Agricultural Communications, Purdue University
An electronic newsletter with communication tips and information

April 1999

Voicemail MESSAGES

You're very busy. I'm busy. We're all busy. But voicemail messages that only tell callers you "can't come to the phone right now" or you're "either on the phone or away from the office" don't really give callers the information they need.

When is "right now"? How long will you be "away from the office"?

If you're going to be gone for quite a while, your caller may decide to call someone else. Maybe, on the other hand, your caller can afford to wait. The point is we should try to give callers the information they need to proceed.

Okay, so you tell callers they can contact your secretary or talk to your receptionist. But that's an extra hoop through which they have to jump. Is your time that much more valuable than your callers' time? And relaying a message through an intermediary who may know nothing about the subject at hand takes extra time and can lead to garbled messages.

I can't take much credit for leaving fairly informative voicemail messages or changing them daily. I started doing it at the "suggestion" of my department head. (He has LOTS of them.)

I complained plenty at first. (Ask Jane Wolf Brown if you don't believe me). And the sequence of numbers I had to master to change my message was both daunting and irritating. But it became second nature in short order. So I've gotta concede that my department head was right this time.

I know. I know. None of us has the time to act on all the good ideas that are out there. But updating voicemail messages is a really, really good one that deserves to be bumped closer to the top of your "to do" list.

Two points:

E-Zines & Value Added

Trying to lump all e-zines--the current buzz word for on-line magazines--into one category would be as futile as trying to classify all print magazines into one category. And you have only to look at your local newsstand to know just how many different types of magazines are published. This doesn't even include the hundreds of trade and specialty magazines that don't make it to the newsstand or to your grocery store checkout lane.

The same can be said for e-zines. But in addition to the numerous types of magazines that you can find on the electronic "newsstand," e-zines also vary in the amount of information they provide. Unlike print magazines, e-zines have almost unlimited possibilities, thanks to the information highway.

However, some are unable to break away from their print appearance, and what you see in print is also what you see on the Web. One e-zine is so literal in its translation that when you click on a link called "back cover," you actually get the back cover of the print version of the magazine.

But as e-zines grow into their medium, they are breaking away from their print cousins in both format and information available. After all, if you don't get something more than what's available in the print version, why bother? Unlike print, cyberspace is not limited to a set number of pages but instead is able to offer what has been dubbed "value-added" components. Here are some examples.

The next time you're surfing the Web, check out the on-line version of one of your favorite magazines and see what "value-added" components you can find.

Giveaways Good as Gold

You have something that is very valuable, at least to people who are interested in what you know. That something is knowledge and information. And it can be as good as gold at tradeshows or exhibits.

You may have exhibited at a tradeshow and watched with envy as some company used an expensive giveaway to attract hordes of people to their booth.

There's only one thing to say about that: "So what?"

An expensive giveaway, such as a car, often isn't what it's cracked up to be. Why? It doesn't help you select your audience.

If you want names of people who want a new car, hey, its great. Give one away, and you've picked up gobs of prospective car buyers.

But when you're in the business of education, for example, in showing people how they can more successfully grow alternative crops, a list of people who want new cars won't do you much good.

Instead of an expensive giveaway, you can offer free information on how to grow alternative crops or how to make money on them. You'll spend more reaching the people you want to reach and less time gabbing with hundreds who are just interested in the freebies or want to talk about the weather.

The key is to make your information look valuable at the event. Customize your information package. If the information looks like it was produced specifically for them, tradeshow visitors will perceive it as that much more valuable.

And a professional informational handout at a trade show doesn't have to be fancy and doesn't have to cost much to be valuable.

So the next time you are green with envy over someone else's expensive giveaway, don't be. You've got knowledge, so flaunt it.

Grammar Trap: Tact vs. Tack

"Tact" or "tack"? Which word goes at the end of the phrase that begins "take a different"? The similar sounds of the two words lead some folks astray.

The noun "tact" means skill and sensitivity when dealing with others.

Example: As an editor, I try to use tact when I work with writers.

The relevant meaning of the noun form of "tack" is originally nautical. Essentially, it means the course or direction a ship takes, but it has come to mean any course or direction.

Example: If one approach doesn't get through to a writer I'm editing, I'll take a different tack.

Get it?

Thanks to Karl Brandt, Academic Programs, for suggesting this topic. If there's a grammar (or usage) trap you'd like me to discuss, or if you have a tip that will help the rest of us avoid one, please let me know.

We want to hear from you.
Do you have a communication question?
Do you have a comment on this issue of "On Target"?
If so, please e-mail any of our writers or On Target's managing editor, Kevin Smith.

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