Some things don’t change: communications lessons from 30 years ago

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A lot has changed in communications in the last decade, let alone the last 30 years, so it was interesting to read an article in PR Daily on the importance of good writing by one of the greatest advertising executives and communication experts ever – David Ogilvy.

The article (click here to read) repeated his views written in 1982 under the heading, “The better you write the higher you go”.  It is as relevant today – with texting and speedy communications through the internet – as it was when it was written 32 years ago, when business had only recently embraced faxes.

Indeed, his views still resonate and it’s fascinating to me that what he said then is what I believe makes good communication now.

For instance, Ogilvy says “Write the way you talk, naturally”.  A lot of executives today should learn how to do this.  He also advises “use short words and sentences” yet too many executives still seem to think it makes them sound more important if they use big words rather than keeping it simple.

Likewise, Ogilvy says, “Never use jargon”, yet many executives still use jargon as a prop to make them sound knowledgeable and important.  I’d hazard a guess that use of jargon is even more of a problem now than the 1980s.

Executives should also remember to talk using the same language they use with family and friends, even when talking to other business people – and especially when talking to the media if they want to be quoted.

One thing that is harder today than it was in Ogilvy’s day is “Never send a memo or letter on the day you write it”.   Today’s technology seems to demand instant responses but it’s not always a good idea.  Sometimes it’s still better to sleep on the response before sending it, especially if the communication is really important or addressing a sensitive issue.

I always like to have the opportunity to revisit anything I write the next day – for instance a media release.  I nearly always find I can improve it.

Another good idea, as Ogilvy says, is to get someone to read it before you send it.

He makes many good points. They may have been written over 30 years ago – but they’re still absolutely relevant today.