Brendan Hodgson » Writing At the intersection of yesterday & tomorrow Wed, 14 Oct 2009 12:08:41 +0000 en hourly 1 Toxic Shower Curtains… or a sign of things to come? Thu, 03 Jul 2008 13:54:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson Woke up to find a link to this New York Times story in my inbox.

Albeit a tad depressing given the context, it’s also an important reminder of the “art of strategic word selection” as a means to grab the attention of media and influencers via both the newswires and the search engines. Equally important, however, it highlights the rising “sensationalist” tide that pervades today’s media environment, and the potential for damage that it can cause.

“With varying amounts of credulousness, other outlets ran with it as well, including U.S. News & World Report, The Daily News in New York, and The Los Angeles Times. The gist of some of the coverage was that it was all a tempest in a bathtub, though other reports took the information at face value.”

While this story about toxic shower curtains appears to have been successfully debunked by most mainstream media from the outset, the fact that even some took the information at “face value” is worrisome. Quite simply, the potential for other questionable research to cause significantly greater and longer-term damage to an organization or industry given the rush to publish, appears to be increasing, particularly as stories are picked up and shared across the social web. Vigilance will be critical.

On a lighter note, however, I agree fully with one PR expert’s assertion – cited in the same article – that such dreck as “solutions,” “leading edge,” “cutting edge,” “state of the art,” “mission critical,” and “turnkey” are, without question, the kiss of death.

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Experienced PR Professionals wanted in Ottawa… Mon, 03 Mar 2008 16:30:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson Is it all about growth? That’s certainly a big part of it. 2007 was a pretty good year. But it also has to do with a combination of many other factors: new business, pending parenthood, evolving skillsets and the like. All that to say, there’s a few offices here in Ottawa looking to be filled.

So here’s what Hill & Knowlton is looking for (in a nutshell): Experienced mid-level (Account Director) and junior communications consultants with solid track records of experience and education. People who “get” traditional PR but who also get the changes currently afoot in the world of social media and the internet, and can connect the two together in ways that make sense for our clients. We’re talking team players who can think on their feet, and who can get the job done without a lot of hand-holding.

Solid writing skills are essential, as is, of course, attention to detail and the capacity to think and deliver both strategically and tactically. And in this town, bilingualism is always an asset.

What do you get in return? Opportunities to work with some of the smartest folks in the business, cool clients, beer cart every Friday, good benefits, and all the fun stuff that comes with working in a high-pressure, high-expectations environment. 

Show us what you’ve got. Send me a message via my blog, or contact Jackie King, VP Communications at jackie(dot)king(at)hillandknowlton(dot)ca. We’re also online at

Don’t be shy.

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Clear as mud Fri, 06 Oct 2006 17:17:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson Yes, we have bigger fish to fry in our work day, and I certainly don’t want to create a tempest in a tea cup. However, between me, you, and a fence post, I believe it’s vitally important to separate the sheep from the goats: or in this case the bad language from the good.

Mark my words, dear communicators, if you lay down with the dog you get up with fleas. So watch those cliches, or I’ll have to knock you from here to next Wednesday. Though I’m sure that’s better than a slap in the face with a wet fish.


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Finding our client’s "real" story Fri, 29 Sep 2006 13:22:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson Leo talked a lot about listening in a recent CSI post. As an aside, and while his Twain quote hits the nail on the head, my own favorite “listening” blurb is by Hugh Elliott:

“Listen. Do not have an opinion while you listen because frankly, your opinion doesn’t hold much water outside of Your Universe. Just listen. Listen until their brain has been twisted like a dripping towel and what they have to say is all over the floor.”

Needless to say, listening is important, and plays a big part in our role as trusted advisors. But I’ll add to that by recalling a lesson I once learned in my journalism days:

Everybody has a story in them. However, it’s up to us to find it, and coax it out of them.

To say that our role as communications advisors is similar to that of an investigative journalist may be a stretch. But too often, I find myself realizing that our clients (who clearly know their business better than anyone else) haven’t yet figured out what their story is. And that’s our job.

“It’s such a part of me, I assume everyone can see it.” (Another Elliotism)

Bingo. Too often, we put ourselves in our clients’ heads rather than in the heads of the audiences they’re trying to reach. Which is fine when we’re looking to better understand their business. However, our clients also rely on us to examine their issues and challenges from the perspective of their audiences, and to help them communicate their story with those perspectives in mind.

And while there is no proven formula, much of the criteria we use to determine newsworthiness is the same criteria that makes a great story no matter who you’re talking to, whether it’s one or all of the following:

  • Timeliness
  • Proximity or relevance
  • Consequence and impact
  • Human interest

On any given day, I go out of my way to find interesting stories in strangers I run into. I recommend it; it’s a useful exercise for the business we’re in.

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A Story in One Sentence Tue, 26 Sep 2006 17:35:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson As you may have noticed from an earlier post, I like words. With the right words, people and organizations can tell extremely powerful stories. At the same time, I’m also a believer that less is more when trying to communicate a message with impact. Which is why I like “One Sentence“. It’s a great example of individuals telling powerful stories in very few words.

In our business, storytelling is an important element of what we do. By themselves, messages, vision statements, and taglines lack the human element that make people want to listen, and to learn more, and to believe. Stories give context and meaning to what might otherwise be meaningless soundbites.

Not only are many of the stories in “One Sentence” very funny or very clever, a lot of them have incredible impact. In my view, that’s because they reveal something about the people behind them. They are an instance in time that we connect with. As we craft the our pitches, or create the talking points our clients use when speaking to customers, employees or other decision-makers, we need to focus as much on the story as the message itself.

We may not always capture our client’s story in one sentence. But we must always strive to think about the story behind the messages. We are the storytellers. 


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The message is… Mon, 18 Sep 2006 20:25:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson In the course of my work, I often find myself perusing pages of ”key messages” drafted by organizations either preparing to launch a new thingymajig, shutting down a redundant whojimawhigger, acquiring a multi-billion dollar whatchamacallit, or perhaps simply answering that age old question of “Why for you bury me in the cold, cold ground?” (disclaimer: closet Looney Tunes fan)

What often surprises me, however, is that these message manifesto’s rarely seem to take into account the unique needs of the individual audiences to whom they’re hoping to communicate. It’s as if we’re simply trying to convince ourselves, and we’re the only one’s who matter or who get it.

In many instances, the actions we take — the launch of a new product, the closing of a facility, a merger or acquisition, for example – impact multiple audiences. And yet, too often, organizations either focus their attention on one audience at the expense of others (ie. investors) or, worse, simply create a “genericised” version of key messages that attempt to speak to all, yet ultimately resonate with none.

Be it laziness or simply a lack of effort to understand the people with whom you’re dealing, it doesn’t matter. There is no forgiveness.  An organization’s story will be viewed differently by different audiences. Motivations are different. Relationships are different. How investors perceive an announcement about a re-structuring or an acquisition will clearly be viewed differently than by employees, communities, governments or others. As such, messages must be viewed from those perspectives also, and delivered accordingly.

Our job as PR professionals is to understand each and every audience that depends upon, or is impacted by the actions of, our clients. To paraphrase Kevin Smith, communications is a subjective experience. “Universal Truths are few and far between,” he writes. How you perceive an organization’s story or message may be completely different from how other perceive it… much like when two people share a common experience such as this… 


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Words, Language and Finagle’s Law of Information Thu, 07 Sep 2006 13:45:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson In addition to counselling on web-related issues and helping clients create more compelling and engaging personalities online, I write. A lot. In fact, I am perhaps at my most professionally content when I am challenged to create a document required to capture the attention of a certain audience. Without question, not all my efforts are successful. But ever since beginning training as a journalist back in the mid ’90s, I have been driven largely by the thoughts and writings of two individuals: John Maynard Keynes and George Orwell. They have helped me immeasurably.

It was Keynes who wrote: “Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking.”

Particularly in this business, it seems, we try too hard to be pretty or we reject any attempt at making our writing truly engaging lest we risk offending our clients or challenging the intellect of our / their audiences. Likewise, I find we are too often attached to some traditional variant – notably, the press release format – which constricts our creativity and ability to influence, so much so that most of the releases I now read appear almost a parody.

Above my desk are four pieces of paper of which one is a variation of Finagle’s Law of information, the other being the quote by Keynes, a third being a re-affirmation that meetings tend to be a “practical alternative to work” rather than an enabler and should thus be avoided at all cost, and George Orwell’s six rules for writing, which are included below. This is apt, particularly considering my colleague Leo’s focus on what Junior Consultants can do to improve their work and deliver better client service: 

  1. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  2. If it is possible to cut the word out, always cut it out.
  3. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  4. Never use a foreign word, scientific word, or jargon word when you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  5.  Never use a metaphor, simile, or figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
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