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The Art of Proofreading
By: Don McLean
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It is the copywriter’s fault. It is the manager’s fault. It is the creative director’s fault. It is the designer’s fault. It is the vendor’s fault. It is the intern’s fault. Without proofreading, it is everyone’s fault. With an industry as fast-paced as advertising, it pays to have at least one good proofreader on staff. Let us look at a few reasons why a proofreader is needed and some case studies to back it up.
  1. Oops, wrong word: The word may be spelled write but it is used in the wrong context. Why is this so important? Consider a billboard placed in 2010 for South Bend, Indiana Public Schools. Fox News described it as “This billboard left 'em blushing.” The billboard was supposed to read "15 best things about our public schools" but instead read as "15 best things about our pubic schools." If you really think about how many steps it had to go through before it was approved, you wonder how it ever made it to the point of being posted. The key takeaway here is spell check doesn't cut it.
  2. Misspellings: In a rally to re-elect President Obama last Fall it was noticed on national television that the t-shirts were spelled wrong. The t-shirts were simply supposed to say “FORWARD” but instead said “FOWARD.” While this was only one group of supporters that seemingly had the shirts spelled incorrectly it still helped taint one of the largest advertising campaigns of 2012. One would think someone would have at least noticed the misspelling before they were put in the front row of supporters on national television. Another example is a Porsche billboard in London. Not one billboard, but all of the billboards in and around the city were misspelled. Think of all the time and money spent to have this changed. Proofread people.
  3. Punctuation: Good punctuation is the difference between “Let’s eat Grandma” and “Let’s eat, Grandma.” It is funny but it also turns people away. After all, you would not want to end up as a "look at what not to do." Commas and apostrophes seem to be the biggest mistakes when it comes to punctuation. In one online advertisement featuring the Ford Edge they couldn’t figure out the difference between its and it’s.
  4. Social Media: Not all social media can be planned out due to the shelf life of the majority of the updates. However, in the time you are able to plan out your social media in advance it is also important to have a proofreader take a look through. However, many instances of mistakes via corporate social media accounts happen when someone thinks they are logged in under their own profile.  
In many single occurrences a good proofreader could have had their entire year’s salary paid by the cost of repairing these and other advertising mistakes. When you are looking to hire a proofreader or qualify someone internally to help in this role part-time, give them a test. Make some of the ad blunders easy to see, some difficult, and some with no changes at all. If you have a proofreader it wouldn’t hurt to test them from time to time to make sure they are catching everything. Quality checks are needed on absolutely all company communications including advertising, PR, and marketing initiatives. 
Proofreading is an art. What do you do now to proofread your company’s communications? What could you do better?

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About the Author
Don McLean, MBA is an account supervisor at Airfoil Group, an independent marketing and public relations firm serving tech companies and innovation-centric brands with offices in Detroit, New York and Silicon Valley. Follow Don on twitter at@mclean_don.  
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