The Problem and Necessity of Email Clichés

“I delete 95 percent of the PR emails I get within seconds of opening them.”

That’s senior associate editor Julie Beck of The Atlantic in a piece titled “Thank Heavens for Email Clichés.” It’s good. I should read it once a week.

Beck goes on to say, “I couldn’t possibly read them all thoroughly—let alone reply to them all—and still get any work done, but sometimes I do feel bad, because the senders clearly spent so much time writing them.”

Sound familiar?

I both write and receive these types of emails, hoping mine get opened and instantly deleting ones I receive.

Email is so out of control. Beck mentions a colleague who reported that the average person writes a novel’s worth of emails every year, or more than 40,000 words!

Is this not insanity? Writing so many words that so many others will delete within seconds?

With so many emails to write and send, we resort to “shortcuts,” Beck says, clichés such as “I hope you’re doing well” and “Best.” (I plead guilty to this. I could do a life sentence for all the times I’ve trotted out those two.) But wait. She says they’re not all bad because they represent a kind of email decorum, even though they lack spark and personality.

Beck gives examples and offers alternatives, but closes with this admission about email clichés: “They get the job done without taking too much energy. And unless the email firehose lessens its pressure, we need them.”


Working Solo: Trust Yourself

Working and living small.

Not long ago I traded emails with a colleague and former client who, after two decades in a middle-management communications role, went out on her own after a company reorganization.

She soon after landed an anchor client but also ran head on into some of the pitfalls of working solo. Namely, isolation and lack of collaboration.

“I’m finding the biggest challenge of working solo is that I don’t have people to bounce ideas off of, review copy, etc.,” she said in early October.

And then she asked this:

“I always liked collaborating with my team and now it’s just me! How do you deal with it?”

“I don’t know if I have a good answer for your question about working solo,” I replied. “It’s sort of like wandering in the wilderness if you’re not partnering or working with others in some fashion.

“For me, a lot of it comes down to trusting my abilities and judgment about creative matters, writing, communications, etc. There aren’t a lot of other options. I have friends and colleagues in the business, but I don’t usually want to bother them with my stuff because I know they are busy trying to scratch things out for themselves.

“I can also say, ‘My poor wife.’ (Ha ha.)

“I bounce things off her, especially creative concepts and anything that seems pretty important. She has a business background and is a good sounding board. But a lot of times it’s just me going it alone, which is the nature of the beast.

“There’s an advantage to this, too.

“I believe you’re bringing something valuable to clients–an outside perspective, a fresh perspective, plus your years of experience and expertise.

“This is truly valuable, because companies and organizations get bogged down, can’t see themselves clearly, and, to be honest, are often too self-absorbed to understand how they need to communicate to their audiences in ways that will connect.

“Maybe all of this to say: Trust yourself.”

I ended my message by telling my colleague that she could use me as a sounding board, if that would help.

She responded favorably to my email, writing, “Good advice. Trust myself!”

What about you?

If you work solo, how do you generate and test your ideas while working in a vacuum? Do you bounce things off others? What are your biggest pitfalls of working solo?

6 Questions from a College Student

This Q&A is different. I’m answering the questions rather than asking them. A college student at Fort Hays State University interviewed me for a class called “Leadership in Information Technology.”

Besides learning a bit more about me, maybe the Q&A will spark some new thoughts about you and your work.

Q. What roles do you play in your business?

NEIL SAGEBIEL: I wear all the hats, from marketing my services to doing all aspects of the work (research, writing, editing, etc.), including things such as book promotion and media. I manage all the business relationships. I handle all financial aspects as well. Again, I do it all. My cats are no help at all.

Q. How would you describe your management style?

NS: I’m pretty easy to work for. I know myself fairly well by now, after nearly two decades of self employment. Ha! I’m pragmatic and usually steady and sufficiently focused.

Q. How do you think vision is created and communicated?

NS: In my case, it’s understanding how my skill set and interest in communication and my passion for storytelling can serve a market. For someone like me who is a solo creative professional, it’s more intuitive and internal rather than a formal process or a company statement of some kind. I tend to gravitate toward markets that allow me to earn a living and find fulfillment as a writer.

Q. What is the best way to create “buy-in” and loyalty within an organization and with your readers?

NS: Always treat them with respect. Show that I understand something about them and their interests. Tell them great stories and always strive to offer something valuable in the communications I create.

Q. What is the best way to motivate people in your experience?

NS: As a communications professional, I think it’s paramount to be a good listener. You need to get to know people, and treat them with respect. Find out what their interests and wants are, and how you can help them. If you want them to do something, you need to communicate it clearly, including how the outcome will benefit them as well as others.

Q. What are your thoughts on the challenges involved in working in the information industry with ever expanding market and technology parameters vs. working in an industry with defined technology and market parameters?

NS: It can be hard to keep up, and sometimes technology advances such as the proliferation of social media can seem like a barrier to making truly valuable connections. Many people are overwhelmed with information these days, in large part because of the Internet and technology. It can be hard to break through. At the same time, the tools are available to everyone, so it also creates an opportunity. That has been the case for me.

3 Gold Nuggets to Uncover From Any Creative Brief

Dave Moore, creative director of Williams Helde Marketing Communications, penned a smart article on creative briefs in the November/December issue of Marketing, a Seattle-area trade newspaper.

Moore begins by mentioning the “staggering number of creative-brief formats” in his career. I can relate to that statement. Clients and ad agencies have innumerable briefs, tools and methods for identifying marketing, brand and communications issues. There are all sorts of questions, prompts and formats used to solicit the input required to address them.

As Moore points out, the answers are far more important than the questions.  Then he reveals three questions that uncover the answers that matter most:

  1. What is the single most important thing we need to say?
  2. What is the key or main message?
  3. You (audience) should (action) because (reason).

Continue reading “3 Gold Nuggets to Uncover From Any Creative Brief”

The Handwritten Thank-You Card

Two things that help ensure  a receptive audience:  saying thank you and employing personalization. For example, the  handwritten card I received in April from my alma mater, San Diego State University:

Dear Mr. Neil Sagebiel,

Thank you so much for your donation to the College of Arts and Letters. Your support helps us out tremendously. It was a pleasure talking to you and go Aztecs!

Sincerely, Alexandra (Class of 2013)

I don’t know many people who reject thank you’s, or, for that matter, appreciation of any kind. As long they’re sincere and professional–and tied to action or sent at logical intervals–you can’t overdo thank you’s.

They are an important staple of every fundraising and marketing communications program.

Related: SDSU Student Caller Gets The Gift