“I’m a writer; I take the truth and give it scope.”
– Paul Bettany as Geoffrey Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale (2001)
If I have one underlying tenet that I try to live by, it’s to tell the truth. It’s a philosophy I also apply to my writing. Most of my published work to date has been non-fiction, and by its very nature involves a lot of research and fact checking to make sure that what you are presenting is the “truth.”
The problem with doing research based on historical events, and particularly in the case of biography, is that the “truth” is often what the person telling the story believes to be true. For that reason, as much as possible, I try and go back to original sources and documentation. The same thing applies when I’m writing fiction, I always try to stay truthful to the established rules of the fictional world I am working in. With a licensed property that also means doing a lot of research into the facts that other writers have established.
So what has this got to do with corporate communications?
Most of the corporate writing I do these days is marketing communications. From blog posts, to Twitter, white papers, product literature, websites, and press releases. And, as with my other writing, I always try to tell the truth. Sure, as the quote at the start of this post mentions, I sometimes take the truth and give it “scope.” Yes I’m perfectly happy saying that 10% is “double digit growth” or that 51% equates to “most,” or “the majority,” because beneath the spin they are still verifiable facts.
Where I have problems is with marketing spin that uses absolute terms like unique, best-ever, ultimate*, or first. if you want to use those terms, that’s fine – but do some research and some fact checking to make sure that you really are the “first to market”, or that what your product does really is “unique,” and if what you are offering really is the “ultimate,” are you really intending to never improve it.
This is even more important when you are marketing to an audience whose daily job revolves around words and the use of language. Say the wrong thing, use the wrong word and they will go check. If what you claim isn’t true – they will call you out on it. That will undermine every other marketing message you put out.
One perceived falsehood can undermine the credibility of everything else you do.
Oh, and one more little thing that drives me crazy, if in a press release, article, or whatever, you refer to another company by name, or one of their products – make sure you get the names right.
In this day and age, fact checking has never been easier, all it takes is a few clicks of the mouse.
There is no excuse for any marketing material not to tell the truth. Sure your readers may have to read between the lines, or decipher the spin, but the foundation of what you are saying should always be verifiable.
* The misuse of the word “unique” is one of my all time pet-peeves. Every time my wife watches one of those house buying TV shows and I here the presenter talk about a “unique feature” that we’ve seen 100 times before, it makes me want to scream.