Writing A Letter or Selling An Idea: Give Your Idea A Good Name

What You Call It Is A Crucial Part Of What You Say

by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

You can write beautiful business letters yet be unsuccessful if you give your ideas the wrong name.  Ditto for sales presentations.

Do careful research.  Find out if some words or concepts are taboo. Ask knowledgeable insiders if there any land-mine words or phrases or expressions that you should not use.

Early in my career, I did some training for UPS and quickly learned not to call those familiar brown vehicles “trucks.” Internally they were called “cars” or “package cars” or “vans,” and the tractor-trailers were called “feeders.”

Be imaginative. Your letter-writing and sales vocabulary may give you opportunities to persuade and sell.

Here’s what master-salesman Harvey MacKay says about the naming process:  “Sometimes you can get what you want by calling it by another name.  Let’s say your opponent does not ‘renegotiate’ contracts.  Okay.  What if we call it a ‘contract extension’?  Your opponent says no to severance pay?  Okay, it’s a ‘consulting contract.’  A potential employer does not want to hire you on a permanent basis?  Okay, it’s an ‘internship.’  And you’ll work for nothing.  They only have to pay you if they care to.”  (“Pushing The Envelope All The Way To The Top,” p.107)

One of the greatest successes in my career occurred when I re-named a rejected idea. At the time I was Director of National Media for Georgia Tech.  The year was 1985, one hundred years after the school was founded.

I approached The New York Times about doing a story on Tech’s centennial.  No way, they told me. The Times does not do centennial stories.  Too many schools celebrate centennials for that to be a story.

I was discouraged, but a new idea came to me.  Because I was an editor of the school’s pictorial history, I knew that Georgia Tech had been founded in order to train engineers, architects, and business leaders to rebuild the South in the hard years following the Civil War.

I approached The Times again.  I asked, “What about doing a story on the role Georgia Tech has played in building the New South?”  They loved the idea, sent a writer and photographer to Atlanta, and published a big, illustrated feature story on the history of Georgia Tech.  It was the first major piece the paper had ever done on the school, other than sports stories.

When it appeared, congratulatory calls and letters from PR people at colleges and universities poured in from all over the nation.  I remember one publicity director telling me that that particular story was worth millions in free publicity.

In reality, success occurred because I gave a rejected idea a new name.

What you call something is a crucial part of what you say.

–Gene Griessman has made presentations all over the world, including Ford’s Theatre, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Georgia Dome.  His Abraham Lincoln presentation has received rave reviews from audiences and Lincoln scholars alike.  To obtain information about how you can book Dr. Griessman for your next meeting, contact us at 404-256-5927 or abe@mindspring.com

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