Wordnerdery Sue Horner’s monthly tips on words and ways to reach readers – September 2023

Issue 127 – September 2023

What’s old is new again

‘Fast Car’ isn’t new, although Luke’s version of the song is. He was born in 1990, two years after Tracy Chapman released the original.

On summer drives this year, you may have heard one song over and over again: Fast Car, sung by Luke Combs.

The song isn’t new, although Luke’s version is. He was born in 1990, two years after Tracy Chapman released the original. Luke had sentimental memories of driving with his dad and listening to the song, which earned a Grammy and peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Luke’s version reached #2 on the chart and introduced the song to a new generation.

Tracy Chapman.

A similar “what’s old is new” musical moment happened in 2022 with Kate Bush’s song, Running up That Hill (A Deal with God). The song came out in 1985, but got new attention when featured on the TV series Stranger Things in June 2022. The original reached #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 while the new version hit #8.

What else is old but new?

Vinyl. Music lovers listened to vinyl records from the 1950s until roughly the late 1980s, when compact discs took over. Digital downloads and streaming services like Spotify became popular in the early 2010s. That’s when vinyl started to make a comeback, too, outselling CDs for the first time in 2020. Since then, enough musicians – like Taylor Swift – have issued music on vinyl that pressing plants can’t keep up.

Fashion. The 80s are apparently back: Fanny packs (rebranded as “belt bags” or “sling bags,” although who are we kidding), high-waisted wide-legged jeans, bell bottoms, cargo pants and platform shoes.

Barbie. The doll made her appearance on March 9, 1959 and Mattel has since sold over a billion Barbies. Sales dropped over 2014-2016, when young girls turned their attention to interactive electronic toys and tablets, but Barbie has staying power. She was named the top global toy brand in 2020 and 2021, and sales are expected to spike thanks to the Barbie movie released earlier this year.

Two trends in one – Barbie has a vinyl record.

How about employee communication? What’s old is new here, too.

Email. We feel like email has been around forever, and for some, it has been – it goes back to the early 1970s. And as a broadcast channel, email is still in heavy use within companies. The Gallagher State of the Sector 2022/23 says email is the top broadcast channel, used by 94% of respondents to its survey. Global communications firm Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer also finds that all-company emails are the top source of information for employees with a desk. (For the “deskless,” it's managers.)

Managers. In 1994, research showed that immediate supervisors were employees’ preferred source of information (from T.J. Larkin and S. Larkin, as highlighted in The IABC Handbook of Organizational Communication). In 2023, Edelman says personal communication from their direct boss or supervisor is still the most trusted source of information.

Face to face. Despite the ease and appeal of technology, humans are wired for personal connection. COVID-19 swept F2F away and replaced it with Zoom calls and Microsoft Team meetups. But face to face is how we get to know each other, build trust, make connections and seal deals. “Face-to-face communication is more valuable than ever,” says Entrepreneur magazine. “In-person communication is usually the most effective method of strengthening or repairing connections and developing relationships.”

All this to say, don’t ignore “old school” methods in the range of communications tools you use to reach your employees. As Gallagher says, “Focus on understanding your existing channels, what they can do and how they can bring the most value.”

And don’t be surprised if something old becomes newly relevant.

What else is something old that has seen new life? Please hit “reply” and share.

Related reading:

2023 Edelman Trust Barometer special report

Gallagher’s State of the Sector 2023: The definitive report on internal comms

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