Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Use Your Words

Just for fun...here are the winners of the Washington Post's Mensa invitational. These are so funny that I haven't bothered to make sure that the Post actually does sponsor such a competition -- who cares? All that counts is that some of these made me laugh out loud!

Which one is your favorite?

The newspaper asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are the winners:
  1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
  2. Ignoranus : A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
  3. Intaxicaton : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
  4. Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
  5. Bozone ( n..): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
  6. Foreploy : Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
  7. Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
  8. Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
  9. Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
  10. Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
  11. Karmageddon : It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
  12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
  13. Glibido : All talk and no action.
  14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
  15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
  16. Beelzebug (n.) : Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
  17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.
The Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners are:

  1. Coffee , n. The person upon whom one coughs.
  2. Flabbergasted , adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.
  3. Abdicate , v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
  4. Esplanade , v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.
  5. Willy-nilly , adj. Impotent.
  6. Negligent , adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.
  7. Lymph , v. To walk with a lisp.
  8. Gargoyle , n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.
  9. Flatulence , n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.
  10. Balderdash , n. A rapidly receding hairline.
  11. Testicle , n. A humorous question on an exam.
  12. Rectitude , n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
  13. Pokemon , n.. A Rastafarian proctologist.
  14. Oyster , n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
  15. Frisbeetarianism , n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
  16. Circumvent , n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewishmen.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

It's Not a News Release if There's No News in It

There's no question that the news/press release is evolving as a media relations tool. But there's also no question that no matter what you call it, or how you present or distribute it, it must:
  • 1. Contain news or useful information
  • 2. Be distributed in a format that makes the content easy to use
I like to use my inbox for examples that illustrate these lessons; today's inbox included a brief cover note with a PDF attachment. (Let's just skip past the "no attachments" rule.) Because I always instruct those I'm mentoring to present their news materials in a format that's easy to copy and paste -- which doesn't describe a PDF file -- I opened the attachment. I wanted to see how bad it was.

It was really bad.

I'm not sure what to call it, but it wasn't the promised "news release." Maybe it was an ad. Maybe it was a flyer. Maybe it was sales collateral. I'm not sure.

The attachment was for a well-known manufacturer of brand name home power tools, so I was extra surprised at how useless it was. (I have higher standards for companies with bigger publicity budgets.)

It was a highly designed collage of seriously-Photoshopped photos of six products. Under each photo was a description of the tool, what it does, and its price. I don't know which products are new. I don't know what makes any of these products different from or better than their competitors. And I don't know what the publicist expects me to do with the short product descriptions -- not that it matters. I don't write about that stuff.

How usable is the content? Not usable at all. I can't right click and save the product photos. I wouldn't be able to use them, either, because of the visual enhancements -- the products are artificially highlighted so they stand out against the environment they're photographed against. The text can't be copied or pasted either -- which is typical of PDFs -- but it clearly wasn't written for editorial purposes. At best, the text might get a journalist thinking about a product category round-up piece. At best. And even that forces me to think too much.

So, publicist at the bigname company, if you want me to start thinking of articles I can write around your products, send me a pitch letter with article idea suggestions. If you want to send me a news release, send me news in a text format that I can copy and paste. And if you want to send me sales collateral, as you've done here, take me off your distribution list. I don't like to waste anyone's time -- yours or mine.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Do Newspapers' Woes Present PR Opportunities?

As newspapers struggle to keep publishing, I have to wonder if the situation opens more doors for publicists. My daily is a Gannett paper; Gannett has ordered weeklong unpaid furloughs for staffers. Fewer people at the newspaper office can mean fewer journalists cranking out stories each day. And yet, the newspaper still needs content, right?

My newspaper recently added a weekly column on spirituality in the Living section; it is written by a member of the community. Whatever she's paid -- if anything -- doesn't come close to the paycheck of a staff writer. Yesterday, the paper ran a large feature on a local TV personality's favorite books. The byline was "staff reports" but the staff component was probably just the two-sentence intro and the time it took to e-mail the anchorwoman with the request and copy and paste her response into the system. See the pattern?

It seems to me that my newspaper -- and probably yours -- is probably more open than ever to content from people who aren't on staff. It has to be relevant, interesting and well-written to be considered -- for sure -- and if you can provide that in a journalistic style, then you might have an opportunity to communicate your message in a highly effective way.

Give it some thought. Maybe you can help keep my daily -- and yours -- from disappearing.