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Where's the devil?

Retail is detail. The Devil is in the detail. (Does that mean that the Devil is a retailer? That would suit the Tesco bashers.) Details can trip you up. If you get the details wrong, then disaster is a very likely destination.

The real problem is that detail is deeply, desperately d-u-l-l dull.

In marcomms terms, one of the most often neglected areas of detail is proof-reading. There are many tales of disaster. My favourite is the one about Swansea Council, who, as you may know, have dual-language English/Welsh road signs. They had a new one to do, and sent it over to their translator. Back came the reply, rather quickly in fact. So off the text went to Dai The Sign down the road and within a couple of days there it was, in situ. There’s lovely.


always proof before printing

Ooops. At least Welsh speakers know the translator is out.

Sadly, while the English prohibits HGV traffic from a residential area, the Welsh bit reads “I’m out of the office at the moment, but I’ll reply when I get back”. Ooops. The translator’s out-of-office autoreply had been mistaken for the finished translation, and the boys in the Council Signs Department hadn’t seen fit to just get a welsh speaker to have a quick look before they pinged it off.

Checks like that are kind of important. Most of the time you’ll find nothing but just occasionally you’ll catch a career threatening error. Make a note – if translating any copy into a language you can’t read, get someone who can understand to check it before you print. Remember the Monty Python Hungarian Phrasebook sketch? Mmm.

And maybe there’s a tip in there for other proof reading. Often when you’re checking your own work, you see what you know should be there, but isn’t – missing the spelling mistake or the missing word, or the fact that you’ve left the reply address or the website details off the advert altogether. If someone who’s never seen it before reads it, it’s no more interesting but at least it’s new to them and they look at it with fresh eyes. Given that, they’re more likely to pick up the blindingly obvious errors you just can’t see and the stuff you just didn’t know was wrong.

If you’re in a big company, you should be able to find someone who can check your stuff over and if you’re not, you can always outsource it, to someone like Cam poetic licence, who reads stuff and picks up errors for a living. Clearly, that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to check your work but it will help avoid the really stupid clangers you miss because your brain won’t let you see you’ve made them.

And why is this important? Well, all the Welsh speakers who went past that sign and then complained to Swansea Council will testify that their opinion of their local authority took a bit of a pounding that day. Getting the detail right (as I’m sure I’ve said before) in the way you talk to people makes them more confident you’re going to get the detail of putting up their building right.

Detail matters. It’s where the devil’s waiting, with his dictionary.

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