you can cut it.
Robert Johnson (43m 50s):
The book Why Editors Drink is available on Amazon. There's a link to that and the show notes.
Sarah Shelson (43m 55s):
That's it for this special Thanksgiving week episode of PR Nation, we're super thankful for you and we hope you feel the same about us. If you do, we'd appreciate a rating and a review, you can do it right on the app where you're listening. Now. Also don't forget to visit our website for the PR nation.com. Leave us a voicemail by clicking on the blue microphone icon in the lower right-hand corner of the page. Maybe you'll hear it on a future show. Speaking of future shows, we roll right into December with an episode that can help you get ready for a new year. We're talking about how to become a freelance PR professional and giving you tips for launching or sprucing up your own personal brand. It's also your first chance to hear from of our new pros contributors. Pooja Kamat reporting from the United Kingdom.
Sarah Shelson (44m 37s):
We're talking about the new year fresh and free in a PR Nation episode available on your mobile device, Friday December 11th. Until then for Robert Johnson, Summer Johnson, and editor Tim Madden, I'm Sarah Shelson. This is PR Nation. In PR we trust.