Showing posts with label iabc. Show all posts
Showing posts with label iabc. Show all posts

Monday, June 1

Speaking About Social Media: IABC Las Vegas


Tomorrow, I'll be one of six presenters at the International Association of Business Communicators' (IABC Las Vegas) "Six in Sixty" program held at Maggiano's at the Fashion Show Mall. The program starts at 11:30 a.m. and focuses on various aspects of Internet marketing and social media.

Six in Sixty programs are always fun and challenging in that IABC members and guests hear presentations from six different speakers in sixty minutes. The program format ensures each speaker spends no more than 10 minutes at each table of eight before rotating to the next table. For speakers it can be challenging because delivering a similar mini-presentation several times creates an uncanny feeling of deja-vu.

IABC Las Vegas — "Six in Sixty"

Mark Cenicola with BannerView.com will present on the effective use of blogging to drive Web traffic.

Cheryl Bella with The Firm will present on how to maximize LinkedIn.

Ned Barnett with Barnett Marketing Communications will present social media ethics.

Bonnie Parrish-Kell with Dancing Rabbits will present SEO basics.

Megan Lane with Imagine Marketing will present on using Twitter for business.

As the sixth speaker, I'll discuss how to determine which social media tools might be best suited for specific organizations or events, based upon the organization's strategic objectives, existing communication assets, and listening to customers. As part of the presentation, I'll share some recent case studies from very diverse organizations.

IABC Las Vegas is the statewide chapter for the International Association of Business Communicators, which is an international network of professionals engaged in strategic business communication management. The chapter was founded locally in 1978. You can find more information here.

Friday, March 14

Proving Practically: 20 PR Students See The Light


Sometimes practical experience is the best teacher. So for 15 minutes last night, practical experience served as the guide in my last class this session.

Students in my Writing for Public Relations class were asked to walk 15 minutes in the shoes of a starting journalist. It only took two before their feet were sore and some eyes glazed over.

They were given seven real news releases and asked to convert them into three 1-paragraph news briefs. (Ideally, I like to provide 10 releases and ask them to write four briefs in 20 minutes, but I wanted to shave some time.)

Within a few seconds, the room filled with the sounds of a newsroom, fingers pounding keyboards. And then ten minutes in I tossed in an interruption.

”Ring, ring. Hi, I’m a PR guy. Do you want to hear about my news?”

No answer.

“Nobody wants to talk to me? How rude. I have some real good news.”

“I will if your news is better than some of these releases,” one student laughed.

“Oh, okay,” I said. “I’m having a press conference tomorrow.”

“What’s it about?”

“We’re going to pop a balloon,” I said, a reference to Bruce Spotleson, group publisher for Greespun Media, who used balloon popping as an example of what press conferences are starting to become — sales events about nothing.

“I’d hang up,” someone else offered.

“Why? Do you have something against balloons? I thought journalists loved pitches. What am I going to tell my client?”

“We’re on a deadline,” another offered.

“Wow, you sound just like those grumpy journalists,” I mused. “Okay, you have three minutes to wrap up.”

No one could believe how quickly the time whizzed by. And no one was really finished or satisfied with the releases. Their assessment of news releases suddenly wasn’t far off from my own: it would be nice if the releases contained news, had hard facts in the first paragraph, adhered to Associated Press Style rules, minimized typos (including company names), didn’t make them feel like they had to call to fact check everything, and didn’t come over in 6-point type (as one did) in order to conform to some silly “one page” rule.

None of them wanted to do to someone else what I did to them — make their job harder under the pressure of a deadline. Sure, it’s not exactly like real life, but it is close enough to make a memorable point. Newspaper staff is shrinking and well-written releases with news sometimes help fill the gaps. Well, hopefully not that much.

”Hmmm… I wonder if social media releases will make it easier?"

While some have high hopes that IABC can create real “standards," I had mixed feelings when I read the announcement from IABC that said they will take the lead (even though I am an active member).

On one hand, it may help speed along the adoption rate — now, two years and counting — of a worthwhile communication tool. On the other, one wonders if it is really appropriate to step in after two years and proclaim a leadership role. I also hope, no matter what they do, they’ll put it to the end-user test like I did with news releases in class — ensuring journalists and others have the option to follow up, but don’t always have to follow up.

Even more importantly, I wonder if most SMRs will really help journalists, bloggers, and stakeholders? Or will they become cool looking marketing sales sheets, written by the same folks who still haven't mastered the news release?

I also wonder what needs to be done. Did they see this, which Geoff Livingston pointed to last year (it's good, despite some marketing heavy copy)? Or this, which I pointed to a few months before that? I hope so. It might dramatically shorten the development cycle.

Rest assured though, one day I’ll probably pass out 10 social media releases to a class and ask them to walk in the shoes of someone else. Something tells me they will still get sore feet, regardless.

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Tuesday, February 5

Finding Ideas: Live Outside Your Ecosystem


Among the tips I like to provide students taking my “Writing For Public Relations” class is to expand their knowledge and networks well beyond any confined industry ecosystem. Spend too much time within any ecosystem and specialists risk becoming endangered species. Online or off, there is no difference.

This is one of the reasons while I place value on creating relationships with public relations practitioners, advertising gurus, communication specialists, etc., I also work build connections and participate outside of my area of focus.

Mark Stoneman, historian, recently brought this up as a discussion topic in our BlogStraightTalk group. He was prompted by Janet Rae-Dupree’s article in The New York Times. My speaking schedule might provide an example as I'll have to adapt to meet the needs of each group.

Las Vegas Recruiting Roadshow — 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Feb. 27

Ever since John Sumser organized what he calls an experiment to bring local recruiters into the industry’s larger network infrastructure, the road show has made some impressive gains in helping the industry build bridges and network. Since the show is coming to Las Vegas, Sumser asked if I’d discuss the merits of social networking for about 30-45 minutes. In Vegas? You bet.

So on Feb. 27, I’ll be among the five speakers discussing various topics at the Green Valley Resort • Spa • Casino. It’s free with registration.

What do I get out of discussing topics with recruiters? You might be surprised. They provide an interesting link to personal branding, human resources, labor relations, and executive management to name a few; topics that my industry doesn’t always consider. Tip for communicators: learn more about business.

Editing and Proofreading Your Work — 9 a.m. to noon, March 1

This class is a half-day day session that focuses on improving clarity, consistency, and correct usage in personal and business communication through the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While the class provides some overlap instruction for the Writing For Public Relations course, it also attracts a diverse group of people ranging from future authors and freelancers to business managers and yes, people within the communication profession.

So on March 1, I’ll be finding new ways to make the nuts and bolts of writing effectively as an editor interesting for a diverse group of people on the campus. The class is $85 and includes handouts.

The diversity of the students always leads to some interesting questions during class. It helps me stay fresh, considering any number of writing questions I never consider on a daily basis, including when to use “whilst.” Tip for writers: different forms and styles open ideas that can be applied to other forms and styles.

IABC/Las Vegas Speed Workshop— 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., March 4

The International Association of Business Communicators Las Vegas (IABC/Las Vegas) is adding speed to speaking as six speakers will play musical tables every ten minutes. I’ll be among them, discussing social media.

Anyone in social media might find the time frame amusing. Just how much information can be gleaned about social media, skewed slightly for non-profits (I’m told), inside of ten minutes? If I’m being honest, I’m just not sure yet, other than needing to write tight, talk fast, and bring handouts.

The program registration has not been added online yet, but I do know it will be held at Maggiano's, which is located at the Fashion Show Mall. The program is $30 for IABC members and students; $35 for guests. It includes lunch. Tip for executives: all the dismissal of social media in the world won’t change the fact that people are talking about your company online.

IABC/Las Vegas generally attracts communicators from a wide variety of industries, including the non-profit sector. Working on various boards and for several organizations, I’ve developed some great relationships, including with members of the media who support some of the same causes.

You never know where good ideas might come from. So if I’m working for a manufacturer, I want to know more about being a machinist. In banking, I want to know how the market affects various business sectors or when to get a loan. In politics, I want to know how to capture, motivate, and retain volunteers for a grass roots campaign. In social media, understanding some technology is as important as knowing something about venture capitalists. And so on, and so forth.

The point: while you might be able to survive in a confined industry ecosystem for awhile, you have to step outside of it sooner or later. Too much specialization, while it might seem to be asset, will eventually limit your ability to survive. Besides all that, the best ideas often come from where you least expect it — people who know little about what you do but are impacted by it often.

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Monday, December 10

Digging In: Marketing vs. PR


Can two people be right and wrong at the same time? Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, and Geoff Livingston, author and owner of Livingston Communications, beg the question.

Sledzik is distrusting of the integration of public relations under marketing. Livingston believes in the convergence of integrated communication under marketing.

They are neither wrong nor right, or perhaps they are both wrong and right. Take your pick. Both present compelling arguments, although both posts also have points that nearly threw me out of my chair in a twisted grimace caused by the collision of comedy and tragedy — there were several such moments, but I’ll stick with the one that made me chuckle while reaching for the Tums.

Livingston’s erred definition of public relations using an online dictionary brutally misrepresents the function of public relations. And Sledzik, pulling out the dusty classical collegiate definition of marketing as defined by the 4 Ps (product, price, place, and promotion) only reinforces what many modern marketers gave up in favor of sales and profits decades ago.

If there is a convergence crisis, it is only because communication-related industries have become so fragmented and the definitions so misshapen that respected professionals in both disciplines spend more time lobbying to be above each other than they ever do to benefit their companies or clients. And if it was bad before, expect it to get worse as social media has made the battle lines look more like WWI than WWW II.

“But wait,” some might say, scratching their heads. “I thought Richard Becker was an advocate of integrated communication.”

You bet your bippy I am. But not under the condition that marketing or public relations will take the lead. You see, Sledzik is right. They are two very different disciplines. And yet, Livingston is right. We need better communication integration. But neither is right because while marketing and public relations intersect, neither can replace nor lead the other. Arg!

A Letter From Switzerland

As a longtime accreditation examiner for the International Association of Business Communicators, I have the pleasure of grading exams submitted by some very bright people, many of whom have more than a decade of experience in some facet of communication and can be easily considered leaders in their respected fields — marketing, advertising, public relations, internal communication, investor relations, community relations, etc. et al.

Specifically, this rigorous peer review process challenges candidates to demonstrate their ability to think and plan strategically and then manage the skills required to effectively implement tactics that are essential to effective organizational communication, which includes marketing, public relations, media relations, external relations, internal communication, and crisis communication.

You can learn more about the accreditation process here and as an accreditation liaison for the local chapter in Las Vegas (accreditation chair), I’ll be writing more in weeks ahead.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll simply touch on that this is a globally accepted standard of knowledge and proficiency in organizational communication, enough so that some universities recognize it as the equivalent of a master’s degree and some government agencies recognize it as an expertise that precludes certain jobs from being sent out to bid (though, some human resources departments do not). It is denoted by the designation Accredited Business Communicator (ABC), which is not to be confused with the APR, as offered by the Public Relations Society of America. (The tests are different enough that several attempts to combine them since the 1980s have failed.)

I mention the ABC today because, while I cannot share specifics as I am bound by confidentiality, my experience in grading these exams may shed light on the challenges associated with integrating communication from the disciplines of marketing or public relations. Put simply, as an examiner, I can tell which school of thought with which the candidates are most comfortable and, often but not always, razor sharp focus in either leads to communication breakdown.

Observations From The Front

An overly general and probably unfair characterization reveals accreditation candidates with a heavy marketing background tend to lack empathy and seldom consider various publics beyond their target audience, treating the transaction as more important than any long-term relationship and dismissing qualitative research with the wave of a hand. Whereas candidates with a heavy public relations background do not always link their objectives to any sort of measurable outcome, leaving one to wonder if they understand the difference between public relations and publicity (the latter is tied to promotion, folks) or realize that all the positive media in the world won’t change anyone’s mind.

Neither discipline really considers the long-term consequences that communication may have on multiple publics or how to craft a single message that will appeal to publics that have varied and even conflicted opinions about the same subject. Most do not even know how to craft communication about downsizing that will make shareholders cheer without disenfranchising and demoralizing internal stakeholders. And sometimes, in the push to redefine communication, especially with the advent of social media, many neglect the core tenets of their own disciplines, with marketing hijacked by profit seekers and sales, and public relations prowess measured by the size of an electronic media Rolodex.

In truth, both have seemed to give up ground in the areas where they have the most influence in favor of only one P, which is very place they seem to intersect — promotion. In such a world, marketing becomes sales; and public relations becomes publicity. And neither of these two distorted views of communication will have any lasting impact or profound ability to change behavior in such a way that a brand might actually become a cultural statement.

Organizational communication, though I prefer to call it strategic communication, is about much more than marketing or public relations, but values them both more than they value each other. And while some intuitive professionals may at times push above their marketing or public relations background to become a communicator, most will forever be encamped on either side of the “No Man’s Land” they created, machine guns blazing from the trenches.

And that is why Sledzik and Livingston (two people I hold in high regard in case you don’t know that), peering out of their respective foxholes, are both right and wrong. We need to integrate communication, but it will take much more than public relations or marketing to do it. See you in Versailles.

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Monday, October 29

Demonstrating Non-Communication: IABC And Ragan


Last week, I mentioned a communication breakdown. On the front end, it was confined to the chair and president of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), which is a global network of communicators working in diverse industries, and IABC member David Murray, who has his own ideas about what IABC should be doing. Shel Holtz did a good job with the recap so I won’t repeat it. It’s not very entertaining, er, or is it?

If it was an episode of The Office, it would have went something like this…

Dwight: I’m so excited! We have a new Scranton plan and I want to share some of it early! Listen up, everybody; this is going to be great! … Blah, blah, blah.
Toby: Blah, blah, blah? That’s stupid, Dwight. You can’t do it that way. It has to go through corporate.
Dwight: Oh, come on … maybe you just need to hear a little more.
Toby: No, Dwight. I don’t. It’s stupid.
Michael: Hold on. If anyone is going to call Dwight’s plan stupid, they have to call me stupid too. It was my plan.
Toby: Whatever, Michael. It’s still stupid and I’m calling Ryan.

So what really happened?
Todd Hattori, chair of IABC, made the mistake of pre-releasing some strategic plan summaries to the public before the plan was ready for members (let alone the public) because he was enthusiastic about it. Murray, an IABC member with his own ideas about what needs to be done, publicly criticized the summary.

Hattori and Julie Freeman, president of IABC, attempted to respond, trying to defend the unreleased plan by sharing more information. They didn’t need to go beyond adding a comment to Murray’s blog, perhaps asking Murray to wait for the plan to be released. But they did, and that made matters worse. Go figure.

So what could have happened?
IABC could have released the strategic plan to various internal stakeholders, incorporated the best input as needed, and then released the completed plan to the public. Communicating change works best from the inside out.

The Story Continues…
Ragan Communications noted the tussle and thought it would be fun to cover. Last week, I thought it was a good thing that Ragan Communications gave the criticism a forum out of principle. I’m less inclined to think so today, because Ragan appears to have a stake in the outcome. The Ragan a la Michael Klein addition to the non-communication went something like this…

Toby (into phone): Ryan, yeah, it’s Toby, I have a problem.
Ryan: Toby, I’m busy. Let Angela work it out until I can get there.
Angela: Well, this plan doesn’t include Ryan’s ideas, so Toby is right, it’s stupid. But if you want, I’ll be happy to listen …
Michael and Dwight: Okay! Blah, blah, blah.
Angela: Blah, blah, blah? No, it’s definitely stupid. Let’s take a vote.
Ryan’s fans: Whatever Angela says!

So what really happened?
Klein, who also has ideas about what IABC should be doing, first wrote an op-ed mostly highlighting Murray’s point of view and infused some additional points (fair enough). And then, Murray seemed to ask for an objective “interview.” Hattori and Freeman accepted, despite all this being well beyond objectivity.

So what could have happened?
I appreciate that Hattori and Freeman were trying to be responsive, but it came across as somewhat defensive. It certainly did not serve members to make the IABC Strategic Plan the subject matter of a pretend news source. Ragan has some good content, but its flash-in-the-pan style often dilutes its value.

The Story Continues…
About that time, it seems Shel Holtz and I stumbled upon the conversation, both wondering if it was worth commenting on at all. That went something like this…

Jim: Hey, what are we voting on in here?
Kevin: Hey Jim, It’s confusing, but I’ll map it all out for you.
Jim: Sure, map away. It all seems kind of silly.
Michael: Jim, can you define silly?
Dwight: What part’s silly? Mine? Or Toby’s?
Jim: You know, maybe I ought to keep out of it.
Kevin: That might be best. Nobody cares anyway.
Jim: You might be right.
Ryan (finally walking in): Nobody cares? Everybody cares! At least they used to care!
Kevin: Good point, Ryan. Why doesn’t anyone care?
Toby: That was my point all along.

So are there any real issues?
I see several issues buried somewhere in all the bias, but I think even those are trumped by the simple fact that this strategic plan has not been released. As for IABC members not chiming in en masse, I can only guess that most are wise enough to avoid a conversation about something they have not seen, which is why I’m waiting until the strategic plan is released.

Except, I’d like to note that the entire dialogue (and I use that term loosely) was an exercise in non-communication with no more validity than a basic blog drama. You would think that people who are communicators would know better, given they are all professionals. For some reason, everyone treats social media like it somehow supercedes proven communication practices. It does not.

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Thursday, October 25

Mixing Nuts: Ragan Communications


If you ever want to see an organization that inspires admiration and loathing at the same time, look no further than Ragan Communications. If you don’t know, it is a publisher of information about corporate communication and internal communication. It also hosts a social network called myRagan, which is both useful and clunky at the same time (but better than when I first reviewed it).

Admiration

On one hand, Ragan Communications gave Michael Klein a great platform to discuss the merits and shortfalls of the International Association of Business Communicators’ new staff-driven strategic plan. David Murray also has a fine sum-up about the communication backlash.

If you don’t know, IABC is a professional network of more than 15,000 business communication professionals in over 70 countries. One of the cornerstone principles for IABC is that it is a member-driven organization, which pinpoints why a staff-written strategic plan (that few have seen) may not be palatable for many members, especially because it was set in motion before it was released for review. Yikes! Time to brush up on those “communicating change” skill sets.

I haven’t had the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the real issues, but I’ll poke around next week. One thing I do know, having been around IABC for quite some time, members sometime feel that they do not have enough input into shaping the organization. When members do mention that, it’s usually defined as lambasting the organization.

For the moment, I will mention if Klein is right and “increasing mainstream media mentions by 20 percent” is part of the plan, IABC might have a rocky road ahead. Counting media mentions is not a suitable measure, which, ironically, is something I learned from IABC. More importantly, Julie Freeman (IABC president) and Todd Hattori (IABC chair) must demonstrate due diligence so this does not turn into an “us vs. them” communication challenge. More next week.

Loathing

Sometimes Ragan Communications buzz e-mails are so silly it’s hard to take Ragan seriously. For example, in marketing its upcoming 90-minute webinar with Southwest Airlines next Tuesday, the e-mail headline reads:

Q: How many customer comments are there on Southwest’s blog this month? A: 209. The time is now to start a dialogue with your customers.

The irony here is that I can almost guarantee Southwest Airlines does not include blog comment counts as part of their organization’s business objectives. (I won’t bother mentioning the clunky headline structure.)

Fortunately, Southwest Airlines’ Brian Lusk, manager of customer communication and corporate editor, and Paula Berg, public relations manager, are including: how to align a corporate blog with your organization's business objectives. So, the whole comment count thing is mute as a selling point. There is little doubt that Southwest Airlines seems to know the difference between outcomes and blog buzz even if Ragan Communications likes to mix them up.

In fact, Southwest Airlines has one of the better customer-focused blogs around. More importantly, this foray into social media is partly responsible for the best opening three quarters in the airline's history. Right on. Southwest Airlines also attributes $150 million in ticket sales to its "Ding!" widget.

So let’s see … if you are in the target audience, what might resonate: $150 million or 209 comments? Sure, the comments are cool in that they demonstrate some customer engagement. The more I think about them, the more I see comments might even be worth adding to the qualitative research column (if you employ comments).

However, my main point here is that Ragan Communications irritates me because they dumb down communication value. Yes, it’s great fun for a select audience who understands something about social media, but it also drives away those who need to understand social media the most. More to the point: if you don’t have a blog, you certainly don’t care about comment counts.

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Friday, June 29

Surviving Social Media: IABC/Las Vegas

A little more than two years ago, I posted my confession that it was my partner (not me) who said Web logs (blogs) were going to have a lasting impact on the communication industry in late 2003.

Fortunately for me, despite my skepticism, I approved what became a yearlong study on the patterns, perceptions, potential, and business application of blogs. The early work led me to speak at an International Association of Business Communicators/Las Vegas (IABC/Las Vegas) luncheon, were I concluded: no matter how you felt about it, social media was influencing the public and the media about products, services, policies, daily operations, and a company's bottom line.

Was I right about social media?

It resulted in the Singapore government paying out S$150 million to about 330,000 low-income workers five days before an election. It underpinned the biggest television show cancellation protest in history with Jericho fans shipping 40,000 pounds of nuts to CBS. It was behind the move by shareholders to oust JetBlue’s founder as president. It thrust the local Towbin Hummer flag controversy into the national spotlight. And, it is the reason behind Wynn Las Vegas becoming the first resort casino to have unionized dealers.

Amazing to me, despite the fact that social media has changed the communication landscape, most communicators (and even some bloggers) remain in denial. They say social media is a fad or not to be taken seriously. But the truth is (much like your message): if you don’t manage social media, social media will manage you.

On Friday, July 13, I've been asked back to speak at IABC/Las Vegas to present on a slightly different topic: what does it take to make social media work for you and not against you. While I'll touch on how to determine which tools — blogs, podcasts, digital media, and even PR Newswire releases — might work best for your company or clients, I'll also provide an inside look at some of the case studies we've covered and why this blog became the top ranked communication blog in Nevada.

Host: IABC/Las Vegas
Date: Friday, July 13
Time: 11:30 a.m. (networking)
Location: Las Vegas Country Club, 3000 Joe W. Brown Drive
Cost: $26 for IABC members and students, $30 for guests
RSVP: Visit www.iabclasvegas.com by July 11


While some readers know I have social media experience — contributing to RecruitingBloggers.com, participating on SpinThicket, assisting on a BlogCatalog project, working to partner with The Buzz Bin to develop something on myRagan, and launching three blogs for various clients — social media is only some of what we do (although some days, I wonder. Ha!)

So, in the hope of promoting this IABC/Las Vegas program to social media skeptics, I'm also an accredited business communicator who has worked on more than 1,000 accounts, written hundreds of magazine articles, contributed to five books, and scripted a documentary for PBS. I currently serve as an examiner for the IABC International Accreditation Board; governor-appointed state commissioner for the Nevada Commission for National & Community Service (AmeriCorps); honorary member of Les Clefs d’Or; and Educational Outreach instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Within the past three years, I've also served as an international research committee member for the IABC Research Foundation; director of public service for the Las Vegas Advertising Federation; director of public relations for the Business Community Investment Council; and in several other positions to assist nonprofit professional and community service projects. My work has earned numerous awards, including several Addys, EMAs, and Quills for writing, creative, and strategic direction. I've been honored as IABC/Las Vegas Communicator of the Year, WIC Agency/Production/Public Relations Principal of the Year, with the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce Community Achievement Award, and others.

Prior to Copywrite, Ink., I was creative director at an advertising agency in Reno and worked in the corporate communication department of a major utility. I'm a proud graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.

I don't blog in pajamas or bathrobes (not that there is anything wrong with that), but some people might be surprised by the caliber of our clients (small and large) and, even more so, the results we've helped generate for people, products, companies, and even elected officials. So, if you're in Las Vegas on July 13 (and you've RSVPd by July 11), drop by for a few hours. We're even going to give away some quirky Jericho-inspired Copywrite, Ink. "blog promo" T-shirts.

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Friday, February 16

Making Radio: ProComm

Nobody likes to give away all their secrets, but I'm about to give one away: ProComm.

ProComm, which is located in North Carolina, is often my first choice among radio and voiceover production companies. (Yes, we might be based in Las Vegas, but we really, really like ProComm.) So do a lot of other people: Time Magazine, Disney, and MasterCard among them.

ProComm was one of the first production companies to pool its voice talent from other markets like Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis, Miami, and Atlanta and then offer clients (people like me and my clients) an opportunity to screen them online. All the production participants (technicians, talent, and producers) are then patched in from various locations, allowing people like me to call in and effectively produce a national-caliber spot (whether it's local, regional, or national).

You never really appreciate such a tool until you have a very bad cold like I did about a month ago. We had a very busy production schedule with eight spots as part of a multi-market campaign for one of our favorite clients. At a walk-in studio, I would have had to reschedule the entire job or send someone else to produce the spots and hope for the best. Not so with ProComm. I climbed out of bed for a few hours each day and got to work — at home.

The quality is outstanding. Time after time, ProComm has demonstrated it keeps pace with our scripts. In fact, just last night (although I was teaching), the same client I was producing spots for about a month ago was recognized for its "Summer Gas Prices" spot that aired last summer. It received an IABC/Las Vegas Bronze Quill award for communication excellence in radio.

The client is Black Gaming, better known for its three resorts CasaBlanca, Oasis, and Virgin River located in Mesquite, Nevada, which is about 90 minutes north of Las Vegas. It's owned by Randy Black, one of the nicest and most authentic resort owners in the gaming industry (he also plays himself in the spots, which were recorded locally by Dave Martin).

The spot that won last night was the joint concept between myself and Scott DeAngelo, vice president of marketing for all three resorts. Scott noticed a trend last summer that people where reluctant to travel as far due to the perception that gas prices were just too high (prices were well over $3 per gallon in Las Vegas). So, based on that idea, he let us run loose to write, cast, and produce several spots that pitted Black, the "people's resort owner," against "greedy oil companies" who were, in effect, preventing people from taking a vacation. Add to this concept three great resorts for the right price, and you have everything you need to produce results.

While I won't share the entire case study here, I will offer up that the spot drove occupancy to record levels (about 10 percent higher) than previous years during the same tracking period and received some fine compliments from, believe it or not, other resort owners and marketing directors. Unlike many competitions, results are an important factor in the IABC/Las Vegas Bronze Quills.

So, kudos all around. A great product, a top marketing guru, creative scripts, great production, solid talent (including Randy Black and ProComm professionals), and a smart media buy (also DeAngelo's handiwork), and it's easy to win. No, I don't mean win awards: I mean win customers, which is really what it is all about.

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Tuesday, October 24

Sanitizing Personal Opinion

There seems to be much ado about Wee Shu Min, a teenage blogger whose online journal was criticized as insensitive and elitist. The story has escalated to the point of absurdity with her father, MP Wee Siew Kim, and the principal of Raffles Junior College telling The Straits Times that Miss Wee had received counseling for using insensitive language.

She has since shut down her blog and apologized for her comments, though not directly to Mr. Derek Wee, a Singaporean who works for a multinational corporation. He had written in his blog on Oct 12 that he was concerned about competition from foreign talent and the lack of job opportunities for older workers. Miss Wee had responded to him on her blog, calling him old and unmotivated and said he was overly reliant on the government.

She specifically wrote: 'Derek, Derek, Derek darling, how can you expect to have an iron rice bowl or a solid future if you cannot spell? There's no point in lambasting the Government for making our society one that is, I quote, 'far too survival of the fittest.' If uncertainty of success offends you so much, you will certainly be poor and miserable.' She concluded by telling Mr. Wee to 'get out of my elite uncaring face.'

In the apology, Wee Siew Kim went further to say that in "In our current desire to encourage more debate, especially through the Internet, our comments must be tempered with sensitivity. I will not gag her, since she's 18 and should be able to stand by what she says. ... Nonetheless, I have counselled her to learn from it. Some people cannot take the brutal truth and that sort of language, so she ought to learn from it."

Before writing an unpopular opinion, I will offer up that as an accredited business communicator, I adhere to the International Association of Business Communicators' Code of Ethics, which encourages members to "engage in communication that is not only legal, but also ethical and sensitive to cultural values and beliefs; and engage in truthful, accurate and fair communication that facilitates respect and mutual understanding; among other things." I wish more bloggers would consider such ethical guidelines before posting various rants on the Web.

However, Wee Shu Min has obviously not bonded herself to such a code, and therefore, must be respected for her opinion, no matter how insensitive or elitist it may have come across. If anything, I have personally welcomed people to state their minds, no matter how insensitive, ignorant, or bigoted they may be, because it is the very language they use that may reveal their own lack of credibility or character. In fact, Wee Shu Min self-describes herself as elitist and insensitive, which seems to me to make any criticisms of her for being that rather redundant.

In sum, both Derek Wee and Wee Shu Min have a right to their respective opinions. It seems to me that Derek Wee probably made the stronger case, given that Wee Shu Min did resort to name-calling and colorful insults as one might suspect from an 18-year-old college student. However, the equally aggressive rebuttals and public outcry, and then public apology by her father and the principal of her college, seems largely disproportionate.

If anything, her post did succeed in revealing the country's growing disconnect, perhaps, between younger and older adults, skilled and unskilled workers, and/or affluent and less affluent citizens. Until that is addressed, with open dialogue, there is little chance any measures could be taken to address Derek Wee's concerns and grievances.

But then again, I live in a country that, despite occasional pressure to be 'politically correct' in stating opinions, allows for unpopular language under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Although frequently tested, one simple truth remains: the abuse of free speech will die in a day, but the censorship of free speech, including rants from those like Wee Shu Min, will span generations.

Tuesday, September 19

Writing A Style Guide

Sue Khodarahmi means well in her article ''You're stylin' now,'' published in the September-October 2006 edition of Communication World by the International Association of Business Communicators. I really believe she does.

Khodarahmi even gives credit where credit is due, offering up a little on the importance The Associated Press Style Book (AP Style) and/or The Chicago Manual of Style. But then, unfortunately, she suggests that there's really ''no right or wrong as long as you're consistent,'' suggesting companies and organizations can feel free to create their own style guides to cover a myriad of exceptions.

The trouble with this philosophy is two-fold. First and foremost, implementing deviations from AP Style (or other style guides) means your company is really implementing two style guides: one for public relations that follows AP Style and another for a few or all other audiences. In short, her explanation ''as long as you're consistent'' is already in jeopardy.

The second problem is that this negates why AP Style was adopted in the first place. Originally, AP Style was adopted by national and international publications to improve consistently on questions not covered by English grammar rules. In short, they recognized the need to standardize the written language as opposed to having each publication write its own rules. AP Style, which I require in any class I teach, is the foremost guide to newspaper style in the United States and is consistently recognized as such worldwide. It is also updated annually, allowing it to keep up with English as a living language.

Certainly there are some exceptions. The Chicago Manual of Style prescribes a writing style that is widely used in the publishing industry (as opposed to newspapers). The differences between it and AP Style are generally insignificant. However, the Chicago Manual of Style is only updated every decade or so and is considered by some much less relevant than in the past. (We use it to arbitrate any style questions not addressed by the AP.)

So, again, we run into the same problem. Endless exceptions or, worse, a company's self-imposed style guide does the exact opposite of what Khodarahmi means to say. A company-wide style guide would be nothing more than a license to be inconsistent and fall prey to 'because i said so' editors when all everyone else is trying to do is enhance communication with consistency.

Does this mean that there should never be any exceptions? No, but good writers (and hopefully good executives) will continue to minimize those exceptions for those instances when there really is a good reason to break from the AP.

Sure, we're not going to refuse to cap all titles if a company really wants to capitalize job titles that occur after the name in an employee publication. But we will remind our clients that they are showing their ignorance in doing so, and even take our name off a news release if we're instructed to do what the newspapers will promptly correct anyway. You should too, no matter what editors are running around today trying to tell people it's all just 'pot luck' because they're tired of receiving correction letters.

After all, if communication is really about effectively communicating ideas, then it seems to make little sense to make up your own language style guide (that no one else will have) in order to do so. Sorry. We're still too young to be old fashioned and we're not biting on this one.

Friday, September 1

Stripping Away Private Conversations

In early 2005, the Las Vegas chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), recognizing that blogs represented the next evolution of communication, asked me to speak on transforming blogs into business strategy. Copywrite, Ink. had already conducted several years of research in the area and actively tracked blogs' exponential growth rate.

While the presentation included the characteristics, demographics, and growing influence of blogs, we also offered up the impact that blogs could have on communication. We cautioned our audience, and still do today, that blogs (and similar outlets such a YouTube) mark a diminished ability to control a message while increasing the need for accountability, transparency, and rapid response.

And above all, we warned, there is no such thing as a private conversation.

Under all circumstances, the golden rule for public relations practitioners, public figures, and corporate executives is if you would not want your statement to be quoted in the Wall Street Journal or on CNN, then DO NOT SAY IT AT ALL. And now it seems to me, as news reporters have evolved from covering public figures to becoming public figures, there is a growing need in the media industry to learn the very public relations skills they once criticized.

Kyra Phillips certainly could have benefited. When her wireless microphone picked up her muffled conversation about her husband, brother, and sister-in-law in the bathroom — "I've got to be protective of him. He's married, three kids and his wife is just a control freak" — she learned the hard way that members of the media are no longer exempt from public scrutiny.

CNN later apologized to the White House, but, citing corporate policy, said it wouldn't comment on whether anyone would be disciplined. It seems to me it is unlikely anyone will be disciplined. No one is sure whether it was a technical or human malfunction. Other than appearing on Letterman, however, Phillips has not personally offered any comment on the conversation.

This is precisely where bloggers demonstrate public influence. As much as CNN would prefer the story die a quiet death, Phillips remains the top searched name on the Internet. Why?

Silence after a mini communication crisis is like adding lighter fluid to a fire.

We saw the same thing in Las Vegas a few months ago. Congressman Jim Gibbons, Republican candidate for governor, bragged to a Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter about using his state legislative position to be rehired at Delta Air Lines years ago. After his opponents and political bloggers labeled his story a case study in extortion and ethics, his campaign quietly prayed the mistake would simply go away. After several weeks, the tiny flame began to rage into a 4-alarm fire on the Internet. The campaign had no choice but to put it out by calling the Gibbons' account nothing more than a misstatement.

The cost was phenomenal. While the story eventually shifted, the campaign was forced to spend nearly $1 million to retain Gibbons' lead in the primary. Certainly, the 'extortion' story wasn't the only reason, but it certainly lent traction to his opposition. Gibbons is not the only one out there. There seems to be a surge of misstatements — from accidental insensitive slurs to poorly planned racial jokes — and almost every one of them has been largely mishandled. Enough so that political pundits are more inclined to discuss whether misstatements are covered fairly instead of asking why it was said in the first place.

The bottom line is that the advent of new alternative media, blogs and webcasts, means there is no longer any such thing as a private conversation. The person you are talking to today could very easily be blogging about what you said tomorrow. And, if what you said happens to be blogged about enough, it will very likely make CNN and the Wall Street Journal. Fail to respond, even for a second, and if the major media outlets do not ratchet it up, several million bloggers probably will.

Monday, February 13

Honoring Communication Excellence

Relatively few industries offer professionals as many peer review opportunities and recognition as the communication industry. In addition to international and national competitions, most major markets host several local or regional award programs, some of which provide the first tier of national competition.

In Las Vegas, there are several awards programs, each with its own criteria and judging principles. A few notables include: Las Vegas Advertising Federation's Addy Awards, Women In Communications' Electronic Media Awards, the Public Relations Society of America's Tri-State Pinnacle Awards, and the International Association of Business Communicators/Las Vegas (IABC/Las Vegas) Bronze Quill Awards. There are others, enough so that most agencies and firms can only participate in one or two every year.

While we enter some from time to time (and sometimes our clients enter, given that many are agencies), my personal favorite remains the IABC/Las Vegas Bronze Quill Awards, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. It is the longest continually-running awards program in Las Vegas.

What sets it apart from the other programs (even the Addys, which is generally considered the most prestigious agency awards program in Las Vegas), is that an accompanying work plan accounts for half of the judges' score. In other words, it is not enough to produce great-looking or creative work. The objectives, target audience, budget, and documented results all contribute to the judges' assessment of the piece. Further, each entry is recognized on its own merit, regardless of other entries in the same category. Most often, judges include feedback along with the entry's scores.

Last Thursday, we were pleased to learn that all three of our entries in this year's competition received recognition at the IABC/Las Vegas Bronze Quill Awards: two Bronze Quills and one Award of Excellence. The first piece to receive a Bronze Quill was a collaborative self-promotion piece with our friends at Colorado-based Aisle 9 Design (one panel is shown in our June 2005 archives). The piece also received an award of excellence at the Addys last year.

The second Bronze Quill was earned for work with Black Gaming, which owns three of the four resorts located in Mesquite, Nevada. I was especially pleased to see their direct mail letters recognized for two reasons. First, because the letters generated results: local active response was 57 percent (78 percent in certain segments); drive-in customer response was 19 percent (53 percent in certain segments); and fly-in customer response rates were 7 percent (24 percent in certain segments). In sum, the three properties increased their response rates by 200 percent from previous mailers (despite using the same offers), customer play increased by 60 percent; and the three properties collectively reclaimed 40 percent of their inactive customers with the first mailing, which cost 60 percent less to produce than their previous direct mail. The other reason I was pleased to see this piece recognized was because our client was credited. We cannot thank our contacts there enough; they give us great direction and then, even more importantly, the freedom to execute that direction based on our extensive direct mail experience. The results have reinforced their decision to do so. As the old saying goes, you're only as good as your clients allow you to be. Here, we have met and continue to work with the best.

Additional client kudos go to ACME Home Elevator for allowing us to add honest and human elements to their news release, written by Kim Becker, vice president of Copywrite, Ink. The release, which centered around ACME's participation on ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, received an award of excellence, the highest award given in the news release category this year. Approved by ABC and distributed to a broad range of industry publications and local network affiliates, the release not only generated client exposure but also provided a role model case study for why companies need to get involved within their communities.

For students taking my Writing for Public Relations class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, it also provides another example as to why the one-page news release concept is passe, assuming you have something worth writing about. Sure, one-page releases are still preferred, but in the case study above, the story demanded three pages. ABC and other media outlets agreed. Next week, I'm planning to expound more on this subject, citing an applicable concept from the least likely public relations resource: Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Until then, please keep in mind my other quip about awards: they should always be the sequel to great results, never the pilot. In other words, creativity for creativity's sake is best left to fine arts. In business communication, results come first.

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).

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.

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.
 

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