The Pretenders

February 15, 2016

Isn’t it interesting how many terms once only used and understood by marketing professionals have made their way into mainstream language? One of those decidedly ubiquitous terms is “branding”. Everyone is talking branding. What is your brand? How to market your brand. Branding your company.  On one hand, I think it’s great that companies pay more attention to branding and recognize its importance. This is a concept for which I fought many years in different companies. However, once new terms hit the daily lexicon, pretenders and charlatans follow. Everyone thinks they understand branding, but do they?


Think about SEO and SEM. Again, many people know those acronyms, but how many know what they stand for and how to actually perform and/or utilize the services. SEO is search engine optimization. SEM is search engine marketing. The two processes are similar in some aspects but do refer to different processes and results.

“SEO or SEM”

I can tell almost immediately when someone with whom I’m talking is throwing out these terms (and others) with no clue as to what they really mean. It’s easy to talk a good game, so companies hiring marketers often need to pass by numerous charlatans and pretenders before finding a true professional. My advice? Look at past results. Ask specific questions:

What is my brand?

How will you determine and develop my brand?

What’s the difference between SEO and SEM?

What results have you had?

Unfortunately, the pretenders can give marketers a bad name. A company will hire someone with high hopes for greater visibility and increased business but then get no results because they’ve hired a pretender. Good marketers will get you results. Those results cannot be attained on demand and they may take a different form than you had originally envisioned, but professional marketing executives will help you meet your company goals and improve your bottom line.  They know how.




Public Speaking: 6 Simple Tips for Success

October 1, 2011

A number of years ago, I was in a Board of Directors meeting when my boss unexpectedly called on me to report on the communications department. I had nothing prepared. Nevertheless, I stood and gave an update. After the meeting, my boss explained: “You always get nervous before presentations. I was confident you knew this information thoroughly, so I took a chance that you’d do better improvising. You wouldn’t have time to get nervous.” He was right.

I’m not recommending this approach for anyone, but it did teach me a good lesson, and I’m rarely nervous now before speeches or presentations. The lesson learned? Tip #1, below.

  1. Know your subject matter. Perhaps you’re already an expert, and that’s why you’re speaking. If you’re not, become an expert. This is a must for feeling and sounding confident.
  2. Know your audience, and prepare appropriately. If you’re speaking on IT, you will give a much different presentation to consumers who barely know how to use e-mail than you would to an audience of programmers.
  3. Write out your presentation. Even if it’s only a ten or fifteen minute speech, write out what you want to say beforehand. How many people have you heard speak where every sentence begins with “um” because they have to think about what to say while they’re up there in front of everyone.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. Some people memorize their speeches. Practice enough so that all you need do is glance down at your notes occasionally to stay on track. Memorize most of the speech, but leave enough room to improvise. This will make you look natural.
  5. Be confident. If you’ve followed all the steps above, you’ll come across knowledgeable, interesting, and relaxed.
  6. Enjoy yourself. Look at this as a positive, not a negative. The spotlight is on you, and this is your time to shine.

Message Development — Know Your Audiences

October 28, 2010

Outreach strategies abound, especially given all the social media. To be successful in this economy, or any economy, your messages need to be focused on the audiences you are trying to reach and need to illustrate the critical reason for your existence.

Who are your members? Who are your customers? What do they want? What do they need? What will entice them to look your way initially? What will entice them to keep coming back?

Your members are the people who believe in your mission. If you run the Humane Society, your members are pet owners and pet lovers. If you work on civil rights, your members are those people who: a) have been affected by civil rights issues; b) know someone affected by civil rights issues; or c) have a passion for civil rights. These people are your primary audience.

Secondary audiences include funders, the media, partner groups with like-minded organizations, neighbors, officials and vendors. Internal audiences include your board and your staff.

If you’ve developed a relevant mission about which you are passionate, that is the foundation of all your messaging.

I’m a big believer in cutlines, aka slogans. Develop a short one-sentence slogan and include it in all your correspondence and message materials. For example: “Curing polio, one child at a time.” This is a part of branding your organization. When this slogan is on all your materials, your audiences know at one glance what you’re all about. They can also decide quickly if they are interested in reading more or being a part of your organization.

Put yourself in the mindset of your members. Why are they members of your organization? Why do they give you money or attend your functions? What do they care about?

Once you determine those answers, address those needs. Provide information on the things in which your members and potential members are interested. If you’re an environmental group, provide legislative updates and information about sites across the country, tell stories about how you are helping to save the environment, stress how your members are helping in this quest. Give them further resources, whether that’s blogs or links or books or other organizations.

Always include a call to action. Potential members as well as members want to know how they can help. Some people will just give money, and that’s fine. Other people will be interested in actually going out to a site to help with the cleanup, or maybe they can help with an event or passing out flyers or simply spreading the word. The more people feel engaged and a part of the cause, the more they will do.

Set up interactions, if possible. Invite people to your offices or to your events. Encourage participation in your blogs. Provide feedback forms. Try and set up a dialogue. Again, you want people to feel engaged.

Become the main information hub on anything and everything to do with your mission.

Junked Up Web Pages: Stop Screaming at Us, All I Want is a Cup of Coffee

August 3, 2010

Look here…and here…and here… and……..

I’ve built three web sites for companies myself, and I’ve written and directed the design of two web sites for other companies. So what is the deal with junked up splash pages everywhere else?

A web site is your 24-hour brochure. It is available for anyone to peruse at any time. It illustrates your company personality. You should be putting on your very best face.

My basic design principles have worked well through the years:

1) The most important element should “pop” out at the viewer. That can be either words or graphics.

2) Too many elements confuse the viewer. The eye won’t be able to settle on just one or two items.

3) Direct the viewer. The one (or two or three) main elements should lead the viewer to their next step.

When you design any type of collateral you need to keep your audience in mind. This used to be easier. You would target your publications and advertisements to one or two audiences. You had different ads in the media aimed at very different audiences. Now, on the internet, companies are putting that basic philosophy aside and attempting to catch the attention of EVERYONE with a single web page. As a result, there are messages for all audiences jumbled up together. This is ineffective in getting your message out. It also frustrates users who come to web sites for a particular piece of information but are bombarded by all kinds of messages and have to be very persistent in finding and retrieving the information for which they are looking.

The new web design philosophy seems to be “cram as much information as you can on your home page with the hope that you will catch the attention of everyone”. This makes me crazy.

I also don’t understand it. The culture today is that internet users looking for information expect immediate gratification; that is, they expect the information for which they are looking to be easily found once arriving on a web site. Instead, what they often find is an onslaught of images and content not of interest, through which they have to dig and search.

The Cyberdesignz blog appears to subscribe to the “simpler” theory. I worked with Mercury on a company web site, and they were very insistent about not having pages that scroll and scroll and scroll. Their web site is not junked up; it’s very user friendly and easy to navigate. You know exactly who they are and what services they offer.

Let’s talk about some of the elements that make up these junked up pages. Flash technology is very useful, but is it really necessary to combine it with streaming news and streaming headlines, multiple pictures and links, not to mention all the different fonts and colors. Just because we have this technology doesn’t mean we have to use it all – and use it all together. Sometimes I feel like I’ve arrived in a new city with restaurants and shops and people everywhere, all of whom are screaming at me to try out their business, when all I really want is a cup of coffee.

It’s not difficult to design your site so it reaches all your audiences without cramming information in everywhere. Use the broad drop down menus effectively; concentrate on your site navigation; design a landing page for each of your target audiences separately; focus your splash page headlines on the 3 or 4 most important items.

Of course, sites can take simplicity to the extreme as well. Keep in mind basic journalistic principles: who, what, when, where and why. The WHY is critical in the information age. Why are you the best? Why should we patronize your business? What are your core competencies?

Not everyone is junking up their web sites. There are some excellent ones out there with very easy to use navigation. Check out line 25 sites of the week. They have some interesting and unusual picks, some of which have excellent designs and illustrate their message well, without 50 headlines screaming at you.

Think about magazine racks. The mainstream publications usually have 4-6 taglines on the cover, while the tabloids have many more screaming headlines. Which do you believe have more credibility?

Building Relationships

July 28, 2010

Social networking. Social media. Online communities. The news is filled with these terms, and conversations with friends and colleagues are sprinkled liberally with references to online activities. Experts abound, with advice on how to navigate this new world, which has become oh-so important.

But what’s it really all about? As a public affairs professional I have heard and read numerous times that this is the new way – we need to obliterate all our old ways of doing things and embrace the new way.

To me, public affairs or public relations or communications is all about relationships, and it always has been. I’ve been a writer for 24 years, and a public affairs manager for 15 of those 24 years. If you want your company in the news or if you want to catch the attention of your customers, you need to build relationships. First I built relationships by phone or in-person; then I added e-mail to that mix; now I’ve added online contacts and groups.

Pubic relations. Media relations. Internal relations. External relations. Customer relations. Constituent relations. The word has always been there loud and clear.

Yes, the internet and its growing applications is new, and we can all use the advice of the experts as we navigate our way around. Newspapers and other print media have had to change the way they do things. Those of us in the communications arena also need to change the way we do some things. But the basics remain. We need to recognize that online applications are simply new vehicles for disseminating our message. It’s still about building relationships with folks who have the capability/the network/the platform to see that our messages reach our target audiences, or better yet building relationships directly with our target audience members.

Cultivating relationships with our target audiences SOUNDS simple, given all the online activities and forums, but it is exactly due to all that activity that messages are lost unless there is a more than tenuous relationship established.

Interesting blogs:

Memorable impressions:

How can we ensure that our message reaches the right audience and…

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