Category Archives: Corporate Communications
In an effort to shake a holiday hangover and get back into a work routine, I found myself reading quite a bit last week, trying to catch up on national and world events.
As I reviewed a host of local and national publications and websites, I noticed my inner editor was tripping over some perennially tired and lazy writing conventions – as well as a few absolute misuses of language.
To balance the curmudgeon inside me, I made sure to “like” and “share” the sharply constructed and well executed news stories I came across. Then I jumped on a soap box and jotted down a few new year’s resolutions for writers (and myself, as we are all susceptible to bad habits from time to time).
Five Words to Strike From Your Writing
Irregardless. It’s not a real word, period. Try regardless or irrespective.
Should. Some people may not be put off by this word, but for those who are, “should” reads like an admonishment or shaming. Best to stay away from it.
That. Sure, this demonstrative adjective has its place … but not 15 times in a 300-word press release. Try striking it from your drafts and see if you miss it. You won’t.
Pleased. I don’t have hard research on this, but anecdotally, I find a ridiculous amount of corporate communications contain quotes about how “pleased” and “delighted” a CEO is about the launch of a new business unit or the hiring of a new executive. Surely the CEO has something more strategic to say – like how the business unit will allow the company increase market share or the new hire will oversee execution of corporate growth objectives.
There. As with “that” above, this sometimes adverb/sometimes pronoun has a place, but it often results in passive voice (I’ve written about this evil before) and is the hallmark of ineffective and non-persuasive writing.
Four Words to Consider More Often (these are just a few personal favorites)
Incumbent. I love the various and related meanings to this word, from obligatory to leaning to currently residing.
Paucity. An interesting alternative to two other great words: scarcity and dearth (all three of which beat “lack”).
Opaque. A personal favorite. I use this in place of obscure, obtuse or “hard to understand”: “I don’t mean to be opaque, but the overwhelming data speaks for itself.”
Eschew. This simple word slips into the place of “shun” for a much more dramatic impact.
Three Habits to Adopt
Writing thank you notes – by hand. I don’t know anyone who isn’t impressed by a handwritten expression of appreciation.
Leaving your phone silenced AND out of sight. Productivity increases in meetings (including family meals) in which smart phones are not present.
Writing shorter sentences. I love long, complex and compound sentences – but I also like diagramming sentences and doing Scrabble puzzles in my head; I’m clearly not normal. Studies have proven that comprehension and retention is better when content is built on shorter sentences. If you have to take a breath in the middle of a sentence as it’s read aloud, you probably need to shorten it.
Two Habits to Drop
Late night business emails. Again, I don’t have hard data on this, but I would bet most business people think their best work is done during the day and in the office (wherever their office may be). Work product delivered late at night sends a message that you’ve squeezed the work in after you focused on more important projects.
Insulting social media posts. Between the primaries, the election and Chik-fil-A, 2012 presented a full year of opportunities to alienate “friends” on social media. I understand that political and personal are interrelated for many folks – and I respect that – but check yourself before insulting someone’s beliefs on social media. If you wouldn’t make a comment to their face or in front of your mother or daughter, don’t post it.
One Website to Visit More Often
BBC.co.uk As a news source, this site can be interpreted as being somewhat left-leaning. But for crisp, accessible writing and a world perspective that is sometimes missing in U.S. news, the Brits offer a great alternative.
There you have it – 15 resolutions for the new year. What would you add – or take away?
The holiday season brings chocolate covered pretzels, gift baskets and popcorn tins! It also means office gatherings which, for some offices, may be the only formal employee gathering throughout the year. In recognition of the holidays, Lovell Communications Inc. enjoyed a wonderful dinner and time of laughter and fellowship last week. Toward the end of our dinner, we each gave our personal thank you to the group for a year of quality work and meaningful results for our clients. Those kinds of impromptu moments set the tone and help define a strong organizational culture.
I am reminded of a presentation by Bob Higgins, CEO of Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon, Inc., at The Executive Learning Network. Mr. Higgins spoke eloquently about corporate communications and how it is the thread that weaves a company together. As public relations professionals, we know this better than most.
As you enter into a new year, here are some tips to keep in mind as you cultivate and nurture your company’s culture:
- A message sent does not always equal a message received. Try communicating through more than one mode, because the recipient is the one who assigns meaning to the message. With some folks, a telephone call might be preferred over an email.
- We are all in business. Recognize that everyone around you is also working hard and making sacrifices. Metrics that reward employees and companies are sure to help keep everyone motivated.
- With the new year comes new opportunities. Make sure everyone in the organization knows the company’s guiding principles and mission. Not every new business opportunity will be a perfect fit, so make sure you and your staff have the patience and the discernment to know what’s right for your organization.
- Take time to teach and coach. This is incredibly important in both good and bad moments, especially if you’re the leader of an organization. Find ways to help your coworkers become stronger, and partner with coworkers who can teach you a thing or two. You’d be surprised how much you can learn!
- My favorite part of the Higgins’ presentation was: know your purpose. We are all like pencils. The most important thing about you is on the inside. You’re equipped to correct mistakes, and you can’t do anything without being held up. Life has a way of making you go through an occasional sharpening, not to mention making you encounter multiple kinds of surfaces. Your job is to leave your mark!
One of my colleagues, who is famous for the provocative and razor-sharp use of her vast vocabulary, used a word the other day and, while I knew what it meant, I am certain I had never heard anyone actually use it in ordinary conversation. It rolled between my ears and made me smile.
When discussing a particular comment made by an individual, she asked me to keep in mind that, “he is quite hyperbolic.” Having spent more than 25 years in healthcare communications I was, just for a second, confused. Was this some kind of reaction or result of being, perhaps, in a hyperbaric chamber? Was this related to bariatric surgery?
Not at all. But I was reminded of how charmed I am by the precise use of words and the origin of phrases. So much so, that years ago, I tried to create and sell a TV “short” called WordPlay. Nashville’s Kitty Moon Emery helped me with this video (I believe it might have even been shot on film!) It was great fun.
Got any words or phrases that perk you up?
Today, companies can be widely dispersed. Employees may live in different cities or countries from where the organizations are centrally located. Younger generations may request working from home or the local coffee shop, saying they feel more comfortable and inspired outside of an office setting. Some companies may not even have an office, but a team of mobile employees collaborating through various new technologies. So what happens when an important discussion needs to take place between members of an organization who are not located in the same area? Well, you have the next best thing: a virtual meeting.
There are MANY services available to conduct virtual meetings; from highly robust and paid services to free and simple ones. Recently updated, the Google+ platform allows for online video conferencing which it calls “Hangouts.” Other major services include GoToMeeting and Cisco’s WebEx. And did you know Facebook also allows for video chats between friends?
Facebook video conferencing is actually powered by one of our favorite services that we highly recommend, Skype. Skype can be used for free video conferencing directly with another Skype user, including online messaging and file sending. We recommend Skype to clients as a way to conduct meetings between organizational employees when not located in close enough proximity. If you haven’t tried it out already and would like to, Skype requires a quick set-up process before online communication can begin. To make it easy for you, we’ve created a How to Set Up Skype video below that will walk you through the process.
What services do you like using for virtual meetings? Please let us know your recommendations in the comments below!
“What are you thinking over there? You’re awfully quiet,” a client once said to me. It felt more like an accusation than an observation. We were midway through a strategy session on a new product and I had been listening intently as the sales team shared information – much of which I was hearing for the first time. Aside from asking a few questions, I hadn’t interrupted, interjected or otherwise hijacked the conversation to share half-baked recommendations or serve my own agenda. Was that wrong? I didn’t think so but, at that moment, it sure felt like it.
Being an introvert in what often seems like a world of extroverts can be tough. Quiet, thoughtful reflection is often mistaken as shyness or disinterest. It’s especially difficult in fields like marketing, sales or even public relations, which tend to attract extroverts. (I’ll never forget taking the D.I.S.C. personality test in a roomful of hospital marketing directors a few years ago and being the only “analyzer” in a room full of “promoters.”) Right or wrong, identifying yourself as an “introvert” often seems a notch above “hermit” or a “weirdo.” That’s why it’s a label many of us have been reluctant to accept.
That may be changing though, thanks in part to a new book that’s focusing renewed attention on what being an introvert really means. In a recent Time cover story, Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” maintains introverts aren’t necessarily shy or anti-social. They simply tend to be more cautious and sensitive – preferring an environment of minimal stimulation to one filled with chaos. As a result, they’re better listeners, which often makes them better leaders. In fact, Cain cites a Wharton study that found introverted leaders delivered better results than extroverts when managing employees, in part because they encouraged others’ ideas.
You see, it’s not that introverts can’t engage. Sometimes they just don’t want to… at least not right then and there. Introverts like to gather information and internalize their thoughts before speaking up. As such, their recommendations tend to be thorough, well thought out and often more strategic than those from their charismatic, shoot-from-the-hip counterparts. In fact, a recent New York Times editorial asserted introverts may make better doctors for these very reasons. I’d say the same can be said for communications and marketing strategists, as well.
What’s more, introverts value preparation, engage in meticulous planning and ask insightful questions that can inform strategy and uncover hidden landmines. They are often better speakers because they take the time to research their audience and tailor a presentation that provides meaningful information. Perhaps most importantly, they prefer to express themselves through writing – a key skill for any communications professional.
While introverts bring tremendous value to any organization, research suggests they become truly powerful when paired with extroverts whose strengths complement their own. So the next time you’re assembling a team to develop a marketing strategy or tackle a communications challenge, be sure it includes an introvert or two. We probably won’t be the ones waving our hands on the front row, but our influence will be equally strong and far-reaching.
Photo by: David Castillo Dominici
If you’ve ever searched for something online, and since you’re online right now I’m guessing you have, then you’ve probably come across a Wikipedia listing. But what is Wikipedia? According to its website, Wikipedia is a, “free, web-based, collaborative, multilingual encyclopedia project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Its 19.9 million articles (over 3.76 million in English) have been written collaboratively by volunteers around the world. Almost all of its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the site, and it has about 90,000 regularly active contributors.”
Many companies can be found listed on Wikipedia but that doesn’t mean that EVERY company can be there. A company must meet Wikipedia’s stringent notability standards before it can be regarded as appropriate for a Wikipedia page. The standards are lengthy and rigorous; by its own definition, “Wikipedia is not a promotional medium. Self-promotion, paid material, autobiography, and product placement are not valid routes to an encyclopedia article.” A company must have achieved a certain and measureable level of notoriety to be considered.
Assuming your company meets Wikipedia’s standards, would you still want to be listed?
The greatest benefit of Wikipedia pages is that they generally show up in the top results of major search engines, providing more exposure and potential credibility for an organization when searched. This can help build trust and legitimacy among individuals searching for information about a certain company. Because they appear almost always near the top of the search results, Wikipedia pages also push down other listings and can help reduce the amount of unwanted results such as negative news articles or reviews, if they exist.
There are also risks to consider in the creation of a Wikipedia page. Wikipedia pages are not controlled by the organization the page describes and the page can be updated by anyone. This allows negative content to be placed on the page, whether or not it is true or accurate. Anyone remember what happened to Sinbad? Even if unverified content is eventually removed from the main page, it will still reside under the View History tab or on other websites that may have referenced the material when it was live.
Per Wikipedia standards, neither a business, nor organizations or consultants working for that business, are eligible to make any corrections to that business’ page due to conflicts of interest. Though corrections cannot be made directly to a company page, companies or their representatives can recommend page updates and corrections to Wikipedia. Persons making recommendations must have an active Wikipedia account and should be active in the talk page for that Wikipedia article. And even then, the changes may not be made.
This ongoing maintenance of a company page requires constant monitoring to detect any incorrect or negative changes, which can be somewhat time-consuming. One solution is to use the watch function provided by Wikipedia. To use this system, monitors can log into their Wikipedia accounts to be alerted to any changes made. Change alerts can also be subscribed to via email updates or an RSS feed.
Perhaps the greatest negative to having a Wikipedia page lies somewhere in the future. When a company executive is charged with a DUI, or your kitchen is found to be in violation of health codes, or a disgruntled ex-employee decides to post a compromising photo from a company holiday party – be assured it will end up on Wikipedia … right there at the top of any Google search.
Based on the information above, we consider the CONs to outweigh the PROs for most businesses. If you disagree and are interested in getting your company listed, you can request a page utilizing Wikipedia’s request feature located here: Wikipedia:Requested articles. This will alert one of the “90,000 regularly active contributors” to create your listing. Or you can just wait. If your company is appropriate enough for Wikipedia, chances are somebody eventually create your page.
What are your thoughts on Wikipedia pages?
In a rather unusual but certainly interesting move, one of the world’s largest companies put its toes in the social media waters as a way to reach investors and financial analysts (as well as customers, employees and anyone else in the world with a computer and access to the Internet).
Walmart Chief Financial Officer Charles M. Holley posted a message to the financial news aggregator site Seeking Alpha last month explaining how the Fortune 1 company plans to maintain its position in the global marketplace.
While most corporate attorneys become apoplectic at the utterance of “corporate officer” and “social media” in the same sentence, it appears the investor relations professionals at Walmart (likely with help/prodding from the company’s marketing and PR team) helped calm any legal nerves. In reality, Mr. Holley’s post is likely taken from the same song sheet the company uses when addressing analysts and investors in Reg FD formats as well as one-on-one conversations. Transcripts of those discussions are often available online and excerpted on blogs and media outlets, so sharing executive perspectives is certainly not pioneering uncharted territory.
The “new” element to Mr. Holley’s contribution on Seeking Alpha is the close connection between his post and the dialogue that it spawned. In the first 10 days after the post was made, 36 comments were shared on the site – most of which seem thoughtful and productive to professional discourse (even if not all are flattering to Walmart or optimistic about its stock’s potential). But online (and offline) conversations about NYSE:WMT occur among analysts and investors every day.
So if we consider the potential risks of the message and the medium to be fairly neutral, I find some significant upside to Mr. Holley’s decision to go social:
- He was not edited. Just like the traditional opinion piece in a hard copy paper (which can be very hard to secure), the blog post gave Mr. Holley the opportunity to share complete thoughts in his own voice. He did not have to rely upon (or worry about) the whims of an editor’s analysis. Nothing was deleted, nothing was paraphrased, nothing was subject to interpretation by anyone other than the end user/reader.
- He was complete. The Walmart IR and legal teams surely worked overtime on this piece. In fewer than 900 words, Holley painted his company’s “big picture” through two-dozen or so brush-stroked illustrations. He referenced company history, relationships with merchants, increased efficiencies, enhanced physical plants and reduced capital costs. And in a nod to reality, he acknowledged high fuel costs, food inflation and job insecurity among customers globally. An interview with a financial reporter from a news or business daily will typically translate into just few sound bites from the interviewee – and they will rarely offer a complete reflection of the conversation.
- He was a cheerleader. Holley wove in Walmart’s corporate slogan and referenced the company’s impressive five and 10-year CAGR. To ensure he ended on a high note (something rarely achievable in the traditional interview/article process) he closed with optimism: “During a challenging time in the world, we are excited about the future and what a stronger Walmart will mean for our customers and our shareholders.”
In this analysis, Mr. Holley’s dip into the Web 2.0 pool seems like swim worth taking – and 10 days out, his stock did not appear to have suffered (nor does it seem to have gained). Walmart IR folks have indicated they aren’t sure they’ll repeat the effort – but I have to think this trail has now been blazed and will be followed. What do you think? Should other companies take this leaders’ lead?
Online reputation management is a critical task for any company. The web is a world-wide conversation site whether your business has a strong internet presence or not. The internet has made it possible for consumers and competitors to converse openly about opinions and experiences with companies, whether positive or negative. With the prominence of review sites out there such as Yelp and CitySearch and Ripoff Report, in addition to social media sites, it is important to always be aware of any talk about your company. Here are five essential steps to help ensure sure that your company reputation is the best it can be!
- Be prepared for and aware of risks. All companies should consider how to avoid and respond to any internet dialogue that has the potential to damage the company brand. Developing a crisis plan and being prepared in advance is critical for fast and effective online reputation management.
- Track and monitor your brand. Have you ever Googled yourself out of curiosity? If you have not done so with your company, it’s time. Frequent monitoring of your brand is essential, as new content is placed on the internet daily. One easy way to do this is to create Google Alerts which will send you email updates of the latest internet mentions of your company based on the search terms you provide. Regularly searching for keywords that relate to your company, your competitors and your industry is another easy way to monitor your brand and business space
- Register domains and IDs. Protect your brand for the future by registering your company name on new sites in case they become popular later. If you search for your name on Twitter or Facebook, it is likely you will find many other people out there with the same name: same goes for your company. By spending a few minutes and a few extra dollars to register domains and IDs, your company won’t be hit by roadblocks in the future
- Create proactive content. Acting proactively is an important part of any reputation strategy as you plan positive messages, articles, press releases, etc. to insure you have a constant flow of content for your audience. Sharing your company’s stories and ideas across various types of media outlets will help get your name out there and let consumers know that you are real people with real and valuable ideas
- Remove negative content. In the case that negative content gets out about your brand, there are several ways to get rid of or bury the bad news. If you are in control of content that you don’t want others to see such as on Facebook, Twitter or a blog, simply delete the negative content or change your privacy settings. If negative content is on a site that you do not control, review the sites Terms or Content Policies and politely ask the owner of the site to remove the content if it is in violation. And by creating new, positive content on high-ranking sites, your search results will show the positive over the negative.
Do you or your company follow any of these guidelines to protect your online reputation? What’s worked (or hasn’t worked) for you? Let us know in the comments section.
If you’ve talked to an active Netflix user lately or kept up with the latest social media headlines, you’ve probably learned that Netflix customers aren’t too happy. Netflix, which has offered a simple DVD movie rental and streaming package for years, recently decided to separate these two services and raise the prices of each. Netflix will become a streaming only company, while a new company called Qwikster will offer DVD rental.
Reed Hastings, the Co-Founder and CEO of Netflix, explains the need for specialization as the reason for the split in his recent apology email sent to Netflix customers. Hastings states that DVD and streaming services are different services with different cost structures that need to be marketed separately and grown independently.
Why are Netflix customers so upset? Hastings announced these service and price changes through press releases instead of addressing customers directly. Hastings acknowledged his mistake and apologized to Netflix customers in an email in which he said, “I messed up. I owe you an explanation.” But of course, a lot of damage had already been done.
So what can businesses learn from Hastings’ mistake? Always communicate major changes in your business with your audience directly. Customers will appreciate hearing about changes or mistakes from you instead of the media. And if your business does make a mistake, apologize publicly and directly. Though Netflix customers are still not thrilled with the separation of the DVD and streaming services, Hastings has done a good job of admitting his mistake, apologizing to Netflix customers and explaining the situation. But, as Hastings has learned, it is better to announce your changes to customers beforehand, avoiding - or at least limiting – the need for crisis communications.
What is your take on the Netflix split? Would customers have received news of the division and price hike better if they had heard from Hastings first? Do you think Hastings was effective in apologizing to customers? Would you have handled the situation differently?