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When Is Clever Too Clever?

Ever since "man bites dog," we have understood that unusual attracts attention. But when is clever too clever? It's a good question.

Seeing 1,000 Colonel Sanders run around New York City handing out samples, then showing up en bloc at a Yankees game that night is clever. Undergoing a prostate exam while singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch of a minor league baseball game seems, well, too clever by a measure. Or is it?

Myrtle Beach Pelican General Manager Andy Milovich underwent the exam, thankfully while he was in the press box, to promote prostate prevention. He earned national media coverage by showing how easy it is to be examined. You can even sing through it.

The answer to the question of when an idea is too clever for its own good is when the idea attracts attention, but for no good reason.

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Make Your Workers a Real Target Audience

Employees are one of the most neglected target audiences. Too often, information of relevance to them is dribbled out, posted on antiquated communications platforms or overlooked altogether.

And employers wonder why their workforce are not engaged or motivated.

Over time, poor internal communications can lead to an even deeper alienation. But the alienation also can be instantaneous if a major announcement is botched because of inadequate or insensitive internal communications.

Smart business owners and senior managers don't dismiss complaints about faulty worker communications. Instead, they view effective internal communications as a strategy to promote productivity, stay in touch with the front lines of their businesses and achieve an esprit de corps that is key to keeping an organization operating smoothly and on goal.

The trail of missteps by employers has been pretty well mapped — poorly handled layoffs, surprise rebranding, sudden and unexplained management changes and out-of-the-blue modifications to employee benefits. What isn't so clear is how employers can take steps to clean up their act and make employee communications a priority, not an afterthought. Here are some ideas:

Put a premium on and reward internal communication

If you want managers to communicate with employees, make it a part of their job, then evaluate them on how they perform. Reward good communication habits and discipline managers who slough off the assignment. Managerial engagement must be more than superficial. People can tell when you are just going through the motions and when you are actually paying attention.

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Unique Offerings with Clear Value

A lawyer friend explained his business model has changed because of technology and the Great Recession. People are doing more themselves using online resources. And they are pinching pennies, even though the economy is recovering.

His reflection isn't limited just to the legal profession. Many, if not most, organizations face a similar bend in their business. Old school has been dismissed. The new norm rewards unique (or at least distinguishable) products and services with clear, demonstrable value.

Factory workers worried about the automation of their jobs. The advance of technology has made that worry a lot more universal. Fast food restaurants are experimenting with robotic order-takers. Old-line retailers are turning to more online sales. Lawyers don't have as many papers to document. Organizations publish their own press releases. 

The pressing need now is not to find job security, but to explore new ways to add value. If you aren't adding value, you are becoming less relevant, bordering on extinct. Even when you add value, if your product or service is nothing more than a commodity, you aren't going to generate the kind of revenue you want.

It is tempting to think the rules of economics are changing. They really aren't. People still act largely out of self-interest. Companies follow the path of maximum profit. Demand sooner or later will fetch supply.

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Simplicity Sells

Despite all evidence to the contrary, people resist the principle that simplicity sells. The simple truth is that it does. 

People loathe complicated instructions. They quickly abandon websites with confusing navigation. They click off YouTube videos that are too long and too boring.

With shortened attention spans and a lot of competition for mind-share, people want things simplified. It's that plain and, shall we say, simple.

American writing has become more simplified and uncluttered since Ernest Hemingway. Advertising copy and jingles, 28-minute sitcoms and mobile devices all have contributed to the trend of compressing a lot into a little space.

Brevity has gone from a virtue to a necessity. Simplicity helps determine the winner in the binary world of "click on" or "click off."

Yet many people, including PR professionals, continue to insist on "telling the whole story." They miss the point that you have to get people interested in the first line of the story before you earn the opportunity to tell more.

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Your Website Matters

So much attention has been given to social media and thought leadership blogs, websites have become almost an afterthought. They are anything but.

Websites have evolved from their beginnings as electronic brochures, where content contained in print brochures was essentially uploaded online.

Websites morphed into information portals that moved beyond print copy to offer layers of information, often in multimedia forms.

Now websites are centers for content marketing strategies. The content spreads out like religious apostles, but a key objective of the content is to cause a click on the holy land of content, your website.

The look and feel of websites has evolved, too. They have gone from hard-to-read to vibrant and colorful, with images and information packaging overtaking the dull columns of copy that marked earlier websites.

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