Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When a Brown Bag Isn’t A Brown Bag

I just returned from a marketing communications planning meeting with a team of execs from a UK-based manufacturing company. It was a great meeting about the importance of a strategic approach to PR.

Specifically, the company recognizes the value of generating “top of mind awareness” within their industry space. With systematic creation and distribution of key industry announcements, press releases, and news, the company can reinforce their brand image of technological innovation.

A regular news stream helps populate other marketing communications programs such as e-newsletters, direct mail, websites and social media.

We talked about how traditional advertising, or even PPC, has its place but isn’t an affordable option right now to meet their purposes. Conversational, or social marketing, in the form of internet content is gaining momentum and effectiveness. PR fuels this effort.

Watch Your Words!

As the discussion turned to topics worthy of announcements and news releases, it became clear that there is a distinct difference between UK and American “business-speak” and other vocabulary.

As an example, one of the company’s execs shared that in the UK, the term “brown bag” has a dramatic difference in definition than in the US. Here in the US, a “brown bag seminar” means a business meeting in which participants bring their own lunch, or “brown bag it” as they view an informative presentation. In the UK, however, the term “brown bag” conjures up visions of a homeless drunk on the side of the road. This is an important distinction when building a press release!

Never Say “Pants”

The term “pants” is also problematical. In the UK,"pants" usually refers to underwear- not trousers. The descriptive term "pants" is also used when referring to something that is of poor quality ("the movie last night was pants").

Business writing is also unique in the UK, where one will see terms like “whilst”; “heretofore”; “henceforth” and other words not often seen in business writing.

For Further Reading

The Project Britain blog on all things British life and culture offers a handy worksheet and vocabulary listing that translates UK and US terms.

As the blog points out, many Brits are familiar with American slang terms and idioms from consuming US media. Still, it pays to be sensitive, especially when dealing with a multi-cultural business communications project.

PR builds trust and credibility. It is cost-effective way to validate a new product or service to the most people possible. The challenge is to get the word out/generate interest/awareness from unbiased, third party opinion, but to use the appropriate vocabulary!

I married into a UK family, so I understand these issues. I’m just grateful the team reminded me of these particular words. So far, I better remember to stay away from “Brown Bag” and “pants”!

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