I was delighted recently to see a former colleague sounding off on a social networking site about the incorrect use of ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ – one of the more common errors of modern English. It’s always encouraging to see that other people do still care about the misuse of our language and appreciate the importance of correctness.
Another popular confusion is ‘amount’ and ‘number’. The test in each of these cases is whether they qualify ‘count’ or ‘non-count’ nouns, so correct usage would be ‘less butter’ and ‘an amount of money’ versus ‘fewer people’ and ‘a number of things’. There’s also confusion whether something that sounds like a number but is actually an amount should be regarded as singular or plural. For example: 1,000 gallons of water were – or was? – used to fight a fire. ‘Were’ would be correct only if the firefighters had thrown 1,000 individual gallons at the flames.
It’s not pedantic to be concerned about these and the many other common mistakes of grammar and spelling because these two disciplines are the basic building blocks of our communication: and if we get the language right, we can communicate more effectively.
As professional communicators we have a duty to use language properly, especially in the messages we craft for our clients – because their words become part of their corporate image, and shoddy language creates a very poor impression. We also have a responsibility – sadly not always shared in the traditional media, and seldom in the new media – to uphold standards of language.
Strict adherence to the basic rules does not impede creativity, nor does it prevent language evolving. It simply makes it possible to move information efficiently from A to B – rather like driving on the designated side of the road.
This new year has all the makings of a good one for PR and communication because in the UK – and many other countries – the public and private sectors have a great deal of communicating to do. But there’s a potential sting in the tail for the PR industry.
Governments and their agencies desperately need to convince the general public – and especially the business sector –- that higher taxes and other tough fiscal measures are the right course of action to deal with the dire economic problems which have developed in recent years. With luck and good management they should, we hope, soon be in a position to tell us that things are getting better.
Businesses need to communicate more effectively than ever with all their target publics to reinforce their place in the market and demonstrate the value they offer. Much communication will endeavour to defend the harsh necessity of redundancies and much will seek to assure shareholders that the company is in good hands, well capable of steering it to greater profitability on the next economic upswing.
It sounds great for the PR industry – but one must not overlook the swingeing cuts that many public and private sector organisations are being forced to make in all their budgets, including PR. Big-budget PR is a thing of the past: what clients want now is innovative thinking, creative solutions, rapid responses and attractively low rates.
PR austerity will hit the big agencies, but won’t necessarily put them out of business – which is good because they contribute much to the communication business as a whole. But austerity will create opportunities for the more agile, low-overhead, smaller agencies that can offer high-quality, professional communication solutions at rates to suit thinned-down PR budgets. And that’s why we have great hopes for 2011.
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 16 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.