Words we love to hate
Friday, May 24, 2013
Sue Heuman - Principal / Executive Advisor
With every decade – heck, every year – there are those overused, annoying words that everyone loves to hate.
Some are lame business-speak, like ‘leveraging our synergies,’ but others are every day words that are over used, misused and plain ol’ dumb. You know the ones. You silently cringe inside every time you hear them.
The Lake Superior State University produces an annual list of words that should be banished. My contribution to this list would be ‘hipster’ but otherwise, I agree. Here’s LSSU’s list:
- Fiscal cliff
- Kick the can down the road
- Double down
- Job creators/creation
- YOLO (you only live once)
- Spoiler alert
- Bucket list
- Boneless wings
Check out people’s comments on each of these at their website:
What words will YOU banish today?
Posted in: communications
Callin' it like I see it
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Megan Dart - Communications Consultant
Edmontonians are different. They are by-the-boot-straps get ‘er done self-starters. They are grassroots movers and shakers. They achieve amazing results. Ours is a city in which we build, create, and get things done; a city where, every day, Edmontonians make something.
Last month marked the birth of the Make Something Edmonton movement. A grassroots initiative designed to celebrate the beautiful, honest, gritty, even ridiculous projects business people, artists, social entrepreneurs, and builders of all kinds are making, Make Something Edmonton engages Edmontonians in a growing discussion, invites them to stake their claim, and begs the question: What are you making?
Make Something Edmonton is a platform for celebrating Edmonton’s success, a way to tell Edmonton’s story.
Make Something Edmonton, according to its champions, is not, however, a communications campaign.
I’m still considered a bit of youngun’ in the grand scheme of this whole communications game – I don’t quite yet have a decade’s worth of experience under my belt, and I still have buckets to learn before I can call myself a true expert (if that day ever comes), but I have worked on my fair share of successful national, provincial and local campaigns.
If there is one lesson I’ve learned along the way, whether it’s working with a small startup entrepreneurialship, a not for profit arts organization, or a large government body, it’s this: communications is all about telling the story.
Not just a story, but the story.
What makes this business unique? What is this organization making? Why do people need to know about this?
Communications is about getting at the guts of what people do, and how they do it: it’s about unearthing the beautiful, honest, gritty, ridiculous details; it’s about celebrating the how and the what of people’s passions.
The drive behind Make Something Edmonton reminds me of a question the Chair of my Communications program posed in a second year strategic writing course: Why are you telling me this now?
That simple question is one I keep in mind when I sit down to write anything, be it a proposal, a strategic communications plan, web copy, or my new play. Why do I need to tell you about this right now?
I believe in Make Something Edmonton. In fact, I’ve even posted my own project.
I think it’s high time Edmonton stopped being humble and started bragging about the projects, businesses, movements and creations that make our city not just worth living in, but worth celebrating.
And while Make Something Edmonton may not have an obvious communications plan, strategic tactics or measurable outcomes, it is, for all intents and purposes a communications campaign.
And that’s okay.
In fact, it’s more than okay.
Communications campaigns help map the road for you, help you know how you’re going to get there, and even help you know when you’ve arrived
Just callin’ it like I see it.
And I see a great and bright future for Edmonton, full of beautiful, honest, gritty, even ridiculous projects.
So you want to be a consultant?
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Dean Heuman - Principal
I am a consultant and a serial entrepreneur, so what I am about to say is from experience. I get calls from people young and old all the time, primarily people in the communications or journalism fields who want to hang out their shingle. (becoming a consultant.) With an offer of free coffee from the caller (I don't drink coffee, by the way), there is a request to meet to talk about my experiences and advice. I always say yes, I am always truthful, I wish all of them great success, and I stay in touch with a few as a resource.
It dawned on me after more than a few of these meetings that I am being asked to help give my competition a leg up. I started to wonder if this happened in other fields. Did Target call up the Bay and say, "so what are the biggest challenges you face in this market?" Did Home Depot call Rona and ask, "so what mistakes did you make that now seem funny or silly, given what you know?" Would lawyers go a law firm and ask, "what were the steps you took when setting up your business and what would you do differently?" I really don't know whether this happens, but I can make an educated guess.
The thing is, there seems to be lots of work in the field, I don't have all the answers, and there are many clients or situations that would not work for me or for our firm as it is today. But if every firm and experienced consultant is taking as many coffee meetings on the topic as I am, we may be our own worst enemies. I want to help, but if the market is saturated, not only does that mean more people bidding on every project but also the rates that people charge to get the work go down. The last thing we need to do in our business is devalue the hard work, creativity and strategy we bring to clients when good communications strategy, planning and execution has never been more important to businesses, the public sector and non-profit organizations.
So think carefully before throwing up your shingle, although it can be challenging and very rewarding, the hours are long, the vacations are short, it can be lonely, and the health plan is all you. Plus, remember you have do it all --cleaning your own office, doing the work, administrative paperwork, and selling yourself. This life is not for everyone, and that is OK. There are many good organizations that need people inside that can make a huge difference every day.
If in the end you still want to give it a go, and I know many of you do, I'll have a Diet Coke, please. ;-)
Posted in: communications
Learning from Teaching Facebook for Business
Friday, March 22, 2013
Alyssa Nider - Marketing and Visual Media Consultant
This week I had the opportunity to give a training session to a social media rookie. Initially I wasn't sure what her pre-conceptions were or what areas to focus on, but I was pleased to find that it came so naturally to me. Even more surprising are the things I learned while showing her Facebook, and Facebook Pages:
1. The Interface - I hadn't given the design and layout of timelines much thought. When my pupil asked how the boxes are laid out, and why some of them don't move when you post something new, I noticed the small "callout" arrows point to the main line running down the middle. I explained, the ones that have arrows are points in time, but the ones without arrows are static. Static ones are used to highlight friends, likes, etc.
2. Scheduled posts - Maybe I'm behind on the times, but at some point Facebook started to integrate post scheduling, which comes in very handy for businesses that manage their own pages. What was even handier was where we went after I hit the schedule button. Under "Edit Page" there's an Activity Log, this shows not only scheduled posts but a summary of your past posts or activities.
3. Page types - It is important to get this detail right. As per facebook's categories, a local business or place needs a physical street address, while a company, organization or institution does not. This could make the difference for you or your client depending on the nature of their work.
4. When to make it personal - You have the option of opening a separate account for Facebook when you make a page (if you're signed out). This is extremely helpful for individuals who wish to keep their personal Facebook distinct from the page(s) they manage. I've often been bombarded with notifications from my client's pages. It is nice to now have a clearly separate account for those.
5. Insights - I use insights for clients, but I found explaining it to someone else made the meaning behind them click. Knowing your full potential audience is important when you want to grow your Facebook reach, this also is handy knowledge to have when starting Facebook ads for your page. Drilling down to find out what your current demographic is comprised of is also handy when targeting posts or targeting ads to new likes.
Taking the time to look at something you use everyday can bring fresh perspectives! And teaching someone the potential of social media reminds me of why I love my job. Find out more here: http://www.facebook.com/business
Tweet to the Beat of Your Own Drum
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Shelley Bindon - Director of Communications
Social media, you are so cool. Everyone wants to be seen with you. Introverted academics are logging on to Twitter and … tweeting twice a month. Busy communicators are creating Facebook pages and … posting twice a month. Old-school CEOs are adopting official-looking Twitter avatars, only to have their assistants log in and … tweet twice a month.
Sadly, like any other trend (cigarette pants, muscle cars and man bags come to mind), not everyone can pull it off.* Twitter failures, I feel your pain, and I’m going to tell you how to get back on that horse and rejoin the parade.
First, a story. When I was at a newspaper, people followed my Twitter account because I was the supposed sharer of insider knowledge about the car industry. I had 46 followers after only two tweets, and although I had only two tweets for a very long time, the follow count continued to grow. I came to believe that Twitter success just happened.
Upon leaving my post at the large, connected, credible, prestigious newspaper, I figured my totally neglected, unconnected, rather bland personal Twitter account would also just flourish. I ran it just like the one before and had 17 followers and 10 tweets for a very long time. My new bosses, both of them social media stars, gave me hell and a Twitter tutorial, and after some effort, my following rose to 46 for @ShelleyBindon.
Now, I can share with you the tricks of attracting an audience: follow many others so that they might follow you; tweet often, often, often; engage with everyone; keep it light, bright and polite, as one SM guru advises; offer up numerous quotes by well-known dead people or be a hub of cool stuff, passing along URLs and hip memes. Your following will grow if you do these things. Folks from as far away as Brazil or Indiana will follow you. You’ll get to read about what they eat for breakfast and buy at Walmart.
But what if you don’t want to?
What if you don’t care what the town’s clever cad has to say about skinny jeans? What if you don’t care what the righteous righty Twitter warrior has to say about the latest government policy? What if you don’t care what an Oilers player thinks about traffic on the Whitemud?
I don’t care about these things all the time, so I struggle with Twitter because while I want to be highly connected, I don’t want to be highly connected to just anybody. I certainly don’t want to be highly connected to bumpf and its makers. As a result, I’m stingy about who I follow and what I’ll spend my time commenting on, so my Twitter use is sparse, my persona is somewhat aloof, and because I rarely speak with dead people, I never have any advice of theirs to share.
For all intents and purposes, I’m a Twitter failure, too. But am I really? I post everyday things about birds, soccer, pretty snowflakes, charities, puns, evenings out, sauces that I burn and PR issues. Despite this, my Twitter account grows by three or four followers a week, and I haven’t lost a follower for quite some time. Not one of my followers sells G-spot anything, and nobody lists double-D as a value add-on in their account description. I actually know almost all of the 150 folks who have followed me in the last two months, and we do actually engage, not just on Twitter, but often in person. When I ask my Twitter peeps to RT something, they do. When I ask a question, I get an answer that’s tailored to me by people who know me. By my accounting, that’s real value for the button-pressing.
Because I have a Twitter community that means something to me, I find I tweet more often than ever. That regularity (no jokes please) helps me get noticed, and though I’m well below the advised 15 tweets/day, I’m well above what I ever did when I had lots of stranger follows.
I think I’m indicative of a lot of our clients, too. We at Focus often hear, “and we’ll need a Twitter thing to go with that comms policy that you’re helping us build.” Great, but let’s be realistic about who you hope to be on social media. Are you naturally opinionated, obsessed about surfing and sharing, are you truly an extrovert who will engage, even at 9 p.m.? If not, then chances are good that you won’t become a major influencer with thousands of followers.
Guess what? That’s OK because it’s better to just be yourself. I don’t want to get all Glee on you, but there are many others out there just like you. Maybe only 150 at this precise moment, but the more you do what you do, the more like-minded people will find you. Follow them back, and their nerdy followers will find you, too. The more that people follow you because what you tweet or post resonates with them, the more powerful and connected your network will be.
Community is worth more than follow metrics, so get on your nerd horse and ride. Maybe not 15 times a day, but at least regularly, and without quoting Winston Churchill or Hemingway.
*Notice I did not say fad. A trend can last decades, people, so no hate, please.
The Customer is Always Right, Right?
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Laurie Pettigrew - Communications Consultant
In a previous blog, you heard me wax lyrical about the challenge of transitioning from the public service to the private sector, and the brain shift required to go from bureaucrat to private sector entrepreneur.
Today's point to ponder is the role change from being a client to being a supplier. In my previous employment, I played a duel role as communications officer - providing communications services to internal customers - and as client to private sector suppliers, hired to provide goods and services to fulfill the needs of my internal customers.
I had some leeway in terms of the demands placed on me and my capacity to deliver.
When it came to the private sector suppliers, however, my attitude was very different. Because the supplier was being paid (well, better than me) and because they weren't governed by the same restrictions as I, there seemed to be no limit to the expectations I put on them.
Most of the time, I was just the messenger and my internal customer would be making the demands that I had to extend to my private sector supplier. So I was as understanding and accommodating as I could be under the circumstances.
And more often than not, they delivered. If they didn't or if they complained or delivered the service with less than a smile, I just wouldn't use them again.
But I never really understood what life was like on the other end until I got there myself (isn't that always the way....?)
Perhaps it's instant karma – but I now know how it feels to be considered a working, delivering machine. We are a company of people – and although we all have our own projects, the client still hired the company. They are paying for quality service and they don't care if everyone is down with the flu, if our secondary suppliers are all on vacation or that we (I use the Royal We, here) might not want to work through the weekend.
And why should they care? We live in a free market society and if we don't deliver, someone else will. Am I complaining? Not really. I understand what it's like.
But I now have more compassion for the individuals that make up those private sector businesses and for the sacrifices they make to serve the needs of their customers. And my aging brain is busily shifting from one paradigm to the next – and lovin' it!
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Alyssa Nider - Marketing and Visual Media Consultant
Here we are again, early January, promise of a fresh new start, or so we used to feel. We could resolve to stop with destructive behaviour and move on with our lives. However, with the onset of social media, we are constantly reminded of our past. We now have an online record of our existence, whether or not we 'delete' e-content.
This is especially troubling for young people growing up in an computer-centric world (listen up students!) no matter how long ago, or how you think that compromising content is 'private' there will always be something that someone can use against you. We've seen this with politicians, CEOs, bosses, parents, etc. The problem is when you are young and you are making the best decisions you know, it's impossible to anticipate what consequences might arise from your online activity, 10, 20 or 50 years down the road! I think everyone can learn a little about think before you type!
Of course this doesn't always mean social media. This also is applicable to email, message boards, or even online shopping. Your data is going to be always archivalable, and your information will far outlive your natural life.
So for 2013, why not take the resolution of trying to be professional about your online image, think before you type, and clean up what you see if you google yourself. You might be surprised at what you might find!
A funny thing happened on the way to PR
Monday, November 19, 2012
Nisa Drozdowski - Communications Associate
Here at Focus Communications, they believe in throwing new staff right into the thick of things. This includes assigning the greenest Communications Associate to write the next blog post for the website.
The last two weeks (my first two with Focus) have been full of firsts. Scary, challenging, headache-inducing firsts. And I've loved every single one of them!
If you follow me on Twitter, or have ever met me in person, you've heard me gush about the job that brought me to Edmonton. I worked for a great employer in a small retail business that sold beautiful fashions to a clientele that felt like family. It was exciting to get to know my clients' style and needs, pass on knowledge of seasonal and industry trends, and then guide them as they made informed decisions to choose a product that would bring them satisfaction and, yes, even happiness. It was so much more than selling clothes. Or designing custom floral creations. Or teaching grade nine students how to solve a polynomial equation.
And that's why I'm now here at Focus Communications. The art and science of public relations and communications encompass what I've most loved about every other career path I've wandered down: cultivating and managing relationships, sharing knowledge, and influencing decision making.
I know there's a lot more to this industry than that, but let me bask in the headachy newness of it all for awhile.
The Art of Communications
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Megan Dart – Communications Consultant
As a communications consultant, it is my job to know a little about a lot – I am a sponge, soaking up the expertise of our clients, deferring to their industry experience throughout the communications process.
As a consultant who also happens to be a theatre artist, it is my job to be curious about the world around me – I am an imagineer, inspired to create new filters through which to experience life.
Oftentimes, when working with small- to mid-sized businesses, clients tell us they have a hard time explaining what it is they do, exactly. Ask a theatre artist what his or her newest independent production is about and you may receive the same blank stare.
This is not because neither are experts at what they do – quite the opposite, actually. This is because each are so committed to their passion, so skilled in their artistry, so invested in day to day operations, they sometimes lose perspective on what makes their business uniquely theirs, on what helps them stand out from the competition.
At the beginning of the communications process, we ask our clients simple but probing questions, questions which open the proverbial informational floodgates, and highlight strategic opportunities.
At the beginning of the rehearsal process, we ask our creative team simple but probing questions, questions which dig out the themes, and grease the creative wheels.
The work we do in the boardroom mirrors the work we do in the rehearsal hall – as entrepreneurs or artists, it is our job to entice and to engage, to inspire and to solicit reaction.
Communications is where tactic and implementation meet passion and artistry: a careful collaboration of strategy and creativity, a meeting of realization and imagination.
Our clients – whether a small start-up floral designer, a machinist whose business is booming, or a social service organization looking to engage a broader demographic – are artists in their own right. They embody passion and dedication, they are the movers and shakers in their industry. They are the expert.
As one part sponge, one part imagineer, I not only constantly learn from, but also am continually inspired by our clients. Like that of an artist, a career in communications isn’t a job – it’s a way of life; it’s the feeding of an insatiable need for knowledge, and wanting – regardless the client or project – to see the show not just go on, but also sell out to a packed house and be met with rave reviews.
A tale of two sectors – public and private
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Laurie Pettigrew - Communications Manager
Recently, on a lonely Friday afternoon at Focus, a call came in from a young guy in his first month of PR at Grant MacEwan. He needed to interview a seasoned communicator about the profession and I reluctantly took the assignment but had no idea what pearls of wisdom I could impart.
I didn't think I was the best person to interview because, of the 27 years I have spent in Communications, 25 ½ of them were in the public sector at the City of Edmonton and I wasn’t sure he would get a well rounded view.
As I started to answer his probing questions, a theme emerged – a comparison between communications in the public and private sectors, and my new view of the differences .
I had a lot of public sector anecdotes dating back to the 80's and descriptions of how things were done in the “old days.” I had also accumulated a few learning experiences from the past 18 months in the private sector that may or may not have been useful to him, but they illustrated the differences between the two sectors to me.
First of all, it was drilled into me from day one at the City how important it was to be conscious of how the taxpayers' money was being spent. We always endeavoured to use the cheapest suppliers, materials and fought for the lowest cost on advertising and promotion. We did as much for free as possible. I was always talking clients out of doing things in order to save money for the corporation.
I carried this mindset with me into the private sector, chafing at extra spending on the part of the client when I realized, the more they spend, the more income for the company. Do we talk clients out of doing things here? No – not unless it is ill advised. But mostly, we gladly give the client what they ask for – a new paradigm for someone steeped in public sector restrictions.
Media relations is another thing. It was amazing and refreshing to see that you could write a news release in a private company without agonizing over every word and send it out on behalf of your client without needing a million approvals.
In the public sector, you take for granted the fact that the media will almost always respond to your release or show up at your event, with reporters assigned specifically to the local government beat. In the private sector however, it's much more difficult to catch media attention, especially for commercial clients. Developing strong personal relationships with reporters is very important in the private sector but ill advised in the public, where the communicator is always on his or her guard with media forever looking for a leak or slip-up.
The differences between the two sectors are often subtle but profound. As the weeks go by, I am shedding old habits developed over long years in a strict government environment. But Focus does a lot of work with the City and I have to admit that it's nice to really understand the concerns of those clients, yet now be able to provide them what they need without fear of reprisals.
Did the young guy get a good interview in the end? I hope so. He expressed an interest in working for government and I hope I was able to give him a balanced view of the differences!