The Sticky Note Organizational Chart

September 17, 2013

The best organizational chart I ever created was made on a white wall using a black Sharpie pen and yellow sticky notes.

The setting was an office in Midtown Manhattan shortly after the devastating landfall of Superstorm Sandy.

Working for the American Red Cross, I had been assigned to serve as the Public Affairs Chief on the disaster relief operation. When I arrived in New York, more than a dozen members of my team were already there, and during the two weeks I served in that role, more than 50 individuals were assigned to the public affairs group, though not all were there at the same time.

In the midst of the disaster’s chaos, my first task was to organize the sprawling staff, most of whom I had never met. Although our disaster headquarters was in New York City, our job was more difficult because we had crews spread out in each of the five NYC boroughs and on Long Island. Their varied assignments included handling media inquiries, writing stories, taking pictures, creating social media content and performing other communications tasks.

At a quick staff meeting in the hallway, we introduced ourselves and each person briefly described his or her experience and areas of expertise. I reviewed the paperwork on each team member and then huddled up with one of my key managers to draw a table of organization. Read the rest of this entry »

Topics You Could Blog About

September 4, 2013

I don’t know what to write about.”

That’s often the first excuse I hear when I encourage someone to begin blogging.

There may be valid reasons you choose not to blog, but never let a lack of potential topics hinder you. We live in an abundant, colorful world. To begin writing, just start talking about what you see. Or what you’ve experienced. Or what you’ve learned. Or what you think. Or what you do, and how you do it.

Never forget that you have a special place in the universe. Your journey has been unlike anyone else’s. That gives you a unique vantage point from which you can write things that can best be said only by you.

I would love to read your blog, and here are some topics you could write about that I would find quite interesting.

If you are a student, your blog posts could be titled:

  1. Seven things I hope to find in my first job.
  2. Why I am pursuing a career in _______________. Insert the profession you’d like to work in after graduation. Trust me, writing this blog post will later help you ace that all-important job interview.
  3. 10 things I learned on my internship that my first employer won’t have to teach me.
  4. Things I know as a college senior that I wish I’d known as a high school senior.
  5. Memorable quotations that inspire me.
  6. Career advice from my interview with _______________. Insert a mentor, parent, professor, intern supervisor or professional you admire.
  7. Words I’ll always remember from my favorite professor.
  8. What I learned about life from my _______________. Insert an adventure such as a service project, a mission trip or a volunteer job.
  9. How playing on a softball team (or whatever you like) will make me a better _______________. Insert a job title—writer, accountant, PR professional, sales person or whatever career path you are pursuing
  10. Twelve commitments I can make to the person who hires me.

If you are a young professional, your blog posts could be titled:

  1. What they didn’t teach me in college (that I needed to know).
  2. 10 things I’d change if I was in charge.
  3. What I learned from my first 90 days on the job.
  4. Things my mentor has taught me.
  5. How to find and keep a good mentor. Read the rest of this entry »

Wisdom for Bloggers – Quotes on Blogging

September 1, 2013
  1. Blogging is best learned by blogging…and by reading other bloggers. George Siemens
  2. Blogging is like work, but without coworkers thwarting you at every turn. Scott Adams
  3. It doesn’t matter if anyone reads (your blog). What matters is the humility that comes from writing it. What matters is the metacognition of thinking about what you’re going to say. How do you explain yourself to the few employees, or your cat, or whoever is going to look at it? How do you force yourself to describe in three paragraphs why you did something? How do your respond out loud? If you’re good at it, some people are going to read it. If you’re not good at it and you stick with it, you’ll get good at it. Basically, you’re doing it for yourself to force yourself to become part of the conversation. Seth Godin Read the rest of this entry »

Four Reasons You Should Blog

August 27, 2013

Have you considered becoming a blogger? If so, I’d like to encourage you to jump in. The water’s fine!

If you need a little encouragement, here are four reasons I think you should blog:

  1. Blog for yourself. The discipline of organizing your ideas into a blog post will result in your having better ideas. Trust me, you will be more creative, more articulate and more organized when you blog. I can’t explain it. It just happens. I’ve found that the more ideas I share, the more they are magically replaced with better, more creative ones. Try it!
  2. Blog to enhance your career. Blogging has a way of boosting your professional credibility. You ideas, your insights and your experiences somehow carry more weight when you publish them online in a blog post. Other will appreciate your sharing things you’ve learned, obstacles you’ve overcome and experiences you’ve had. Write blog posts that you’d like your next employer to read. As television personality Lauren Conrad said, “Blogging is a great way to show your talents and interests to prospective employers, while adding an edge to your resume. If you blog consistently it shows your dedication, passions and creativity – all of which are key attributes employers look for in job candidates.” Read the rest of this entry »

My Seven Rules for Blogging

August 22, 2013

As a fledgling blogger, I wanted to learn how to be successful. Voraciously I read books, perused magazine articles and listened to podcasts on how to blog. I studied blog sites I found appealing. I talked with other bloggers.  I even attended a workshop.

Quickly, though, I became overwhelmed with all the advice. Much of it was conflicting. Yet I took note of what others had to say about the frequency of publishing, the ideal length of each post and the best times to publish.

A huge burden was lifted when I decided I’d blog according to my own rules. I gave myself permission to do it my way, and that’s probably what has kept me going longer than most people who start blogging.

Here are the rules by which I blog:

  1. I write first for myself. I talk about things I find interesting. I try to write in a style that I would enjoy reading. If there is anything I don’t like about a topic, I pause. If I am uncomfortable with the way I write something, chances are high that others will feel the same way.
  2. I write when I have something to say. That sounds pretty basic, but sometimes in the world of blogging and online sharing that point is overlooked. I think of my blog as the canvas upon which I paint. Great artists paint as a form of creative expression. They don’t create artwork because external pressure compels them to. Rather, they do their magic when there’s something inside of them that needs to be shared. Read the rest of this entry »

Why I Started Blogging

August 19, 2013

Today I begin my fifth year of blogging.

As this milestone approached, I paused to reflect. Why did I originally launch this blog? What initially motivated me to write?

Well, I must first confess that I did not begin with well-defined objectives.

But neither did I begin riding a bicycle with clear-cut goals. As a young boy, I began riding with no specific destination in mind. As I gained momentum, I began to wonder where fate might take me, and I realized that the journey itself could be the ultimate reward.

In many ways, that’s what happened with this blog. I just started to write and along the way I realized how much I have enjoyed the journey.

Yet, in retrospect, I can discern several underlying motives that initially fueled my efforts as a fledgling blogger. When I began blogging, I never articulated these objectives, but I now realize that I started blogging for the following reasons:

  1. To share marketing ideas. For several years I had taught marketing at a local university and had recently quit teaching. I missed being in the classroom, though, because I love to talk about marketing, strategy and communications. My new blog provided a forum where I could continue to share my ideas and opinions. Though blogging satisfied my need for creative expression, I also discovered that this platform was not as interactive as standing in front of a room full of bright, curious college students. Read the rest of this entry »

So, What’s Your Point?

August 17, 2013

dartClassic Countdown In the month leading up to the fourth anniversary of this blog’s launch, I am sharing my favorite posts. This was published on Feb. 10, 2013.

Let me get right to the point: If you want to be a more effective communicator, have a point!

Before you start to say something, know what you are going to say. And why. To understand why you are sharing information, first ask what you want the recipient to do once the message has been received.

Don’t you wish everyone sending you an email had a clear, concise point? Like me, you’ve probably receive countless emails containing lots of data but no relevant information. Often I will receive an email with attached spreadsheets. Believe me, in the past I’ve diligently scoured that data assuming “there must be a pony in here somewhere.” Unfortunately, I’ve never found one. So now, when I receive such an email, I will scan the first paragraph to decipher what I need to know. If the point is not clearly articulated there, I will move on to something more relevant.

After all, why waste valuable time trying to figure out the point of pointless communications?

Last week I happened to notice that I’ve been placed on the agenda for an upcoming meeting. As I write this, I’m not sure what the purpose of my brief presentation will be. Believe me, though, if I remain on the agenda I’ll make sure that my presentation has a point. To clarify the purpose of my communications, I will ask myself these three questions:

  1. Who am I talking with?
  2. Why should they care about what I have to say?
  3. What is my point (in one sentence)?

Perhaps my favorite movie quote comes from Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. After listening to blabbermouth John Candy talk incessantly, Steve finally explodes and says, “And by the way, when you’re telling these little stories, here’s a good idea: Have a point! It makes it so much more interesting for the listener.”

Before you communicate, do you have a point?


Three Premises for Effective Social Engagement

August 16, 2013

dartClassic Countdown In the month leading up to the fourth anniversary of this blog’s launch, I am sharing my favorite posts. This was published on May 7, 2013.

Within the American Red Cross, we prefer to use the term “social engagement” rather than “social media.” The word media focuses on tools and technology. Engagement, on the other hand, defines the desired outcome of interacting with our community through the use of social networks.

Last week I spoke at a statewide conference attended by public information officers (PIOs) from various government agencies. There I outlined the following three premises for effective social engagement:

Premise #1. Social engagement requires human interaction between two or more people.

Too often, corporations, government agencies and nonprofit organizations speak in an authoritative, inanimate voice. Interacting with them on various social networks feels like you’re dealing with a robot, not a real person.

Granted, the name or face of the person speaking from within the organization is seldom identified. Yet the corporate entity should at least act and sound as if it is a real person.

The more human an organization becomes, the more likely people will engage with it.

Premise #2. If you’re not having conversations, you’re not using social media right.

Some organizations push information outward, mistakenly believing that one-way communication is sufficient to connect with people.

The best organizational communicators are good conversationalists. They listen. They join existing conversations. They offer additional information and, when needed, correct misinformation. They welcome comments and thrive on the ensuing interactions.

I am most impressed with organizations that engage me in conversations where I feel as if I’m talking over a cup of coffee with a friend.

Premise #3. Success in social engagement requires the deliberate blending of personal and professional.

People like doing business with people they trust. Trust is built as we get to know each other as real humans. A formal, sanitized professional persona does little to connect or to engage us with others.

Professionally, I am known mostly as a marketing strategist and a communicator. That’s a narrow definition of who I am, though. On a personal level, I’d also like people to know that I’m a husband, father, friend, mentor, teacher, blogger, volunteer and community citizen. I’m much more effective professionally when people know something about me personally, something more than what’s printed on my business card.

In summary, I have some simple advice to anyone responsible for creating content on a corporate Facebook page, Twitter feed or other social platform.

Be real.

Be conversational.

Be personal.


10 Reasons NOT to Launch a Marketing Campaign

August 15, 2013

dartClassic Countdown In the month leading up to the fourth anniversary of this blog’s launch, I am sharing my favorite posts. This was published on March 29, 2011.

Sometimes marketing is viewed as a magical elixir that will somehow cure whatever ails you.

In my 20-plus years of marketing experience, I’ve come to realize that good marketing is based more upon common sense than upon creativity. Though marketing can work wonders, it is not a panacea that will transform failure into success.

As much as I value good marketing, I believe there are times not to launch a marketing campaign. My advice is to delay any marketing activities when:

  1. We are unclear what success will actually look like. Without clearly defined goals, we are merely groping in the dark, hoping to grasp something—anything—of value.
  2. We feel compelled to act before we think. In our fast-paced world, we will always experience the strong gravitational pull of urgency. Focusing on what is urgent, though, will often entice us to overlook strategy and jump prematurely into tactics.
  3. We want to begin with communications. A good marketing process ends with communications but that’s never a good place to begin.
  4. We focus on obstacles rather than opportunities. Though we must always understand reality, we will never leave the starting blocks if we focus on the hurdles between us and the finish line.
  5. We have no champion for the product or service. We may all agree that a particular program is important, but unless someone with passion assumes ownership of the program’s success, it will flounder. Of course, marketers will be the easy targets of those who need to blame someone for a product’s failure.
  6. We believe everything will be okay if only we can “get the word out.” I cannot be more emphatic in stating this: raising awareness is not a marketing goal.
  7. We talk more than we listen. Marketing success on a 2.0 world is all about having conversations, not trying to speak louder.
  8. We are unable to profile a target audience. Only the naive believe there really is such a thing as the “general public.” We are headed towards marketing failure if we neglect to define a primary audience. After all, to target everyone is to hit no one.
  9. We ignore the concept of marketing exchanges. Marketing is based upon the premise that we must build win-win relationships where we exchange value for value. Marketing is never a one-way transaction.
  10. We cannot differentiate our product or service. If we don’t know who our competitors are, and if we cannot articulate how we are different and better, then my advice is simple:  Turn off the lights, lock the door and go home. The party is over.


10 Things Marketing Is NOT

August 14, 2013

dartClassic Countdown In the month leading up to the fourth anniversary of this blog’s launch, I am sharing my favorite posts. This was published on Oct. 13, 2009.

Business success requires effective marketing. People have spent considerable energy trying to define marketing, but just for fun I’ve listed 10 things marketing is not.

  1. A silver bullet. Some people unrealistically expect a single marketing tactic to be extremely effective or to easily cure a major prevailing problem.
  2. Pixie dust. Although marketing can produce magical results, there’s no magic potion or formula that can produce instant results.
  3. Icing on the cake. Marketing must always be an essential ingredient, not something that’s added later to make the product or service look prettier or taste sweeter.
  4. Communications. Too often, especially in nonprofit organizations, communications is used synonymously with marketing. They are not the same thing.
  5. A black hole. Rarely does an investment in marketing disappear into the cosmic void. Marketing does, however, require a minimum investment of resources for it to yield the desired return.
  6. Rocket science. There’s an art to marketing, but it is not an esoteric science. Brain surgery—yes. Rocket science—no.
  7. Snake oil. Rightly done, marketing has no gimmicks, fakery or fraud. Neither is it a panacea that cures all.
  8. Hocus pocus. Marketing is not “putting a spell” on people to manipulate them into doing something against their will.
  9. Quick fix. The law of the harvest tells us that you’ve got to plant the seed and nurture the crop before you can expect to reap a bountiful harvest.
  10. Cotton candy. Although cotton candy is colorful, sweet and attractive, it lacks substance and nutritive value. Effective marketing is both attractive and substantive.

Marketing is sometimes hampered by unrealistic expectations so occasionally it’s helpful to look at what marketing is not.


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