July 2017

Monthly Archives

  • Do You Go Directly to the Source or Find Influencers?

    As you think about how to reach your target audience (the people for whom your product or service is designed), you must decide whether you should create a marketing strategy that reaches out to them directly or whether you would be better off influencing the influencers.

    Let’s say you are a health food store. You believe that food is medicine and good, healthy, organic choices (the very type you sell) would benefit all sorts of people. Who should your target audience be? Those who do the grocery shopping? Yes. But who influences them?

    If a friend with no particular expertise in diet or nutrition suggested you make a change in your diet, you might consider it. If your doctor told you that based on loads of research and his or her personal experience, that making a change in your diet would improve your life, you’d probably be much more likely to make a change. So, as the owner of the health food store, shouldn’t you consider marketing to healthcare professionals as well as those who buy groceries?

    Depending on your budget and other marketing resources, it might be a better return on your investment to focus on the influencers. Who do you align with? Who benefits by promoting your product? When those healthcare professionals promote healthy food (referring patients to your establishment in the process), they reach their goal of enhancing their patients’ health, their patients make better food choices, and you make a profit. It’s a win-win-win.

  • 5 Writing Tips Everyone Should Know

    Even though most of us sat through countless hours of English instruction, we don’t feel confident in our writing. Why is that, and how can we fix it?

    English is a tough language to master. It seems to break the rules as often as it follows them, and if you don’t reinforce those rules constantly, they can slip away from you. Thanks to Microsoft Word, we can figure out when we’ve misspelled a word (that little squiggly red line is a lifesaver). MS Word also recommends helpful hints about sentence structure, but unless you understand the underlying grammar, you accept MS Word’s correction at your peril.

    So, how can you improve your writing? Here are some helpful hints

    1. Avoid mistakes by proofreading. Ideally, you can trade proofreading duties with a trusted colleague, since our brains often trick us into reading what we meant to write rather than what we put on the page.
    2. Be sure you know what you want to say; then say it. By all means, tell a good story; just be careful you don’t get so caught up in the storytelling that your readers can’t figure out what your point is.
    3. Use active voice. Active voice means the subject of the sentence does something rather than having something done to him/her or it.
      Passive voice: The very best cancer is the one that is prevented and the second best is the one that gets caught early.
      Active voice: The very best cancer is the one we prevent and the second best is the one we catch early.
    4. Choose strong verbs and powerful adjectives. Use words that make your writing come to life, words that enliven the senses–help people smell the raindrops as they hit the pavement and feel the watermelon juice as it runs down their chins.
    5. Get rid of your fancy filter. Use straightforward language, and use as few words as possible to drive your point home. People aren’t impressed by a bunch of words they don’t know. They are impressed when you can explain a complex idea clearly and thoughtfully.

    Many grammar rules are black and white; either you’re right or you’re wrong. However, as language evolves, writers have to decide when they want to adopt new words, for example. Remember when the word “email” had a hyphen? And have you noticed that “health care” is becoming “healthcare”? The key to navigating these gray zones is to decide how you want to manage the grammar conundrum and then be consistent. Happily, you do not need to figure out how to proceed on your own. If you’re a journalist or blogger, I recommend the Associated Press Stylebook. If you’re a book author, I’d go with the Chicago Manual of Style.

    If you’re not sure whether your writing is good, try reading it aloud. If it’s awkward to read, then it’s awkward. Period. Rewrite it.

  • Don’t Panic! Plan Your Crisis Communication Before the Crisis Hits

    Almost every business must deal with a public relations crisis at some point, whether it’s a data breach, an unscrupulous employee, a problem with the product or service, or a miscommunication. For almost every business, you can usually predict the types of crises you’ll face, so you might as well prepare now.

    Let’s imagine you work in a hospital. A “Code Black” situation means the hospital is overrun with patients–maybe there’s a natural disaster or a terrorist attack or a nurses’ strike leading to an employee shortage. Whatever the cause, you’ll need to communicate with frightened members of the public, desperate to find loved ones. You’ll need to communicate with organizational partners to set up shelters and/or alternative medical care options, and you’ll need to communicate with the media about what’s happening. And that’s only the first hour.

    Before any crisis hits, you can write the press release (mostly).

    The press release’s lede (first paragraph) should provide the who, what, where, and when of the situation. Then you can reinforce your organization’s mission and values, since those are the foundations upon which decisions will be made to guide your organization through the crisis.

    The press release you write to prepare for any Code Black situation could start with something like this:

    At (time of day) on (date), (number of patients) patients arrived at Hometown Hospital (HH) as a result of (description of disaster). The influx of patients quickly filled the 12-bed emergency department, but patients could not be sent to neighboring hospitals because they, too, were overwhelmed with disaster victims. 

    HH President Joe Goodguy said, “We’re triaging patients as quickly as we can, putting patients on gurneys and lining the hallways where our dedicated physicians and hospital staff have worked through the night to stabilize them.

    As always, our mission is to provide excellent health care for everyone in our community, and we’ll continue to do all we can to make this happen.” 

    People concerned about loved ones can visit HometownHospital.org/crisis or call (1-800 Crisis Line) for more information. 

    Clearly, you won’t know every detail ahead of time, but you know you’ll want to 1. Explain what happened, 2. Give kudos to the people in your organization going above and beyond, and 3. Provide answers to people’s most pressing question(s). In this case, people will want to know how to reunite with loved ones, or at least find out whether they’re safe.

    You can go through each crisis scenario your organization is likely to face and brainstorm probable questions and issues; then prepare a press release for each. You can also set up a dark page on your website (one that remains unpublished until it’s needed) with key facts and contact information to keep people informed in the event of a crisis.

    Best Practices for Crisis Communication

    1. Plan ahead. Identify likely crises and create a communication plan for each.
    2. Identify a spokesperson and be sure employees know they should refer all media inquiries to that person.
    3. Be open and honest about the crisis as quickly as possible; then provide accurate, timely updates so people continue to come to you for information.
    4. Use many pathways for communication: social media, traditional news outlets, community partners, and other networks. Use radio, print, broadcast, and web resources.
    5. Be accountable and make things right. If your crisis involves a mistake, admit the mistake and explain the measures your organization is taking to prevent this type of mistake in the future. If appropriate and if possible, make those who are affected by the organization’s actions whole again, to the degree that you can.
  • 10 Tips for Effective Email Every Professional Should Know

    Email is the most common form of business communication, so it can have a big impact on your productivity and your reputation. Well-written emails that are clear, concise, and compelling can keep projects moving and enhance your relationships. However, when emails include typos, struggle to get to the point, or strike the wrong tone, they can do more harm than good.

    Here are some tips to provide high-impact messages and avoid embarrassing mistakes.

    1. Choose an informative subject line
      Choosing an engaging subject line that describes what your email is about increases the chances your email will be opened promptly. It also makes your email easy to find later. (Don’t forget to change the subject line when replying to an email if the topic of the email has changed.)
      Don’t: Hi! Are you busy on Tuesday?
      Do: Can we meet Tuesday at 3 pm about Project X?
    2. Be casual, but professional
      Although email is more casual than most written correspondence, it should employ a respectful tone and include proper spelling and grammar. As a rule, it’s best to avoid emoticons, all-caps, acronyms, and exclamation points. And don’t be the boy who cried, “Wolf!” If an email is truly urgent, say so; otherwise, just be patient.
      Don’t: Hey! Did you get my message? I TOTALLY need an answer ASAP about Project X.
      Do: Just a quick reminder that the deadline for approval on Project X is this Friday. Have you had an opportunity to review the information I sent?
    3. Only use email when appropriate
      Do NOT discuss emotionally charged or controversial issues via email.
      -Do NOT try to manage projects that require extensive discussion via email. Email is good for short, finite communication.
      -Do NOT include confidential information. “Reply All” and “Forward” are many people’s favorite buttons, and hackers love a to add social security numbers or credit card numbers to their collections.
    4. Get right to the point
      The subject line should cue up your message, and your first line in the body of the email should get right to the point–ideally in a compelling or humorous way. Tell your reader who you are (if they don’t already know), and what you want. If you expect them to take action, you’d best demonstrate how that action benefits them.
      Don’t: I started my company ten years ago, and we’ve been growing ever since. I think you’d really like my product, but first, let me tell you about how we got where we are…
      Do: After ten years in the business, we’ve honed our product to meet the needs of clients like you. Here’s how…
    5. Keep attachments small and essential
      If you must attach a file, be sure it is not too big. People are wary of files, as they should be–they’re a great way to share computer viruses. If your attachment is more than a couple megabytes, consider sending it via a file transfer protocol (ftp) site like Hightail.com or Wetransfer.com; or consider setting up a file sharing arrangement like Dropbox.com.
    6. Use a signature line
      I am always stunned when people do not provide contact information in their emails when it is so easy! You can set your email software to include your signature information automatically for each new email (or for all emails, including responses). List your name, title, company, website, and phone number. If you include a logo or image file of any kind, be aware that it may not display properly (if it displays at all).
    7. Proofread
      This is the easiest way to avoid embarrassing mistakes. Read your email slowly at least a couple times. Look at each word individually before allowing your eyes to go to the next word; this allows you to read what you actually wrote (not what your brain thinks you wrote). Click here to see more proofreading tips.
    8. Read from the perspective of your arch enemy
      Before you hit “Send,” read your email as though its recipient will interpret everything in the most negative light. This allows you to edit the message to prevent any misunderstandings. Since emails lack the benefits of body language and verbal tone, carefully choose your words and sentence structure so they leave little room misinterpretation.
    9. Have a friend or colleague read important emails
      There’s nothing worse than finding a mistake after you hit “Send” on a company-wide email or an email to a prospective employer. If you’re writing a high-stakes email, ask a trusted friend or colleague to read it over for you.
    10. Consider implementing a company-wide email etiquette policy so everyone plays by the same rules
      Time-saving protocols work well when everyone understands them. Consider implementing a company-wide policy with accepted abbreviations and protocols about when and how to use email. Include things like requiring out-of-office messages when people are away, so clients and colleagues know what to do in someone’s absence.

    Remember, email is great, but it’s not the right tool for every type of communication. Before writing an email, be sure the message you want to convey is 1. Not emotionally charged, 2. Not easy to misinterpret 3. Doesn’t require an immediate response, and 4. Not attempting to manage a long-term, complex issue. If email is the right tool, follow these tips and you should enjoy the benefits of higher productivity and enhanced relationships.

  • Do What You Love, and Let a Public Relations Professional Promote Your Reputation

    As a small business owner, you may hope to be good at all aspects of your business. Even as you read this, you know you can’t be, but the idea of giving up control of any part of your business makes many of us feel dreadfully uncomfortable. One of the areas where business owners typically need help is with publicity. Regardless of how confident they are in their product or service, they don’t like to promote themselves, or they don’t know how. This is why it can be so beneficial to work with a public relations professional.

    Those of us in PR love our business as much as you love yours, and our business only thrives if we succeed in continually enhancing your reputation. This is the synergistic effect that occurs with the right public relations consultancy.

    What is Public Relations?

    Public relations deals with relationship management–making sure you have a good reputation in your industry and among key stakeholders–including the media. It involves internal and external audiences, and it focuses on unpaid sources to enhance your credibility. For example, when you buy something at Amazon, do you trust the promotional text written by the company or the customer ratings? Most of us want to know what consumers like us think. A PR professional’s job is to influence people so they want to help you tell your story.

    A reputable PR professional will walk you through a process that helps define your key audiences and messages, aligning them with your strategic goals. He or she will then work with you to review budget constraints and set realistic goals. The public relations consultant will write press releases, speeches, and blogs; develop speaking engagements and foster strategic alliances; and make pitches to the media and influential opinion leaders. Working behind the scenes, the PR professional helps you earn prominent coverage where it matters most.