What happens when you don’t proofread?

Publishing and marketing move at such a speed that often there’s no time for proofreading.

Even if you don’t worry about commas in the right place or correct use of apostrophes, proofreading ensures that basic information is correct.

This is what happened in several cases where text was not proofread properly:

  1. Editorial staff accidentally mistyped a contact phone number for an event listing so that a private individual was annoyed by nuisance phone calls and the event organiser lost customers.
  2. Marketing staff at a theatre provided incorrect performance dates for a newspaper events guide so readers could have missed out on seeing a production.
  3. A PR agency included the logo of its client in a press release but never referred to it in the text, instead mentioning the parent company. The confusion required research into the relationship between the company and its parent to make sense of the press release.

Getting basic information right is essential. Proofreading often highlights simple but important errors. It also highlights confusion or unclear meaning where the reader has no idea what the writer is trying to say.

How much do errors and confusion cost businesses in lost customers or sales? Is it worth building time for proofreading into production schedules?

Was it 25 years ago I first published marketing material online?

In 1985 British Airways promoted me to the grand position of Sales Information Officer. What did that mean? I don’t think anyone knew. I wasn’t sure myself.

In fact, we were a small department, a colleague and I, who had been recruited to develop the BA Prestel site into an online catalogue. Prestel was the British Telecom videotext system (like Ceefax and Oracle) but more flexible and responsive. 95% of UK travel agents used it to book package tours. BA decided that, as agents already used the system, it should develop its own site to sell scheduled air travel services to agents.

And so we set about developing what grew into a 7,000-screen online brochure with full details of the product illustrated by heavily pixelated diagrams and illustrations. I spent months creating fares tables and editing fare rules for every fare BA sold for travel from the UK to its worldwide destinations. I think the fares section ran to 2,000 pages.

British Airways Prestel: Robert Zarywacz
An article in BA’s TOPICall magazine from way back in 1985.

What seemed amazing at the time was to be able to upload pages from our PC network (an IBM AT PC with a 20MB hard disk linked to two twin-floppy IBM XT PCs) via modem down an ordinary telephone line. It seemed magical that one second the page was on my PC and the next it was accessible for anyone to view on Prestel.

It all seemed so exciting. People could even send us messages, which we printed off on a thermal printer.

But Prestel was not the way forward. Few in the airline saw its potential and both my colleague and I eventually moved to other jobs in BA.

We had been 10 years too early. Later, as the internet developed and web sites appeared, I realised that we had built a massive web site before anyone knew what it was.

I also learned a lot about writing for the small screen, on-screen attention spans and other tips that would stand me in good stead as the world moved online.

It may have been crude compared with today’s technology, but it was exciting for us as we made the rules up as we went along.

Posted via web from z2zine

Talking is a tool to help weather the economic storm

Even without the BBC’s financial crisis logo, it’s easy to see that conditions are challenging for many sectors. With Vodafone reported as looking to make £1 billion in cutbacks and BT reported to be making 10,000 redundancies, the fallout will start hitting the wider community now and in early 2009, as it impacts on the suppliers of these big companies. From there it will spread to shops and other service providers of the people made redundant.

This scenario looks pretty bleak when transferred to other big companies and we must take it seriously. But is there anything else businesses can do to weather the storm? Of course, there is.

Communication, as ever, is the key. Companies must not only communicate more effectively with their customers to maintain sales, but they must talk internally. People get worried and want to be reassured. Executives can probably do most to improve performance by getting out there and talking to their employees. Tell them what’s happening. Listen to what employees say. Start to work together.

It doesn’t have to cost anything; the best communication is face-to-face. 

By coincidence, on the 25th anniversary of when I joined British Airways telephone sales, today brings back the memory of when, because there were very heavy call volumes on a Monday, the management asked us to give up our Monday morning tea break in return for free tea and doughnuts. These refreshments were served to us by managers and supervisors pushing trolleys round the reservations floor. It felt a bit like the war spirit: there was a problem and everyone chipped in to solve it. It also led me to say that I’d do anything for a cup of tea and a doughnut.

Anyway, it was a department of some 600 people. Now, say that 200 were manning the phones at that specific time and the tea break was 10 minutes long (from my memory), that’s over 33 extra productive hours available to BA on those mornings. It also meant happy customers, who didn’t have to hang on the phone to get through, and more sales. And all for the cost of some doughnuts and tea. How many companies these days would waste those 33 hours in meetings, agonising over what to do?

So businesses need to respond to their people. Get them on board and who knows what you’ll be capable of achieving? It need not take more than a bit of effort to achieve incredible results. What is there to lose?

It all starts with communication.

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