Another Failure To Communicate

Posted on by Larry

[This commentary was first published in the Digital Production Buzz podcast for March 15, 2018. It has been updated for this article.]

The hardest thing for anyone creating stories for an audience is to think like your audience. This was brought home forcefully to me this last week and I want to share that lesson with you.

The annual NAB Show is exactly three weeks away. However, these few weeks just prior to the event is the time that smaller companies send press releases alerting those of us in the press to their upcoming announcements at the show. They do this to make an impact before the noise of all the other announcements drowns them out.

This last week marked the start of the rush. It will continue to build in volume until it peaks on the first day of the show. Soon, I’ll be drowning in literally hundreds of press releases; each pleading for my attention, hoping to get press coverage. No editor can cover everything, instead, we focus on releases that are centered on the markets we cover. For example, I cover independent filmmakers and professional media creators that work outside the enterprise or big studios.

Press releases are written for an audience of informed writers or editors to use in reporting about a new product or service. These releases need to describe the news and explain why it’s significant, using words that make sense to their audience. A LOT of time and energy from marketing and PR professionals goes into planning, writing and reviewing the content prior to its release.

Sometimes, especially in technology, the writer of the press release forgets that their role is  to communicate the news and, instead, gets carried away in a fit of geek hyper-speak. Here’s an example from a press release I received this morning from a company called Anevia. This is their first paragraph:

“Anevia, a leading provider in OTT and IPTV software solutions, has launched the latest version of its NEA-CDN product created to deliver low latency and broadcast-quality content even during peak viewing times. The new version enables operators to ‘go virtual’ with an HVM-based AMI for seamless deployment in Amazon Web Services (AWS) – ensuring they can combine all the benefits of NEA-CDN with those of the Amazon cloud; for example, greater flexibility, scalability and cost-savings.”

Now, I’ve been in media for more than 40 years and covering the industry for almost 20 and I have NO idea what they are talking about. The acronyms are opaque and explain nothing. The descriptions could apply to any of dozens of different products. And the phrase “a leading provider…,” and it’s sister “a global leader in…” are used so obsessively in press releases that they have become meaningless.

This trap, of getting so wrapped up in our subject that we are unable to make sense, is one that all of us who write or make films need to be wary of. We know too much; far more than our audience. It is easy – but fatal – to assume that our audience knows as much as we do. This means that we always need to be careful that what we say and write can be understood by the people we are trying to reach.

We can’t touch people’s hearts if they don’t understand what we are saying – because when we lose our audience, we’ve lost everything.

This is clearly something the folks at Anevia forgot.


6 Responses to Another Failure To Communicate

  1. Jason says:

    I think the failure to effectively communicate problem with many of these press releases is due to the fact that the authors aren’t really journalists. They’re hired copywriters, or internal staff tasked to write, or even the company owners themselves that want to sound journalistic. They were told “how” to write a press release but lose the effective wordsmithing of actually sharing the news.

    Too much hyperbole to make something sound more important than it is. I agree that using phrases like “global leaders in…” and “leading providers in…” are unnecessary fluff descriptions taking away from benefit driven copy to get the news out.

    The real news is that “Anevia is releasing new software to improve broadcast quality video with lower latency so that viewers can enjoy content, glitch free, even during peak viewing times.”

    That is much easier to read and it clearly spells out the benefits of the software. That’s what the news is.

  2. Nearly 60 years ago, I was responsible for several after-hours training programs at the corporate headquarters for a major electronics corporation. One of the programs was focused on training in various technical specialties, related to electrical engineering, advanced electronic technician training, etc. In that area, my greatest challenge was getting the instructors (mostly Electronics Engineers) to realize that they communicated in verbal shorthand that assumed that the students already had the same invisible mental data bank of terminology that they had. When I succeeded — occasionally — the classes were more fruitful. Today, in my elder career of video producer, I still find that same unconscious approach to terminology among software and hardware producers that I encountered in the pre-digital electronics age. I am able to do what I do in video recording and processing largely because you are among the few trainers I have been fortunate enough to find who do not suffer from that affliction in your training program preparation. But, yes, the affliction is like athlete’s foot — hard to eliminate.

  3. Thomas Varughese says:

    Larry, Your point is well taken. So easy to get carried away with information. Over many years of producing content for various audiences I have a simple process of gauging how well the story is received. I take a copy home and without saying anything about what the video is about, I ask my kids and wife to indulge me for a few minutes. At the end of it I ask them – What did you see? If I don’t get a gut level immediate response about what I was trying to communicate, I know the story isn’t getting across.

  4. Dave says:

    Hi Larry,

    As is usually the case- your commentary about releases hits the nail on the head.
    I see this too often in our various trade journals/email news services as well. The writers assume that their readers already know the “Alphabet Soup” that they are spewing forth.
    Many readers, myself included- are sometimes just trying to learn more about the newest tech, but are underserved by gobbledygook. In the end- no one is informed- the readers, the advertisers, or the vendors. I certainly wish more journalists (& their editors) would take note! (BTW I’m retired from 34 years in broadcasting – with a few EMMY’s to boot. I’m now doing website work, handing out Fellowships, Scholarships & some TV production for a non-profit.)

    Thanks for all you do to bring clarity to the tech/editing world- and Best Wishes for your endeavors at the NAB.
    (I agree the above rewrite was excellent.)

  5. Clayton Moore says:

    An engineer assigned to craft a press release, mistakenly assumes their audience are only other engineers, or people with the same level of knowledge.

    It reminds me of those occasional times when I found myself flummoxed at an occasional feature in software and it hit me the that for some software engineer the way that feature worked made sense to him and his team, but no one else.

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