Monday, January 23

Restoring Public Trust

MarketWatch correspondent Thomas Kostigen released his top ten ethics breaches for 2005 last month, demonstrating once again that public leaders and companies that use communication as a means to manipulate will eventually be unmasked.

Five highlights from his list include: former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay for the rationalization campaign that he is not the face of corporate corruption; former FEMA director Michael Brown for blaming Hurricane Katrina failures on New Orleans residents; president of J. Paul Getty Trust Barry Muntz for alleged abuses of nonprofit funds to enhance his lifestyle; Exxon for ignoring shareholders' resolutions calling for it to admit carbon emissions contribute to global warming; and the American Red Cross for making us skeptical of charitable giving after workers allegedly bilked money from Hurricane Katrina victims.

Regardless of any personal opinions that surround these examples, there is little doubt that all of them have contributed to the continued erosion of public trust among private and public organizations. As a result, they reinforce the need for the public and private sector to adopt action models that either restore or preserve trust in the minds and hearts of the public.

One such action model developed by the Public Relations Coalition (a partnership of 19 major organizations representing public relations, investor relations, public affairs, and related communication disciplines) in 2003 still serves as an effective roadmap for creating an environment of accountability. Key points within the document called on corporate leaders to:

• Articulate a set of ethical principles that are closely connected to their core values and business processes and are supported with deep management commitment and enterprise-wide discipline.

• Create a process for transparency and disclosure that is appropriate for their company and industry in both current and future operations, including oversight committees, culture audits, and consistent messaging.

• Make trust and ethics a board-level corporate governance issue and establish a formal system of measuring trust that touches all parts of the organization.

Simply put: establish standards and adhere to them; encourage open communication and timely disclosure; and develop the appropriate mechanism to measure progress. It makes sense. Most breakdowns in trust occur not because of true ethical breach within the company but rather when the organization or its leadership seem to be shrouded under a veil of secrecy or are responsible for inconsistent/inaccurate messaging. In other words, sometimes it is not what you are saying, but what you haven't said that will determine how well your organization preserves public trust every day and during times of crisis.

Monday, January 16

Speaking Of Dreams

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.' I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great thinker, writer, and speaker. He delivered these words with such intense clarity and emotion that they captivate people today as much as they did on the day he spoke them on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (August 28, 1963). It was following this speech that Martin Luther King, Jr. was credited with mobilizing supporters of desegregation, prompting the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and solidifying his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize.

He knew, as a few talented speech writers still know, that every speech must be written, rehearsed, and rewritten until it sounds exactly right to the ear. They always use everyday language that is easily understood and create mental pictures so they can better understand the words. They avoid an overuse of statistics and call listeners to take action. They are emotional, effectively using pauses and/or humor, as appropriate to drive key points home. And above all, great speeches demonstrate the power of communication and its ability to change behavior or shape the direction of a nation.

For more examples of great speeches delivered for the betterment of mankind as Martin Luther King, Jr. intended (as well as some speeches that had the opposite effect), visit Great Speeches of 20th Century.

Monday, January 9

Getting Back To Basics

When I originally started this blog in 2005, I intended it to provide supplemental information for the class I teach every spring for the Division of Educational Outreach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). With the 11-week course beginning again this Jan. 19 (7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Thursdays), I realized it was time to et back to basics and end my blog hiatus.

For anyone interested, the course, Writing for Public Relations, is a skills development class that emphasizes the application of practical writing and strategic communication skills to real-life case studies and experience. I also stress the importance of approaching public relations from a journalistic perspective. The class carries 1.80 continuing education credits. For more information or to register prior to Jan. 18, visit unlv.edu or call UNLV at 895-3076.

As for the hiatus, the only explanation I can offer up is that our company has had a very busy holiday season, which seems to be a promising precursor for our 15th anniversary. Right. Copywrite, Ink. turns 15 this year. Our new web site may still in development because I'm infusing an interesting proportion/composition concept into the design, we have been quietly nurturing some quality accounts and producing some results-oriented communication materials: print, electronic, and behind-the-scenes strategic. Some of these projects will be highlighted in our electronic portfolio upon its completion.

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.''
 

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