It was a good decision: a decision based on facts, one made with key audiences in mind, informed by best practices.
Until it wasn’t, and the CEO went from being viewed as a sound, competent leader, to one whose commitment and competency were suddenly thrown into question.
That same scenario played out three different times with three different senior leaders over the course of four days, and I had a front row seat for each. After sleeping on their decisions, each suffered from what Nick Tasler, writing in Harvard Business Review, calls ‘planner’s remorse’. Overthinking and retrenching, each one started heading in the opposite direction, quickly confounding their teams, concerning their partners, and arguably pointing their organizations the wrong way.
Yet what’s often overlooked in these situations are the long-lasting effects on employees, whose confidence in their leaders suffer a blow following reversals. A single instance may not make for a problem, but repeated recalculation using the same data has a cumulative, damaging effect on trust and retention. A 2012 Deloitte report revealed that among employees who plan to leave an organization, 27% trust their corporate leadership, compared to almost 62% of those who plan to stay.
Reconsidering a path when presented with new information is the mark of a good leader. Next morning waffling is a skill for short order cooks at the local breakfast joint. Choose wisely.
By Mike McDougall
The endless possibilities of writing are what excite me most. The notion that I can put a pen to the paper—or, more appropriately, fingers to the keyboard—and create something new and unique is why I find so much joy in it.
Sure, my writing for clients requires a commitment to brand standards, but a certain creativity exists nonetheless. It’s because of language—the words we use, the punctuation we choose—that I’m able embrace this creativity. I favor some techniques and bits of punctuation more than others, and if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that I already used one of my personal favorites four times so far in this blog post. I’m talking about none other than the em dash.
When it comes to writing, you just can’t beat a good em dash. According to The Elements of Style—my preferred writing guide—a dash (or em dash, as it’s also known) is a mark of separation that’s “stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon, and more relaxed than parentheses.” Its versatility—and the countless opportunities we have to use it—are what make it so appealing. It’s a vital tool in a writer’s toolbox—one that shouldn’t be ignored.
Now, in case you’ve lost track, we’re up to nine uses of the em dash in just two paragraphs. Sure, it’s a versatile tool, but that can sometimes lead to over usage. The last thing a writer should be is repetitive, so it’s up to us to identify the proper time and place to use an em dash. The Elements of Style gives us some guidance, stating that we should, “Use a dash only when a more common mark of punctuation seems inadequate.” Take the following sentences, for example:
His novels—especially those written in the 1960s—explored the human condition.
She proved her coach wrong—it wasn’t just her talent that made her a great athlete—it was her camaraderie with the team.
Now, although these sentences still make sense, the em dashes aren’t necessary. Let’s see what they look like with an alternative structure:
His novels, especially those written in the 1960s, explored the human condition.
She proved her coach wrong. It wasn’t just her talent that made her a great athlete, it was her camaraderie with the team.
So, before you shoot from the hip and throw the em dash into your writing, ask yourself a few questions: Will a comma suffice? Am I using an em dash just for the sake of using it? And most importantly, am I effectively communicating what I want to say? If you’re not, then you’re in trouble—big trouble.
By Nick Guadagnino
Snowflakes are in the air, lights are being strung, and kids are furiously writing (and texting) to Santa. Believing is central to the holiday season, and it should also be part of how you evaluate an agency partner — or any partner, for that matter.
If a firm is helping manage an organization’s reputation and promoting its products and services, shouldn’t it be consuming them too? It’s an obvious connection, yet one too often missed — a flag redder than the jolly old elf’s suit.
Working with another agency on a shared banking account, I was stunned that its strategic lead, who’d been on the business for several years, had no personal accounts there — not even a debit card. When I asked her why, she replied that she'd “never got around to it.”
That’s not believing in your client.
Is it worse when a firm pitching your business submits materials that favor your chief competitor? That’s what one shop did during my Kodak days, sending us digital files on Fuji DVDs. They went to the top of the naughty list, and were chagrined by their lump of coal.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, look at firms such as Giles Communications. Its founder has represented Yamaha for decades, and his love for the brand is found throughout his home, with well-used keyboards, pianos and pro audio gear abound.
The Santa test is not a perfect or complete evaluation method. We have clients in specialty industries for which my business or I aren’t the target buyer. There’s only so much an agency can do with premium high-voltage resistors, as much as I’d love to try.
But for others, we live and breathe their brands. Banking with banks we represent. Wearing and using the medical devices about which we write. Buying season tickets and passes for organizations we promote. Serving in board roles for nonprofit clients we champion.
Even when projects are over, we continue. Those Yamaha speakers on my desk? You guessed it. They're from my first project more than 20 years ago, are still pumping out music, and I’d be happy and proud to explain the technology behind their sweet sound.
So as you’re asked to believe this season, take a few moments to consider if your prospective partners, or even your current partners, reinvest in their clients’ brands. You may be surprised how how fleeting and fragile — or magical and valuable — true belief really is.
By Mike McDougall
This blog post is part two of a series. Read part one here.
While the gap in online vs. TV news quickly narrows, the public relations profession is in the midst of a major transformation. As communicators well know, the rules of the game have changed, and proactive, out-of-the-box strategic thinking is required. The days of “Put me on the cover of The Wall Street Journal,” have evolved to “Share a social media post that goes viral!” While the medium may have changed, one thing remains constant: the demand for great content. But what exactly qualifies as ‘great’?
In the race for killer content, compelling stories always win. Think about some of the great storytellers of our age: Steve Jobs was a master at sharing stories to inspire innovation and risk-taking in order to change the world. Sheryl Sandberg shared her experience with grief following the untimely death of her husband, to educate and enlighten others going through similar challenges. Richard Branson uses stories to build brands and achieve buy-in. Bill and Melinda Gates launch movements to help humanity. Oprah Winfrey motivates, relates, teaches, and inspires. The common denominator: it all begins with compelling content.
Less is more. Content doesn’t have to be lengthy to be compelling. It can be as simple as a great photo, or a 15-second video shared on social media that goes viral around the globe. Content that works is engaging, timely, relevant, and concise. For example, one photo of a house encased in ice on Lake Ontario shared on social media became a global sensation in seconds. The now infamous “Ice House” was covered by every major news network around the world, plus Fallon, and Kimmel! And it all started with a great photo (I would know—the photographer just happens to be my husband).
Traditional, one-dimensional storytelling is no longer relevant. The one-off lead story in a national media outlet is quickly being eclipsed by a multimedia approach to creating owned content that maximizes reach and engagement. Innovative, multifaceted ways to tell stories are required.
A prime example of a creative approach to great multimedia storytelling is The New York Times’ Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. It the harrowing story of a group of skiers who risked it all to ski the fresh powder back trails of Cowboy Mountain in Washington State, with tragic results. A masterful combination of narrative, video, audio, graphics, and animation take you to the back-country Tunnel Creek section of Stevens Pass— and the result is breathtaking. The critically acclaimed story won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. Memorable stories make a connection with their audience.
The number one trait for great storytellers is curiosity. That desire to know more drives the storyteller to proactively seek the extraordinary among the ordinariness of daily life, seen through the camera lens, the keyboard, the infographic—the media are many, but the common thread is curiosity.
In the spirit of inquiry, communicators need to be proactive in seeking stories of relevance, thinking creatively about how to tell them, and following our instincts. In the end, regardless of the medium, compelling content is always king.
by Charla Kucko
Disclaimer: Views stated in this post are reflective of the author and not indicative of McDougall Communications.
Look through my desk and you will find two guidebooks that I refer to frequently. The first is the 2015 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook—a dense, all-encompassing guide to writing, designed by and for journalists. The second is a slender, yet vital, resource: The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Ask any PR professional about these books and chances are they have a copy of one or both on hand. And for good reason, too.
Whether I’m writing a press release or a blog post, I use these books not as crutches, but as necessary tools to make me a better writer. Both are filled with seemingly endless knowledge, helpful rules and tips to strengthen our prose and storytelling abilities. But the rules of each book don’t always align, most glaringly when it comes to one of the most controversial topics in the English language: The Oxford comma.
For those of you who skipped your punctuation lessons, the Oxford comma (also known as the serial comma) is the comma used before the conjunction in a series of three or more terms. For example:
The American flag is red, white, and blue.
I’m influenced by my parents, Kurt Vonnegut, and David Bowie.
“What’s the big deal? It’s only a comma,” say the unbelievers. That in itself is the essence of the anti-Oxford comma movement—that it’s an unnecessary, grammatical technicality introduced by literary elitists looking to distance themselves from the peasantry. The AP Stylebook supports its removal, instructing writers to “Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series.”
So, by removing the punctuation, the examples I shared earlier look like this:
The American flag is red, white and blue.
I’m influenced by my parents, Kurt Vonnegut and David Bowie.
The American flag is now red and baby blue, and my parents are Vonnegut and Bowie. As cool as it would be to have these icons as parents, it’s not true, and it makes the sentence misleading. The subtle change in grammar makes all the difference.
And that’s one of the reasons why defenders of the Oxford comma such as myself turn to The Elements of Style for guidance on the issue. Clarity is generally the main reason for its usage, but rhythm plays an equally important role. When describing the American flag, it sounds much better having a steady cadence when listing off the colors. “The flag is red, white, and blue” gives a necessary inflection after each color is named, as opposed to when the Oxford comma is omitted. It may only be aesthetics, but if beauty is removed from the writing, then why bother writing at all?
Not everyone here at McDougall Communications is as passionate about the Oxford comma as I am, but we all agree that its clarity justifies its existence. And at the end of the day, different clients will have different brand standards that dictate whether it should be used or not. We will always choose the best fit for our clients and refrain from pushing our personal preferences upon them.
Which is probably for the best, since I prefer to use the Oxford comma as opposed to the medieval barbarism that thrives in its absence.
By Nick Guadagnino
I spent a number of years in traditional corporate communications roles, including four years working remotely from my home office. While I travelled to the headquarters office at least a few days every month, I spent the rest of my time working at home.
I got used to both the challenges and the flexibility of my situation. So, when I came across an in-depth article in the Journal News with a headline about IBM and other tech companies bringing some of their remote workers back into the offices, I was intrigued.
The article provides a great perspective not only on telecommuting, but on the nature of today’s work environment. However, one of the more interesting facets of the article was the inclusion of supporting data on the number of people telecommuting.
For instance, based on the report, the total number of people spending half (or more) of their time working from home is roughly equal to 4 million people. For reference, that’s almost the population of the city Los Angeles. And while it only accounts for 3 percent of the workforce, that’s nonetheless a lot of people across the country working from home on any given day.
The article also gives a fairly detailed profile of the average telecommuter: 46 years or older, possessing at least a bachelor’s degree. I was surprised at the age group, which I expected to be younger. Much younger. Like, a decade younger. Turns out, it’s not just the younger generation doing all of the working from home or from the coffee shop. Gen X and some Baby Boomers are also taking advantage of the new flexibility that companies are offering.
Today, I work in an office with five colleagues. I rarely spend a full day out of the office, but there are occasions when I work remotely – which can mean either working from a coffee shop in between meetings (or, having a meeting at a coffee shop), or working from home. For communications professionals like myself, and for the 4 million people across the U.S. spending time working from home, technology helps keep us connected. However, as the article points out, there are other factors that come into play when working remote that companies need to be aware of, such as the toll it can take on employee engagement, which can in turn impact productivity and profitability. As the needs of businesses change, the nature of how and where we work is likely to evolve again, too.
By Will Memmott
It’s no secret that the way people consume news and information is going through a major transformation. The collective shift away from TV as a main source for news has now entered the fast lane, and is rapidly accelerating. According to an August 2017 Pew Research Center study, the gap between television and online news consumption has significantly narrowed since just last year. In August 2016, there was still a healthy 19-point gap between TV and online news sources, with TV news holding a solid lead. This year, the gap narrowed to just 7 points, with online news steadily growing. Despite what some national radio conglomerates may tell you, radio growth is flat, and print is down to just 18 percent.
When you look at the demographics, the shift is even more pronounced. Online news is on the rise across all age categories. The biggest gains are in the 65+ age group, with a 10 percent jump in online sources, while TV news is declining— with a 10 percent drop in viewership among people aged 30–49.
At this pace, online news will soon overtake TV news as a main source for information. This comes as no surprise. We’ve seen news outlets completely change the way they present information, with increasing emphasis on digital and social media content. Organizations have learned that traditional news coverage is giving way to the Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned (PESO) approach to digital marketing content. The sweet spot is strategically leveraging all of those elements to tell your own stories in order to generate maximum reach and ultimately, awareness. When that content gets shared and goes viral, the Digital Marketing Trifecta transcends the one off front-page or TV lead news story, spanning the globe in seconds.
So what does this mean for TV news? No doubt, more resources will continue to be devoted to online and social. How to monetize online platforms to make them as lucrative as TV news advertisements remains to be seen.
News outlets are not alone in the dilemma. NFL ratings have dropped 12 percent year over year on opening weekend, and were down 15 percent in week two of the season. If the trend continues, some industry analysts say the result could be a significant cut in network earnings. And Wall Street has already taken notice. Since the season opener, stock market shares have taken a hit for most of the major TV networks.
While many factors are playing into the overall TV viewership drop, one thing is certain. In the game of TV vs. online news consumption, online is on a path to become the undisputed champ.
By Charla Kucko
When you give people an inch, some will take a mile—and these are the folks who ruin it for everybody else. Such is life, and the reason behind some big changes to Facebook links that are coming down the pike.
If you manage your company’s Facebook page, you are likely familiar with the capabilities of Facebook links. You write your post, paste in your link, and the platform automatically generates a link preview. From there, the link headline, preview copy, and photo have been editable, which can be helpful when these fields don’t auto-populate quite how you expect. For example, maybe you are linking to a blog post, but the auto-populated image is unrelated to the topic, having been pulled from the page’s header, sidebar, or another area altogether. Facebook has allowed you to swap out that image with one of your own to “fix” the way the link appears so that it looks professional, purposeful, and relevant to your audience. This is about to change (if you haven’t noticed changes already).
(In the above screenshot, I am still able to click on the “+” sign to upload my own photo to accompany my link.)
Unfortunately, some Facebook users have utilized these customization features for dishonest reasons, swapping out link headlines, preview copy, and photos for things that are completely unrelated to the content that is actually included on the linked webpage. This is called “clickbait,” essentially a bait and switch. These users take advantage of compelling images or headlines to garner traffic on their webpages—pages that would not have attracted as much traffic on their own. Most of us have probably fallen victim to this at some point. “WOW! YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE WHICH CELEBRITY IS QUITTING THE BUSINESS!” reads the headline, with a photo of Oscar-winner Leonardo DiCaprio pasted above. Click on it, however, and it takes you to a slideshow of B-tier actors who, over the years, have left show business for one reason or another…and Leonardo DiCaprio is nowhere on the list. This practice was also heavily used (and criticized) during the 2016 presidential election season, contributing to the current war against “fake news.”
Facebook is waging its own war on clickbait by removing the capability to edit link previews going forward. Some pages may notice reduced editing permissions already, as Facebook rolls out the changes across its platform. Most—if not all—users can no longer edit the headline or preview copy. By September 12th, 2017, the capability to replace images will be removed as well.
What can Facebook users do about these changes? Well, not a whole lot—except adapt. The move to less customization means that social media managers will need to be more diligent about vetting links to ensure the auto-populated images and copy are acceptable for their brands. And when writing headlines—for blog posts, articles, web pages, and more—teams will need to write them with social media in mind (which is a good practice anyway). Webmasters will also need to ensure that page title and meta tags are up to snuff to avoid links that look like this:
As shown above, the copy that auto-populated does not generate any interest in this link to our McDougall Communications blog page. The page title/headline is non-specific, and the preview copy is pulled from one of the blog posts on the page, instead of being representative of the blog as a whole. It took some updating on the backend of our website to ensure that the blog page preview now looks like this:
There are a few tools that can be of use in preparation for these changes. Facebook has provided a “Sharing Debugger” tool, which enables you to preview what your links would look like before posting them (and you can check out this blog post for more information on how that works).
In the end, we can all appreciate what Facebook is doing to crack down on clickbait and fake news, but it’s important to recognize how it impacts all of us who are working to represent our brands in the Facebook community. We’re prepared, so the only thing left to do now is wait to see how these changes take shape. Good luck out there! And let us know if we can help.
By Heather Kowalczyk
Sixty seconds may not seem like much in real time, but as demonstrated in this nifty little infographic (courtesy of @LoriLewis and @OfficiallyChadd), one minute is an infinity of its own when it comes to the depths of the world wide web.
You might have already had an idea of what the numbers were like, but what does this mean for us, as PR professionals, or in how we communicate as a whole?
According to the data analytics and management company, DOMO, approximately 90% of all of today’s data was created in the past two years alone. Since you’re reading this blog post, chances are you’re already aware of how prevalent technology has become in our everyday lives. With the almost dizzying number of online platforms available to us, from the evergreen Facebook to the newer Venmo, it can be daunting trying to figure out where your audience spends their time. And while the rise of social media and other digital spaces means that communications professionals have more options now than ever before, remembering that each platform comes with its own set of ‘rules’ is crucial when it comes to optimizing your message.
That being said, don’t let the numbers overwhelm you. While there is always more to learn, here’s a quick rundown (and some quick tips!), to improve your social media game from here on out:
Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
While the number in the infographic may seem smaller compared to the others, it only refers to the number of logins that are occurring each minute—not the number of people actively using, scrolling, liking, and posting on Facebook. Given that information, it’s safe to say Facebook still dominates as the leading social media platform out there.
There are almost ten times as many tweets as there are Instagram posts.
But when you look at the functionality of both of these platforms, this makes sense. A tweet is limited to 140 characters, and can be fired off at any time, whereas an Instagram post consists of an image to be edited, and is usually accompanied by a caption (well-thought out or not). That being said, Twitter is best used to keep up with, and respond to, real-time events and best lends itself to reactionary content.
Instagram-based ads are the most effective when it comes to engagement.
Instagram leads both Facebook and Twitter when it comes to audiences engaging with ads, most likely due to its visual nature that lends itself particularly handy to those in e-commerce. If you’re looking to sell products, especially those that are aesthetically pleasing, Instagram should be your go-to, with engagement levels over 50% higher than Facebook, and 2,000% higher than Twitter. (And, if you’re looking for a marketing team that makes great use of Instagram’s capabilities, head to Wonder Women’s page).
Snapchat is now becoming more popular—despite what you may have read.
While you may have seen quips about Snapchat not living up to its predicted earnings floating around the internet, this unique platform isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. According to the latest stats, Snapchat ads receive anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million views a day, and millennials—a group most marketers covet—account for 7 out of 10 of its daily users.
By Vanessa Pearce
I used to enjoy picking up my iPad on Sunday evenings, scrolling through news from around the world, luxuriating in a lengthy feature story, and even listening to the future with a stream of morning drivetime radio from Sydney.
But then the pop-up notifications became more frequent. You know the ones. The over-eager manager, colleague or partner clearing through their inbox, furiously trying to catch up from the week gone by and getting ahead of the week to come.
And how to do that? By pushing email after email, request after request, into your inbox. While they slept more soundly on Sunday night and came in refreshed the next morning, I went to bed and woke up thinking about a mountain of to do list items that had suddenly materialized.
They were ahead. I was behind. Thanks for ruining my weekend, and putting me in a hole for the week ahead.
Now I can’t point fingers without pointing them at myself. I’ve been that guy, sending Sunday night emails, oblivious to the effects on my co-workers. You have too. Admit it.
When I made a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post about this topic a few weeks back, the comments were swift, pointed and at times defensive. Yet after a bit of reflection -- and perhaps the benefit of Monday morning introspection – there was a bit more balance. Just because we live in a 24/7 world doesn’t mean that we need to add to the maelstrom, nor does it mean that we can or should interrupt much-needed vital time away from work obligations.
So how can you reform your evil ways, winning back the good graces of your teammates without causing your own anxiety levels to skyrocket? Here’s what has worked for me:
Good luck purging your demons. For those of us trying to wring out a few more hours of peace on a Sunday – and listening to 2GB while reading the Times – thanks for a little self-restraint.