As someone who works as a communications professional and writes every single day, I can identify with this quote often attributed to Ernest Hemingway:
“There is nothing to writing. You just sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
While I may not be sitting at a typewriter, I understand the sentiment. Writing isn’t easy, at least good writing. It’s a craft, and to write well, it takes time, effort and a lot of rewriting.
But unfortunately, when you work in a creative field, especially in a corporate setting, it sometimes seems like everyone has an opinion and advice about your work. Let’s just say, sometimes that can be a little frustrating. So today, I offer to you three things you shouldn’t say to the communications/editorial/public relations professionals in your company.
- Why isn’t my title capitalized? OK, guys. Here’s the deal: most journalists, communication and PR professionals use the Associated Press Stylebook to set baseline rules for how to handle specific words, concepts and ideas. Remember when you were in high school or college and your paper had to follow APA, MLA or Turabian? It’s a similar concept and provides consistency so that every piece of content has a similar feel and look. And the AP Stylebook has some specific rules on titles, particularly that they aren’t capitalized unless they are used in front of a name. For example, the title is capitalized in this sentence: Deputy Director Smith leaked the information to the press. But it wouldn’t be if written this way: Smith, a deputy director, leaked the information to the press. So when you see the press release and notice your title isn’t capitalized, take a deep breath. It’s not because the communications department hates you or doesn’t want to give you your due. It’s because we have a set of rules to play by that are designed to make communication clear and concise. And we’re just trying to follow the rules.
- Are you sure the grammar is correct? I’m not saying you shouldn’t question something if you think there’s a problem; you should. Grammar isn’t always an exact science, and we make mistakes. Sometimes, you catch a mistake our eyes have overlooked because we only see what we think we’ve written. (And when you bring those mistakes to our attention, please don’t be condescending!) But you should remember that there’s a difference in a grammar issue and a personal preference. Sometimes, what people identify as a grammatical error isn’t; instead, it’s simply a construction they don’t necessarily like or something they’ve been told is wrong, such as ending a sentence with a preposition. Most communications professionals have at least some training in the ins and outs of grammar and have spent years perfecting their craft. Bring true mistakes and typos to their attention with kindness and humility rather than in a manner that seems to patronize their knowledge and training.
- Oh, your job isn’t very important. And I don’t have time to help you with this project because my job is important. Yeah. . . that’s not going to go over so well. In a corporate setting, communications can be undervalued simply because its impact is hard to measure, according to a 2015 FastCompany article. But communications covers a wide variety of aspects, from reputation management to social media, community relations and holds much of the responsibility for establishing the voice, tone and public face of the company. So rather than allotting degrees of importance to various roles within the company—with yours at the top—understand we all have a role to play and share your story, so that the communications department can weave it into the greater narrative of the corporation.