Smart Brevity.

A terrific new book was released a few days ago called Smart Brevity. It’s written by Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz of Axios. The book is directly related to Axios’ mission as follows:

Axios gets you smarter, faster on what matters.

Axios delivers on their mission daily and I get their newsletter and devour One Big Thing on MSNBC.

I am not a frequent book reader (I do not say that proudly), yet I loved Smart Brevity. It’s a brilliant book about communications. I wish I wrote it myself, though it wouldn’t have been nearly as good if I had. The book’s thesis is directly aligned with my core personal belief in communications, Less is More.

I worked for many years in the ad business at BBDO in the 70s and 80s and two large Philadelphia ad agencies in the 90s. Obviously the ad world has changed dramatically in the past 20+ years, but the real core of communications has not. In fact, I learned a basic truth about verbal and written communication years ago. Simply said,

Tell Them What You’re Gonna Tell Them (and do it simply)

Tell Them Why

Tell Them Again

I also worked as a weekend DJ back in the 80s,In the days of the radio industry where the DJ and station promotion played an important role. Many promotions involved listeners calling the station and saying “the phrase that pays” to win prizes. I loved seeing the board light up with callers.

The phrase that pays was inevitably a simple phrase that included the stations name and a benefit like “WXYZ plays more music”, “99X means free money” or something of that ilk. The station wanted you to memorize the brief key positioning phrase and play it back to win. Smart Brevity.

The ad business was a bit more subtle, but the concept is the same. A key objective for successful communications is to provide a memorable and differentiating positioning of a product or service. I worked at BBDO, one of the world’s best agencies for 12 years (1977-1989) and its creative leader, the late Phil Dusenbery, who ironically was also a DJ in his youth, often referred to brand’s theme line as the phrase that pays. And BBDO delivered with great themes and blow-away TV commercials in that era for Pepsi, GE and many others. BBDO helped build brands and rang the cash register for their clients. But I do remember that Phil was into “Smart Brevity” long before the folks from Axios were around and coined the expression. He was into powerful, simple, memorable communications. It’s one of the many lessons I took with me from BBDO.

Here’s an unfortunate, painful reminder about how Smart Brevity can carry the day. In 2016 a loathsome grifter/con man ran for President. He was no way was qualified or understood the job he sought, and ultimately won. However, he understood communications and created a powerful positioning expression, Make America Great Again, (code for the regressive, racist policies he embraced). However, points for him for creating brief, powerful communications. Very smart. Alas, his female opponent, brilliant and highly qualified, was a poor communicator of her positions and, to the nation’s determinant, lost the election. What was her phrase that pays. “I’m With Her?”. Huh? Who was advising her?

Why it Matters?

In business, politics and life in general, how we communicate matters. Say less, say it simply, and then tell them why it matters. That’s what Smart Brevity is about. Kudos to its writers. I’m a believer. In fact, that’s what Strumings have been all about since day one in 2009.

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