With malice toward none; with charity for all

Library of Congress
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan–to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations. – President Lincoln, March 4, 1865
We may not think of Abraham Lincoln as “the most divisive president in U.S. history” as some have called President George W. Bush or President Obama, but the truth is Lincoln was president during the only time in our nation’s history that Americans fought against each other in a civil war.
Today, March 4, is the day in 1865 that Lincoln was inaugurated for his second term as President. The closing remarks of his address (above) were relevant then as a way to begin the healing the nation needed. Those same words have meaning today, much for the same reasons.
In the news, on social media, pretty much everywhere you turn, there are messages being shouted that pit one group of people or ideas against another. I look out and see our nation divided. I look out and see divisions, not just between Republicans and Democrats, but among those two groups. What I see is the rising tide of bigotry and racism. This tide is evil and has the potential to drown us all.

We can and must remember our history. We can and must overcome. We can and must do everything within our power to dispell the base instincts that are shouting for attention. Lincoln understood this. He spoke about it and took actions to stop the division. He took actions, just as we must today, to stand united, because should we continue to be divisive we shall fall.

Let the communicators communicate

Often one of the most frustrating aspects of a communications professional’s job is gaining authorization from management/leadership to distribute information. In this day and age, it is important to get the message right, but it is also important to get the message out. There are ways to do this in a timely fashion. When I read things like the following in news articles, I cringe. I know exactly how the communications staff feels.

The lack of a communications chief was perhaps the most “maddening” deficit, one former worker said. When Hurricane Sandy hit, the media relations team, short of staff, was overwhelmed. One spokesman, Mark Gross, became ill from exhaustion in the middle of the crisis and was ordered to take a day off.

Behind the scenes, Cuomo aides insisted that they sign off on all news releases. Ms. DeRosa said that this was because inaccurate information had gone out, and that the requirement significantly improved the authority’s communications.

But according to former authority executives and to emails, it became a cumbersome process that delayed getting information to customers.

As a result of this “maddening” (good word choice, by the way) supervisory “deficit,” a lean staff was overwhelmed and control and dispersal of information was ceded to the media and others who did not have access to information updates of critical importance.

When the communication is about when power will be turned back on for people after a catastrophic storm, and it is delayed for a reported 12 hours, things can get dicey. As the story points out, an outside entity was asked to take over management of PR and did so, with the caveat that the administration was only allowed 15 minutes to review media releases before they were distributed. Sanity was restored.

The point is that it should have never gotten to this point. Organization’s hire communication professionals to handle the job of creating and distributing messaging and information. Let us do our job. In the end, we’ll all be better off for it.

Slow News Day

I was reminded today that even when you think it’s a “slow news day,” it really isn’t.

On those days when the news media isn’t out covering shootings, robberies, accidents, or other splashy news, they get to cover the good stories. I mean those stories that are positive. I mean those stories that highlight a part of the community that often goes unnoticed. Whether it be the people or an organization, these are the types of stories that make you smile, or make you interested and want to get involved to make a positive difference.

I was also reminded today that news doesn’t always happen where the camera lens can pick it up. What goes unseen by the media machine are positive stories and also those that turn lives upside down with endings we’ll never know.

It all comes down to a judgement call by the editors, reporters, and others involved in the news business about what their audiences want to know about. And it means for people like me, who are in the PR industry, that there are no slow news days.

Hyped Up On Headlines

Article after article scrolls by on the screen. Then, in a flash of brilliant copywriting, a headline catches your eye. You’re hooked. You must read on.

If you are a storyteller or a person who just likes a good story, you are well aware of the power that a well-written headline has. It is the power to entice, to persuade. It is a call to action. It is a reason to believe. Once you start down the path the headline opens up for you, either you’ll truly enjoy the story or feel like you’ve been robbed – of your time and your sensibility.

That’s what headline hype is all about. It is an inflation of the facts of the story to get your attention. Stories “grab headlines” because the details are such that the media editor can manipulate them into something that interests a wide audience. Headline hype has been the way the media has worked for so long that doing anything different simply does not work.

Now, with the advent of a fractured information feed, headlines become even more important. There is an abundance of media to choose from and the only way to delineate between those things that interest you and those things that you could not care any less about is the headline.

Is this putting too much pressure on the headline writer? I don’t think so, because good writers and good editors make their hay in the headline – we buy the story because of the headline.

So, the next time you scroll through your news feed, think about why you chose the story you’re reading and how you feel about the story. It may just be a bunch of hype.

The secret to “Going Viral”

In a brillant post on the topic of writing copy that will go viral, Seth Godin captures lightning in a bottle. And it will change the world as a result.

There are so many people out there right at this very moment making a living by selling a service to an organization or a nonprofit to create content that will go viral for them. They claim to be “experts” in knowing what will be hot, trendy, and will catch on with the masses. But what they are selling is akin to snake oil. If these sales people, marketers, PR guys and gals, and advertisers where truthful with themselves, they would know that the secret to getting something to “go viral” is that there is no secret.

To paraphrase Godin: Don’t set out with the intention to create viral content. Instead create content that makes a real impact – an impact that must be shared.

Godin is talking about creating content that connects with a person’s passion and experiences. Designing and drafting content with these two things in mind is fundamental to the success of any communication. It is imperative to know the audience you are trying to connect with, but other than that, the framework for content creation should be as free as possible. Otherwise, you will fall into the trap of creating content that is expected to catch on, but instead sinks to the bottom of the interest pile like a lead balloon.

Always be mindful of your audience, and as Godin rightly points out, the rest will take care of itself.

9 Ways to Dust Off Your Social Media & Web Strategies Today

Ad Council Workshop on Social Media and Technology

Talented #roc #nonprofit pros in the house for May 7 Ad Council workshop about IT/Tech and Social Media for your nonprofit and how to integrate them successfully.

After a recent presentation I gave as part of the Ad Council of Rochester’s Nonprofit Workshops series on the topic of Marketing with Technology, the CEO of the Ad Council provided the group with his take aways from the presentation. I was enlightened to know that the presentation my colleague and I created had made such an impact. (My colleague was not able to be at the presentation due to a medical issue)

The presentation revolved around the social media activities of the organization that I work for. The information the CEO gleaned from the presentation summed up the main points well. They make up a how-to checklist for preparing and launching a social media campaign. Here’s what the CEO came away with:

  • Strategy drove the investment in social media, not peer pressure, and the decision was made to focus on the segment with the broadest appeal
  • The website serves as the mothership for content – social media interactions drive people to the website
  • One effective social media tactic has been localizing relevant national news
  • Partner relationships are a good way to leverage other org’s social networks
  • The Million Pound Challenge is a best-in-class example of a social media success: crystal clear, simple idea, integrated with traditional media, engagement focused
  • Look at social media tools on a program by program basis, not just at the org level.
  • Recommendation: have multiple content creators but only one administrator
  • Good reminder: Low production values can be OK for online video

Overall, he said that it is good to remember that social media needs to be integrated with rest of the marketing effort. I couldn’t agree more.

Photo Credit

Branding free choice

In his post about brands and the abundant choices Americans have, Thomson Dawson raises an interesting point about how freedom and individuality correlate to brand existence. He argues that Americans today might have more choice than is really good for us. At a minimum, he says, we have “more choice than what is truly useful to us.” At the crux of his post is the question – How useful is abundant free choice?

When it comes to brands creating connections with consumers, abundant free choice is not inherently useful. Brands want to exist in a vacuum. They want to be the only choice. Unfortunately for them, that is not the case. It is true that there are a multitude of choices, quite possibly too many. The result is chaos.

As individuals, we have to be able to sort through the barrage of messages that are constantly thrown our way and use our one, powerful tool – free choice – to make the selections that shape how we will interact with the world. The selections are based on our values, beliefs, and experiences.

Here’s the kicker, though. Brands want to be the only choice, yet they are in the same situation as individuals. Each brand has the freedom to choose what it wants to be. It may be one person’s opinion or a board of directors, marketing department, or other group of influencers. Regardless of who makes the decision, a decision is made that sets in motion the development of the brand. So, brands also have a powerful tool in free choice. It is the power to become a vibrant part of the lives of so many just by being what it is.

On the individual or brand level, free choice is what makes us what we are. And what we will become.