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Choose Your Words Carefully — They Just Might Stick
By: McBee|Gibraltar
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According to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, “Every two days, we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.” It is easy to end up buried beneath an avalanche of information, processing thousands of messages while remembering few, which is why public relations professionals must understand how to package messages to break through the chaos of information overload.

TED Talks, one of the more successful messaging organizations of the 21st century, offers the TED Commandments, which provide solid guidelines for creating unique, compelling speeches. The very first commandment is crucial:

  1. Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out Thy Usual Shtick

In order to cut through the noise and strike a chord with your audience, you need to figure out what it is about a message that both catches someone’s eye and resonates with them. Determining how best to establish resonance is a fusion of the scientific and creative thought processes. It requires thinking outside of the box and understanding that what your audience wants to hear is equally as important as what you want them to hear. It requires pushing the boundaries of traditional brainstorming questions such as, “Who is my audience?” and asking rather, “What does my audience care about?”

Sometimes resonance is found in the kernel of the message. But, you can develop a perfectly valid message that fails to resonate. In those cases, it’s not the meaning of a message that needs to be changed, but how the message is presented. At the core of this issue, fundamental to transmission of the message, are the words that you use.

The embedded video presents a thought-provoking example of how changing your words can draw new attention to a well-worn message, in this case “help me.” Better word choice can make a message resonate even when the meaning itself is unchanged.  

Crafting effective communication requires the selection of words that stand out from what people expect or are used to seeing. The blind man in the video is no longer begging for money, a familiar sight in any urban setting, but rather highlighting an everyday occurrence that he cannot enjoy. The new words turn his plea into something deeper, a story of his life. The message, bolstered by his physical appearance and location, has not changed at its core, but the unexpected and meaningful word selection draws the attention of passers-by.

Some practical examples of this can be found in a few of the most successful ad campaigns of 2012. Volkswagen’s most recent campaign, “It’s not the miles, it’s how you live them,” turns the audience’s attention from the generic car rankings and miles-per-gallon stats to a more poignant message revolving around laughter and life experiences. Likewise, Samsung’s latest and greatest attack on their arch nemesis, the Apple iPhone, changes the conversation from “What is the next big thing?” to “The next big thing is already here.” Nike in particular has mastered the art of developing mesmerizing visual campaigns built on a foundation of a simple, but evocative phrase like “Just Do It” that appeal to audience desires and needs without mimicking tired phrases.

Our CEO Eric Bovim indirectly summed up the point nicely in a recent email to our team, advising that in order for a message to be well received by its target, “the packaging of it, its delivery, must be compelling.” Customers value public relations professionals who understand how to impart new life into messages by meticulously, innovatively piecing together words that will evoke a new sense of meaning and importance for the intended audience.

Brian Wagner is a senior manager at Gibraltar Associates. Mallory Meiser is one of GA's rock star interns. This article is cross-posted on Gibraltar Associates' in-house blog.

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About the Author
McBee|Gibraltar is the strategic communications solution on the McBee Strategic Consulting platform, based in Washington, D.C.. Forged in 2013 between McBee and Gibraltar Associates, McBee|Gibraltar provides communications counsel and services to global corporations, smaller public and private companies, investment and professional service firms and high-profile individuals. www.McBeeStrategic.com
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