How (and why) to write while furious

How can I write about marketing communications topics when I’m shaking with anger and shame about the political situation in this country? Joe Hage helps me figure things out.

I haven’t been blogging much. How can I write about marketing communications topics when I’m shaking with anger and shame about the political situation in this country?

But marketing communications guru Joe Hage has kept going. He’s been using a weekly email to communicate to his readership (medical device marketers). On Wednesday morning, Joe lowered the boom.

His blunt and courageous email begins:

“I’m angry. I hate him so much. You know who I’m talking about.”

Joe goes on to talk about the flood of information we face every day from highly curated news and marketing streams. We feel as though we’re in a deluge of information that’s deep and fast-running — but it turns out that it’s also deceptively narrow.

As Joe points out, many of us (unless we listen extensively to National Public Radio), have never read or heard about the civil war raging in Nicaragua. Joe didn’t know much about that war, either, until his video editor, who lives in a Nicaraguan city, witnessed a march of soldiers in the street outside her house. They left the dead body of a child in the street as a warning to anyone who might consider opposing them or aiding the opposition.

What does war in Nicaragua mean for someone like me — or you — whose business is all about trying to communicate to readers, donors, or customers? Joe tells his medical device industry colleagues:

“If a civil war in Central America doesn’t even hit our radar, can you imagine how many messages the average citizen is getting per day?”

“Your messaging is not competing with other medical device videos, images, and words. You are competing with every possible stimulus out there.”

In a communications environment like this, Joe asks, “what hope do any of us have in breaking through?”

His answer is that by writing as a real person, he is breaking through. He is engaging. His thousands of readers did read him yesterday morning (even if some of them were hitting “unsubscribe” and grabbing for their blood pressure medication).

My take-away from Joe’s out-of-the-box email? There are a lot of ways to engage people and get them to pay attention.

One of them is to threaten them (dropping dead bodies in the street, for example). Another is to inundate them with the same message, over and over again, drowning out fact and complexity with emotion and oversimplification (our news and marketing feeds). And, yes, a third way is for communicators to be real in their communications. Genuine, heartfelt communication stands out because so few of us do it, or hear it, in our professional roles.

It’s sad that being real, and honest, and thoughtful is “just not done” in the field of business communication. We have tens of thousands of well-dressed, well-educated people marching each day into beautifully decorated, air-conditioned workplaces, attending meetings about product marketing, advertising, and communications strategy, sitting down at their expensive keyboards to devise “messaging” — while inside most of them are all thinking about what’s real: That we live in a country that snatches immigrants out of their homes, separates children from immigrant parents, and puts immigrant families in prisons. Indefinitely.

Now let’s take a look at that PowerPoint, shall we?

(For more information on who Immigration and Customs Enforcement is arresting, why, and how, see this document from the Immigrant Defense Project.)


Interview with a great marketer

This interview with Joe Hage provides insight into the discipline that underlies highly effective marketing.

Joe Hage
Joe Hage (having a bit of fun on Facebook)
There are many tricks and tips for marketing success, but most of us quickly get frustrated when what we try doesn’t yield results or doesn’t yield results fast enough. In fact, those tricks often work for great marketers because these folks are strategic in their approach, tireless in their experimentation, quick to bounce back from failure, and relentlessly honest with themselves and with their clients.

For the past six years, I’ve had the privilege of working closely with a leader in the marketing field, Joe Hage of Medical Marcom. I’ve seen Joe work with the CEOs  of established international companies and the founders of small businesses and business organizations. I’ve seen Joe harness the power of the ever-changing field of social media (including communities and crowd sourcing) and get down in the trenches to drive traditional marcom  projects like rebranding, conferences, and collateral.

If you’re in marketing and looking to improve your game, check out this interview with Joe on MedGadget (he’s currently focusing his work on the medical device industry, where marketing is a very high-stakes game).

If you’re outside the field and think marketing is a lot of fluff, this interview will give you an insight into the discipline and thought that underlies highly effective marketing. (You’ll also see some highly effective marketing at work in Joe’s answers to the interview questions. But of course.)

Tweets that make me want to scream

On Twitter there’s just no excuse for mind-numbing teasers, drive-by rants, and self-congratulatory re-runs.

Subject + Verb (+ Object) + Hyperlink

Is it really that hard to write a decent tweet?

The way I look at it, tweets follow the same basic communications rules that journalism does:

1. Since they’re public, tweets are written in language most people can understand. If they aren’t, they read like a private Twitter message that the author, for some reason, decided to foist on a head-scratching public. When those people stop scratching their heads, they’ll tap the Unfollow button.

2. Effective tweets are usually either a news story, a reaction story, or a provocative question.

News story: “Man bites LOLcat” or “Gingrich supporters keep fundraising.”

Reaction story: “Seattle LOLcat owner bites back with $2 million lawsuit” or “Gingrich loss paves the way for a secret right-wing candidate.”

Question: “So, how many people will be lining up to buy the heavily hyped new [name of gadget]?” or “Am I the only one stuck waiting at a Metro bus stop this morning in .025 inches of snow?”

A big “thank you” to folks like Chris Pirillo, Joe Hage, Steve Sorbo, Green Ronin, and others who follow these rules and whose tweets frequently get me to click through.

A loud hiss to people whose tweets make me want to scream, cry, kick, and give up on Twitter. For example:

  • The clueless teaser: “I thought my updated and interesting blog post was worth sharing with you guys.” (Blog post about what? A tweet that sounds exactly like a spam blog comment.)
  • The spam teaser: “Whoa! Sneak peek at the specs for the iPhone 5.” (This one has a link to a site that sells off-brand iPhone cases.)
  • The stoned hipster chime-in retweet: “Really? Just sayin’, dudes.”
  • The self-congratulatory resume tweet: “So excited about getting the Dingbat Award just a month after my Zapf Award and a year after my Helvetica Prize. Thanks, guys!” (No link. Note that the news portion, sans re-runs, could have been perfectly tasteful as a retweet from the Dingbat Society’s original Twitter announcement.)
  • The drive-by rant, without link: “Stupid idiots! They. Have. No. Effing. Idea.” (And, boy, neither do we.)

If you write or send marketing emails, read this

Joe Hage dissects and analyzes an email blast from a conference organizer to prospective attendees.

My colleague Joe Hage dissects and analyzes an email blast from a conference organizer to prospective attendees:

  • Subject line
  • Sender address
  • Recipient address
  • What happens when the recipient replies
  • The email content itself

Everything was wrong.

Read Joe’s analysis so this mess won’t happen to you. (Fortunately, it won’t happen to the conference organizer again, either. He’s getting advice from Joe.)

Direct marketing: Let’s test the “old school” approach

Joe Hage tests the “old school” approach to direct marketing. What do you think?

Tell the truth. Always.

Research your product completely. Provide reasons-why copy.

photo of Joe Hage
Joe Hage
photo of Claude Hopkins
Claude Hopkins

Medical marcom expert Joe Hage turned back the clock by rewriting a pitch to prospects in the style of Claude Hopkins, the father of direct marketing.  Hopkins advocated concepts like truth in marketing and a detailed explanation of benefits.

Joe’s “new” pitch is certainly different. Do you think it’s effective? Let Joe know.

Book review: The definitive guide for businesses that Tweet

The Definitive Twitter Guide is a must-have for contemporary marketers. Author Shannon Evans provides a substantive, thoughtful description of how the market has evolved to a place in which 140-word messages, carefully crafted and frequently sent, can establish, communicate, and reinforce a company’s reputation.

The Definitive Twitter Guide: Making Tweets Work for Your Business: 30 Twitter Success Stories From Real Businesses and Non-Profits by Shannon Evans (CreateSpace, 2010).  244 pages.

The only way to succeed in social media is to jump in, start swimming, and keep paddling, every day. There’s no alternative. Yet I watch businesses assign their receptionists to “do something with Twitter” and decide after a month that Twitter can’t do anything for them. (Would they have assigned the receptionists to design their TV ad campaigns? I seriously doubt it.)

If a company is avoiding Twitter, Facebook, and a robust, interactive web presence, chances are they are watching with growing frustration as their competitors the social media tools gain and serve customers.

“Twitter? Facebook? It just doesn’t make any sense,” one business owner I know, firmly “old school,” frets. Because she doesn’t understand why it works, much less how it works, she’s not going to do it—even though she can see it’s helping her competition.

The Definitive Twitter Guide by Shannon Evans

No amount of nagging or shaming or prodding is going to work here. But something that lets her see behind the fairy dust to the real-world mechanics of how and why Twitter works just might do the trick. That’s where Shannon Evans’ new book, The Definitive Twitter Guide — Making Tweets Work for Your Business, comes in.

Evans provides a substantive, thoughtful description of how the market has evolved to a place in which 140-word messages, carefully crafted and frequently sent, can establish, communicate, and reinforce a company’s reputation. Evans writes:

“As a marketing tool, social media presents a shift in thinking from the days of direct marketing and one-way communication. Instead, social media creates a different opportunity to interact with potential clients and to build rapport with a savvier customer base.”

With  30 studies of businesses and non-profits that have put Twitter to work to for them, Evans builds a convincing case for the advantages social media have over traditional forms of PR and marketing. These include:

  • Speed of production (you can get your message out in minutes, or even seconds)
  • Timeliness (you can play a role in discussions and reporting when current events involve your area of business)
  • Relatively low cost
  • Ability to target a specific audience (i.e., people interested in what you sell or do)
  • Ability to create and focus a conversation on a topic (using # hashtags)

Evans does an outstanding job of stepping outside the often self-congratulatory world of social media and approaching Twitter from the viewpoint of an established business professional. This is a great help to anyone who needs to assess the value of Twitter and social media work in relation to the value of their other PR and marketing activities.

The book includes illustrated step-by-step instructions to setting up a Twitter account for your business and using it, complete with examples of good and bad accounts and Tweets. (I loved her tip about reigning in your Tweets at 120 characters so you leave plenty of room for other people to retweet them.)

The book’s later chapters have deeply researched and sophisticated information on creating national and local Twitter campaigns, using multiple accounts, and developing audiences. In Chapter 12, Evans evaluates Twitter’s role in the context of business marketing (using as an example the experiences of my friend and client Joe Hage, director of Marketing Communications at Cardiac Science.)

In short, The Definitive Twitter Guide is a must-have for contemporary marketers and business owners—even if all they want to do is figure out what their competition is up to. You’ll find it on Amazon ($19.99) and also in ebook form.

Heart-felt gift suggestion

Does your child’s or grandchild’s school need an AED?

It’s boxy. Yellow and blue. Weighs five pounds. (Why would I give a gift that homely?)

It costs more than $1,000. (Why would I spend that much?)

It might be months before the recipient even opens it up to use it. (Does this woman know what she’s talking about?)

As a matter of fact, I do know what I’m talking about. The bulky, yellow-and-blue item is an automated external defibrillator — a device that really changes lives. Because it saves them.

My client, Joe Hage, the director of marketing communications for Cardiac Science, just sent out an email offering special pricing on Powerheart G3 automated external defibrillators for schools. As of Friday afternoon, he has 19 units left.

Here’s why he’s doing it:

Each year, 7,000 children in the U.S. die from sudden cardiac arrest. The deaths often occur in gym class or on the sports field, where undiagnosed heart conditions first kick in. Sudden cardiac arrest is just what it sounds like: the heart stops beating and the victim collapses. At that point, there’s a rapidly shrinking, 10-minute window in which to get the heart to start beating again before the story ends in serious brain damage or death.

The work Joe does, and the work I do for him, often puts us in the position of interviewing parents who have sent a perfectly healthy child off to school, or to basketball practice, and never seen that child alive again. Everyone involved is distraught — even more so when it turns out that no AED was available.

AEDs don’t guarantee survival, but they sure change the odds. Consider this: The sudden cardiac arrest survival rate in the U.S. is about 5 percent. But a study published in the August 11 issue of Circulation found that in U.S. high schools with AEDs on site, the cardiac arrest survival rate (for adults and children) rises to more than 60 percent.

Joe’s the parent of two little boys. The numbers, and the stories, haunt him.

Joe and I have also had the opportunity to interview parents, teachers, coaches, and school administrators who just can’t stop talking about how amazing it was to save a life using an AED. And we’ve talked with kids like Kaitlin Forbes. She collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest while playing softball and was revived with her school’s AED.

Joe, who donated an AED to his own sons’ school, is offering the remaining 19 Powerheart G3 AEDs for schools at $1,495 each. With every purchase, he’s including a set of pediatric pads ($99) and a wall unit ($189) to keep the AED prominently displayed and easy to access.

Does your child’s or grandchild’s school need an AED? You can reach Joe here.

Do you dare me?

I’d stop reading blog posts full of tips except there are always those few that stand out from the crowd and offer some information that significantly changes the way I approach a project, a client, or my career.

Sometimes I think the blogosphere is tipping over.

I find myself swamped with emails and blog posts that are chock full of tips for this and tips for that. I’d stop reading the stuff except there are always those few tips that stand out from the crowd and offer some information that significantly changes the way I approach a project, a client, or my career.

Is it that they are targeted at exactly my level of experience in a particular area? Or is it that they are written in a particularly engaging way?

Those factors certainly help, but I think the key factor is that they needle me to be outrageous, to take risks, to go the extra mile, or to look at something in a contrarian light. They dare me.

Sometimes I find myself initially offended by the tips, but there’ll come a point during the day when I think back on them…and a little light goes on. And gets brighter.

Who does this?

Seth Godin.

Chris Rugh.

Joe Hage. (Read “The first three questions.”)

Freelance Switch.

Full disclosure: Chris Rugh and Joe Hage are clients of mine, and I’m a client of Freelance Switch.

Way beyond blogs

A year ago, Peggy Sturdivant, a Seattle neighborhood news blogger, invited me to do a joint presentation for a PR class (the PR Certificate program) at the University of Washington.

We’ve been invited back to present again this year, and, as I’m putting together my notes, I’m discovering two things:

1. That the role of blogging in PR (and in several other areas of business and professional communication) has changed fairly dramatically in the past 12 months; what were emerging trends in January 2008 are so established as to be taken for granted today. (More on this to come.)

2. That the way information is presented in a classroom is pretty much light years away from how I communicate online. It’s slow, it’s boring, it’s cumbersome. Classrooms need presenter computers connected to a large-screen TV or projector screen. In reality, they have nothing but whiteboards or a non-functioning setup that theoretically allows a presenter’s computer to be connected to a screen, but which, in reality, never works because some cord is missing or some software isn’t compatible. Sigh.

Anyway, on to the actual presentation.

Most of what I’ll be presenting tonight are short tips that students can explore later by clicking through to these following links on this blog. Tips are likely to include:

1. Online PR has gone way beyond websites and blogging.

Suggested reading:
Barry’s Hurd’s “Social Media Demographics and Analytics 2008-2009” in which Barry comments that “such things as reputation and brand impact will be occurring real-time 24/7.”

2. Fortunately for those of us who do PR, a much more realistic attitude now exists about blogging. It’s been demystified; is no longer viewed as a magic bullet.

Suggested reading:
Darren Rouse’s post on getting fast traffic to a blog.

3. Unfortunately, the new “magic bullet” that CEOs read about in airplane magazines and decide their marcom folks must create immediately is “community.” That’s simple but difficult to create and maintain. Instead, you need to participate in robust existing communities, a behavior that is antithetical to old-school corporate behavior. (“But is has to have our name on it!”)

Suggested reading:
Barry Hurd’s “PR is killing itself and it hurts to laugh

Chris Pirillo’s YouTube video on creating community.

4. SEO is now the “hot new thing,” a PR essential for blogging and websites.
• Basic SEO is easy.
• More sophisticated SEO is not for amateurs and should always start with analytics before you throw money into implementing SEO.
• Gray-hat (shady) SEO is not as smart as the people telling your company to do it thinks it is. It can, and will, turn around and embarrass you.
• Make sure you understand “social bookmarking” and “tags” of all kinds. You may not need to use them, but you need to know if you need to use them.

Suggested reading:
Boing Boing’s post “Motorola, could you please tell your viral marketer to get out of our comments?

5. Twitter PR is free and powerful, but not easy. (Hint: It’s not advertising, it’s information.) And, watch how closely it’s linked to blogs. Think of it as a headline for your blog posts or for your comments on other blog posts, plus a way to create the credibility that will bring others to your blog.

Suggested reading:
Sign up for a Twitter account and follow:
• moniguzman (Monica Guzman, writer of the P-I’s big blog)
• hrheingold (Howard Rheingold, social media theorist and professor — you’ll get links to his class materials)
• joehageonline (Joe Hage is putting social media principles into action, right in front of you, in his work as a MarCom director at a major corporation, and then explaining it on his blog)
• UDistFoodBank (excellent use of Twitter by a non-profit)
• chrispirillo (Chris epitomizes the concepts of branding and communication; watch how he uses Twitter to drive traffic)