Everything I thought I knew has changed, and everything else I have forgotten

According to the 2013 edition of The Associated Press Stylebook, I have officially become irrelevant.  To those 30 years old and younger, that statement is hardly news.  I’m the one in the office whose references are lost on most of the staff – the nods to ‘80s music and movies, to Hollywood stars long dead and politicians long ousted from office. I fight the desire to tease my hair and wear MC Hammer pants to work, and not just on casual Fridays. I long for the days of mix tapes, waterbeds and music videos that made sense to me.

Nostalgia aside, I’m not resistant to all change, so long as it’s logical and well presented.  I’m afraid updates to the 2013 Stylebook are neither. I’m not so much alarmed by what the new edition writing bible has chosen to include.  It does not surprise me that cultural references like red carpet, hot spot, stem cell, WikiLeaks, DVR and Breathalyzer are now listed. Nor am I troubled by the 30 pages devoted to Social Media guidelines. I applaud any attempt to reign in all the nonsensical Tweeting and Skyping and texting. To those born post 1981, LOL is not a real word.

I’m not certain in which edition the AP began including sport identification codes, food and fashion guidelines, and a section on info graphics, but I say, “Welcome aboard.” I’m a gal who believes in structure—the more the better.

But I do start to cringe at the rephrasing of words, perhaps in an attempt to become politically correct or, worse yet, to be cool. I never thought of anyone working at the AP, especially the folks whose job it is to flyspeck copy for jots and tittles, to be concerned about their “popular” status.

According to the AP, we are now required to call a large container of trash a dumpster. A doughnut is no longer a donut, under any circumstance. Global warming or climate change? The good people of AP say use the terms with aplomb, and interchangeably if the spirit moves you.  Disabled or handicapped? Don’t even bring them up. And avoid such terms as afflicted, confided, suffering and (God forbid) cripple.  For the record, the AP also bans the terms illegal immigrant, Smokey ”the” Bear, high blood pressure and asylum.

I knew that life for me would never be the same after Pluto was stripped of its planet status and Steve Jobs unveiled the iEverything. But changing the stylebook is akin to changing the Constitution or disputing the irrefutable Laws of Physics. When people start playing with the placement of punctuation marks, abbreviations, capitalization and other grammatical rules, for me the fight is on.

The fact is, I’ve forgotten more than I ever leaned in my four years studying journalism. But some things did stick. I know how to spell under way and work force. And that mike is short for microphone.  That a province name follows a Canadian city in news reports and that state names are abbreviated in ways other than postal codes.  Eskimos live in Alaska and Hawaiians are residents of Hawaii.

That much I know.

Or I should say used to know? We now live in an underway, workforce, mic, Inuit and Hawaii resident universe.  A universe where Canada is not divided by provinces in news articles, where we no longer abbreviate and parenthesize the names of organizations on first reference, and where the pope and president are lower case p’s and Internet stands proud with a capital I.

I guess it all makes sense, since this same universe has supplanted Washington’s Birthday with Presidents Day (no possessive). Here, homophobics no longer exist but flash mobs (two words) do.

I’ve lost my way, a wordsmith without her familiar words.

Now I’m just a writer without a roadmap.  And a woman who still loves Duran Duran.

Quell is just a Niederquell with a capital Q

While a rose by any other name might smell just as sweet, a company or product name can likely dictate its eventual success or failure in the marketplace. Consider the following: Would Buffalo Wild Wings be a popular national chain if its name were Aunt Erma’s Tasty Cluckers? How about an athletic apparel company named Strong Skivvies? Or a computer firm named Kumquat?

Naming a company, like naming a child, is no small task. A name can define a business, shaping everything from the employees it hires to creating buzz in the market. Every company wants to be distinctive, memorable and recognized — and in a good way. A great name can help make that happen.

For the past two decades, The Quell Group has had the privilege of naming several companies and products. This is a full team effort. Not only must names carry the burden of the brand, today’s names often double as a company’s URL. To create brand awareness and consistency in our Web-based marketplace, we recommend that a company name also serve as its Web address. Really, who would look up Coca-Cola with the URL www.brownsugarbubbles.com?

Companies can spend millions on a naming strategy, including securing a URL and developing a logo design. Creative directors, Web designers, patent lawyers, research firms, market analysts, focus groups and an army of account executives can quickly turn a naming exercise into an Olympic event. Given the magnitude of the task, naming can take months — even years — to get right; even then it can boil down to luck and timing.

Quell uses a proven approach to company naming that is research based. It includes thorough research on the business itself, the products it makes, its goals, market, competitors and the customers it wants to reach.

There are generally three types of names:

  • Descriptive names tell what a company does. Think Five Guys Burgers & Fries or Designer Shoe Warehouse.
  • Suggestive names hint at what a company does, like Molly Maids or Geek Squad. Names like Puma (fast cat), Zappos (modified spelling of the Spanish word for shoes) and Reebok (Afrikaans spelling of rhebok, a type of gazelle) have some link to the company. Even IKEA means something — it’s an acronym for Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd, the founder, and the name of his hometown and farm.
  • Arbitrary names are just that. They generally have nothing to do with the nature of the company or product. Bahama Breeze may be a great place to eat, but without the word restaurant attached, it might be an air freshener. A “red bull” is literally an intact ginger cow. How does that give you wings?

The Quell Group offers several suggestions when beginning a naming exercise. The first: Start with a strong cup of coffee. Then check for available URLs and search the USPTO to see what clears. This only serves as a base search and is not a substitute for a more diligent clearance and registration investigation by an IP firm.

Upwards of 75 percent of all consumer purchases are made because of a company’s name. A successful name/brand can command a 30 percent premium in the market. Since a company’s name is its No. 1 asset, we suggest you do as the Grail Knight (from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) suggests, and “choose wisely.” Your company’s life might depend on it.

Maximizing Event Exposure: Connecting with Media

By Rick Bourgoise

No matter what industry you’re in, there are numerous events and conferences for speaking, exhibiting, sponsoring, attending and networking. When media members are present, there is also the opportunity to get your story told and build editorial relationships.

All major events typically have some kind of media component, whether it is a dedicated press session or reporters in attendance. However, media relations is often overlooked among those who are not wired for generating media exposure at an event. Attending media can present powerful opportunities, even if you’re only attending and not investing in a formal presence at the event.

Prep spokespeople. At every event you attend, look to prepare and put company spokespeople in front of media, especially if your company’s experts are speaking and have presentation content that could be turned into news. An immediate story may not result, but establishing contact helps build familiarity and relationships for future outreach.

Plan for media encounters. In advance, find out which reporters are attending, and develop a plan for a meet-and-greet or more formal sit-down interview. To find out which media to pursue, ask if the event organizers will provide a list of registered media. They may not, but it’s always worth asking.

Build your target media list. Most likely, you’ll need to build your own target media list. First, look to see if there are media partners or sponsors. Those media that have committed marketing dollars generally put reporter resources behind covering the event and would be looking for story angles. Next, research to see which media outlets/reporters have covered the event in the past since they’re most likely to be repeat attendees. Once you have a solid list, you can investigate who is attending and see if they have time to meet.

Have a reason to contact the reporter. Publication staffs are very lean, so each solicitation for a meeting should be based on substance – meeting a key executive, sharing news, having an opinion on an industry issue, etc. Connecting on the fly at the event can be effective, but is less certain.

Homework does pay off. Just a few weeks ago, Quell had several clients in Traverse City for the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars. We lined up several reporter meetings for our clients who were either presenting or simply attending. This returned a number of dividends. One client was included in a Wall Street Journal article, and another is now on the ground floor as a key speaker as a major media outlet plans a high-profile national conference.

The next time you or a member of your company plans to attend an event, remember to maximize your participation by weaving media relations into the strategy.

Sink or Swim: Mentor Relationships Make All the Difference

By Rebecca Amboy

men·tor noun \ˈmen-ˌtȯr, –Raising Handstər\ : a trusted counselor or guide

Let’s rewind. Whether you are a new college graduate or a seasoned professional, do you remember when you thought you knew exactly what your career would entail? Most of us likely held an inaccurate view of the working world. That’s where a mentor or a trusted counselor comes into play.

A mentor can help navigate and clarify your career path. I’ve been fortunate to serve as a mentor twice through formal programs and have also provided guidance to younger professionals through more casual settings. With only a few years of experience under my belt, I was still able to help undergraduate students and young professionals kick-start their careers by teaching them about day-to-day office life, networking, improving their resumes and cover letters, and marketing themselves in the digital space. Similarly, I’ve benefited from sitting on the other side of casual mentor relationships, where I learned about being more proactive in the workplace, exceeding expectations and efficiently managing others.

If you are a young professional, I recommend finding a role model who can serve as your mentor. From simple pointers, such as dress code recommendations, to larger-scale discussions, like career and education diversity, these conversations will help you develop a strong path for success.

And no matter your career level, there are always younger, fresh faces that can benefit from your knowledge. Use your experiences, both positive and negative, to help guide and inspire them. For example, impress the importance of body language or sharpening writing skills. Things that may seem obvious and natural to you may be new territory for a younger professional or college student.

Most professional associations, alumni groups and even some companies have formal mentorship programs. Informal coffee breaks or lunches can also serve as casual ways to share your industry knowledge.

What’s the most beneficial advice you’ve received from a mentor?

Media 101: Thought Leadership Drives Market Positioning

By Mike Niederquell

A powerful tool that Quell deftly deploys to build market preference for our clients is media relations. Being part of — if not leading — an ongoing industry dialogue through the media credibly puts our clients at the forefront of thought leadership.

Plunkett Cooney, one of Michigan’s largest law firms, partners with The Quell Group to increase visibility for its growing and high-margin areas of practice, including banking/bankruptcy law, health care law, and labor and employment law. Quell recognized the unique expertise of the firm’s attorneys and saw an opportunity to position Plunkett Cooney counsel as expert commentators on the day’s prevailing and topical issues.

Quell conducted extensive research to determine which local and regional media outlets were covering these issues regularly or as breaking news warranted. The team then researched new and pending legislation, regulatory changes, business/industry trends and ongoing news coverage to determine the issues and story concepts that would most likely be well-received by media members. Quell also assessed what issues were being “under-covered” or even ignored by the media that warranted reporting.

The willingness of Plunkett Cooney attorneys to be spokespersons and participate in news cycles was crucial to establishing firm leadership and educating journalists. Through webinars, media roundtables and editorial boards organized and executed by Quell, Plunkett Cooney attorneys forged relationships with reporters, demonstrating their knowledge and ability to provide needed information on deadline.

Quell also positioned the firm through direct contact with reporters on the topics that matter, using its expertise to anticipate the news rather than react to it.

Quell more than quadrupled the number of media hits year-over-year in key outlets including Crain’s Detroit Business, Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, The Associated Press, MLive, WXYZ-TV, WDIV-TV, WJR-AM, WWJ-AM, The Huffington Post and Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

These efforts also resulted in Plunkett Cooney being named a finalist for the prestigious Legal Marketing Association’s Your Honor Award for the organization’s Midwest chapter.

Say What?

By Brian Bleau

How many times have you text messaged a friend or significant other and jumped to an irrational conclusion after reading their response? You write something like, “What do you want to do for dinner?” They reply with something like, “Whatever, it doesn’t matter.”

Before you know it, you’re wondering why the person on the other end is being short with you, you suspect something is wrong and begin feverishly drafting your retort, and things escalate from there.

Communicating through keystrokes and characters, most times 140 or less, extracts the inflection and tonality from conversation, sometimes leaving your point of view unclear to the recipient ─ even if you use emoticons. I can think of instances in my personal and professional life where picking up the phone and calling the other person would’ve prevented a barrage of text messages or emails trying to clarify a prior question or comment.

The key to communicating messages effectively is clarity. Ensuring that your recipient interprets the message as intended, with the shortest possible distance between transmission and comprehension, is paramount. What better way to ensure clarity (and build rapport) than to pick up the phone and engage in back-and-forth dialogue, asking and answering questions?

Relationships are the foundation of our personal and professional lives. Help your audience, whoever it may be, build a relationship with you, not the virtual you on their laptop or phone screen.