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The Evolution of AP Style & What it Means for Your Organization’s Communications Strategy

The Associated Press Stylebook is considered the grammatical and stylistic bible of journalists (and public relations professionals). It’s the go-to reference for any questions, and for those in PR, knowing AP Style is akin to knowing a secret handshake – violate it by sending a press release rife with AP Style errors and you’re practically waving a flag in a journalists’ face that you don’t know what they need… Possibly compromising their interest in writing a story about your client.

Maybe that analogy is a bit dramatic, but the truth is, knowing AP Style and using it when communicating with reporters is a sign of professional integrity. So, when the AP Stylebook made “more” and “over than” interchangeable when referring to quantities this spring, it created outrage among journalists and copy editors everywhere. Outrage stemming from the fact that journalists and copy writers have likely spent a lot of time fixing and educating their colleagues on this former error.

Poynter.com reported that “According to AP Stylebook Editor Darrell Christian, via Erin Madigan White, AP senior media relations manager: ‘We decided on the change because it has become common usage. We’re not dictating that people use ‘over’ – only that they may use it as well as ‘more than’ to indicate greater numerical value.’”

Turns out AP Style – while still sacred – also evolves and aligns with our ever-changing language, which may change more than you realize. Think about buzzwords alone. We have the classic, “think outside the box” but it’s also been joined by “punting,” “granular perspectives” and “ideation.”

AP Style - tired personBut it goes deeper than just that. The willingness of stalwart research organizations like the AP Stylebook speaks to our greater cultural shift when it comes to the world of writing and even reporting. Much like how citizen journalism (aka average people – not journalists – reporting on things via social media, blogs, videos etc.) has changed the way the world reports on one another (and itself), our language preferences have shifted as well.

Today’s consumers actively avoid the formal and the fussy (and I’m not just talking about millennials here). Many would rather talk to a person than a company. Or if they have to talk to a company, they’d want to talk to it like we’d talk to a person – not fill out a series and forms and wait for a faceless person to follow up. It’s why customer service has moved to social media; and why many websites offer a ‘chat live’ option.

What does this mean for all organizations – whether you’re a Fortune 500 who makes consumer goods, an automotive supplier or a nonprofit?

Consider being a little more human. While discovering your company’s authentic ‘self’ certainly takes strategy, work and alignment with your core culture, every company has a personality, and letting that personality shine through your communications channels can be the key to success. While formality is still appropriate in some cases (i.e. press release writing) it’s also good to understand common language usage, and use that to your advantage to make connections that go far beyond one transaction or one interaction.

So, if you’re a reporter or PR professional, by all means – still get irate over those game-changing AP style releases. But, be aware that these small details add up to a bigger shift that we all need to pay attention to.


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