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Remember, It's the WORLD Wide Web!

by Marcia Yudkin 

Almost always, online publicity means global exposure, whether your business is based in Peoria, Illinois, Perth, Australia, or Paris, France. When your marketing or publicity copy will appear on the Internet, you need to take conscious steps to ensure that your marketing or publicity material makes sense to readers from far corners of the world. In news releases or text on your web site, here's how to clue in distant customers and avoid international gaffes.

First, ground your material geographically. People outside your region won't necessarily know what state - and country - "Hampshire County" is in unless you say so. Likewise, you may think that the expression "Bay Area" unambiguously refers to the San Francisco Bay Area in California, but Tampa Bay, Florida also uses that expression. Perhaps the most geographically useless word you could use in a headline would be "local." Name the city and state instead.

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Second, avoid gratuitous and unexplained references to political figures and national culture. During the tenure of President Bill Clinton, many Americans referred to his wife as simply "Hillary," with no last name. This was bound to confuse people in other parts of the world. Similarly, those outside the U.S. wouldn't know the expression, "Would it play in Peoria?" Professional journalists always provide unobtrusive background, full names for everyone mentioned and brief explanations of laws referred to, and you should follow suit.

Third, take great care with relative terms, such as "overseas" or "foreign." To Europeans, the U.S. is overseas. To Asians, the dollar is foreign currency. Similarly, remember that acronyms everyone in your country knows, such as "VAT" or "EPA," may need to be spelled out for the benefit of those living elsewhere.

Fourth, watch out for tricky measurement terms. I once mistakenly corrected the word "tonnes" in the publicity materials of a client from Canada, thinking that the writer meant an English ton of 2,000 pounds. In fact, a "tonne" is a metric ton, equivalent to 2,205 pounds in the English system. Cumbersome as this may look, it would be helpful to indicate this as "75 tonnes (metric tons)." Consider adding English or metric conversions for some of the lesser known measurement terms, such as hectares to acres or vice versa. Beware also of "billion," which in the U.S. means a thousand million, while in Great Britain it can mean a million million.

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Fifth, add your country code to the beginning of telephone or fax numbers on a news release or at your web site. A reporter on deadline from around the world shouldn't have to figure out whether or not (1) or some other country code has to be added to your Saskatchewan telephone number.

All of this can be accomplished without making your copy clunky. Use common sense in deciding how many definitions or glosses to add. Just as you'd inject explanations for dinner guests from afar when the conversation turned to local sports or politics, add inconspicuous verbal asides to clarify your references in material that will be accessible to readers around the world.

Copyright 2002 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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