Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Lost In Translation - A Public Service Announcement

I wanted to try one last time to put this PSA out there for the denizens of Watch Town, particularly those who make decisions on communications budgets and agencies -

Just because an agency tells you that their team is fluent in a given language (English, for example), that does not make it so.

Truth in advertising?
I realize that if your brand is based in a given country (let's say Switzerland) it is easier and more comfortable to contract with a local agency. And it is not unlikely that an agency will assert that their team has native fluency in all of the major languages, English being one of them. And for the brand, this is great news! One-stop shopping, and usually at a discounted rate because the services are "bundled"! But this is not where your problems end as a brand, but where they typically begin. 

Lost in translation 
Imagine your press release goes out to press contacts around the world, with the majority of the contacts receiving the English language version. Now imagine that the press release most closely resembles something spit out by Google Translate. The words are English. The usage, word order, and grammar make it clear that it is the result of a poor translation that was not checked very closely. 

You don't know what you don't know
To be clear, brands need agencies, because agencies have contacts in the press and can help spread your message. With that said, agencies have a responsibility to the brands that they represent. They should be forthright about the true level of their linguistic abilities. And if they don't posses the level of English (or Spanish, Russian, or any other language) that they claim, they should subcontract with native speakers to review their materials before they send them out. This would give the agency the ability to provide their services in an honest, efficient, and affordable manner. And the best part? There are plenty of native language speakers from around the world who could provide this service quickly and affordably, and they are living and working in... Switzerland!

It's more expensive than you think
Agencies charge the type of fees that are usually negotiated with the aid of a pistol and a get-away car. They are truly steep. And if they were delivering on the promises that they were making? it would be a fair exchange of money for service. But as one of the people who receives these releases, I can tell you that a lot of them end up in the Tempus Fugit virtual trash can.

So here are a few friendly (not sarcastic) tips for those of you wanting to get your press releases not only read, but put to use by members of the press:
  • Less is more.  Keep the press release focused.  
  • WIFM (what's in it for me). The press release is not for you (the brand). The press release is for the press. They will then disseminate it to the public at large. Think about what might be interesting to the public, rather than what is interesting to you.
  • Vet your agency. It is likely that you have "friendly adversaries" in the press corps. Ask some of us for honest (confidential) feedback. We'll be happy to provide it to you. 
  • The press wants to cover you. But they need to understand you in order to do that. If your press releases are not triggering coverage, it may not be for the reasons that you think (lack of advertising). It might simply be that your releases are getting lost in translation.

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