Tag Archives: St. Louis

16 Things To Know For ’16

16

  1. It’s great to have lots of Twitter followers, Facebook friends and LinkedIn endorsers. But a good credit rating beats all three.
  2. Despite Southwest Airlines’ longtime claim that “your miles never expire,” mine expired last year.
  3. Never ever drive through (or even around) Atlanta if you can avoid it. Ever.
  4. Best media advice I’ve heard lately came from radio meetings in Nashville: “Infuse everything you do with FOMO.” (Fear Of Missing Out.)
  5. An organization that delivers hilariously entertaining TV spots may engage in sleazy business practices. (Sorry for being necessarily vague on this one.)
  6. My number one news source is Twitter.
  7. Using the term “startup” in reference to your business generally gets you attention, even if your business is selling life insurance.
  8. Some people think it’s okay to end a 7-year business relationship via text message.
  9. The adverb is not your friend. (Writing tip from Stephen King.)
  10. A Discover Card ad offering double rewards for new cardholders contained the line “no limits and no catches” but the tag at the end of the spot said, “limitations apply.” So… which is it?
  11. “Inspired by true events” does not make a movie better than one that’s total fiction.
  12. A St. Louis area business that advertised regularly in local print media for three decades ran NO print ads in 2015… and their revenues increased.
  13. A black and white photo often has stronger impact than a color pic.
  14. Whole Foods does not take checks.
  15. Sometimes I’d prefer to READ your story in an online article instead of watching a video about it.
  16. Your strict adherence to political correctness may cause you to shake your head at times, but it beats having to apologize for a communications boner. Um, mistake.

 

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On Sharing Discouraging Words

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Last week I watched the PBS Frontline program “Being Mortal,” featuring Dr. Atul Gawande. A main focus of the show was the difficulty doctors have sharing bad news with terminal patients. Dr. Gawande spoke to doctors, patients and family members about the reluctance to utter discouraging words.

Because one of my clients is a St. Louis area hospice and because I am a fan of clear, concise communication, I found the program informative and instructive. There are lessons to be learned here that apply beyond the medical world.

Regarding situations that do not involve life or death, most of us can recall work/business occurrences when we were given unwelcome news: “we’re hiring someone else,” “we’re going with another agency” or “we are not at all interested.”

Our feelings may be hurt and we may be upset or angry. But, at least, the person delivering the news had the guts and integrity to communicate directly and clearly. It certainly beats being strung along and/or getting the scoop from a back channel source. I once learned, in the midst of what I thought to be productive contract negotiations, that my employer would not be renewing me. I found out from a media gossip website.

(I choose not to venture into the area of personal romantic relationships here, although some of these thoughts may apply in those circumstances as well.)

Yes, it can be difficult to tell a person something that he or she does not want to hear. But it is generally better to share that news than to say nothing.

Former Sony Pictures head Amy Pascal is quoted in last Friday’s New York Times as saying: “You should always say exactly what you think directly to people all the time. In the moment, the first time.” (She was referring to having been “fired,” rather than resigning, as had been reported.)

I would add that being tactful and respectful is to be desired when you share discouraging words. I’ve been told “no” politely and I’ve been told “no” rudely. I prefer the former.

(If interested, you can click HERE for a link to Frontline: Being Mortal. The program runs 54:11.)

(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/16210667@N02/8131195146, http://photopin.com, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/)

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Bury Your Message

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During my media career, I have observed the full spectrum of messaging styles. I am convinced that, in almost all cases, the best way to generate a desired response is to make your call to action direct, clear and unambiguous.

Hard sell commercials on radio and TV may be annoying but they exist to sell a product or service or to motivate you to do something that is likely to lead to a purchase—such as visit a store or website, call for more info or ask a doctor to prescribe a medication.

In our new media world, much of the promotional messaging we receive is more subtle and low-key. Often, the call to action may be hidden deep within useful or entertaining content. The call to action may only be implied or vaguely suggested.

A Facebook post that shows a cute puppy may not contain verbiage that urges you to visit a certain pet supply store. But if it’s on the Petco page, you are likely to make a connection and may be more prone to shop there. When Petco mentions a 20% discount in its posts and encourages you to shop by a deadline date, you may be likely to respond (than to the simple puppy pic).

My earliest guidance on email marketing made a strong case for including useful or entertaining content (to assure a significant open rate) in each email and including a sales message almost as an afterthought. While this may work for some, I prefer to describe what is being offered, issue a call to action, then provide means for response: website, email address, phone number, etc.

In today’s environment where we are being inundated with more messages than
before from a larger number of sources, it is important to state what you’re selling, share a key selling point or two and tell how to buy your product or service. Burying your pitch deep inside your content may not produce your desired outcome.

With that thought in mind, a quick (direct, clear and unambiguous) message about my work: I help businesses tell their stories and promote their products and services via media placements, social media and email marketing (among other channels). If you or someone you know needs help with getting key messages to target customers, please call me in St. Louis at 636-346-3434.

 

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Gift Cards Suck

CAFE PRESS

This space is usually filled with my thoughts on PR, media and communication. This week I am sharing a couple of videos I recently did for CafePress.com.

First, the 45-second version:

Also, the bigger, better version:

I’ll admit that I, too, have fallen victim in the past to Gift Card Laziness Syndrome. But not this year!

Copy is by Jason Falls. Videos shot at Elasticity here in St. Louis. Thanks for watching!

(Click HERE to order that Chris Pratt iPhone case!)

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Do It Different Day

Golf balls

A morning radio team I knew a few years ago in Philadelphia had their daily benchmarks that listeners could expect to hear every day at the same time. Such as: Joke of the Day at 7:15, Trivia Game at 7:45, Show Biz News at 8:15, etc.

Occasionally they would have a “Do It Different Day” with their regular bits running at different times. This served 2 purposes. It exposed regular listeners to daily content they may have missed (because it generally aired before they left home or after they got to work). And it relieved monotony for the hosts!

Could you use a “Do It Different Day”? Even if your work has new challenges every day, it’s easy to get into a rut. Even if you have a job that utilizes your creativity, the predictable patterns involved in checking off your daily list can grow stale.

By varying your daily routine, you may be able to stimulate new ideas and develop new ways to solve problems. Do it different. Drink tea instead of coffee. Make calls from somewhere other than your defined workspace. Invite someone from beyond your usual network to lunch. Stand instead of sit.

I attended the Alumni Hall of Fame induction event this weekend for Parkway School District in suburban St. Louis. (One of my clients was among the inductees.) Many of those honored thanked teachers and coaches for allowing them to think outside the box, for allowing them to make mistakes, for encouraging creativity.

When we are young (high school and college age), many of us have a natural desire to deviate from the norm. I know I always appreciated teachers who gave me a bit of latitude.

Our experiences in the workday world typically lead us to establish and maintain day-to-day structure, which is a good thing. But some days it can feel good to do it different. (Differently, to be grammatically correct.)

Wear shoes that are not in your regular rotation. Listen to comedy instead of the news in the morning. (A half hour of Jim Gaffigan on Spotify might revise your outlook.) Unless you’re doing social for clients, stay off Facebook all day. Okay, that last one might be too radical, but you get the idea. Shake it up.

(photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/21560098@N06/3836926854/, Nina Matthews Photography, http://photopin.com, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

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Good and Bad Releases and Pitches

As a person who sends releases and pitches to a number of media outlets, it is hard for me to be objective about my own work.  However, I will critique a few releases from others that have landed recently in my inbox.

Good:

From Weber Shandwick: A brief 2-paragraph notice that A-B employees would participate in Global Be(er) Responsible Day last week. The release also offered a spokesperson for an interview. Quick and to the point.

From Lippe Taylor: A list of highlights (in bullet point form) from a survey conducted for Nescafé for National Coffee Day on September 29. One stat: 42% of coffee drinkers say that their last cup of coffee was more satisfying than their last “intimate experience.” (The release offered to share the full results of the survey for those interested.)

From the Sportsman Channel: A pitch to interview Steven Rinella about the MeatEater show on which he prepared and ate the hearts of five animals he hunted. The release was in a convenient who/what/when format. The “boilerplate” (organizational overview), however, was much too long.

Bad:

From Sheila Stewart PR: A pitch to interview an attorney about the effort to raise money for the policeman involved in the Michael Brown shooting. The subject line was confusing and the pitch gave ALL of the guy’s credentials before mentioning what he might talk about.

From St. Louis Science Center: I love the Science Center but their release re the Sherlock Holmes exhibit opening next month is wordy and vague. I’m guessing it’s a “copy and paste” release from the folks who put the exhibit together. It has six “boilerplates” at the end. Six! (Their release for this past weekend’s Electric Car show was much better… in the when/what/where/contact format.)

From Penguin Books: A pitch to talk to the author of From Scratch, a history of the Food Network. The names mentioned in the pitch are famous in the food/cooking universe, but the anecdotes and quotes from the book are not compelling. If those are the highlights, I’ll pass.

I respect everyone who’s working hard to tell clients’ stories, but communicating with media requires focus and clarity. If you want your pitch to survive the dreaded delete button, give something substantial, timely and easy to comprehend.

 

 

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Naming The Band (And Other Enterprises)

“My buddies and me, we formed a band.
We’re gonna be famous, that’s what we’ve planned.
We’re still lookin’ for a drummer
Or someone with a van. Our hair is getting longer,
But the most important thing
Is naming the band.”

—–The Bobs from their song “Naming The Band”
Naming your business, your non-profit, your product, your service or your event can be a tricky proposition.

Is the name you’ve chosen distinctive? Memorable? Catchy? Different? Weird? Plain? Boring? Offensive? Original? Clever? Descriptive? Generic? Confusing?

Did someone else come up with the idea first? Are you likely to have intellectual property issues?

Is the name one that will allow your enterprise to be easily found via Google and other search channels?

Will the name you’ve picked be easy to recall? Is it hard to spell? Is the name like others in your category?

When I started my PR business I considered naming my company Achtung! (With exclamation mark.) But since some people in St. Louis know me from my media career, I chose David Craig PR and Marketing.

(I’ve since learned of a digital marketing company in the Netherlands called Achtung. I’ve also learned about an app called The Band Namer that generates random band names. It’s free on iTunes.)

I recall a bar in Nashville named simply BAR. In St. Louis, we have a restaurant/bar with the unusual name Death In The Afternoon. Both names are distinctive and likely to arouse curiosity and attract attention.

Whatever name you choose for your company, your software program, your cocktail, your community event, your podcast, your fantasy football team or your band, remember that your efforts and your results matter more than your name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PR Challenge For St. Louis

When the Ferguson situation calms down, what are the next steps for those who are charged with promoting St. Louis as a destination for conventions, tourism, business relocations, startup development and other concerns?

Major damage has been done. Images shared worldwide are indelible. People who have never set foot in St. Louis have new perceptions of our area and they are not good.

Those of us who live here and work here know that what has been shown is a distorted view of the region, seen through the lenses of media. While there are real problems in Ferguson and other communities, most residents of St. Louis County co-exist peacefully with members of other races.

The organizations and individuals who sell the positives of St. Louis to the rest of the U.S. and the world may want to consider these suggestions in the short term:

  1. Realize that you cannot undo what has already been done. Also, realize that you cannot control the various players in this episode.
  2. Do not focus entirely on damage control. Spin will be called out.
  3. When asked, make clear your genuine concern for all parties who’ve been hurt. Avoid getting into analytical discussions or contentious arguments about what has happened.
  4. As tensions cool, share positives at intervals. Don’t launch a barrage of upbeat content immediately.
  5. Seek out those who are partisans of our region. Prominent individuals, including area natives, can be important representatives. (Jon Hamm, for instance, shared appropriate comments last night at Busch Stadium.)
  6. The value of institutions that attract people to St. Louis becomes even greater. Talk freely about the Cardinals, Rams, Blues, Zoo, Garden, our museums, the Muny, the Arch, the new Cathedral, etc. and how they add to our quality of life.
  7. Media outlets and personnel who’ve been friendly to St. Louis and our city’s institutions in the past know that this situation does not negate all the good things about St. Louis. Reach out to old friends with fresh ideas.

As a native of Birmingham, I know that perceptions linger. But they do not define a city.

Similarly, the Ferguson situation will affect our area’s reputation for some time. But it will not define St. Louis and our region. This will end and we will survive.

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Truthiness

A big media story this week has been the naming of Stephen Colbert to replace David Letterman. As I was reading about Colbert’s successful run at Comedy Central, I recalled his use of the word truthiness.

Whether Stephen Colbert invented the word truthiness is debatable. But it’s a good word. It describes a feeling that something you believe to be true is true, whether or not there is evidence to support your belief. Even when there is hard evidence that your belief is wrong, you stand by the truthiness of your belief.

We see this in political, religious and scientific arguments all the time. Logic and accepted facts may say one thing, but you (or I) believe something else. Because… well, just because.

In advertising, if the message is repeated often enough, we may buy into certain examples of truthiness. Even though your experience (or your dad) has taught you that brand A cars are better than brand B, an ad campaign can cause you to call your previously held belief into question.

In our modern world of shared “wisdom” via the web, we commonly see assertions of “true” facts that we know to be wrong. Those “Twelve Things You Should Never Say In A Blog Post” may include a couple that worked just fine for you or a client.

An example of marketing truthiness here in St. Louis arrived in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago. It was an impressive direct mail piece for a local hospital group’s “Convenient Care” clinic. It even included a map that marked the route from my very own house to their facility!

After closer inspection, though, I noticed that the mapped route was not the most direct route from my house to the clinic. Also, their route took me onto one of the busiest thoroughfares in the county. I double-checked with Google and Bing and their maps agreed with me about the most direct route.

Why would this hospital group assert their own truthiness in guiding me to their place? Because the direct route would take me right by a competing hospital!

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Verlyn Klinkenborg on Writing Short Sentences

The opening sentence of a recent front-page story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had, by my count, 49 words. The sentence had appropriate punctuation, but its length was excessive.

Last year, the St. Louis region approved Proposition P to increase sales taxes to support the Gateway Arch and local parks and trails. The text of the proposition was one 169-word sentence! (Again, that’s my count.)

Why would someone write such a long, convoluted sentence? The purpose in the case of Prop P may have been to make its meaning less than clear, a trick that some attorneys employ when writing contracts. It is hard to comprehend such a ridiculously long sentence. Or, it could be simple incompetence by the person or committee who wrote it.

Verlyn Klinkenborg’s 2012 book Several Short Sentences About Writing would have been useful for the Prop P writer(s). In the book, Klinkenborg shoots down much of what you may have learned in freshman English Composition class. Remember when your teacher wanted you to write three pages on a Shakespeare sonnet? If your paper was like mine, it was verbose and contained more fluff than substance. And the sentences were long.

Klinkenborg has good guidance for writers:

  • “How long is a good idea? Does it become less good if it’s expressed in two sentences instead of one?”
  • “Long sentences often tend to collapse or break down or become opaque or trip over their own awkwardness.”
  • “To make short sentences, you need to remove every unnecessary word. Your idea of necessary will change as your experience changes.”
  • “A crowded sentence betrays the writer’s worry that the reader won’t follow the prose if parted by a period.”
  • “Short sentences aren’t hard to make. The difficulty is forcing yourself to keep them short.”

He gives examples of sentences that are improved by his rewrites. If you write for a living or just for fun, I recommend you check out Several Short Sentences About Writing.

(For more on Writing Short, click HERE to read my August 2012 post inspired by Nora Ephron.)

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