Say what you mean, and mean what you say

This missive is prompted by something that happened at work the other day, but don’t let that put you off.

Any (good) student of communications theory and public relations knows what communications models are; and if you don’t, dear Reader, then I should point you towards a blog post by Wadds from 2012 (and his Chartership paper). Different models for different occasions.

One of my tasks is to proof publications, including information posters and leaflets – the ‘public information’ model. With my background in librarianship it’s something I relish. Over the years we’ve (PR team) developed some standards, which our colleagues don’t seem to have noticed, just by the number of amends I have to make. We assume that people know what year it is but not necessarily what day of the week a date is: so we’d write ‘Sunday 20 March’, rather than ‘20th March 2016’. A bus making a particular trip from A to B is a journey. A collection of journeys is a service. Services travel along prescribed routes. You get the idea.

This partly came about to stop such nonsense on notices as “213 buses will not call on Saturday due to road works”. I know what you mean, but the casual reader might not.

This came to a bit of a head yesterday when something I had rewritten to make clearer was rejected in favour of the original – despite the original containing some fairly basic errors such as the frequency of the services in question being omitted. “People will understand” and “it’s only for online” was the upshot of the response. Being a professional PR practitioner I didn’t sign off on the document and it was taken away, unsigned, to go into production anyway. It’s not a printed document now, which seems to make people care less about what they produce compared to a solid artefact that can be waved under noses.

But here’s the thing. Good communications is not a rubber-stamping exercise for whatever someone thinks is correct, it’s about facilitating and promoting understanding. In this instance, providing clear, concise and precise information to passengers, and not assuming that they understand whatever ‘bus-speak’ guff has been written. English might not be their first or second language; they might not know the area; they might not be regular bus users.

And, it’s about the management of our reputation as the authoritative source of such information.

If it’s nonsense we’ll soon get calls asking for an explanation of what it actually means, so why not get it right and make ourselves clear in the first place?

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