Skip to main content
Commsy creative stuff straight to your inbox


The power of words

< Blog home

The power of words

As communicators, we all know the power of the written word. However, it’s sometimes easy to forget the power that can be wielded by individual words.

Fairly recently, a well-known brand was reminded of this in a very public (and expensive) way. They ran a competition to win a ‘solid gold’ version of their product. Sounds great, doesn’t it? The winners thought so too, until they received said prize to find that it was actually ‘gold plated’.

Chances are in this scenario, it was a genuine mistake, an oversight where a fact wasn’t checked. Or maybe the communicator involved did challenge it and was overruled. Whatever went on behind the scenes, it serves as a reminder of the power of words and the responsibility we have as communicators to ensure the accuracy of what we write.

So, here are a few things to consider when creating your content to make sure you avoid any embarrassing and/or costly mistakes.


Check your factsSpeech bubble in red and spiky speech bubble in blue with the wording 'If in doubt check'

It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to make an assumption that information is correct when it has found its way to us from a colleague or from another part of the business. But it isn’t always.

Any claims (such as ‘solid gold’), or statements of fact (the managing director of the International Monetary Fund is Kristalina Georgieva) are always worth checking, especially if it is outside of your sphere of knowledge or is a fact that is likely to change, such as presidents and prime ministers.

Sometimes content might reference websites, research or even people, so it’s important we check those references are from reputable sources and that they won’t mislead your reader in any way.

Remember, even though we may not have created the content or be the subject matter expert – factual errors will be attributed to the communication team, so if in doubt – check!


Resist the temptation to embellish

There will be a time in every communicator’s career when you find yourself trying to make the dullest topic imaginable interesting. Or maybe you’re trying to make your content stand out amongst all the noise inside and outside an organisation.

Whatever the reason may be, we will have all faced that ethical conundrum – where is the line between making your content more engaging to read and embellishment?

For example, you might be communicating about small changes to your HR system that people need to be aware of. To make it more interesting, you say that it’s been ‘transformed’. Not only is this misleading, but it can result in employees no longer trusting what they read. And that trust is so important – the Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 found that business is the most trusted institution (no pressure!).

Don’t prioritise style over substance – yes, it’s important that your content is engaging to read, but never at the expense of accuracy.

Yellow speech mark with the wording 'Don't prioritise style over substance'

‘Spin’ is never OK

Putting a different angle on content to make it more palatable (also known as ‘spin’) is unethical at best and dangerous at worst. General Motors (GM) found this out with devastating consequences.

An ignition switch in certain GM cars fell below the company’s own specifications. However, the fault was labelled as a ‘customer convenience’ issue rather than an urgent safety problem. Therefore, management didn’t take it seriously, and 13 people died as a result.

While this wasn’t the fault of the communication team, it serves as a good example of how a few small tweaks to the language we use or the way we describe something can skew the real meaning that needs to be conveyed.

You can read more about the GM story in an article by Forbes.


Be intentional with your verbs

Verbs have the power to bring a sentence to life, as well as change its meaning. There are so many verbs you can choose from to make your writing more engaging so spend time considering if you’ve used the best one. However, make sure you’re not being misleading.

For example:

The CEO wants feedback on the strategy.


The CEO welcomes feedback on the strategy.

The second one sounds much more open and friendly – and you could argue might make people more likely to offer up their thoughts. However, the word ‘welcomes’ also sounds optional – so you would only use it if it was indeed optional.


Consider your ethicsYellow round speech mark over the top of a black speech mark with the wording 'one word could have an enormous and unwanted impact'

At the heart of this is ethics. Communicators have a huge ethical responsibility when it comes to content. We need to ensure our content is accurate, timely, and clear. It’s also imperative we don’t ‘spin’ or deliberately omit information. Sometimes this means having difficult conversations and saying ‘no’ but it’s imperative we do.

It could be viewed as petty to get hung up on one word in a piece of content, but that one word could have an enormous and unwanted impact.

CIPR Inside has a great guide to ethics for internal communicators and you can also take a look at the Institute of Business Ethics website for more information on this.



By Helen Deverell for Alive!


Read more from Helen on this subject 

“The guys at Alive understand the complexities of our business which means we don’t need to explain the detail of every project or design piece – they’re already on it, which keeps things moving and delivers the results we need.”

Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

“I feel like they own and care for the project as much as we do! I would not use anyone else for my creative work and think Alive is ahead of the game.”

Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

“Thanks for all your help. We are delighted with the campaign, both in terms of the creativity and messaging but also the thought taken over the rollout of the materials. All looks absolutely fabulous!”

Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

“Our mission was to update our brand visuals to better reflect our innovative and forward-thinking organisation. After receiving numerous pitches from different branding agencies, Alive stood out with their clear passion and understanding of our identity and goals. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Alive Team to create an engaging new brand that we are immensely proud of.”

Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“This looks amazing - brought a smile to my face scrolling through it :-)”

Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
Alive logo