4 Grammar Mistakes That Make PR Pros Cringe

By Jenny Gallo, Vice President

Some of my favorite moments from last season’s Game of Thrones [SPOILER ALERT] are Stannis Baratheon’s continued preoccupation with the proper use of “fewer” and “less.” I recognize that this admission makes me a bit nerdy on several levels, and I am okay with that.

grammar 2–Game of Thrones, HBO

In today’s world of texting, Twitter and whatever this ( ) is, the line on proper grammar has become blurred, particularly in the workplace. While casual communications between colleagues and clients may allow for the occasional “brb” or double exclamation point, good old fashioned proofreading still has its place (not it’s place, please). Good grammar may not improve your bottom line, but bad grammar can make you look unprofessional and uneducated, and it is especially bad for business in the PR industry when communicating is our core skill set.

In recognition of National Punctuation Day, here are some of the grammar mistakes that drive us up a wall at Tonic.

  1. People seem to be quite confused by common homonyms and their spelling, as well as proper use of apostrophes: it’s vs. its; they’re vs. their vs. there; you’re vs. your.
  1. Use of commasgrammar
  1. Let’s talk about quotation marks. Yes to using them to note written or spoken words and titles of songs, movies and books. No to using them for emphasis, as this can indicate an ulterior meaning of the word or phrase in question.
  1. Finally, the oxford comma. Whatever your stance (I’m against), pick a side and be consistent.

In our world of words, how we use them demonstrates attention to detail, showcases good communication skills and generally makes sure people understand what you’re saying. When in doubt, consult the wise words of Weird Al Yankovic: https://youtu.be/8Gv0H-vPoDc.

Happy National Punctuation Day!


Tweet Tweet – What’s buzzing in social?

As you may have heard through the Twitter-vine yesterday, Tonic attended Social Media Week London, which hosted presentations from the likes of Facebook, BuzzFeed and Misfit Economy. After having had a chance to wrap our heads around all the amazing info we received, we thought it might be a good idea to recap our commentary on Twitter by providing you with an overview of the four main themes discussed at #SMWLDN.

Be Authentic

One of the recurring words used at #SMWLDN was ‘authenticity’. People are looking for something genuine to connect with. Consumers know when they are being deceived and will automatically think branded content is negative. Just like us, consumers want to experience an emotional impact when interacting with content and that impact will not occur if the information is disconnected from their everyday lives. Brands need to take a more subtle approach in getting their brand messages across to pass under the radar of critical consumers.  In a nutshell brands need to be more approachable and stop trying to be ‘impressive’.


Co-creation was another big theme of the day – a notion closely linked to the push towards more authentic content. People are more likely to value, engage and share content that they have helped create; a phenomenon classed as the ‘IKEA effect’. A great example of co-creation is the www.globalhappyparty.com The campaign received huge support  worldwide and is a perfect case study of the success a campaign can have if you ask people to participate and help create versus the standard marketing strategy of create and push. Now, for us PR people the importance of two-way communication is not news, but it is the notion of taking the engagement to a higher level than likes and comments, which we need to embrace. Ultimately we need to re-assess our content strategies to always include a level of co-creation.


One of the more interesting themes was that of frugality as a root to innovation. The notion of limiting budgets to create innovative and approachable content was an approach many agreed on. The argument being that small budgets encourage ‘out of the box’ thinking and thereby, force you to tolerate the unknown, opening you up to taking more chances. Key takeaway – set yourself limits and embrace the unknown


Brands need to adapt their content to individual platforms and audience groups. Now, this is not novel advice and I’m sure we can all agree that this is something we as PR people try to do in everything we do. However, due to lack of digital expertise or budget there are still those who try and navigate the social space by pushing out the same or similar content on all their social platforms missing the impact of individualised content on each channel. It is up to us to make sure that our campaign ideas and content allow for adaptation within a budget that is feasible for the client – a task that should spur on innovation if you ask #SMWLDN.

Although many of these themes are recurrent, they are constantly evolving with new campaigns and platforms providing us with new outlooks and strategies that help us create successful social content that ensures KPIs are met and exceeded – in the world of social nothing ever stays the same, and we hope our short overview has served as a reminder of that.

4 Ways PR Prepares You for Parenthood

By Kate Callan, Vice President

In honor of Working Parents Day (September 16), I wish I could tell you how much progress has been made in supporting working parents in the U.S. The fact is the U.S. is the only developed country that does not offer paid parental leave. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 70 percent of moms and 92 percent of dads with children under 18 work or are looking for work. That leaves us with the inevitable struggle of work-family balance since the workplace has not kept up with the modern family.

Before becoming a mom, I definitely anticipated that my life would change, but I don’t think I could fully realize the challenges of balancing two lifestyles until I was living it. Luckily, I’ve come to find that working in public relations for a decade has prepared me for life as a parent. Here are four PR lessons I’ve been able to use in my role as a parent.

  1. Planning is required for success. As my team knows, I am a BIG fan of lists and grids to track on every detail of our events and programs. When it comes to being a working mom, advanced planning is the only way I make it to the office each day. Gone are the days of waking to an alarm (unless you count my toddler) and leisurely drinking coffee before taking a train to the office. These days, prep starts the night before and requires a timed morning routine.
  1. Despite careful planning, many things are beyond your control. (Deep breaths) I’ve found the most stressful part of working in PR is that even when you cross all your “t’s” and dot your “i’s,” there are always multiple factors beyond your control. Whether it’s a spokesperson who goes off the rails or major breaking news on the day of your satellite media tour, there are countless times when you must cross your fingers and pray to the PR gods. This lack of control has prepared me for mornings when my sweet little boy decides that he does not want to wear clothes or shoes and barrel rolls around the room until I finally pin him down only to realize I now need an outfit change.
  1. Never let them see you sweat. When you’re faced with an unexpected turn of events, half of the battle is keeping a brave face and reassuring your clients and team (and self), that the situation can be turned around. When it comes to toddlers, they are like little mirrors of your emotions. If I show any sign of weakness, he can sense it and totally takes advantage.
  1. Praise may not come often, but when it does, it’s awesome. As an agency, a big part of our job is to make our clients look good, so we are often the ones behind the scenes executing programs or placing stories. When you receive a nice note from a client to acknowledge this effort, it makes your day. On a day to day basis, being a working parent can be exhausting and not overly rewarding. But when you’re little one suddenly runs over to hug you and says “love you mommy,” totally unprompted, it’s enough to melt your heart and make you forget how he gritted his teeth and yelled “No, mommy!” when you stopped him from running into the rosebush.

So, my fellow working parents, when times get tough, think back to that last sweet “love you” or hug and know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and you’re doing an amazing job.


Understanding How We Work

Who said training was boring? Not Tonic! We recently had a training day in Central London and it was a fun-packed, team building and highly informative experience. No doubt we will be talking about it for a while and trying to find ways in which we can integrate what we learnt into our business strategy.

During one of the sessions on the day, convened by Inspire Change, we discussed and compared the individual reports of a communication style survey the Tonic team had all filled out a couple of weeks before. The results revealed four personality types – driver, expressive, analytical and amiable – arranged into two different graphs, one for ‘relaxed’ environment and one for ‘pressured’ environment, each tallied depending on the individual’s responses to the survey.

The driver is decisive, independent, competitive and set on results. It came as no surprise that Tonic’s senior management group scored well in this category! Then there is the expressive – open, direct, extraverted, spontaneous and dreamy – in which a few Tonicians were ranked very highly. The third personality type, found in a number of the Tonic team, is the analytical who is efficient, indirect, cautious, organised, data-focused and task-oriented. Finally, there is the amiable – open, indirect, warm, people-centred, compliant and loyal – an area in which the Tonic team as a whole came out strong. Overall the results revealed we are a likable, driven and well-rounded bunch – well, that’s no surprise!

These personality types were really brought to life by Kate Philp who joined us at the end of the afternoon to tell us a bit about her life experiences; Kate has been deployed to Iraq twice and was injured whilst serving on operations in Afghanistan in November 2008, when the armoured vehicle she was commanding was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). As a result of her injuries, Kate had her left leg amputated below the knee, but after 16 months of rehab she was determined to return to work and pursue her professional ambition. Following further revision surgery, Kate was inspired by Walking With The Wounded to give a new focus to her rehab and take on their South Pole Allied challenge 2013. A challenge that meant she had to walk 335km in -35 degrees and constant wind and do it in no more than 16 days. Now this would make even the strongest men cry, so imagine doing it on a prosthetic leg!

Kate’s outlook on life and personal challenges were nothing less than impressive and left us all a bit teary eyed.  Her leadership style highlighted the importance of utilising the strengths and weaknesses of different personalities so that the team can work at its best. And her experiences underpinned that learning from others, adapting to other people’s ways and collaborating together in good and bad times, is the key to success for any endeavour.

So why did we feel the need to take out a full day to examine each other’s personality traits you may ask?! Well at the end of it we were an even more self-aware, energised and motivated group – exactly what you want from a training day! It reminded us of Tonic’s number one asset – its team of fantastic, diverse, hard-working, fun people – and gave us an opportunity to further understand all of these different personalities. How we work as individuals is vital to determining how we can use our collective strengths efficiently as a team. This will help us to provide the best service to existing and new clients, and ultimately grow as a company.


How one picture can change everything

By Alex Davies, Account Director

If you scrolled through any social media platform, walked into a newsagent or glanced at a fellow commuter’s reading material earlier today, you can’t failed to have noticed how one image dominated this morning’s front pages, which  read like a Media Studies textbook in “how one picture can change everything”.

The protagonist in this most sorry of tales was a child. He can’t have been more than four years old; that was perhaps the most painful, tragic element to all of it. The image of a young Syrian boy washed up on a beach in Turkey, having travelled with his family from Syria to seek refuge, to escape to a new, better and safe life. It was a photograph that, as many do these days, emerged online before finding its way to traditional media.

Since the beginning of what has been classified the ‘migration crisis’, a significant number of UK papers have been pretty fierce critics of immigration and those seeking asylum (two very different groups of course); that was until this photograph hit their picture desks. The photograph now graces almost all the front pages in the UK and has sparked a shift in how papers are reporting on the ‘crisis’.

Just take a look at how the ‘crisis’ was reported before the photograph emerged:


Now have a look at how that one photograph has influenced today’s headlines:

coverage 2

As is evident, the picture has had a significant influence on the way many have been reporting on the “migration crisis” swapping the term ‘migrant’, which previously encompassed both financial immigrants and asylum seekers, with the term ‘refugees’ . Even The Sun, previously no big fan of migration, has called on the Government to accept refugees from Syria. The Sun remains an important bell-weather of public opinion and they have clearly decided that their readers will not stand to see young children affected so powerfully by the “migration crisis”.

The reason this photograph is so important, not least because of its tragic nature, is that it may well become a clear marker in a graph that highlights how public opinion changed on the subject of migration. The crisis in Europe has dominated the news agenda for some weeks now, but for those who keep track of these things, this is the first time that “outrage” and “anger” have been words used in the national press.

The crisis in Europe is incredibly complicated, and short-term solutions are few and far between. However, when governments sense that the public are angry and are demanding immediate answers, it’s remarkable how quickly they can act. The fact that one single photograph can cause that anger, and potentially lead to action, speaks volumes about the power of images, not words, in a crisis like the one currently engulfing Europe.

You can read more in this Huff Post story – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/09/03/britains-media-divides-op_n_8080956.html?1441267151&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000067

Three C’s to Sustaining Long-Term Client Partnerships

By Stephanie DeViteri, Senior Vice President

In one month, I’ll be celebrating my 12th work anniversary at Tonic Life Communications! In the world of agency life, this type of longevity at one company is a rarity. Another rarity is maintaining decade-long client partnerships that have survived – and thrived – despite agency consolidations, rotating client contacts and fluctuating budgets.

How is this possible? Of course I can give the formal, business-like answers…work hard and relentlessly to deliver on what you’ve agreed upon when it comes to program results, make your clients look good, meet deadlines, come in on-budget…and so on. But maintaining multi-year client partnerships takes more than just business performance. It takes:

Chemistry. Let’s face it. We like to work with people who “get” us, who seem to genuinely care about our lives inside and outside the office, whom we don’t mind being stranded with at the airport for hours on end. Every relationship needs good chemistry to survive, and agency-client relationships are no exception. At Tonic, we find that the most satisfied clients are those who have a strong connection with their agency leads. Kelly Campbell, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at California State University, San Bernardino, said it well in an article for Psychology Today: “similarity between people is crucial…feeling understood is essential to forming relational bonds.” Whether it’s with your spouse, friend, family member or client partner, chemistry builds effective and long-lasting relationships.

Communication. Being in the field of communications doesn’t make you a good communicator. It’s not just about what you say, but how you say it. Ask your client questions and LISTEN to the answers. Respect your client in every circumstance, especially in front of their peers and bosses. Never wear your emotions on your sleeve when you get frustrated, tired or drained by what may be a challenging client partner. You should always have their back and make sure it comes through in your words and in your non-verbal cues. And perhaps most importantly, learn when to persist and when to let go. I, along with several of my Tonic peers, subscribe to this rule of thumb: if you and your client partner aren’t in agreement on how to proceed with a project or resolution to a problem, try “pushing back” with strong, constructive counsel twice. If, after that second time, our client is still persistent, we have to assess whether it’s a cause worth fighting. Is it going to jeopardize the business or put us (or our client) in a compromising predicament if we simply “give in?” If the answer is no, then we often heed to the client’s request.

Collaboration. Collaboration can be defined as working together to achieve shared goals, and it’s amazing how many people in business settings don’t practice it. Tonic reinforces the importance of collaboration among its internal teams and with clients because without it, client partnerships will struggle. Collaborating takes patience and persistence, but when done well and often, it offers tremendous business value. With the convenience of “instant” connections through email, messaging and video conferencing, we are able to bounce ideas off of each other within minutes and align with clients on a path forward before potentially moving in the wrong direction. True collaboration means we approach clients’ goals as ours, not “theirs,” and we continually partner closely with clients to implement strategic communications in support of corporate and brand needs.

If you want to learn more on how Tonic could be your long-standing agency partner, check us out at TonicLC.com, or contact me directly at stephanie.deviteri@toniclc.com.