Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Check everything.

An a/v sub-contractor once told me I’m a fusser. I’m pretty sure that was a compliment, because he was a fusser too – and that’s why he was a regular part of my event team.

A fusser is the kind of person who exhibits symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (“OCD”) on the job, checking and re-checking all the minute details of a document or an event plan for errors before having to reluctantly give it up to the ages. You know the office fusser by the line of people at the door asking for a "quick read" of their documents, and the bottle of antacid in the top desk drawer.

Two things I firmly believe:

1) Every PR department needs a fusser.

2) Every PR professional needs to find – and embrace – their inner fusser.

The PR pro is paid for wise strategic counsel, for being able to connect with people, for creative ideas, for writing that speaks to people, for the ability to put together and execute positive, memorable special events, and myriad other skills. But despite the heady and exciting nature of some of our work, one of the fundamental (and yes, boring and tedious) skills we need is the ability to proofread.

It seems like a little thing to some, but bad proofreading can turn a solid organization into a laughingstock in the blink of an eye. In my days as a hiring manager, I used proofreading as one of my first "tests" of a prospective candidate: if the application package had a single typo, it went straight into the "no" pile. Your education and experience are great, but if you can't spell or ensure accuracy, I'll find someone else who can.

Minnesota Democrats learn the hard way

Last Thursday, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (or "DFL," the Minnesota branch of the Democratic Party) issued a news release attacking a speech Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty had given to the Republican National Committee.

Unfortunately, in the version initially sent to media, a link in the release that was supposed to click through to a state economic report actually linked to a YouTube video featuring an asian "Grandma" who unwittingly repeats foul words for 4 minutes (if you want to see the video, you can Google it – I’m not linking to it here because I think it’s mean).

The DFL issued a retraction minutes later, providing a corrected version of the release. As you can imagine, the retraction prompted many media to go through the original release to find the error – and find it, they did. Great fun was had at the DFL’s expense, and I daresay its message about Governor Pawlenty’s speech was lost in the festivities.

When you proofread, proofread everything.

- First, read the text for grammatical and spelling errors: some people find that reading a text backward can help spot things you miss when reading forward.

- Numbers: make sure every digit, comma, and decimal is correct - also ensure you are quoting the right currency, if writing about money.

- Dates: check day of the week against date, month and year; check accuracy of all dates. If you doubt this can be a big deal, read this New York Post story about a typo that could cost $100 million.

- URLs: actually type them into a browser as written, and make sure they link to the right page.

- Phone numbers: don’t just compare to the original text – call them and make sure the right party answers at the other end.

- Addresses: call the person or organization whose address is being printed, and/or cross-check against phone directories or service websites like Canada Post’s “Find a Postal Code” and Canada 411 online.

- Degrees and designations: Check both that they are being attributed properly, and that you are punctuating them properly. I’ve worked with Chartered Accountants who insist their designation is C.A., and I’ve worked with Chartered Accountants who insist their designation is CA. Go to the source.

- Cutlines on photos: make sure the people and places shown have been identified accurately.

- Maps: ensure not only that the place names are spelled accurately, but also that the places are indeed where your map shows them. I came very close once to printing an annual report with a major city incorrectly placed on a map; the map had been checked by at least a dozen people, and I only noticed it at the very last minute.

In proofreading, take nothing for granted. You could assume everything is correct, but then, when we assume…

Don’t assume. Check. Because anytime after you’ve hit “send” is too late.

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