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Assuming a Bad Thing When it Comes to Your Utility’s Written Materials

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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner Freelancer

I hold 34 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

  • Member since 2016
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  • May 17, 2021

Assuming a Bad Thing When it Comes to Your Utility’s Written Materials

Your utility should not be in the assumption game when it comes to written materials to be sent to the public.

That’s because the public knows a lot less than you think it does, and every industry (let alone hobby, sport or clique) has a language all its own.

So your written materials must be written and edited exceeding carefully, or you may risk not connecting to whoever you’re trying to reach. That could be customers, suppliers or maybe even your peers.

How do you go about doing that?

A main thing to lookout for is jargon. As I mentioned, every field/profession has terminology that’s widely understood by people in the know, but by few others. For example, as a newspaper editor, I know what “slug,” “lede,” “cutline” and “kicker” mean, but I’m guessing you don’t. Why would you?

Electric utilities are challenged a bit more than many industries because of the scientific nature of how electricity is produced and how it gets from power plants to a wall switch. And since it’s science, many people will just tune out, same as they did in high school.

Newspapers tend to write at anywhere from a sixth- through 11th-grade reading comprehension level, so keep that in mind when you write. The general public probably understands “power lines,” but the concept of even something fairly basic like a “transmission grid” might confuse a lot of people.

If you must mention a potentially confusing term, be sure to explain it in clear, concise wording; dumbing down things can’t hurt.

You might consider adding a glossary of electric utility terms to your website like this one and link to it in press releases.

In addition, you should avoid making cultural references in materials aimed at your customers.

No matter how common the reference, someone invariably won’t understand it. And given how sensitive people are these days, there’s always a chance you inadvertently offend someone, too.

In general, just remember that you’re in the communications business. Make it as easy as possibly for customers, suppliers and other circles of influence to figure out what you mean.

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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Brian Lindamood's picture
Brian Lindamood on May 19, 2021

Great post Andy! It is critical for communicators in any field to look at their messaging from the audience's perspective (e.g. their customers) and avoid using industry-specific jargon that outsiders wouldn't understand. The same is true of speaking to customer motivations and interests. Will customers understand your message -- and will they care? If not, it's back to the drawing board.

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