Professional Development: Make Time Because It Matters

You’ve saved, invested and finally purchased your dream home, which includes every high-end finish and furnishing you’ve imagined. Unfortunately, you can never seem to find time for its upkeep and maintenance. You ultimately delay necessary repairs or ignore them altogether.  You’re just too busy!

This sounds absolutely crazy, right!? Coincidentally, this scenario reflects a reality for far too many PR and communications professionals when it comes to professional development.  The asset that is your communications and public relations expertise can depreciate in value and fall into a state of complete and utter disrepair unless you make time to keep your skills honed.

As a lifelong learner, I’ve always managed to carve out time for professional development, despite what sometimes seems like insurmountable family and daily work demands. Admittedly, it’s partly due to my unquenchable thirst for all things breaking news, hot topics and new pop culture trends. (Look no further than my ever-growing stack of reading material and personal library of books for confirmation of my obsession!)  LEARN

However, my propensity for continued growth is spurred more by passion for my work and a desire to improve the quality of the product and services I provide my clients every time. I am forever seeking ways to stay current in my profession, from networking and attending relevant Meetups (my most recent curiosity is learning about SEO) to memberships in professional associations and mentoring relationships. (Disclosure: I am both a mentor and mentee!) I’m not necessarily wanting to reinvent the wheel, but simply trying to build a better mousetrap.

Sure, staying up on the current industry bells and whistles can quickly get costly. However there’s a lot out there that’s completely free. Some of my go-to resources are PRSay, PR Daily, PRNewser, PRWeek, Poynter, ComPRehension, PR News and  Daily Dog.

One of my very favorite Maya Angelou quotes is, “When you know better, you do better.” To “know better” requires dedication and commitment to perfecting your craft through pursuit of lifelong learning and development, thereby equipping you to ultimately “do better” for your clients!

Here are some of my tips to get you on the path:

  • Talk to both new and seasoned communications professionals about trends they see emerging.
  • In the true spirit of a Tennessee native – we’re known as the “volunteer state” – I can’t help but recommend volunteering or consulting on a pro-bono basis for a favorite non-profit organization. Not only would leadership welcome your participation, which saves scarce financial resources, it offers the chance to meet individuals who share similar interests and are willing share nuggets of wisdom.
  • Meet for coffee with others in the communications industry or attend a PRSA or IABC luncheon to share ideas, receive helpful hints and hear about industry trends.

Are you making time for professional development – whatever your industry? Please share your own tips for keeping your skills honed.

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“What Fresh Hell is This?” An Overview of Updates to AP Stylebook 2014

The AP Stylebook 2014 is here! I previously shared a rant about AP’s decision to allow the use of “over” rather than “more than” to indicate greater numerical value. So I’ll consider enough to have been said on that.

But, as always, there are other interesting changes  that accompany this year’s release of the AP’s style guide.

One that may actually come as a relief to some is that state names will now be spelled out AP Stylebook 2014in the body of press releases and news stories. For editors who’ve found changing “TN” to “Tenn.” over and over again a tad tiresome, that solves that! Spelling it out for consistency and clarity is okay with me, but note one exception: state names should continue to be abbreviated in most datelines – and that’s with the “Tenn.” style abbreviation, by the way. “TN” is still a U.S. postal code appropriate for mailing addresses.

What’s an exception to even that rule?  (Yes, this is a test.)

It’s the cities AP has designated that stand alone in datelines, such as Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Miami, New York and Seattle, just to choose a few. Consult your AP Stylebook for the others – if you don’t know them. (For shame!)

Other changes for 2014 include:

  • The “District” in “District of Columbia” can now be capitalized on second reference with AP’s blessing. Many communicators inside the beltway already conformed to this “new” guidance.
  • AP is looking out for the delicate sensibilities of those more mature adults, urging the same caution be used about the word “elderly” as is used for racial and ethnic terms when referring to an individual – unless it’s clearly relevant to the story. AP advises using age when available and appropriate rather than characterizing an individual as elderly.
  • A new religion chapter contains more than 200 terms.
  • Hip new entries like selfie, bitcoin and LGBT bring AP firmly into 2014.

And in case you didn’t know, AP will soon have an app for that! According to the organization’s May 28 announcement, “AP Stylebook Mobile is a universal iOS app that contains all the content from the spiral-bound book, with the ability to search, add personalized listings or notes and mark your favorite listings for easy reference. The 2014  app is expected to be available soon.”


Secrets of Lovell Communications, World-Class Public Relations Professionals

I don’t know about you, but I am always up for a good secret, especially one that will help my PR career!

I started my adventure to learn the secrets of becoming a PR pro a year ago, and I don’t think I could be in a better place today. I have just completed my third month with Lovell Communications, having learned more about the public relations and communications world in that short span than I ever would have thought possible.

“Team Lovell” is a remarkable group of people. Each individual exudes class, sophistication and skill. To say I am surrounded by “wordsmiths” is an understatement. I have asked a few of these inspiring people to tell me their secret to being a PR pro; now it’s time for me to spill the beans.

Lovell Communications Secrets to being a PR Pro:

Paula Lovell, Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Assume nothing.  Check under every rock and get the facts before you do anything. Then double check your work.

Rosemary Plorin, President

Ask “What’s in it for them?”Be empathetic.  How a company’s stakeholders value a product/service/announcement is much more important than how the company values it.  This is especially true in healthcare marketing.  Do patients care how much a hospital spent on a new piece of equipment or how many accrediting organizations endorse it?  Probably not.  They do care about how it’s going to make them or a loved one feel or how it’s going to impact their hospital stay.   For each distinct audience, a sharp PR executive has to ask themselves, “What’s in it for them?”

Dana Coleman, Vice President

Make it work. Things don’t always go as you – or the client – originally planned. So figure out what will work, revise your recommendations or game plan and continue towards the goal. You have to be able to think fast and consider alternate strategies sometimes.  If plan A didn’t work, what will work? It’s your job to figure that out.

Robin Embry, Vice President

Be an expert juggler.  Agency life requires you to manage many clients who have many different issues/projects. When I’m able to keep all the balls in the air, and when my clients receive the customer service they deserve, that’s a great day.

Amanda Anderson, Senior Account Supervisor

Get stuff done. While I hardly consider myself a PR pro, I would say my secret to being a successful PR professional is having a GSD attitude. GSD stands for “Get Stuff Done.”  I approach every project or initiative with this kind of attitude, knowing I will do whatever I can to accomplish our mutual goals – whether that is local media coverage, brand redevelopment and recognition, successful event production or crisis communication strategy development.

Erin George, Senior Account Supervisor

Be able to think like a reporter.  When it comes to media relations work, I draw on my reporter background to anticipate what kinds of stories or angles will interest a reporter, the types of questions they might ask and what pitfalls to avoid — like taking too long to respond to a request or over-pitching. Thinking like a reporter comes in handy in other ways, like when interviewing clients to gather information for website or brochure copy, or making sure you get all the facts before responding to a crisis.

Katelyn Fish, Account Executive

Build and maintain relationships. Build good relationships with reporters and maintain those relationships over time, even if you don’t work with them frequently. This pays off in the future.

My secret?

Ask me again in a few months. Every adventure requires a first step and I am taking mine with a book full of juicy secrets.

What’s your secret?

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In Memoriam: Memorable Quotes from Dr. Maya Angelou

The world lost one of its greatest communicators on May 28, 2014. World-renowned American author, poet and civil rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou passed away at the age of 86.

Following the news, tributes to her life poured onto social media. Many on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram shared their favorite quotes with their followers.Maya Quote

Dr. Angelou was known for her inspiring words that shed light onto the beauty and injustices of the world. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from such a brave, thoughtful and inspirational human being.

1)      “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

2)      “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

3)      “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

4)      “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”

5)      “Nothing will work unless you do.”

6)      “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”

7)      “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

8)      “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

My favorite quote is # 1. Do you have favorite Maya Angelou quote? If so, share it with us in the comment box below.


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Controversy Sparks Conversation about Hospital Advertising

A couple of months ago, an advertisement for the da Vinci Surgical System sparked quite a bit of controversy — and an interesting, ongoing conversation about the ethics and value of hospital advertising.

To refresh your memory: The ad, which appeared as a full page in the New York Times Magazine, featured a large photograph of a physician team from the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System. Below the photograph sat the headline: “We believe in da Vinci Surgery because our patients benefit.” The kicker was that, in small print at the bottom of the ad, was a disclosure that explained some surgeons who appeared the ad had received compensation from da Vinci. And it was later revealed that da Vinci paid for the ad and not everyone in the photo was even a clinician.Billboard

After the ad appeared, Paul Levy, the former CEO of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and publisher of the popular “Not Running a Hospital” blog wrote a scathing post titled, “Time to fire somebody,” that questioned the ethics of a public, nonprofit hospital promoting a commercial product — particularly given the controversy surrounding the effectiveness of the surgical system. The post led to similar stories, including this piece by NPR that quotes Levy.

More recently, Hospitals & Health Networks contributor David Ollier Weber penned a column that, through the lens of the da Vinci ad controversy, asks whether hospitals advertising to the general public is in good taste, or even truly effective.

Worth a read, the article discusses the history of hospital advertising – formerly frowned upon by the American Hospital Association — and gives a snapshot of some of the current sentiment toward the practice, including questions about whether it’s “in good taste.”

Here’s the quote that closes the article, from a Minneapolis-based health care marketing consultant, taking aim specifically at mass advertising:

“In fact, the business case for hospital advertising — especially mass advertising — is extraordinarily poor. It’s notoriously difficult to measure the impact of the ubiquitous ‘brand campaigns’ that are all about awareness and perception-building and have no freaking call to action. But the effectiveness of mass advertising from a cost-benefit perspective pales in comparison to more targeted efforts, such as search advertising, direct mail, community seminars and more. Yes, some of that is advertising, but it’s the mass advertising that’s getting us in trouble.”

What do you think? Is “mass advertising” effective for hospitals? Are there ethical or “taste” pitfalls that must be avoided? Let us know what you think.

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Is the definition of “mobile” changing? Google thinks so.

Google announced to the Securities and Exchange Commission it has no plans to release its 2013 revenues from mobile advertising since the definition of mobile is changing and it simply doesn’t make sense to break it out separately.  Google informed the SEC in a December letter, which was disclosed publicly this week.

smart phone with finance chart

So, what does Google envision falling into the mobile bucket moving forward? According to the letter filing, the company said, “Our expectation is that users will be using our services and viewing our ads on an increasingly wide diversity of devices in the future.” To Google, anything that isn’t a desk top is considered mobile and they are already discussing future advertisements on refrigerators, watches, thermostats and car dashboards. (I know we are quickly moving towards a Jetson’s type lifestyle, but I’m not ready for my appliances to try to sell me something.)

I consider all of these products “smart devices” not “mobile,” but I guess Google can be convincing. Bottom line is Google sees a future full of all different kinds of new categories.

From a public perspective, I guess the SEC letter provided insight into what may lie ahead…a world of ad consumption overload.

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What makes businesses Pinteresting?

In just over 12 months, Pinterest has gone from a social network of choice to an essential marketing tool for many brands. Its online bulletin boards can help humanize a brand and display personality.

With more than 1.36 million visitors every day, Pinterest also gives businesses a platform to tell a compelling story, driving traffic back to their website in the process. In fact, Pinterest has more referral traffic than LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube combined.

For many brands, it’s the next step once they have established a digital presence Pinterestelsewhere, combining two of the most compelling elements of social media: visual content and sharing who you are.

Before you take the Pinterest plunge, here are some tips for building your brand’s presence:

#1 Make a Business Page

Like Facebook, Pinterest has an optionto establish a business page, providing access to analytical tools that allow you to  track the number of unique users, repins, , impressions and visits to your boards.

#2 Write a Good Description

You have only 200 characters to describe your business to the Pinterest world, but with such a visually driven site, that’s plenty. Google Analytics is a great place to start when writing your description; it will tell you what keywords drive people to your site.

#3 Use your Current Website Images (To Start)

Certain industries are more visually driven than others, and while it may seem like building a Pinterest presence will require significant effort that’s not always the case. To start, take an inventory of the photos on your website and post those that best personify your brand. Be sure to consider all of your audiences and look for images and content that speak to their needs.

#4 Follow Other Businesses

Follow other businesses to see what they are doing to generate content and traffic. Pinterest is a platform where many businesses share content not found elsewhere.  In most cases, when you follow someone they will follow you back, building your Pinterest presence.

#5 Explore Rich Pins

This may be the most important tip for the Pinterest skeptics out there. Rich pins add more information to a pin, beyond just using a picture.

Pinterest has 5 types of topic-specific rich pins, which you can include various details related to the pin.

Article Pins – Headline, Author Story description and link

Product Pins – Real-time pricing, availability and where to buy

Recipe Pins – Ingredients, cooking times and serving information

Movie Pins – Ratings, cast members and reviews

Place Pins – Address, phone number and map

You must apply for, add information to and validate your Rich Pins before you can use them, but in the end it’s worth it! These Rich Pins give users and followers more information about the topics they are interested in (YOU!)

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Risky Business: Online Comments & Social Media Interactions May Have More Impact Than We Intend

When Facebook officially turned 10 earlier this year, the company took the opportunity to reiterate what founder Mark Zuckerburg has long espoused as Facebook’s mission: “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

Social media and all Web 2.0 platforms have undeniably enhanced and multiplied our opportunity to “share” and “connect” with the world. But can we share and connect too broadly, too often, too much?  Research shows most people say the answer is “yes” – and for professionals working in regulated industries like healthcare, the answer is “definitely.”

We’ve all heard or read of cases in which licensed health professionals have lost jobs, lost spouses, been arrested or suffered other serious consequences as the result of social media indiscretion. So if you’re working in a regulated industry, consider these five tips as you engage in social media – in either your professional and private lives.

  1.  Understand your presence on the Internet.  Enter your name into a search engine from time and see what comes up (in content, images and video).  Better yet, set up a standing Google Alert for your name – you might be surprised by what you find.
  2.  Know your employer’s social media policy and follow it. Smart companies have social media policies that give employees clear guidelines about how the company is – and is not – to be represented on the Internet.  Some policies also fold in the company’s overall code of conduct, and give direction about how employees are expected to conduct themselves online, particularly in regards to online connections with patients. Wherever your employer’s policies fall on the spectrum, understand the expectations and follow them.
  3.  Maximize privacy settings on all social media sites. Be honest – when was the last time you read the fine print Terms and Conditions, on any website, before clicking “I agree”? Yet most Facebook users would be shocked to see how broadly available their posts and photos are.  Take the time to review your privacy settings and lock down everything you can – or accept the fact your future employer (or spouse, or mother in law) will see those embarrassing photos from college.
  4.  Assume nothing on social media is confidential. See items 1, 2 and 3 above, and remember that comments made to newspaper sites, online reviews, blog posts and even eBay auctions may be searchable online if you use a consistent screen name or email address.
  5.  Understand the collateral effect of your social media interactions and connections. Building on the idea that nothing is confidential, realize that people may assume they “know” a person by the trail he or she leaves on the internet.  If a Google search on a job candidate shows the applicant frequently participates in online sports gambling forums, makes posts about “losing a paycheck on the playoffs last weekend” and uses an avatar of a football with a dollar sign on it, an HR department somewhere may just conclude that the candidate displays certain behavioral risk factors.

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In Denial: AP Caves in “Over” v. “More Than”

If I’ve been slow to write about this it’s because, like many, I have been in denial.  AP, say it isn’t so!

Last month the Associated Press announced new to the Stylebook in 2014: over, as well as more than, is acceptable in all uses to indicate greater numerical value.

For those who never really understood the difference in the first place, over generally refers to spatial relationships: The mirror hangs over the mantel.

More than is used to indicate greater numerical value: More than 200 people attended the rally. We raised more than $500.

So after many years of editing my co-workers writing from “over” to “more than,” I can no longer stand on my AP soapbox although I will continue to have a clear preference.

I thought I’d see what else AP has done to us – oops, I mean clarified – lately.  Here are a few tips from AP’s editors that are helpful as we await the spring release of the 2014 Stylebook to see what other changes AP has in store for us.

Use of “under” to signify less

Interestingly, prior to the over v. more than decision referenced above, under was already acceptable in certain numerical uses:  The tank holds a little under 15 gallons. They offer free admissions for children 12 and under.

Use of a hyphen

No hyphen in nonprofit

No hyphen in whistleblower

No hyphen used with multi:  multiline, multichannel

No hyphen when used with goer: moviegoer (This is a reported change coming in the 2014 Stylebook)

Expressing numerical ranges

They have a joint income of $70,000 to $75,000 a year.

The industry generates revenues of $4 million to $5 million a year.

Our nation’s capital

Use capital in referring to the city where a seat of government is located.

Capitalize U.S. Capitol (with an “o”) and the Capitol when referring to the building in Washington.

When referencing Washington, D.C., on second reference capitalize the District.

Medical terms (also reported to be coming with the 2014 Stylebook)

First aid for the noun, first-aid for the adjective: He administered first aid. I took a first-aid course.

HPV is acceptable on first reference for human papillomavirus

Lowercase: in vitro fertilization (IVF acceptable on second reference)

Use of a comma before “as well as”

No comma in an adverb construction: The boy played the guitar as well as his teacher.

Comma when used to mean in addition to:  He cleaned out the closet, as well as the cabinets.

Are you an AP Stylebook nerd, too?  What’s your favorite or least favorite AP guidance? And for more updates as they’re announced, follow @APStylebook.

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Tapping into March Madness: Lessons from Garden and Gun Magazine

Southern lifestyle magazine Garden and Gun has absolutely nothing to do with college basketball. Its readership isn’t likely to have a particularly high level of interest in the sport, either.

But we’re all aware of the March Madness phenomenon – the anticipation that accompanies NCAA Tournament bracket selections and pools. Whether or not the games turn out to be as exciting as this year, the true appeal is seeing how the teams match up and guessing which teams will advance in the tournament.

And that’s where Garden and Gun comes into play. It was a couple years ago the magazine cleverly created a March Madness-inspired social media campaign, forming its own unique “brackets” and engaging followers to anticipate winners matched in a bracket format.

The first year, the “final matchup” was between grits and barbeque, with grits taking home the first place honors. Last year, face-off between Krispy Kreme and Coke, a choice few anticipated ever having to make. Which you consider to be better may be a “toss up,” but that’s the fun of it – you still want to know.

This year, in a move away from food match-ups, the magazine is asking followers to select their favorite southern town. There were 32 contenders at the start of the competition; now we are in the final days of the madness. Choosing the 32 qualifiers was surely no easy task, considering how many unique places there are in the south. Each town’s population had to be less than 150,000. This was the only qualifying criteria. 

Magazine Editor David DiBenedetto said, “We spent a lot of time going back and forth. Not too many college towns, not too many coastal towns, not too many in one state. It wasn’t scientific, but we tried to be fair.”

With the change from its food focus to towns, Garden and Gun ignited a rather surprising social media frenzy between the residents of the competing towns, the magazine providing a platform to show passion – and they’re doing so in great numbers via social media, promoting Garden and Gun in the process. With thousands of tweets containing the hashtag #SouthernTowns, it’s clear people have become obsessed with seeing their town win.

“We had no idea how passionate they would be,” Garden and Gun’s DiBenedetto said.

Garden and Gun not only conceived a clever social media campaign to help promote its magazine, it has in turn become the unofficial promoter for 32 small southern towns. That just goes to show that tweaking an already successful marketing strategy can take you from being just another team in the tournament to a respected player in the big game.

Close to home here in Tennessee, the town of Franklin may not be a Cinderella story but it has made the brackets final match-up against Savannah, Ga…and the people of Middle Tennessee couldn’t be more thrilled.

People may vote once a day at Click “view results” to see real-time vote percentages.

What’s your opinion of Garden and Gun’s social media strategy? Slam dunk?

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