What Your Email Says About Your Brand

A Case Study: Your Emails

Digital branding starts in your inbox.

It’s something you take for granted, something seemingly trivial, even mundane. When executed thoughtfully, however, it makes a splash. It says, “This guy is sharp—I want to work with him!”

What is this opportunity, obvious but overlooked? It’s the bookends of your emails: your address and signature block—often, the first and last thing your recipients will see. For better or worse, your email bookends are powerful purveyors of your brand. What are yours conveying about you?

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Message Development: Thinking Inside the Box

To start thinking about message development, consider the following questions:
• Your friend wants to try a new Italian restaurant for dinner. You’re craving sushi. How do you convince her to pick up the chopsticks?

• A CEO doesn’t see the value of starting a company’s twitter feed. What’s the best way for the marketing department to show him that tweeting can bolster the bottom line?

• A government agency wants to reduce the number of teenagers texting while driving. How do they convince “invincible” teens that this behavior is dangerous?
What do these questions have in common? The answer is the need for message development. Whether your goal to enjoy a sushi dinner or promote teen driver safety, the secret to success is developing messages that resonate with the audiences’ values and opinions.
How can you do that? Try using a message box. This tool offers communicators a framework for producing carefully-crafted messages that both respond to a particular audience’s needs and preferences while reinforcing how “the ask,” or desired action, relates to their values.

The messages produced can be used separately or together to achieve a desired outcome. Sometimes, several message boxes need to be created for a particular audience based on themes or ideas that resonate with them. For example, one message box for the CEO could be focused on the business case for twitter while another could focus on how participating in twitter would reinforce company’s commitment to customer service.

The Message Box in Action

Let’s go back to the question about the government agency and their education campaign about texting while driving. The following chart defines each element of the message box and shows messages that could be used for convincing teens that texting while driving as a dangerous activity.

Type of Message Definition Example
The Ask The desired action for the target audience to take. Stop texting while driving.  
The Barrier Message This message counters an audience’s key misconceptions about the particular topic. There should be a message to refute each barrier the target audience(s) may present. Statistics, analogies and quotes are powerful tools for overcoming barriers. Barrier:
I only look at my phone for a few seconds when I text. I can still see what is going on.  Message to Overcome It:
Sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. That is the equivalent of driving the entire length of a football field at 55 miles an hour while blind. Is that a risk you’re willing to take?
The Value Message This message is used to connect with a value the audience has about a topic. Not texting while driving doesn’t just mean you will stay safe. It means you will keep your license and others on the road will be safer.
The Vision Message This message reinforces the value message point. It highlights the benefits audience members reap if they take the action in “the ask.”  If  you stop texting while driving, you can  enjoy the privilege of driving and staying safe at the same time.

Do you think that the message box could help you create compelling more messages for you and your clients? Let me know what you think.

Sarah Vogel is a Senior Account Executive at TMNcorp, a full-service communications company in Silver Spring, MD.  Follow her on Twitter @TMNcorp or connect with her on LinkedIn.

7 Skills That You Really Need to Make It in PR

I’ve met a lot of incredibly capable PR people who are not going to get very far in the PR world. That’s because in order to become a valued professional in today’s marketplace, PR pros need much more than the talent to communicate.

Feb 13 program

Today’s successful PR pro needs the “hard” business skills to become a valued business partner and not a mere tactician. PRSA-NCC’s annual “From PR Manager to PR Leader” half-day seminar on Feb. 13 will share some of these skills that PR people need to take their career to that next level. Here are just a few.

1) Become self-aware first 
A good manager looks in the mirror first. Do you really know your management strengths and weaknesses and are you willing to do the hard work to minimize your deficiencies? Do you know your personality type and management style and are you willing to accept constructive criticism? If you are willing to work hard to improve your management skills, then those you lead will do the same.

2) Manage “up”
Do you know how to work with the C-suite folks so they value and recognize your skills and the value you bring? Do you know their priorities and how to show them that you help address them? If you are not focused on managing this all-important relationship, you won’t even get a chance to take your career to the next level.

 3) Become budget savvy
Can you develop and manage a budget for your programs, campaigns, or accounts? You don’t do the PR profession any favors if you say, “I’m a PR person, I don’t need to know math” (yes, I’ve heard it.) To be taken seriously by the C-suite (see above) you need to show that you appreciate and understand the bottom line and can provide a return on investment for your PR activities.

4) Listen up
I’m not going to win a lot of friends by saying this but a lot of us PR people forget that communication is a two-way street. We are so focused on our elevator pitch and talking points that we sometimes forget that the best way to win people over is by listening (really) to their needs first and then demonstrating how we can meet those needs. Human interaction is never about you. It’s always about them.

5) Handle conflict with style
Can you manage irate clients, contractors, colleagues and other emotionally charged people? Every manager will encounter conflict at some point. Knowing how to calmly ratchet down emotions is the difference between a star manager and one who is not.

6) Put people first
Do you know how to motivate people and enhance team dynamics? We are only as good as the people around us. If we can get our teams to cohesively work together and smooth over the inevitable rough patches, we can keep moving forward.

7) Avoid burnout
The PR business can be a 24/7 grind so you need to manage the elusive work/life balance and learn tactics for getting organized, pacing yourself and delegating to others. Otherwise, you won’t be around long enough to make it far in the PR profession.

The above is only a starting point (feel free to add your own in the comments below) but if you learn these skills you will have a decided advantage as you advance in your career. Most of us learn these skills when we’re thrown in the management pool for the first time and told to “sink or swim.” But if we prepare ourselves with these managements skills ahead of time, we will be prepared to take that plunge with confidence.

About Jeff Ghannam
A former president of PRSA-NCC, Jeff Ghannam brings more than 20 years of experience in corporate and non-profit communications and journalism. He is president of Crystal Communications & Marketing, LLC, a consultancy serving the association and nonprofit community with integrated communications and marketing services and leadership training targeted at communications staff. The “From PR Manager to PR Leader” seminar on Feb. 13 will be the third such annual seminar he has delivered for PRSA-NCC.

Jeff was previously vice president of communications and marketing for the Biotechnology Institute in Arlington, Va. Jeff’s career experience includes news reporting, editing, and PR management, all of which led him to hone his management and leadership skills. Jeff has conducted leadership training workshops for organizations that want to maximize their human resources potential so they can better achieve their strategic objectives. He cites real-life PR management-based examples and scenarios and uses an engaging and interactive format that allows participants to address their specific management and leadership challenges.

The Advantages of Hiring a Professional for Your Employee Survey

The advent of low-cost, easy-to-use measurement tools such as Zoomerang, Survey Monkey and Hosted Survey has opened the door to communicators eager to assess their employee communications efforts.  These tools offer templates, sample questions and instant reporting features, along with the ability to customize the look and feel of the survey to match the company’s branding.

I encourage my clients to take advantage of these types of online survey tools, and work with them to set up post-event surveys, as well as ongoing employee polls to gather information on employee issues and morale concerns.

But when it comes to a more complex survey, such as an annual employee opinion survey, I advise them to bring in the big guns and hire a professional research firm to conduct the assessment.

A professional survey provider brings to the table a number of advantages that communications generalists can’t offer, such as:

  • Knowledge of best practices – how to drive responses, how to report results effectively, and how your company stacks up against others of similar size and type
  • Understanding of the latest survey technology and knowledge of the best product for your circumstances
  • Survey design expertise – not just the look and feel of the survey, but also the development of the questions themselves
  • Assessment and analysis – advice on how to interpret the data and how to report it to senior management and back to the employees

Probably the biggest advantage that a professional survey provider offers is that of being an outsider.  They come to the table free of any internal bias that might slant the survey questions or even color the results.  That “outsider” status often results in more candid responses from employees, since they know their comments can’t be traced back to their user ID.  Plus, senior management will likely take less offense at critical verbatim comments when delivered by “the survey guys” instead of the employee communications manager.

Employee surveys are a valuable tool, and in the hands of an expert, can help identify the company’s core strengths, as well as areas of concern.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net.

What Communicators Can Learn from the 2010 Census

U.S. Census LogoI received my 2010 U.S. Census form yesterday, right on schedule.  I knew it was “on schedule” due to a well-planned, well-coordinated communication campaign which launched in early February.

First it was a series of rather weird TV and radio spots, then an advance notice mailed to all U.S. households to let them know when to expect the form.  Last week, news outlets all over the country ran stories about the Census:  when it would arrive, how long it would be, how to fill it out, and how to spot a Census scam.

In addition, over the past few days, a number of local news stations have aired interviews with county and municipal officers.  These segments provided local officials with an opportunity to tell their constituents why it was important to participate in the census.

But here’s where it got interesting:  instead of falling back on appeals to our civic duty (after all, we’ve seen how well that has worked with elections and jury duty), their talking points centered on how the collected data is used to determine Congressional representation and voting districts, as well as how Federal funds are allocated to local governments. 

As parents deal with cutbacks in school funding in the aftermath of the economic meltdown, as the national debate over health care and other legislation becomes more and more polarized, the decision to drive participation by focusing on these hot button issues is nothing short of brilliant.

Employee communicators generate lots of surveys and polls.  And with rare exceptions, we are frustrated by low response rates, falling back on gimmicks such as contests and rewards to drive participation.

The danger with stuffing the survey box, so to speak, is that responses rarely reflect the views of the overall employee population, so we end up working from misleading data.  And a program based on faulty data is doomed to fail.

We should take a page from the U.S. Census’s book and stress to our employees how the data will be used to implement changes (or even, improvements!) in the way the business operates.  Perhaps if we can identify the appropriate hot button, we’ll see much higher participation and gather more meaningful data in our assessments.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net.

Communicators, It’s Time to Board the Twitter Train

Twitter LogoOne of the most frequently asked questions at PRSA and other professional networking events these days is, “Do you use Twitter?”

Granted, social media is a hot topic.  Companies are using social media to market products, manage their public image, and build customer loyalty via YouTube channels and Facebook pages. 

Local TV newsrooms urge viewers to become fans on Facebook and upload images of breaking news and current events to the station’s Flickr page. 

Celebrities and politicians alike have embraced Twitter as a way to manage their visibility and raise awareness of their activities.

But not everyone is on board.

In fact, when I answer that yes, I do use Twitter on a daily basis, most PR and HR professionals alike are quick to dismiss it as a fad and something that has little relevance to the “business” of communications.

I disagree.

Look, I know all the arguments against using Twitter as an employee communications tool:  

  • “It’s a time-waster.”
  • “My employees are on the shop floor/at the service counter and don’t sit at a computer all day.”
  • “What if someone Tweets a profanity?”
  • “Who cares what Ashton Kutcher is doing?”  (OK, that one is mine.)
  • “Where is the ROI?”

All of these are valid arguments against adopting Twitter as an employee communications tool.  Sure, I can cite you companies that are using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Yammer and a myriad of other social media tools as part of their comprehensive employee communications tool kit.  But you’ve heard those arguments before and you still aren’t convinced.

So let me tell you how I use Twitter:  as a professional development and research tool. 

There are some great resources out there that Tweet the latest workplace statistics and communication research findings.  I follow them and scan their Tweets to see if there is anything I can use to help one of my clients or even prepare me for a pitch to a new client.

There are professional and educational organizations, as well as industry experts, who offer free training, either via informational blogs or webinars and live chats.  I participate in as many as I can and apply that knowledge to the projects I’m supporting.

And there are recruiters and professional organizations that Tweet job openings and tips for effective resume development and interviewing.  I share those leads with friends and clients who are actively (or passively!) looking for work.

Communicators, it’s time to stop dithering and board the Twitter Express, if for no other reason than to prepare you for the day when you are out on the job market again.  After all, when was the last time you saw a PR or communications job posting that didn’t require expertise in social media?

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net or follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RinkComms

How to Use Social Media for Employee Communications

Employee communications strategist Susan Rink explains how to use six social media innovations for employee communications in this informative video.

Her company, Rink Strategic Communications (www.RinkComms.com), specializes in taking employee communications to the next level for their clients.

Susan touches on
1. Blogs
2. Yammer
3. Microsoft SharePoint
4. Online chats
5. Online comments
6. Wikis