What’s the cost of ‘niggling’? | February 2010

“All that wasted motion of everybody putting in commas and taking out commas wasn’t necessary.”
— Art Weise,
vice president of Corporate Communications, Entergy Corp.,
after reengineering the company’s approval process

What’s the cost of ‘niggling’?

Do all those tweaks really add value to the bottom line?

First there was DBT, or Death by Tweakage: When a brochure or newsletter “fails due to unnecessary tinkering or too many last-minute revisions.” (BuzzWhack.com)

Then came nanomanagers: “Bosses who have taken micromanaging to a whole new level of nitpicking.” (BuzzWhack.com)

Enter niggling: That’s Procter & Gamble’s verb for editing a memo. Memos can go through a dozen or more “niggles” on their way up the corporate hierarchy at P&G. (The Wall Street Journal)

How much does DBT cost your company?

So here’s the question: How much is all this tweakage costing your company? (The answer to that question is also the answer to reducing niggling, nitpicking and nanomanaging.)

One of my clients ran the numbers and found that their organization spends north of a million bucks a year on do-overs.

Now ask find out how much it costs your organization. All you have to do to find an answer is to run the numbers:

  • Choose a sampling of communication projects at random.
  • Have project managers track the number of hours spent reworking the copy or design on each project.
  • Multiply those hours by companywide hourly wages, including benefits.
  • Come up with an average rework cost per project.
  • Multiply that by the number of projects your group completes each year.

The result: a reasonable estimate of how much your organization spends — in creative time only — on niggling.

Once you have that number, you’ll have a compelling business case for reining in the approval process.

Develop an Approval Process That Doesn’t Drive You Nuts

Nothing makes your job worse than the approval process. It stalls the production process, garbles your carefully crafted copy and turns you from a professional communicator into a pleading, whining comma jockey.

The bad news is you don’t win the approval process war comma by comma. If you’re begging for authority, article by article, to choose whether “that” or “which” is the right word to use in the fourth paragraph, you’ve already lost. In fact, the only way to win the war is for the communication group to own the approval process.

If you’d like to find out how to run the approval process so it doesn’t run you, please join me at PRSA’s Feb. 11 teleseminar, “Develop an Approval Process That Doesn’t Drive You Nuts.”

You’ll learn how to:

  • Reduce the number of reviewers
  • Create guidelines to support your approval process
  • Use simple scripts and approaches for communicating with approvers
  • Deal with difficult approvers and improve efficiency
  • Use quick tricks for making the process easier and better

Learn about my other upcoming teleseminars.

“The enemy of speed is the labyrinthine, everyone-in-the-building-has-to-see-it, gloppety-gloppety machine that leaves red ink spilled all over your copy.”
— Art Weise,
vice president of Corporate Communications, Entergy Corp.

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Find a poster person

Profile people who have used your products

To introduce the first replacement knee for women, Zimmer Inc. ran a campaign that included a series of patient stories like “‘Grammy’ Back to Babysitting Now that Knee Pain Is Gone.” It started like this:

“Eileen will never forget the morning she stopped by her daughter’s house, and heard her 2-year-old granddaughter crying upstairs in her crib. She zipped up the stairs to tend to her and was rewarded with Anna’s engaging smile for ‘Grammy.’

“It was all that much sweeter because Eileen couldn’t have zipped up those stairs a few months earlier. Eileen, 68, had such pain in her right knee that the things she loved most, including babysitting for her grandchildren, going to the theater and dinner with friends, and even walks in the park had become impossible.”

Need to call attention to a problem or issue? Don’t lead with the numbers. Find a poster person — a single human being who can stand for your point.

One of my favorite things about being PRSA’s “national writing coach” is my annual visit to the association’s headquarters in New York. There, I review Silver Anvil Award-winning campaigns, like Zimmer’s, studying trends and techniques to identify the best of the best public relations writing practices.

And one of the big trends I saw this year was humanizing stories with a single person. Whether you’re writing to clients and customers, employees, the community or members, how can you find a poster person to put a face on your message?

Tap People Power

Want to master the art of letting people stand for your point?

“Show them the forest; introduce them to a tree.”
— William Blundell, author of The Art and Craft of Feature Writing

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Best intranets 2010

Mobile sites and social features dominate Jakob Nielsen’s annual list of top internal websites

Intranets are getting more mobile, according to usability expert Jakob Nielsen. Some 30 percent of the Nielsen’s “10 Best Intranets of 2010” had special mobile features, he reports.

Here are some approaches you can steal from these award-winning sites:

  • Create a separate design for mobile users. Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), for instance, built a dedicated application instead of a site to optimize the design for the iPhone.
  • Develop social features for individuals. Walmart, for instance, offers discussion and profile pages. Trend Micro’s TrendSpace includes employee-contributed content. MITRE’s social bookmarking service lets employees share their favorite links. And GE offers commenting and rating features.
  • Use blogs to show executives’ “human face.” Walmart’s executive profiles highlight personal experiences and interests as well as work experience. And Trend Micro offers semiannual online meetings where employees can engage directly with the executives.

Reach Readers Online

Want to get the word out on the Web?

“Mullet strategy — A website design where a site’s main or most visible pages are professionally written, edited, and laid out, while the rest of the site relies on content supplied by volunteers and site visitors.”
— WordSpy.com

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Get the word out

Let Wylie Communications’ writing team help you reach more readers

I’ve interviewed George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Robert Redford. (Yes, Clooney really is that charming in real life!) But I really enjoy chatting with economists, engineers and surgeons.

At Wylie Communications, we write about communication technology for Sprint, about personal finance for Northern Trust and — despite the fact that my preferred form of exercise is the hike from recliner to refrigerator — about fitness medicine for the Mayo Clinic.

We’d love to write for you, too. Let my writing team:

Deliver copy that sells. When I’m not writing or editing, I’m training other writers. Or helping companies get the word out to their audiences. My writing team applies the best practices I develop for my training and consulting business to her writing and editing projects. So your project will Cut Through the Clutter, Lift Your Ideas Off the Page or Screen and Sell Products, Services and Ideas.

Bring award-winning talent to your project. Our work has earned nearly 60 communication awards, including two IABC Gold Quills. Let us help you produce world-class business communications, as well.

Stop working weekends. We’ve provided a virtual staff to write and edit newsletters and magazines for Saint Luke’s, Northern Trust, State Street/Kansas City and Sprint. Let us pick up the slack in your department, too.

We’ve written everything from annual reports to websites, for companies ranging from Armstrong World Industries to State Street/Kansas City.

How may we help you?

“Ann’s team of award-winning writers makes even complicated, scientific topics easy and delightful to read. And better copy equals an easier approval process — even with our pickiest subject-matter experts.”
— John Francis, director of marketing, Saint Luke’s Health System, Kansas City
Find out what others say about Wylie Communications’ writing and editing services

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Don’t give up on traditional media

Newspapers still set the media agenda, Pew study says

Tempted to throw up a Facebook fan page and call it your media relations campaign? Pitching to bloggers and tweeting is way more important than sending a release to the local daily, right?

Not so fast.

After examining a week of news activity in Baltimore, the Pew Research Center found that 95 percent of stories that contained new information came from traditional media. And most of those came from … newspapers.

We’re rehashing the same old story

“Most of what the public learns is still overwhelmingly driven by traditional media — particularly newspapers,” the study’s researchers found. “These stories tended to set the media agenda for most other media outlets.”

Most “news,” it turns out, is just rehashed. Eight out of 10 stories published, in fact, were just repackaged versions of previously published pieces.

Blogs, Twitter and other social media “played only a limited role,” the researchers wrote, “mainly [as] an alert system and a way to disseminate stories from other places.”

Releases play a bigger role

News releases also play a bigger role in traditional news reporting than they have in the past.

“As the press scales back on original reporting and dissemination, reproducing other people’s work becomes a bigger part of the news media system,” the researchers wrote. “We found official press releases often appear word for word in first accounts of events, though often not noted as such.”

Want to reach bloggers? The best way may be to send a release to newspaper reporters.

Don’t ignore ‘new’ media

But don’t give up on social media, either. It expands the reach and influence of any story, regardless of its origins.

For example, where do you think I found out about this study?

On Twitter.

Reach bloggers, journalists and readers

Want to master the art of writing successful media relations materials?

“Organizations write press releases for themselves, not for readers.”
— A frustrated PR pro

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Where in the world is Ann?

Cut your training costs when you piggyback your program

Save money when you piggyback your workshop by scheduling it when I’m already “in the neighborhood.” Book your program the day before or after another organization’s and split my airfare and ground transportation with the other group.

Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:

  • Anchorage: Sept. 22
  • Chicago: March 5, 10
  • Detroit: May 6-7
  • New York: March 19
  • Portland, Ore.: Aug. 5-Sept. 13
  • San Francisco: June 18
  • Santa Fe, N.M.: Feb. 4-8
  • Tacoma, Wash.: Aug. 11
  • Toronto: June 9
  • Washington, D.C.: Feb. 24

Save even more: Ask about my communication association discounts and second-day fee reductions.

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

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Ann’s touring schedule

Polish your skills at one of these events

Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations. But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:

Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.

Can’t make these events? If you’d like to bring me in for a workshop at your organization, contact me.

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