We spend a great deal of time in my office thinking about how to communicate to clients. For example, “I need to get my contract to you to review and sign before I can get started on your assignment” can sound off-putting. Instead, we say, “We’ll send along some paperwork for this assignment, and once you sign it, we’ll be all set.”
Note the use of “we” over “I,” “some paperwork” over “my contract,” “we’ll be all set” over “before I can get started.” This set of choices is more appealing, isn’t it? I’ve been attentive to words in this way ever since a photography consultant named Elyse Weissberg helped me to name my business more than a decade ago.
Photography or Photographer?
Elyse, who passed away in 2001, was among the top photography consultants in the country. She worked with Eddie Adams and wrote Successful Self-Promotion for Photographers.
Years ago, I was struggling with whether to name my business “John Harrington Photography” or “John Harrington, Photographer.” Elyse had a clear answer for me: John Harrington Photography.
She said, “You’re a business, and you want your clients to see you that way. When you’re ‘John Harrington, Photographer,’ you’re seen as just an individual, and businesses want to hire other businesses.”
She needed say no more. This was one of the earliest lessons in branding I applied to my business, and it set me on the right path for years to come.
The Power of Words
During the most recent presidential campaign, the power of words was dismissed by some. But it’s hard to deny the impact of words, no matter your political orientation.
Frank Luntz is one of the most respected consultants in the political arena. Luntz demonstrates, in his book Words That Work, how word choice can dramatically influence public opinion on various issues. I recently finished his book — which is now full of Post-it notes and dog-eared pages for me to return to later. The book’s subtitle is “It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” He shows in example after example why this is the case.
Take the pharmaceutical industry, which has received its share of public criticism in recent years. Luntz makes the point that one reason for this negative PR is the word “industry” itself. It suggests big business, uncaring bureaucrats, piles of money, and so on. Why not call it the “pharmaceutical profession”? That’s your local pharmacist, or even possibly your own doctor who gives you a prescription.
This would apply, too, to the “photography industry.” When we say, “The photography industry is being devastated by X, Y and Z,” people think of big companies like Kodak, Fuji, Canon, Nikon and HP. People don’t think of the wedding photographer in Duluth, or the studio owner in New Orleans who is closing up shop.
If you instead say, “The profession of photographer is being devastated,” your audience will be more likely to be sympathetic and want to do something about it.
Think and Re-Think Your Choices
I encourage you to think, re-think, and then think some more about the words you use.
Luntz’s book is certainly a great introduction to this subject. But you should apply the lessons to much more than what to name your business. Think about the words you use in your correspondence with clients, in your phone conversations, in your negotiations, and so forth.
Here’s a good exercise to keep you on your toes: After every client call or interaction, think about how you could have said it better. Because when it comes to the words you use, there’s always room for improvement.