Flesh Out
Hardly a week goes by in the ad business when, after reviewing some initial concepts, someone says: “We need to flesh out these ideas” or “Let’s flush out this idea.” As a writer (who may be just a teensy bit OCD about language usage), I cringe whenever I hear the latter.

If you’re one of those who say that you’re going to “flush out” an idea, don’t feel too bad. According to Merriam-Webster, “Flesh out” and “Flush out” are among the Top 10 Commonly Confused Words. Here’s how they explain which should be used:

Question: “To provide more details, should you flush out or flesh out your plan?”

Answer: “flesh out”

How to remember it: Think of fleshing out a skeleton. To flesh out something is to give it substance, or to make it fuller or more nearly complete.

To flush out something is to cause it to leave a hiding place, e.g., “The birds were flushed out of the tree.” It can also be used figuratively, as in “flush out the truth.”

Though Merriam-Webster doesn’t mention it in the section above, “flush out” can also mean to clean something by forcing water through it— such as flushing out a radiator. This meaning of the word seems to have no relevance to advertising ideas. Unless you’re talking about ideas so bad they need to be flushed down the toilet.

At this point, I think it should be clear that what we do is “flesh out” ideas. We expand upon them, we pull them together and make something more complete with them. Just as an artist builds upon a sketch of a person, adding the flesh to an almost sticklike initial drawing, so, too, do we build upon an idea. We do not drive it out of hiding, or clean it out with water.

One more thing: Don’t buy into the “Oh, what does it matter? People know what I’m trying to say” defense for using the wrong term. We’re supposed to be experts at this business. That includes using the correct expression for what it is that we do.

Let me know if you have any thoughts that could flesh this out a bit more.

September 30, 2013 · Posted by in copywriting  

Albert Einstein

Joe’s post titled Keep the wrong out of the write brought up the issue of errors in online media. Typos and grammatical errors are commonplace now, but I don’t think it’s because we’re becoming dumber, I think it’s due to the accelerated world we all live in.

Facebook posts and other social media sites are particularly rife with spelling and grammar errors. Not just the posts from your friends, either. Yes, even businesses are getting it wrong.

I come from the world of publishing, and my experience started there before the “World Wide Web” was something we used every single day, so I’m used to an environment of writers and editors and double (or triple) checking things before they are published. In the olden days “published” meant putting ink on paper with a very large (and very expensive) printing press. Mistakes on printed pieces cost a lot, and we would do anything to avoid them. And when I say “cost a lot” I’m talking about real dollars. Most of the mistakes in online publishing just tarnish your reputation, but don’t hit your wallet quite as hard.

In the agency world, it’s the same thing. Any printed piece goes through multiple rounds of proofing to make sure everything is correct before a press run. The same may not be said of a quick post to Facebook, even from some well-known brands.

As someone who has managed a few accounts for a few organizations, I can’t begin to tell you how upsetting it is to post something on a platform that does not allow for editing (I’m looking at you Twitter and Facebook) and notice an error seconds or minutes or hours later. I like to think it’s a rare occasion when it happens to me, but everyone makes mistakes. Do what you can to mitigate them and move on.

Part of the problem with all these errors may be the fast-paced world of online publishing, where you don’t need to go through multiple steps (and multiple gatekeepers) to publish something. Still, if you have time, ask someone to check your work. Don’t have anyone around? Read it to yourself a few times. Look at every word. Posts on Twitter and Facebook tend to be short, so even a single mistake can stand out. Take your time and proof it, and then proof it again. Typically the difference between publishing something at 8:02 and 8:07 will make no difference, so put some effort towards getting it right.

Obviously our goal is to never make a mistake, so how do we do that? Through teamwork. If I make a mistake, someone else at Z2 should catch it, just like I’ve caught mistakes others have made. We all make mistakes, the trick is to catch them and correct them before they get out into the world.

June 10, 2013 · Posted by in copywriting  

Recently, someone asked me what I do. After I told her, she exclaimed: “Oh, well I’ll bet you’ve noticed how bad the spelling and sentence construction is on so many things online!”

As a matter of fact, I have.

Actually, it’s pretty hard to miss. News stories on Yahoo! routinely have at least a couple of misspelled words, bad punctuation, or complicated sentences that don’t quite make sense. Sometimes they hit a trifecta with all of the above. Facebook posts and other social media sites are particularly rife with spelling and grammar errors. Not just the posts from your friends, either. Yes, even businesses are getting it wrong.

The horror!

So what gives? Are we getting dumber? Is the glowing computer screen numbing our higher thought processes? Whatever the reason, it’s causing an instant loss of credibility, according to Adrian Snood, a Social Media Manager & Community Relationship Specialist. As Snood notes: “A website or blog is often the first place that you go to learn a little bit more about the individual or company. So if your online content has many spelling errors or grammatical mistakes, then why should your visitors take you seriously?”

Snood speculates that part of the problem lies in the fact that even if spellcheck is used, it can’t identify usage errors such as the incorrect use of “there” for “their”, or “your” for “you’re.” He recommends reading each post ALOUD before publishing it, so you are forced to not rush through the process and so you can hear if there is anything awkward or unclear in your writing.

Of course, not everyone is generating social media or website content. But there are other written communications, such as intra agency briefs, emails and, of course, letters and emails to clients, that can always benefit from a closer look.

Whatever the context of our written communication, we would all be well served by this modern day reworking of an old adage:  “Read twice, post once.”

June 7, 2013 · Posted by in copywriting