Misspelling as a Symptom of a Bigger Issue

Some people who read about Starbucks’ misspelling of the word vegetable in its new Evolution Fresh promotion, laughed and called it “embarrassing.” Others of us, however, thought this easily avoided mistake points to a much bigger issue: that the company is not focusing on the fundamentals of its business.

I used to work with a CEO who couldn’t say often enough that employees needed to focus on the fundamentals. By that he meant that whatever your job, you needed to make sure you not only performed well the big things that everyone would notice and on which they would often judge the quality of your work, but that you also needed to focus on making sure that the fundamentals, the basics, of what you were responsible for—whether it was handling the company’s finances, running the sales effort for a large region, or merely writing a promotional piece—was as perfect as possible.

He sometimes visited our stores, unannounced, giving everything from the parking lot, to the product displays, to the backroom storage area the equivalent of a white-glove inspection. His rationale was simple: Everything reflects on the quality of the business. No matter how well you try to serve those who walk through the front door, he would say, they can’t have a great customer experience if they have to wipe the smudge off the products before they can clearly view them, or have to squint to read the fine print on a contract because the light bulb over the counter is burned out.

I agreed with him then. And I agree with him now, years after I’ve left the company. So when I see Starbucks spelling vegatable in a wall poster to promote its new Evolution Fresh juice bar, I have to wonder what else besides this word is not getting the attention it deserves. Are the fruits and vegetables really fresh as the promotion claims? Or are they “nearly fresh” because some employee assumes no one will really notice or that “almost fresh” is close enough? Is Starbucks really ready to move beyond coffee and into other kinds of drinks? Or is the person (or team) responsible for this new product line too distracted by other things to worry about spelling correctly the words on the most-visible promotion in the new store?

Proofreading is not the easiest job—I don’t want to count the number of mistakes that could lie unsuspectedly in these lines—but, clearly, it’s a fundamental task of somebody at Starbucks responsible for this graphic. If this person is not doing his or her job, who else is slacking off on the fundamentals? Who else is not making sure the water is hot but not too hot, the sandwiches are fresh, or the employee’s fingers are washed before they touch my Earl Grey teabag each Sunday morning when she puts it into my tall cup and pushes the lid on tight?

My New Blog on Business Communications

A winter’s morning view from my office.

Welcome.

On this blog, I will cover communications broadly, but always with the idea that each individual post relates in some way (even if not mentioned explicitly) to business communications specifically.

Therefore, over the course of the blog’s lifespan—how long will that be, a few weeks, months, maybe years?—the accumulated posts will represent my view of the intersection of communications in general and  communications about business.

I’ll discuss (and if you stick with me, you’ll read about) word usage, grammar, sentence construction, the structure of documents, communications tools, the strategies and tactics for communicating with specific key stakeholder groups, the execution of these strategies and tactics, and the evaluation of the success or failure of these efforts. As I see it: the whole communications process.

Occasionally, I might post statements that seem, at first glance, far astray from my topic. But from my perspective—developed over years of holding a variety of roles, including PR manager, employee communications director, speechwriter, executive communications manager, public affairs executive director, and others—they do relate (at least in some small, but important, way) to business communications.

In part, I draw my inspiration for this less-than-direct approach to my topic from Michel de Montaigne, 16th century French writer, who said about his sometimes wandering, seemingly unrelated writing: “I go out of my way, but rather by license than carelessness. My ideas follow one another, but sometimes it is from a distance, and look at each other, but with a sidelong glance.”

My hope, therefore, is that these posts will, if we pay attention, make those of us who work in corporate communications, PR, or related functions (either as part of an internal staff or an outside agency) better at sharing relevant, informative, and engaging information with our companies’ customers, employees, online communities, and other stakeholders.

So, the purpose of this blog is to encourage a wider, and yet closer, look at what we love to do: communicate about our companies.

Let me know what’s on your mind as you read my posts.

Good reading.