Negative Space More Than a Pretty Face

Negative space is not wasted space. It points to the key message of an ad, brochure, invitation of PowerPoint presentation.

Negative space is not wasted space. It points to the key message of an ad, brochure, invitation of PowerPoint presentation.

If you are one of those people who point to open space on a design for a brochure, advertisement or PowerPoint and suggest putting in more copy, stop it. Open space isn't there by accident.

Negative space, as graphic designers refer to it, helps cue the eye of where to go. It is a critical, not an accidental aspect of a design.

Pages, ads or slides crammed with words, charts and images make it harder for viewers to know where to look first. Visual confusion can quickly lead to frustration. When it is to hard to fathom, readers put down a brochure, turn the page of a publication or stop paying attention to the slide presentation.

The notion of "clean design" incorporates wise use of open space. An effective page, ad or slide centers on a dominant feature that isn't crowded by a lot of lesser items. That feature delivers the key message, with open space pointing the way.

Negative space must be proportional to the featured element. That is achieved when the open space is part of the overall design, not just the space left uncovered by copy.

The absence of an image or words can be its own message. Think of a full-page newspaper ad that is mostly blank, with just a few words: "This is what newspapers look like in countries that censor journalists who dare to report the news."

Sometimes negative space can tell its story by how it is designed. The cover of "Peter and the Wolf" employed negative space in the shape of a boy's head, encircled by the wolf on the prowl. The curving wolf would have been meaningless without the boy's negative-space silhouette.

Cramped layout equates for most viewers to loud TV or radio ads. Jam-packed designs have the same negative effect as a pitchman screaming on air.

For reviewers who wear green eyeshades and want to squeeze every penny's worth of value out of an buy or piece of printed material, open space must seem like a waste. But rest assured, open space is one of the best investments per square inch you make to surround quality content.

There is nothing negative about negative space. It is more than a pretty face.

Unusual and Outrageous Keys to Earned Media

Carl's Jr. leveraged its brash brand personality to earn scads of media coverage, including a live segment on the Today show, on the introduction of its belly-busting "barbecue in a bun" burger.

Carl's Jr. leveraged its brash brand personality to earn scads of media coverage, including a live segment on the Today show, on the introduction of its belly-busting "barbecue in a bun" burger.

The value of earned media is to tell your story inside the news hole, not in the boundaries of advertising space. There is no better example of effective earned media than the promotion this week of Carl's Jr. Thickburger.

Brash is part of the band personality for Carl's Jr. Playing off that brash image, it introduced what it calls an entire barbecue in a bun – an oversized burger, accessorized with tomato, lettuce, pickle, ketchup, cheese, hot dog and potato chips. This puppy weighs in at 1,030 calories and 64 grams of fat.

Since the earned media opportunity was spun out, news outlets have stumbled over themselves to report this belly-busting burger. Stories with pictures of the plump burger appeared in USA Today, the Huffington Post and major daily newspapers.

The anchor team on NBC's Today show did a segment where four cast members talked about, then took a sloppy bite from the burger, which the PR team from Carl's Jr. just happened to provide. The value of this kind of exposure is, let's just say, worth a whole lot more than the $5.79 price tag for the Thickburger.

Anyone who has seen a Carl's Jr. TV ad knows they are outrageous-bordering-on-gross. People chomp into a large burger, dripping sauce all over themselves. The Thickburger earned media campaign employs the same outrageousness. That's what makes it "news."

Come out with a hamburger with bacon and you will get a yawn from news editors and producers. Slap on a hot dog and there is instant interest. The hot dog may taste sort of like bacon, but it's a hot dog. You know, at barbecues, you get a choice between a hamburger and a hot dog. Now, you don't have to choose.

You also don't have to worry about where on your plate to juggle your potato chips. They are in the bun, too.

When many fast food restaurants are wrestling with how to offer healthier fare, Carl's Jr. goes for the jugular – or a coronary artery. There is no hemming and hawing about calories or fat. Carl's Jr. puts it out there proudly, not defensively. And the chain calls the Thickburger "all American."

The outrageous doesn't always work for brands or idea merchants that initiate earned media campaigns. The lesson isn't about outrage; it's about breaking through the noise barrier with something that is different, catchy or unexpected. It's also about "news" that can have an extended life through social media, the stuff people read and share.

The unusual and the outrageous can earn media you don't have to pay for from your advertising budget. But don't avoid earned media just because your product, service or idea isn't unusual or outrageous. You can create an appealing news hook by finding what's truly different and building your earned media pitch around it.

Matching Visuals to Your Message

Viewers expect higher quality visual images. You should demand matching your visual assets to your brand message.

Viewers expect higher quality visual images. You should demand matching your visual assets to your brand message.

Most people by now have gotten the picture that visual communications are effective. But adding visual pop to actual communications still for many remains a mystery.

Anna Guerrero, in a blog posted by ragan.com, offers some practical tips on how to lure viewers. Guerrero's core point is that just adding visual content doesn't do the trick. You need quality visual assets that tell your story better than any words can.

Her tips include using high-quality photography, website screenshots, infographics, candid images, original designs and a striking color palette – stuff that stands out and grabs the eye.

Maybe Guerrero's most profound point is the need to match your visuals with your message. To convey that your organization is full of "fun people," show a behind-the-scenes picture of your team working while doing something funny. To reduce a complex topic into something simple, create an infographic that walks the viewer through the issue in digestible chunks. To establish credibility, post a screenshot showing the original source of information that you are citing.

Visual symbols play a large part in brand recognition – and loyalty. They can be leveraged by associating them with strong, compatible visual assets that express a more specific message. The example Guerrero pointed to was the Kaleidoscope Blog on Pinterest and its distinctive, easily recognizable design.

Striking photography pulls people in, as she showed with an eye-popping picture of a woman applying bright red lipstick with a man caressing her cheek with his lips. The picture was visibly relevant to the Facebook post headline and the content: "8 Reason to Fall in Love with the Girl Who Rocks Red Lipstick." The image, Guerrero notes, wasn't the result of an expensive photo shoot; it was a piece of stock photography.

Successful visual communications usually flow from information design processes that give equal weight at the start to all assets. Information designers don't make words look pretty or discard words in favor of snazzy pictures. They choose the best combination that tells the story in a way the intended audience will notice.

It is true that effective communications in the digital age almost always include visual assets. Viewers have come to expect it. With so many people sending pictures from smartphones and designing personalized greeting cards on their tablets, their expectations have risen for more presentational value. And they just don't want pictures; they want good pictures.

Good pictures don't always mean the same thing across communication channels. Quirky works on Instagram and elegance pays dividends on Pinterest. That is a direct reflection of the dominant demographics that use each platform. What you post on Facebook is different than what you post on your website or as a blog illustration.

Visual imagery should be part of your communications toolkit. More important, it must be part of your brand narrative.

Too Big to Succeed

McDonald's is proving the marketing maxim that you can too big to succeed by trying to be everything to everybody instead of identifying and satisfying the needs of your core customers.

McDonald's is proving the marketing maxim that you can too big to succeed by trying to be everything to everybody instead of identifying and satisfying the needs of your core customers.

Large banks may be too large to fail, but consumer-facing companies may find themselves too big to succeed. Take McDonald's, for example.

The fast-food industry pioneer has hit a brick wall, with slipping sales, declining profits and growing questions about its future direction. Under new leadership, McDonald's is trying to regain its footing with the goal of being "modern" and "progressive." But the nagging question remains: Who does McDonald's want to show up at its counter and how do they get them there?

That's the quandary of being big. It's hard to be everything to everybody.

McDonald's quandary should be a cautionary tale for all businesses. Growth of your brand is not synonymous with growing bigger. Trying to get big is not a sure-proof way to succeed and may actually be the road to eventual ruin.

Clearly, McDonald's is one of the most valuable brands and franchises in the world. It owns that position in large part because it created the fast food category with a simple menu, quick service and low prices. When you went to the Golden Arches, you didn't expect great cuisine. It was burgers, fries and a shake on the go, for cheap.

Lifestyles and tastes have changed. New competitors have cropped up, creating new fast-food subcategories such as fast casual. Simple, quick and low-priced can still be a winning strategy, but maybe not for a goliath like McDonald's that is trying to serve other tastes at the same time.

Brands are built by claiming their own space in customer's heads  and then fighting to retain that space. Volvo builds cars with "safety" in large letters and "style" in smaller letters. BMW produces the ultimate driving machine. Once the symbol of luxury, Cadillac now searches for its customer identity.

Brand-building involves a relentless focus on the qualities customers expect from you. If how you are viewed by customers becomes blurry, then it becomes harder for you to focus. You may still be growing, but that growth could be misleading. You could growing too big to succeed.

Tips for Using Social Media to Pitch Media

These guidelines will help you successfully connect your pitch with reporters using social media.

These guidelines will help you successfully connect your pitch with reporters using social media.

With the current realities of newsrooms, it’s smart to look for alternative ways to pitch story ideas using social media. Before you send that pitch, make sure to follow a few guidelines. 

Nicole Fallon, writing for Ragan.com, says there is an art to pitching journalists on social media. An inappropriate pitch or using the wrong social network can do more harm than good. 
“Every social media site is different and has its own set of unspoken rules and guidelines for using it,” says Fallon.

LinkedIn is almost always a safe bet for any sort of professional outreach, but not everyone checks the site regularly. Most reporters use Twitter professionally, so take a look at the type of content they post to get a sense of if this is an appropriate place to pitch. Use of Facebook can vary from person to person. Some have a large number of friends and contacts, while others see Facebook as a more private space. If you’re friends, review the reporter’s posts to determine how a particular reporter is using the site. Instagram can be more personal as well, so use it as a way to build a relationship with a reporter, but not to pitch them directly.

Always try to start by building a relationship with a reporter. A pitch is not a good way to say hello. A good relationship with a reporter is almost always going to make your media pitches more successful. Social media can be a great way to build a relationship with a reporter. 

“A great way to start is by sharing or commenting on journalists' articles that are relevant to your clients' expertise,” says Fallon. “If you tag them, they'll most likely see it, and if you haven't worked together before, this will put you on their radar.” 

Rather than an outright pitch, Fallon recommends using social media to gauge interest. Keep your messages short and direct. You can always send more details later. 

If the reporter is interested, Fallon recommends moving the pitch to email. It’s really the best way to send more detailed information. If the reporter is expecting your email, he or she will be more likely to respond. 

Be careful about sending attachments immediately. These can often get caught in spam filters or the large file size can cause emails to bounce. Let the reporter know what types of materials you have to send to them and ask about the best way to send them. Sometimes it’s downloadable files online, while others prefer services such as Dropbox. Sometimes email is fine depending on their system. Delaying attachments can make sure your message gets to its intended target. 

Pitching via social media is not always the best – or even a good – idea. Make sure you’ve done your homework before hitting the send button.
 

Tuning Content for Your Audience's Ear

Content marketing is more than blasting content through a megaphone. It involves finding out what your audience wants and giving it to them.

Content marketing is more than blasting content through a megaphone. It involves finding out what your audience wants and giving it to them.

The secret to content marketing lies in knowing your audience, not someone's formula for success.

Neil Patel, writing for ragan.com, says too many content marketing initiatives go down in flames because they follow so-called best practices rather than the clues provided from target viewers.

"Take every best practice with a grain of salt. Do the one thing that matters: Know your audience," Patel urges. "Your form, method, frequency, length, style, approach, tone, structure, images should depend on what's best for your audience."

Content marketers are discovering what ad agencies have discovered – connecting with audiences requires more than shouting through a megaphone. Writing a blog that no one reads is just as much of a misfire as producing an ad that no one believes.

The "best practices" that Patel spears aren't necessarily bad practices to adopt. Snappy headlines, brisk copy, blogs, infographics all can be effective tools. But that's what they are – tools, not ends.

One clue to what your viewers are looking for is what they click on in your website. Typically, the most clicks are for team biographies and case studies. That suggests content centered on your team members and stories about your work.

Another way to ferret out what your viewers want is to ask them. Periodic surveys can combine a little fun with serious questions. This might lead to producing content, such as an informative Ebook, that responds to interests or needs that are expressed.

Tuning into online conversations is yet another way to hear what is on the minds of your audience. Creating content that follows – or bucks – trends could be a great way to capture attention.

One constant in content marketing that shouldn't be forgotten is the need to provide something useful. Usefulness could mean content that is entertaining, informative, relevant or eye-opening.

Another content marketing maxim is letting the form follow the function. Your content must be created, packaged and delivered so it arrives at the doorstep of your audience, whether that doorstep is a desktop, tablet or mailbox.

Many content marketing best practices have value and reflect track records of success. But Patel is right – they aren't where you start in designing an effective content marketing campaign. The place you start are the persons you want the message to end with – your audience.

Making Every Encounter Count

Make every customer encounter important by creating a magical moment. 

Make every customer encounter important by creating a magical moment. 

The Internet has changed the way people shop. It also has changed the way brands must interact with shoppers, treating each touchpoint with a consumer as a potentially magical moment.

Because it is easy to flit from one website to another, each encounter must count, says Scott Davis, director of insights and strategy at Sincerely Truman, a Portland creative agency. "The encounter is everything," Davis explains. "Catch people off guard and make them smile. Capture their heart, if only for a moment."

Of course, it wouldn't hurt if your encounter also involved transmitting relevant information, useful tips or to-die-for offers.

Davis makes a good point that every encounter is important, so brands must consider every social media post, their website design and marketing content that inspires shoppers to pause and exposes them to what is uniquely your brand story.

Paid and earned media have always been aimed at creating impressions. Davis says a quality impression is more valuable than a number of so-so impressions. "Every touchpoint must be a powerful standalone encounter."

Thinking differently about consumer interactions means thinking differently about content. In mass outreach, the goal is to grab eyeballs. What Davis recommends requires capturing eyeballs.

There is so much advertising on TV, in print and via the Web that it takes more than flash to create a durable impression, let alone to cause someone to poke a little deeper into the content.

Developing this kind of mix of creative content demands solid research to understand consumer motivations and trusted information sources. Content packaging must be clever, but also a quick route to the core information being offered. The actual content must instantly resonate with the intended audience by offering something of value that uniquely reflects your brand.

This is a tall order for every touchpoint, but Davis' admonition suggests the reward is worth the effort. "You must be able to bank on every encounter creating value." he says. Because in the crowded world of the Internet, you never know when the next encounter might be.

Package Your Information Like a Gift

Make sure your information is a gift your customers can't wait to open. 

Make sure your information is a gift your customers can't wait to open. 

Everyone likes to receive gifts, especially when they are packaged neatly with a card and wrapped in brightly colored paper and a pretty ribbon. You should think about packaging information the same way.

It’s not just about making things look pretty. The way you present your information directly impacts how likely your target audience is to hear what you're saying. You can make your information inviting by following the basic steps of wrapping a gift.

  1. Pick the right size box – The size of the box should match the amount of information inside. While little kids get excited about big packages, most people appreciate a box they can get their hands around. Some of the most excited reactions come from opening small, ring-size boxes. Skillful editing will help your viewers focus. Only include your most interesting informational gems and put aside less important items. 
  2. Choose your paper and ribbon carefully – Don’t forget about the visual way you present your information. Make sure the layout you choose draws in your audience. A bright headline and smart copy also attracts attention. You want to make the wrapping so inviting that viewers cannot resist opening your package right away.
  3. Protect the contents in the box – Just as you would place protective material to secure a gift, surround your valuable information with supportive material – links, video, SlideShares, podcasts and images. You want your gift recipients to rush to open the box, but to notice the care by which you packaged it. Providing supportive materials makes it easy for them to go back and find useful context or more deeply layered information.
  4. Deliver the package in person – While it is fun to see a package waiting by your front door when you arrive home, nothing compares to the impact of a friend handing you a gift. Building a relationship with your customers means they are hearing from a friend, not a stranger. Further personalize your information-sharing, through including a personal greeting, customized content or an offer for interactivity.
  5. Give a gift that's useful – The gifts that are most welcome are ones that fill a need. Make your information useful and relevant to your audience. Engaging your audience regularly will ensure you know what is at the top of their wish list. 
  6. Make your gift a party – Gifts are most fun when they are given at a party. Create some excitement around your information with an event, a contest or a milestone celebration. 

As with any gift, it really is the thought that counts. Always keep your customers in mind when creating and packaging your information. 

Top of Mind: Key to Being Remembered

Remind people that you exist and do quality work.

Remind people that you exist and do quality work.

You may be someone's best friend, but they still could forget you if you aren't doing what it takes to remain top of mind.

For example, we never got a chance to pitch a project for a former client, who when asked why sheepishly said he forgot about us. 

On the other hand, a long-time colleague invited CFM to be part of his proposal after he read one of our blogs that touched directly on what the potential client wants.

If you are sitting on the sidelines, don't blame your clients or colleagues. Look in the mirror, then get out of the bathroom and remind people that you exist and do quality work.

How you stay in the line of vision of potential clients can take a lot of forms. Give speeches, write blogs, keep up regular correspondence, share a white paper, take people out for coffee or do someone a simple favor. 

Success is less about what you do than whether you do what it takes.

Integrated approaches to networking work best. Take an idea and turn it into a blog. Promote your blog on your Twitter feed and ask for feedback on your LinkedIn page.  Self-publish press releases on your website. Start a conversation that attracts the eyeballs of your target clients – and your existing ones, too. Let them see you are thinking and offering ideas.

The best posts, speeches and coffee chats center on sharing something useful. It won't seem as much like a sales pitch if you offer information or a tip clients can use. It will remind them of your value and relevance.

You can't stop with a single outreach effort. People are busy and can overlook your post or miss your speech. It may seem like you are saturating your communications channels, but that is unlikely unless you screw up like Justin Bieber. Staying top of mind demands being a regular part of the thought leadership landscape.

As a colleague once said, professional networking is a contact sport. No contact, no client, no gain.

Edit Your Work – and AutoCorrect's Work

AutoCorrect seems to be invested with an ability to anticipate what you mean, or perhaps don't mean.

AutoCorrect seems to be invested with an ability to anticipate what you mean, or perhaps don't mean.

Some of life's most embarrassing moments result from unnoticed text changes authored by a stealthy character called AutoCorrect.

When you are under pressure to pound out a message or a memo, AutoCorrect is there to bail you out – or throw you under the bus – by correcting your typos and words in progress.

In addition to catching the chronically misspelled word, AutoCorrect seems to be invested with an ability to anticipate what you mean, or perhaps don't mean.

Take the college kid responding to his mother's text message:

"How's school going?"
"Oh it's great. Just had the best weed of my life."
"I mean WEEK. Not weed. I swear."
"Sounds great, but don't tell your father."

AutoCorrect's uncanny ability to create far more cringeworthy bloopers should encourage people to pause before hitting the send button on an email, tweet, memo or message.

There is no substitute for carefully editing your own copy. And not that quick once-over just after you finish typing or thumbing. Take a deep breath, see if there is a message on your Starbucks cup and then take a fresher look at what you wrote. You may be surprised – or horrified.

Catching that flub – like AutoCorrect helpfully substituting the word "nipple" when you meant to type "dimple" – can save a lot of red-faced explanations and apologies.

While some AutoCorrect substitutions may provoke a smile, others may offend or leave the impression you are careless.

Editing is a painstaking chore. But everyone needs to do. Think of it as a treadmill to trim your words.

Without editing, you are only a hasty slip of the send button from something like this:

"I thought granny was going to be here by now."
"Grandma is in the grave."
"What? What happened?"
"Sorry, I meant she is in the garage."

How to Make Your Thank You Stand Out

How to make your thank you stand out

Next time you want to make an impression, consider taking a cue from an earlier time. Send a handwritten thank you note. 

While it might seem old-fashioned, a handwritten thank you note can make an excellent impression. While it’s much easier to send a quick email or tweet, a thank you note cuts through the digital clutter. Think about the last time you received actual mail that wasn't clearly mass produced.

Here are a few tips to make your thank you note stand out. 

1. Create personal stationery: While it may be easier to purchase a box of thank you notes, having your own personalized stationery feels more genuine. One easy way to make personalized stationery is to divide a piece of paper into four sections using a program such as Apple Pages or Adobe InDesign. You can either print the thank you notes yourself or go through a professional printer. Be sure to see and touch an example before you purchase or print a large amount. Include your contact information on the stationery, as recipients are more likely to keep a handwritten thank you note. 

2. Use quality paper: Quality paper demonstrates a clear tactile difference. When selecting a paper, be sure to touch and feel it before purchasing. Many office supplies stores will allow you to bring your own paper to be printed. Paper Source is an excellent place to purchase high-quality paper for making your own personalized thank you note. 

3. Consider colored envelopes: Using colored envelopes is an easy way to make your thank you note stand out. Make sure you’ve already designed and printed your thank you notes so that you can select the correct size. If you’re planning on hand-addressing your envelopes, make sure the color is light enough to write on. Paper Source also an excellent source for high-quality colored envelopes. 

4. Make sure to actually write and send your thank you notes: This step might be the hardest of all: sitting down to actually write the thank you note. Designing stationery and selecting envelopes may be fun, but follow through is the most important step. 

Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock and Brands

Leonard Nimoy at first resisted being type-cast as Mr. Spock, but he came to realize that he and his iconic role were beloved – and his brand for life. Photo by Beth Madison, via Wikimedia Commons.

Leonard Nimoy at first resisted being type-cast as Mr. Spock, but he came to realize that he and his iconic role were beloved – and his brand for life. Photo by Beth Madison, via Wikimedia Commons.

The late Leonard Nimoy wrote two memoirs with interlocking titles – "I Am Not Spock" and "I Am Spock." His literary works could be a case study in a marketing communications branding class.

Being type-cast in Hollywood is not always a good thing. Recognizing you are type-cast can be liberating. Nimoy became famous as Mr. Spock, the split-fingered Vulcan sage who could see logic in chaos. The role that catapulted him to fame became his cage, which he first rejected, but ultimately accepted.

The lesson behind Nimoy's transformation is that customers decide your brand, not you.

Rebelling against your "brand" is why many brand extensions often fail – e.g. Colgate TV dinners and Evian's water-filled bra. You are who your customers think you are, not who you think you are. The better known the brand, the more you are, well, type-cast.

When Nimoy came to grips with his situation and accepted his branding, he directed two of the six Star Trek movie take-offs. He lent his voice to a cartoon version of the popular TV series. And he branched out to photography, poetry and music.

Brands can expand if you stay grounded in what the brand is expected to be. Starbucks came up with a home coffee-making machine. Orville Reddenbacher sells ready-to-eat popcorn. Duracell offers a power mat for mobile devices. Nestlé Crunch teamed with the Girl Scouts to produce a cookie candy bar.

Much energy and expense is devoted to "branding." A good place to begin is asking your customers or clients to describe your brand. You may be surprised at what they tell you. If customers are unsure of what you do, you have one kind of branding problem. If they tell you what they like about what you do, you have a golden opportunity to keep doing it.

Make Your Messages Authentic and Audience-Centric

Make sure your message connects with your audience. 

Make sure your message connects with your audience. 

Many of us know what we want to say, but have little idea of how to communicate our message effectively to the audience we want to hear it.

Quantitative research can reveal what arguments play best with which audience. However, that doesn't always translate into how to frame the argument so it resonates, sounds authentic and is believable. Sometimes, it just boils down to saying something in a way that is clear, not confusing.

Message testing usually requires one or more forms of qualitative research that involve listening to how people who are from the target audience react to the words you use – and noting the words they use to express the point you are trying to get across.

Powerful ideas can be powerless unless they are rendered in meaningful, accessible ways for the audience to which they are intended.

You wouldn't talk about a medical procedure the same way with doctors and patients. Doctors would want and need to know more of the technical details. Patients want to learn about outcomes and side effects. The level, tone and content would vary greatly, even if you were talking about the exact same thing. That is how audience-centric communications works.

Marketing campaigns often stumble by focusing on what you want to say and not on how your words will be interpreted, if heard at all.

The first step in communicating with an audience is to know as much as you can about that audience. If you craft your message so that your audience can understand what you mean and place it in a communications channel where they pay attention, you stand a much better chance of actually communicating, not just shouting into the wrong end of a megaphone.

A Picture of Storytelling

The photograph shows a table with uneaten eggs, a cold teapot, shattered glass and a blood-stained curtain. It was taken in Donetsk, Ukraine. It could have been taken anywhere experiencing the ravages of war.

The photograph shows a table with uneaten eggs, a cold teapot, shattered glass and a blood-stained curtain. It was taken in Donetsk, Ukraine. It could have been taken anywhere experiencing the ravages of war.

The photograph shows a table with uneaten eggs, a cold teapot, shattered glass and a blood-stained curtain. It was taken in Donetsk, Ukraine. It could have been taken anywhere experiencing the ravages of war. 

Titled "Kitchen Table," the photograph is one of the winners in the 2015 World Press Photo Contest. The more enduring message of the photograph is that a great picture can tell a great story.

Data overwhelmingly shows pictures do much more than substitute for a 1,000 words. Pictures tell stories in ways words never can. They attract our eye. They hold our attention. They linger in our memory.

The gallery of photos in the World Press contest speaks volumes about the power of pictures. Three empty dresses underscore the horror of the mass abduction of schoolgirls by Boko Haram. A woman in chains with her head drooping evinces the inhumanity of illicit sex trafficking. An outstretched Odell Beckham making a one-handed catch in the end zone celebrates amazing athleticism.

While the subject matter of many of the photographs is emotionally charged, the common value of all the photos is their well-framed simplicity. Winners titled "Family Love" and "Vegetables with an Attitude" don't have grand subjects, just great photography that tells a story.

The point is not to argue for pictures without words, but for a marriage of equals. Pictures can tell a story that words cannot match. Words can fill in the blanks of the stories pictures begin to tell. That is nowhere more obvious than the new trend in websites that focus on scrolling stories. 

The communication channel really doesn't matter. Websites, press releases, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, memos and proposals all are stronger when visual images reinforce words, and words add value to pictures. 

Great photographers have immense skill. But technology has made it possible for lesser skilled people to take great photographs. 

Crack open your digital camera, drag out your old Polaroid or figure out where the shutter button is on your smartphone and start shooting the stories occurring all around you. Don't be surprised when people take notice of the visual storytelling that you post.

The Marriage of TV Ads and Content Marketing

American Family Insurance's retro Super Bowl ad featuring Jennifer Hudson shows the power of combining paid media with online content marketing.

American Family Insurance's retro Super Bowl ad featuring Jennifer Hudson shows the power of combining paid media with online content marketing.

American Family Insurance splurged on a high-profile Super Bowl ad to launch an online campaign to encourage people to pursue their dreams fearlessly.

A singing Jennifer Hudson headlines the 60-second TV spot, which is set in a retro scene taken from the 1942 Edward Hopper painting called "Nighthawks." The ad is impressive, but what separates it from the average big-money spot is its social engagement component.

Clearly, American Family Insurance wants people to click on its website and get quotes for car or home insurance. But the website also contains a nicely designed "Dream Bank." "Every dream deserves the spotlight. Which is why DreamBank by American Family Insurance is using the biggest game of the year to give the spotlight to hardworking dreamers who have the courage to dream fearlessly."

After tripping through a section devoted to the aspiring actors who appeared in the Super Bowl ad with Hudson, you come to a section aimed at helping everyday dreamers. "Every dream starts with the dreamer," the section begins. "By understanding your strengths, motivations and fears, you can better focus on your dream and the path to get there." 

Dreamers are then led through a series of questions about what propels their dream, followed by a set of online resources, including 26 books to inspire kids to "dream bigger." Viewers are asked to sign up for updates as more content is posted.

In all, it is a worthy effort to get people's attention with an ad and then to sustain that attention online by offering something of value.

Without question, the emphasis on this project was the splashy ad. The Dream Bank is mostly a nascent idea with a trickle of content. But the concept is solid and shows the importance of interconnecting paid media and online content marketing. This is a strategy that can be pursued without a multi-million dollar advertising budget.

There are lots of ways to pique people's interest — through contests, events, direct mail, posters and storytelling — that gives them enough reason to follow-up online. The online material's job is to give a quick and positive first impression, then to offer well-packaged, accessible content that is informative and useful. 

Quality content will keep people coming back, so you get a chance at more than a one-time encounter. American Family Insurance undoubtedly hopes it can stay in touch with people who sign up as dreamers, with the hope their dreams will lead to the need for more or different insurance. Hopefully, the company will see beyond mere clicks for quotes to the possibility of building an online community centered on empowering and realizing life dreams. Being associated with that social enterprise will bring richer dividends than a few new auto insurance policies.

You know content marketing is catching on when even big-league ad agencies find ways to promote it. Just remember, you don't need a big-league ad agency to launch your own combined campaign of outreach and engagement.

After the Super Bowl Ad Hoopla

Marketing PR has always been aimed at forging relationships and many of its techniques are designed to be useful as well as clever.

Marketing PR has always been aimed at forging relationships and many of its techniques are designed to be useful as well as clever.

Reaching your audience through a 30-second, $4.5 million Super Bowl ad may not be in your budget. Luckily there are many other, more affordable ways to make a connection. 

For Budweiser, it may make sense to spend millions on a commercial about a horse and a dog so it can remind people it still sells beer. For the vast majority of brands that operate on tighter budgets, marketing efforts have to be more focused and targeted. Those brands need to rummage through the marketing PR bag of tricks.

Events, user-generated content, contests, earned media, open houses, op-eds, YouTube videos, white papers, Facebook fan pages, consumer summits and garage meet-ups are the stuff of marketing PR. They can be just as entertaining as ads, but cost far less and often have much longer retention value. Most important, they zero in on your audience. 

Mass appeal gave way to targeted outreach some time ago. Now the premium is on building relationships with target audiences that provide useful information for consumers and stakeholders. Marketing PR has always been aimed at forging relationships and many of its techniques are designed to be useful as well as clever.

Advertising remains an important ingredient in marketing efforts, and it also has become more user-friendly. Ads can be targeted, consumers can help generate their content and editing and production can be accomplished on a laptop instead of requiring a studio.

So if your budget doesn't have a spare $4.5 million rattling around, don't despair. There are plenty of ways to get across your message to the people you want to hear it.

Learning from Obama’s YouTube Engagement

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President Obama followed up his State of the Union Address with a surprising decision. Rather than making the rounds on the usual press circuit, he conducted a series of interviews with some of YouTube’s biggest stars. 

The move may startle some, but the statistics prove the President knows exactly what he is doing. The broadcast version of the State of the Union Address had some of the lowest viewing statistics in recent history, but the online conversations told a different story. “1.2 million people watched the speech on the White House’s website; 2.6 million tweeted about it and another 5.7 million liked, shared or posted about it on Facebook.” 

This story shouldn’t be new to anyone who has been paying attention. For years, reports have shown media sources continue to be fragmented, while use of social media has only continued to grow. 

Media outlets have been struggling to keep up with the changes. The lines between media channels have continued to blur. Nearly every outlet, whether print or broadcast, has an online presence. Reporters are expected to develop a following on social media, and there are often financial incentives for how many clicks a story receives. 

What can companies and organizations learn from Obama’s example? Giving an exclusive to the right reporter might be the best way to get your story out via social media. Consider a different format than the traditional interview. Maybe it’s a Reddit-style question-and-answer session (also known as an Ask Me Anything or AMA). Maybe it’s a video interview where the publication has its readers submit questions via Twitter. Local media has readers it wants to engage and might be willing to try out something new. You never know until you ask. 

If you decide to go this route, there are a few things you must consider:

  1. Your story must be newsworthy. Make sure your exclusive is something truly important or you might damage your relationship with the reporter. 
  2. Make sure the reporter is someone you can trust. When trying out a new format, it’s important that ground rules are set ahead of time. 
  3. Be prepared to be transparent. Your critics will come out of the woodwork. Be prepared to answer their difficult questions. 
  4. You must be very comfortable giving interviews. This is not a technique for media newbies. If you’re not comfortable, media training is a great place to start. 

This technique might not be appropriate for everyone. You might consider doing something yourself, if you have your own social media channels. But if you want to get your story out to a wider audience using social media, your best bet may just be a member of the traditional media.  

Telling Your Brand Story in a Logo

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Your logo should tell people more than just your name.In a noisy world, logos should do more than serve as a reminder of a brand identity. They should add definition to the brand.

Logos have become an avenue for visually explaining a brand. A British firm called Oomph produced an infographic with 40 examples of logos with subliminal or not-so-subtle messaging about their brands. 

A good example is the Baskin Robbins logo, which uses two colors to work 31 into its "BR," reflecting the ice cream company's value proposition of offering 31 different flavors. The symbolism in this logo is hard to miss, even if you are color-blind. It tells you the company's name and what it offers. A nice piece of work for a logo.

Zoos frequently have logos with subliminal or familiar features. The San Diego Zoo spells out "zoo" with animal paws. The Cologne Zoo combines an image and its negative space to create pictures of an elephant, giraffe, rhinoceros and the distinctive spires of the city's most recognizable landmark. The Pittsburgh Zoo accomplishes something similar with an illustration of a tree, with the negative space under the branches in the shape of a gorilla and a lion facing each other.

The Pinterest logo starts with a "P" fashioned like a "pin" to describe the social media site devoted to galleries of pictures that people pin and share.

The Tostitos logo is a drawing that shows two stick figures (the "ts") enjoying themselves with a chip and a dip, with a Southwestern-looking backdrop, which pretty much covers the positioning of this food product.

The Milwaukee Brewers logo is a mitt, drawn so the "m" is the fingers of a mitt and the "b" is the thumb and pocket. The baseball in the middle completes the visual sentence. 

VIA Rail Canada's logo leverages the straight lines of the "V", "I" and "A" to project an image of railroad tracks, reinforcing its business.

The story of these examples isn't how clever artists can be; it is a lesson in how to infuse a logo with more depth of meaning.

A well-designed logo can reinforce a brand personality or underline a brand promise. It can be a familiar face in the crowd and a voice for what you do and stand for. It should be a lot more than just a pretty picture. 

Advice for Aspiring PR Pros

Dear PR Student:

The best advice for would-be PR professionals is to learn as much as you can about as many subjects as you can, starting with journalism.

The best advice for would-be PR professionals is to learn as much as you can about as many subjects as you can, starting with journalism.

Congratulations. You are embarking on a fascinating career ride in public relations. Here is some unsolicited advice that may come in handy.

1. Take journalism classes. You very likely will be asked to write press releases. You should know what it's like to receive one.

Understanding news media needs and demands puts you in a better position to help, not just send an email with a news release. The goal is to get your client's message into print, online or on air. Having first-hand knowledge of how news is identified, researched, prepared and delivered can guide when and how you approach reporters and editors, as well as what you serve up to them.

Volunteering to work for a student newspaper is a great way to get experience. It will ground you in basics such as Associated Press style and serve as a reminder of grammar. It also will force you to write with the reader, not a client, in mind.

2. Be a liberal arts student. PR clients come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Their needs will stretch your knowledge. There is no way to know in advance everything you will need to know. The best you can do is to learn how to learn — fast.

Luckily, that is what a liberal arts education is intended to provide. All those non-major requirements may seem like boxes to check en route to a degree. In fact, they are important way stations to widen your horizon, to open your mind to knowledge you may have had no idea how to acquire or assimilate.

Take a physics class. You will be surprised how valuable it can be in understanding new technology. Take an economics class so your client's business plan doesn't look like gibberish.

3. Learn the tools of the trade. One of the exciting dimensions of public relations is that it deals with an environment that changes at the speed of light. Ten years ago, designing and building a website was a rarity. Today it is an imperative. Five years ago, people thought social media was a fad. Now it is viewed as an important communication channel.

The PR world five years from now is likely to be very different. However, you won't be able to leverage what's new if you aren't rooted in what's worked for a long time. A great example is how to fashion an effective presentation. The software may change and the animation may be cooler, but the fundamentals of a presentation that does its job won't be all that different.

You may write on an iPad or dictate into your Google glasses, but solid writing transcends the tools. Knowing how to tell a story and basic principles of design, which are universal, are foundation skills you should develop.

4. Know your chosen profession's history. PR professionals in the future will face an increasingly complex set of challenges in choosing the best platforms and the most resonant channels. A knowledge of how PR professionals in the past innovated is invaluable.

The use of events, contests, third-party validation, outrageous stunts, clever ads, smart writing and guest columns were all new in their time. Study to see how these ideas evolved so you understand, with some helpful perspective, how you go from problem to solution with creativity and élan. You don't need to discover gravity or reinvent the wheel. You can learn from your peers how they did it, so you can do it, too.

Going Negative is Bad PR

North Korea's threats against The Interview backfired and turned a silly satire into a cause celebre and a case study of why going negative is bad PR. [Credit – Reuters] 

North Korea's threats against The Interview backfired and turned a silly satire into a cause celebre and a case study of why going negative is bad PR. [Credit – Reuters] 

North Korea, perhaps unwittingly, has proven once again the danger of poking the eye of your opponent. The results often boomerang, giving what you despise the publicity it needs to succeed.

The Interview, the satirical movie about two journalists recruited to assassinate North Korea's Kim Jong Un, drew sharp rebuke from the isolated, often angry North Koreans, which was followed by the hacking of Sony Pictures' computer network. North Korea denied any involvement, but the hackers threatened terrorist acts if The Interview was aired in American movie theaters.

The threats, compounded by movie theater owners refusing to show the movie, aroused First Amendment sympathies from President Obama to the people who buy movie tickets. Before you knew it, The Interview was a cause celebre and streaming on iPads. All the North Koreans and the hackers accomplished was to embarrass Sony Pictures with leaked emails and to promote a picture that may have been a flash in the pan.

As a PR campaign, this may be without parallel. As a smart move, it may go down in annals as one of the dumbest.

It certainly is a neon reminder of the risks inherent in negative attacks. Veering from your own narrative to criticize is an open invitation for the attacked to respond. What you are doing is essentially laying down a red carpet for the other side to tell its story. 

Even if your criticism is warranted, the upshot of voicing it may not be worth the rush of righteous indignation you feel. [China dryly observed that while America values free speech, other countries don't. It might have added that countries like North Korea value suppressing information it doesn't like. In North Korea, no one was likely to see the movie anyway.]

The best advice is to stick to your story, even if the other side is taking shots at you. Once you turn negative, you lose control of your own story and that never is a good thing.