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Champing at the Bit over the Correct Use of Idioms: Its Just Good PR

All languages employ idioms, or phrases that have a figurative meaning that goes beyond the literal use of the words—and English is no different. In fact, the English language includes an estimated 25,000 idiomatic expressions such as “breath of fresh air” and “clean bill of health.”

We commonly use idioms in business—and in marketing and public relations—to emphasize a point or make it more memorable. Unfortunately, many idioms are often misused. So much so, that the incorrect usage of idioms in some cases has become more common than the correct use. As we know, though, impressions are everything when it comes to PR, so it’s important to get it right.

Here’s a refresher on commonly used—and misused—idioms that tend to come up frequently in PR:

  • Flesh out that idea or proposal, don’t flush it out. When you flesh something out, you’re giving it more substance and building out the details. Flushing out refers to clearing something out—like a sewer line—or getting it out of hiding.
  • Home in on your key messages, don’t hone in on them. To home in on something is to zero in on it, as a missile homes in on a target. Hone (which shouldn’t be used with in, in this way) means to sharpen. So you home in on your key messages, and then you hone them until they are razor sharp.
  • You’re champing at the bit to get started on a project, not chomping. If you’re eager to get a new initiative going, you’re champing at the bit—as a horse does when anxious to start a race. Although horses also chomp, or chew noisily, they do so when eating—not when anticipating something. (Note: This is one of those idiomatic expressions that is so commonly misused, some dictionaries include both versions of the expression. But the Associated Press Stylebook, the go-to style guide for major media outlets, has spoken—and AP still prefers the original usage of “champing.”)
  • It’s for all intents and purposes, not for all intensive purposes. For all intents and purposes means “in effect,” or “practically speaking”: “For all intents and purposes, we have completed our crisis communication plan.” All intensive purposes is a misuse of the original phrase, which comes from British legal terminology originating in the 1500s.

As with “for all intents and purposes,” a number of idioms have “eggcorns,” which means a similar-sounding word or words are substituted for the original due to mishearing or misinterpreting the correct term. The word eggcorn is thought to be a playful descriptor based on a theoretical mishearing of the word “acorn.”

Since eggcorns most often occur with homophones, or words that sound the same to the ear, these idiomatic faux pas occur most frequently when writing a phrase after hearing it spoken.

Here are a few common eggcorns to keep in mind:

  • You toe the line, you don’t tow it. Toeing the line means you conform; you do what you’re expected to do and follow the rules. This phrase comes from racers placing their toes at a start line before a race. You can use a line or cable to help tow something such as a boat, but the line does the towing—not vice versa.
  • You give people free rein, not free reign. When you give others free rein—as you might with a horse—you give them the freedom to do what they want. Reign refers to the act of a monarch ruling a nation or territory.
  • When someone is strongly favored in a competition, he or she is a shoo-in—not a shoe-in. This is another idiom related to horses… are you sensing a pattern? If you think about “shooing” a fly, it’s moving in the direction you want it to. The same is the case with the horse/candidate/whomever you want to win some kind of race—supporters cheer the candidate on, shooing him or her towards victory.
  • A creative idea piques your interest, it doesn’t peak it. If your interest is piqued, you are excited or curious about something. Peak refers to a pointed end or a hilltop or mountaintop.
  • It’s per se, not per say. Per se is Latin for “by itself”: “The correct use of idioms doesn’t make you a genius, per se, but it’s a point in your favor.” It’s surprising how often the incorrect “per say” appears in writing, and from some super-smart people. Likely a case of the error being repeated so often, it starts to look correct.
  • You wait with bated breath, not baited breath. The adjective bated means “with great suspense,” and this phrase refers to waiting for something anxiously or excitedly. When something is baited, on the other hand, a predator is attempting to lure its prey.

So now that we’ve homed in on the most common incorrect usage of idioms, I know you’re champing at the bit to toe the line when it comes to proper usage. (Yes, I had to do it.)

Learning to be a PR Intern

Honestly, before I started as a PR intern at Amendola Communications three months ago I knew relatively nothing about Public Relations.

I’m currently studying journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, so while I have had some exposure to PR, I really didn’t know what it takes to work in the field day to day. I only knew how the two fields intertwined.

Add to that the challenges of having a focus on healthcare and health IT and if feels like I’m in a very demanding school when everyone else is off for the summer, simply because I’ve continued building upon what I’ve learned at school with what I have learned here.  So here are a few things I have learned about PR since I started my internship.

PR Is More Complicated Than I Thought
Before my internship what I knew about the field of PR is that it includes a lot of press releases and pitch writing. In fact, my desire to learn more about the PR field is what drove me to pursue an internship at Amendola Communications. Boy, did I learn quickly that PR is a lot more than press releases and pitches. Here are a few things I learned that PR professionals do:
1. They manage social media accounts. Can you imagine being in charge of someone’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat and more?
2. They create content for those social media accounts, like infographics and videos.
3. They manage websites, and sometimes even manage creating them to begin with.
4. They create, gather and analyze large amounts of data. Then use that data to create strategies to use for everything else they manage.
5. They set up and do research for interviews.
6. They even help train people on how to do interviews if they don’t have experience.
7. They manage any sort of PR crisis, or as I’d like to think they’re the firemen and women that put out the fires.
8. And you know they manage press releases and story pitching.

 

Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
Managing all of these aspects of PR is too much for just one person to handle. To make all those social media posts roll out smoothly and assure that everything is meeting its deadline takes a team of professionals to make a company look like a PR pro. It really does take all the teamwork of the “A Team” to make sure the PR machine is running at full capacity. I can’t stress enough how important it is for everyone who is my age and in college to learn how to work in a team, as much as we all hate doing assigned group projects. It’s more important than you’d think, and very much an everyday occurrence in the working world.

 

It Also Takes a Wide Range of Skills
When I started studying journalism my professors told me that companies are looking for people who are well-rounded, with many different skills and abilities, rather than someone who is only trained in one thing. It really helps in the working world to know a lot about different things such as different forms of media, different computer programs and more. Now I don’t mean everyone should go out and become a jack of all trades and a master of none. You can be a jack of all trades and a master of some, but don’t spread yourself too thin.

 

It’s Not Impossible to Start a Business
During my time as an intern I got to sit in on calls and meetings. During them I couldn’t help but be inspired by the people I met or spoke to who had started their own businesses. It was amazing working with people who were so excited about what they were doing and so ready to get their businesses up and running with a little help from Amendola Communications. It made me realize that starting a business isn’t always a bust and that it can be a huge success.

 

The Healthcare System is a lot More Disconnected Than You Think
During my internship I quickly learned that most people are under the illusion that anything involving their health, such as their medical records with their primary care physician and their health information from the last time they went to the emergency room, are all somehow connected and easily accessible among different doctors and nurses, simply because we now have computers and electronic health records. Most of the time, we couldn’t be more wrong. From what I’ve learned it’s actually very difficult to transfer information between doctors and emergency rooms and elsewhere. I’ve also learned that people are purposely creating programs and companies to help correct this issue.

 

It Takes One Angry Person to Cause a Healthcare PR Crisis
At one point during my internship I helped one of my supervisors make a vlog about “How to Handle a Healthcare Media Crisis.” At the moment, I understood the topic but I didn’t realize just how important it was. Until someone close to me had a medical emergency where something went wrong. Obviously they were angry and about to go on a social media rampage, when a lightbulb went off in my head. I immediately thought “this is what the vlog is about, this is why it’s important.” In our world of social media, all it takes to damage a healthcare or health IT’s reputation is one angry Facebook post to trend. Trending happens so quickly, and as stated in the video, most healthcare or health IT companies don’t even get a chance to comment on what has happened before it is too late. This is possibly one of the most important things a PR team handles.

In Conclusion
As my internship starts to wind down due to school starting I’m glad I was able to learn so much about PR, along with building upon what I already knew, from Amendola Communications. Going back to school I feel like I have a much better understanding of the PR field, and even my own field and how to interact with PR even better. In addition I now know more about healthcare and health IT than I had ever expected. At school I feel like I’ll be able to give some good insights to my fellow students about how we will be using what we’ve learned, and what we need to prepare for once we all enter the working world.

Overall, I’m happy that I got the opportunity and experience of being a PR intern at Amendola Communications. It really made me feel reassured that what I am studying and learning at school is very important and what I really enjoy.

(All GIFS courtesy of GIPHY.com)

Writing Tips for Bloggers

5 Writing Tips for New Bloggers

Writing is hard. Most of my life I’ve been formulating great books in my head, but I’ve never had the discipline to write more than a few hundred words on these sure-to-win-a-Pulitzer-prize novels.

Perhaps that is why I am drawn to blogging. Blog posts are relatively short and sweet and typically concentrate on a single topic. I can usually crank one out in just a few hours. On the other hand, I’m sure one of my amazing novels would take years to complete.

I have been blogging on and off for about nine years. I have written for a well-known healthcare IT blog, as well as for several healthcare IT companies on their in-house blogs. Back in the “old days,” blogs weren’t quite as ubiquitous as they are today, so I largely learned my craft through trial and error. When I tell people I am a blogger, most are intrigued – which happens to make me a semi-big hit at cocktail parties. One of the things people often tell me is that they would love to write a blog, but just don’t know where to start.

I have thus compiled a few writing tips for newbie bloggers – or even experienced bloggers looking to spice things up. The suggestions I have put together are more for the writing aspect of blogging, versus tips for attracting new readers to your site or maximizing SEO – I defer to one of my Amendola colleagues to help in that area.

Regardless of whether you are writing for your company’s B2B blog, for an industry publication as a thought leader, or on your own personal non-work related blog, here are a few writing tips for new bloggers to help you out.

Find a great topic

Arguably the hardest part of writing a blog is finding an appropriate topic. Obviously your topic needs to be of interest to your readers, but it should capture your imagination as well – if you find the topic dry and boring, you’ll probably write a post that is dry and boring.

When I am hunting a topic, I’ll often investigate relevant current events and try to find something that I either want to learn more about or have a firm opinion on, or that involves some matter I’m an expert on. For example, when Cerner won the big DoD EHR contract last year, I wanted to understand why Epic wasn’t the winner, so I investigated the topic. I then shared my insights in a post  for a health IT-specific blog.

Another approach I use is to look at the top news stories of the day and attempt to correlate it to something that is relevant to the blog’s target audience (PR professionals, health IT vendors, etc.) In this recent post for Amendola, for example, I discussed PR lessons learned from Donald Trump.

Yet another option is to draw on personal hobbies or passions, be it dogs, sports, cooking, or basket weaving. Consider some lesson you have learned from your hobby and develop an analogy that makes that same lesson relevant to your audience.

Make your high school grammar teacher turn over in her grave

I must admit I excelled at grammar in 10th grade. No dangling participles or split infinities for me!

Perfect grammar is expected in some writing genres, but blogging is not one of them. Go ahead and ignore a few of those writing rules that were drilled into you in high school and let your creativity flow. Blog posts can be a bit informal – even conversational at times – though you still need to spell correctly and know when it’s correct to use “it’s” vs. “its” and “your” vs. “you’re.”

Be revealing

Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through in your writing. Perhaps you love puns or are a Nascar fan or obsessed with Star Wars. Occasionally drop subtle clues about yourself and let readers know that you are a real and relatable person. Readers will connect with you better and in time it may actually help you to build a following.

Keep it simple

For the most part, shorter paragraphs and sentences are preferable for blogs. Of course, this rule may not apply if you are writing for some academic publication, but generally blog readers expect posts that can be easily digested in just a few minutes.

Along those same lines, our clients often ask us the appropriate length for a blog post. Know that even within Amendola we can’t all agree, in part because it really matters what your goals are. Look for a future post addressing that question.

Find an editor

Writers tend to be blind to errors in their own writing. When reading my own work, my mind will automatically fill in missing words and gloss over typos. Take it from the queen of typos: Find someone to proof your work before it is published.

Yarn-spinning is acceptable

Here’s a little confession: Sometimes in my writing I make up little white lies to embellish the story. They aren’t big lies, so I haven’t ever shared them in real Confession (well, not yet anyway.) I find that weaving in a not-quite-true statement now and then can make for a better read – like the time I said my father asked me a question about his medical record, when in truth he never did. I don’t suggest claiming your helicopter was under fire when it wasn’t, but the occasional yarn-spinning is just fine.

Blogging gets easier over time. If you blog regularly, you will find yourself mulling over a conversation or a recent read, and suddenly have a eureka moment that the topic would be great for your next blog post! When that happens to you, I recommend you immediately jot down a note so you won’t forget the nugget of brilliance.

Do you have any writing tips for newbie bloggers? Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned pro, please let me know what advice you would share!