Yes, I’m a “word nerd.” Everywhere I go, I look at the words. Specific words. Oh, and the strategies behind the words. I can’t help myself.
I run with a crowd who often share this affliction.
People like me edit menus…assess signage….and look into descriptions to see the inner messaging. While this condition has its challenges, I vastly prefer this to having been a carpet expert, where everywhere I went I would look straight down and say something like, “Wow….take a look at that 22-pound, double-tuft weave, poly/wool blend!”
I owe a lot of this imprinting to John Bremner, one of my very favorite professors at The University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Today, the “Bremner Editing Center” serves as an ever present reminder of his passion for helping others develop their own writing and editing skills.
From John Bremner’s book, HTK (Head To Come — instructions to the copy editor to summarize the story headline in just a few words), I gained immense appreciation for the utmost importance of individual word selection to convey specific information and tone.
However, we all know that all good things can be taken to an extreme. I had a boss once who used to edit my drafts and would tell me “here’s a ‘happy’ to ‘glad’ change.” They were never material changes. He felt it was important to put his fingerprints on it.
C’mon, now. If “happy” works, let it be. Change for change sake is unproductive. But additional word specificity is golden.
Knowing what words to change — and what to leave alone — is often the key question.
Determining whether or not a person was “involved” in the incident or “aware” of the incident drastically changes the entire meaning.
Word specificity comes into play when we define that ubiquitous word, “brand.” We focus on the strategy and the words. Sure, “look and feel” matter a lot, but its not the closer. Early in my career for nearly five years I served as Manager of Public Information at Hallmark Cards (still a client, still an amazing company filled with terrific, bright people). I learned (from a gazillion dollars of consumer research) that all of us pick up a card because of how it looks, and either buy it or put it back because of what it says.
It’s all about the exact, specific words. Precise and purposeful. Exactly the right word.
specific precise particular intentional with your word choice. Every. Single. Time.
Mark Twain once said, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.” In today’s world, I’m sure he would have included blog posts, emails and reports.
All writing is not created equal. Focus on just the right words, and you’ll move people to the change in behavior or attitude that you seek.
Onward and upward.Tagged Eric Morgenstern, John Bremner, Morningstar Communications
A few weeks ago I read an article on Mashable that discussed a segment on Jimmy Kimmel in which he discussed The Affordable Care Act and Obamacare with random Americans. The participants voiced strong opinions and preferences on both plans, unaware that they are the same thing.
At the time, I didn’t really give it a second thought. It was funny, that’s about it.
However, as time passed I began to think about how the labels we give things impacts not only how people perceive things, but how we treat them. As much as people like to think they are unaffected by the vernacular we use, it’s not the case.
A term that gets thrown around with regularity is “pitch.” I’ve never been a huge fan of this word because it has a sales-y feel to it. Sales people actually train their staff to not use the term pitch because of this. So why do we still use it?
By taking time to think about how we refer to things, we have an impact on our approach to it. The majority of the time when we are sending said pitches, we are actually engaging in conversations about possible story ideas. Other times we are offering resources to journalists. How would your tone change if you were focused on creating a dialogue as opposed to simply selling an idea?
Our desire shouldn’t be to simply change a term for the sake of change. The words we use influence not just the public’s perception of what is being done, but the manner in which they are done. Don’t just change how you talk, change how you think.
Turkey Tip: In honor of Thanksgiving I’m including a quick tip on turkey related cooking. Most everyone brines his or her turkey, but did you know that you can over-brine the bird? Two ways to avoid this, limit your brine-time to 4 hours, or use a dry brine. Also, if you are going to brine the turkey, add some flavor as well. My favorites are brown sugar and cloves or Cajun seasoning.Tagged Brian Van Note, Morningstar Communications
My husband and I closed on our new house last week. After several years of talk and a full year of active real estate shopping, we finally found “the one.” As we now work tenaciously to make it our own, I’m struck by the similarities between this project and the strategic communications programs I work on for new clients. Sounds like a long shot from the surface, I know, but as I was cutting in the walls last night so we could get up that first coat of paint, the pieces fell together.
Typically when we start working with a new client, there is a pent-up need for marketing and communications. Businesses turn to us when they have an opportunity or challenge, and our team is eager to help. As is the case with our new home, there are many ideas and projects bubbling on the surface. It’s natural to want to move full-steam ahead into execution when the paperwork is finally signed. But I’ve found in my work and home life that having a plan, and a little patience (which is truly the hardest thing!), pays off greatly in the end.
Morningstar Communications Future Visioning™ process is one of the best ways I’ve found to steer this initial communications plan. It guides where we’re going and what goals we will accomplish. At the end of the five-step process we have a comprehensive integrated marketing and communications program to serve as our playbook. While we haven’t gone into that detail on the house, having an end-in-mind for what the house will look and feel like when we move in has gone a long way in smoothing the decision making process. By understanding what changes will have the most impact while considering our timeline and budget, we’re on the path for a successful project. However, even with a plan in place, I still want to see action and so do our clients.
To satisfy the urge to get started and see results, we always look for quick wins. What low-hanging fruit can quickly and easily make an impact? In the house, we changed out a chandelier above the kitchen island. What a difference one light can make. For clients, there may be an upcoming presentation for which we can provide coaching, or a new product launch where media relations is appropriate. The key is finding those seemingly small wins that make big impacts as they propel us toward our end-goal.
The first three days in the house were all about laying the foundation for a great end result. We spent our time cleaning baseboards, patching walls and selecting materials. Foundational work is often tedious and can take some heavy lifting, but on the surface it doesn’t always look like much got done. However, this work is critical to the success of the project. Likewise, in a client engagement we first work to lay the foundation. We build media lists, create key messages, develop processes for reporting, etc., so that when it comes time to execute the building blocks are all in place. From there projects start rolling and results become visible.
I love working with our new and established clients to help them grow. This house is equally addicting. I’m looking forward to seeing great results both at home and at work in the days, weeks and years ahead.Tagged Future Visioning, Integrated Marketing Communications, Morningstar Communications, Tricia McKim
I had knee surgery a few weeks ago and have been bemoaning the fact I’m on crutches for six weeks. Not exactly my style to go slow and be forced into asking for help. I’m forever thankful to my family, colleagues and friends for their extra kindness, tremendous help, and willingness to listen to me complain. I even got a little lift from a company I never heard of before.
Of course, I couldn’t go through six weeks on plain, gray crutches. One of the first things I did was Google search “crutch accessories.” That’s when I found CastCoverz. I immediately ordered crutch pads and a handy crutch pocket for carrying things — all in a very fashionable zebra stripe pattern. My customer experience was seamless from the start. The simple website, host of options and easy ordering were great. The guarantee to receive my crutch bling within two business days? Even better.
And my experience continued to improve. I received countless compliments on my cool crutches, sparking some fun conversations with friends, other patients and medical providers I’ve seen, and even complete strangers. Way more fun than weeks of pitying looks!
Because of this lasting, engaging customer experience CastCoverz delivered, I’m a true advocate. The company provided me with an incredibly positive, emotional experience when I needed it. Just the kind of enriching experience our client, Hallmark Business Connections believes will help businesses succeed over the long term.
Have you ever had a customer experience you’d rave about? What kicked it over the top for you?Tagged customer engagement, Morningstar Communications, Sheri Johnson
Successful PR and communications professionals establish solid relationships with key media to secure coverage for their clients. Relationship-building involves courtesy first and foremost, with good manners being the most immediate ways to be gracious.
When someone does something positive for us, it’s often human instinct to say “thank you.” So, when reporters take time out of their hectic schedules to learn more about your clients and cover their stories, you’re naturally grateful. Your first inclination is to thank them. However, be aware that there are right ways and wrong ways to thank reporters:
Don’t give them the impression they did you a giant favor. Reporters build their rapport by breaking news and providing readers/viewers/listeners with topics and happenings that matter to them. Public relations professionals and journalists mutually benefit one another. Maintain credibility and evenly thank them for attending your event, then follow up once the story breaks.
Write a short and sweet note. Tell them you appreciate them taking the time to attend your client’s event and offer an extra hand in case they need more information for their story. Compliment them on their reporting. It might be that they’re in-depth, quick, candid, accurate, objective… Be sincere and mean what you say.
It’s okay to offer your client’s expertise for their future stories should they need it, but do NOT pitch another story in the note. Do NOT ask for clips in the thank you note either.
And remember, hand-written notes are always the most meaningful.Tagged Hannah Babcock, Media Relations, Morningstar Communications
If you regularly read our blog, you are probably aware of the Lucky 7 Challenge my teammates and I have accepted and embarked upon. The challenge officially began on September 30 and is now in its seventh week of the seven-month duration.
Associates encourage each other to maintain enthusiasm and determination to achieve 10,000 steps per day, and even make it fun, but there are times away from the office we need that extra motivation. Here are seven tips to help you jumpstart and uphold your wellness journey long-term.
1. Set Mini Goals: Long-term goals are overwhelming. It’s hard to maintain motivation for a single goal for such a long time. By breaking it down into smaller goals along the way, we are not setting ourselves up for failure.
2. Make it Fun: Walking doesn’t have to be boring. Listen to music with an upbeat tempo. Try rhythm walking. (See how Eric does it here.) If you don’t like your current walking routine, change it to make it more exciting.
3. Set Reminders: Use a fitness app, your calendar or your smartphone to make your remember to get up and move. Take a brief walk around your home or your office every hour.
4. Up the Intensity: By increasing intensity, you can maximize walking and burn calories. To increase calorie burn, you can use weights that strap around your ankles or wrists, for example.
5. Don’t Take Too Many Off-Days: Never skip more than two days in a row. It’s as easy as that to fall into the routine of getting lazy. Just get up and get on the move again.
6. Find Your Rhythm: The characteristic of being a morning person or a night owl can significantly influence our exercise routines. Some people understand if they don’t do their walking in the morning, it will never happen. Then there are others who need that walk in the evenings to de-stress before bed time after a long day at work. Understand your personality in order to work out a time that’s best for you. Maybe you’re not lacking motivation – just timing.
7. Think About the Benefits: Thinking about how hard something is often creates a monster and unnecessary fears. Instead of thinking about that, think about what benefits you will be reaping because of that one decision you took to take control of your health. The benefits will help re-energize you.
What about you? What are your tricks for keeping yourself motivated?Tagged Fitness, Morningstar Communications, Suchitra Kamath
We are all guilty of sending an email and only after we hit the “send” button have we realized a careless mistake.
I recently read an article, “7 Email Faux Pas That Make You Look Totally Unprofessional,” that sheds light on email etiquette. Here are few of my key takeaways to save you from embarrassment:
Spell check, Spell check, Spell check
Using this tool to avoid careless typos takes two seconds and will save you from looking unprofessional. Remember, spell check doesn’t catch every last error, so it may be beneficial to ask a co-worker to glance over your email prior to sending.
Keep your emotions in check
Don’t scatter smiley faces and exclamation points all over the place. In your attempt to be nice, avoid overkill. The article says it best: “Consider selecting one sentence with which to use exclamation points.”
Double-check your recipient
The last thing you need is an email getting into the hands of someone it wasn’t intended for. Again, this takes very little time and will save you from having to exercise damage control.
What email faux pas stand out to you?Tagged Caitlin O'Malley, email, email errors, Email etiquette, email mistakes, Morningstar Communications
The year is quickly coming to an end and 2014 planning is well underway for many PR and marketing professionals. WebDAM created an infographic, which contains 20 key trend predictions for marketers and PR pros to be on the lookout for next year. It comes as no surprise that digital marketing campaigns and tactics will continue to increase in 2014, but what are some less obvious trends?
Check out all 20 key trends predicted for 2014 on the infographic below. What key trends would you add to the list?Tagged 2014 Marketing Trends, Laura Jung, Morningstar Communications
On October 30, 2013, I attended the 2013 Manufacturing Summit: The Future of American Manufacturing, held by the KC Chamber in conjunction with presenting sponsor RubinBrown and sponsors Bank of Kansas City, Arvest Bank and KC Business Magazine. Here, I learned about a modern day crisis: “a crisis of leadership,” according to keynote speaker Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Companies, Inc.
According to Bob, more than 130 million people in our workforce or 7 out of 8 people go home everyday feeling they work for a company who doesn’t care about them. These people are our mothers, fathers, children, sisters, etc. These are precious people, Bob reminded us. As a workforce, instead of people, we’ve shifted our focus to products and objects; shareholder value and profits result in our success.
In a room full of focused business minds in a capitalist economy, Bob tied manufacturing and the essential lean principals into the importance of people-centric leadership. Not everyone intuitively connects these dots. Bob was quick to note this, starting his keynote saying as a country, “We’ve embraced process, but failed to embrace the human dimension.” Though Bob tied this specific statement into a result of the Industrial Revolution, it’s easy to name a series of companies and industries that have also fallen into this same trap, making the statement relevant to all of us. So, if we’ve all lost the focus on people and lean processes work in manufacturing, what does it mean for other industries?
Hearts and Minds… Not Just Hands
Bob said, “Lean calls us to listen. Listen to your people and they will tell you what they want and they will leave satisfied. This is a concept of allowing people to share their thoughts and feelings with you.” He reiterated that as a business, the focus should be people, purpose and performance,” in that exact order. “We can pay people fairly, treat people superbly and compete globally.” What a concept: companies can be successful by taking the time to listen to their employees.
Bob reiterated that we are paying people just for their work. “They would have given us their heads and hearts for free – but we didn’t’ know how to ask for them… we only asked for their hands.”
His words reminded me of a saying that has become part of the Morningstar Communications’ culture, “Do everything expected, and then 10 percent more.” Across multiple industries, if we’re doing only what is expected at the current status quo, what do we miss out on by ignoring the additional 10 percent? Is this where we lost the personal factors, the human interaction and listening? Is the status quo hindering us?
According to Bob, our current reality of broken families, broken relationships and broken lives is a result of sending our workers home each day with a sense that they work for an organization that doesn’t care about them. But we can be successful still – the answer to this crisis is success through our people. Our goal should be to create an environment where everybody matters. We have the power to do this, if we make the decision to engage our heads and our hearts in the leadership process that validates the worth of every individual then we can start creating a world where everybody matters.
This isn’t just a good approach; it’s also good business. If you aren’t connecting with the people, are you really reaching all of your employees?
Tagged 2013 Manufacturing Summit, Culture, Employees, Morningstar Communications, People-centric leadership, relationships, Susan's posts
“Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point-of-view.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
This statement has become a cornerstone of our approach to strategic integrated communications. Philosophers, theologians, and deep thinkers often believe there are absolute truths. I’m not so certain.
Over the years I’ve learned that the ”truth” often depends on your point-of-view. This is why Morningstar Communications is so insistent on creating customized recipient-oriented communications for our clients.
It comes down to one very simple fact: It’s not what you want to say. It’s what they need to hear. Always.
In most things in life, the idea that one-size fits all is rarely true. We all know this intuitively. One area this is painstakingly true is communications. If you’re talking about the ABC thing, how an employee, a customer, or an investor sees that same thing will color their unique point-of-view.
As you can see, what’s viewed as good news to some may be viewed as bad news by others. So, that ABC thing always remains the very same thing… or does it?
The key to crafting solid communications is really this simple: identify the best way for the recipient to receive the information, not the best way to send it.
It’s football season and my KC Chiefs are off to an amazing start. So, it’s time for a gridiron analogy: Are your communication passes complete or incomplete?
The best way to assess the effectiveness of your communications: did the recipient catch the message. Your message was received or it wasn’t – incomplete or complete, the prettiness of the pass really doesn’t matter. Customize your communications based on the receiver / recipients EVERY SINGLE TIME.
Whether you believe in the force or not, Obi-Wan is spot on regarding recipient-oriented communications. Embrace this concept or accept that a lot of your passes will fall incomplete.
Onward and upward. Oh, and may the force be with you.Tagged best practices, Eric Morgenstern, Morningstar Communications, recipient-oriented messages