Talking Chairs
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Write your way through a tough conversat...

It’s an occupational hazard . . . disagreements with other writers and editors about matters of style or preferences in punctuation. (Serial comma? Did someone say serial comma?) And while we are perfectly at ease arguing the merits of the singular they or the correct way to punctuate bulleted lists, we are not always eager to manage other types of conflicts. No one wants to initiate a difficult conversation or to deliver bad news. Why not using your writing skills to help? Think of your next difficult conversation or meeting as a writing assignment and turn it into a...
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Words with silent letters that trip up w...

As writers and editors (and PR Daily readers), most communicators are all above-average spellers. You’re the one others call for spelling advice. You’re the one who correct what the spell-checker has mangled. You’re also the one who remembers the spelling rules you learned in second grade. Yet, sometimes even you can get stumped and stunned by spelling. That’s how you spell that word? For the incredulous among us, below are 23 words that trick even confident spellers with silent letters and other quirks. 1. Aplomb — self-confidence 2. Acquiesce — to give in 3....
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37 alternatives to the word “seaso...

Have you ever referred to your boss, executives, or co-workers as “seasoned?” “Ann is a well-seasoned marketing executive.” “Jaden is a seasoned lecturer with 20 years of experience in high tech.” Please stop. I know, I know. Part of our role as corporate communicators is to write profiles and bios for our clients and executives. And sometimes it’s difficult to come up with new ways to describe our subject’s work experience. But “seasoned” describes food. Pork ribs can be seasoned. Grilled vegetables can be seasoned. People cannot be seasoned. Next time...
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How to end face-to-face conversations

What’s worse than someone who talks your ear off on the phone? A co-worker or family member who drones on and on in person can be a busy communicator’s worst nightmare. It could be the neighbor who corners you in the front yard or the guy in line with you at the bar at a networking event. And then there’s the family get-togethers and the work holiday party—prime settings for long and awkward interactions. How can you politely and professionally excuse yourself in a face-to-face conversation? There’s always the classic: “Is that the restroom? Please excuse me...
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How to shut down a never-ending phone ca...

Everyone has worked with someone who refuses to pick up the phone, insisting that everything can be solved through email, IM or texting. You might do it yourself. The name and number of a difficult client appears on your caller ID and you let it go to voicemail. You tell yourself you can call back tomorrow, but the next day, you respond to the voicemail with an email instead. Many communicators even prefer electronic conversations when it comes to family. How many times has your mom texted you with a request to “please call me when you have a chance” and you text her...
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Minding your manners on social media

Bad manners are everywhere. And these days it seems they are most often on display on social media. And I don’t just mean fake news, election tampering, newsjacking, and all the other ways companies, countries, and politicians try to manipulate us online. I mean the bad behavior exhibited by friends and connections. Sure, there’s a time for photos of you enjoying a drink with friends, or a photo of the meal you just cooked, or for that gym check-in. There may even be a time to post political messages, 75 photos of your vacation, Bible verses, and information about the...
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21 fortunes for PR professionals

Does it seem like fortune cookie fortunes have become more preachy than prophetic? That rather than telling you what to expect in the future they tell you what to do? You may even wonder if you’re reading a fortune or talking to your mother-in-law. Following this current fortune cookie trend, here are a few fortunes for PR professionals and corporate communicators. Use them well. Pass the check to the person with the worst spelling. You will be hungry again when it’s time to start writing. You can’t win friends with bad grammar. Write first; edit later. Maybe after...
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Don’t let these plural forms trip you up...

Bewildered. That’s how I feel when it comes to the rules of English spelling. Writers and editors see it daily. I recently had to check the spelling of “subterfuge” because it couldn’t possibly be spelled “subterfuge” (it is). One area of spelling that is particularly challenging: finding correct plural forms. These can trip writers up, because they’re difficult to spell and difficult to pronounce. Below are 29 tricky plurals: antennae asterisks attorneys general axes (plural of axis) bases (plural of basis) courts-martial culs-de-sac diagnoses dos and...
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Cookbooks for book lovers

As a follow up to a previous PR Daily post on cookbooks for writers, let’s take a look at cookbooks for book lovers. In addition to challenging and novel recipes, literary cookbooks offer a glimpse into the life of the author, their characters, and the time, place, and culture they came from.  “Jane Austen Cookbook” — recipes are taken from the Austen family’s “Household Book.” Would love to try: Martha’s Almond Cheesecakes No thanks, I’ll pass: Wine-Roasted Gammon and Pigeon Pie   “Dinner with Mr. Darcy: Recipes Inspired by the Novels of Jane...
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10 cookbooks for writers

It might be early for holiday shopping — but it’s never to early for good food. Though not every writer loves the kitchen, for those who do a cookbook can be a delightful companion. What happens when you combine a love for writing with a love for food? You end up with cookbooks by writers and cookbooks for writers. Check out the list below. “The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For” includes recipes from mystery writers Scott Turrow, Mary Higgins Clark, James Patterson and others. “The Artists’ and Writers’...
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A guide to common sports metaphors

Writers and editors frequently encounter mangled and confusing metaphors in messages from executives and co-workers. And it’s our job to correct those metaphors, so we can communicate clearly with our audience. But when it comes to sports metaphors, some pros can quickly strike out. Sports metaphors (or phrases or idioms) are used universally in the workplace. It’s a rare meeting that goes by without a manager asking, “Who will quarterback this project?” or someone mentioning “bench strength.” Yet, not everyone understands these metaphors. For those of us who...
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52 “muscle memory” typos

As a writer and editor who spends hours at the keyboard every day, you probably don’t think about how to type. That ability is built into your “muscle memory”— or more accurately, your subconscious memory. Once you learned to type, there was no need to learn again. Your brain creates “subroutines” that allow you to type (or ride a bike, ice skate, play an instrument) without consciously thinking about it. However, this can lead to mistakes, especially when typing commonly used words. As you type, you might be thinking “thank you” but you type “thanks...
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The dark history behind four common expr...

History is about more than just dates and places . . . it’s storytelling at its finest. While visiting Boston and the city’s historic sites this summer, I was captivated by the stories and storytellers I met there. Tied closely to the history of Plimouth, the Freedom Trail, and the Boston Tea Party is the language used to tell those stories. And as it turns out, the language has a history of its own. Many of our everyday idioms and expressions have dark origins that date back to colonial times. Think about the history of these terms the next time you use them.   ...
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Three essential (and surprising) podcast...

Looking for inspiration, but need inspiration about where to look? Try these podcasts. They may not be designed specifically for corporate communicators, but they do offer new ways to improve relationships and communication skills, understand psychology, solve problems and get past roadblocks with colleagues. “Where Should We Begin?” In this portal into raw emotion, psychology and problem solving, renowned couples therapist Esther Perel counsels real couples as they tell their stories. Discussions are unscripted and riveting. As described in The New Yorker: “The...
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5 warning signs of a lazy writer

Writing isn’t easy. Whether it’s marketing, academic or technical copy, or you’re simply trying to think of what to scribble on a co-worker’s birthday card, writing can be arduous work — more so on some days than others. Communicators don’t want their results or standards to slip simply because they’re having an off day. Even when you feel profoundly unmotivated, avoid these five shoddy practices. 1. You don’t consider your audience. In corporate communications, “writing for your audience” often takes a back seat to the demands of executives or...
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41 alternatives to the word “amazi...

If you pay attention, it’s appalling how many times you see the word “amazing.” It doesn’t seem to matter what’s being described — “amazing” is the go-to adjective. “You’ll have an amazing time.” “She’s an amazing leader.” “This amazing tool makes accounting fun!” If everything is amazing . . . then nothing is amazing. We’re all writers here, so let’s see if we can’t come up with a few alternatives to the word “amazing.” Here are a few to get started, though not all of these will apply in every...
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Hyphen, en dash, or em dash?

As experienced writers and editors, many PR Daily readers harbor a dislike for the hyphen. It’s a punctuation mark that’s supposed to help writers avoid ambiguity, but it can confuse readers. Add dashes of varying lengths, and it’s chaos. Chaos aside, hyphens and dashes have different uses and cannot be used interchangeably. Here’s how to tell the difference and use each correctly. Hyphens Hyphens connect words, prefixes and suffixes, and they are generally used to avoid ambiguity. We found ourselves in a dirty movie theater. We found ourselves in a dirty-movie...
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29 inspirational subject lines

Spam folders can be a treasure trove. The treasure? Marketing inspiration. Of course . . . some subject lines are horrible. But, others have potential, and can be adapted and improved. And considering that readers decide whether to read or trash your email in less than a second, well-written subject lines are essential. Here are a few examples of inspirational email subject lines. See what you can do with these . . .                                            Your organic presence Your inorganic presence Does the past still...
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What would the Jane Austen Society do?

Writers can find inspiration anywhere—fiction, podcasts, billboards, movie trailers. Most recently, I joined the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) and have reveled in the refinement of its messaging. As one would expect, notifications from this group have been polite, well written and reflective of the personality of the group. In a world of fake news, spam, and ham-handed marketing techniques, receiving their messages is like feeling the sun on your face on a cold day. Here are a few examples that can help you add style to your customer communications: The...
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29 words with unexpected spellings

English spelling rules are just weird. We have words that sound the same but are spelled differently (i.e. you and ewe), words with letters that have nothing to do with how the word is pronounced (i.e. thought, although), words that contain silent letters (knight, pneumonia) and words that don’t have a singular form (trousers, alms). Here’s a look at 29 words that aren’t spelled the way you would expect. Can you spell them without looking them up? 1. Asphyxiate 2. Brusque 3. Carburetor 4. Champagne 5. Convalesce 6. Derriere 7. Desiccate 8. Eerie 9. Handkerchief 10....
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Backhanded phrases courteous communicato...

Have you ever received feedback or comments from colleagues that begin with the phrase “with all due respect”? The phrase is typically used by someone who wants to criticize you or your work, but that person feels the need to soften the message. Of course, “with all due respect” means nothing of the sort. It indicates willful disagreement with someone in a position of authority; subtle disrespect is intended. Here’s an example in context, pulled from a colleague’s email: “With all due respect, I differ with your perspective that my content was a ‘sales...
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10 exercise to help you escape the writi...

Having trouble coming up with the right words? Unable to string more than a few sentences together? Does it seem like your brain is not cooperating in spite of that looming deadline? Perhaps your brain needs a workout. Consider trying out a new writing exercise . . .  constrained writing. It’s just what is sounds like — imposing conditions on your writing, such as disallowing certain types of words or writing to a specific pattern. Imagine writing a short story without using the letter “e” or the word “is.” Writing with a constraint forces you to solve...
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40 alternatives to the word “said&...

It’s a word used so frequently that it’s become invisible. Read any article in the mainstream media and count how many times the word “said” or “says” is used. In journalism school, we learned that the only word we could use to attribute speech was “said.” This was presented as an unbreakable rule . . . like refusing to sign an oath of loyalty to a 16th century king. Ignore the rule and it’s off to the tower with you. The reason for this restriction is the need to maintain impartiality. When it comes to quoting what someone has said, journalists don’t...
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Why the word “significant” i...

How many times per day do you see the word “significant” in corporate communications? “Significant findings…” “Significant growth…” “Significant work…” “Significant challenges…” “Significant change…” “Significant consequences…” Do you even notice it anymore? The word is used so frequently—in everything from LinkedIn profiles to press releases and annual reports—that it’s lost its meaning. As any graphics design professor would say: If you bold everything on a page, nothing is bolded. If everything is described as...
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16 clever pangrams for word lovers

How often does every letter in the alphabet appear in a sentence? That’s exactly what makes a “pangram” special. The most well-known such phrase is: “The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.” Pangrams have been used for years to teach handwriting and typing—and to test typewriters, telegraphs, printers, typefaces and software. Graphic and font designers use pangrams to illustrate their work. For many pangram enthusiasts, the best pangrams are those with the fewest letters. “Mr. Jock, TV quiz Ph.D., bags few lynx.” is considered a “perfect pangram”...
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A trademark quiz for PR professionals

Pop quiz: What do the following terms have in common? escalator kerosene corn flakes yo-yo These terms were each coined as a brand name, but were later appropriated by consumers as the generic name for the product. According to the International Trademark Association, “these ‘ghost-Marks’ serve as historic and costly reminders of what can happen to marks if the public comes to regard a brand name as the generic name of a product.” If you went through journalism school or have spent any time with the AP Stylebook, you’re familiar with the style rules that call...
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In defense of adverbs

Adverbs aren’t very popular these days. We all know how Stephen King regards and Mark Twain regarded them. English teachers, writing coaches, and would-be authors advise everyone to avoid them. J.K. Rowling—best-selling author and creator of the “Harry Potter” series—has been criticized relentlessly for her use of them. Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at adverbs, the most maligned of the parts of speech. Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They describe how, when, where, and how much. Example: “I was soundly beaten the last time I...
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The secret lives of fonts

We take typefaces for granted, rarely changing the default fonts that come with our software, web browsers or devices. If we decide to change a font, we mindlessly scroll through the list of typefaces, oblivious to the stories of their creation, the people who designed them, and the controversies surrounding their use. ( A font is a specific form of a given typeface. Verdana is a typeface; 18-point Verdana bold italic is a font.) Well, every typeface has a story—and here are seven of them. 1. Calibri — A modern sans-serif font, Calibri was designed by Dutch type...
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9 puzzling phrases and their meanings

Fifty years from now, will people know what “wardrobe malfunction,” “mullet,” and “right-sizing” mean? As word connoisseurs, writers and editors are often fascinated with how language changes over time. Of particular interest are idioms and phrases that were once in common use but now puzzle us today. Here are some phrases that require some word sleuthing: (Expressions and definitions From Bees’ Knees and Barmy Armies: Origins of the Words and Phrases We Use Every Day by Harry Oliver ) 1. Bee’s knees — someone or something particularly good,...
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How communicators can celebrate Pi Day

Pi Day — an annual celebration of the mathematical constant Pi — is observed on March 14. Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to the diameter. For any size circle, divide the circumference by the diameter and you always get same number: 3.14 (with many subsequent digits). Pi day not only offers us a great excuse to eat pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but also a way to combat one of the most annoying generalizations about PR professionals: PR pros (and writers and editors) are bad at math. I wouldn’t say word nerds are bad at math; maybe it’s that...
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4 bad writing habits — and how to break ...

Neuroscientists and psychologists tell us the best way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a new, better habit. For example, if you drink too much diet soda, a good way to cut down is to establish a new habit of drinking 8 ounces of water before you reach for a diet soda. The same can apply to writing habits. Here are four bad writing habits, along with ways to replace them with better tendencies: 1. Bad habit: You ignore your audience. In the world of corporate communications, “writing for your audience” often takes a back seat to the whims and demands of...
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24 phrases gaslighters use against you

If you’ve ever spent time around a gaslighter, you know what they’re capable of. Gaslighters engage in the manipulation technique of distorting known facts, memories, events and evidence to invalidate a person’s experience. The idea is to make those who disagree with the gaslighter question their ability, memory or sanity. (See it in action in the 1944 movie “Gaslight,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.) Gaslighters use lies, false promises and personal attacks to make those around them doubt themselves. For example, at a meeting on Tuesday, your boss...
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Fall in love with these words

On February 14, let these words draw you in and caress your mind. You’ll like the way they look. You’ll like the way they sound. Most of all, you’ll like them because they’re unusual, archaic and fun. (If we could only find a way to work them into our press releases.) What words are you in love with, PR Daily readers? Here are 14 fun ones: 1. Beslobber — to smear with spittle or anything running from the mouth. In this drunken and beslobbered state, Jacob returned to the hotel. 2. Denouement — the final outcome of a story, generally occurring after the climax...
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7 tactics for motivating your personal w...

If you spend your working life crafting messages for your company, clients, leaders, co-workers, or employees, you have no doubt suffered from writing fatigue. Writing fatigue in our day jobs means that we may have little motivation to write for ourselves. The last thing you want to do at the end of an endless day is work on your memoirs. However, there are ways to motivate yourself. Below are a few recommendations, based on research and advice from other writers. 1. Challenge a fellow writer. Do you have a friend or colleague who can’t find time to write, either?...
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7 all-purpose (and glittering quotes) fr...

There are many reasons to fall in love with the Netflix series “The Crown.” There’s the character development, the deference to historic detail, the gorgeous settings, the lavish costumes, the British refinement, the strained politeness. Yet, it’s the hard-hitting dialogue that makes the show a writer’s dream—and an inspiration to communicators of all stripes. Need to have a difficult conversation with your boss, reprimand an employee, or kick someone to the curb? Take a look at these quotes and add a little style to your messaging. 1. “I’ve been queen...
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Word lovers: Get acquainted with this di...

All word enthusiasts have their own favorite online or in-print dictionaries. I’ve always been loyal devotee of the Oxford English Dictionary, but now there’s a new dictionary in my life. It’s not you OED; it’s me. The Chambers Dictionary is described as the “most useful and diverting single-volume word-hoard available.” It is also the preferred dictionary of literary heavyweights Philip Pullman, Melvyn Bragg and Ali Smith. The dictionary contains more entries than any other single-volume English dictionary, with definitions that are short, to-the-point, and...
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Words you should excise from your writin...

You can count on two things in January: plenty of articles, news stories, and posts listing popular New Year’s resolutions and plenty of articles, news stories, and posts listing all the reasons people fail at keeping their New Year’s resolutions. This can all lead one to surmise that New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time, but that would be folly. It’s always worthwhile to sharpen your writing and editing skills, as many PR Daily readers will agree. If one of your goals for 2018 is to improve your writing, consider excising unnecessary words and phrases from...
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4 reasons for PR pros to stay home if th...

Do you have a co-worker whose cough sounds like she belongs in a hospital? Given all that we know about how colds, flu, and other nasty viruses spread (particularly in January, the height of flu season), and given that many companies now allow employees to work from home, not to mention laws that many employees get paid time off for illness, why do so many professionals go to work sick? For those who need convincing, here are four reasons to stay home: 1. You can make others sick. Covering your cough, washing your hands, using tissues, and sneezing into your sleeve are...
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8 glittering quotes from “The Crow...

There are many reasons to fall in love with the Netflix series “The Crown.” There’s the character development, the deference to historic detail, the gorgeous settings, the lavish costumes, the British refinement, the strained politeness. But it’s the sharp-witted, hard-hitting dialogue that makes the show a writer’s dream. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the series. 1. “I’ve been queen barely 10 years, and in that time I’ve had three prime ministers, all of them ambitious men, clever men, brilliant men. Not one has lasted the course. They’ve...
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Quiz: Can you define these well-known pr...

Proverbs — they’re phrases and sayings we’ve heard for most of our lives. They use analogy to express a long-held truth or to give advice based on common sense or experience. But sometimes, if you try to define the proverb in your own words, you can’t quite figure it out. The analogy may be too obscure or the comparisons may be too abstract. According to psychology and marketing professor Dr. Art Markman — author of the book Smart Thinking and co-host of the NPR show Two Guys on Your Head — thinking about the meanings of proverbs and re-defining them is a...
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10 famous misattributed quotes

Some of the quotes in our most famous memes are wrong. Wrongly attributed. Wrongly stated. Wrongly shortened. Wrongly turned into sound bites. As journalists, PR specialists, or corporate communicators, we know the importance of capturing quotes from our sources correctly. The same goes for quotes made famous on the Web or in social media . . . the quotes you’ve seen again and again. Before you incorporate these into your work, confirm who said the words and what was actually said. Below are a few of these famous false quotes, along with their corrections. (Sources:...
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Holiday puns every communicator should a...

Be ready for it Now that Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday are behind us, the holiday marketing marathon begins. For the next 20 or so days, there will be no escaping the holiday slogans, puns, jingles, and word play. Some of it will be clever. Some of it . . . not so much. Below are a few that fall into the “not so clever” group. You might even call them ho, ho, horrible. Puns Yule love this Be the ghost of Christmas present Fleece Navidad Let’s get elfed up Get caroled away: give the gift of music Brace your elves You’ll love our new Santa-tizer Do you...
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Can you spell these brain teasers?

Last week on PR Daily, a subheading to a post used the word “brouhaha.” It was the first time I had seen the word written out. The word is common in spoken English, but less so in writing. These words can be colloquialisms or jargon and should be used with caution since not all readers will share the linguistic background necessary to grasp their meaning. However, they can spice up dull content and go a long way toward establishing variety in your writing. Here are some words for adventurous writers — along with their unusual spellings. (Definitions courtesy of...
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Negative posts and reviews: How to respo...

As PR and communication professionals, we’re all adept in the art of responding to negative online reviews of our companies and clients. It’s one of our many super powers. But how do you respond to online reviews when you can’t really respond? Let me explain. In certain industries — health care, financial services, legal — privacy laws dictate that a company can’t respond to online reviews because doing so would violate the reviewer’s privacy. For example, a physician cannot respond to a patient’s online review because doing so would violate the patient’s...