Posts Tagged ‘creative’


When It Comes to Brands and Content, Simplicity Matters

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Valerie Simon

iStock_Communication_SmallThis weekend, in a Wall Street Journal article, former chairman of the FEC, Arthur Levitt, suggested: “When an editor wants a reporter to explain something more clearly in a news article, she might say: ‘Tell it to Aunt Edna.’ Aunt Edna is the stand-in for a regular person, someone who has never thought about a cloture motion in the Senate, a municipal bond offering, or some other obscure issue of our public life.” Good advice to all those in the field of communications who are responsible for sharing important information with the public.

The practice of using simple language, however, isn’t always so simple, particularly for those experts in specialty fields, like healthcare or finance, who are tasked with communicating precise and complex information to the general public. Add the pressure and influence of company stakeholders, legal concerns, and a desire to be creative, and it is easy to see why “simple” is not always easy to achieve.

Put yourself in the role of the consumer…

  • Will “Aunt Edna” be confused by your message?
  • Will she grow frustrated trying to understand the industry jargon you are using, or overwhelmed trying to make sense of the information presented to her?
  • Will Aunt Edna grow uneasy or even lose trust in your company?

Now if, Aunt Edna has little patience for jargon and pretentious language, what about “Uncle Walt” (my stand in for the ubiquitous journalist)? Trade publications and academic journals notwithstanding, today’s reporters, producers and editors need to appeal to a broad audience. They are under increasing pressure to produce more, under tighter deadlines.

  • Will Uncle Walt need to read your press release multiple times in order to make sense of it? Will he even read your release for that matter?
  • How difficult is it for him to find the information he needs on your website?
  • Does all of the material and jargon lend itself to mis-quotes and factual misinterpretations?
  • Are the key messages you hope Uncle Walt will take away easy to identify?

Understand that looking out for Aunt Edna is not a charitable exercise. Customers like Aunt Edna are more loyal, and even willing to pay more, for brands that offer communications, interactions and experiences that are easy to understand and use. In fact, U.S. Brands Could Gain $27 Billion in 2011 by Bringing Consumers Simpler Experiences and Interactions, according to the findings of the Siegel+Gale  2010 Global Brand Simplicity Index.

So what global brands offer the simplest communications and what is the real pay off? For more tangible details on the value of simplicity, be sure to join BurrellesLuce and Brian Rafferty, Siegel+Gale Global Director, Customer Insights, for a free on-demand webinar on Using the Power of Simplicity to Optimize Brand Communications and learn about the findings of the 2010 Global Brand Simplicity Index. 

In the meantime, I offer you this challenge: Take a look at your online press room through the eyes of Aunt Edna and Uncle Walt. How much time does it take you to identify the key points? Is there anything subject to interpretation? Does your communication hold up to the “Aunt Edna test”? Does your competitor? Then, on the BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas blog, tell us what you find out.

IF AN EMPLOYEE SPEAKS UP IN THE FOREST…

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

We’re all familiar with the old brain-teaser: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

A question that’s much easier to answer – and more relevant to effective leadership practices – is: “If an employee offers an idea, and no one pays attention, does the employee stop participating?”

In most cases, the answer is a definite yes. Ignore a staffer’s input, and he or she will feel put out, turned off, alienated, and discouraged from offering suggestions in the future.

It’s no surprise that one of the biggest challenges to leadership today – perhaps the biggest – is that of employee disengagement…staff membersAlan Cohen, Acts of Balance Executive Coaching feeling they are not being heard, a feeling they translate into not being valued and ultimately not part of the creative team. So they tune out and stifle themselves from offering potentially valuable contributions in the future.

It’s not much different from the man who complains to his psychiatrist, “Doctor, everyone ignores me.”

The doctor responds: “Next.”

The opposite side of the disengagement coin is that, at some of the nation’s most successful public relations firms, employees at all levels are inspired to present ideas, no matter how far out of the proverbial box, and encouraged to question ideas of top management. And their challenges of these ideas are not only tolerated but even applauded.

When I was publicity director of the Scholastic team spearheading the publicity campaign for the Harry Potter book series, we all knew our mission and were committed to it. But at the same time, we welcomed the questions from everyone on the team, even when they reflected healthy skepticism.

Like the best elements of brainstorming, everyone was encouraged to present free-flowing ideas, confident there’d be no snap judgment articulated, no scoffing or rolling eyes or turned-up noses. Everyone’s idea was listened to, encouraged, and amplified. And as a result, we were all strengthened with everyone feeling he or she had shared in moving the team and its mission forward.

Some team leaders need to remember that it doesn’t diminish the boss’s luster to have an idea from a lower-level employee implemented. In fact, it rebounds favorably. Part of leadership is identifying and implementing good ideas, whatever or whoever the source.

An employee’s willingness to present possibly controversial ideas or to challenge those of higher-ups emerges only in a company culture that encourages it. That culture develops only when the leader is willing to identify employees’ hidden assets and potential and helps develop those qualities. The results: greater individual contribution and professional growth.

Leaders who understand this welcome employees who think differently from themselves. Rather than clone themselves, they don’t limit those they hire to “yes-men or -women.” Rather, they seek out even “no-people,” individuals who aren’t negative for the sake of it, but rather who aren’t intimidated about pointing out flaws in the boss’s thinking or who will sometimes take a contrary position, a la devil’s advocate.

A good balance to strive for: while demonstrating he or she is in charge, the boss realizes the possibility of being wrong, and thereby demonstrates an open-mindedness that encourages risk-taking for the ultimate good of the team.

Beyond this, forward-thinking bosses maintain an open-door policy, literally and figuratively, encouraging employees to share not only professional but personal matters as well. This means being a good, attentive listener, an often forgotten component of good communication, whether with an employee or a client.

You may have read recently of the first wedding to take place in space. When the capsule came back to earth, reporters hurried to interview family members. One reporter cornered the groom’s grandmother.

“How was the wedding?” he asked.

“Beautiful,” she said.

“The ceremony?”

“Fine.”

“The music?”

“Fine.”

“The food?”

“Fine.”

The reporter said, “All your answers are positive, but there’s something in your tone that suggests everything wasn’t ideal.”

“Well,” said the grandmother, “to tell you the truth, there was no atmosphere.”

Yes, atmosphere matters. We’re in a serious business, but that doesn’t mean the environment has to be solemn. A wise leader put a premium on fun, light-hearted moments that help foster camaraderie and provide a pleasant cushion for the inevitable long hours and hard work.

They can also reflect the positive – contagious – energy that filters down from top to bottom in a thriving company, one where employees feel engaged and connected.

The plus factors are numerous, not the least of which is what a current Employment Engagement report by Blessing White has found: engaged employees plan to stay at their firms for what they give; disengaged stay for what they get.

The company’s survey also found that “executives appear to struggle with key leadership behaviors, especially what’s required to create a high-performance culture.” It also points out that managers have to understand each individual’s talents, interests and needs, and then match those with the organization’s objectives…while creating personal trusting relationships.

Blessing White emphasizes the importance of leadership focusing on engagement, “creating the dialogue, stirring up participation and driving people to focused, purposeful action.”

It urges the adoption of a “coach approach” as a means of transferring disengagement into “high-energy buy-in motivated employees and strong results.” By focusing on “what is working” and the strengths and individual needs of employees, the report contends, the odds of success are increased. The report notes that recognizing that each individual is motivated differently (seldom by money), will help create opportunities that mesh with individual needs.

The company strongly recommends self-evaluation to determine how open a leader is to engaging in a dialogue even with someone with a contradictory perspective, without feeling the need to prove anything about the leader’s point of view…and flexible enough to accept and implement someone else’s better idea.

All these goals are attainable, starting with listening – really listening – to that employee offering a potentially super idea.

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 Alan Cohen, president of Acts of Balance Executive Coaching (http://www.actsofbalance.com/) and a PRSA Counselors Academy member, is an executive coach, trainer and brainstorm facilitator with more than 25 years of experience in business, including public relations and human resources. 

Download a free copy of “The 12 Essential Talents of PR Leadership” at http://ow.ly/3vT7d

The Future of Public Relations: Seizing the Opportunity

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Bulldog Media Relations Summit Virtual Conference: The Future of Public Relations Seizing OpportunityI wasn’t able to attend this year’s Bulldog Reporter’s Media Relations Summit workshop (in New York) in person earlier this month. However, I did have the opportunity to attend virtually. 

Speakers for the panel “The Future of Public Relations: Seizing the Opportunity” consisted of:

  • Aedhmar Hynes, CEO of Text 100
  • Matt Harrington, president and CEO of Edelman U.S.
  • Peter Land, SVP, communications, at PepsiCo Beverages Americas
  • Martin Murtland, VP, solutions for corporate communications for Dow Jones Inc.

I’ve listed some of the key points that I heard in the podcast. (NOTE: Unfortunately since there was only audio and no video, I was unable to keep track of exactly who was speaking at some times – so my apologies, in advance, to the panel if I’ve not credited you with your quotes.)

Hynes talked about marketing, advertising, public relations, etc. all being separate departments with separate budgets, as this is the business model that’s served well in the past. However, in reality, the future of the industry is about communicating the brand of the organization. What are the goals as a whole and what are the skill sets that match those strategic goals? This is the time for organizations to think about the fundamental concept of moving away from managing information or news to shaping and directing conversation.

Companies must influence the influencers. The concept of third-party advocacy has never been more important than it is now.

As in any discussion of PR these days, the conversation moved to changes in ROI and measurement and analytics. We all know we should get away from ad value equivalency, but what do we use in its place (aside from media value)?  How do you know your campaign is a success?  There are many tools out there that measure “online buzz.” Yet what does that really mean?  It goes back to where you start – when you set your goals, they must be measurable. Measurable goals will drive your reporting and allow you to determine which strategies were successful.   

So, what does the future look like for public relations?

  • PR now has more opportunity and voice as it relates to corporate strategy. In other words, PR professionals are gaining more access to the C-suite.
  • The future (of PR) is about confidence and being nimble. According to Land, we must be able to move incredibly fast and confident to walk into our CEO’s office and make suggestions.
  • The move away from “agency of record” was briefly discussed because corporations have multiple needs (e.g., advertising, digital, creative, B2B, direct to consumer, etc.)  
  • The next decade in public relations is predicted to be the most exciting in history thus far. It may seem like it’s “back to the future,” as some have lost sight of fundamental best practices, but we must now come back to this strategic consulting in shaping views, per Hynes.

What would you add? What does the future of PR look like in your mind’s eye? If you attended the conference virtually, what are some of the points you took away from it. Please share your thoughts with me and the readers of BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas.