Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How Did the DC Holiday Parties Turn Out?

Well this year I haven't spent much time on the holiday party circuit but I did attend three, so here's the rundown for anyone who is interested.

Best Holiday Party of the Year Hands-Down

ASAE & the Center's Yule Rock - Underwritten by Multiview, a publishing and directory company that services associations, it's nice to know someone had a fabulous year. Multiview shut down DC's Hard Rock Cafe, had a full open bar, two bands, and passed food all night that included shrimp shooters, scallop ceviche, and of course the classic mini-hamburgers.

Top shelf liquor for all. It was like a great wedding. Someone whose name I didn't know but who I've seen at many ASAE events, pulled me onto the dance floor before the rock band switched over to punk and we just went wild. Very fun.

My only critique - It was way too loud for networking - even in the far corners of the rooms.

DC Science Writers - At National Geographic which is always a great spot for a party. There's a picture of me and Santa that I've shared. I'm not that chubby really, it's an optical illusion. Santa had a Spanish accent, gave out awards and was very funny. The crowd was mostly freelancers and pretty welcoming. I had just joined. The food not so much - they had champagne glasses with mashed potatoes and stuff that you could put in a baked potato and that was the best of the party fare. Tasteless desserts. But it was cheap, and that was the point.

PRSA National Capital Chapter - Held at Carmine's and again reasonably priced except we had to pay our own bar bill. They gave you one drink but as a wine snob we skipped it. Maybe about 100 people came to the private room in the back. A good crowd. A diverse mix of mostly consultants but from many different facets of the industry.

Had a long conversation with a young women who is an analyst for a company called CARMA International - they evaluate the power and reach of your social media presence. I had never heard of them. About 10 people and they seem to really know what they're doing.

Food was garlic and fried overload, although I'd give the calamari a solid B. Carmine's has mouthwash in the bathroom which anyone who eats there desperately needs. We ended up having dinner afterwards, at a spacious upfront bar with inattentive bartenders.

Skipped The One Party this year, often very crowded, hard to network and filled with very young, very pretty people who are often being followed around by older not so pretty people. I usually feel invisible and last year heavy snacks were chicken wings. The other issue is it's supposed to be a conglomeration of several different organizations within communications and advertising, but it's usually just the ad people who go. Not sorry to have missed it.

Stay tuned for an update from the Twelfth Night party in January via Women in Film and Video. I have a feeling that will be a blast.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

LivingSocial - Shop, Go, Don't Slow Down

A friend applied for a communications job at LivingSocial recently, one of the daily deal juggernauts like Groupon that are invading cities all over the planet. Like the and social media booms, people are skeptical but can't help but jump on the bandwagon.

My friend "Katie," who is in her late 40s, submitted her resume and cover letter to LivingSocial in the morning. By mid-afternoon she got a note that said, thanks for applying, you're not what we're looking for, best of luck. That must be some sort of world record.

What impressed me about that note was its speed and that it left no room for further discusssion. In a very simple way they told her we're young, we're hungry and you'll slow us down. The average age at LivingSocial is 31 years-old.

I'm going as fast as I can

This understanding of LivingSocial and the business it operates in was reinforced by Alexandra Solomon, senior director of marketing, who gave a presentation last week to the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) in DC. She spoke fast, rushed through and said a lot about growth (they are now in 21 countries, with 40 million members, and were named one of the top 50 places to work by Washingtonian magazine). Then she was out the door to talk to a company they had just bought on the other side of the planet.

LivingSocial's goal is to become the leader in international retail deals and they are buying companies like crazy overseas. They have a deal of the day, are introducing a gourmet group (for those who don't want to wait on line forever at an obscure ethnic restaurant that is suddenly flooded with patrons), and a variety of last minute, decent percentage off travel, dining, etc. packages.

Living Social Ads - Check out its new campaign.

The business model is strong but quite frankly we've seen it come and go in other recessions. Retailers cut prices, give away freebies and drag traffic into their places. Most, Solomon said, make a little bit of money or break even on the deal. What she did not say is that people have shown up at restaurants with their 50% off coupon, only to discover that they cannot get in - at all that day. Right now there's no cut off or control over usage. That will likely end soon.

Many of the European and Asian services are still branded under their own names, and often have existed for a couple of years already, so they come with followers. Although the ultimate goal is to make the LivingSocial brand prominent on everything - right now that's not an option. Bragging rights to becoming the largest global player in thes market are worth it.

I also don't know if the deals are all that good - so you get 50% off dinner in a restaurant you've never tried, but you end up spending 25% more than you would have anyway. But the bottom line for marketers and retailers is consumers like to feel as though they've gotten a bargain. They brag about it to friends. They become deal of the day junkies. It's harder to compete with that.

Local retailers can probably compete with LivingSocial through better service, deals that pamper rather than are fully based on saving money, and just developing strong repoire with their customers. But that's what they should do anyway, right?

Will the LivingSocial model survive? Probably but it's getting cluttered out there and there will be a lot of shake-out first. Like any new market that's growing faster than it can keep up with, the excitement is high and the value to its various players is all in being part of the game.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Defense PR Joins the Real World

At the Capitol Communicators Group lunch last week, I saw a refreshingly frank presentation by Frederick P. Wellman, president of a small PR company called ScoutsComms. Wellman served in Iraq twice and returned to launch a PR company to help the aerospace, defense and veterans' sectors navigate the muddy waters at the end of the decade long defense spend-a-thon.

Wellman discussed General David Petraeus' management style as just go figure it out. He was replaced by General Martin E. Dempsey who operated by asking what's your plan? He has worked for both and learned a great deal in the process.

Wellman discussed how many defense contractors approached their businesses in the gravy train years as don't do anything to rock the boat. But as the budget cuts keep coming, the new defense PR strategy is transitioning into fight as hard as you can for your piece of the pie.

Wellman also described the competitiveness for media attention at a recent trade show. There were over 600 exhibitors and just over 20 reporters to cover all of them. That seemed like pretty good odds to me.

How the Washington Post Covers Defense Contracting

Wellington brought along a Washington Post defense contracting reporter, Marjorie Censer, who quickly explained she is the only one left covering this topic. Censer is working for the Washington Post's weekly magazine Capital Business, and appeared smart and accessible. She offered a few tips about pitching her stories:

Deadlines - Capital Business comes out on Monday and the Washington Business Journal (its major rival), the Friday before. Don't pitch the two of them the same story at once because if the WBJ runs it first, her editors will be very upset.

Sources - Her main sources are analysts who cover defense contractors in our region and she is looking for others. While the analyts are helpful, they are not unbiased. She welcomes input from college and university professors who teach defense policy and other topics within this realm.

Story Pitches Censer says she reads press releases and story pitches, and gave an example of how she'd featured a small company whose release she'd received recently, within a larger story. Product pitches are out unless you can tie them to a bigger trend. Fresh ideas about the battle between Maryland and Virginia for corporate headquarters and jobs are welcome.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Association Execs Share Creative Ideas for Member Bonding

The American Society of Association Executives which now goes by the acronym ASAE, holds what it calls Super Swaps four times each year. The one I sat in on last week in Washington, DC was about membership marketing. There were probably 40 professionals in the room, many of whom contributed to a spirited conversation.

The session was moderated by Talisa Thomas Hall, president of The Center for Effective Organizations, who was very good. Although some of the ideas were association specific, many could be adapted to different marketing situations.

Annual Meeting – One association streamed its general sessions by putting them live on its Web site, so all could members could benefit and share in the conference. One of the speakers was well known and from a TED Talks series. When asked, the membership person said the general sessions are of interest to all, and not necessarily conference specific. It’s a great way to get people who didn’t attend the annual meeting last year, to think about coming next.

CEO Outreach - One CEO has a conference call every three months for all new and current members. They get on the phone and ask him questions about the association during the call. It’s a creative method for welcoming new people, and to show that you care.

Helping Members Get Through Tough Times. For members who are on the fence or can’t pay all at once, consider offering an extended installment plan. You can do it through Pay Pal. One membership professional said her association’s membership was down 20%, and since it's offered a payment plan membership is up 6%. That’s impressive.

Market to Where Members are with You Understand where specific members are in the lifecycle of membership, and deliver member benefits for them around that. For instance, one association has new members get a call from a staffer after the first 90 days to see how it's going. Another association has a forum annually where founding members are honored. Several associations have recently added associate memberships at a lower rate. All agreed that as part of this, you should give your current members recognition or an added bonus.

Wooing younger members One association sends members out to recruit and talk about it to high school students. They offer a free membership to them and follow them to college. Often the high school students join as college age members later on.

Members tell their stories Consider capturing the stories of how your association made a difference in the lives of individual members and sharing them. One association had a photo and video booth at its annual conference where people could tell their stories of membership. It was kind of an old fashioned idea, but members loved it. The association was also able to create a library of material that it could use to reinforce the value of membership.

Remember to Constantly Ask Yourself These Membership Questions

Consultants also shared some of the questions they ask membership staff and leaders when they are called in to help. They are pretty basic, but always good to revisit.

What is your members’ can’t, why aren’t they involved with the association and what’s stopping you from delivering it?

What do your members want from you?

Who are the members in your association that bring in non-dues revenue and how are you reaching out to them?

Are you focusing your membership marketing on what you do well?

What can you stop doing and no one will care?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Yahoo Social Guru Offers Engagement Tips for Facebook

I saw Patrick Albano, executive director of social and mobile sales at Yahoo speak at Adweek DC recently. I thought it was one of the best presentations I’d seen in a long time. So I’m sharing. I’ve also added some thoughts of my own.

The evolution of social

If you go to a party and just talk about yourself, you will be the least popular person there. That’s how most organizations approach Facebook. But that can damage all of that brand loyalty you've worked so hard to build.

Albano discussed how social media has created a major shift in how we approach branding. For decades marketing and advertising was focused on convincing people that The Brand Cares about Us. Remember the Pepsi Generation, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, or You are in Good Hands with Allstate?

But in Yahoo’s post engagement analysis of its Facebook pages, it determined that the most effective approach is to convince individuals that The Brand Cares About Me. The emotional connection now has to be made on an individual level.

Back to the Future

Believe it or not, Albano, who is well under 40, suggested reading How to Win Friends and Influence People. Written by Dale Carnegie in 1936, it offers six steps to getting people to like you, which are as relevant today in social media as they were in sales then.

1. Become genuinely interested in other people
2. Smile
3. Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language
4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves
5. Talk in terms of the other person's interests
6. Make the other person feel important - and do it sincerely.

Remember when people answered their phones, and the customer service rep was a person not a voice mail or computer help list designed to not have you talk to anyone? When a human being was on the other end of the line, actually voiced concern, and a real connection was made. That’s two-way communication.

But today, the vast majority of business Facebook pages repackage information that’s been approved, sanitized, etc. from other sources. Often they are from another form of media, like a press release, and read like one. The goal of these Facebook pages is to search well, to have some sort of a presence. But just having a Facebook page doesn't do much, except improve SEO to some degree.

It’s All About Caring What I Think

Albano pointed to research which found when advertisers asked people questions around content sales jumped by 12%. Ads that ask questions are 4x more engaging than those that don’t.

If you troll Facebook pages, as I often do looking for ideas, you will see a lot more questions. Some work and some don't. Albano points to the contrast of the traditional Oscar experience on the Web where experts tell you who will win and why they think so compared to weighing in on who wore that dress best.

Sports is in a question mode too – not just in social but mobile. Teams and commentators are asking fans who they think will win the game and giving real time stats on what everyone thinks.

The Art and Science of Questions

The best question example Albano gave was State Farm’s Fallen Firefighters’ video posted on 9-11, and created for its 10th anniversary. Called “Empire State of Mind” and directed by Spike Lee, it runs six minutes and tugs at the heartstrings while revering the firefighters. The question State Farm asked – What did you feel that day? The responses were overwhelming.

PBS has about half a million Facebook fans and is a master at asking engaging questions. Here are a couple of recent ones that sparked conversation:

• What do you hope President Obama talks about? (reference was to an upcoming news conference)
• Do you have a favorite Steve Jobs moment or quote?

I also took a look at some of Yahoo’s Facebook sports questions:

• Which NFL team has surprised you the most this season?
• The NBA players are willing to miss games. Do you think there will be any games at all?

Of course, it's not just the questions, with any marketing approach you must have a sound strategy behind your page. And from that strategy, your questions will evolve more easily.

So what questions can you ask on your Facebook page?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What a Great Ad - Tax Breaks vs. Spending on Schools

No matter what you think of tax breaks for businesses, this new ad from the Michigan Education Association done solely online is genius. It's one of those show me, don't tell me ads that really drives the point home. It makes you shake your head, tsk, tsk and so believe in the rightness of what they are saying.

Go to That's advertising that works. It's also going viral on the Internet.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Can LinkedIn Really Help with New Business Development?

I am determined to figure out the best ways to use LinkedIn for marketing. As a PR and marketing consultant, social media is a great tool for me. Many consultants swear by LinkedIn as a way to find new contacts, build networks, share information and generally just make yourself look smart.

But can you get business from it or is LinkedIn just the world’s largest database?

The answer is I really don’t know. I have used LinkedIn successfully in the past in several ways that are helpful:

Team Building – When I need to put together teams of people to go after large contracts, and I am missing a key team member, LinkedIn has provided a resource for finding new talent.

Prospect and Database Development – I network a lot and each time I meet a new contact, I send an invite to join my LinkedIn database. This is part expediency (it’s easier than inputting cards into my system, and people respond quickly and remember you), and part a way of connecting that is not a direct request for business.

Building Attention for Blogs and Other Writings – I belong to many LinkedIn groups, actually I think I’m over the limit, and a handful I monitor regularly. I have several blogs and posting a link and note on a group that may care about what I’ve written drives traffic to my spaces.

Twitter and Facebook for Business Associates – I tweet about all sorts of things – from Paul Simon’s performance of Sounds of Silence at Ground Zero to how hard it is to teach my 15 year-old son to drive. But on LinkedIn I can “tweet” the professional stuff that interests me and not worry about the entire universe seeing it.

Keeping Up With Journalists – I am connected to many journalists on LinkedIn and I can keep up with them this way without reading endless Twitter feeds.

Monitoring the Conversation – Some LinkedIn discussions are pure drivel, others go on forever, and others I’ve learned from. One conversation on How do you know if someone really doesn’t understand marketing? resulted in a blog post, that resulted in a news article, and the conversation is still ongoing.

Much of the talk is about stuff I already know but it’s good to be reminded and I have learned some new things.

Looking for New Work – I’ve had former clients (and unfortunately boyfriends) find me on LinkedIn, and sometimes when I get wind of a new project I can look up a person from that company and ask for help connecting. This seems to work well. Of course you have to pay a fee to use the InMail function but it’s worth it.

But can LinkedIn be used for Marketing?

I digress. Can LinkedIn be used for business development? I am trying. For the last couple of months I have been going through my list of 600 or so LinkedIn connections and getting in touch with those that I think I could partner with or help. I’ve met with about a dozen of them for coffee or lunch, depending on how well I know them.

I’ve found a lot of job seekers who I’ve helped more than they’ve helped me. But I’ve also gotten some leads. Stay tuned for an update. And feel free to comment and offer your own advice.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Can Cheerleaders Successfully Market Science?, an organization started by the dynamic and committed citizen scientist Darlene Cavalier, has a noble goal. It wants to demonstrate to young girls that it’s OK to be pretty, smart, and love science. In fact, all of the cheerleaders want young girls to believe in themselves and do what they love to do.

At the first USA Science & Engineering Festival in 2010, the Science Cheerleaders drew large crowds, as they shook their pompoms, did a brief summary of what kind of scientists and medical specialists they are, and joined in unison to yell “Go Science.”

The Science Cheerleaders travel around the country and do many public appearances. They hold cheerleading clinics and try to inspire young girls to take science seriously as a career path.They have gotten a lot of media attention, as well they should. It’s a unique idea and it negates a persistent problem in science - the notion that female scientists are weird and frumpy.

With all that said, I simply can’t get away from the fact that the whole concept of cheerleader, whether pushing science to girls or not, has always bothered me. Perhaps it’s because I was one of the smart girls who hung out with but didn’t date the jocks. Perhaps it’s because the cheerleaders didn’t like me and I didn’t like them. Perhaps it’s because even at my 30-year high school reunion, the cheerleaders still wouldn’t speak to me.

Or perhaps, it's because I’m the mother of a 12 year-old girl and I don’t want my daughter to be a cheerleader or a beauty queen or a model. I want her to be liked, and loved for that matter, because she’s funny, smart, cool, a total jock and all the other wonderful qualities that make her, her.

Of course, if my daughter wants to be a cheerleader then I will support her in every way I can. But I would feel a lot better about that choice if the image of a cheerleader wasn’t such a negative one, particularly as it is portrayed in media.

If you watch a lot of bad teen TV, or teen movies, which I insist on viewing if my daughter does, cheerleaders are still portrayed as not very nice girls. They are the queens of the high school, the popular girls, the ones who wear too much make-up, really short skirts, and date the captain of the football team. They are shown as the original mean girls, shallow, foolish and admired not for who they are, but what they look like.

Cheerleaders conform to a male, let’s face it pretty darn sexist, image of who and what girls are and should be. The Science Cheerleaders have a serious message to impart, but they’re attention-getters because they are pretty, sexy and good dancers. That’s a fact.

The beauty queen who followed the Science Cheerleaders at the event I saw them performing in, lost me within seconds. She talked for a good half hour about the work she does with growing passion. But no matter what she said, she couldn’t negate the image of the woman I saw heading towards the stage, strutting her stuff in skintight jeans, boots with five inch heels, with an entourage of men beside her. After she changed into her long white beauty queen dress – I think she even had a crown on but I could be making that up – she wanted to be taken seriously. But I don’t think she was.

So do I think that smart, beautiful women who want to level the science and engineering playing field should be out there doing what they do for science? Absolutely. But there is a part of me, and not a small one, that wonders how much good the Science Cheerleaders can really do if all those good intentions get lost behind the stereotypes.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How The Kane Show Markets by Saying I Love You

On the Kane Show, which is on Hot 99.5 FM and one of Washington, DC's most popular morning shows, Kane has the usual radio line-up of 20-something cohorts, including Sarah, the perky, pretty one, who comments on everything without saying anything vaguely controversial, and Samy, the post-college boy who always seems to be hung over and sounding very About Last Night.

Kane and his team tell listeners they love them all the time, and those who call in to answer various questions do the same. It's like a great big love fest, and it works for branding and bonding listeners to the show.

A much milder Howard Stern

I don’t know Kane’s first name but he reminds me of Howard Stern when he was funny and silly, before he became a shock jock. I used to listen to him while driving around Manhattan early in the AM searching for on-street parking, and hating every car that managed to get into a space before me.

Now it's my middle school-aged daughter and I listening to Kane after we drop her brother at high school (he wouldn't be caught dead listening to the kind of music she does), and it's only for about 20 minutes. But at least, in the middle of traffic, speeding cars, morning crankiness and a lot of last minute hair brushing, it gives us something to smile about.

Kane does cross the decorum line often, and when he does we shut the radio off, and my daughter doesn't argue because it's so abundantly clear she shouldn't be listening. But we still listen every school day because Kane is like the annoying uncle at Thanksgiving that gives you too much information, but makes you laugh hysterically.

The show also has a strong morality streak, bathed in humiliation. On our favorite segment, called “War of the Roses,” half of a married or deeply involved couple asks the show to call their significant other and find out if they're cheating. Generally they are and a cat fight ensues.

The ruse to get the person they phone talking is that they will get a free bouquet of roses sent to the one they love. The "War" depends on who they decide to send them too.

But this blog isn't about the various antics of Kane and his gang, it's about building relationships with listeners or customers.

At the end of almost every call from a listener, Kane or Sarah or Samy say “I love you.” Listeners tell Kane and his sidekicks they love them too. The love flows so freely it seems natural - like we're all part of one big happy family. No wonder it's one of the most popular radio shows in our market.

I think telling people you love them is much more accepted now than it used to be. Today’s parents say I love you all the time to their kids. When they end a call. When they say goodbye. When they just feel like it.

My 15 year-old son tells his friends he loves them at the end of phone calls. “Love ya man,” is often the goodbye. It reinforces good feelings and in today’s screwed up world that’s a big plus.

Should marketers call to say I love you?

So it got me thinking. What would happen if marketers started telling customers they loved them? How much do we thank those who have helped us for their support?

If you’re in a service business you work for people that you love because they are a great fit with you and they are easy to work for. When you work for people that are jerks you immediately regret it. So why don’t we tell the business people who are good to us that we love them? What holds us back? Do we think they’ll be embarrassed? It’s better to tell them then not, don’t you think?

The Kane Show gets it. Kane shares the love. It's expressed many times during his show, out loud by the people who work with him and those who listen to him.

Better yet, in a lousy market, it sells a lot of advertising.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Beat the Heat with a Little Plagiarism Perhaps?

It's 102 degrees in Washington, DC today and with the humidity index it's 115.

How many times do people just pick up information off the Web and republish it under their own names? It's happened to me and I saw today a perfect example of how it's done- except this person got called on it. And their immediate reaction was to deny it, even though the articles were almost identical.

It reminds me of a discussion I contributed to recently about whether or not picking up someone else's blog post - if it was attributed - was considered unprofessional. Although it is common practice, the comments were pretty straight forward. Don't do it. It makes you look bad.

If you can't come up with something that is at least a new take on an age old topic then don't write it. Blogging is a pain in the neck, and I can't tell you how tempting it is sometimes when you see something that's good by someone else to change it a little and make it yours. But that's plagiarism pure and simple

The original article was written by a U.S. News & World Report blogger. I'm not going to put names on this because I'm really writing about the topic rather than the people. The bottom line is someone in this little story took someone else's work and passed it off as their own. That makes all of them look bad except the original writer who pointed it out.

Here's the discussion - judge for yourself. The plagiarized blog post has already been take down so I copied the conversation for you. Interesting example of a gut reaction to deny and then a realization that a person who was trusted really did just take someone else's work.

The original writer - This article is copied from an article I wrote for US News and World Report, word for word. Are you really passing this off as your own - in a group that I moderate? This is the the article that I wrote. Word for word.

The blogger who posted the copied article - Our article came directly from a manager with a Fortune 500 Company. If you read both articles there are differences. We don't copy articles. She did an interview with our content writer and I know she didn't copy your article.

I have written articles myself on what is now a hot topic, that are now showing up all over the sites. I published a book in 1998 with an entire chapter on the subject.

Sorry if you want to take this off the site please feel free to do so. She included new info in point number 6. I think there are only so many ways you can reinvent the wheel and write from experience. The manager wrote this we just edited and helped with the title.

The original writer - Are you kidding me? Helped with the title? It's EXACTLY the same title. The content isn't rewritten - it is the same. You added one thing to post it in a group that has a string with 450+ comments to try to bring more traffic to your site. Before you write me back and try to justify your position, take a look, make a quick comparison. It is copied and then you had the nerve to come and post it in a group I moderate. Really?

Your manager didn't write it. You should start checking your content from your content farm through a checker for plagiarized work. This is copied. You should be giving credit to the original owner, not passing it off as your own content.

And yes, please take it off your site.

My take on this - In this situation, if I was the person who posted this article, I would never try to defend it - just apologize and take it down immediately. There's nothing to be gained from denying it especially when the two articles are almost identical.

A few minutes after I posted this the apology came. Kudos to the blogger for taking action quickly.

The blogger - I am so sorry. We had no clue this was copied. We are taking the article off our site and I will leave your group. This is a new site, we didn't expect anything like this to happen and we will make sure from here on out that this does not happen again. I have a feeling the manager read your article and didn't realize what she was doing was wrong b/c she does interviews all the time using Stars.

Also I just got off the phone with my editor and she told me she heavily edited the content of the article that she submitted. The manager and I talked weeks ago and she gave me all of those reasons she didn't hire people off the top of her head. I asked her could she write them in an article and she said yes.

I have two staff writers that freelance and they have either interviewed our contributors or sent them questions for the articles. And some of our contributors have submitted their own content. We don't copy. I am a published author and I would not want anyone doing this to me. I apologize and will leave your group. I posted to a few sites and I can't see a way to remove the posts but I will try to get them off of Linkedin. . .

In the end, the lesson learned is pretty straight forward. People plagarize other people's work and on the Internet I believe it's become a much more common practice than it once was. What people don't seem to understand is that everything on the Internet is copyrighted the moment it's published. So the same rules that applied to print work - apply online.

Will the copyrights be enforced? Probably not. But is it really worth it? In the end, the whole point of blogging is to add to the conversation, not copy someone else's. Yes we're all crazy busy and it's easy to take an idea, change some of the words, and represent it as your own.

I've been working a long time, and have seen most of the new and brilliant marketing approaches touted as new ideas before. The media marketers are using today may be different, but fresh ideas are hard to come by. This particular blog post was pretty generic and contained information that has probably been published in many different forms over time - repeating much of what has already been said.

What do other marketers think? Do you re-package others content and if you do how do you attribute it?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Marketing the Real Senior Executive - What it Takes

I got a call several months ago from a recruiter who asked me if I knew a younger version of myself who would be interested in a PR position in a scientific organization.

Wow. I have my own business, although periodically I do look for a full-time job because I’ve got a kid going to college in two years, an ex-husband who thinks he should pay much less child support than is needed, and a house that is pretty costly to run.

So is there age discrimination in PR? Is there air? Over the past six weeks a massive conversation that I believe is up to 420 comments has occurred over this topic. The original question was actually Age Discrimination in PR Recruiting posted by Mark Schumann, former IABC International chair, on his blog.

The debate ensues on The Public Relations and Jobs Community LinkedIn page. There is a photo of a man who appears to be in his 70s and it doesn’t even show his whole face. But we get it. This guy is older and wiser.

The answer from all of us who are above the age of 40 is DUH. Of course there is age discrimination and not just in PR, everywhere. In this recession, companies have basically decided that 10 years of experience is enough to do pretty much anything except the CEO’s job. Highly experienced is 3-5 years. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know anything about anything when I was 25. I was all raw talent and a lot of bluster.

Getting a Job When You’re in Your 40s plus

The discussion on the LinkedIn page is more about getting a job in PR, which unless you somehow manage to get incredibly lucky and find a state or federal government position, or something in non-profit many of whose leaders understand that age means experience, you can kind of forget about it. The discussion has centered on a number of topics some of which I’ve listed here.

Social media and it’s meteoric rise has elevated the 23 year-old to a new status. Even though they don’t often have a clue how to use it for business. Youth means social expert, everyone under 25 is a social media expert. It’s not true, but hiring managers buy it and so do their bosses who think Twitter is a fun thing that no one else looks at. Yes Congressman Weiner, I’m talking about you.

The HR people who are the first round of filling many senior PR positions, knock out older people because of cost and because we refuse to give up our dignity. They ask for references (to a blind ad are you kidding me?), salary requirements (I wouldn’t provide those to someone who didn’t even interview me), etc. If you don’t put those in, you get deleted. Well you know what, that’s their loss, but it’s also ours.

They make you fill out endless forms and produce your college transcript. My college transcript is probably in a crypt somewhere and the idea of giving it to anyone is ludicrous. I mean really. Twenty five years of experience and you need to see that I got a C in geology. They also make prospective candidates fill out the same application that an entry level person would fill out. How demoralizing is that?

The 35 year-old Executive VP. PR is famous for inflating titles, particularly the agencies. If you’ve got ten years of experience you are a veteran, an expert, a genius. What they don’t bother to think about is you are also getting ready to start a family (which limits a woman's potential depending on what her mothering beliefs are), and means the dad has to go home too if he wants to see his kids.

Wouldn’t you be better off with a 55 year-old whose kids are grown and can work late into the night and travel when needed?

Europeans don’t do this. I’m not sure this is true, but many who’ve chimed in from England, France, Italy, etc. have said that there isn’t that much age discrimination in their countries. Experience equals wisdom. Well good for them. In the USA experience often equals the person who wins the Apprentice. Paris here I come.

How to get around the age issue

Shave everything but the last 15 years off your resume.

This is actually decent advice because something you did 25 years ago is pretty darn irrelevant right now. Don’t put down your college graduation date – even though it’s a dead giveaway you are older when you exclude it and anyone who knows how to Google can find it in 30 seconds or less. But maybe they won't bother to find out you were a child of the 70s.

Keep up to date with new developments in the PR profession.

If you don’t understand social media, aren’t at least doing it for yourself, don’t have a blog, don’t get what digital means, you’re of another generation. Get your skills up to today’s market. Read what’s going on – attend seminars, learn how to walk the walk and talk the talk. Do you know what SEO is? If not, learn, and I don't mean just what the acronym means but how to do it well.

Update your technology, music taste, celebrity knowledge, etc.

I guarantee you most 50 year-olds have no clue who Justin Bieber and Usher are, think kids admire Lindsay Lohan, have never seen a Harry Potter movie (the last one is due out this summer), have no clue that an eight year-old can get around any computer security device on the planet, don’t take and edit video, and cannot name an X-Box game or define virtual reality.

Brush up people. I am lucky in this regard because I have an 11 year-old and a 15 year-old. I even listen to the Kane Show, watch Jon Stewart and haven’t seen David Lederman in years. Oh that’s right, you’re already in bed.

My final question is for the people who keep saying we should raise the retirement age to save social security. Yes of course we should save it. But if you cannot get a job at 48, how are you possibly going to work until 70? No one will hire you. Maybe it’s time for them to get a reality check too.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The New Business Rudeness

A decade or two ago if a mid or senior level executive was approached by a peer or someone younger they responded. They may not have given you the answer you wanted to hear, but they knew that rudeness was not how you do business.

What happened to that professionalism? Did it go the way of the land line, and the receptionist that isn't a computer, a return phone call or email acknowledgment, the we've decided to hire someone else but thank-you letter?

I was talking to a friend the other day who designs men's jewelry, which is featured in a number of high priced men’s catalogs and stores.

She was telling me how she’s calling people she’s known for a long time about showing her designs for Father’s Day. About how so many people that she knows well just don’t call her back.

I got to thinking about that too. As a marketing/PR consultant and a former journalist, I have a wide network of people I’ve worked with over the years. We’ve had fun, we’ve done great work together, we’ve respected each other, and often these days I email them, I call them and I can’t get them to call me back.

A number of people have recommended me lately, I’m in a marketing mode, and their contacts don’t call me back either.When you finally get them on the phone, the standard excuses are I didn’t get your email, I was really busy, etc. You still can't get in to see them and the interaction is uncomfortable and kind of weird. They want you to disappear. You want them to act like you deserve the courtesy of a response.

I’ve also noticed that people will put you through a couple of phone conversations, ask you to write a proposal and then a couple of weeks go by, and you don’t hear from them. So you get back in touch.

Of course you know they’ve decided “to go in a different direction,” or hired someone else. But if you ask me to take my time to think through a proposal for you, at least do me the courtesy of telling me I didn’t get hired.

I know the market is tough. I know that people are doing two and three jobs. I also know I’m not a kid raised in the age of email, Facebook and online dating, etc. where if you’re not interested in someone you just blow them off. I have never done that. No I’m not some kind of an etiquette maven, but whatever happened to basic common business courtesy and professionalism?

That’s when I started to realize that there is a new, inexplicable rudeness in the business community today. People who are looking for jobs tell me they write letters, they call, they apply, and they never hear a word back.

A hospital down the street from me was hiring a senior communications person, and I applied. It’s a great facility, growing, they are very strong medically, etc. I’ve always admired them and what could be better than working three blocks away from your house?

I never heard a word, so I called the senior vice president who runs that division and emailed her. She ignored me completely. I checked with HR, and they said if we’re not interested we just don’t respond. This after making you fill out an endless application that makes you feel like an idiot with the banality of questions asked. And they don’t even acknowledge you. Wow.

I worked for a business executive awhile ago who was probably the most driven person I’ve ever known. He worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He never stopped working. But anyone from an intern to the president of a company who got in touch with him, got an immediate response. That was impressive.

This man didn't have to work anymore and he didn’t need any of them. Maybe he was old fashioned. Or maybe he just understood that it's not smart business to be rude.

Remember Bill Clinton, before Monica Lewinsky. The Friends of Bill. The way he had of keeping in touch with everyone he met along his road to the presidency. He built constituencies. He made friends with everyone from doormen to CEOs. And it worked.

I don’t know why professionals today are so unbelievably rude. Why people who have achieved many of the same things you have, don't have the common courtesy to at least say no thank-you. But as long as I’m working, I will not have much respect for anyone who is.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Only 30% of Americans Understand Basic Science - What Should Marketers Do?

Scientific literacy in this country, and around the world, is a big issue discussed regularly by educators, government leaders and other important stakeholders.

Without it, most people cannot read the science sections of newspapers and understand them. Most are written at a 5th or 6th grade level. Research from Michigan State University shows less than 30% of Americans qualify as scientifically literate.

What does this have to do with marketing you ask? The job growth in the next few decades is going to be in science, engineering and health fields, and so will many of the products and services developed. Without basic science literacy it will be impossible to hire people for these positions and for them to market what they are selling effectively.

And if companies want to hire Americans, it is up to them to train the high school and college kids of today in the information that they need to know in order to get hired.

What does a scientific literate person need to know? According to the Nuffield Foundation he or she should be able to:

• Appreciate and understand the impact of science and technology on everyday life.

• Make informed personal decisions about things that involve science, such as health, diet, and energy.

• Read and understand the essential points of media reports on science.

• Reflect critically on the information included in such reports

• Discuss scientific issues with confidence and clarity.

Michigan State University professor Jon Miller said in an article published by AAAS’ EurekAlert that, "A slightly higher proportion of American adults qualify as scientifically literate than European or Japanese adults, but the truth is that no major industrial nation in the world today has a sufficient number of scientifically literate adults.”

A recent study of scientific literacy in college students, which was published in January of 2011, shows just how deep the problem goes. Miller and other researchers recently examined the science knowledge of more than 500 students at 13 U.S. colleges in courses ranging from introductory biology to advanced ecology.

Most students could not answer these questions:

1. How does carbon transform? Most students failed to apply principles such as the conservation of matter, which holds that when something changes chemically or physically, the amount of matter at the end of the process needs to equal the amount at the beginning.

2. Why and how do we lose weight? Students trying to explain weight loss could not trace matter once it leaves the body; instead they used informal reasoning based on their personal experiences (such as the fat "melted away" or was "burned off").

3. How do plants grow? Most students incorrectly believe plants obtain their mass from the soil rather than primarily from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

We've found in research done for AAAS on our Science Inside Alcohol project that the majority of middle school students didn't know that human body systems are interconnected. So when we set out to write a book for parents and a microsite for kids, we started by explaining each body system that they needed to understand in order to get the science of how alcohol affects our bodies.

Aside from needing jobs, college students are the ones who will over the next few decades be grappling with climate change issues, among others. How can they intelligently discuss and debate what is happening to our planet and people without a basic knowledge of science? The answer is they can’t.

In Chattanooga, TN under a grant from the National Science Foundation, a local high school formed a health academy that students attended from 10th grade on. They wore scrubs to school (how cool is that) and learned much of the basic science and technology they would need to take jobs in local medical companies (albeit they weren't high level jobs they were entry level employees but you have to start somewhere).

There are academies like this within many high schools, courtesy in part from the Gates Foundation. And there have been for quite some time. But Chattanooga did it differently.

High school teachers went to local health and science companies, and talked to them about future workforce needs. They learned about what it would take for students to get their jobs, and worked with the companies to create a curriculum that prepared them with the basic science and medical background they would need. The companies also agreed to hire the students as interns so they could learn while doing and get to know their inner workings.

So come on marketers, step up to the plate.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Back to Basics: Three Things a Marketer Should Never Forget

Toward his honorable discharge from service and in pursuit of his second career, a colonel is interviewed for a CEO job in a large corporation.

"Why do you think you fit the job?" he is asked.

"I have all the relevant experience because running this company is just like commanding my brigade: You have employees, I had soldiers; you call it a stock room - we called it logistics; your HR is just another name for our adjutancy; we compete with the other units in the command just as you deal with your competitors!"

"OK,” says the interviewer, "How about the customer?"

"The customer?" retorts the colonel after three seconds of thinking, "he's the enemy!"


A discussion on LinkedIn’s Marketing Executives Group), started by Dr. Brian Monger, CEO at Marketing Association of ANZ in Melbourne, Australia, addresses this and other core marketing issues that sometimes we forget.

Monger posed the question: “How do you know when someone really doesn’t understand marketing?” What are the primary indicators - in your experience?” That discussion has drawn more than 300 comments to date. I’ve taken some of the best answers and turned them into three questions marketers should ask themselves on a regular basis.

1. When was the last time I listened to my customers?
People who’ve worked in the same industry for several years, often start to take it for granted. They’ve done the focus groups, the talking to members and customers and conducted satisfaction survey and needs analysis just the way they are supposed to. But are you really on top of what your customer needs. Let’s do a little self-examination here:
• Do you dislike visiting plants, stores, meetings or talking to customers?
• Do you talk with all the different departments in your organization that are connected to marketing on a regular basis – advertising, member services, web developers, social media experts, etc?
• Do you listen to what internal employees are telling you and act on their feedback?
• Do you read discussions on your LinkedIn, Face book and other social media pages, as well as tweets on your industry, and bring important information to your attention?

2. Is my marketing plan integrated across all the different parts of the mix?
There’s a big difference between marketing that creates opportunities, and sales which transform those opportunities into making money for the organization.
In my experience, marketing often begins before advertising, public relations and outreach. Many organizations decide to hire a communications or marketing firm after they’ve just redone their web site. This is a clear indicator that they don’t understand integrated marketing.

While many companies have a marketing plan, it does not account for every as Ogilvy & Mather puts it “touch point” by which an organization reaches its customers. As a result, branding is fragmented across different target audiences, and cohesive messages on what a company stands for and the value of its products or services aren’t always delivered.

The MEG members pointed out many times, that they know immediately that someone doesn’t understand marketing when they start talking about elements of the mix, without an overall strategy that drives the work.

Some of the comments on lack of integration and branding were:
• Marketers need to go back sometimes and remember the brand we have tried to build. A brand is a promise. To foster loyalty, it always has to deliver on the promise.
• Elements of marketing work together – it’s a unique blend of art and science.
• So many marketing departments continue to not connect a marketing activity to metrics and not tie it to a business goal.
• When they use words interchangeably such as marketing, sales, promotion, PR, publicity, etc ... without regard to context.

3. Do we have a clearly articulated marketing strategy and a flexible plan?
I’ve worked for marketers who had a clearly articulated marketing plan – and didn’t want to pay to develop one. But the plan resided in their heads which doesn’t leave much for those who are expected to implement it. Basically it was this is what we need to do, and this is how we’re going to do it. Then the rest was about sales, sales, sales.

Perhaps the best purpose of a clearly articulated strategy and plan is involving everyone who must implement it during development, and obtaining buy-in as you go.

One marketer reports, he used to have a sign hanging on his door that said, Just because you have always done it that way doesn't mean it is right (pictured underneath was a man getting run over by a bull at the running of the bulls in Spain). He reports, there are so many aspects to successful marketing: knowing what works and applying it, knowing when a practice doesn't apply anymore and being open-minded enough to look for new approaches to getting in front of your target audience.

(A version of this article was published by ASAE's Marketing Insights, March 2011, written by yours truly).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

6 Warning Signs a PR Firm is Not What it Seems

There are a lot of bad PR people out there, as there are in any industry. If you are trying to hire a PR agency and notice any of these issues run like hell.

1. A Room with a beautiful view – I had a colleague who was convinced PR agencies used the same tactic as pharmaceuticals - hire a lot of young, beautiful women to sell their products and services, because let's face it the majority of doctors are still men. There are some extremely bright and attractive young people in the PR business. But PR is also famous for bait and switch. If the agency gray hairs do all the talking in a room and you have a handful of young, very attractive people who only say a few scripted remarks, chances are those are your new account executives. Ask how many vice presidents the PR agency has who are under 30? That’s a good way to check what’s really going on.

2. That’s a brilliant idea – You’re not hiring a PR agency to tell you what you want to hear. If your ideas are so great you would just implement them yourself, right. I had a boss once who would sit in a room with our CEO and repeat back exactly what he’d said a few minutes earlier in different words, and glow when he praised her. She had grown up in a Fortune 500 company, and was very good at it, but if you were paying attention you would notice she had nothing to say.

3. We know him, her and every journalist in your field and they take our calls This person is lying. Media has gone through so many upheavals in the past few years that no one knows everyone anymore. Name dropping in my opinion, is just obnoxious, unless it is done very sparingly and only to emphasize something you are already saying. Fortunately we live in the age of easy search – get a client list and Google recent stories about some of their biggest clients. Ask for the Today Show or evening news clips, articles about their clients by the famous columnist they know well, and that NPR story they are so proud of.

4. An outdated web site – If the PR company you are talking too has case studies from 10 years ago, no video or visuals, inactive social media spaces, no blog or a just plain outdated web site run like the wind. I've heard the excuse I'm too busy to redo my site many times but you know what, we're in an image business. Your web site is your image as are your social media spaces. What matters is the quality and currency of the information they put out there. We live in a very fast moving world and if the PR company hasn’t updated their look, materials, etc. they don’t live in it. What kind of message does old stuff send to a potential client?

5. You don’t need media training – Everyone needs media training before starting a campaign, no matter how big their ego or how many interviews they’ve done. I had a client once who used the exact same quote in every interview he did, and thought he sounded young, hip and brilliant. There are benefits to sticking to your messages but he came off as having only one thing to say which when you searched his interviews didn’t make him look very smart. The media training doesn’t have to be a full-blown, multi-tiered, many thousands of dollars deal, but at the very least – no matter how small the budget is – new messaging and mock interviews are really important.

6. Our expertise and role in the formation and dissemination of messages to all stakeholders is of value across the spectrum of traditional media as well as increasingly called upon by numerous new media options. English please? This lovely sentence came off the web site of one of the biggest PR agencies in the world. There are just way too many people out there that hide behind big empty words that don’t tell you anything about them. Many people are comfortable with that, it sounds like they write I guess. But the fact is if you can’t tell me your point of difference, then you don’t have one.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Women Still Earning 75% of What Men Do - This is about PR

When I was in my mid-20s, I worked with a guy who is now a big shot writer. I can't remember how, but I learned that he was making substantially more than I was doing the same job. At that time, I thought it was because he was a much better negotiator. His strategy was to walk in and tell them what salary he expected to earn, then let them negotiate him down. I had taken what they gave me and negotiated that up slightly.

This happened at another company too and it was done because the men were supporting families and the women were considered secondary wage earners. Well when I got divorced I was no longer a secondary anything. I am raising the kids, paying a pretty hefty mortgage and still getting underpaid.

The bottom line is the workplace still doesn't value women the way it does men. We also need to push harder for equal wages and know what the disparities are before we start talking about salary.

Right now, no one wants to push too hard because the line behind them stretches so far back that the organization will find someone else male or female who will take less.

But we still shouldn't let people take advantage of us when it comes to fees and salaries. And we still do.

All of this leads up to some new data that documents over the past 20 years women have still not reached parity with what their male counterparts earn for the same positions. This information is for PR people - which should put all of us females on notice.

Bey-Ling Sha, Ph.D. chairs PRSA’s National Committee on Work, Life & Gender and she published this article recently on LinkedIn. I thought it was important enough for all of us to give it more distribution.

The White House this month released a report showing that women still only earn about 75 percent of what men earn on the job. I feel disgusted but unsurprised.

Women have earned less than men since the government began tracking these numbers. In 1979, a woman earned 62 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In 2005 and 2006, women made 81 cents for every dollar men made. That was the all-time high!

In the last half decade, we’ve not only failed to make progress on the issue of gendered income inequity—we’ve increased the wage gap between men and women.

The public relations profession is not immune to this larger societal problem.

Preliminary data from the Public Relations Society of America’s 2010 Work, Life & Gender Survey indicated that the average annual income for men in public relations was about $120K; that figure for women was about $72K. In our 2006 survey, the average annual income for men was $98,188.82; the average for women was $67,853.08.

This income disparity is a problem for the public relations profession. Here’s why:

1. The problem appears to be getting worse. In 2006, the average income for women in public relations was 69 percent of men’s average earnings. In 2010, the figure was down to 60 percent. This widening wage gap is discouraging, not only for women practitioners, but also for the increasing number of households that rely on women as the primary wage-earner.

2. The percentage of women practitioners in public relations is increasing, not decreasing. This means that, as more women enter public relations with their lower annual earnings, the average incomes for the profession as a whole will decrease. This is a simple issue of math.

3. The profession may lose talent. As average incomes for the public relations profession decline, we may see talented practitioners move to other, related fields with higher salary offerings. This is a more complicated issue of competitiveness for our profession as a whole.

Of course, preliminary data are just that—preliminary.

This year, members of the Work, Life & Gender Committee will be doing some detailed analysis of the survey data. Perhaps the income differential is due to differences between men and women in years of experience or education levels. Perhaps it’s because more women than men are working part-time. Perhaps it’s because women’s careers get interrupted by child bearing and other family responsibilities. Perhaps.

Of course, past research has indicated that—even with all these possible explanations controlled and accounted for—women in public relations still earn less than men. But perhaps this will be the year the data show us a different picture.

If so, I will be totally surprised, but totally not disgusted.

Friday, February 25, 2011

USA Today Writer Reminds Us What PR Person Should Do Before an Interview

Went to a lunch presentation yesterday about what is really Off the Record and came away reinforcing my opinion that nothing is. The conversation was set up by Ed Barks who is a well-known media trainer in DC and given at a Capitol Communicators' Group lunch. Ed gave definitions for each of the terms – OTR, deep background, not for attribution, etc. If it’s a writer you know really well and trust you could go OTR, but I would still recommend that a client not do it.

In this age of social media you can develop messages for clients and coach them, but reporters are smart and they know how to manipulate people. I know, I was one. I think it’s better to take the approach that anything you say will be made public. That way you’ll be more careful.

The most interesting presentation was by Donna Leinwand, a justice and crime reporter for USA Today. She reminded us that what your client says isn’t everything. Good reporters notice details and will write about them.

Think about where the interview is taking place, who escorts the reporter out of the building, and those final moments when everyone is relaxed and more likely to say something they don’t want too. Also remember you should be careful of the follow-up questions, sent by email or delivered by phone.

Here are a few of the PR faux pas that Donna mentioned:

• A senior executive was wearing mismatched socks and she put it into her profile of him. He called her up after it ran and was furious.

• If you don’t want people to know you smoke don’t do it. Another senior executive chomped on a cigar throughout an entire interview and then his wife called Donna after the piece ran complaining that he was trying to quit and she shouldn’t have written that.

• Donna interviewed a DEA official along with a Rolling Stone reporter in Amsterdam at a local coffee house (translation legal dispenser of marijuana). The Rolling Stone reporter lit up a joint and she mentioned it in her copy. As you can imagine, the DEA official was beside himself.

• Clear your desk or conference room table before an interview. I used to read everything on a CEO’s desk as he was talking – and yes it was all upside down.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Marketing 3.0 - Bring Back Real Creativity and Concise Messaging

Sometimes I am just astounded by how little attention is paid to messaging in presentations, brochures and other marketing efforts. At how many times I’ve seen the same pitch or argument repackaged with a different colored bow and called insight or "brand new."

Maybe it’s my advertising background, maybe it was the Harvard Business School, maybe it’s from journalism or perhaps it has come from years of trying to distill from what a client says and the materials they produce, what it is they are really trying to tell me. What is uniquely theirs that will make me buy from them or go to their event.

No matter what the source, in this age of messages flung at us with words, visuals, in emails – we all need clarity of vision, originality and most important simplicity.

There’s an ongoing discussion on one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to asking the question “How do you know when someone really doesn’t understand marketing?”
Well my answer is when they can’t sell me on three concise messages that tell me why I should care about their product, service or event, why it's different than everything else out there and give me compelling reasons why I should go out and buy it.

So for what it’s worth here are some examples of what I’ve seen lately from very smart people who could do much, much better.

1. Presentation that was a jumble of bullets – I went to a speech by a senior executive recently that was a PowerPoint presentation of pure bullets. Not a single visual emphasized a point – actually there were a couple of photos of the executive interacting with kids jammed in the middle somewhere. It was a total jumble of we’ve done this, this, this, and so much more but it’s your job to figure out exactly what that means. The three messages I took away? The executive supports a discipline he believes in, his organization is throwing gobs of money at improving it and forming a lot of committees none of which I really get or seem to have accomplished much.

2. Brochure whose title and graphic didn't market to the right audience. – This was a missed opportunity. The cover of a brochure is supposed to send me strong messages about why I should continue reading. This one basically announced its purpose and then had a colorful visual that would be very attractive to young children. Yet the brochure was aimed at senior marketing executives – people who would pony up a lot of money to support a non-profit that helps kids. It was a good reminder of a basic marketing premise - know your audience and remember what they care about and will motivate them. Use a visual and words that reinforce a message that will make them take notice.

3. Assuming your audience understands everything about your business.

I was reading an online brochure the other day that had many nice pictures and jumbles of text – about a product that is fairly new.

The trouble was it threw a ton of information at me telling me how successful the product launch was, and also informing me that the new and improved version would be even better. But there was so much data it gave me a headache. You could tell it was written by more than one person and the writers couldn't decide what was important so they just threw in everything they could think of. There were also lists and lists of events attached to the product with no explanations of what they were. Let’s go back to what I was told over and over as a young journalist which also applies directly to marketing. Don’t assume that your reader knows what you’re talking about. Explain your products or services as you would to a novice.

4. Event with incredibly compelling title that delivered none of what it promised – I went to this panel discussion because it had very impressive people talking and a great title that sold me – combining health care reform with another issue I care about. The trouble was I watched three speeches none of which addressed the title. It wasn’t even really referenced in what they said. I’m finding this happens more and more lately. People have figured out that a sexy headline draws traffic. Yippee. What they haven’t figured out is how to deliver on it.

Those of us who’ve seen “The Social Network” know that the Internet has become a repository for taking the ideas of others and changing the thought or example slightly – and pretending they are ours. What passes as creativity these days often comes from what Mark Zuckerberg got sued over - intellectual property theft. Of course most people don't sue, they may not even know their work was taken.

I cannot tell you how many blogs I read where someone is pontificating about a brilliant “new” idea, that I read 20 years ago, expressed in different words by a past guru who has long since retired to his or her own private island.

Once it’s online, everything is considered fair game. But what about real creativity – the kind that takes your breath away it’s so fresh and original? Can’t we have that back? In broadcast, if it weren’t for HBO, Showtime and some independent films I would believe that creativity is no longer possible.

So my point in all of this is we live in a very complicated world and are barraged daily with far more than we can process. As marketers, and communicators, we should be long past the days where an information dump is how we sell. Everything we say and write in our outreach efforts should be straightforward, clear and ours because if it’s not our products and services become a rehash of everything else that’s out there. And especially in these tough economic times - I need compelling reasons why I should listen, care and buy whatever it is you are selling.

Monday, February 7, 2011

There's a Gunman in the Building: How Discovery Communications Handled the Crisis

(Originally appeared in the IABC February 2011 Newsletter written by yours truly)

On September 1, 2010, James J. Lee, a militant environmentalist who had picketed Discovery Communications headquarters in downtown Silver Spring, MD in the past, entered its lobby and took three people hostage. Lee had a bomb strapped to him and threatened to blow up the building.

Last month, Michelle Russo, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communications for Discovery, shared her team’s experiences and lessons learned before an audience of more than 100 communications professionalat IABC/DC Metro's regular chapter meeting.

Russo said one of the first things she realized as the crisis unfolded, is that no amount of planning can prepare you for feeling personally threatened. Thus it is important to monitor your own reaction and that of your colleagues. Relying on a well-thought out Crisis Plan is important, but so is relying on your best professional instincts to guide your actions throughout the crisis.

Here are some of the other lessons learned from that day and its aftermath:

Prepare to Message in the Moment – Crisis communications plans are reviewed by many people who adapt messaging to what they’re comfortable with. But those carefully crafted messages – in a genuine crisis – are not always what you need. Russo realized that her team knew what to say and how to say it, so messages were developed on the spot and it worked.

Consider Not Talking to the Media Right Away - Within minutes, news of the gunman entering the building spread to local and national media. Russo and her team received calls almost immediately and reporters arrived in downtown Silver Spring. The team established their first priority was Discovery employees, not a media response. The communications team decided against talking to reporters until the situation was resolved. They relied on their track record of good relationships with the media and hoped reporters would understand later why their responsiveness was not at usual levels.

Assign a communications team bridge – Russo monitored the executive bridge, where Discovery’s global leaders were kept abreast of the situation. She suggested that it would have been helpful for the global communications team to have a bridge as well to keep information flowing to the company’s front-line communicators.

Consult Other Businesses in Your Community on Your Crisis Plan – Since the Discovery building was evacuated very quickly, many employees left house and car keys, bags and other items in their offices. Local organizations pitched in to help - from the hot dog vendor warning people not to go back into the building after lunch - to another large organization which assigned two staff people to help Discovery make sure its employees got home. Russo suggested, as a best practice, to set up a reciprocal business continuity agreement, in certain situations.

Planning a Global Celebration Helped Communications Run Smoothly - Earlier that year Discovery held a global celebration of its 25 th Anniversary which lasted a full week and required partnering and planning large scale logistics with offices around the world and helped instill a cohesive internal community that was invaluable on September 1.

Employees will want to share their experiences, give them guidance on how – Discovery’s approach to social media during the crisis was to respect its employees and the decisions they made. While they asked employees not to tweet, Facebook or communicate with press about updates during the crisis, they did not want to stop people from assuring their families and friends they were safe. When two of the three hostages decided they wanted to do media interviews employees were notified so they were not surprised when their colleagues were reliving the day via various media outlets

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Geek Whisperer Offers 7 Key Questions to Ask During Web Design

What’s a geek whisperer? Katie Hawkey, who acts as a liaison between marketers, techies and designers smoothing the path for successful web design, is called that by co-workers. Hawkey works for Astek Consulting, a web consulting firm based in Chicago, Il.

If your web site was designed more than 2-3 years ago, chances are it’s dated. And the last thing that marketers want is to look like they don’t know what they are doing. Hawkey, chief operating officer for Astek Consulting, provides a few key questions marketers can ask their web developers and designers so they don’t look like they need a copy of “Web Sites for Dummies.”

1. Can you create or use a content management system so that I can update my own web site?

Companies used to think of their web sites as online brochures, so it didn’t matter if the information was stagnant. But with social media, blogging and news feeds, you need to be able to change information on your site without going back to your developer all the time. Those small changes will add up. So make sure you get a web platform that allows you to make changes as you need too.

2. Will you be designing in html or Flash?

Even with today’s cool graphics and improving technology, Flash is still not as search engine friendly as HTML. For instance, says Hawkey, Google is unable to read the text in many Flash sites to index the content for search. So if the bulk of your site is in Flash it’s going to be tough for search engines to scan your site and find words they are trying to match to a user's search.

Also mobile phones read html and can be very unfriendly to Flash. The IPhone doesn’t read Flash at all. Better to stay with html and insert a bit of Flash to make your site more contemporary.

3. Can you design the site so we can feed our blog information directly into social media sites?

Many blogs do this because it gives the writer and his/her company complete control over all information that goes out, and updates every time a new blog post appears. But if your blog auto-feeds into your Facebook page for instance, it will start to look robotic (like the Facebook sites that look like they are participatory but won't let you comment or discuss anything), and people will stop coming back. Better to pick and choose which content is dynamic and what you want to feed out to other sites.

4. Can you deliver the designs for review in a way that we can view them in a browser?

At the beginning of the design process you will usually get a couple of comps that are options for your site's home page and/or secondary page design. A web site is a dynamic visual and you will never know what you are looking at if you get print outs of potential designs rather than seeing them in a browser. Color, images and design approach need to be reviewed in the medium in which they will be used. This will eliminate any surprise factor as you move forward with the design process.

5. What information do you recommend we put above the fold?

In a print piece, before the fold means what you see first, before you unfold the brochure or advertisement, etc. On a web site above the fold is what you see on the home page of a web site before you scroll down. You always want your most important messages above the fold, and secondary points or messages below it. You will also want to try calling up your home and subsequent pages on a Mac-based and a PC-based system as well as on mobile phones, IPads and other devices to see what it looks like live.

6. Can you help us brand our look and feel across multiple platforms?

Believe it or not, many marketers still don’t address all their forms of communications with customers and prospects when redesigning a web site. Particularly in tough economic times, a decision could be made to update a web site and leave other materials as they were before. You don’t want inconsistent visual, verbal or written messages across different communications platforms. Developing an integrated approach from the beginning will help, even if you end up phasing in the changes gradually.

7. What pixel width do you recommend for my site?

Right now Astek is recommending most clients go with a design at 975px wide. This is definitely a conversation to have at the beginning of the design process as it will have a huge impact on the layout. Google reports that 90% of Internet users will be able to see a design that is 975px wide without needing to scroll left to right. If you work in an industry where out-dated computers are the norm, you may want to consider keeping your site to 825px wide. This will accommodate about 95% of Internet users.

But there is a price to pay for the 150px difference. It translates to about two inches of additional width on most monitors, and it will have a huge impact on how much content you can get above the fold.

A final note from Katie is that you should tell designers at the outset you want 12 point type for all content - anything smaller will be too hard to read.

For more information email

Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't Follow Me and Other Online Ad Predictions for 2011

Doug Stevenson, the co-founder and CEO of Vibrant Media, offers predictions for the online advertising space in 2011. This is a recap, and I've cut a couple of predictions, but the ones that are here are worth reading.

FYI - online ads according to e-marketing sources are expected to grow 10.5% in 2011 and reach $40.5 billion in 2014.

1. More advertising integration with content. It's all for sale, pity the poor real journalists. Look for more convergence of content and advertising to continue in 2011, with branded utilities such as listings, live sports scores, weather, search results, Twitter, etc.

2. DON’T follow me. Remember the do not call list? Expect an online equivalent to gain popular support. Brands will engage consumers through clear, opt-in group-purchasing technologies leveraged for direct marketing.

3. The number of online ad networks will shrink. The weak will get purchased and the strong will grow. Stephenson says “The industry needs to simplify and become more coherent for marketers. Wall Street will take a vigorous interest in ad technology companies as the industry matures.”

4. Social media tools will become more common in advertising. Stevenson believes that you’ll find “like” buttons in everything from advertising to content. We’ll share more and new approaches will further the integration of social-sharing and social recommendation functionality, adding value to content through utilities such as toolbars.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Can Scientists Market Science to Kids?

A number of scientific organizations these days are creating Meet the Scientist programs and sending scientists and engineers out into public schools, science cafes, and other venues with the hope that they can drum up interest in pursuing careers in these fields. The idea behind these programs is to inspire students towards careers in these fields with the work that they do.

The problem is many scientists still don't know how to talk to the general public about their work, and today's students are even harder to communicate with. Raised on YouTube, Facebook and with a computer savvy that is far more sophisticated than many of the scientists who go to speak to them, students are far more likely to play Angry Birds on their cell phones than pay attention to a guest scientist.

How have the programs addressed this challenge?

Some Meet the Scientist efforts are training the scientists and/or giving them ground rules before they let them go out into the schools. The guidance I've seen is pretty good - PowerPoints are forbidden, they must bring physical examples of their work, do an experiment if they can, treat students as equals, etc.

Other programs have asked organizations to suggest scientists who are articulate and have experience talking to kids. But unless the scientists has done K-12 education sessions before, or have children that age, no one really knows how the scientists will do in front of a room full of kids.

Another approach that is gaining in popularity around the nation and throughout the world is sending science and health Nobel Laureates into high school to talk with kids. But many Nobel Laureates are older and male and haven't raised a child in a very long time. Rather than have an auditorium or room full of kids many of whom may not understand what the Laureates are discussion, the schools select their best and brightest which in essence is preaching to the choir.

The fact is an audience of school aged children is far tougher than a scientist's peers or even other adults to keep engaged. If the scientists are going to market science to the schools they need training and guidance.

Here are a few examples of what works and what doesn't according to my experience with these Meet the Scientist Programs.

Getting High School Kids to Come

I watched a scientist who helps wounded veterans learn to use new limbs that can literally function like real ones via signals from the brain. I first saw him in front of a room full of high school students who were really engaged with his talk. He brought props so the kids could touch and see them and left a lot of time for Q&A which went very well.

I discovered after wards that the real reason the students showed up for this lunch time event was the free pizza promised by the teacher. So that's a key learning - feed the kids and you'll get much better attendance. You know what - this works in companyies too.

Forgetting the general public is not a scientific audience

Interestingly, I saw the same scientist do a presentation a week later in front of a room full of adults at another location. This time he had no props - he had PowerPoint. I couldn't follow a lot of what he was saying and I already knew his research. By the end, at least half the people in the audience had walked out. If he had used the same approach he did with high school students, I bet they would have stayed.

It's Complicated - But the Math Kids will Get It

At another high school there was a mathematician scheduled to speak - a rather well liked and famous one - and I wanted to get some attention for the program by inviting local media. I had a reporter convinced it was a good idea to come (sold the prestige angle) but then he asked me questions that I couldn't answer - basically what the heck is it that this guy does.

I called the professor's university PR office and asked for general audience information on his research and a bio on him. The communications person had no idea what the mathematician did and no materials that I could understand. She was supposed to get in touch with the professor and get back to me. I never heard a word from either of them and the reporter didn't go.

Sell the Adventure and Remember It's Also Show and Tell

At a middle school, a scientist come in and talked about her work in archeology - she basically dug up dinosaur bones in pursuit of new and older dinosaurs. The kids asked if they could see them and she hadn't brought any. She also had a PowerPoint which was OK - at least it tried to convey the spirit of adventure in searching for life from millions of years ago. But by the end girls were nudging each other, and boys were doing that I can't sit here one second longer uncomfortable thing that boys do.

To be fair, the scientists were giving of their time and some had very successful presentations. One filled the stage with smoke from dry ice and another sang rock songs with science lyrics which were actually very amusing and engaging.

What Does Work? Ask Bill Nye or the MythBusters

The fact is in order to get the attention of kids science has to be theatrical. There have to be wows and scientists jumping up and down and a sense of excitement in the room that is palpable. If the scientists aren't going to get training before they go into a classroom at the very least they should watch a couple episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy. He knows how to get the attention of kids.

Without that, despite best intentions, many scientists end up reinforcing the notion that science and math are boring.

The Younger You Reach Kids With Science, the More It Can Help

Another issue with these Meet the Scientist programs is many of them are aimed at older kids. High school kids already know what they like and don't like - you're not going to take an 11th grader and suddenly convince him he wants to be a physicist with an hour long talk. Middle school kids are pretty cynical too, although they will listen if the presentation is fun and interesting.

I have taught seventh grade and it's remarkable how despite the constant refrain that being smart isn't cool that permeates our public schools, you can still get them excited when the presenter and the subject is really engaging.

Elementary, Elementary, Elementary

Elementary school teachers, on the other hand and to this day, despite No Child Left Behind, etc., teach very little science. And they are desperate for it. But most of the Meet the Scientist programs are aimed at older kids. Much of the reason why is that the scientists are uncomfortable talking to really little kids. So this is one area where training for scientists is really needed, and could provide a great deal of value.

Simply put, if the scientists can convince fourth graders that what they do is cool, everyone wins.

Don't Just Meet the Scientist Spend Time With Him or Her

One option for these Meet the Scientist programs is to really focus on elementary school kids and have the scientists dedicate more time than an hour to them. There is a program in the VA, MD, DC area where retired scientists make a commitment to support an elementary school class for a semester. They go into the classroom about six times and get to know the teacher and the kids well. The teachers love it and the kids get to not just Meet the Scientists but to know them well, and really understand their work.