Specializing in social marketing and business communications training

Rethinking Communication: 3 Areas You Must Not Ignore

Crystal beads at the CosmopolitanTechnology has turned our interpersonal communication upside down.  If you think back 10 years, only advertising and marketing pros regularly uttered the words relevant, attention, and experience. Now, we’re all working our collective rear ends off to create relevant content that grabs people’s attention so they can experience our brand and content.

In other words, it’s time to rethink our business communication.  

Research finds that my fellow digital immigrants have to move away from the linear progression learning model that we used in the pre-tech days. Sorry to report that cumbersome spreadsheets are history. 

Digital natives can put us to shame with quick analyses of data because they consume nugget-sized information that’s visually documented in a pie chart or simple graph.

And from college professors, I hear firsthand that marketing and sales students are in dire straits when it comes to basic telephone skills. Not texting, but live conversations, vocal habits, and etiquette. It’s difficult to improve verbal communication when you use your phone for typing and not talking.

Regardless of the faction you are in, we all must realize that failure to adapt and lousy communication skills can hinder your career.  

As we fight that nasty brain overload every single day, consider the attention, relevance, and experience you bring to each of these forms of communication. How can you sharpen your skills?

Your e-mails:  The subject line and opening sentence must be relevant to your reader. Get their attention by telling them what you are sharing and why it’s important (relevant) to them. When they are done reading your electronic message, has their experience been frustrating and confusing? Let’s shoot for written messages that have a logical flow and are easy-to-understand. Long e-mails often lose the reader.   TL:DR. Translation: Too Long, Didn’t Read.

Your social channels: The messages you post in LinkedIn groups, on Facebook walls, and in Twitter chats have to be meaningful (relevant) to others. If you promote your new book, a quote or self-serving mention may seem like a smooth marketing move. But bring the reader a deeper experience by sharing a link to a related blog post or slide deck. Capture their attention but don’t dead-end them. Savvy marketers will grab your attention, and KEEP it.

Your phone conversations: If you’re out-of-touch with the original premise of why telephones were invented, let’s go back to the days when phones weren’t so smart. It was the people expressing themselves and conveying messages who were (apparently) smart…or not. The phone was simply the vehicle, not the brains. That’s what we humans are for.  There is an art to using your vocal vitality and following the flow of the spoken word. There’s something to be said for communicating a complete thought in a complete sentence.   

Remember the wise words of Eric Harvey: The style and tone of your communications are messages in and of themselves.



7 reasons to use multimedia when communicating

corner picture at folawnsThese are numbers that PR and marketing professionals simply can’t ignore.

PR Newswire and PR News recently conducted a survey of how companies are usingor not usingmultimedia in press releases and other communication.

The research finds:  

  • 56 percent of PR and marketing executives rarely or sometimes include multimedia in press releases
  • 9 percent of respondents always feature multimedia elements and rich media in their press releases
  • 75 percent of those surveyed plan to increase visual storytelling in 2014


I was invited to discuss these findings on a webinar with Michael Pranikoff, Global Director, Emerging Media at PR Newswire  and Matthew Schwartz, Group Editor at PR News.   

Here are seven takeaways from our conversation:

Matthew: There’s a big appetite out there to include visual elements and rich media in press releases and other communication channels. The survey offers encouragement but there’s still that chasm between the desire among PR and marketing executives to use visuals and the challenges of budgets and resources. It’s really finding the link between what visual storytelling can do to enhance your communication and public relations while making the case to the C-suite for increasing budgets for these kinds of channels.

Michael: PR Newswire has looked at 60,000 pieces of content that’s been syndicated over the past couple of years. You get almost 10 times the amount of views when using multimedia than just doing a plain text news release.

Matthew: You would think right now that the static press release would be antiquated in that you have an oncoming generation of decision makers who have been conditioned to the visual and multimedia elements in a release, in a piece of text, in a brochure, or in an annual report. For those companies who continue to distribute plain text and vanilla press releases, I don’t know how much those companies are on the right side of history.

Susan: Our minds think in pictures, not words. That’s why this is so important. Communicators must convey our messages through a blend of pictures and words, not one or the other.

Michael: Layering video in any kind of media leads to an emotional resonance and component that people are looking for in brands…audiences are craving this and gravitating to visual.

Matthew: PR people should start thinking about their own behavior as it relates to video…They go through their workday and they tend to click on a video that caught their attention. It’s not unlike your customers and prospects. They are doing the same things. It’s really changing a behavior.

Susan: Business communicators must understand how their clients and prospects are consuming information. It’s not about how you want to deliver the content. It’s about how the audience wants to receive it and engage with it.

Matthew also notes that a B2B product or service that may seem bland or dry on paper can come to life with visual elements.

The three of us agreed there are many opportunities to repurpose content that contains visuals.

To listen to the free webinar, visit CommProBiz.

The Secret to Improving Business Communication and Productivity

VannawhiteBusiness leaders who want to improve collaboration in group projects may be overthinking things. Big time.  

A new study from the University of Wisconsin finds that people who share the same initials are more adaptive and productive when working together in small groups. 

Dr. Evan Polman co-authored the research, which is referred to as the name-letter-effect.

“People have a tendency to prefer things that remind them of themselves…Research shows that people’s choices are reliably influenced by the similarity between the letters of the choice and the chooser’s own name. For example, people are disproportionately likely to work at companies, buy stocks, donate to charities, hold stronger attitudes to brands, and prefer consumer products with names that begin with the letters of their own initials compared to other letters.”

A Simplified Way of Building Rapport 

Here’s an easy example: If you strike up a conversation with a stranger and soon discover you have the same birthday, data proves you are more likely to do a favor for that person or help them in some way. This simple birthday commonality has broken down a wall and has helped to build instant rapport.

Dr. Polman’s research focuses on whether shared initials among group members’ names tilt groups to perform better.

“Unlike surface- and deep-level characteristics, initials typically provide little if any information about others, and logically should play little if any role in group outcomes,” according to the study. “Nonetheless, we propose that sharing initials with other group members gives rise to a ‘value-in-similarity’ effect.”

Negotiations and Client Relations

How does the name-letter-effect play into business negotiations?

Researchers interested in psychological processes underlying negotiation have addressed the potential role of priming and other nonconscious, automatic processes but no prior research has studied how the letters in one’s name might incidentally influence interpersonally relevant decision making, such as the names of one’s negotiation partner or client. Future work should study these relationships and even consider the broad implication that sharing initials with others may improve negotiation outcomes vis-à-vis more integrative agreements and better client relations.”

Can we put away the personality profiles and assessments that leaders depend on to enhance interpersonal relationships and business processes?

Is it really as simple as having John, Judy, and Jamie together in one group, and David, Brittany, and Sam in another group to see what happens?

This is one exercise you may just want to try at home.

(Editor’s Note: The Name-Letter-Effect in Groups: Sharing Initials with Group Members Increases the Quality of Group Work, has been published on PLOSONE.org. PLOS ONE (eISSN-1932-6203) is an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication. PLOS ONE welcomes reports on primary research from any scientific discipline.”)

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5 reasons to include Storify in your PR strategy

(Editor’s Note: This is a guest post provided by Alicia Lawrence)

20 years of DRAMAStorify is one of the new kids on the social media block, but it’s made a big impression. Founded in 2011, the website curates content from all over the Internet, eliminating the need to jump from one site to another for information.

You may have already seen the work of Storify in the news. The Washington Post, NPR, and other media outlets have started using the tool to build context around the biggest stories of the day.

If news editors are reaping the benefits of Storify, so can you.

Here are five ways you can use Storify in public relations.

The ‘About Us’ Section

Every company website has a page dedicated to how the company began, what it does, and how it does it. Why read it when you can see it? Use Storify to combine web content, a promotional video, slideshows, interviews, raves on social media and testimonials from your best customers. Turn your story into a multimedia experience and then share it! Storify even gives you an option after publishing to tweet the people you mentioned in the board letting them know you used their post.

Product Launch or Campaign

If your company is launching a new product or simply revitalizing an old one, you could issue a press release, a how-to video, and early buzz from thought leaders. However, you’ll get better results if you combine all those things into a Storify board. This board should give a full account of what you say about the new products and what others say, too. If it’s a versatile product, include tweets, pins, or videos of how others are using it.

What People Think

When it comes to reputation, consumers are more apt to listen to other consumers than to what the brand advertises about itself. Instead of pointing people to a dozen social media sites, put the raves on one Storify board. Add reviews from consumers and critics, award notices, and other high praise. Plus, when asking for comments and feedback, you can suggest that customers go to Storify to add their opinions to the chatter.

Event Recap

Event promotion is one of the main responsibilities of a PR manager. Storify can make it more immersive, especially for annual events. If you have a big event coming up, create a board around last year’s gathering. Include tweets, photos, videos and other content from speakers and participants that emphasize how fun – and valuable – it is to attend the event. In addition, don’t forget to promote the newest event – multiple tweets showing the excitement of attendees for this year.

storify image from Alicia 11-2013

How-to’s and Troubleshooting

When you search for tutorials on how to use a product or solve a problem, a lot of YouTube videos appear in the results. By pulling everything together in a Storify board, you can bring your listing to the top. Instead of creating different boards, combine the two. For example, I just created a board for Havahart with how-to videos and instruction manuals for setting up traps, as well as a few funny pictures and reviews for the product, into one single board.

Finally, what makes Storify different is that it lets you organize all the posts, tweets, videos and other feedback about your business into one convenient, interactive location.

Alicia Lawrence is a content coordinator for WebpageFX and blogs in her free time at MarCom Land. Her work has been published by the Association for Business Communication, Yahoo! Small Business, and Spin Sucks.

7 insights from Brian Solis on marketing to the new connected consumer

389One of the most impressive thought leaders in business and new media is Brian Solis. He’s the Principal Analyst at Altimeter Group. Solis is also an international best-selling author and speaker.

This week, Solis said that technology is changing the way people share experiences but businesses are merely trying to keep up, not get ahead.  He reminds us not to flood people with content every day, but to make them feel special with relevant information that they will want to share.

On Value:  “At the end of day, you’re not just competing for attention, you are competing for relevance. To earn relevance, you have to understand what the connected consumer values.”

On the Gifts of Technology:  “The gifts of technology are Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and all the others. These gifts help us better understand how to engage, how to understand what people want, and how they communicate. These gifts help us learn what it takes to be part of a community, and what it takes to lead a community. They are not just channels to market at people or to talk at people, or to do what we’ve always done, like try to drum up interest or drum up reactions. We now have to find the meaning within all this activity.”

On Attention: “Marketers have to try and penetrate attention, and then define what it is you want people to do next. We are redefining the experience we want people to have.”

On Creating Experiences: “Marketing is not a department, but a function of life, business, experience and engagement. When people are connected, they are constantly sharing what they love and hate; it’s an emotional landscape.”

On New Approaches: “We have to deliver a new approach with something a little bit more meaningful and valuable to the connected customer. One where you don’t justify your existence by the number of likes, shares, or views.”

On Generation Gaps: “Marketers must augment the traditional approach or philosophy and find new ways to understand who you are trying to reach and what pulls them through the sales funnel. Instead of creating the ‘Us versus Them’ mindset or feel, all we can do is better understand it and appreciate it and accept that this person is different than us. The only way to lead them rather than react to them is to learn from them. We have to be inspired and find new ways to steer their attention span for productive experiences and productive outcomes.”

On Change: “Consumer behavior is evolving, our technology is evolving, but our business processes, systems, services, and philosophies are not. Our methodologies and value systems are changing to adapt but they are not changing fast enough to lead. Everything I have learned about the future of marketing and branding is this:  Behavior first, technology second.”

Solis says everything starts with intention. What’s your intention when sharing information and content? You know the correct answer has something to do with conversion.



3 ways to write positive news headlines in a negatively charged world

A rainy September day at the George Washington Bridge in New York.

A rainy September day at the George Washington Bridge in New York.

It’s time to kill the ‘headline fear factor.’

Anyone who writes or produces content could be guilty of spewing fear throughout communities.  

Bright, well-educated, and good-intentioned people who are cognizant of the power of headlines and SEO have followed the media’s poor example of sharing negativity to get people’s attention.

I was a news reporter and news director for 10 years.  I have zero tolerance for newscasts and talk shows that work hard to drag us down.  

Last week, the TV weatherman declared: “More rain tomorrow means another dismal day in…”  It’s rain, not the damn plague.  

Yes, horrific things happen. Yes, headlines may sell. But the world just doesn’t need any more negative crap to digest.

If you don’t believe me, listen closer to what we’re being told. Remember the weatherman I just described. 

Flip This

Are you writing posts and titles with words such as “pitfalls” and “mistakes”?

Let’s flip things around. I encourage you to use language that reflects a positive and helpful attitude.

Set the tone with words that are upbeat and encouraging. Leave the blunders, mistakes, and failures for someone else.

Consider these examples:

1. “7 Mistakes Parents Make When Selecting Colleges” can be changed to “7 Tips to Selecting the Best College for Your Child”

2. “Common Missteps that Small Business Owners Make Their First Year” can be flipped to “Tips for Small Business Success.”

3. “10 Pitfalls of Social Media Campaigns” can be reworded to “10 Successful Social Media Strategies.”

The headlines and titles of your articles, blogs, and programs are the magnet to draw readers and potential business into your pipeline. 

Pique interest with emotional and positive words and phrases that speak directly to your readers and their success.

Using positive language and an upbeat tone instead of scare tactics and poison will have a subtle but important impact. We need more hope and less pessimism in our world. 

Today’s takeaway: Be the fountain, not the drain.

8 ways association content attracts new members

IMAG0824Has your association been scrambling for content?

There’s an underlying issue that must be addressed before you can consider information to share through social media, websites, newsletters, and marketing materials.

How can you find out what members of your association really want to read or view?  How can you deliver relevant and compelling articles, blog posts, videos, and other fresh content on a consistent basis? 

It’s time to stop scrambling and start thinking about the challenges people are struggling to overcome. Take a closer look at the aspirations and goals your target audience works to achieve every single day.

The needs of your members will drive your content.

Please re-read the last few sentences.

When you address challenges and aspirations, you will discover the content your members desire.

Can your organization fill this gap, or will people go elsewhere because they aren’t getting what they need from their investment?   

Craving Communities

We join organizations because human beings crave a sense of belonging and community.  

Scientific research proves that bonding with people who have similar interests fills an emotional void in each of us. Unfortunately, a majority of trade organizations have spent too much time on promoting the benefits of the group while failing to understand that benefits don’t fill emotional holes.   

Associations must revamp outdated and ineffective membership models.

In order to build vibrant communities, you must:  

  • Show true empathy and understanding of member’s intentions and goals
  • Address the constraints members face while working towards their goals  
  • Provide an experience that is highly relevant and cannot be duplicated by competing groups   
  • Focus on stakeholder outcomes and results, asking the question: “How can we help?”
  • Speak to the WHY someone should join vs. the WHAT does the group have to offer? 
  • Think about emotions first and intellect second
  • Commit to a deeply personal approach to branding
  • Know what members and potential members want to achieve, both professionally and personally


Jeff De Cagna writes in the Texas Society of Association Executives magazine:

“From a business model point of view, associations would be better served by devoting more of their human capabilities to the work of new value creation…for many organizations the process of selling membership has become an all consuming effort to persuade increasingly skeptical stakeholders something they seem otherwise unwilling to do. The work of business model innovation offers associations to reconsider the narrow focus on membership in favor of more open and inclusive approaches to new value creation.”   

For example, savvy leaders at professional associations are beginning to see the value of providing timely and relevant content that they don’t have to create. Holly Regan, Managing Editor at Software Advice, blogs that associations are hiring former news reporters to compile and curate content from outside sources and format them as newsfeeds for their websites and e-mail marketing.

Think of this new business media as a daily or weekly collection of noteworthy news for your niche.

According to John Sacerdote, president of the National Association of Personnel Services, or NAPS, “The NAPS newsfeed is positioning us as a trusted source for news in staffing and recruiting.  It’s remarkably simple, affordable, and powerful.”

The content and information you share with members is directly connected to the growth or stagnation of your association.

 But it all begins with knowing what content your members want, and why they want it.

SPECIAL OFFER FOR YOUR 2014 EDITORIAL CALENDAR: Drop me an e-mail right now for a discounted 1-hour phone consultation. I’ll give you 25 fresh content ideas for 2014…Guaranteed!   



The guerrilla marketing genius of Jay Conrad Levinson

IMAG0387Many of you recall the old commercials and ads that turned Charlie the Tuna, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and the Marlboro Man into household names and brands. I remember watching the TV commercials, in the pre-remote days when people actually watched commercials.

The common thread behind each of these products was Jay Conrad Levinson, who worked on the creative teams that developed these brands.

In the early 1980s, Levinson coined the term “guerrilla marketing,” which sparked a revolution in business marketing, advertising, and PR. He would go on to author and co-author some 60 books, selling more than 20 million copies worldwide.

The “Father of Guerrilla Marketing” passed away on Thursday at the age of 80.

During the past three decades, Levinson was able to use his talents and genius to morph his guerrilla marketing brilliance to include technology and social media.

What exactly is guerrilla marketing? It started with three points, and over the years, has grown to 15.

This is how Levinson has described his concept. “I’m referring to the soul and essence of guerrilla marketing which remain as always — achieving conventional goals, such as profits and joy, with unconventional methods, such as investing energy instead of money.”

Entrepreneurs, myself included, can relate to the energy over money method, just as Gary Vaynerchuk writes in Crush It: “The best marketing strategy ever is to CARE.”

It is Levinson who encourages small business owners to “get back to basics” in marketing. On his list of 200 guerrilla marketing weapons, he includes:

  • A street banner
  • A landing page
  • A vanity phone number
  • Patience
  • Business  cards
  • A meme


According to Levinson’s official website, guerrilla marketing is needed because it gives small businesses a delightfully unfair advantage: certainty in an uncertain world, economy in a high-priced world, simplicity in a complicated world, marketing awareness in a clueless world.

Thank you, Jay Levinson, for sharing your clues and knowledge with generations of marketers and small business owners around the world.

Workplace communication: 8 ways to monitor employee feedback

Dollar bills at secret pizza VegasThere’s lots of chatter this week about Customer Service Week, a time to recognize employees who offer outstanding customer service and professionalism in their jobs.

Employers, however, must pay attention to the message of best-selling business author Shep Hyken, who encourages us to be mindful of our “internal customers”, a.k.a. our employees.

Countless studies have proven that employee satisfaction directly impacts revenue.

HR leaders and the C-suite can follow the model used in Voice of the Customer market research, which gathers consumer feedback through mobile surveys, texts, and online chats. With analytics and structured data, businesses can evaluate voluminous amounts of information on consumer  buying patterns, interests, and demographics.

There’s no excuse to ignore the ‘hits and misses’ of today’s shopping experience.

The same is true of the employee experience.

Enter Voice of the Employee

Voice of the Employee, or VoE, allows businesses easy access to the opinions of candidates who are hired.

For example, using VoE market research, employers can:

  1. Gather feedback from a candidate who found a job posting and applied online. Data gleaned: Ease of online application process, navigating the website.
  2. Monitor impressions through the screening process. Data gleaned: Promptness of scheduled phone or in-person interviews, professional correspondence and process explained.
  3. Invite feedback about the onboarding process. Data gleaned: Friendly welcome and introductions the first few days, good use of time for learning protocol.
  4. Check the probationary period. Data gleaned: Assimilation and cultural fit.
  5. Assess learning opportunities. Data gleaned: Educational programs aligned with employee aspirations and goals.
  6.  Inquire about company news. Data gleaned: Sense of community and belonging, understanding of how their daily jobs contribute to overall company success.
  7. Ask about exit interview. Data gleaned: Appropriate questions and candor about department, company, culture, reason for leaving.
  8. Keep in touch after separating. Data gleaned: An honest reflection of experience and the company.

Brand ambassadors can be current or former employees who share positive experiences about your organization without being asked to do so. They are also the people who refer top talent your way.

Voice of the Employee brings business a level of communication and employee engagement that cannot be created through a suggestion box or annual performance review.

Staffers know when employers are going through the motions and when they are truly listening. It’s easy to recognize when feedback is applied in a positive way that improves business processes and people.

The 360-Degree View

With VoE, business leaders get a 360-degree view of the employee, providing a way to develop actionable steps for improvement. The effects of Voice of the Employee are felt by vendors, customers, and stakeholders, too.

Voice of the Employee builds brand ambassadors, increases morale and loyalty, boosts productivity, and brings quality candidate referrals. It’s the complete opposite of a disengaged person showing up to collect a paycheck.


Remembering Tom Clancy: 7 insights into a masterful storyteller

clancyEDITEDThe literary world was rendered speechless today when news broke of the death of acclaimed spy and military writer Tom Clancy.

The 66-year-old author, whose works include “The Hunt for Red October”, “Clear and Present Danger”, and “Patriot Games”, is being remembered as a “favorite storyteller of the American military.”

CNN praised Clancy for writing meticulous thrillers focusing on political intrigue and military tactics and technology.

Through Clancy’s brilliant storytelling, the world got to know CIA agent Jack Ryan, the main character in most of the best-selling novels.

No other American novelist could take 20 pages to describe the intricacies of a wire within an explosive device.   

The following quotes from Clancy shed light on his prolific career:  

1. “Writing is hard, miserable, lonely work…You have to play to win.”

2. “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”

3. “You learn to write the same way you learn to play golf. You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired – it’s hard work.”

4. “Books and movies are different art forms with different rules. And because of that, they never translate exactly.”

5. “Fundamentally, I think of myself as a storyteller, not a writer.”

6.  “I was one of the first generations to watch television. TV exposes people to news, to information, to knowledge, to entertainment. How is it bad?”

 7. “Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world. Maybe you’ll get published. Maybe you won’t.”

 Clancy, a former insurance agent, sold more than 50 million books worldwide.


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