Monday, August 26, 2013

Welcome, Kazakhstan!

Fun fact: Although Kazakhstan is the world's
largest landlocked nation, it has its own
navy. And not one of their ships has
ever been sunk in battle!
So glad you could drop by for a visit. You are the 72nd country to visit our humble little abode and we couldn't be happier to have you aboard.

Your visit prompted me to do a little research into your fair land, and I've got to tell you, I'm impressed. Beautiful vistas, bizarrely cool architecture, and you're freakin' enormous. (Largest landlocked nation in the world, boys and girls!)

You lose a few points for your recent media-relations tactics and that whole potential bubonic plague thing, but those are little more than pesky distractions.

I've just set up an auto-search of your country and I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with that I can riff on. If you have any ideas, just let me know.

So just make yourself at home. We've got some cold beer in the fridge and clean towels in the hall closet. If you need anything, just holler.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Say what? How social media platforms affect what you say ... and how you say it.

"Save it for the judge, kid."
You already know that your audience influences what you say and how you say it when you’re telling a story. (That googly-eyed baby talk that entertains your girlfriend will get you tazed if you use it on a cop.)

But did you know that where you tell your story is just as important as whom* you’re telling it to?** Think about how the following venues affect what you say and how you say it:

VENUE: Your favorite noisy pub
APPROACH: Loud, off-color comments that you practically spit in your friend’s ear.

VENUE: Sunday Mass
APPROACH: Fidgety whispering about how bored you are, accompanied by crude illustrations drawn with those bowling-alley pencils on the back of the church bulletin.

VENUE: Elevator
APPROACH: Vapid comments about the weather directed to the top of your shoes.

VENUE: Men’s room
APPROACH: There is no approach. The first rule of “Men’s Room” is you DO NOT talk in the men’s room.

The same is true with social media venues. You wouldn’t post a video of a shark-cat riding a Roomba on LinkedIn would you? Of course not. Different venues require different approaches.
To help you navigate the rocky waters of social-media etiquette, the good folks at My Clever Agency created an infographic to help you “Create The Perfect Pinterest, Google+, Facebook & Twitter posts.”***

Check it out.

*Full disclosure: I don’t often use “whom,” even when I know I should. Just as I don’t say, “It is I,” when asked “who is it?” But my sister-in-law occasionally reads these posts, and she’s a stickler for proper grammar, so I figured I’d go all highfalutin for her this one time.

**But don't come after me for ending a sentence with a preposition.

***Relax. It's a quote. They capitalize, I capitalize.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Dap me up, Russia!

I kid cause I care. Love you guys!
A quick shout out to my friends in Russia. Sorry about that whole Putin meeting thing. Maybe another time.

Inaction speaks louder than words. Why it is imperative to be involved in your own story.

Unauthorized to speak on the record,
the US Embassy let this photo of the
aggrieved widow speak on its behalf.
It’s true that the Internet abhors a vacuum.

So when the US Embassy in Nairobi whisked one of their diplomats back to the States after he killed a father of three in a car accident in Kenya and then stayed mum about the whole affair, the Internet community filled that vacuum with wall-to-wall vitriol.

Things only got worse when—nearly a month after the accident—US embassy officials in Nairobi sent the man’s destitute widow a letter of condolence which read, in part, “I hope it will bring some comfort to know that the thoughts and prayers of the entire American Embassy community are with you and your family at this difficult time.”

That was it. No check, no cash, no movie passes. Nothing. This slight, as you can imagine, enraged the global Internet community anew, which is no mean feat considering how angry everyone already was at the Embassy’s deafening silence.

People, remember: “No comment” is no longer an option. If the story is about you, you have to be a part of it. You cannot let others tell your story for you.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Discontent Is King: How anxiety, frustration, and a CCO can improve your storytelling skills

"More edits from Legal. And the old
man wants it out by the high
middle ages at the latest. I'll get
you some Starbucks."
Pakistan!! Welcome! We're thrilled that you're now reading our stuff. You join an elite team of  "Flack-Operators" from 70 countries from around the globe--most of which I am actually familiar with.

(Straight dope: I had to Google Moldova. In my defense, you guys declared your independence exactly two months after my twin daughters were born. I was up to my adenoids in dirty diapers and baby formula so I completely missed the party. But congratulations, anyway. And I hope you got some great pictures.)

So, Pakistan, in honor of you joining the gang, I dug up one of my favorite posts from my day job at  Czech it out.

Back in the olden days, putting out a press release was a rare and momentous achievement for most trade associations and nonprofits. Getting that “your release has cleared the wires” phone call from PR Newswire was cause for jubilation, with hugs and high-fives all around. An impromptu Knute Rockne-esque victory speech from the VP of public affairs was not unheard of.

“I’m proud of you guys! I’m not going to kid you; those three days of silence from the big guy upstairs had me a popping Mylanta. I thought we were looking at a major rewrite for sure. But when Samantha dropped that interoffice envelope on my desk this morning, I just knew it was good news!”

The fact that the press release didn’t generate any press was inconsequential. The kids in public affairs had done it again and a wave of contentment washed over everyone.

You’d be amazed at how many nonprofit organizations—and for-profit companies, for that matter—still employ this one-shot-a-month “Guns of Navarone” communications strategy.

Less amazing is the fact that these organizations are being outgunned on the Internet by millions of relentless communicators who fire every weapon they can scrounge, seize every opportunity they can find--or create--to tell their story.

These content ninjas are never satisfied, never relaxed. They are constantly on the prowl for ideas, inspiration, and intelligence that will entertain and engage their audience. Posting a blog entry doesn’t fulfill them. It just reduces their discomfort a little, like scratching a mosquito bite through a combat boot.

And that’s why those guys are kicking your ass.

A lot of organizations are closing in on these communications warriors. Press releases announcing the "recently hired Chief Content Officer"—a new position—are lighting up the Internet like tracer rounds.

These shiny new CCOs have a tough mission: they must mold every facet of their company into a storytelling battalion or the victories will be few. But they also have a lot of motivation--the future of their organization depends on them. Yes, a good CCO is that important.

To learn more about CCOs—what makes a good one, how to find one, how to become one yourself—check out these sites. They’re worth your time.
  • "How CCOs can resurrect marketing communications" from the good folks at Fast Company
  • A great blog post on CCO leadership by "Chief Warrior of Enthusiasm" Kista Kotrla featuring even more helpful CCO-related links
FUN FACT: Both the “content” you create and the “contentment” you seek from its creation come from the Latin word contentus, which means contained, satisfied. Paradoxically, the more dis-contentus you are the better your contentus will be.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Short-Attention Span Theatrics

"Curious George? Really? What are you,
like, four years old or something?"
If the emails are any indication, I may have offended some of the more sensitive among you with the last post. Here's a more family-friendly post from that should help unruffle your feathers.

When I was 12, my father took the four of us kids to a book store near the University of Michigan, presumably so he could check that box on his “Things I must do with the kids so I can tell people I did it” list.

Michael, 13, who would someday become a doctor, chose Grey’s Anatomy. Mary Beth, almost 11—who devoured books like the “Planet Killer” on Star Trek devoured planets (season 2, episode 6)—found and hugged a copy of Gone with the Wind. Marnie, picked Stuart Little. She had no intention of reading it, but even at eight she knew that by spiffing up Dad’s I-bought-all-my-kids-books story she would take the lead in the perpetual race for his affection.

But I didn’t want a book.

“You're getting a book.”

“I don’t want a book. Honest.”

“John, we’re not leaving this store until ... you … select … a  book.”

Today, a kid who disliked reading as much as I did would be screened for dyslexia and ADD. But back then the diagnosis was simply “he’s not a reader.” I could read people, though, and I knew this book drive was less about my story-reading and more about Dad’s story-telling. He couldn’t check that box if I didn’t buy a book.

Out of frustration (and a little spite), I chose The Big Book of Jokes and Riddles “recommended for kids from six to 99!” Hell, I fit the bill. And the book was made for me—it had lots of pictures, acres of white space, and short entries. The longest joke didn’t top 400 characters.

“That's really the book you want?”


Three seconds of his withering death stare and then … checkmate. I win.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was a pioneer in the short-attention-span movement that would sweep the globe by the time my own kids were old enough to play me as well as I played my dad.

That movement declared victory this week when Yahoo! paid a teenager $30 million for an app called Summly which shrinks news articles down to 400-character summaries, turning everyone’s phone into The Big E-Book of News and Commentary.

In his press statement announcing the deal (which, I feel compelled to point out, ran far longer than 400 characters), 17-year-old inventor Nick D'Aloisio said,  “Our vision is to simplify how we get information.”

Simplify? Really? Have you ever thumbed through yards of Dewey Decimal drawers in search of the alpha-numeric code that would lead you to a distant bookshelf where the book you were looking for used to be hidden before it was checked out by someone else? Ever spent an evening squinting at news articles on microfiche desperate to finish your homework before the library closed? Ever try to write a term paper using the Encyclopedia Britannica as your Internet?

I didn’t think so.

The only way it could get easier to get information today is if it were injected straight into our brain ports Matrix style.

As a storyteller, flack, or "seasoned PR expert," it's important for you to understand how your audience consumes information. And these days, it's in tiny, flashy, bites. Folks aren't ordering Chateaubriand with Sauce Bernaise anymore. They want Pop Rocks and a large Coke--to go.

So give it to them. Spend some time crafting a compelling lede to hook them. Then edit your copy until it squeaks to keep them on the line. Then edit it again. And once you've made your point, stop writing.

Walking the fine line between stupid and clever

During regular business hours, I am assistant (to the) managing partner at Doyle McDonald, a consulting firm that helps nonprofits figure out how to tell their stories online. (Check it out.) 

It's not a bad gig. I answer the phone, get Starbux for the team, and occasionally write blog posts. Sometimes my writing goes too far out on a particularly vulgar metaphoric limb. When that happens, Ms. McDonald (the managing partner to whom I report) edits the text so that it's a little bit closer to the tree of propriety.

I have always agreed with her judgment, and spiked the more controversial copy. Until now.

Recently, Ms. McDonald posted a great piece on the difference between a quest and a story. I wanted to enhance the post with what I thought was a hilarious graphic and caption that played off of her lead sentence, to wit "A couple of you wanted to know the difference between a quest and a story." She did not agree and vetoed the idea.

I begrudgingly deferred to her sense of decorum and the graphic was axed. But I just couldn’t let it go. So in service to you, dear reader, I am posting the banned graphic regardless of the consequences.

"And I want to know the difference
between a Quest and a Hadji."
You're welcome.