You Are the Message

April 11th, 2011

You would be amazed at the number of professional gaffes you unknowingly make in your business dealings on a given day. As a business professional everything you say, do, and wear is a representation of your level of professionalism. This applies to everyone in your company—particularly those who interact directly with your customers.

The day-to-day interactions (both internally and externally) that you and your company’s staff engage in each day is an on-going public relations campaign. Every type of communication (emails, blogs, tweets, memos, press releases, product literature) that is sent out or posted from your place of business represents your company as a whole.

This is particularly critical when it comes to social media. With the Web 2.0 tools, writing often tends to be abbreviated and lack proper punctuation. This might be okay on your personal social media accounts to close acquaintances, but it’s still not recommended.

When you allow yourself to get lax in your personal communication, you risk it becoming a standard for all of your communication. It’s best to invest the time necessary to make all of your interactions be professional and relevant.

This goes for how you present yourself in terms of your attire, personal grooming, posture, and handshake. Give each of these areas the proper amount of attention. When you focus on the details, the bigger picture will take care of itself.

“In a technically sophisticated, performance driven and bottom line oriented society, success in business today still depends on the mastery of soft skills,” says Ellen Reddick, Managing Partner of the Utah-based Impact Factory. “How you present yourself, your grooming, your body language, and your business and social etiquette skills speak volumes about your credibility.”

As a business professional, you work hard to position yourself and your company in your industry and marketplace. Don’t let minor oversights in your professional demeanor undermine your efforts and the progress you worked hard to establish. Invest in your professionalism by taking the time to develop proper social etiquette.

Are You Actually Communicating with your Audience or Just Writing Content?

March 28th, 2011

I have several routes mapped out for my morning run. Each route has a different length or level of difficulty depending on the type of workout I want for the day. There is a particularly challenging route that I try to do at least once a week. During my first run on this route, I approached a yard with a high, solid fence. As I got close to the fence a large dog vociferously announced its presence followed by me promptly jumping out of my skin. After collecting myself, I continued around to the other side of the fence where I noticed a “Beware of Dog” sign.

This was useful information, but not communicated very well for my purposes. If I saw the sign before I got close enough to feel its breath on the back of my neck, I would have been better prepared for the encounter.

On another occasion, I was at a medical clinic undergoing tests for some stomach issues. The attending lab worker handed me a small bag and told me to breathe into it. Immediately I thought of the hyperventilation thing where you breathe into a paper bag. So I did that. She said “no you need to fill it with air, like a balloon.” Both of the instructions were accurate, but they created two different mental images in my head.

This concept applies equally well to how you communicate with your existing and potential customers. People process information differently—particularly when it comes to receiving instructions. Like me, a lot of people form a mental image that essentially becomes a visual aid to help understand the information. Your responsibility is to ensure that your audience is creating the correct mental image.

This is where understanding your audience is critical. How to they process new information? What type of language do they use to communicate in conversation or their own writing?

When you read other people’s content, what mental images come into your mind? Do they align with the intended message? This is a good way to determine if your information is clear and gets the intended results. When you have other people review your content, see what images they get. If your content potentially has multiple meanings, you need to spend some time with your message to make it clear.

It’s How You Say It

March 16th, 2011

If you’re a savvy business owner, you are probably striving to take advantage of all the social media devices to market your business. If you’re not, you should. Still, while there are numerous sources where you can post your messages, you need to ensure that your message is clear, concise, and free of errors. These important aspects of writing will never go out of style. Given the fact that messages are shorter, your writing must be done well.

If you post blogs, tweet, use Facebook, send emails, or even scrawl something on the back of a napkin, every bit of writing you do is a reflection on your professionalism. You clearly want existing and potential clients to value your product and/or service and benefit from the work you do. Therefore, it’s worth your while to put some effort into your communication abilities.

• Use action verbs as much as possible (go, use, insert).
• Ease up on the “being” verbs (was, are, is, seemed).
• Use common language (instead of utilized, please just say used).
• Vary the length of your sentences. This helps your sentences and paragraphs flow more smoothly.
• With online content, make your sentences and paragraphs short (four or less lines per paragraph).

If writing is just not your thing or something you don’t have time for, consider hiring or partnering with a professional copywriter. If you have an important message to get out to your readers, don’t get in a rush. I see typos, misspellings, and unclear content almost everywhere I look online.

I know that urgency is necessary in getting your message out online, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t take a little time to get it right.

For a Successful Online Marketing and PR Effort be ready to do Some Mining

March 11th, 2011

At the risk of sounding cliché and redundant, I am going to say that we owe a lot to the Internet for changing the dynamics of our marketing practices. There, I’ve said it, now let’s move on.

There was a time when just having an online presence (a web site) was enough. It was a good place to provide product and service information and establish your brand. Eventually, we needed to dig below the surface and provide more information on the site because more people were going online for information about products and services.

Now you’re going further below the surface by incorporating social media into your marketing mix. This is one area where marketing and public relations overlap. At one time we paid for advertising and prayed for PR. Now with your blogs, twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even interactive features on your web site, you can mingle directly with your current and potential customers. You can employ your own PR by exchanging comments and replies with your customers to better find out what they like, don’t like, and need more of. Then respond to those needs that will better accommodate your clientele.

Use comments and testimonials on your web site. This enables you to connect with the public and establish a high level of trust among those you do business with. Just remember that social media does not run on auto pilot. You need to commit some time and effort to it and be patient. It will take a while to build up a following and start seeing results, but it will happen.

Make a Mistake? Make it Right then Make it Better

March 8th, 2011

It’s no secret that we live in an imperfect world and bad things happen. When they do, use it as a wake-up call to find out what you can do differently and even better.

When my wife and I were college students our apartment was burglarized. We filed a claim with the insurance company who held our renters insurance policy. They initially tried to disallow the claim, but we pushed and they finally agreed to a payout. Immediately after we filed our claim, they dropped our policy. Their reasoning was that since we were robbed once, we were at a higher risk for it happening again. That was their thinking.

To my way of thinking, since we were robbed we would we proactive in elevating our security measures. We would do what we could to prevent it from happening again or at least significantly reduce the chances of it happening again.

Fast forward three years to our college graduation and subsequent celebration. For the party, we went to Subway and ordered one of their giant sandwiches. On the day of the party, I went to pick our 8-foot-long meaty comestible only to discover that someone misplaced the order and our colossal Club didn’t get assembled. Upon discovering the error, the store manager leaped into action and took responsibility. Instead of trying to rush through the project or sending us away empty handed, he rallied the whole crew and assembled several party trays—free of charge. It was a winning situation all around and I am still a Subway customer for life.

In the business world, we are going to make mistakes—sometimes big ones. Over the years companies like Exxon, Toyota, BP, Enron, Walmart, etc. have made some pretty noticeable gaffes that have harmed lives, reputations, and the environment as well as their own brand name and industry. On one occasion, a speed skating coach cost an athlete an Olympic gold medal. Tragic as they are, unfortunately these things happen.

Following a monumental faux pas, some companies take the path of pointing fingers, skirting the blame, or attempting to sweep the situation under a rug. Other companies choose to own up to the mistake and do everything in their power to not only make it right, but make it better. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about who took which path.

Mistakes will happen, but you can recover. It might be painful and costly, but how you choose to deal with the mistake says a lot about your integrity, professionalism, and ability to continue performing in your industry.

Contribution to “Words That Matter” week

March 7th, 2011

Is there a word that has changed, or could change your life? What is it, and what difference would it make?

Yes there is a word that has had a profound impact on my life. That word is “Learn.” I assure you that I’m not some nerdy academic trying to boast my intellectual prowess. That’s far from the case; very far. In fact, “intellect” and “my strengths” are words that I have never used in the same sentence when discussing myself. Besides, there are other words that I get excited about—sleep, pizza, football, and “I’m home before curfew”.

Over the years, I have devoted a lot of time and energy to learning. But strangely enough it wasn’t until I recently signed up for another writing course that I realized how excited I get at the prospect of studying and learning something new. I have a real passion for the concept of obtaining new information.

I have addressed the importance of learning and boosting your expertise as a way to stay strong in your business and career. This continues to be one of the most productive marketing tools you can use because our society’s technology, attitudes, and trends change often. Boosting your knowledge base also boosts your self confidence. As a result you feel more compelled to be innovative and try new things.

You Are Your Own Brand

March 1st, 2011

I once attended a week-long seminar on new technologies to enhance user interaction with software programs and tools. At the beginning of one session, the presenter spent a few minutes introducing himself to the group. During his comments, he cited a phrase that stuck with me, “I’m the type of person who…” This is essentially a person’s branding statement. Everybody has one. You are your own brand and whether you are in business, seeking a career, or pursuing career advancement, you need to express your branding statement daily.

This is especially important when you use public relations as part of your promotional and marketing efforts. With your PR, you want to establish trust and goodwill within your professional environment and community. When people know and trust you, they are more likely to do business with you.

Whether you are a solo practitioner or within a company setting, you need to have your own branding statement. This is what characterizes you among your peers, clients, and social groups. When defining your branding statement, think of your personal characteristics. What do you stand for? What personal characteristics might you exhibit during times of crisis or stressful situations? What are you doing when you are thoroughly enjoying yourself? Your branding statement sums up your professional and personal attributes that are consistent and automatic under any circumstances.

There is a concept that you can use to express your personal branding statement. It is often called the “elevator pitch.” This means you basically have 30 seconds (approximately the length of an elevator ride) to clearly explain what you do professionally. However, in reality, you have about 5-to-10 seconds of a person’s attention. You should take the time to create an effective statement that you can deliver within 5 seconds. For example, my branding statement is “I help people define their branding statement and use it in their promotional efforts.”

While a branding statement is intangible, it will create a distinctive perception of you in the minds of others who receive your verbal and non-verbal messages. During the lecture to a group of students and small business owners, the presenter mentioned that his branding statement includes the words integrity, enthusiasm, and creativity. When you develop your branding statement, it helps to ask other people about their perception of you then you can determine if it aligns with your own image of yourself.

Everyone has a branding statement. By having one prepared when given the opportunity to present it, you will appear decisive and motivated. It’s up to you to create a branding statement that you can use to your advantage in achieving your goals. This doesn’t mean that you are locked into a single branding statement for your entire business life. Frequently evaluate and modify your branding statement as you need to keep it aligned with your goals and aspirations.

Use Public Relations to Stretch Your Marketing Budget

February 24th, 2011

As a business owner, you’re constantly on the lookout for ways to cut operating expenses. I’m sure that your marketing efforts get a lot of attention to ensure that you are making the best time and cost investments possible. This is where a public relations campaign can be cost effective and beneficial. Contrary to the belief of many, PR is not just for crisis management.

Public relations should be an integral part of your marketing mix because it’s low cost and in is in many ways more effective than paid advertising. People are more likely to believe and trust your company when your story is endorsed by the press. Still, public relations is similar to advertising in that it does take some time and effort to start producing results.

Think of the public relations part of your marketing plan as gathering grains of sand on the beach to build a sand castle. Every form of communication (letters, brochures, emails, etc) that goes out to your customers and the general public is part of your PR effort. Just don’t lose sight of the big picture. You can gather sand all day, but remember that your objective is to build the castle.

Evaluate all of your interaction with your customers, the public, and your community. Does it collectively paint a favorable picture of your organization and people? It’s important that the public perceives your company as an organization that symbolizes integrity and goodwill. When you have a good story to tell, the editors of the various consumer and trade publications that you approach will gladly help you tell it. Eventually, through your PR efforts, your company will be a recognizable entity in your industry. And people will remember your name when it comes time to use your product or services.

Arm Yourself with Information

January 26th, 2011

Sherlock Holmes once said “I cannot make bricks without mud.” At the time he was admonishing a team of detectives investigating a recent murder to get him every possible piece of evidence about the case. Of course Holmes is essentially the mouthpiece for Arthur Conan Doyle’s well known and beloved sleuth. But we can learn a lot from his character.

In a similar fashion, to be effective in business, it is important that you keep an ample supply of raw materials to make the bricks of your business. In other words, it’s important that you read a lot and often.

Each year when I sit down with my accountant, I’m amazed at the amount of money I have spent throughout the year on books and seminars. New industry trends and methods are emerging all the time and our current level of knowledge and expertise in our fields is no longer sufficient.

Granted there is a lot of information out there and our time is limited. But this is where more research is necessary in order to determine how to make the best use of your educational time. Often the comments and referrals from some of your favorite authors or speakers can be extremely helpful in this area. Product reviews are also invaluable, but you just don’t know if a work is worthwhile for you until you read it yourself. The good news is that you can always benefit from new information. So books are a good investment. Sometimes if I’m unfamiliar with a new book or author, I’ll see if it’s available at the library to see if it’s worth the investment before I add it to my library.

The important thing is to keep learning. In order to better serve my clients as a writer, I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and information.

Make Your 15 Minutes of Fame Last at Least the Whole 15 Minutes

January 18th, 2011

Andy Warhol made the claim that everyone will have at least 15 minutes of fame in his or her life. When you get yours, do yourself the favor of using the whole time. I was listening to NPR one morning when the host was interviewing a local author. It was clear that this well educated author researched her topic pretty thoroughly. It was also evident that she was very excited about her topic because I couldn’t understand a word she said. She talked so fast and added so many sidebar comments it was hard to figure out what her train of thought was—let alone her point. I was impressed with the amount of passion this person had for her area of expertise, but I struggled to keep listening and finally turned it off.

Public relations is (or at least should be) a central component of every marketing plan. It’s probably the most valuable, yet underused promotional piece. A prime example was this NPR segment. Here was an opportunity for an author to tell millions of listeners about her new book, yet she violated one of the most common rules of public speaking—slow down.

If part of your public relations effort includes radio or television, remember that the microphone is unforgiving. If you don’t do a lot of public speaking, it’s common to accelerate your speech when you speak to a group of people or on the air. The problem is that it’s difficult to understand what you’re saying when you do. Another common issue with public speaking is the urge to provide background information to what you’re saying. When doing this, it’s easy to constantly throw in sidebar statements…

“Well I wrote this book because our society will soon confront this situation head on… I make it a habit to tell my students that they are the ones who will be dealing with the ramifications… a hundred years ago, people didn’t have the foresight to know what impact their actions would have… In fact, the other day I was speaking to a group of….”

So why did you write the book? And what exactly is the situation again? It’s easy to get caught up in this kind of dialog, especially when you are excited about your topic. The thing is, your audience might be hearing about this for the first time. Do your audience the courtesy of sticking to your point and slowing your pace of speech. If you want your audience to take something away from your message, you need to make sure they hear and understand that actual message.