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Writing for the Web

Posted in Best Practices, Creativity and Design, Hannah's Posts, Online Marketing, Tips and Tricks

Website redesign - alongside technology advancements - are all the rage these days. As an integrated marketing communications firm, at Morningstar Communications, we help clients hone their key messages. A website redesign doesn't always imply a stronger look and feel. Although a pretty design will catch the eye, a solid message will capture the mind. That's where we come in.

As we help our clients build or refresh their websites, and work on our own, web writing is a regular task at Morningstar Communications. The following tactical tips help guide our counsel and strategy:

Use traditional headers.

Web writing - just like any other - needs to be concise. However, marketers and other businesspeople sometimes think it needs to be so much so that instead of using attention-grabbing headers, each web page should have a one- to three-word label.

Similar to any other article or marketing piece, a website should tell a story. A headline that reads, "Morningstar Communications clarifies, connects and changes," fares much better and entices users to keep reading compared to something like, "Morningstar Communications' Strategy."

Write for scannability.

We're busy bees who prefer the "USA Today" versions, as Eric Morgenstern says. We want to know what we need to now. The average web user spends approximately 60 seconds maximum on one webpage, so it's best to lead with the most important information first.

Like we do in news writing, embrace the inverted pyramid structure by moving a conclusion summing up your article to the very top - now acting as your intro and telling your busy audience all it needs to know. Write it in a way that will encourage your readers to learn more.

Other excellent tips for readability:

  • Utilize subheads that efficiently summarize your webpage, article or blog post.
  • Draft bulleted lists instead of paragraphs where possible. Try not to exceed seven words per bullet point.
  • Write short paragraphs only containing one topic each. Keep sentences to 14 words or less.

Tell a story.

Encourage your readers to learn more, and always provide a call to action. Again, be concise. Being concise is different from being too brief and inauthentic. On the other hand, don't overload your readers with more information than they need, and don't use jargon. Embrace recipient-oriented communication and be "human" while telling your audience what it needs to hear.

And don't let the bulleted lists and shorter paragraphs limit your ability to tell a story. You can still exercise creativity and demonstrate your company's personality. 

If you embrace the above tips, your website will come together and provide value for your business in no time. What tips would you add? Leave your thoughts in the comments section or write to us on Facebook.

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Leave a comment Posted on by Hannah Babcock

Striking the Right Work Life Balance

Posted in Best Practices, Suchitra's Posts

With technological advancements it’s possible for us to access our work from almost any place at any time. This allows many of us to bring our work home. While access to technology allows us to spend more time at home and meet our business commitments, it is still very important to draw a distinct line between work and life.

People who are constantly on the job can be susceptible to stress and burnout and are known to be at a greater risk for health issues. Both productivity and performance levels can fall below par when an employee doesn’t plan time to relax and decompress on a regular basis.

Balance is vital to success both in and out of the workplace. Here are six ways to achieve a work/life balance that will benefit you and your employer.

Flexible work schedules

Allowing employees the flexibility to choose their arrival and departure times, without changing their expected weekly work hours helps foster a company culture that promotes happy and fulfilled employees. This not only enables them to be in charge of arranging their own schedules, but it also helps them be more dedicated to their work each day.

Limit PTO carry over into another year

Paid time off is part of the benefits package at most companies to encourage employees to do just that - take time off. Limiting the number of hours an employee can carry over to the next year will persuade them to plan vacations in a timely manner. This allows them to rejuvenate and be more productive during working hours. Companies should implement a "use by" date to encourage employees to take time off.

Lead by example

If you, as a manager, are responding to emails or calling in on meetings while you are on paid time off, this sends the message to employees that they can do the same. This affects personal choices for work and life. After all, leaders set the standards for the company.

Set up expectations specific to vacations

With employees connected to the office 24 hours a day electronically, a work/life balance is very challenging. It should be clearly specified that when an employee is ready to leave on vacation, it is okay for them to send an email announcing their vacation and that they will have limited access to emails and voicemails. Honor the employee's time off by not contacting them unless it's an emergency. Of course, it is the joint responsibility of both the employee and manager to ensure there is another person who can be a point of contact while they are out of town.

Corporate culture activities

Organizing company culture activities several times throughout the year helps build team spirit and strengthen relationships at work. Activities can be as elaborate as a BBQ party or a bowling night or as simple as a happy hour.

Expect employees to work hard, but not all the time

It's okay to expect employees to work hard, even if that includes long hours or weekends, but it's only acceptable sparingly. Employee burnout and stress are byproducts of working conditions and can have long-term consequences for a business, such as low employee retention or a negative company culture. Exercise moderation when it comes to working hours for employees. When you offer flexibility, employees will be more willing to go the extra mile when needed.

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Leave a comment Posted on by Suchitra Kamath

The Changing Face of Marketing

Posted in Best Practices, Executive Insights, Online Marketing, Sheri's Posts

One of my favorite sources for business news, Harvard Business Review (HBR), ran an entire feature on the changing face of marketing in the August/September edition, “The New Basics of Marketing.” The lead to this special section says: “We can’t think of another discipline that has evolved so quickly. Tools and strategies that were cutting edge just a few years ago are fast becoming obsolete.” What are the big game changers? Digital, data and a focus on the total customer experience.

In the online edition, this week’s marketing story digs into the new rise of the CMO. It addresses the many C-suite titles that reflect businesses’ focus on the key relationship marketing plays in strengthening bonds between the company and its customers. Importantly, it highlights the need for marketing to connect with the entire organization and that everyone in the organization needs to market the business. This is something we see work incredibly well for our clients that make internal alignment a priority. In its recent study, HBR found companies with excellent marketing capabilities outperform their peers by 2-3x in revenue growth.

Adweek’s June 30 edition underscored the digital aspects of this sweeping change, citing their own survey indicating CMOs believe online media will account for three quarters of marketing budgets within five years and analytics skills will become a core competency. At the same time, it indicated only 1 percent of CMOs are responsible for digital innovation. The function primarily lies with the CEO (35%), CTOs (23%) and CIOs (22%), underscoring the point HBR makes about marketing permeating the business.

The key to success for today’s marketers is translating the wealth of knowledge from data into actionable insights. Insights to help position your company, products and services in a meaningful way for your customers. Insights that drive your content creation and delivery, so customers receive the information when and how they want it, whether the channel is digital or traditional. Insights to guide the creation of a satisfying – or better yet, delightful – customer experience regardless of the customer’s tenure with your brand.

Obviously, I’m oversimplifying here. There’s so much more that goes into creating a successful marketing program. In fact, I encourage all marketers to pick up the latest edition of HBR and dig into it.

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Leave a comment Posted on by Sheri Johnson

Find Success by Practicing “Complementary Collaboration”

Posted in Best Practices, Laura's Posts

We’ve all heard of the infamous book titled, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” As this book, and countless others point out, men and women have differences in relation to how they think and how they communicate. These differences can be an issue on a personal relationship level, but also on a professional relationship level.

I recently read a Fast Company article that discussed the need for women and men to collaborate in the workplace in order to accomplish the highest success. As a woman in the workplace myself, this caught my attention.

The article introduces an interesting concept called, “complementary collaboration,” which is defined as, “simply recognizing, respecting, and embracing the fact that men and women bring different but often hugely complementary skills to the table that, if nurtured and developed, can be a very powerful and highly successful combination for any business.”

Interested in practicing “complementary collaboration” – assuming you don’t already – in your business? Check out these simple tips from the article:

1. Be authentic
“Women and men often feel they have to act a certain way in the workplace in order to be successful. However, a lack of sincerity can be felt a mile away and only perpetuates the problem, so it’s best to choose the authentic route and just be yourself.”

2. Embrace and play up your strengths
“Most women, irrespective of their position, bring a high level of perceptiveness and emotional IQ that’s critical for leading teams and growing a business. So, rather than worrying about the skills they don’t have, women should recognize their talents and double down on them, while men can help ensure more women are part of the mix from the onset for optimal business success.”

3. Support one another
“Try to make an effort to connect with other women in your company and industry by attending networking and skill development events, or by simply organizing your own casual meetups and be sure to involve men in some of these activities as well.”

4. Introduce and lead change
“Merely complaining about something you could absolutely play a hand in changing, or at least improving, isn’t helpful. Instead, take the bull by the horns and pave the way for change.”

I was excited to share this article with the rest of the Morningstar Communications team because we already practice “complementary collaboration,” by embracing our strengths, supporting one another, serving as leaders in our various areas of expertise, and being authentic.

Does your company practice “complementary collaboration?” Share your thoughts and comments with us on Facebook.

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Comments Off Posted on by Laura Jung

Lessons from Sharing a Coke

Posted in Best Practices

I am a self-proclaimed Coca-Cola enthusiast. Since the age of 11, I can’t remember a day when an ice-cold Coke wasn’t my drink of choice. I vividly remember sitting with my brothers on our front porch, each of us drinking a Coke and delighting in the cold, fizzy treat. We would compete to see who could twist their bottle tab the most before breaking off and then race to create carbonated bubbles by blowing into the can with a straw.

For me, drinking a Coke is ceremonial. It wasn’t always about the taste, the color of the can or the newest airing commercial – it was about the special moments I shared with my family and friends, each of us with our own can of indulgence.

Based on Coke’s summer advertising campaign, I am not alone in my sentiments toward the brand. The newest Coke movement has taken shape in the form of the “Share a Coke” campaign.

On every bottle and can of Coca-Cola, Diet Coke and Coke Zero the Coca-Cola logo has been replaced with a name or nickname, offering consumers the opportunity to purchase a personalized bottle for themselves or give one to a friend. But how do you know if your name is out there? Simply go online, search your name and Coke will tell you where to look.

If your name is unique, there are other ways to Share a Coke, such as purchasing a personalized glass bottle or virtually sharing a drink with a friend. And the campaign doesn’t stop there. Coke drinkers now have the opportunity to Tweet-A-Coke to a friend who can redeem the drink in some Regal Cinemas locations.

As an aspiring PR professional, I have taken away many lessons from the Share a Coke campaign, but these are my top three:

1. Be personal.

Tailor your messages to make each one as personalized as possible. People respond better to relevant information.

2. Relationships are vital.

Never underestimate the power of relationships. Whether tweeting a soft drink to a friend or getting a coffee with an old co-worker, maintain your relationships though communication and authenticity.

3. Maintain your brand.

Your personal brand is indispensable. Not only should you strive to be known for your hard work, integrity and capability, but also for continually putting forth those values each day and in every part of your life.

Kevin Plank said, “Brand is not a product, that’s for sure; it’s not one item. It’s an idea, it’s a theory, it’s a meaning, it’s how you carry yourself. It’s aspirational, it’s inspirational.”

Kevin’s words could not be more true. A Coke is more than a bottle of soda. It is a connection and a promise. It ties you to your friends and family, but most importantly, it offers a link to the past and a bridge to the future because no matter where you are, you can always count on that red-labeled bottle to hold something personal and steadfast.

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Comments Off Posted on by Paige Kauffman

Fresh Perspective on Professional Transitions

Posted in Best Practices, Kelsey's Posts, Morningstar Communications Updates, Tips and Tricks

Through August, the final days of summer vacation also bring another intern season to an end. A few days ago someone asked me what my favorite part about my internship was, and without hesitation, I rattled off about six or seven sentences. The truth is, I couldn’t pick my favorite part because everything was my favorite. Working with numerous account teams, my strategic communication skills grew exponentially, and I was truly integrated into the team.

Internships provide real-world education and valuable experiences, and should also be fun and enjoyable – especially if it’s in the field you plan to enter and stick with. With help from a recent U.S. News article and the knowledge I have acquired throughout my time as an intern at Morningstar Communications, I have compiled a list of three insights about joining the workforce, either as an intern or a new employee.

  1. Your resume can only get you so far:
    Landing an internship is a lot of work. As application deadlines approach, you spend hours editing and re-editing your cover letter and perfecting your resume to include skills and achievements to impress your potential employer. After learning about the company you apply for the job and cross your fingers. Sounds familiar, right?

    If called in for an interview it is especially valuable to take the time and fully prepare. Your resume might get you there but previous experience and knowledge can only get you so far. You should practice answering various potential questions about your experience and hobbies. In a recent article, Forbes outlines how both types of questions allow the interviewer to see if you fit in with their workplace culture. Talking about your skills and expertise is one thing, but if hired, you are expected to back it up by producing great work.
  2. Work is different from school:
    While both places evaluate your output, there are many differences between college and the real world. For example, in college you receive grades and written feedback, and in the real world you receive paychecks and verbal reviews. But there are also more significant adjustments to get used to.

    Missing a deadline and submitting a project a little late might not seem like a major deal to some college students, but at your job it can diminish your credibility and prevent the development of your career. The work you are doing as an intern directly impacts not only your colleagues and clients, but also your future. Do you want an outstanding recommendation from your supervisor for other personal and professional opportunities? Break the “lazy” college student habits you might have acquired over the years, and submit work on time and in a professional manner.
  3. You don’t know everything, and that’s okay:
    As an intern, you don’t have the same level of experience as your fellow associates, and that’s okay. The important thing is to remember there is room for improvement. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help. As an intern, and sometimes a new full-time employee, you aren’t expected to know everything, but you are expected to utilize your resources, research your options and provide the best possible solution. Get to know your co-workers and learn from them. Ask for feedback on your work and identify what you can do to improve.

Internships link to your future. Use your time wisely and learn as much as you can. Whether you are finishing up your internship, or just beginning to apply for a position, keep these three things in mind as you transition into the professional world.

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Comments Off Posted on by Kelsey Wolf

Fùtbol and Sponsorships

Posted in Best Practices, Integrated Marketing (IMC), Shanny's Posts

Fùtbol is what the rest of world calls soccer and it appears as if its popularity is starting to climb in the USA. Fueled by a combination of Brazilian-style celebrations, the success of the USA Men's team, and the power of social media, millions of people in the USA became soccer fans during the 2014 World Cup.

In his New York Times article, "Germany 1. World Cup Fever 1,000," Stuart Elliott shared some of the statistics and engagement numbers for the World Cup sponsors. Literally millions of people tweeted, posted on Facebook and watched special World Cup videos, as well as many of the games.

Visa World cup Sponsorship

Ricardo Fort, senior vice president for global sponsorship marketing for VISA said,

“We were not expecting to have the interest and engagement in the United States that we did. It was unbelievable.”According to Adweek, there were more than 55,000 twitter mentions per minute about Tim Howard during his record-breaking performance against Belgium. He added nearly half a million followers during the World Cup tournament. 

Sports marketing is particularly suited to today's digitally sophisticated and mobile audiences. By definition, fans are zealous. Fans want to share their passions with other fans and they are willing to engage in real-time.

And the best part, sports marketing is scalable - Visa, Kia and Coca Cola have the resources to sponsor big international events like the World Cup, but smaller companies can be successful as well. The Roasterie has created a coffee flavor in honor of Sporting KC. Grundfos Pumps sponsors the fountains at Royals stadium.

When you are planning sponsorships we recommend the following: 

  • Budget two to three times the cost of the sponsorship to activate it. Promote your sponsorship in all of your other communication pieces. Have company events and entertain clients at the venue. Use tie-ins with the sponsorship to make the world a better place.
  • Be selective in which teams or players you sponsor. Your sponsorships should strengthen your relationships with the people who matter most to your company's success. If your biggest client is a huge Mizzou fan, then it might make sense for you to sponsor them, even if you are a Jayhawk in your heart.
  • Be selective in how many sponsorships you have. You will get more return on your investment with fewer, deeper sponsorships.
  • Zusi and Besler sm
    Make sure the team or player you sponsor represents the values that your company holds. If your company emphasizes loyalty and long-term relationships, then sponsoring players like Matt Besler and Graham Zusi makes sense - both Besler and Zusi recently turned down more lucrative contracts to stay in Kansas City.

Soccer is poised to take off in a big way in the USA. Smart marketers will figure out a way to take advantage of its growing popularity.


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Comments Off Posted on by Shanny Morgenstern

Building Your Brand, in Three Simple Quotes

Posted in Best Practices, Eric's Posts, Executive Insights, Morningstar Communications Updates
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I have several upcoming speaking engagements (University of Kansas, Society for Marketing Professional Services and The KC Chamber, to name a few) all focused on brand building. Brand building isn’t really that hard to do, but it takes commitment, time, strategic discipline, message clarity and multi-channel integration. After practicing public relations and strategic integrated communications for nearly 40 years, I often find that Mark Twain got it right when he said, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

In today’s world, I believe you can insert “blog post” or “email” or “speech” where Twain said “letter.” It is in that spirit I share three simple yet profound quotes that, at their core, are the three fundamental elements of brand building.

“Do good, and get caught.”

We all know what happens when we do bad… We tend to get caught. How can you always get “caught” doing the right thing? There’s an art to it, and a fine line to never cross. “Oh, well, the ONLY reason ABC did that was to win points.” Avoid that by being authentic. Truly help people without an expectation of a direct payback. Be genuine about your passion to help repair the world, an organization or a person.

We all know the phrase, “Your reputation precedes you.” We visit an organization’s website and conduct a search before we meet in-person. Your LinkedIn profile is often a top search result when you Google your own name. If you’re a good person, your authentic reputation works for you. And if you’re a bad person, you not only need to leave town, you probably need to leave the planet. We live in a small, interconnected world today.

Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Do the right thing, authentically and for the right reasons. And get caught. ;)

“You can’t build your reputation on what you’re going to do.”

This is the only quote I have posted in my office. It reminds me — every day — that what we do TODAY makes TOMORROW happen. It’s the cumulative impact of all your deeds that truly define you.

I wish every elected official truly understood that your reputation is formed in your rearview window. Your actions — not your promises — define your reputation.

In America, we “vote” with our feet and our wallets. Not our mouths. So show up. Do something great for all the right reasons. And your reputation will surely follow.

“The best answer is ‘E', all of the above.”

I’m often asked, “So, should we advertise, get publicity, incorporate the info into an upcoming speech, send an email, post via social networks, or simply make targeted phone calls?”

The best answer, is almost always, “’E’, all of the above.” It’s not about you or me. It’s about how people want to get information in today’s world. Pew Research regularly provides updates on the fast changes underway in how people acquire information. Just think about today’s evening newscast. Some people watch it live when it’s broadcast. Some record it to watch later. Still, others go to the station’s website to see the story. And other people only see it if someone in their social network flags it for them.

Here’s another way to think of this: Sally reads the daily paper when it’s delivered to her driveway. Jimmy reads it online. Amanda sees the social link and clicks through. And Peter hears the excerpt on the local NPR station.

When determining which media “channels” to use to disseminate your story, you’ll miss part of your audience if you don’t use them all. Remember, it’s all about “recipient-oriented communications” which essentially mandates it’s what they need to hear, not what you want to say.

My parting advice for this post is what we often refer to as the “Hippocratic Oath” of marketing: Do no harm to the brand. As long as you work every day to do the right thing as you build and strengthen your brand, you will be successful over time.

Onward and upward!!!

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1 Comment Posted on by Eric Morgenstern

Tips To Stay Healthy While Traveling

Posted in Best Practices, Morningstar Communications Updates, Suchitra's Posts, Tips and Tricks

Whether you are traveling for business or leisure, it's a constant challenge trying to keep up with one's resolutions to eat healthy and stick to diet and exercise plans.

Below are some easy-to-follow tips that will help you stay on track while on the go:

1. Pack your own food for that air or road trip. This will not only save you money (can you believe the price on a bag of chips sold on airlines these days?), but saves you from consuming empty calories too. Protein bars, nuts and sliced apples are great items to snack on.

2. Carry a refillable water bottle. It's important to stay hydrated, especially while on an airplane where the air is so dry. Water helps your skin feel soft and refreshed, too. Of course, stick with bottled water if you are traveling abroad.

3. Avoid fast food outlets however tempting they are. They may be quick, easy and cheap, but they are high in fat and calories, which can be difficult to get rid of as well. Choose to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables along with a healthy protein.

4. Choose to sit in an aisle seat if possible. This will allow you to easily get up and move around, stretch and walk up and down the rows. And of course for those umpteen bathroom visits after drinking all that water.

5. Make an effort to be active. Keep your activity levels up all day long. If you are eating more, keep moving.

6. Select which meal of the day you are going to splurge on. If you are planning on having a dinner with your family or a business group during your travels, make sure your breakfast and lunch is lighter on calories. Choose more high-fiber carbs like fruit, veggies and whole grains for these meals.

7. Eat slowly and savor the taste of your meal. Don't just eat to eat. Slow down and taste every bite of your food. This helps your stomach and brain connect and lets you know whether you are still hungry or sated.

8. If you are out meeting colleagues, friends or family on a business trip or a holiday, don't let peer pressure get to you. Just because everyone else ordered dessert or an alcoholic drink does not mean you have to do it too.

9. Moderation is key to everything. It's easy to overindulge while traveling. Eating a little bit of everything you like is much better than eating a whole lot. This way you are satisfying your craving and also staying true to your goals. If you do end up eating a whole dessert plate all by yourself, don't beat yourself up and skip the desserts for the next few days of travel.

Don't panic when those vacation pounds show up on the weighing scale. Once you return from your travels, continue to drink water, and resume your normal eating habits and regular activities. Then you'll realize much of your weight gain will melt away within a few days.

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Comments Off Posted on by Suchitra Kamath

Small Changes Lead To Big Results

Posted in Best Practices, Kelsey's Posts, Morningstar Communications Updates, Tips and Tricks

Take a moment and think back to your greatest accomplishment. How did you do it? How did you succeed? Whether it is running a half marathon or building a successful business, achieving a goal can seem like a daunting task when you first commit.

Long-term achievements do not happen overnight. Earlier this year James Clear, world-known health advocate and entrepreneur, posted an article where he describes how almost every habit we have – both good and bad – is the result of many small decisions over time:

“Most people love to talk about success (and life in general) as an event,” said Clear. “The truth is that most of the significant things in life aren’t stand-alone events, but rather the sum of all the moments when we chose to do things one percent better or one percent worse. Aggregating these marginal gains makes a difference.”

While forming a routine that produces good habits can be easy, it is just as easy to fall into a routine that creates bad habits. Although a decision does not seem “bad” at first, as time goes on the gap widens between those who make slightly better decisions on a daily basis and those who don’t.

Think about it this way: Every night before you go to bed you promise yourself you will wake up an hour earlier to go on a run. But, when your alarm clock goes off, you hit the snooze button and go back to bed. Every now and then taking one day off to catch up on sleep will not make a huge difference, but by repeating this behavior over time, you will continue to slip while others improve.

You can learn a lot from Clear’s philosophy. Here are three valuable lessons to help fulfill your ambitions both at home and at work:

  • Don’t overlook the power of small wins and slow gains.
  • Making minor improvements isn’t always noticeable at first, but over time it adds up and can be just as meaningful.
  • Slipping up on a positive habit every now and then is okay as long as you don’t allow simple errors to snowball out of control.

I am a very motivated person and I take pride in accomplishing my personal goals. It is difficult to understand that success does not happen instantly, but once you finally succeed and look back on your journey, you realize all the challenges you faced seem insignificant compared to the victory.

What small improvements will you make to achieve your goals?

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Comments Off Posted on by Kelsey Wolf
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