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

Learning from Obama’s YouTube Engagement.jpg

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

Telling Your Brand Story in a Logo.jpg

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.

Erasable Internet

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, who believes delete is the new default.

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, who believes delete is the new default.

The hacking of Sony Pictures has sparked speculation about an erasable Internet. In a world where everything is public, you may want a communications platform where what you say suddenly disappears.

Sony CEO Amy Pascal undoubtedly wishes for a mulligan so she could put all her snarky comments about Hollywood counterparts on the equivalent of Snapchat, so they would vaporize soon after they were read.

High-profile figures, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have tried to scrub their online past without complete success. Stuff never fully melts away. There is always somebody who took a screenshot of an offending rant and shows no hesitation to spread it anew when the moment is right or, in the case of Gingrich, wrong.

Google’s ever-evolving algorithms have put the kibosh on trying to bury old bad news with happy feet good news. Whitewashing is pretty much kaput.

New York Times technology columnist Farhad Manjoo has made a friendly suggestion that if you can’t control when you post on social media or in email, then maybe you should consider using a device that automatically dumps your remarks. He says in a hackable world, an erasable Internet holds a lot of appeal.

“This might seem like an extreme, perhaps jaded response to the hack at Sony Pictures Entertainment, which has resulted in the disclosure of thousands of private documents ranging from trivial to merely embarrassing to grossly serious,” Manjoo wrote in his blog.

“The disclosures make the case for creating what I’ve called the erasable Internet. Last year, after the stunning rise of Snapchat, an app that sends pictures and messages that disappear after the recipient receives them, I argued that we were witnessing the birth of a new attitude toward data online.”

Where once we thought of online resources as rich archives, Manjoo says people may now look at online communications as in the moment, not for all time. He points to an existing messaging app called Confide that deletes a message as soon as it is read.

Of course, for apps like Confide and Snapchat to work would require all the people you want to communicate with to be on the same apps. As it turns out, most of us are on email and more hack-prone social media platforms. Despite the threats to our privacy from hackers, government spies and disaffected North Koreans, we are comfortable. We are not likely to bolt from our comfort zone any time soon.

An erasable Internet could turn a lot of online engagement on its ear. Companies have invested huge sums to engage and lock down brand advocates. They would be a lot less interested in a stop-and-kiss relationship.

Millennials, who wouldn’t recognize an encyclopedia if a set fell off a table at Starbuck’s on their foot, could be confused when told some of what they wanted to retrieve online was now missing. Only old people would remember the days when you couldn’t find a phone number because someone had ripped out a page of the phonebook.

Manjoo launched an intriguing conversation, which of course has been duly recorded in print, on radio and online. We will be able to mull at length a world with a short memory while clicking on our fav sites that give us a world perspective on almost everything at our fingertips.

Unless you are intentionally or pathologically snarky, the erasable Internet — where delete is the default — is probably a passing fancy right up there with the wish for world peace. Nice, but unlikely.

Oops, gotta go. My Facebook page just dinged.

Getting Your Audience to Lean In

A great ending to a speech is only great if the audience is still listening. The most important part of the speech is a rapport-building beginning.

A great ending to a speech is only great if the audience is still listening. The most important part of the speech is a rapport-building beginning.

The first thing a speaker or presenter must do is establish rapport with his or her audience. Unless listeners are leaning in, they are likely to tune out.

Giving a speech or presentation requires careful preparation and practice. But even the best speech or clever presentation can fall flat if there is a gulf between speaker and audience. 

Bridging that gulf is what separates speakers from good speakers. It also is what distinguishes a speech you hear versus a speech you remember. 

Establishing speaker-audience rapport rests with the speaker. Even if you pay to hear someone, you expect the speaker to make the first move to create a bond, a reason for sharing time and mental energy together and a good excuse not to check smartphone messages.

Here are some tips on how to establish rapport with your audience:

Call out associations you have with the audience or members of the audience. 

Former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson started his speech at the Portland City Club by briefly describing tours he had taken and recognizing people in the audience for their roles in the success stories he had seen. Thompson made a connection between himself and his audience that he underscored throughout his speech with examples from his Portland site visits. The speech was more than a decade ago and I can still remember how he opened it and his main points, especially his strong advocacy for public health. 

Tell a heartwarming story

Stories unite people. We instinctively lean in when someone is telling a story, especially a personal story that has emotional value. Stories personalize speakers by making them less like someone behind a podium or in front of a PowerPoint presentation and more like everyone in the audience.

Use self-effacing humor

Jokes can be dangerous. The safest application of humor is when you make fun of yourself. The key is to be self-effacing without appearing disingenuous. You also don't want to convey to your audience that you are a buffoon. Laughing at yourself can be disarming, all the more so if the punch line serves as a segue into the content of your speech or presentation. 

Touch an emotional nerve

Be aware of what's going on the world around you and, when appropriate, use a commonly shared emotion as a rapport-builder. Tapping into the emotions of an audience is tricky and demands a solid read on the audience so you draw them toward you in sympathy, not spark resentment or even disgust. But when done with the proper empathetic touch, it can be a powerful way to put you and your audience on the same page.

Many speakers devote a great deal of their energy finding the right ending. They should spend an equal amount of time figuring out how to start so their audience joins them on the journey, rather than taking an early detour.

Make Your Story Pitch Clickable

Effective story pitching today still requires a local angle and a good hook, but it also demands content that is clickable and shareable.

Effective story pitching today still requires a local angle and a good hook, but it also demands content that is clickable and shareable.

To get noticed, story pitches to the news media still need a local angle and a good hook, but now they also need to be shareable online.

A pitch containing useful, relevant information or an inspirational story has a good prospect of earning clicks and shares from readers. Shareability makes your story pitch more irresistible. 

News reporters and editors have always cared about the readability of stories, which they reflected in where they placed stories in newspapers or on radio and TV. But the digital era has added the new dimension of clickability to the equation of determining the value of a story pitch.

As more of the news and news viewers migrate online, there is more pressure in newsrooms to zero in on stories that have online appeal. Some news organizations use pay incentives to encourage reporters to find and write stories that are clickable. Online analytics take a lot of the guesswork out of what's being shared and what isn't. 

Shareability represents a whole new line of engagement between marketers and the news media. Companies such as Uber have employed sophisticated media relations strategies to burst into markets – even when they are operating outside municipal regulations ­– using stories that area highly shareable. 

The old rules of story pitching largely still apply. Your pitches need to be timely, newsworthy, locally relevant and basically interesting. Discovering that the dwarf planet Pluto has water droplets in its atmosphere probably wouldn't make the cut at the local news desk.

The new rules encourage story-pitching innovation with a clever hook, viewer interactivity or tools such as videos, photo galleries, infographics and charts – anything that can elevate a good story to a "you gotta see this" story.

You enhance your ability to get stories placed if you intentionally imbue them with shareable qualities. It is another way for you and reporters to get on the same online page.

Your Relevance is Your Message

Effective websites are publishing platforms that allow you to post content of interest to your customers or clients and build a relationship with them.

Effective websites are publishing platforms that allow you to post content of interest to your customers or clients and build a relationship with them.

If you wonder whether it is time to mix things up on your corporate website, you probably missed the memo about keeping your website mixed up all the time.

Effective websites stopped being electronic brochures a long time ago. Now they are publishing platforms that allow you to post content of interest to your customers or clients and build a relationship with them.

Put more directly, you should be adding fresh material to your website continuously to give your audience a reason to keep coming back. This is true regardless whether you are marketing a product or providing information about a complex public issue.

Good websites often resemble blogs. In fact, some websites have morphed into blogs. Other websites have become online newsrooms. Still others are similar to Ebooks, with a storytelling theme and look and feel.

Content is more varied and visual. It includes photos, videos, charts, screenshots and infographics. Think of the difference between National Geographic and the TV Guide.

Instead of just the facts, many websites convey a brand personality or the personalities of service providers.

All of the content is aimed at the singular objective of engaging your viewers, answering their questions and offering useful information. It is less about you and more about them. Your relevance becomes your message.

If you are reaching out to customers or constituents on a regular basis, then you should be thinking about your website constantly. A website isn't a marketing panacea, but it should be the core of your marketing plan, the place you invite people to come to see what you have to offer. It should be a place they find appealing and enticing enough to return again and again.

How Wonder Woman can help pump you up for your big moment

Power Posing can help you feel like a superhero.

Power Posing can help you feel like a superhero.

The pressure is on. Whether it’s an interview or a presentation, your palms are sweaty and your voice is shaky.

Don’t just stand there. Strike a pose. Just make sure it’s a power pose.

In her powerful TED talk Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy talks about how emulating Wonder Woman doesn’t just change your mindset, it changes your body chemistry.

A power pose is one where your body language is open and looking powerful. There is the classic, CEO feet on the desk pose, as well as the victory pose with your hands spread in a large “V” above your head. The opposite is the low power pose. Your body is hunched down and curled up.

Cuddy’s research had one group assume a power pose for two minutes and the other a low power pose. After just a two-minute "high power pose," the risk tolerance of the high-power posers increased, while the risk tolerance of the low-power posers reduced.

“This, the researchers found, was the result of a profound change in body chemistry. Testosterone is the "dominance" hormone,” said Cuddy. “After a mere two-minute pose, the testosterone levels of the "high power" posers rose 20 percent. Testosterone levels for the "low power" group, meanwhile, fell 10 percent.”

So should you walk into your next presentation and put your feet up on the table? No, but while waiting for your big moment, find a private place and power pose for a few minutes. You will be amazed at the difference it makes.

Lowe Commercial Spawns Spat over Shyness

When using humor to make a point, brands must be careful to test their messages or risk offending their audience.

When using humor to make a point, brands must be careful to test their messages or risk offending their audience.

The flap over Rob Lowe's portrayal of a painfully shy cable TV subscriber underscores the problems with using humor to make a point. You are bound to offend somebody in the process.

Actually Lowe appears twice in the funny, but controversial ad — once as a suave DIRECTV guy and the other as a hapless, creepy guy who watches people at a swimming pool through binoculars or sniffs a woman's hair at the movies when his cable TV goes on the blink.

Steve Soifer, CEO of the International Paruresis Association, expressed displeasure with the ad that shows the shy, unattractive Rob Lowe having trouble urinating in public.  According to the group's website, 7 percent of the population or 21 million Americans suffer some form of social anxiety, referred to as Pee-Shy, when voiding in a crowded place. 

You would have thought the YMCA or moviehouse owners would have complained. But instead it was from advocates on behalf of people with shy bladders, which just goes to show that what somebody thinks is funny is someone else's life distress. Marketers need to think twice about using stereotypes in their marketing materials for just this reason.

There are a lot of ways to be humorous and make a point without offending. Like K-Mart's "Ship My Pants" or Doritos' "Fashionista Daddy" ads.

One PR analyst says DirecTV may enjoy a boost for its ad because of the flap. But that isn't a long-term strategy for building brand goodwill.

Humor can be a powerful way to entertain and inform. But the humor needs to be tested and retested to avoid unintended victims and unwanted publicity.

Letting Your Weird, Creative Side Shine

Many young people have deserted Facebook for photo-sharing on Instagram. For brands trying to appeal to a younger demographic, Instagram is the place to be.

In the land of selfies, it takes clever marketing to score on this photo-centered social media platform. Instagram also involves more than simple sharing or "likes." It appeals to people who like to engage and be part of something.

For example, a music group called The Vaccines asked its Instagram users to take photos at shows and festivals to crowd source a music video. Others have employed Instagram for online fundraising, using fetching photos to tell the story about the fundraising recipient.

Instagram isn't for everybody. If you and your customers like to produce and read lengthy white papers, choose another channel. But it you can let creative side loose, Instagram can be a fun and informative avenue to activate your audience.

Content Marketing + Savvy Promotion

Great content is hard to produce, but will go for naught without hard-headed promotion to reach the intended eyeballs of your customers or clients.

Great content is hard to produce, but will go for naught without hard-headed promotion to reach the intended eyeballs of your customers or clients.

Effective content marketing requires producing the content, then promoting it through a variety of channels. The art is knowing what to write and the science is knowing how and where to promote it, says Intel content strategist Luke Kintigh.

Like it or not, 90 percent of viewership comes from 10 percent of the content. Some pieces are winners and some just trot along for the ride. Kintigh argues for a promotional strategy of placing your bets on the winners who show the best promise of attracting clicks.

According to a story by Russell Working, writing for ragan.com. Kintigh's strategy has tripled page views of Intel's iQ online magazine over the last year.

Like many other smart brands, Intel has turned to content marketing, using the online magazine as its thought leadership platform. iQ contains a wide array of stories about how technology is transforming everything from health care to craft beer. Intel pays to promote its content.

Many companies and nonprofits lack the financial resources of an Intel or a Microsoft to produce and promote compelling content. But the lessons from the big guys still apply. Good content and savvy promotion can pay dividends.

Not every piece you write will be a big hit. That doesn't mean the piece is worthless if it demonstrates your expertise or grasp of a complex situation. A piece like that only has to be read once by the right person to pay off.

Regardless whether your content is read by thousands or just a few, promotion is critical to make sure the right eyeballs see it. That's why you need to know where your customers or clients are paying attention to relevant content.

When you aren't able to produce enough content to fill an online magazine, it pays to focus on what you know and what your customers or clients need to know. Utility is the golden rule of content marketing.

Tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are no-cost ways to put some social media spin to your content. Direct email works, too. When you have something really special to share, putting a little advertising money behind it can give it an online boost.

The key takeaway – producing content is hard, but it is a fool's errand unless it is combined with hard-headed promotion so your content reaches the audience for which it is intended.

Compelling Corporate Storytelling

Microsoft Stories, "An inside look at the people, places and ideas that move us," is an excellent example of corporate storytelling.

The website looks and feels like an online magazine. It is actually a collection of corporate stories made to look like an online magazine. It is content marketing designed to give Microsoft staffers a face and Microsoft customers an entertaining experience.

The key "message" is subordinated to storytelling. Readers are engaged, not just message targets.

One of the featured stories is a profile about Kiki Wolfkill (her real name), who is in charge of the "Halo" video game, which has gone from a first-person perspective to an immersive world where players consume and create the game as they play. 

We learn through the profile, written and laid out in magazine style, that Wolfkill combines her talent as an artist with her thirst for speed as a racecar driver to stimulate her design adrenalin. By the end of the piece, you would like to talk to Wolfkill over one of her Asian fusion home-cooked meals.

A video game has gone from a game to a face. 

Other stories describe how five young technologists, who were finalists in Microsoft's Challenge for Change program, visited the Amazon, a former NFL player uses technology to battle ALS and a computer scientist splits​ his time between developing software and making wine. You even learn the Seattle Seahawks mascot doubles as a Microsoft demo whiz.