Timing is Everything

I just received an e-blast from a major New York steakhouse with the subject line, “Need a drink?” Um, it’s 10:00 a.m., so the answer to that questions is “no.” hurricane

Obviously the steakhouse is advertising a new cocktail promotion but at this hour of the morning, people are still on their first or second cup of coffee. An email like that should not be distributed until late afternoon when most people’s work days are winding down. Messages need to be timed accordingly so audiences will read them at just the right moment. For my clients, I generally try to opt for 10 or 11 a.m. (when many are caught up and settled in at their desks), or after lunch.

I actually deleted the email from the steakhouse but decided to retrieve it to take a peek at the content….which brings me to my second point:

If you’re going to send an e-blast to customers, make it worth opening. Why not include a striking visual of the martini you’re promoting, or better yet, a happy couple sipping the martinis? When I opened this particular restaurant’s e-blast, it was simply a yellow banner with links to the restaurant’s social media pages. No imagery, no copy. Just lots of white space. That tells me that the steakhouse just threw the email out there; to send it just to send it. If you’re not going to make an effort to jazz up your content, how can customers be sure that you’re going to make an effort in the kitchen or at the bar? It’s just plain sloppy marketing.

My third and final point has to do with frequency. It drives me crazy when I receive too many e-blasts from one particular business or organization. In the case of the steakhouse, I get one a week, which in my opinion, is way too often for a restaurant. Eating and drinking establishments should save mass email distribution for special occasions, like New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day menus, or Open Mike nights and poetry readings. In the case of nonprofits, you can get away with greater frequency (especially during end-of-year appeals, but even those emails should be spaced out accordingly). In each instance, messaging should target a different angle or program to vary the content and keep people reading.

Bonus point: Don’t forget about social media. Before drafting your e-blast, think about it: is this the right communication channel for this particular message? If you’re running a campaign, perhaps the information needs to go viral. In that case, social media is definitely the way to go. Using hashtags and tagging the appropriate contacts are surefire ways to drum up traffic and place you in the spotlight.

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Getting Motivated on a Soggy Monday

cloudsToday I am blah-gging. Not blogging. Blah-gging. I, along with many it seems, have the Monday blahs. It’s been chilly and rainy all day, after a weekend that saw 60 mph wind gusts, thunderstorms, even snow in some places. Opening Day at Yankee Stadium? Ain’t happening today. Happy Spring…

Okay. Enough venting. So what to do when you’re a professional writer and you’re just not feeling it? Here are my top tips for staying motivated and lifting the clouds:

1. Martini in the Morning – No, I don’t mean drink a martini before Noon. I’m referring to the Internet radio station that cranks out lively tunes from classic crooners like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Listening to these playlists is sure to put some pep in your pen and brighten up your day. http://martiniinthemorning.com/

2.  #Connect – Before getting lost in Microsoft Word, try traveling the Twitterverse for awhile. Not only will you catch up on the latest news, chuckles and trending topics, it’ll give you a chance to shout-out your tweeps and see what they’ve been up to. And who knows? You may even find your next topic to write about.

3. Fuel your Productivity – If you’re aiming to complete your next great story, get into the groove with outside projects that will help build momentum and boost your productivity. Blogging is quite useful (hey, that’s what I’m doing right now!), since it organizes your thoughts and gets your creative juices flowing. Catching up on emails is another favorite of mine. Whether you’re reaching out to story contacts or cleaning out your inbox, the sense of accomplishment you feel can help trigger more motivation, inspiring you to gets those magical words out to make your story shine.

Know Your Selfie Etiquette

An image of women taking a selfie in front of the tragic East Village explosion has sparked outrage – and rightfully so. It’s just wrong and in the poorest taste possible.Selfie_NoNo

Unfortunately, instant clicks of a smartphone photo and vanity often lead to poor judgement. People become enthralled with being part of the action and need to share the moment with their friends and followers. But an accident scene? Really?

I witnessed the same lack of selfie etiquette a few weeks ago after a young man was hit by an R train at Union Street. As we evacuated the train, dozens of commuters were happily snapping photos of the incident. Luckily, a police officer on the scene began discouraging riders from taking pictures but not before the troubling images hit people’s Twitter and Instagram accounts.

People need to think before they click. It’s as simple as that. Why would a particular image be worth sharing? What would people have to gain by seeing your selfie? Are you dining at a hot new restaurant? Celebrating your engagement? Did you just meet Brad Pitt? Okay, those kinds of selfies are acceptable.

People need to remember that selfies are meant to be social. It’s the “social” in social media. Just as singer Mat Kearney took a selfie with the audience at the New York concert I attended last week, or Ellen DeGeneres’ infamous Oscars’ selfie – selfies are meant to make people feel like part of an event; to promote bonding; a common experience (and of course, it doesn’t hurt marketing, either).

But when it comes to an accident site, there’s definitely nothing worth smiling over. Village Idiots, indeed.

Long live the business card

Remember when business professionals always carried a card on them? “Here’s my card,” was an undeniable part of business speak, especially when wheeling and dealing.

Now, you don’t see that as much anymore. You’re referred to people’s LinkedIn profiles or Facebook pages or Twitter handles. One quick search on all these sites and you’re able to connect with a person in minutes.

While a lack of paper business cards might be good news for tree-lovers, I think it’s getting in the way of our identities. A business card is an extension of our brand; it’s a way to present your contact information in a compact, portable channel – something that people can keep handy when they want to give you a ring or drop you an email. If people want to find you on social media, your handle names are right there on the card – all in one place.bizcard

Sure, not having business cards means less to carry and yes, it is a cost-saver if you don’t create them, but if you want to build a business rapport with someone, you must carry some with you. It’s simply more personal. And most importantly, they make you stand out. They have your unique design on them. You’re not just another LinkedIn profile blended together with all the other Richard Joneses or Jennifer Smiths.

Heck, even in the social scene, people don’t write down their phone numbers any more. If I meet a guy at a party, he’ll tell me to find him on Facebook. Um, bad idea. Do I really need to see photos of his ex? Nope. A simple pen and paper to write down a phone number is fine; but nobody carries around writing instruments any more (except us writers).

Socially, people also type their numbers into people’s phones. “Put in your number and I’ll text you so you have mine.” What if I don’t want your number in my phone? What if we go out once and the date is horrible? Yes, you can delete the number easily, but there’s something about physically holding a piece of paper (or a business card) that’s more relaxed. I feel comfortable knowing that the number or email address is there should I decide to reach out. Once a number is programmed into a person’s phone, it immediately leads to a deluge of texts. It’s added traffic I don’t necessarily want. You don’t make the address book cut unless I know there’s going to be a repeat connection.

On a sentimental note, I’ve cherished cocktail napkins or post-its containing names and numbers of guys I’ve liked. They become warm and fuzzy mementos of the time we met. You can’t say that about an electronic contact; they’re just digits in a phone sandwiched between your accountant’s and your hairdresser’s.

Vary your channels for optimal communication in the workplace

An email. A phone call. A meeting. If you’re communicating to employees, all of the above work well but you have to know when to use them. employeescommunicating

I like email for prodding. If you’re inquiring about the status of a project or to set up a meeting, email is ideal. No need to bother someone with a phone call; they might be busy. Instead, a quick one or two lines is the way to go. Make sure the phrasing is polite and that the person knows you’re grateful for their time. Heck, add a smiley face if you have to, depending on the level of the person you’re emailing (e.g. if it’s an executive, avoid the smiley faces!).

With phone calls, let’s state the obvious: if you need a rush response to something, you must pick up the phone. Phoning someone is also a nice way to follow up from an email, or vice versa.

Sometimes, a project may be too intricate to discuss over email; too much back and forth in email chains can be confusing to follow. Picking up the phone for a proper discussion will work best. Always opt for the office phone before trying someone’s mobile. Save the cell phone calls for urgent matters.

Face-to-face interaction, of course, is the most personal way to communicate to someone – whether you’re in the workplace or catching up with an old friend. To my fellow freelancers, I highly recommend face-to-face communication whenever possible. If you need to touch base with a co-worker, take a stroll to his/her cubicle. You’ll find many people will welcome a five-minute break to chat or look away from the computer screen.

If the person is busy or on the phone however, just wave and come back later. Try to stay visible  as much as possible to keep your face out there and build rapport with colleagues and clients.  

Look Me in the Eye – or Can You?

The other night, while I was having dinner with my friend, there were two young women seated next to us. As my friend and I were enjoying a nice meal and stimulating dinner conversation, we noticed our “neighbors” weren’t saying a word to each other. Why, you ask? They were texting!

No, they weren’t texting each other. They were messaging other friends (or boyfriends), and carrying on separate, “silent” conversations. They did momentarily converse with one another to compare messages and have a giggle. But through it all, they didn’t look each other in the eye.

That got me thinking how little eye contact there is left. When I’m on the subway pressed against my fellow straphangers, we don’t look at each other. You see the tops of people’s heads because they’re playing games on their phones or they’re reading their Kindles.

If you’re seated at the bar waiting for a friend to arrive, you don’t make eye contact with people; you gaze at your phone, perusing the Web or checking your text messages. Don’t be surprised if the number of people meeting in bars has gone down. Instead of people checking you out, they’re checking themselves “in” on Facebook or FourSquare.iPhoneTexting

So where do you draw the line? Is it possible for people to balance digital and face-to-face conversations in their social lives?

With all the distractions our smartphones have (e.g. camera, Internet, SMS, games, apps, social media), there’s just too much temptation. Unless some type of etiquette is set, interpersonal communication will continue to be disrupted.

Perhaps restaurants (like gyms and movie theaters) can discourage the use of mobile phones. Or they can establish mobile-free zones, much like the old days of smoking and non-smoking sections.

Otherwise, “social” settings will be anything but.

Everyone Loves A Good Story

In corporate communications, storytelling has long been recognized as a successful tool to communicate important messaging. It’s easier to reach employees with engaging content that pertains to them. People want to read about people – the faces behind the words. Image

Of course, the power of storytelling extends beyond the workplace. We might enjoy a good story at a party, over a gossipy lunch with the gals, or while reading weekly issues of our favorite magazines.

Okay. So we’ve established that people love a good story but do we ever think about why we’re so attracted to the technique?

The love of stories dates back to our childhood. How many times did our parents read us a story when they tucked us in at night? Their soothing words would lull us into a deep sleep. We felt comforted by the strong bonds that formed. And a good night story was our opportunity to wind down after a long day of school and homework.

Fast forward to adulthood and not much has changed. Effective storytelling provides escapism. Whether it takes place at a water cooler in the office or on the phone with a friend, storytelling is our chance to relate, engage, and entertain. Without storytelling, there would be no rapports. It’s an opportunity to share and keep things personal – whether you’re in an office or enjoying a Friday happy hour with friends.

Without storytelling, we wouldn’t be human. It’s what connects us. If we didn’t have it, we’d all be machines, just carrying out our day-to-day tasks with a bit of small talk here and there, at best.

Having covered a plethora of conferences over the years, I’m pleased to see more executives relating their own personal experiences to connect with audiences. And it’s working: surveys are revealing that employees want to hear from bosses, and that they want to feel connected to companies’ visions, missions, and values. It’s those stories that will help keep staff feeling connected. Effective internal communications tools will help to ensure that employees will also receive a voice and have the chance to share their own stories and experiences inside the company.

Thanks to social media, we all have platforms where we can share stories, whether they’re on Facebook or on a blog post like this one.

Storytelling helps us to feel, to empathize, to understand, to appreciate, to take action, to vent, to connect. It keeps things real.