Showing posts with label Associated Press Style. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Associated Press Style. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 28

Poisoning PR: Peanut Corporation of America

Almost 20 full days have passed since the Minnesota Department of Health suggested King Nut brand creamy peanut butter as a likely source of salmonella typhimurium, and was quickly linked to Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), which provides ingredients to more than 180 peanut butter products.

In the days following, company after company began recalling peanut butter products: Snacks, cake mixes, candies, cookies, crackers, ice creams, pet foods, pre-packaged products, etc. Jarred peanut butter is not part of the recall.

Kellogg Company was one of the first, placing on hold on certain Austin® and Keebler® branded Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers immediately following the news that the PCA was the source on Jan. 14. It recalled those products two days later, and has expanded its recall since. Jenny Craig, Inc. was one of the last. It issued a voluntary recall of select Anytime Peanut Butter Flavor Nutritional Bars on Jan. 27. It is important to note that involvement in the recall may be precautionary.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also publishing a long list of company recalls issued by company here. Although most of the recall releases follow the FDA recommended guidelines, the subtle variations suggest vast differences in corporate cultures, crisis experience, and customer relations.

Some companies offered refunds. Some offered replacements. Some offered nothing.

Some companies offered direct contact lines. Some companies offered the CDC hotline. Some offered no contact.

Some companies included quotes. Some companies quoted the FDA, CDC, or even the president of PCA. Some did not.

Highlights of recall release notes from several companies.

“Landies Candies apologizes for any inconvenience to our customers,” said Lawrence R. Szrama, president. “Landies Candies’ product quality and consumer safety have been our top priority for over 23 years and our decision today reflects that tradition.”

"The health and safety of our clients are our number one concern,” said Amy Armish, Director of Food Technology and Quality Assurance, Jenny Craig, Inc. “We are communicating directly with our clients and consultants and are urging all clients who have purchased or are in possession of this product to immediately destroy them. Clients seeking a replacement bar are being asked to visit their Jenny Craig centre or call their Jenny Craig consultant and a replacement bar will be issued in its place or an adjustment made to their next order."

"We are in full cooperation with the FDA during this recall process as we only want to provide the best, and safest product to our customers. Thankfully no illnesses have been reported in conjunction with any of our products," said Jay Littmann, CEO and President of Chef Jay's Food Products.

Mark Tarner, President of The South Bend Chocolate Company, said: “we are taking these steps out of concern for our customers”.

"We regret the need to take this action, but the complete safety of our customers and consumers is our highest priority," said Chris Geist, Chief Operating Officer, Premier Nutrition.

"The safety of our customers is our highest priority, and in keeping with the recommendations by the FDA, we are urging all consumers who have purchased or are in possession of this product to immediately destroy them," said Sharon Tate, Vice President of Quality Assurance, NutriSystem, Inc. "Customers seeking a replacement bar are being asked to call a NutriSystem representative at 1-866-491-6425 or e-mail and a replacement bar will be issued in its place."

"With an abundance of caution and given the FDA's ongoing investigation of PCA, we're doing all we can to ensure consumer safety and trust," said Gary Erickson, owner and founder of Clif Bar & Company.

"The safety of our customers has always been our number one priority," said Stacie Behler, vice president of public affairs for Meijer. "Meijer has taken these precautionary steps to help protect our customers and will return this product to our stores only once it is safe for our shoppers."

"Product quality and consumer safety have been our top priority for over 90 years and our decision today reflects that tradition,” said Robert Denning, president and CEO, Perry’s Ice Cream. “We apologize for any inconvenience to our customers."

"The actions we are taking today are in keeping with our more than 100-year commitment to providing consumers with safe, high-quality products," said David Mackay, president and CEO, Kellogg Company. "We apologize for this unfortunate situation."

When compared side by side, the differences between the communication becomes the communication. It reveals where the company places concern, who they feel is best suited to deliver the message, and to some degree, which have a crisis communication plan in place and which might not. We recommend all companies have a crisis communication plan.

We also recommend all communicators and public relations professionals buy an AP Stylebook. Titles need to be lower case when they follow a name (except CEO when used as an acronym). Yes, this includes "president," except President of the U.S.

The most telling recall releases of all are from the PCA.

The Exert on Jan. 10: PCA's facility and products are frequently and rigorously tested for salmonella and other microbiological contamination, including hourly sampling during processing and subsequent analysis by an outside, independent laboratory. No salmonella has ever been found in any of PCA's product.

The Quote on Jan. 13: “We deeply regret that this has happened,” said Stewart Parnell, owner and president of PCA. “Out of an abundance of caution, we are voluntarily withdrawing this product and contacting our customers. We are taking these actions with the safety of our consumers as our first priority.”

The Quote on Jan. 16: "We deeply regret that this product recall is expanding and our first priority is to protect the health of our customers. Our company has worked around the clock for the last week with federal regulators to help identify any potential problems. Our Blakely facility is currently not operating as we continue to work with federal food safety investigators," Parnell said.

The Truth on Jan. 28: Officials say the Peanut Corp. of America plant had repeatedly shipped products that the company's own initial tests found to be positive for salmonella. They say the company also failed to take standard steps to prevent contamination within the plant.

As of 9 p.m. on Jan. 25, more than 501 persons infected with the outbreak strain of salmonella typhimurium have been reported from 43 states. The infection may have contributed to eight deaths. Our heartfelt sympathies are with the families.

There are too many companies and too many conclusions to be drawn from such a sweeping epidemic in a single post. We are opening living case study, which will consist of a series of posts strung together by the label "PCA", beginning tomorrow with what seems to be a severe breach of public trust by that company. The posts will not be daily, but frequent.

It is our continued hope that communicators will learn how to better prepare for crisis communication by blending proven processes and a deeper appreciation for situational communication. Crisis communication is more than a list of bullet points and boilerplates. And every company, sooner or later, will face one.

Friday, February 2

Writing Web Sites: AP Stylebook

Last night, I was caught a bit off guard when one of my students opened up the AP Stylebook to inform me my take on "Website" was wrong, according to the Associated Press. So naturally, today I started doing some homework on this particular rule in what many, myself included, call the writer's bible.

Kudos to Debbie Weil over at Wordbiz Report for doing my homework for me and the rest of us back in 2003. She wrote Norman Goldstein, AP Stylebook editor, after 65 percent of her readers claimed "website" to be correct over "Web site." Goldstein wrote back...

"Style, in the sense we're talking about, really means a preference (in spelling or punctuation or capitalization or usage) when there is a choice to be made. AP made the choice of "Web site" for what we thought were very good, language-based, reasons. Others are free to use their preference - as long as it is clear to a reader and consistent.

However, none of us can claim to create a "new language," for the Internet, or elsewhere. (Every generation of teenagers, for example, comes up with its own "language," but it fades quickly into oblivion.) More creative writers than I have said - wisely - that "usage will push new meanings into currency no matter how many authorities hurl themselves into the path of change."

Weil then goes on to list several solid cases made by her readers, who would prefer AP change its ruling and give us the evidence we need to write Website or website as one word. Add me to the list of miffed writers. Web site needs to be fixed up for the times, giving way to Website or website (I don't care about caps).

I appreciate where Goldstein is coming from in his answer, but for those of us who preach that AP is the style of choice in today's world, using it as a higher authority for clients, students, and others, we need some help here. Too many allowances will undermine the original intent of clear and consistent communication, especially if we teach public relations practitioners to conform to AP Style as it is the style most embraced by newspapers and magazines worldwide (with exception, it seems, to the word Website). Too many allowances will toss more toward the Chicago Style Manual, which is being revised online with new vigor, causing the rest of us to study two sources (ha, I do anyway) as opposed to having one held high.

Sure, I suppose making up some hubub about the word Website seems a bit much, but the time has come for AP Style to revisit its ruling on "Web site" for what was thought to be very good, language-based, reasons. The reason I say this is because it has put us in the awkward position of either violating our trusted Style source or joining what appears to be an ever diminished percentage of readers who agree that "Web site" is right.


Tuesday, September 19

Writing A Style Guide

Sue Khodarahmi means well in her article ''You're stylin' now,'' published in the September-October 2006 edition of Communication World by the International Association of Business Communicators. I really believe she does.

Khodarahmi even gives credit where credit is due, offering up a little on the importance The Associated Press Style Book (AP Style) and/or The Chicago Manual of Style. But then, unfortunately, she suggests that there's really ''no right or wrong as long as you're consistent,'' suggesting companies and organizations can feel free to create their own style guides to cover a myriad of exceptions.

The trouble with this philosophy is two-fold. First and foremost, implementing deviations from AP Style (or other style guides) means your company is really implementing two style guides: one for public relations that follows AP Style and another for a few or all other audiences. In short, her explanation ''as long as you're consistent'' is already in jeopardy.

The second problem is that this negates why AP Style was adopted in the first place. Originally, AP Style was adopted by national and international publications to improve consistently on questions not covered by English grammar rules. In short, they recognized the need to standardize the written language as opposed to having each publication write its own rules. AP Style, which I require in any class I teach, is the foremost guide to newspaper style in the United States and is consistently recognized as such worldwide. It is also updated annually, allowing it to keep up with English as a living language.

Certainly there are some exceptions. The Chicago Manual of Style prescribes a writing style that is widely used in the publishing industry (as opposed to newspapers). The differences between it and AP Style are generally insignificant. However, the Chicago Manual of Style is only updated every decade or so and is considered by some much less relevant than in the past. (We use it to arbitrate any style questions not addressed by the AP.)

So, again, we run into the same problem. Endless exceptions or, worse, a company's self-imposed style guide does the exact opposite of what Khodarahmi means to say. A company-wide style guide would be nothing more than a license to be inconsistent and fall prey to 'because i said so' editors when all everyone else is trying to do is enhance communication with consistency.

Does this mean that there should never be any exceptions? No, but good writers (and hopefully good executives) will continue to minimize those exceptions for those instances when there really is a good reason to break from the AP.

Sure, we're not going to refuse to cap all titles if a company really wants to capitalize job titles that occur after the name in an employee publication. But we will remind our clients that they are showing their ignorance in doing so, and even take our name off a news release if we're instructed to do what the newspapers will promptly correct anyway. You should too, no matter what editors are running around today trying to tell people it's all just 'pot luck' because they're tired of receiving correction letters.

After all, if communication is really about effectively communicating ideas, then it seems to make little sense to make up your own language style guide (that no one else will have) in order to do so. Sorry. We're still too young to be old fashioned and we're not biting on this one.

Wednesday, May 31

Creating A Class For Everyone

One might think it would be easy, but they'd be wrong. Creating a skills-oriented university class from scratch can be a challenging exercise, maybe more so than applying communication practices on a daily basis and certainly more so than developing a program or workshop for working communication professionals.

The program, which I was recently asked to develop for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), is a skills-oriented class with an emphasis on improving written communication for writers, office managers, business professionals, and anyone who wants to enhance the clarity, consistency, and usage of personal or business correspondence. In sum, it's a class on how to be a better editor.

The most immediate challenge is in catering to a broad audience. Editing classes tend to attract a diverse group, ranging from people interested in self-editing manuscripts and essays to office managers and working communication professionals. One of the objectives in developing the class is to teach enough basic information to benefit everyone without spending too much time on subject matter that a portion of the participants already know. How much of a 4-hour class really needs to focus on basic English, defining nouns, pronouns, etc.? Do I really want to diagram sentences? Will fiction writers balk at AP Style?

The second challenge is in self-evaluation, an attempt to determine just what personal experience has made matter of fact to me but what might not be so matter of fact to other people. Sometimes it is challenging to educate people on the merits of AP Style, especially simple rules such as when to capitalize the title of the position and when not to. It's something I've learned to do without thinking much about the reasoning behind the rule.

In the end, with some input from Michelle Baker at UNLV Educational Outreach, I think we have the makings of a solid half-day fall program that focuses on editing essentials such as language skills, mechanics of style, and the importance of correct spelling and punctuation. Of course, the true measure of success will be derived, in part, from student evaluations.

Tuesday, April 12

Spell-Checking To Disaster

I recently came across an archived blog post ( that reminded me of a study about the pitfalls of spell-check.

The post explained how a federal judge in Philadelphia had taken a stand against typo-prone lawyers by reducing a lawyer's request for fees, citing an overabundance of typographical errors in his filings.

In one letter, the NY Times reported, the lawyer had given the magistrate's name as Jacon, not Jacob [Hart]. Hart responded: ''I appreciate the elevation to what sounds like a character in 'The Lord of the Rings,' but, alas, I am only a judge.''

This fits well with a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh a few years ago. In this study, 33 undergraduate students were asked to proofread a one-page business letter. Half used Microsoft Word and half used their heads.

Without grammar or spelling software, students with higher SAT verbal scores made, on average, five errors compared to 12.3 errors made by students with lower scores. Using spell-check software, students with higher verbal scores made, on average, 16 errors compared with 17 errors for students with lower scores.

Associated Press writer Charles Sheehan asked Microsoft technical specialist Tim Pash to comment on the study. Pash reminded him that grammar and spelling programs are meant to help writers and editors, not solve their problems.

The simple truth is that spell-check and grammar programs are great tools to help people think about what they've written in a document, letter, article, or essay. But like any tool, they create more problems than solutions when used incorrectly.

When it comes to being a better writer, think of spell-check like driving a car with an automatic transmission. The automatic transmission makes driving easier, but if you don't take the time to understand the rules of the road, you're still headed for disaster.

Thursday, March 24

Writing For Your Life

According to a recent survey by the College Board's National Commission on Writing, 33 percent of employees do not meet the minimum writing requirements for the jobs they currently hold. While the report falls short in suggesting that Americans write worse, it is apparent that the demand for better writing skills has spread to jobs that once were filled by employees who didn't have to know a verb from a noun, including electricians, engineers, and foremen.

"There's no way to say that writing has gotten worse," said Susan Traiman, director of the education initiative for the Business Roundtable, told The Associated Press (AP). "The demand has gotten greater."

Part of the reason is attributed to computers. Approximately 66 percent of all salaried workers in large U.S. companies have jobs that require at least some writing. Among the top writing problems for most employees: accuracy, clarity, spelling, punctuation, grammar, and conciseness.

The demand for writers continues to plague the communication industry as well. The frequency of errors has become so common that even American Idol was prompted to rerun an entire show after phone numbers were incorrectly displayed during the original show.

"Businesses are really crying out. They need to have people who write better," College Board President Gaston Caperton told the AP.

While more than half of all companies surveyed now say they assess writing skills when they make hiring and promotion decisions, most seem to settle for people with only adequate skills. The survey was done with 64 companies across six industries representing 4 million employees: mining; construction; manufacturing; transportation and utilities; services and finance; and insurance and real estate.

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