So U Think U R Such a Professional? Plz!

OMG, Business Communication Should Be Written in Standard English

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Marc Brownstein
Marc Brownstein
A memo went out to one of our clients last week that read more like a text message than a professional letter. You know what it looked like: Every third word was abbreviated, as though it was written on the run, from a cellphone. I was appalled, and could only imagine what the client must think: If we are writing to them in such a casual way, what else is being executed casually?

Have we lowered our standards to encourage a less-professional style of writing? Or were we just in a hurry to get a message out? Or worse, is this the way business communication is headed?

The good news is that our thinking and execution have not waivered. But lax behavior in one area could eventually lead to other areas.

Look, I'm all for sending text messages with abbreviated words to my wife, kids and friends. I do it all of the time. (Sometimes from places I shouldn't be writing!) And trust me, my kids write to me in return -- especially my 14-year-old daughter, from whom I learn my new vocabulary (LOL is so 2008, by the way). But I would never consider sending a client a note in the same casual style. To me, it could be interpreted as a sign that other standards in the agency are lower, too. Or that it makes us look like a small agency, when that is not how we perceive ourselves.

I even wondered if I sounded old because I am pushing back on this. I was relieved when my public relations director, who is in her 30s, agreed with me 100%. So it's not an age thing.

The irony is that relaxed communications standards have nothing to do with skill or brains. I have a wonderfully talented team at Brownstein Group that is also highly educated. And I happen to know this trend is not just happening at my agency; it's happening all over the globe. I just think that the business world is lowering its guard, trying to do more, faster; and maybe even getting a little lazy. The result is a worldwide epidemic of encrypted client memos. Makes you wonder if mission-critical campaign instructions have ever been misinterpreted as a result of the unprofessional style of writing. Not implausible.

The good news is that this issue is easily solved:

1) Establish writing protocol in your agency. Important clients' memos shouldn't be written like text messages, instant messages or informal e-mails.

2) Monitor your staff's memos from time to time. It's easy to fall into bad habits.

3) Have an understanding at the outset of your agency-client relationship of how you want to communicate. There may be times when you want to text your client. That editorial environment may be OK for abbreviations.

4) Remind your staff about how standards of communication must never waiver. There are many ways to do it -- signage, staff meetings, etc. You can even have fun with it.

5) Have the young people on your staff lead the charge

I anticipate that some of you reading this will say, "Get with the program, Marc, this is the way of the world. No one has time to write long-hand." And some of you may agree with me. I hope it doesn't have an obvious age divide, where the20-somethings believe it's better to be responsive than formal. And the 30-and-over-somethings cringe at text-style client communication. I truly believe that everyone -- regardless of age -- needs to get back to the basics of professional standards of correspondence. If nothing else, it's good for your career, because few clients want to work with agencies that appear to act before they think.

You've allowed me to vent. For that, I thank u.

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