Friday, October 28

Managing Blog And E-mail Spam

While traveling for business every other week during the last two months may have placed company blog posting on a temporary hiatus, I've still found time to manage non-communication across three blogs. The non-communication I'm referring to is blog spam and by 'manage' I mean to delete any gratuitous, self-serving comments that are designed to do nothing more than promote a link to a non-related site.

The format is largely the same: a member name that is usually abandoned, some pat generic compliment about the blog, and a link to a non-related blog about anything from home sales to latte. The post verbiage is largely borrowed by what once was an acceptable comment between non-marketing bloggers as an introduction.

The increase in spam posting has even prompted Blogger.com and other hosts to provide administrators a new feature to permanently remove such posts, leaving no record of their existence. It is a minor nuisance to do so, but much less annoying than allowing the spam poster's often temporary name to remain on the blog, which leaves visitors wondering why someone's comment was deleted. It is a shame this has to be done because blog spam disrupts otherwise worthwhile communication.

Personally, I've always been amazed at the extent some marketers are willing to employ the most intrusive marketing tactics as their sole source of communication. While it obviously works in the short term, companies that employ such practices or hire marketers to do so fail to establish real product or service credibility in the long term. And now, some countries are going a step further.

Most European countries are beginning to issue steep fines against spammers (and the companies that employ them). In fact, Italy has issued a new law that threatens spammers with jail sentences of up to three years. The United States is also becoming vigilant: Massachusetts hit one Internet spam company with a $37 million fine before shutting it down completely. In all, 18 states in the U.S. have laws regulating spam to one extent or another.

You can do something about it too. Never respond to spam (even opt-out lists unless you know the company), always filter it out of your e-mail, and complain to the provider when possible. If the spam is fraudulent (offers products that don't work or pyramid schemes), you can forward the e-mail to the US Federal Trade Commission at uce@ftc.gov. If the spam promotes stocks, forward it to the US Securities and Exchange Commission at enforcement@sec.gov.

Sure, many businesses are experimenting with e-mail as a sales and marketing tool as the Internet has become a bigger part of our everyday lives. There is nothing wrong with this as long as companies remain as responsible as they would be with any other form of communication. After all, there are many consumers that may be interested in a new product, service, or company news (especially previous buyers).

In short, online marketing isn't spam until it is disruptive, intrusive, or unresponsive. And posting what is nothing more than a thinly veiled link on a blog without permission is certainly all of the above. To which all I think I can say is: keep up the good work, spam marketers, someone will get back to you with a verdict soon enough.

Thursday, August 18

Working With A Living Language

Working with a living language is both a blessing and a curse. It gives writers like me the opportunity to invent new definitions for clarity, but it can also cause headaches when other writers use the weight of words to mask their intent.

For example, when I was still evolving my company from the freelance writer I was into the corporation it is today, most Internet search engines narrowly categorized writers into very specific disciplines. You were either a copywriter (meaning advertising) or a freelance writer (meaning journalist), a technical writer or a business writer, a direct response writer or a script writer, or ... blah, blah, blah.

Since I didn't want to limit our capabilities to any of these categories, I was one of the first, if not the first, to lobby for a new term: writing services. It made sense, because our company works within all the other sub-categories. Today, most Internet search engines include a 'writing services' category. It works well for our company and the few others like us because the definition better clarifies what we offer. It's not the only example I could cite, but I like to think that it's a good one.

Then, of course, there are shifts in our language that I do not appreciate because the goal is not to add clarity but rather to mask a meaning. One of my least favorite in Nevada (and I hope it dies a horrible death) is the concept of 'government revenue.' There is no such thing. Governments do not have revenues, they have budgets that are created by taking a percentage of other people's revenue. Yours and mine, to be precise.

Sure, you can find it in some dictionaries. Revenue: the income of a government from all sources appropriated for the payment of public expenses. No problem ... until you abuse the usage. It's easy to do. Ask the handful of government officials who began pushing a perceived need to 'increase government revenue' in Nevada a few years ago. That sounds almost admirable until you appreciate they wanted to 'increase taxes.' (As footnote, they were never going to appropriate money for the payment of public expenses. Rather, they appropriated money in order to create additional public expenses.)

Personally, I've always subscribed to an underutilized code of ethics in communication developed by the International Association of Business Communicators. While there are several points worth considering at IABC Code of Ethics, the one that best fits this post is: engage in truthful, accurate and fair communication that facilitates respect and mutual understanding.

The real buzz term in this case is 'mutual understanding.' Communication should be designed to clarify rather than confuse your audience. It's a concept that many people forget, including those people who call you on the telephone and claim it's a courtesy call. Baloney. It's a direct marketing call, pure and simple.

Oh well. The most we can hope for is that the definitions with merits outweigh the abuses at the end of the day. And today, there was one that came out of a new survey by Zogby International for the MetLife Mature Market Institute. The definition of old, it seems, is changing again.

Based on a pool of 1,000 people by telephone about what they considered to be "old," a third of the participants claimed
that 71 to 80 is considered old. Younger survey participants, those under 30, considered 61 to 70 to be over the hill. Among the respondents 65 or older, nearly 60 percent said that 71 to 90 was considered old. And even younger people, those between 18 and 24, have adjusted their idea of old. A majority--59 percent--refer to "old" as someone over 60.

Zogby International claims this shows that since the population is aging, the idea that old begins at 30 as it did in the 1960s is long gone. (Given that I'm over 30, er barely if you allow me a little fudged indulgence, I'd like to think that this new definition of old is a merit.) Grin. More to the point though, as people live longer and there are an increased number of people working or donating time to their community later in life, the definition and the attitudes about the definition will change.

And that is the best thing about working with a living language. You have to stay up to date with the language and, with luck, use it responsibly so that you create more mutual understandings than maximum confusions.

Monday, August 8

Operating In Educational Boxes

When I was in seventh grade, I stumbled onto something. I discovered that I love to read. It was an accident, like many discoveries in life, but nonetheless, it was one of the longest lasting and most impactful lessons I ever learned. I’ll never forget the circumstances either.

I remember spending a significant amount of time in the library looking for a book because my reading teacher, Richard Pyle, told everyone in the class that they could pick any book they wanted. Any book at all. Then, he asked us to read the book while we were in class and write a book report. I was a bright kid (or so I thought at the time) and set out to find the book that meant the most to me -- the one with the fewest pages so I could complete the task at hand, earn my A, and twiddle my thumbs or draw pictures on my notepad for the rest of the semester.

There was another reason I wanted a short book. I was afraid. In third grade, my grandmother held me back because she noticed that I seemed to be falling behind on my reading skills. In order to correct the problem, she pulled me from the Milwaukee public school system and enrolled me in a Catholic school, Holy Redeemer. It seems she decided that a stricter school would be better for me.

Their solution was simple and it seemed to work. Talkative children, which is how the public school system labeled me on early report cards, were always seated in the front of the class at Holy Redeemer. A firm hand can change even the most undisciplined children, which I might have been, considering I drew pictures in my spelling book while attending public school. Within the span of a single year, my reading improved and they discovered I had a natural aptitude for math.

I was relabeled from undisciplined to misunderstood. However, one fact remained. I had some ground to make up; and for some time, I classified myself as a slow reader. Later, in fifth grade, another discovery was made. It seems that Holy Redeemer solved my talking ‘problem,’ but they never saw the real problem. I needed glasses. In fact, it was one of the reasons I talked in class. I lost interest in the lessons because I could not see the chalkboard from the back row (my last name, at the time, started with an 'R' and seating in the public school system was alphabetical order).

By the time I was in seventh grade, it made sense that I wanted to take the easy way out. I chose a novella with a science fiction twist; something about a future where people could replace any organ they wanted in a vain attempt to defeat the natural aging process. While the story is interesting, it never had a lasting impact on me.

I finished my hundred-some pages and book report in two weeks, a record pace, faster than anyone else in the class. As the only one to have completed the assignment, Mr. Pyle freely admitted that I had earned not only an A, but the highest grade in my class to date. I thought I had it made for the rest of the semester, but Mr. Pyle was not content to let me sit in his class and twiddle my thumbs. He told me that he knew I was trying to take the easy way out and that he hoped I would accept his challenge to keep the highest score in the class by taking on a second assignment.

He handed me a copy of Dune by Frank Herbert, a huge book in comparison to my first choice. I accepted the challenge and it became one of my favorite books because it was so easy for me to read. For those who do not know the story, a short summary might be that it was about a fatherless boy in a new and foreign land who possessed hidden talents that were waiting to be unlocked.

I won't go into the details, but I related to the story. Given this small section of history, it is also no surprise that I related to a reader's editorial that was published in the Review-Journal last Sunday. It was written by the teacher whose frustration with with our area's failing school system seems to have manifested itself into the notion that not all schoolchildren have the same potential. While she certainly raised some valid points in her piece, I can only hope some aspects of the article never solidify into a popular movement to shuffle underperforming students into trade schools like they do in Europe.

Please don't misunderstand me. I appreciate the plight of teachers in southern Nevada more than most; I am friends with several who are working in other trades after being disenfranchised by the school district. However, I am also hoping that the teachers who are still working here, despite their less than perfect working conditions, do not lose sight of the fact that when people ask the wrong questions they tend to find excuses instead of answers.

Contrary to this teacher's editorial, all children DO have an equal potential to excel and the burden, however unpleasant, undercompensated, or unappreciated, is probably a teacher's most important job. Otherwise, someone who might later become a professional writer and communication strategist might be mislabeled and ushered off to trade school not because they lacked motivation or intelligence, but because they needed glasses. Thank goodness for those few teachers like Mr. Pyle who took the time to call one child's bluff and help them realize a lifelong love for reading, which later became writing.

So what am I reading today? While I certainly read entertaining works that range from Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz and The Hiding Place by Corrie Tenboom, I also read more significant works. Recently, I finished 1776 by esteemed historian David McCullough, which I originally picked up because of my interest in history and politics. And while a few of my friends have found it a curious choice, I recently started reading In Search of Schodinger's Cat by John Gribbin.

If you don't know, Gribbin's book is about quantum physics. Believe it or not, quantum physics is a subject that applies to communication and education as much as it applies to science and mechanics. In fact, what I've already learned from this book (and I probably already knew it) is that throughout history, people tend to invent theories, opinions, and ideas and then attempt to operate in boxes shaped by those theories, opinions, and ideas. Then, once they are safely (or unsafely) wrapped up in their boxes, they stop making progress until, finally, and hopefully not too late, someone comes along and disproves all those old theories, opinions, and ideas. And that, the ability to break out of the educational box, not trade schools, is what is needed most here in southern Nevada.

Thursday, July 28

Keeping Communication In Check

I recenty read a story written by Amy Crane that reminded me most Americans don't realize that their right to privacy does not extend into the workplace.

In fact, she pointed out that according to the 2005 Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance Survey, conducted by the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute, monitoring employees electronically is a growing part of the way American companies do business. The institute's survey, released in May 2005, noted that 76 percent of employers monitor workers' Web connections, while 50 percent store and monitor employees' computer files.

That's not all. Many companies go beyond keyboard keystroke monitoring, reviewing and storing employee e-mails and instant messages, monitoring time spent on the phone (or taping conversations). Video surveillance, drug testing,
and satellite technology that monitors use of company cars, cell phones and pagers are all becoming part of the mix.

While the invasion continues to move into other areas, company computer use is still the primary concern. According to the survey, 26 percent of employers have fired workers for workplace offenses related to the Internet and 25 percent of employers have fired employees for misuse of e-mail. While many employers monitor employees' Web surfing, a slightly smaller number - 65 percent of those surveyed - actually use software to block workers' access to inappropriate Web sites.

It's not all about productivity, employees who spend too much time online surfing, attending to personal business, or e-mailing friends. It's also about workers disclosing trade secrets or proprietary information over the Internet. And in some cases, employers have cause to worry.

When I recently conducted a blog workshop, I reminded a room full of communication managers that private conversations in the workplace with co-workers, vendors, or customers are a thing of the past. With the popularity of blogs, for example, anyone can be a journalist of sorts and share any experiences or comments with an audience as large as they're willing to capture.

I also added that it seems to me the real challenge is not really about employers and employees. It's about people. While some might scoff at the idea that they are being monitored at work, they feel perfectly justified in making private conversations public, recording personal chat logs and e-mails, positioning video monitors around and about their homes, and purchasing publications that reveal every dirty detail of someone's life if they happen to come into the public eye. In short, the enemy eroding our right to privacy is not a conspiracy constructed by faceless corporations and companies. On the contrary, companies are nothing more than a collection of people, which means the conspirators against privacy are us.

Good, bad, or indifferent, there are are simple solutions to avoiding serious problems. As an employee, be more sensitive to your company's privacy policies, avoid activities that violate them, and always be careful about with whom you share company information online and over the phone. For employers, even though the law does not require it, it's common sense to let employees know when, where, and how they might be monitored (about 80-89 percent of employers do). Otherwise, your company could inadvertently denigrate morale and trust in the workplace.

Of course, you don't have to have a company to be an employer. At home, you might consider extending the same courtesy to your babysitter, lawn care professional, and home improvement specialist. They're people too.

Thursday, July 14

Running For The Right Reasons

Somewhere in between fighting off a summer cold and keeping pace with our company's out-of-market growth, last week I took time out to have breakfast with longtime friend and legislative representative State Senator Bob Beers. I've known Bob for some time. He was the second candidate that now retired campaign guru Benay Stout recruited us to work with in 1998.

Since that first campaign, which resulted in Bob's election to the Nevada Legislature in 1999, I've played varying roles in every Beers race. The most notable, perhaps, was last year's run for the state senate against longtime incumbent Ray Rawson. Often working without a title, we used to joke that most volunteers considered me either the lead strategic director or resident patsy, which would depend largely on the outcome of the race. Beers won with a respectable 8-point margin, 56-44.

What struck me most about the senate race was that Bob Beers never planned to run. On the contrary, he was compelled to. Senate District 6 residents were disenfranchised with their representative after the unnecessary $833 million tax hike in 2003. Bob, who was serving an assemblyman for District 4 at the time, was one of the few legislative representatives willing to put his own political career on the line and be labeled an 'obstructionist' because he was willing to work tirelessly to dispel the popular doomsday message that Nevada was in trouble without the tax increase. Nowadays, most Nevadans know better. They only need to look at the size of the state surplus to summarize that those taxes were not so necessary after all.

Today is no different. Although openly admitting that they made a mistake and have placed too much tax burden on the backs of Nevada families, the popular position among many legislators is to allow government to grow at a rate two and one-half times faster than the state population. Maybe it's because I'm reading David McCullough's bestselling book "1776," but there seems to be a connection to our country's history and state's current events.

In 1776, Americans were considered to have the best quality of life in the world. They had nicer houses, more opportunities, and bigger fruit tree fields. The English parliament, somewhat disgruntled that their constituents might be able to attain a class reserved for noblemen and their associates, thought to levy tax after tax on the colonies to keep them in check. (Case in point: some members of parliament proposed repealing all those colonial fees and taxes because they knew they were unnecessary.) Some would argue that the same state of affairs exists in Nevada. Many people consider Nevadans to have nicer houses, more opportunities, and bigger fruit tree fields than the rest of the country. Thus, as citizens, the popular view among some in Carson City is that we should not complain so much about the ever-increasing taxes imposed on us.

Right. Most people don't mind taxes provided they are collected to improve our overall quality of life. However, there is a line between taxes levied to improve quality of life and taxes levied that impede your pursuit of it. In Nevada, it seems clear that we have crossed that line. The tax dollars that have been collected seem to have added few tangible benefits.

This is also what struck me upon receiving the pre-announcement head's up that Bob Beers would make a run for governor. He never planned to run. On the contrary, he is compelled to. He knows, as most Nevadans know, that the current direction of our state government needs adjustment before the damage of fiscal irresponsibility cannot be reversed. It's also for this reason that I'll play a role in his race.

Of all the candidates that have surfaced so far, Bob Beers is running for the right reasons. He is running because he wants to preserve a state government that is for the people as opposed to one that is for a few politically correct members of what sometimes appears to be a modern parliament.

Thursday, June 30

Recognizing Publicity Vs. PR


When I returned from Long Beach (where I was covering one of three industry roundtables responsible for guiding the development of the nation's next generation 911 system), I was greeted by two requests soliciting our services to assist with 'publicity' generation.

It seemed to me they really meant they needed public relations support or perhaps strategic communication planning. What's the difference? Everything. Sure, publicity works for some people and places of business, but it's not for everyone.

For our two prospective clients, I provided a textbook difference between publicity and public relations. For the purposes of this post, I thought it would be more fun to provide an example: Goldenpalace.com recently paid $529.99 on eBay for a ''Celebrity Jar'' that contains the air of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

The jar, in case you missed it, is an ordinary wide mouth, quart-sized mason jar that the seller brought to the premiere of Mr. & Mrs. Smith in Westwood, Calif. As megastars Pitt and Jolie strolled across the red carpet, the jar was opened to capture the air molecules expelled by the stars of the blockbuster movie. It was then sealed and placed in a safe deposit box.

The Celebrity Jar has been featured on several media outlets, including Access Hollywood, Star Magazine, E! Online, MSNBC, ESPN, and CBS. The extensive media coverage sparked the attention of GoldenPalace.com, the Internet casino that turned the world's biggest auction site into the world's most unlikely publicity vehicle.

''This is another perfect example of pop culture phenomenon,'' said GoldenPalace.com CEO Richard Rowe. ''There is literally nothing in this jar except air, and it has made headlines all over the country and even overseas. The sheer weirdness and absurdity of this item has made it a marketing success.''

In the last year or so, GoldenPalace.com has purchased several pop culture oddities, including the Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich, Britney Spears' pregnancy test, Marilyn Monroe's personal address book, and Pope Benedict XVI's previously-owned VW Golf. All of the purchases have garnered extensive worldwide media attention.

Perfect. The odd ball purchases generate publicity while the quote from Rowe is an attempt to infuse some public relations. In other words, Rowe says we buy this stuff because we're interested in exposure and not simply because we're weird or easily duped.

Of course, that is not to say this would work for everyone. Imagine what might happen if your local utility made the same purchase on the same day you received your monthly statement. Right. Publicity works best for flamboyant products and personalities. For the rest of us, public relations remains the better bet unless you're willing to risk a wardrobe malfunction.

Thursday, June 23

Finding The Right Niche

For some time, I've educated several business owners in Las Vegas that narrowing their target audience can increase sales faster than targeting the general public. A few have scratch their heads, offering up that they felt they had a product or service for everybody and how difficult it is turn business away in a booming economy like Nevada. The reality: no one has a product or service that truly appeals to everyone. There are dominant brands, certainly, but relatively few monopolies.

A good example of success by narrowing a niche can easily be found in the food and beverage industry. Several companies discovered that marketing food and beverages specifically to women was lucrative, creating a market that grew at a compound annual rate of 80 percent between 2000 and 2004. According to The U.S. Market for Women's Food and Beverages, a new report from market research publisher Packaged Facts, this industry has grown to $4.6 billion.

Women's food was a nascent field in 2000, registering sales of $430 million. In this decade, the food and beverage industry realized that the nutritional needs of women demand special attention and despite some ill-fated, non-strategic, early efforts to market "women's" food, the category has since exploded. In fact, Packaged Facts forecasts that retail sales of women's foods and beverages will reach $58.7 billion by 2009.

The women's food and beverage industry ranges from many small companies to large international corporations, but for the most part, successful women's food and beverage companies are the mid-sized U.S. businesses. They've done incredibly well focusing on their target consumer and then distributing products through health food and natural foods stores. In time, this strategy could provide these companies an opportunity to develop new products or re-market existing products to the general public later (capitalizing on brand recognition established with women at speciality stores). In the interim, they are content with tremendous niche growth and, in some cases, a healthier profit margin.

If you would like to know more about this market, U.S. Market for Women's Food and Beverages has a comprehensive analysis of the U.S. retail marketplace for women's foods and beverages; demographic profiles based on Simmons data; and a thorough analysis of trends such as health concerns on women's purchasing habits. The report also describes the creative landscape, profiles key players, and reviews advertising and promotional efforts. The report can be purchased directly from Packaged Facts www.packagedfacts.com or MarketResearch.com.

If you would like to know more about narrowing your niche market, regardless of product or service, drop us an e-mail. We'll be happy to provide a few recommendations or suggestions to refine your marketing efforts. I'm sure I'll touch on this topic in the future too; for now and the next few weeks, however, I'm temporarily limiting new posts to Thursdays (last Sunday was Father's Day and I have business pending in Long Beach this Sunday) until my schedule opens up a bit more.

Thursday, June 16

Missing A Promo Moment


Last March, Copywrite, Ink. was recognized with two awards of excellence during the Las Vegas Advertising Federation's Addy Awards, which is part of the AAF's annual competition here in Las Vegas.

While winning awards three months ago hardly seems worth the mention, it is news to us and our project partners. I received the call the day before yesterday; the Ad Fed was wondering when we were going to pick the awards up. I didn't know because I was traveling on business when the event was held.

The first award of excellence was earned for the Nevada Commission for National and Community Service's Governor's Points of Light program, which folds down into a triangular U.S. flag (not shown, but likely to be included in the portfolio section of our site redesign). Earlier in the year, it earned a Bronze Quill (top award) from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). We contracted Las Vegas-based 3rd Degree Burns to assist on this project. We provided creative direction and copywriting while Brian Burns executed the design and covered the press checks. We've won several awards with him.

The second piece to receive an award was our first with Colorado-based Aisle 9 Design (one panel shown here). I was especially pleased to learn this one received recognition because the piece was a cooperative self-promotional direct mailer we've been field testing in select markets. My thinking is that since the piece targets ad agency creative directors (and the judges were major market ad agency CDs), we successfully hit our target audience. I also like that the piece dispels one of the myths about award competitions: you do not need a huge project budget for a competent, creative, and effective piece.

This was the third or fourth project we've done with Ryan Burke at Aisle 9 and we're looking forward to our next. We complement each other's work well, with each building upon the other's area of expertise. Even better, it's always a positive, productive experience. I'd recommend him to anyone; but I hoping our our next gig together will be as a team.

And no, I'm not just saying this because of the award. Personally, I have mixed feelings about the abundance of awards given out in our industry. Sure, peer review can always be healthy, but sometimes there is a tendency to place too much emphasis on awards and not enough on results (I've seen too many industry folks have their feelings bruised over acrylic). The real merit of a piece should always be based on its ability to meet its objective. There are many times I've considered swearing off award competitions all together.

But then I reconsider, largely for two reasons. First, it's an excellent promotional opportunity that, as a company that agencies outsource to, always attracts the attention of our primary target audience. Second, and more importantly, since we never tell anyone what we've entered, it's always a pleasant surprise for them to learn they were recognized, client or vendor. We really do appreciate the people who work with us.

In closing, since I have yet to update the award PDFs on our site, we received recognition for a few other projects at the Bronze Quills Awards that I mentioned: a second Bronze Quill for the Southern Hills Hospital Grand Opening postcard (completed with The Idea Factory), excellences for Writing Portfolio, GPOL Silent Auction Support Letter, and merits for the Swiss Medica Trade Show Booth (with former client Eclipse), a news release for Nevada Shakespeare in the Park, and a television spot for Cadillac called Summer Trip (with longtime client The Idea Factory).

Sunday, June 5

Inspiring Communication Redesign


Like most communication firms, ad agencies, and creative shops, self promotion often takes a back seat to client assignments. At least, that's what our industry tells itself (and prospective clients) when visitors stumble onto their dusty, outdated Web sites that are perpetually ''under construction.''

The truth is there are only two motivations for firms and agencies in our industry to make self promotion a priority. The firm either has too much idle time and the slow down is starting to scare its principals or the company has a compelling reason to shift its communication strategy.

I'm happy to say we have a compelling reason. Copywrite, Ink. will be celebrating its 15-year anniversary in 2006 and our client base is continuing to become increasingly global, with some of our recent service deliveries to Belgium, France, and India. Stateside, we've added or are adding clients in Mesquite, Reno, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. In the months ahead, we're targeting several other out-of-market communities, which I won't name now, in order to finalize a business strategy that we began implementing almost five years ago.

Despite benefiting from numerous opportunities fueled by double digit growth in Las Vegas, we've always maintained that diversifying our client base would benefit our company in the long run. One of the many reasons is that Las Vegas may be an international destination, but it is easy for Las Vegas-based companies to become isolated from the rest of the world.

Case in point, the most often bandied-about phrase by communication professionals in our market when outside professionals evaluate local work is ''they don't understand our market.'' Sure, Las Vegas does have a few unique communication needs. All communities do. But it's not so unique that creative professionals - writers or designers - should abandon strategic communication all together.

Not all of them do, which is why the same few agencies in this market continue to excel while others struggle. We're fortunate to work with some of the best local agencies that can compete regionally (or nationally) just as easily as they compete locally. So do we, which is why we're repositioning our company and redesigning our Web site in the weeks ahead.

Watch for a few design changes, first our Web site, and then, perhaps, this blog. We look forward to working with you too.

Thursday, June 2

Prescribing Credibility Online

A new study of consumer attitudes toward health care information sponsored by Medical Broadcasting Company (MBC) and fielded by Nielsen/NetRatings found that the Internet is seen as the most trusted media source for consumers, decisively outstripping offline media when consumers want credible health information.

While research shows that consumers trust their doctor first when it comes to health information, patients are increasingly using the Internet to inform the doctor-patient dialogue. In this new survey, 42 percent of respondents said they trusted health information they found on the Internet, compared to just 16 percent for information found in other forms of media. Consumers are also taking advantage of the great depth of health information on the Internet. More than 85 percent of respondents said they look at two or more Web sites when searching for health information.

The survey also found that over 65 percent of respondents said they use the Internet to research important health topics before and after they visit a doctor. And despite recent challenges to the credibility of the pharmaceutical industry, nearly one-third of respondents said they use the Internet to visit pharmaceutical company Web sites for information about prescription products.

This growing trend is not limited to health care. More and more, people are turning to the Internet in order to formulate a base knowledge on products and services before they consult experts or purchase products and to gain more insight prior to making a decision. Part of the reason can easily be attributed to the searchability of the Internet. But another part of the reason can be traced to consumer trust, online and off.

For years, consumers have been plagued by marketers aiming to oversimplify messages, leaving consumers with no reasonable understanding of how to make their purchasing decisions. For example, one newly released book claims that emotion-laced copy stands a better chance to sell a diamond than a brief description of its size, shape and four Cs.

Hmmm. I'm not entirely convinced. Certainly some emotion-laced copy might draw the reader in, but sooner or later a well-versed consumer who has searched the Internet and become familiar with the four Cs will use that information to draw comparisons between one stone and another (unless you give them a reason that supersedes the four Cs as we recently did for one of our European clients).

Certainly the authors have demonstrated some great streamlining Web solutions for several clients, but they miss the mark on crafting messages by falling into the trap of telling people what they 'should do.' Marketing and advertising are as much an art as a science. There are no 'shoulds' and more consumers know that now more than ever before. As the study suggests: consumers are no longer satisfied with doctors saying they 'should' take this or that. They want to know what taking this and that means exactly. They want to feel informed and they are finding the Internet makes them feel that way.

Sunday, May 29

Blogging To Journalism

While it might not be new that a preliminary ruling a few months ago held that three bloggers who published leaked information about an unreleased Apple product must divulge their confidential sources, what is interesting is the growing pressure to define a journalist. Some are reporting that if the ruling holds, it will set a precedent because it will mean under the law bloggers aren't considered journalists and are not privileged to the same protections. Right. For about five seconds.

Media Law 101: 1. The First Amendment wisely guarantees, but does not define, freedom of speech or the press. 2. The Fourteenth Amendment wisely guarantees that any person within its jurisdiction shall have equal protection of the laws.

Neither amendment defines the press or 'journalists' as people who are affiliated with big media conglomerates or whose work is distributed on paper. Most dictionaries, however, do. A journalist is: 1: one whose occupation is journalism 2: one who keeps a diary or journal. And journalism is defined as: the collecting, writing, editing, and publishing of news or news articles through newspapers or magazines (and, as generally accepted, through broadcasts, which would include the Internet).

Despite this, one foolish judge seems to be sympathetic to court papers that claim that the people who run the sites targeted by the lawsuit aren't "legitimate members of the press," and therefore they should not be granted the same privileges as the press. Ahem. I hate to point it out, but none of the founding fathers of this country were "legitimate members of the press" either. Not one.

I looked it up. They were businessmen, lawyers, merchants, boaters, securities speculators, farmers, shippers, scientists, physicians, and minsters. Not one of them considered their primary occupation to be a publisher or journalist, yet they were the very people who wanted to protect the free exchange of ideas. That is what the First Amendment truly aims to protect.

The medium of publication, distribution, or circulation is irrelevant. Sure, I appreciate the angst that some journalists feel when they are cast in the same category as bloggers, but it hardly justifies treating the profession as a regulated field. Like it or not, a journalist is someone who shares their ideas or observations through publication or broadcast. This includes blogs.

Not to mention, at least one of the three named bloggers is considered a 'legitimate journalist' (whatever that means) outside of his Web log. And, in the larger blogging community, many notable bloggers have decamped from mainstream media sources or created their own blogs to write freely.

Sure, some blogs have also gained a reputation for inaccuracy, but inaccurate reporting and outlandish opinions are not exclusive to blogging. Those nasty little side effects have been around long before the printing press was invented and, based on the number of 'whoopsie' moments in the mainstream media let alone bloggers, are not likely to change in the near future.

It seems to me the real question people should be asking is not whether bloggers should be protected by the First and Fourteenth amendments, but whether they should be held to the same standards as mainstream journalists in regard to accuracy and libel. Maybe it's time they were, especially those that unjustly libel individuals and coworkers whenever they like. With freedom comes responsibility.

Thursday, May 26

Customizing Media Relations

While I was in San Diego meeting with some new clients last week, I was asked how Copywrite, Ink. had expanded its core service, writing, to include creative and strategic communication services. I had provided several examples that illustrate the evolution of our company, mentioning that we often begin working with clients as writers and then provide additional services as these clients start to recognize us as trusted communication advisors.

What I did not know at the time was that we would be contracted to provide what is another example of how our company adapts to meet very specific communication needs. One of our longtime clients, a major utility, recently identified a need to provide media relations training to employees who work at offices located throughout their extensive service area. By doing so, utility management hopes their staff will be better equipped to provide timely, accurate, and coordinated responses to local media inquiries. It makes sense.

Since I had conducted several media relations workshops attended by their corporate communication team (and had the privilege of teaching two of their employees at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas), they asked if it would be possible to adapt our media relations knowledge into something they could then use to train employees in other towns and cities.

After meeting with them to conduct a situation analysis and establish objectives, it became apparent that the most effective way to meet their objective would be to co-create a custom, versatile PowerPoint presentation to be used as a guide for internal media training and, potentially, public safety presentations. Providing such a service goes beyond traditional writing services as much of the presentation material will come from our knowledge, experience, and expertise in the field.

The project will also require strategic communication skills in order to recognize and remedy any crisis communication or reputation management issues the company has yet to address as it relates to its extended service area. In short, we will apply our knowledge to their corporate environment to produce a custom training module for their company for less than it would cost to contract us to personally train employees in three states.

How does this tie into what we were asked in San Diego? Simply put, whether Copywrite, Ink. works with a corporate client direct or is subcontracted by an agency, we excel in developing custom solutions for a variety of communication challenges. The difference: when given the opportunity, we would much rather be asked ''do you think we need a brochure?'' than ''what kind of brochure do we need?'' We're happy to answer either question, but the first question almost always seems to deliver a much more interesting and effective communication solution.

Sunday, May 22

Knowing Your Client

The Washington Post recently ran an article about a freelance writer that was paid $7,500 by an agricultural department to write articles touting federal conservation programs and place them in outdoors magazines, according to agency records and interviews. The records show Dave Smith was contracted to craft five stories for $1,875 each, and also was to "contact and work magazine editors to place the articles in targeted publications."

The articles, which targeted hunting and fishing magazines, described the "benefits of NRCS Farm Bill programs to wildlife habitat and the environment," according to agency procurement documents obtained by the Washington Post. Smith said he was paid between $7,500 and $7,800 on the contract, but the total could have been as much as $9,375.

For those who don't know, there was no real foul on the part of the agency or Smith. According to Smith, he told the magazine editors of his government contract, and received no payment from the publications. From that point, it was up to the editors of the publication to decide whether or not to run the stories and how to identify Smith. (In one article, they chose to identify him as a freelance writer who works as a biologist for the agency.) Or, they could have treated the articles as feature releases, mining them for background material so an in-house or publication-contracted writer could rewrite it or develop a new approach.

While I respect the Washington Post's position of implied impropriety, neither the agency nor Smith did anything wrong. Had Smith pitched the stories as a freelance writer seeking an assignment with a publication without disclosing his relationship with the agency, and received payment from the magazines, then that would have been an ethical breach. In this case, no such ethical lapse occurred.

As a writing services company that sometimes wears both hats, writing for publications and writing on behalf of a company, there is one very simple method to ensure we maintain objective: we ask ourselves ''who is the client?'' If the company is the client, we write and send the stories out as feature releases (generally lighter and longer than a new release) and accept neither byline nor payment from the targeted publication. When we accept an assignment from a publication, we never accept payment from any sources nor grant those sources any editorial oversight.

It's about that simple. Identify your client and write accordingly. Regardless of that, always write the truth.

Thursday, May 19

Recognizing Market Change

Research and Markets, which is a leading source for international market research and market data, may finally dispel some outdated ideas about seniors and the Internet with its new report, Seniors Online: How Aging Boomers Will Shake Up the Market. In the report, they reiterate that there is a contrast in computer and online usage among those 50-64 and those 65+ as is evident in a study by Kaiser Family Foundation (2004) and another by Pew Internet & American Life Project (2004).

Unlike today's seniors, boomers (post-World War II children born between 1946 and 1964) are dedicated Internet users and broadband fans. As they approach the next phase of their lives, the report says that they will challenge companies to keep up with their ever-demanding ways, both online and off. There is little doubt. For one thing, Boomers have $1 trillion in spending power. For another, the Boomer demographic is a perfect target for online marketing.

According to the report, they are frequent, engaged online users approaching a stage in life with major issues: the decision to stop working, investment planning, health care, downsizing a home. Other key questions answered in the report: How fast is the boomer online population growing, how will usage patterns differ between today's and tomorrow's seniors, what sites are boomers more likely to visit, and what changes in Web design will be necessary as Internet users age?

It will be an interesting challenge for communicators to appeal to both boomers and the other fastest-growing segment of the population. Ages 13-24 made up 37% of the U.S. population in 2000 with ages 13-18 making up 22% of the population. But regardless of how this challenge is addressed, one thing is certain: some long-held beliefs that seniors don't 'log on' are about to be dismantled. IMO, it's about time.

Sunday, May 15

Crafting A Core Message

While I often advise clients that consistency remains the rule rather than the exception for a business blog, there are times when I place blog posting on the back burner for a few weeks at a time. It's par for the course. Like almost every firm in our industry, client communication needs supersede our own.

The pace we've set in May is partly attributed to integrating several new accounts into our schedule, but the primary reason I had to place posting on hold for a few weeks is because we've been implementing core message strategies for two different companies. The first is an innovative manufacturing firm that is continuing to capture a significant market share in the outdoor living/garden market. The second is a new national cable network that will break from traditional programming trends and provide viewers, particularly families, a true choice on television.

While I cannot share specifics on what we are doing with either company because it's our policy to never reveal work in progress until it becomes past tense, I can share some details about our core message system. Simply put, this strategic product is a process that extracts internal and external research, stakeholder information, and market knowledge in order to identify, determine, and develop specific key messages that can be clearly, consistently, and convincingly communicated to a variety of audiences under very diverse circumstances.

Upon completion, the organization benefits from a consistent message that can be employed in communication materials and one-on-one communication at every level to demonstrate a true contrast between the company and the competition, defend against critical review, and encourage a consistent message regardless of the situation, scenario, or circumstance. It moves beyond the traditional model of identifying the sometimes introspective benefits of a unique selling point and more toward an external view that discovers the primary contrast between a company (its philosophies, products or services) and its competition (their philosophies, products or services). We did not invent the concept, but we did refine the original model to work even better for companies and non-profit organizations than it does in the political arena. That's where the original model comes from.

I learned about contrasting messages a few years ago when a now-retired political campaign manager and dear friend of mine, Benay Stout, invited me to attend a grassroots workshop hosted by the Leadership Institute, a training organization for public policy leaders founded in 1979 by Morton C. Blackwell. One of the session segments included how to develop contrast messages for candidates (especially useful when two candidates seem to share similar philosophies on the surface). Shortly after this introduction, it occurred to me that businesses could benefit from such a process with some adjustment. Later, I discovered this process works better than I ever imagined on the front end.

To date, of more than three dozen core message strategies developed for clients and client accounts, we have a 100 percent track record. If the company embraces and implements a core message strategy, they will succeed. It's that simple.

With it, we've helped a tech services firm increase its client base by 720 percent in record time, a commercial real estate company move up two positions to be ranked number one in the market, a business philanthropy organization secure a national grant and increase membership by 80 percent, preserve funding for a state commission at a time when the state legislature had targeted it to be cut ... and the list goes on. In each case, every company and organization that has worked through the process and implemented the core message strategy has succeeded.

The businesses we work with direct love it because of its implementation versatility, making an impact on not only external communication but also internal operations such as human resources and product/service development. The agencies we work with love it for their accounts because the process not only produces results but also solidifies their relationship with the business. For internal communication professionals, it is one process I know of that permanently puts them at the table with senior management.

We love it because there is nothing more rewarding for us than to see our clients and our clients' accounts win. So sure, it might mean that we have to put our own communication strategy on hold from time to time, but then again, I never really set out to write about my own company. For us and those people who work with us, we find fulfillment that is best summed by a quotable I wrote a few years ago to help launch one of the most successful advertising agency starts in Las Vegas: ''follow other people's dreams, my friend, and you may just find yours along the journey.''

Thursday, April 28

Understanding Media Interviews

The May-June edition of Communication World, published by the International Association of Business Communicators, recently ran an article written by Karen Friedman that does a great job at boiling down what spokespeople need to know before speaking with the media. Here are few highlights, along with a few additions* from our media training program.

Be real. People want to relate to you. No one wants to hear from a robot who is so ''on message'' that they never smile or show emotion. *Some of the best spokespeople in the world are not those who stay ''on message'' but rather are people who use their message as a guide to share personalized stories and information that accurately conveys the point.

Speak their language. They know you're smart - that's why they're interviewing you. So avoid big words or workplace jargon. Speak simply and conversationally. *Having worked for the media and corporations, it's easy to see that writers are often translators for industry experts. As a side note, customers are not all that big on jargon either.

Own your interview. Interviews are opportunities to inform and educate. It's not enough to simply answer the question. Try to address the question and look for opportunities to insert your message. *A seasoned spokesperson almost always finds opportunities to define their company. This, of course, assumes the company has taken the time to develop a message.

Don't ramble. Say what you have to say as clearly as possible, and then stop. It is not your responsibility to fill the silence and too much information can create confusion. *Not coincidentally, filling silence often results in taking interviews off subject, and sometimes shifts the focus of the story. Be mindful of what you talk about.

Attitude is everything. Cooperate without being offensive, argumentative, or confrontational. Don't tell reporters how to do their jobs. Provide information to guide them, but let them write their story. *Nothing frustrates reporters more than the spokesperson telling them what the story should be about or that someone knows better because ''they can't understand.''

Avoid either/or questions. You cannot win an either/or question, which can box you into a limited answer. Take the high road and present a big picture. *Very few subjects are black and white so limiting yourself to one side of an issue or topic is always a mistake. The same can be said about hypothetical questions. Don't guess at what you could not possibly know.

Be yourself. If you don't know, say so. Reporters will respect your honesty. *Even better, let them know if you can find out and when you intend to get back to them. There is nothing worse than guessing at answers only to find out you were wrong or attempting to mask that you don't know by talking around the question.

There are many more, but these are great basics not only when you speak to reporters, but also when you speak with anyone. After all, with the growing popularity of blogs, everyone is a potential reporter/publisher.

To illustrate the point: I read a blog entry that shared an entire conversation that the blogger had with a customer service representative of a car insurance company. The blog is well read, about 100 visitors a day.

After reading the post and about the blogger's decision to choose another company, I could not help but to wonder if the customer service representative might have handled the call differently had she known she was talking to an amateur reporter/publisher with 1,000 readers a month. It's something to keep in mind because it used to be that one negative impression/customer interaction is shared, on average, with eight other consumers or potential customers.

Nowadays, one negative impression can reach thousands, making everyone an important spokesperson for their companies.

Sunday, April 24

Saying It Again - Innovate


Thanks to Rod Smith's April 24 column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, readers were treated to one of my favorite Steve Wynn stories.

In the column, Wynn recounts Wendell Atkins (a 1973 Waylon Jennings impersonator) meeting Jennings for the first time at the Golden Nugget. After Atkins offered up that he hoped Jennings did not mind being impersonated, Jennings said he considered it a compliment. Then he added ''... there's just one way to make it in this world in entertainment. The only chance you got is to be Wendell Atkins ... when you do Waylon Jennings, you're always going to be a song behind.''

The column ends with Wynn saying ''That's what Waylon Jennings told Wendell Atkins in 1973, and I'm saying it again now. What ... is the fun of being one song behind.''

His sentiments are similar to George Maloof Jr. in 2002. When I spoke with Maloof just days before the opening of The Palms, he did not want to say Las Vegas will continue to reinvent itself. Instead, it needs new ideas that lend to its diversity as a leader in gaming, dining, shopping, entertainment, and the arts. ''If anything, Las Vegas is a party place and will always be a party place. We (The Palms) will strive to be party central,'' Maloof said, referring to the hip, warm, and personalized service niche that was very unique to the city when he opened it.

His words were also echoed by Sheldon Adelson, who called me while on holiday to contribute his thoughts about the future of Las Vegas. After sharing why he thought The Venetian had recovered faster than other properties after 9/11, he added: ''our product is the best because I wanted to change the paradigm.''

Be yourself. New ideas. Change the paradigm. Different words that mean the same thing - if you want to succeed, innovate.

Sure, repackaging old ideas is as alive and well in Las Vegas as it is anywhere else in any industry. Every day we see some properties following the latest trends set by the few who are innovators.

I see it from time to time when prospective clients call and ask for us to create a brochure. Rather than asking them what size, I always ask why they need one. If the answer is because ''my competitors have one,'' then I know we may have our work cut out for us. There is a much higher learning curve for companies that attempt to follow their competition in communication. Yes, they may ultimately need a brochure or some other communication vehicle, but more often we discover they need something different first ... a message strategy that helps them innovate.

After all, as Steve Wynn says, ''What ... is the fun of being one song behind.''

Thursday, April 21

Seeking The Right Source

I received a newsletter in the mail today that focuses on effective nonprofit board management. Overall, the newsletter is always an interesting read, but one of its articles really missed the mark this time around from a communication perspective.

The well-meant article presented a scenario that addresses a common team-building challenge (non-profit or not): do you really want a person on your board (or team) who has reportedly clashed with the members of another team? The article went on to describe how a board president was mulling over whether to ask someone to join his board. Everyone on the nominating committee had met the prospective board member, liked him, and recognized him as a potential asset. However, one person from another team said that the prospective board member worked hard but clashed with some other folks on that team.

The scenario ended by asking: if you were the team leader, what would you do next? Then, the article offered responses from three executive directors across the United States. A cross sampling of the answers included: You might want to make sure that this isn't one person's opinion, but it's better to avoid bringing someone in with a track record of confrontation. People don't get new interpersonal skills just because they join a new board; I'd clarify expectations by encouraging him to join in governance, not micromanaging; Someone should talk to him and explain how this board works and that compromise is sometimes necessary.

Wow. It seems to me that all three respondents are inadvertently creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by accepting the notion that this prospect is likely to be confrontational and framing their communication with accusation. If they do this, the most likely outcome is exactly what they are anticipating: a confrontation. Except they will be the cause, not the prospect.

After all, at this point in the scenario, the assertion that the prospect is confrontational is nothing more than hearsay. Yet, no one offers that the first step should be to talk to the prospect before making any decision or attempting to pre-empt his "confrontational attitude."

The solution is easy enough. Start by following up with the prospect to let him know he is being considered and ask him about his experience with the other team (without the presumption that it was a confrontational experience or that he was the cause). His response might reveal any number of possibilities: maybe he was backed into a corner, not recognized for his efforts, hindered by someone on the team with a personal agenda, etc. Or maybe the supposed confrontation never existed except from the perception of one individual who originally floated the rumor. Or maybe there were some extraordinary cicumstances at his job or in his personal life. Or maybe, well, you get the picture.

In short, stop guessing, pre-empting, fretting, and go directly to the source (the prospect). Open, honest, and clear communication is always the best remedy to avoid inadvertently creating a problem that may not even be a problem with the prospect or on your board.

Sunday, April 17

Employing Service Essentials

A few years ago, I published some paraphrased service philosophies from Holly Stiel's workshop article ''Duh! A No-brainer Guide to the Essence of Service'' for a hospitality trade publication that our company managed for five years.

If you are unfamiliar with the name, Holly Stiel is a renowned author, speaker and trainer who has assisted some of the world's best companies and organizations strive to provide their guests with the ultimate service. Duh! is one of her favorite acronyms: Deliver service with Understanding and Heart.* It includes 11 customer service points:

1. Caring. Care about others and you can provide a high level of service.
2. Empathy. Apathy never leads to empathy in difficult situations.
3. Willingness. Do whatever is possible to get the job done right.
4. Patience. Listen without taking it personally; respond with empathy.
5. Love. Reach the minds of your audience and operate from the heart.
6. Understanding. Know your products, services, and customers' needs.
7. Attentiveness. Pay attention to feelings; think before responding.
8. Follow through. Always do what you say you are going to do.
9. Organization. Have information readily available and updated.
10. Laughter. Find humor to serve the public with a positive attitude.
11. Appreciativeness. Always say 'thank you very much' and mean it.

These 11 points came to mind while I was mulling over some teaching evaluations last week. After reading the dozen or so positive evaluations, a few of which offered constructive criticism such as spending more time on possible employment (food for thought), I focused in on the one very critical evaluation. What struck me most about it was that it offered very little in terms of improving the class and much more in terms of character assassination.

Several years ago, the personal jabs may have struck a nerve, but nowadays I'm more concerned that one of the students walked away feeling like she didn't learn anything. Since I really do care, I sent her a quick e-mail to open up an empathetic dialogue. All I received back was more of the same: how she wanted to improve her writing in one paragraph while defending her writing in the next ''I know I can write--I worked for an esteemed CA State Senator (sic) for three years and wrote speeches, leslative (sic) and policy analysis, letters, and lobbying strategy.'' (Her typos, not mine.)

I thought about taking another stab at opening a dialogue, but then decided against it because somewhere between the conclusion of the class and the day she responded to my e-mail, our roles had changed. I was no longer the vendor as her instructor, but the customer as someone who could provide her a few job leads.

This brings me back to the opening. In an industry such as communication, communicators will often find themselves in a position where customer-vendor roles are reversed. As a result, it is always worthwhile to consider HOW we communicate as much as WHAT we communicate. There is nothing wrong with offering suggestions or sharing a difference of opinion (people have them all the time in this industry), but there may be consequences if you don't know the difference between a fair comment and a personal attack. After all, everyone is a potential customer.

* Holly's full article is available at Holly Speaks

Tuesday, April 12

Spell-Checking To Disaster


I recently came across an archived blog post (www.callalillie.com) that reminded me of a study about the pitfalls of spell-check.

The post explained how a federal judge in Philadelphia had taken a stand against typo-prone lawyers by reducing a lawyer's request for fees, citing an overabundance of typographical errors in his filings.

In one letter, the NY Times reported, the lawyer had given the magistrate's name as Jacon, not Jacob [Hart]. Hart responded: ''I appreciate the elevation to what sounds like a character in 'The Lord of the Rings,' but, alas, I am only a judge.''

This fits well with a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh a few years ago. In this study, 33 undergraduate students were asked to proofread a one-page business letter. Half used Microsoft Word and half used their heads.

Without grammar or spelling software, students with higher SAT verbal scores made, on average, five errors compared to 12.3 errors made by students with lower scores. Using spell-check software, students with higher verbal scores made, on average, 16 errors compared with 17 errors for students with lower scores.

Associated Press writer Charles Sheehan asked Microsoft technical specialist Tim Pash to comment on the study. Pash reminded him that grammar and spelling programs are meant to help writers and editors, not solve their problems.

The simple truth is that spell-check and grammar programs are great tools to help people think about what they've written in a document, letter, article, or essay. But like any tool, they create more problems than solutions when used incorrectly.

When it comes to being a better writer, think of spell-check like driving a car with an automatic transmission. The automatic transmission makes driving easier, but if you don't take the time to understand the rules of the road, you're still headed for disaster.

Sunday, April 10

Creating A Community Blog

On Friday, it was my privilege to speak about how blogs are transforming everything we know about business communication to about 35 professional communicators and UNLV communication students. The luncheon was hosted by the International Association of Business Communicators at the Las Vegas Country Club.

Although technological limitations prevented me from sharing our preliminary PowerPoint presentation, attendees were still very interested in the data we had pulled together and our analysis on the impact that blogs are having on communication. Given the time constraints of working without a visual presentation, I was only able to touch briefly on the idea that the application of blogs as a strategic communication tool is still in its infancy.

Case in point: today, my company launched the first phase of a new blog that will be maintained as a partnership with the Nevada Commission for National & Community Service, Inc., a non-profit organization that administers AmeriCorps programs in Nevada (yes, the same commission I posted about last Wednesday). The purpose of the Nevada Business Community Blog (NBCB) is two-fold: recognize the dedication, commitment, and determination of businesses supporting non-profit organizations throughout Nevada and to promote increased business giving and volunteerism throughout the state.

The idea is one that I've given considerable thought to for several months; creating an online news feed for companies that give back to their community in Nevada as well as companies that are interested in developing a business giving program on any level. Sure, this idea has been around for some time, but never in the form of a statewide web log, which is ideal for the abundance of community service-related news releases sent out daily by companies throughout our state.

It's my hope that companies that have yet to embrace business giving will find the practice is much more prevalent and worthwhile than previously thought, which is why there is no cost to Nevada businesses to share their non-profit related news on the blog. If you're interested in a living example of how blogs can be applied to do good for our businesses and communities, visit NBCB. We've launched the first phase and will begin posting releases from the business community beginning April 15.

I would also like to offer special thanks to my partner (vice president of Copywrite, Ink.), Kim Becker, for bringing blogs to my attention almost a year ago and to Shawn Lecker-Pomaville, executive director of the Nevada Commission for National & Community Service, Inc., for embracing the idea and adding it as yet another way the commission can engage Nevadans of all ages and backgrounds in community-based service.

Wednesday, April 6

Sharing Community Service

Yesterday, along with Craig Warner, state program director for the Corporation for National and Community Service, I had the honor of representing the Nevada Commission for National & Community Service (NCNCS), which oversees seven AmeriCorps programs in Nevada, to recognize three outstanding individuals at the National Service Summit in Las Vegas. The awards were for outstanding service through either AmeriCorps, VISTA or SeniorCorps.

As vice chair of the NCNCS, I was asked to recognize the AmeriCorps award recipient, Raul Gomez, who serves as a AmeriCorps member at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Las Vegas. Over the last couple years, he has developed several dozen programs at the Boys and Girls Clubs to benefit area youth.

Even more amazing to me, he is one of 160 highly skilled AmeriCorps members in Nevada who dedicate between three and 12 months of their lives to community service in exchange for modest living conditions and a small education award so they may go on to college upon completion of their civic contribution. It's an excellent program, one that I've been thrilled to be part of since Gov. Kenny Guinn first appointed me to the commission almost four years ago.

More than any other reason, my motivation to serve is because of individuals like Gomez. Their dedication, humility, and passion to help others is nothing less than inspirational. Collectively, these individuals have helped more than 194,000 Nevadans during the 2003-04 fiscal year and they do it with minimal program funding, recognition, or reward.

As far as return on investment for the state, few programs come close to AmeriCorps in Nevada, which is involved in everything from increasing literacy and supporting at-risk youth, to providing job training and rehabilitation for homeless veterans, and environmental programs that restore our state's natural resources while reducing the risk of forest fires near rural and metropolitan areas.

Considering Nevada often ranks near the bottom in terms of overall charitable giving when compared to most states, I have always found it encouraging that AmeriCorps members and hundreds of other volunteers throughout Nevada remain unwavering in their commitment to make a difference. It makes me wonder, perhaps, if we should sometimes pay more attention to such positive examples and stellar role models in our state and less time on statistics that frequently ask the wrong questions.

Sunday, April 3

Making A Mountain Of Lies

It was no surprise to me to learn that scientists on the nuclear waste project in Nevada fabricated their quality assurance reports. As a junior in college, majoring in journalism, I wrote an article about the Yucca Mountain project in 1990. It was prompted by a comment made by one of the presenters at the first public forum held in Reno, Nev.

The presenter stated to a group of 50 residents that spent nuclear pellets were ''safe enough to hold in your hand.'' It was a lie, the first of what would later become a 15-year mountain of deception from the U. S. Department of Energy, an agency with a long track record of lies.

The newest batch of fabrications and cover-up tactics were recently released in a 90-page collection of e-mails uncovered by a subcommittee headed by Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev. One e-mail highlighted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal states: ''I've made up the dates and names. ... If they need more proof I will be happy to make up more stuff.''

It's scary stuff to think people entrusted with the transportation and storage of deadly nuclear waste would lie. And it's equally scary to me that we continue to see a growing number of people — public figures and politicians — who seem grossly ignorant of how to remedy their own dishonesty. They should take the time to know. After all, it seems to me that most severe credibility damage is never the initial fabrication but in how truth is handled when it finally comes to light.

More often than not, modern liars will attempt to cover up the lie or somehow attempt to minimize it with invalid justifications. This flawed tactic leads to more lies, half-truths, or demands of privacy (usually to protect other lies that have yet to be uncovered), which inevitably leads to complete self-destruction. They eventually lose everything instead of simply taking responsibility for what is sometimes a much lighter infraction. The motivation, of course, is fear. Someone caught in a lie is afraid of the consequences so they will do anything and everything to cover it up, which only makes it worse.

The best remedy to prevent such a catastrophe is to make it a point to never lie. Ethics 101. Professional communicators engage in truthful, accurate and fair communication that facilitates respect and mutual understanding. The ''spin'' factor does not apply.

However, since we all know people are human and are often tempted to do the wrong thing, it might be helpful to know the only strategy that truly succeeds at remedying the wrong done to others by perpetuating lies. First and foremost, stop it. At some point, the lies have to stop or they and any cover up will consume your life until you won't even know who you are anymore.

Second, admit the mistake and the lie(s), recognizing your wrongdoing, and promptly correct any erroneous communication for which you are responsible. This is your one and only opportunity to come clean by providing full disclosure of any related misdeeds and lies. The smallest details matter. If you don't move to voluntary offer full disclosure, you risk losing even more credibility when related lies are uncovered (they always are) or in demanding partial secrecy (as the person asking for a second chance, you must give up your right to make demands).

Third, make a real effort to undo any damage caused. It is not enough to admit the mistake, demonstrate remorse, and promise to never do it again. Inevitably, when someone lies, people suffer. And even if no amount of positive action may ever truly heal the damage caused, it remains the burden of the liar to do everything possible to remedy or minimize the damage done to the people they hurt.

Fourth, volunteer to be transparent, forgoing secrets or privacy for some undefined period of time, which is usually dependent on the severity of the misdeed and the number of lies that followed. Open and honest communication is the only way to restore credibility and trust. If you make continued demands for privacy, it only reinforces the idea that you have more to hide from the people who suffered. In time, you may be trusted again.

Fifth, promise to never lie again (not only to the people you lied to, but to yourself), exonerate the victims (most lies and cover ups involve discrediting the victims), and always guide others to making better life choices. In short, let your example, provided it does not hurt or embarrass someone, help other people avoid making the same mistake.

It is almost never the error, but in how we handle the error that defines our character and public perception. So in the months ahead, it will be no surprise to me if some proponents of Yucca Mountain attempt to do exactly the opposite of what I outlined above. Most will be too afraid to attempt such a remedy. After all, they weren't brave enough to face the truth to begin with, which is exactly why they resorted to one lie, and then a mountain of them.

Tuesday, March 29

Transforming Blogs Into Business

I have a confession. Almost a year ago, my partner expressed an interest that left me unconvinced. She said that web logs (blogs) were going to have a lasting impact on the communication industry as we knew it.

At the time, less than 50 percent of Internet users had even heard of blogs, less than 10 percent read blogs, and less than 5 percent had any interest in creating a blog. I was skeptical, thinking that blogs would capture about as much attention as message boards. Still, despite my initial disbelief, I approved what became a yearlong study on the patterns, perceptions, potential, and business application of blogs.

It’s a good thing I did. In the short span of six months, blog readership has grown to include 30 percent of Internet users by November 2004 and is projected to reach 80 percent by November 2005. Blogging is not only here to stay, it is fast becoming the number one underutilized business communication tool today. So much so that when the International Association of Business Communicators/Las Vegas (IABC/Las Vegas) asked me to speak on what I thought was the most pressing communication topic today, I immediately knew it had to be about blogs and their impact on communication strategy. Here are some highlights of the presentation, which will be released later today by IABC/Las Vegas:

Communication Evolution: Transforming Blogs Into Business Strategy

With U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently welcoming Web log writers (bloggers) alongside mainstream media at news conferences in South Korea and Wired News warning that companies slow to embrace blogs will rapidly appear outdated or untrustworthy, communicators are learning that blogs are not a fleeting fad among online consumers. In fact, new research indicates that blog readers grew from 15 percent to 30 percent of Internet users from February to November 2004 and are likely to reach 80 percent this year. So no matter how you feel about them, web logs are influencing the public and the media about products, services, policies, daily operations, and a company's bottom line.

IABC/Las Vegas presents Richard Becker, ABC, president of Copywrite, Ink., in an exploration of blogs, blog myths and misunderstandings, their impact on communication, and the merits of integrating business blogs into any communication strategy. In addition to his role at Copywrite, Ink., Becker is an examiner for the IABC International Accreditation Board, appointed state commissioner and vice chair of the Nevada Commission for National & Community Service (AmeriCorps), and instructor for the public relations certificate program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The luncheon and presentation will be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday, April 8, at the Las Vegas Country Club 3000 Joe W. Brown Drive. It is $23 per person for members and students, $28 for non-members. There is an additional $5 fee for walk-ins. No-shows will be billed. Visa and MasterCard are accepted.

RSVP to cindy.herman@cityofhenderson.com by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6.

Thursday, March 24

Writing For Your Life

According to a recent survey by the College Board's National Commission on Writing, 33 percent of employees do not meet the minimum writing requirements for the jobs they currently hold. While the report falls short in suggesting that Americans write worse, it is apparent that the demand for better writing skills has spread to jobs that once were filled by employees who didn't have to know a verb from a noun, including electricians, engineers, and foremen.

"There's no way to say that writing has gotten worse," said Susan Traiman, director of the education initiative for the Business Roundtable, told The Associated Press (AP). "The demand has gotten greater."

Part of the reason is attributed to computers. Approximately 66 percent of all salaried workers in large U.S. companies have jobs that require at least some writing. Among the top writing problems for most employees: accuracy, clarity, spelling, punctuation, grammar, and conciseness.

The demand for writers continues to plague the communication industry as well. The frequency of errors has become so common that even American Idol was prompted to rerun an entire show after phone numbers were incorrectly displayed during the original show.

"Businesses are really crying out. They need to have people who write better," College Board President Gaston Caperton told the AP.

While more than half of all companies surveyed now say they assess writing skills when they make hiring and promotion decisions, most seem to settle for people with only adequate skills. The survey was done with 64 companies across six industries representing 4 million employees: mining; construction; manufacturing; transportation and utilities; services and finance; and insurance and real estate.

Tuesday, February 15

Putting Accuracy First

When I teach Writing for Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), one of the first lessons I share with my students is that great writing is accurate, clear, concise, human, and conspicuous. And there is a very good reason that accurate is at the front of the list.

Recently, Johnson & Johnson faced a lawsuit over its marketing campaign for Splenda, which is an artificial sweetener. Part of the campaign's success has been attributed to the copyline "Splenda No Calorie Sweetener is made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar." Or is it? According to the Sugar Association, Splenda is an artificial chemical sweetener that does not contain sugar. It is made by converting sugar into no calorie, noncarbohydrate sweetener. The patented process selectively replaces three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms.

The Sugar Association says the marketing pitch does not accurately reflect the end product and is misleading because it gives the impression that Splenda contains natural sugar (and is a natural product). Possibly, but I'm not entirely convinced. Yes, Splenda's copyline might have been more precise had it said "Splenda No Calorie Sweetener starts with sugar so it tastes like sugar,” but to conclude it is a natural product that contains sugar based on the aforementioned copyline would require the reader to infer a message that does not exist.

Still, regardless of the outcome, this case demonstrates why accuracy is so important. It's never enough, even in advertising, to simply be clever. Unless, of course, your client does not mind the occasional lawsuit.

Sunday, February 6

Forgetting The First Amendment

This morning, I read a column by Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, that shared some disturbing (but not so surprising) survey statistics that revealed how much 112,000 high school students valued the First Amendment.

After having the First Amendment read to them, 35 percent agreed with the statement "does the First Amendment go too far in the rights it guarantees" and 21 percent were undecided. Even more troubling, when asked whether newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without prior government approval of a story, only 24 percent of these students strongly agreed. Thirty two percent also concluded the press had too much freedom.

A year earlier, a similar survey was conducted among adults. Sixty five percent disagreed with the statement "does the First Amendment go too far in the rights it guarantees" yet only 48 percent strongly agreed that newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without prior government approval of a story. While not much better, we could at least find some comfort in that a majority of Americans truly valued one of their most important Constitutional freedoms.

While one can only guess, there seem to be several reasons that the First Amendment is losing its luster. Among them: a growing mistrust of the media and its corporate owners, the increasing number of news stories that have been proven politicized or biased, the continuing number of inaccurate stories that are the result of journalists who sacrificed accuracy for expedience, and the ever-present emergence of less credible yet popular publishers who specialize in pushing the boundaries to the extreme. In short, the media is very often its own worst enemy in demonstrating its vital role in preserving our most basic freedoms for one reason or another.

Personally, I tend to subscribe to the theory that any abuse of the First Amendment tends to die in a day, while any restriction to the First Amendment will last generations, if not indefinitely. Unfortunately, I find myself in a shrinking minority, perhaps because my fellow citizens sometimes have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees.

They don't always understand that increased government scrutiny on the media would include increased government scrutiny on their individual thoughts, views, and opinions as well. Perhaps it is ignorance, but they don't seem to understand that the day they begin a website or blog is the day that they have effectively decided to become a publisher, subject to the same restrictions that might one day be placed upon the media. Second, and even more startling to me, they sometimes seem to think that the government (whether local, state, or federal) will always act responsibly and never do anything to undermine the freedoms we have been granted, especially the First Amendment. But then again, I know better.

A few years ago, I worked on now State Senator Bob Beers' first run for the state assembly. During the race, his campaign team published a direct mail piece that brought to light several lies being promoted by his opponent during the primary. Once the piece was published and mailed, his opponent filed a complaint with a state commission and this governmental body ruled that although the piece was factually accurate, Beers should be fined because, in sum, the commission did not like the presentation of the content. Right. Beers was literally fined for telling the truth, a blatant violation of the First Amendment.

Fortunately, Beers was exonerated and went on to win his first bid to serve in the legislature as an assemblyman. Last year, he was elected to the state senate. Coincidentally, we again faced a challenging primary from a 20-year incumbent who allowed his campaign team to publish countless misleading information and blatant lies about Beers. We decided, rather than file a complaint with a governmental entity, to employ an old-fashioned solution: the best way to remedy an abuse of the First Amendment is not by censoring the abuser, but by a candid, timely, and open discussion and presentation of the facts. In doing so, relatively few people were swayed by the opponent's misleading statements. Bob Beers won handily, and is currently representing his district as the clearest voice among fiscal conservatives and as vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

My point is simple enough. The First Amendment does not simply protect the media. It protects all of us. Value it. Preserve it. Protect it. Without it, we may very well one day have to apply for a license to publish something as simple as a blog post.

Tuesday, February 1

Adding Value With Philanthropy

Last week, I received a news release from a friend of mine at Bank of America announcing that the Bank of America Foundation gave more than $800,000 in financial support to 83 agencies in Nevada last year. Bank of America volunteers also logged more than 3,500 hours in the community. Nationwide, the company's foundation contributed more than $109.5 million in cash to nonprofit organizations.

Although Copywrite, Ink. is a small company in terms of size, we also formalized a corporate giving program a few years ago. In most cases, we provide nonprofit and professional organizations with in-kind communication services that greatly exceed any monetary contributions our company could allocate. Last year, we assisted 16 organizations by providing an in-kind services that were valued at more than 20 percent of our gross income. I mention this not to 'toot our own horn,' but to illustrate how even the smallest companies can develop beneficial giving programs.

The Bank of America release also reminded me of an article I wrote a few years ago about business giving, which is still relevant today. I've included the article (featuring interviews with Microsoft, Salesforce.com, and the Business Community Investment Council) as a comment to this post with the hope that it might inspire a few ideas for small business owners. Our company has also assisted several companies in developing giving programs as part of their overall communication strategy. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 30

Lasik Marketing Snafu?

I was reading the combined edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal/Las Vegas Sun today when an advertisement for Lasik surgery caught my eye, but not for the reason the eye center intended. The featured doctor was wearing eye glasses.

Yes, I understand that Lasik surgery is a personal choice. No, I don't believe every doctor should be expected to undergo their own procedures. However, from a communication standpoint, it makes little sense to feature an eye doctor wearing glasses in an advertisement touting Lasik. He could have at least taken them off for the photo shoot rather than leaving the intended target audience to wonder whether he is one of many doctors that perform surgeries they don't believe in or simply not a suitable Lasik candidate.

It seems painfully obvious that patient trust and credibility remains the number one reason people choose one Lasik surgeon over another, but I guess this particular center and their ad team can't see it. Maybe their glasses need a good cleaning.

Marketing Made Easier Online

In addition to my position as president of Copywrite, Ink., I am an instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).
Each spring, I teach Writing for Public Relations, which is part of the UNLV's Public Relations certification program. The class ranges from 10 to 25 students and working professionals.

While teaching, I keep close tabs on upcoming luncheons hosted by various communication-related organizations in southern Nevada. My students often attend the luncheons for extra credit and to augment many of the topics we discuss in class. I always encourage communication professionals to become involved in at least one professional organization and regularly attend luncheons and workshops to remain up to date on the changes taking place in the industry. It's a must.

One promising luncheon, hosted by the American Marketing Association next Thursday, Feb. 3, will feature Al Gibes, technology columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and Eric Schwartzman, marketing director for Schwartzman PR (Los Angeles). The luncheon promises to reveal the newest, most effective ways to include the Internet as part of a company's overall marketing strategy, including very topical information regarding affiliate programs.

The luncheon is held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Lawry's Prime Rib, 4043 Howard Hughes Parkway. It is $25 for members and $30 for non-members who RSVP by Monday, Jan. 31. For reservations to attend, call 702-593-0883.

Thursday, January 20

Copyright vs. Copywrite

Every now and again, someone drops by our site (and now our blog) looking to protect their work with a 'copywrite'. What these fine folks are really looking for is a 'copyright'. We certainly understand the confusion, which I'll explain in a moment.

First, if you are visiting to 'copyright' your work, the best thing to do is type 'copyright' into the google search engine below. Google will list a number of different companies that provide copyright and trademark information, resources, and services. The costs vary, but some companies may make the process a little simpler than contacting the U.S. Register of Copyright in Washington D.C. While I'm certainly no attorney, I have heard of another way to protect your work (and have used it in the past for non-commercial work): mail a copy of the manuscript, story, etc. to yourself and then file the sealed envelope away.

As far as our name, 'Copywrite, Ink.' is a play on the professional designation 'copywriter,' which is used to define people who write for advertising agencies (eg. ad copy as in advertising body copy). When I founded the company in 1991 as a freelance writer, I wanted to create a brand that was immediately recognizable: copywrite (as in copywriter) and ink (for obvious reasons). Our trademark was created a couple years later. It's an ink spot with the 'copyright' symbol inside. Today, it's a registered trademark (a copyright symbol set inside the ink spot). Of course, we make no legal claims on the copyright symbol as tempting as that might sound. Grin.

Coming Soon

Copywrite, Ink. Writing Services, Inc. is a leading commercial writing services company. That means we provide words, concepts, and strategies for advertising agencies, corporate communication departments, public relations firms, publications, and other media, including blogs.

I'm the owner, but I'll save the details until later. This is just a place holder post until we have some time to launch the blog later this month, maybe this weekend. Nice to meet you too.
 

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