Category Archives: due diligence

What my dog’s taught me about business

Mika Chillin in the parkThis is Mika and she means business! If you’ve kept up with my other posts, you’ve come across this little lady before. She is quite the little showstopper and gets attention wherever she goes.

Mika recently turned 2 ½, which prompted me to reflect on how much she has changed my life for the better – including how she has made me better at my job! She has taught me how to be a better communicator, how to live in the moment and the importance of listening to my gut. Here are some ways that my Mika has schooled me in the art of business:

Communication is in the details

Not much escapes Mika when it comes toSleeping with eyes open humans. She is even known to sleep with her eyes open (which is sort of creepy) to ensure that she doesn’t miss anything. She is always paying close attention to body language and context to assess what our human words really mean.

My husband and I sometimes try to trick her into thinking we’re sad or angry by changing our tone or inflection. She never falls for it, no matter how convincing we think we are. She sees – or hears – right through us by reading the other unspoken cues.

Sometimes in our haste to close a contract, progress a partnership or hire a new staff member, humans can fail to do our own due diligence. Carefully examine those with whom you wish to develop a relationship with and look beyond what they say – even if it is what you want to hear. Pay attention to the tone of their voice (do they sound genuine?), their actions (do they say one thing yet do another?) and their follow-through (do they say they want to be part of the team but never volunteer?). By combining these cues with their words, you’ll get a much clearer picture of their true intentions.

Being present in the moment

Mika does not spend her days dwelling on the past or fretting about the future. She lives her life in the now. She experiences all of life’s tastes and sniffs in the moment.

Mika In GooglesWhen Mika goes to the lake to swim, to the park to play or eats her favorite food (cheese), her enthusiasm never fades. She truly is living in the moment and not taking anything for granted.

When you’re in a meeting, be in the moment. Be attentive and listen and really give your fellow meeting members your full attention. Always aim to pay attention to the moment you are in right now. Be mindful of your actions and understand that the simple act of being present will impact those around you for the better. Do not fill your head with past or future situations. Folks can tell very quickly if you’re really “there” or if you’re just plotting your next step.

Listening to your instincts

 Mika forms opinions and makes decisions based on her “gut.” She is blessed with an intuition that allows her to assess friend or foe in an instant. If Mika doesn’t like another human or dog after a few sniffs, she will follow her instincts and avoid them. If she senses hostility, bad intentions or instability she will let them know that she’s on to them.

Even with her ability to make split-second judgments, Mika is extremely well-balanced and friendly. She amazes me when she stands up for her other doggy friends if she senses that another dog has inappropriate intentions. She has a keen instinct for right and wrong and has been taught not to ignore that sense.

Animals have to rely on their gut instincts to stay alive. As humans, we sometimes try to block out our own gut feelings. We have all had that feeling of an employee that is not giving their job all that they could, yet we continue to make excuses for them hoping that they will eventually make a turn for the better. Or maybe you get a bad feeling about a prospect during the sales process but ignore it, just to have those issues amplified once they become a client. If you had listened to that gut instinct sooner rather thanMika nose later you can end up saving yourself a lot of grief down the road.

What animal instincts do you incorporate into your business practices? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

 

How to get the best work from your agency

Balance

Getting the best work from your agency and promotional efforts requires trust and time. Both sides need to communicate needs and goals and understand the give and take that is required to make a business partnership thrive. It’s a bit of a tightrope act — much like Nik Wallenda’s this past weekend — but successful public relations campaigns depend on it.

Here are some tips to help you get great work from your agency consistently:

  1. Discuss expectations openly and honestly. There are rarely any guarantees in public relations, because agencies rely heavily on the editorial decisions of journalists, editors and their staffs. Earned media coverage is a continuous process, where sometimes you win coverage and other times, you learn lessons for the next round of execution. Let your agency know what your goals are and what you would consider to be a successful outcome for each project. At that point, have an open conversation about whether or not it can be done in the allotted time and if you could measure success in a different way.
  1. Set realistic goals. Whether you’re planning an event or pitching a story, it’s important to remember that other news may push your story to the back burner. Was there a big election in town? Did the weather affect a large festival? Things that are outside your control may take the spotlight. When this happens, keep your eye on the big picture. Some campaigns will do better than others, but your long-term promotional efforts will pay off.
  1. Stay in the know. You may not have worked with an agency before and don’t know what happens behind the scenes. Go over the plan step by step to better understand when to expect calls from editors and understand how long the pitching process can take. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. A great way to stay informed is to ask for weekly progress reports. Ask your agency for a detailed accounting of their activities and responses from journalists and editors. The more you communicate your brand to prospects and clients, the better your chances of success. With so many moving parts, it’s important to stay informed so that you can learn from past experiences and prepare for future successes.

How do you define a successful PR campaign? Let us know in the comments below.

What happens when spell-check can’t help (and what to do about it)

bear

Building relationships and trust with prospects and clients requires a jaw-dropping amount of work. Once you’ve established your organization as a credible, reliable and legitimate source of information, don’t jeopardize your efforts with embarrassing spelling errors.

Quality writing isn’t just for style junkies. If I were trying to earn your business and sent you marketing email with grammatical mistakes, would you hire me? Imagine the message that would send to your audience. If you’re not minding the details, why would they plunk down six figures for your new product?

Read more…

Home sweet home or home sweet hell?

home sweet homeNothing says “charming” like a 1950s pink bathtub, a harvest gold toilet and moldy shower tiles. The owner of this apartment – one of the many places I looked at recently – had a different take on the word than most people. He also advertised an “organic garden” that, in reality, was a cracked concrete lot decorated with two dying plants.

So began my hunt for home sweet home.

Finding a place to live that is clean, safe and affordable and doesn’t look like it was designed during Lincoln’s presidency is a tall order. The rental market is sizzling hot, which means landlords are charging premium prices for shoeboxes and crumbling infrastructure. At the same time, competition is stiff for limited inventory, so decent places go fast.

Here’s a quick tour for the uninitiated:

It takes big bucks to get knobs on the kitchen cabinets: “Naked” kitchen cabinets must be cheaper than ones that come with knobs or handles. It’s the only reason I can come up with why so many landlords don’t provide a way for people to open the doors. It’s OK to look at the cabinets – just don’t expect to use them.

Photos are a poor substitute for the real thing: It’s amazing how the right camera angle or lighting trick can make a flophouse look like a palace. Be especially wary of advertised apartments that feature only one or two photos. Chances are the “missing” rooms are AWOL for a reason.

“Modern” décor can include fake wood paneling from the last U.S. bicentennial, green shag carpeting and full-length wall mirrors: Look at the bright side: You’ll save a ton on groceries because you’ll be looking at yourself all the time and thinking about how you could stand to lose 10 pounds. As a bonus, you won’t drive your significant other crazy asking questions like, “Do these jeans make me look fat?”

“Courtyard Flats” isn’t an old-school hotel. It’s an apartment complex: Highlights include a low-rise building where tenants live neck and neck, no landscaping, a scary-looking rusted sign and a weed-choked parking lot. Run. Away. Fast. Next, take a friend’s advice and move to “Whispering Hills, “Le Jardin” or “The Hamptons by the Seaside.”

“Cozy,” “quaint,” “charming” and “newer” are code words: Translated, they mean “claustrophobic,” “lacking any redeeming qualities,” “overpriced” and “last updated in the Stone Age.” The more adjectives owners use, the more skeptical you should be – that is, unless you really want your sofa to double as a bed, storage unit, cupboard and desk.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is: Beware below-average prices, especially in combination with above-average features. The tight rental market means there are no deals or steals. You’ll either have to suck it up and pay big time for a roof over your head or share a closet with a guy who resembles Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Have you looked for a condo, town house or apartment recently? Did you find your dream home? Let us know in the comments below.

No-nonsense tips for running effective conference calls

TelephoneI am more comfortable having face-to-face meetings. I love the visual clues that you gain from body language. The furrow in someone’s brow or a tilted head of engagement can tell you whether you are falling flat or hitting a home run. In today’s busy world, however, face-to-face meetings aren’t always feasible. Conference calls are a cost-effective, time-saving alternative for bringing people together.

As I know from my own experiences, being the lead on conference calls can be nerve-wracking, particularly when you are new to the game. Inevitably, there will be uncomfortable moments that can run the gamut from awkward silences to people speaking over one another. Here are some tips to help you manage these issues like a pro and make your conference calls go smoothly:

  • Know who will be on the call. Make a list of all participants and their companies. Jot down some quick background notes about them so that you’ll know each person’s role for the call.
  • Prepare an agenda. In my opinion, the No. 1 way to stay on track during the call and avoid awkward silences is to have an agenda. Be sure to send the agenda to all meeting attendees before the call. A simple agenda will do wonders to help you keep the call on track and make sure that you touch on everything you need to cover. Some great basic agenda items include introductions, general roles of attendees, objectives, questions and next steps.
  • Prepare for small talk. Usually, someone will be late. While you’re waiting, put everyone at ease by making small talk. If you’re not able to do this on the fly, make a list of  neutral subjects you can rely on before the call.
  • Direct the call. For example, ask participants to introduce themselves one at a time, so you can avoid people talking over one another. If the participants stray from the agenda, gently steer them back on track.
  • Take detailed notes. Having notes to refer to during and after the call will show that you are an active listener.
  • Summarize next steps and set deadlines. At the end of the call, discuss the next steps. Recap any action items for participants and include deadlines while you’re still on the phone with them.
  • Write a call summary and send it to the participants. Be sure to include a list of action items. This document will be a record of the conversation and will come in handy if you need to clarify anything later. When sending the recap, ask that everyone review it and notify you if you missed anything or if they have changes.
  • Take action after the call. After the call,it’s important to follow through on all the action items that are assigned to you and meet your deadlines.

What makes your conference calls go smoothly? Share your experiences in the comments below.

How PR has recently changed and how to adjust

cell phoneOver the holiday weekend, I found myself relaxing on the beach with a few good friends. At one point, I looked over at a few of them, and they were checking their social media channels. It made me think about how far public relations and the news media have come in the last few years.

Today, everyone from teens to senior citizens can post information online and it becomes accessible to millions of people. Now, almost anyone can be a reporter and post news and photos of the latest happenings.

Traditional PR isn’t dead, however. Given the current environment, PR practitioners should keep the following in mind:

1. Building a community of ambassadors around your brand will still take you far. These days, everyone stays glued to their phones because people enjoy sharing information and producing the information that gets shared. Give your audience something they want to share and are passionate about.

2. Be a thought leader. Whether you’re publishing white papers and blogs or staying up on trends and sharing them with your audience, do an outstanding job consistently so that you build and maintain an audience. The media tends to publicize companies that have a large following, because more people are attracted to their stories. In turn, you will develop new media relationships and more sources for your portfolio.

How have you adjusted your PR strategies in these social times? Let us know in the comments below.

How to turn mediocre copy into tantalizing content

OK handWe’ve all been there.

You write the best blog post, ad, white paper, story or (fill in the blank) ever. And then someone dumps all over it. The red sea of edits and corrections makes you wonder what went wrong.

The thrill is gone.

But you can bring it back. Here’s how …

Know the five signs of copy drivel and avoid them like the bubonic plague. They’re content killers and they’ll take you down every time.

  1. Long sentences
  2. Wordiness
  3. Jargon
  4. Passive voice
  5. Random capitalization

Let’s explore these in-depth so that you’ll be able to recognize and fix them in your own writing.

#1: Long sentences

The shorter your sentences, the more readable they are. Aim for a maximum of 15 words per sentence, but don’t be obsessive about it. Look for opportunities to cut when you can. This sentence from a daily writing tips blog (for real) screams for hedge clippers:

“Although variety of sentence length occurs naturally, it’s a good idea, when it’s feasible, to recite your writing aloud to ensure that stacks of sentences of repetitively equal or nearly equal length aren’t slipping through.”

Whoa! I dare you to get through that without stopping for a breath.

How to fix it

Short sentences pack a punch. Use them liberally. You can even write one-sentence paragraphs to help readers breeze through your content.

Push yourself to trim your word count. Turn a 100-word e-blast into 50 words and then slash it to 25. If you’re feeling brave, cut another 10 words.

Now, let’s rewrite the tip above:

“Vary sentence length to grab readers’ attention. Read your copy out loud and then rewrite any monotonous sections to spice it up.”

Got it? OK, let’s move to the next sign.

#2: Wordiness

You can’t help yourself.

You fall prey to deadwood like “in order to,” “in need of” and “at the present time.”

Does this look familiar?

“If you’re in need of a refund, please contact the corporate office immediately in order to get your money back. The local branch is closed for repairs at the present time.”

How to fix it

Resist the temptation to use three or more words when one will do. Trim wordy phrases and your readers will thank you.

Use this cheat sheet to get started:

Avoid Replace it with
As a result of Because
At the present time Now
At that point in time Then
At this point in time Now
Due to the fact Because
In close proximity Near
In need of Need
In order to To
In the event that If
Make use of Use
Subsequent to After

Prune as many words from your copy as you can. It becomes easier the more you do it.

Ready for the next one?

#3: Jargon

Your audience expects you to use inflated words, right?

Wrong.

If you use business and industry jargon, you could alienate readers who aren’t familiar with those terms, as well as bloggers, journalists and others whose attention you’re trying to attract. You want your audience to read and act on your message. That won’t happen if they don’t understand it.

Try decoding this banking jargon:

“We must effect a needs assessment of the downturn in commercial lending package applications.”

Huh?

Translation: “We need to find out why no one is applying for loans.”

How to fix it

Impress readers with clear, concise and benefit-driven content – not bloat. Simple words are approachable and meaningful.

For example:

  • Choose “rules” instead of “methodology.”
  • Use “improve” instead of “optimize.”
  • Select “think” – not “conceptualize.”
  • Pick “avoid” rather than “circumvent.”

OK, on to #4.

#4: Passive voice

Fizzle or sizzle? It’s your choice.

Passive voice goes down like a can of pop that sat open on the counter for three days. It’s impersonal and unfriendly, and often produces ambiguous, unsatisfying sentences.

Here’s an example:

“The database contains 1 million veterans’ records and can be easily viewed and searched online.”

The first half of the sentence is fine. The rest doesn’t tell readers who can view and search the database.

Check these out. They’re all in passive voice:

  1. “Mistakes were made when the cars were produced on the assembly line on March 4.”
  2. “It was heard by Susan that a companywide audit was scheduled.”
  3. “Pat’s new car was driven too fast and the fender was scratched.”

How to fix it

Rewrite your copy in active voice. It’s easy: Determine who or what performs the action and use that as the subject of the sentence.

Now, let’s try those again:

  1. “The welders made mistakes when they produced the cars on the assembly line on March 4.”
  2. “Susan heard that the CFO scheduled a companywide audit.”
  3. “Pat’s son, Blake, drove the car too fast and scratched the fender.”

Last but not least …

#5: Random capitalization

“Hi, my NAME is [fill in the blank] and I have an overwhelming Compulsion to capitalize RANDOM words in my copy. Even Worse, I do it inconsistently. I Need HELP.”

Here’s the thing: Capitalization within a sentence implies a proper name, such as Anita Job or Acme Widget Co.

It confuses readers when you capitalize words or letters at will, such as “our Financial expertise,” and “I TRUST that you have Integrity.”

TRUST me – random capitalization doesn’t make a word inherently important.

How to fix it

If you want to emphasize a word or phrase, use bold text or italics, but don’t go overboard. Emphasize too much and you’ll diminish your point. Better yet, use plain text. It promotes readability and comprehension.

Take this example – it’s jarring to your audience:

“I’m happy to report that we’ve made excellent progress in reducing our PRICING MISHAPS, SHIPPING ERRORS AND BAD DEBT.”

Capitalizing these words is unnecessary and is the equivalent of SHOUTING AT YOUR READERS.

You’ve got this

The first step to turning ordinary copy into irresistible content is to apply these five fixes to your own work. It might take some practice, but everything worth doing requires a commitment. If this list intimidates you, master one or two and then work your way through the rest one at a time.

You can do it!

Do you have tips of your own for making middling copy magical? Let us know in the comments below.

How to take charge of a public relations crisis using social media

focusBusinesses that experience a public relations crisis often turn to social media to help them manage messaging around the crisis. The companies that do it well follow a carefully considered PR crisis plan. In contrast, those that are unprepared could face a difficult time maintaining their brands’ reputation.

Here are three tips to help your organization survive a community or reputational crisis using social media:

  1. Do your homework. Investigate the situation and get all the facts before responding online, but act quickly. It’s best to respond within 24 hours of a crisis, even if it’s only to say that you’re aware of the situation and will provide updates as soon as you get more information.
  2. Be honest. It’s never a good idea to be misleading, but you don’t have to fall on your sword, either. Be upfront while keeping in mind that situations often change. Always leave room for the unexpected.
  3. Keep it professional. When responding to questions and comments, don’t argue or debate with posters. If possible, turn a negative into a positive. For example, you may want to thank a poster for bringing the situation to light and then talk about how you plan to make it right. Make sure your response is thoughtful and not defensive.

If you don’t have a PR crisis plan, start working on one now. At a minimum, you should know who will be responsible for monitoring and responding to social media comments when things go wrong. Make it clear who needs to be notified and who has the final decision about what gets posted.

Have you changed the course of a potential PR disaster using social media? How did you turn a negative into a positive? Let us know in the comments below.

Short on cash? Cutting marketing will cost more than you think

LemonsWhen business is slow, everyone in the organization feels it — from the owner to the employees. Morale can go down the toilet and productivity often follows. The typical knee-jerk reaction is to halt discretionary spending, including marketing. Big mistake.

This shortsighted view will cost you a lot more over the long haul than you’ll save when marketing ends up on the cutting-room floor. Here’s why: Your competitors will continue promoting their companies, improving their market share and profits. Meanwhile, your business will fade into the background. How long do you think it would take to rebuild the momentum you had during good economic times? Are you willing to gamble on that?

Knowing what you should do doesn’t change the fact that your company is still struggling, so it’s time to get creative. Rather than eliminate your marketing budget, think about how you can leverage what you have. Consider these strategies:

  • Cross-sell your products and services to current customers.
  • Ask current customers for referrals. Referrals are an inexpensive way to generate leads.
  • Continue providing exceptional customer service. Above all, don’t sacrifice good service in bad times.
  • Involve all your employees in marketing. For example, encourage the sales team to add prospects to your mailing list.
  • Brainstorm ideas for repurposing previous marketing initiatives, such as ads, e-blasts, postcards and newsletters.

Rather than sacrifice marketing completely when business isn’t at its best, invent new ways to stay top of mind for prospects and customers — without breaking the bank.

How do you promote your company when sales are lagging? Let us know in the comments below.

Ad analytics: What you need to know

question-markMany online publications have ad space for sale. If you do it right, advertising in a popular publication can be a great opportunity to increase your business.

Before buying ad space, be sure to ask the publication the following questions:

  1. How many subscribers do you have?
  2. On average, how many people open the email?
  3. How did ads in that position perform in the past?
  4. If people click on my ad, will you provide their email addresses and/or other contact information?

Use this information to decide if the publication is right for you. For example, if you find out the pub in question has only 32 subscribers, you may want to look elsewhere.

After you purchase a spot and run an ad, it’s important to know if your ad is working effectively. To do this, the publication should provide you with accurate, reliable analytics. Be sure that you receive the following:

  1. How many people opened the email?
  2. How many people viewed your ad?
  3. How many total clicks did the ad receive?
  4. How many unique clicks did the ad receive?

These are the numbers you really need to gauge how the ad is doing. For example, if you are receiving a high amount of views, but a low number of clicks, you may want to realign your strategy.

It’s also helpful if the publication reports the best-performing ad, as well as how many clicks that ad received, so that you can gauge how your ad is performing compared to others.

Have you advertised in online publications? If so, what was your experience? Let us know in the comments below.