Keeping Up with Changes to the AP Stylebook

The writing “Bible” for public relations is the AP stylebook. Anytime a PR professional (or anyone writing for media publication for that matter) is unsure of what to do, such as whether to capitalize an executive’s title in a press release, a quick glance at the print or online version will provide the correct answer. (For the record, the answer is “no” as this blog post points out.)

This reliance on the AP stylebook can lead one to think that its rules are all set in stone. But one would be wrong, as the post, “10 Recent AP Stylebook Changes and Reminders You Should Know About,” from Cision points out.

Whether you are debating whether the correct spelling for a particular type of wine is syrah or shiraz, wondering whether someone who uses the emergency department a lot should be labeled a frequent flyer or frequent flier (the former is correct), or how to use a number in a headline (use numerals for all, even though in the body you write out one through nine and then go to numerals from 10 on), the AP stylebook has the answers. And it’s continually being adjusted, so don’t assume!

To make sure you’re on top of your AP stylebook game, be sure to check out the full post here.

The importance of feedback in PR – from media, to writing to client relationships

Like many around the world, I enjoyed watching the Winter Olympic Games. I love the fanfare of the competition, tracking medal counts and seeing well-known athletes winning gold again. Shaun White is my hero!

One of the other things that I love to see is the camaraderie among the athletes and how they relate to their coaches. I can’t help but wonder about the feedback they receive from their coaches in between each competition. You can do it! Don’t think about the last score, focus on what you do best. Next time go higher, faster, longer. Remember everything we practiced and most importantly have fun. I can only imagine the observations, evaluations, words of wisdom and encouragement that the athletes receive.

It makes me think of the importance of feedback in public relations – from the media, regarding writing and most importantly with clients. So what, exactly, is it? The term ‘feedback’ is used to describe the helpful information or criticism about prior action or behavior from an individual, communicated to another individual (or a group) who can use that information to adjust and improve current and future actions and behaviors.

With the media

When a public relations person pitches a story to our editorial contacts, best practices dictate that we have done our research. We know who the audience is for the publication, what topics the editor or reporter likes to cover, and we structure our pitch in a way that should be compelling enough for the editor to want to write the story. But that is not always the case.

Sometimes there is a piece missing to our pitch or an angle that would be more interesting to the editor. Sometimes their focus has changed or it’s just bad timing. Without specific feedback from the editor, we might not know how providing a customer or fresh data to support our pitch would be what is necessary for a compelling article.

PR people like to please and we are aggressively working to get coverage for our clients. We will jump through hoops to get the additional information for an editor to meet the deadline and to get the coverage. Knowing is the key.

Getting the writing right

The same is true with writing. It is such a subjective form of expression. Haven’t you had an experience where you really like someone’s writing style and other experiences where you didn’t? It doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an effective form of communication.

Feedback in writing for public relations is so very important from basic editing and proofreading to ensuring accuracy. When you’ve worked on an article for hours, sometimes a fresh set of eyes is needed to see obvious mistakes that you overlook.

We rely on our clients as experts in their field to make sure what we are communicating about their company, solution and industry segment is correct, especially if it is a new area to us. Feedback in writing will always produce better content.

Building client relationships

The most important feedback of all quite often comes from the relationship with our clients. We are here to work with you as your partner and to provide a service.

For us to be effective, we need ongoing, regular feedback and information. And quite often, it goes both ways. We regularly provide our clients feedback on positioning, making the best use of your marketing communications budgets, and what is newsworthy and what isn’t. Treating us as part of your team makes for the best client relationships and leads to outstanding results.

Toward better feedback

What makes feedback important?

  • It is effective listening. It’s important that the person providing the feedback know that they are being understood and that it provides some value.
  • It can motivate. By asking for feedback, it allows the receiver to perform better.
  • It can improve performance. Feedback should be constructive criticism and is the best at helping to formulate better decisions to improve and increase performance.
  • It is a tool for continued learning. Feedback is important across an entire organization to remain aligned to goals, create strategies, develop service improvements, improve relationships and to continue learning.
  • Feedback should not be uncomfortable. Regular, positive or constructive feedback motivates everyone to perform better from award-winning PR teams to medal-winning athletes.

So, when working with your Amendola PR team, remember the importance of feedback. It makes us all more effective and like our Olympic athletes, we all want to win the gold. Go Team USA!

Content Marketing in Eight Seconds or less

Content Marketing in Eight Seconds or Less

As you work on your content strategy, think about this: According to a recent study, the average person now loses concentration after only eight seconds. I would ask you to pause and think about that but then I’ll risk of losing the remaining seconds of your attention entirely – if I haven’t already. As a “fun fact,” researchers noted that even goldfish which are “notoriously ill-focused” have an average attention span of nine seconds.

So, whether that fact is fun or concerning is still be determined, but it really isn’t that shocking. This study simply quantifies the impact of a highly digitized lifestyle on the human brain. After all, we live in a world where our phones are constantly buzzing with emails, texts, news alerts, and social media notifications. We live in a world where…

Sorry, I got distracted for a moment. Did you know that Kim and Kanye are expecting their third child via surrogate? My phone just vibrated with that “breaking” news, as well as four work emails, three personal emails, and two trivial text messages. And even if celebrity gossip isn’t your guilty pleasure, you’re likely experiencing a similar scenario every hour of every day.

But to be clear, the aha moment from this study is not that goldfish are smarter than us. It’s an aha moment for us as marketing and public relations professionals. The study has profound implications for those of us who communicate for a living. To be successful, we must adapt our strategies and tactics to the reality of eight second attention spans.

Why evolving content doesn’t mean dumbing it down

In today’s world of digital and information overload, crafting content that is relevant and meaningful for your target audience is mission-critical. Remember that having shorter attention spans doesn’t mean that your customers are not decision-makers. It doesn’t mean that they’re less intelligent. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have the same pain points. It just means that they need to absorb information differently. It just means that despite downloading your white paper, they’re probably not getting past page one. There’s no shame. It’s the new normal.

That’s why evolving your content marketing is not about dumbing down the information. It’s not about simplifying or going back to basics. It’s about making your content snackable. In fact, your new bite-sized content can still convey the same concepts and ideas as the longer pieces—but that content must be more concise and free of fluff.

Even more importantly, it must provide just a taste to satisfy their brief hunger and keep their interest. It must leave the audience wanting more of your content snacks. That’s what marketing is all about.

How to create tasty content snacks – a recipe for success

Snackable content for the eight second attention span is just a new way of creating, organizing, and promoting content. To create tasty content snacks, you don’t need to start from scratch. You don’t need all new ingredients. Your content kitchen is likely full of big, heavy content meals which can be remixed and reused to fit the new snackable content mold. The good news is that one content meal equals several content snacks.

Now, let’s enter the content kitchen and see how to turn those content meals into content snacks. Here are three examples:

  1. Transform your white paper into an infographic and a cheat sheet with must-do’s.
  2. Transform your case study into a checklist of best practices, or a series of checklists that span everything from implementation to training and optimization.
  3. Transform your 30-minute webinar into a sequence of 30 second videos that highlight that key learning objectives.

And rather than being sad about the lost of art of white paper reading, keep in mind that multiple content snacks derived from the same content meal not only convey the same messages but also can easily become a lead nurturing campaign or useful follow-up references for your sales team to share with prospects.

I think it’s time to stop mourning the white paper. Instead, it’s time to cook up some bite-sized content. After all, it’s just waiting to be eaten.

‘Lady Luck Favors Those Who Try,’ and Other Wisdom for PR Pros from ‘A Mind for Numbers’

As we strive to be better communicators and storytellers, it often helps to get out of our comfort zones and read inspirational literature that can teach us new things.  We often find those types of books in classical literature, or from the latest fiction and non-fiction books.  Sometimes, “How-to” guides also help.

That happened to me recently when I picked up the book, “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra).”  You may be asking yourself, “Why would a PR guy be reading a book about math and science?”  Isn’t the reason you pursued journalism and then PR in the first place is that you stunk in those other areas?

Well, as it turns out, author Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., did, too.  But through a gradual retraining of her brain, she earned a Ph.D. in systems engineering after completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering, respectively.  She now teaches engineering at Oakland University in Detroit, and is a leading educator in the area of STEM education.

While her book is primarily geared toward helping high school and college students successfully navigate the aforementioned disciplines, it’s ultimately a guide to improving skills and techniques for learning how to learn.  And that can be useful for people in any profession, including PR.

Two modes of thinking

For instance, Oakley describes the two modes of thinking: the focused and diffuse.

The focused mode is like the flashlight setting that casts a bright light in a narrow area.  It’s a direct approach to solving problems that requires rational, analytic and sequential ways of thinking.  When we’re working intently on a project, like writing a white paper or drafting a PR plan/strategy, we use the focused mode of thinking.

But the diffuse mode also plays an important role in those projects.  It taps other parts of the brain and is akin to turning your flashlight setting to casting a wider yet less powerful light.  As its name suggests, the diffuse mode is wider and big picture.  It’s a resting state in our brains.  It works quietly in the background and allows us to form new insights.  It kicks in when our minds wander, or when we take a break from a focused task to walk, jog, listen to music, sleep or play video games.

Oakley’s point, backed by the hundreds of research studies that inform her book, is that we must maximize both types of thinking to learn and tackle problems.

If we’re working on a specific assignment, it’s important to step away from that work at intervals to allow the diffuse mode to enter the picture.  By pursuing a leisure activity or working on some other job assignment, we allow our diffuse mode of thinking to continue working on the first task at hand and lend new insights.  The diffuse mode opens up possibilities that we may not have considered in the focused mode and prevents us from believing that only one approach to a project is the single way of accomplishing it.

Taking a better approach

Here are some other practical tips that I gleaned from the book that we can translate to our own profession and help us do our jobs better:

  • Avoid procrastination because it prevents the diffuse mode from helping a project or media campaign. While the luxury of time is not always possible in our profession, especially in crisis communication situations, building a timetable of assignments and deadlines, with thoughtful consideration, can help improve the overall response and results.
  • Don’t cram to memorize a speech or the big PR plan presentation in one day. Rehearse and study over a series of days and/or weeks. Research shows that we retain the material better, avoid reading the screen verbatim, and make more genuine presentations.
  • Avoid reading literature or meeting notes over and over again to learn the material. Instead, use a technique called “pause and recall,” i.e., turn away from the literature and notes after each page or several pages, and describe the concept in one’s own words; that’s the way we build chunks that form strong neural connections in long-term memory.
  • Take a 21-minute nap to refresh the brain (but don’t tell the boss). The brain’s neural networks need to be reset from time-to-time, which freshens our outlooks toward problem-solving
  • Lady Luck favors those who try.” Sometimes, we feel downtrodden if a media pitch fails to elicit that desired interview, for example. Perhaps it’s time to let the diffuse mode help; alternatively, we could pick up the phone, be persistent (within reason), and converse with that target reporter directly.  In my experience, with professionalism and respect for the journalist on the other end, the odds are good.

As in any learning endeavor, Dr. Oakley’s observation rings true:  “The better I got (at math), the more I enjoyed what I was doing. And the more I enjoyed what I was doing, the more time I spent on it.”

newspapers and computers showing Jargon

If You Really Want to Sell Products, Lose the Jargon

Having worked across a number of industries during my career, I feel pretty safe in saying no industry loves it jargon (and acronyms) like healthcare. The general technology industry probably comes in a close second, but for pure technical mumbo-jumbo you can’t beat healthcare.

Part of it, I think, is that the healthcare industry is filled with a lot of smart people. Because of that, everyone feels like they have to sound like the infamous “smartest person in the room.” So they load up their content or their speeches or even their everyday conversations with a lot of jargon designed to give that impression.

Nowhere does that become more apparent than when I go to check the website of a new client or prospect to start familiarizing myself with their business. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come away after reading page upon page asking “But what do you do?”

Yes, you’re open and interoperable. Yes you follow evidence-based best practices. Yes, your methodology is transformative and sustainable. Yes, your subject matter experts have a wealth of experience in solving the toughest problems facing the industry. But again, what do you do?

If I, who has an employment-based incentive for comprehending your inscrutable jargon can’t figure out what you’re trying to say, what do you think happens to the typical prospect doing a fly-by? They see a bunch of words and terms they’ve heard 100 times before. They try to determine if they’re in the right place, looking at the right company.

But if it doesn’t come to them immediately, odds are they just move on. You lose.

Keep it simple

You’ve probably heard this quote, often erroneously attributed to Albert Einstein: If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. Ol’ Al may not have said it, but there is a lot of truth to it nonetheless.

I know this from personal experience. Thanks to my work here at Amendola Communications, I have had the opportunity to speak with some incredibly smart, accomplished people. They are the kind of people who are leading all of healthcare toward amazing new discoveries and ways of working.

While they come from different backgrounds and have expertise in very different areas, the one trait they all had in common was their ability to get their point across in a way that the average person could understand.

Some were talking about advanced analytics and machine learning. Some were talking about the nuances of health insurance. Some were literally talking about curing cancer. But you never walked away from the conversation wonder what the H-E-double hockey sticks they were talking about.

Instead, you walked away energized and inspired. Not to mention excited about the possibilities for the future and how their companies were creating them.

Learning to speak/write plainly

Becoming a clear communicator like that isn’t easy. It actually takes a lot of work to make your communication sound effortless yet on-target.

The first step, quite honestly, is not being afraid that people won’t think you’re smart if you don’t pack your content or your spoken words with industry jargon. In business there are no points awarded simply because you sound “smarter” than everyone else. The money goes to the people who show they understand the problem and how to solve it.

Once you’ve bought into that philosophy, start looking through your current content, perhaps with a Business Buzzwords Bingo card in hand. If you find you are winning within the first threeYour content shouldn't be filled with jargon like this paragraphs of a piece of content, especially your company website, you know you have some work to do.

Now listen to speeches from great communicators or read materials from a technically sophisticated consumer product. Whether you were a fan of Ronald Reagan’s or not, the man knew how to sell an entire nation on a concept. Is what you’re doing any different? Or as my colleague Michelle Noteboom points out, see how Donald Trump approaches the same challenge. You may not like what he says, but you must admit he has a way of stating his positions simply.

Car companies, especially the high-end ones, offer a great example of plain speaking. Even when they’re talking technical specs, they do it in a way that focuses on why you should care.

Apple has always had a good handle on that as well. While everyone else in the industry was talking about jitter rates and Hz-related info, they were telling how you could get 1,000 songs in your pocket. Everyone can understand that.

There’s the key. It’s not about the bells and whistles in your product. No one cares how much effort you had to go through to develop it. That’s your problem.

What they want to know is what’s in it for them. The easier you make it to understand that, the more intrigued they will be.

Read my lips: no more jargon

Well, very little anyway. It is healthcare, after all, and there are technical terms that must be used at times. But if you try to ensure that any jargon you use is essential to explaining your position, and that there’s no other way to say it, you’ll likely find prospects staying longer and going deeper on your website. And more willing to engage with you – all the way to a sale.

Fire Your Inner Critic

Most of us are our own worst critics. It’s easy to understand why.  After all, no one knows us better than us. Who better to uncover and critique all our foibles, follies and failures than our own inner critic?

There’s a fine line, of course, between self-criticism and self-awareness.  Maturity requires that we view ourselves with objectivity and correct those faults that can be corrected.  The kind of criticism that comes of self-awareness and that leads to self-improvement is a prerequisite for happiness and love.

But when it comes to work, self-criticism can be crippling.  Carl Richards, a certified financial planner, author, and regular New York Times contributor, makes that point in his fine article for the Times, “Free Yourself of Your Harshest Critic, and Plow Ahead.” Richards argues that we accomplish much of our best work when we stop critiquing and just do it.

“Think of how liberating it would be to free yourself from the role of being your own harshest critic,” he writes. “… What might happen if you took all the energy that goes in to judging your work and put it right back into the wellspring of creating the work instead?”

Writer’s Block

Richards’ article mainly concerns writing, and the common experience of writer’s block.  But he notes that letting go of your inner critic is good advice for “anything meaningful you do. Singing, painting, entrepreneurship, giving financial advice, museum curating, boat building, skiing, whatever.”

Like Richards, my own experience with the shadow side of criticism concerns writing.  I was a journalist for 15 years before tackling PR. Most days, my livelihood, to say nothing of my self-esteem, depended on my ability to crank out large amounts of decent copy on deadline.  As a newspaper reporter with daily deadlines you either get over writer’s block or you get out.  There’s no time for self-criticism when they’re holding the front page for your story.

It was after I left newspapers to become a freelance magazine writer that my self-criticism blossomed.  I blame my editors. I learned shortly after starting to freelance that deadlines mean something very different for magazine editors than for newspaper editors.  Magazine editors give their freelancers early deadlines, days or weeks before they intend to actually edit the article.  They do that to guard against precisely the sort of writer’s block that often crippled me.

Yet, ironically, it was because I knew that my deadlines were fake and therefor moveable that my self-criticism could work its evil. With several days to write, no beginning was ever clever enough. Writing is rewriting, as every good writer knows. But when you reach the hundredth rewrite of your lede, you know you’re in trouble.

The Godfather of Gonzo

I’m reminded of the story of Rolling Stone Books’ editor Alan Rinzler who, in trying to wrangle the  manuscript for Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail out of legendary procrastinator Hunter S. Thompson, ended up chasing the godfather of gonzo journalism around a hotel room for 48 hours with a tape recorder in hand.  Unable to write, Thompson literally dictated the bestseller.

I never reached that point. What saved me, every time, was a deadline. Faced with no alternative but to produce, the words flowed. In the end, I simply lowered my standards and trusted that what came out of my experience and craft would be good enough.

In his article, Richards quotes a letter from reader Chip Scanlon.  Scanlon, a writer himself, recounted how he overcame writer’s block: “I do my best to not have any standards at all. I abandon my standards. I urge myself to write badly, and once I do that my fingers begin to fly, and the inner critic is powerless.”

Does your inner critic ever keep you from completing work?  How do you overcome it?

Simple Language and Communication Success

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump continues to demonstrate some of the best – and worst – PR practices. Included in the best category: Trump’s mastery of “simple language.”

This recent article exploring the “linguistic” decline of Trump’s language got me thinking about Trump’s repetitive use of simple words and phrases. Some people theorize that Trump’s language style indicates his cognitive skills are slipping. An alternative theory is that Trump has purposively adopted a simplistic communication style because he finds it effective. Perhaps Trump has mastered the art of the deal – or at least figured out how to deal with communicating to the masses.

Trump’s simple language is easy to comprehend and his messages are easily retained. If you are in public relations, or if you are in any way motivated to promote a product, service, or even yourself, a look at Trump’s communication style reveals a few lessons.

Why simple is better in PR

We live in a complex world with a constant barrage of information that we’re expected to comprehend and retain. This is especially true in healthcare, with all its jargon and acronyms. It’s thus no wonder that we are drawn to the simple – things like Southwest Airlines’ no-hidden-fee pricing, the iPhone’s user-friendly interface, and the Keurig’s no-mess system for brewing a single cup of coffee. In the same way, our overloaded brains appreciate plain-language messaging that is clear and concise.

Whether it is a website, a press release or a speech, your audience should not have to read (or listen to) your content multiple times to comprehend its meaning. You don’t want your prospective customer to view your website and wonder what the heck you’re selling or why you’re better than the competition. When you craft your message in simple language, it’s easier to understand and remember.

Unfortunately, simple language content is not simple to create and is arguably harder to craft than jargon-filled messages with run-on sentences and $5 words.

Best practices for keeping it simple

Whether you’re writing or speaking, consider these best practices for simplifying your message:

Use simple words – As Mark Twain said, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.” It’s more important that your audience understands your message than it is to impress them with your vast vocabulary. Keep the language plain and simple.

Keep sentences and paragraphs short – Avoid trying to communicate too many ideas within a single sentence or paragraph. Target a sentence length of 20 to 30 words and limit paragraphs to two to three sentences, especially when the content is written. Readers will follow and retain your message more easily.

Eliminate the fluff – One way to keep sentences short and sweet is to eliminate unnecessary words and keep the message concise. For example, rather than say “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” Martin Luther King, Jr. could have said “I have a dream that one day all Georgians will eat together as friends.” Okay, okay, my sincere apologies to one of history’s greatest orators, as there clearly is a time and place for fluff – but it’s not within a press release.

Get rid of the jargon –Your target audience won’t assume you are an expert in your field just because you use a lot of industry jargon. In fact, the very people you are trying to impress may tune you out if they don’t understand the meaning of those terms. Replace the jargon with plain language substitutes whenever possible.

Stay active – Use an active, not passive, voice. The passive voice typically requires more words, especially the use of prepositional phrases that can create vagueness. For example, do say, “The company is exhibiting its products at HIMSS,” and avoid saying, “The products will be on exhibit by the company while at HIMSS.” Not only is the first version smoother and shorter, it is also more easily understood.

You may also want to consider running a readability index on your content. Readability indexes, such as Flesch-Kincaid and Gunning Fog, will estimate how easy it is to read and comprehend your text based on word and sentence length, syllable counts and other factors. A message that scores a reading level of grade 7 or 8 is considered to be an easy read and in plain English. It’s also the ideal level for communicating with the masses. Interestingly, the average score for medical information designed to educate patients is a grade level of 10 or higher.

Finally, here’s one more reason to adopt a simpler language style: it can improve your website’s SEO rank. Readability is one of the many signals that Google uses to rank websites. If you want a higher ranking, make sure your text easy to read and perceive.

Adopting a simpler language style may not be simple – but it can lead to greater communication success!

Honest Question: Have You Got What it Takes to Be a Thought Leader?

Thought leadership is arguably one of the most powerful assets in an organization’s or individual’s public relations strategy. Yet relatively few companies go after the thought leader mantle, even if they have articulate, charismatic, true believers leading their organizations.

Often these potential thought leaders are kept preoccupied managing the present or near-future, while others who have an eye on the longer-term are hesitant to put their true thoughts out there, especially in the buttoned up world of business. And so, intriguing perspectives never see the light of day, including those that could establish a company or person as an industry player to watch.

By contrast, if you do a fair amount of thinking about the future, are amenable to investing time and effort into building your thought leadership profile and you’re willing to shake things up in your industry–then yes, you have the makings of a thought leader.

So where do you go from here? First, decide on what you want to be known for. Then decide on a correlating cause to champion. Let’s look at a well-known role model who has this approach down cold.

Thought leadership, Elon Musk-style

He’s extraordinarily rich, has a tempestuous romantic life and an unusual name. But above all, Elon Musk is an entrepreneurial futurist. That’s what people think first about Elon Musk, and that’s no accident.

I’ve long studied Musk’s thought leadership mode of operation and have distilled it to a simple pattern. First, he warns of a dire likelihood if humanity doesn’t get its act together. This generates significant buzz…and fear. After a suitable amount of time has passed, Musk then follows up with a proposed solution.

Example: society will collapse when we run out of fossil fuels. Solution: Hyperloops that transport us at 700+ miles per hour.

Another example: society will collapse if artificial intelligence takes over the earth. Solution: merge human brains with artificial intelligence.

It’s all very calculated and strategic, and potential thought leaders should take note. Because it’s also undeniably effective. (By the way, Musk’s ideas have actual potential, fantastical as they seem. Take note of that, as well.)

How to find your thought leadership mojo

Here at Amendola I’ve developed a list of questions to provoke thought leadership thinking. I’ll share some of them here; for the full list, and more info about how Amendola builds and promotes thought leadership profiles; email me.

Question #1: If you could sound one alarm in your industry, what would it be?

Question #2: Do you have a minority and under-reported view of an industry topic that is significantly at odds with the widely held and established view?

Question #3: If you could rally your industry with one inspiring message or goal, what would it be?

These questions will likely prompt some interesting thinking, which leads to the next step—what to do with these profound thoughts. In brief, you should put them into blog posts, articles, interviews, presentations and more, with a solid PR strategy to help promote your thought leadership message.

Thought leader-in-training

Another piece of advice: if you have the makings of a thought leader, start building your profile now. It’s not an overnight process, at all. In fact, it takes time to nail down your message in quote-friendly language, and to cultivate a media-favorite persona. My colleague Marcia Rhodes gives some good tips on the latter in her post “Be a Media Darling.”

Consider investing in media training, as well. In addition to our writing and PR services for thought leaders, Amendola offers in-depth media training, facilitated by experts with years of media experience in television, radio, newspapers and the internet.

It covers a lot, including:

  • Body language and verbal best practices
  • Tips for devising a memorable interview message
  • Tips for assuring your quote gets published
  • How to steer the interview back to your core messages when the interview meanders

And much more. The media training can be as short as one hour to longer, depending on your needs. We typically offer this training as a core component of our PR programs.

Don’t forget another time-tested public speaking strategy: joining Toastmasters.

In her post “Public Speaking Tips for the Timid and the Talented,” my colleague Michelle Noteboom details how participation in Toastmasters has upped her speaking game and given her newfound confidence.

Here is how Michelle recounts it: “Almost a year ago, one of my Amendola mentors encouraged me to join Toastmasters to further hone my speaking skills. While I was initially skeptical – would everyone be a nerd? Or shy introverts with no personality? Perhaps retirees with nothing better to do? – I have been pleasantly surprised by the mix of people in my club. It includes a variety of professionals in diverse careers, all of whom are fun and dedicated to self-improvement.”

She adds, “Toastmasters has given me the opportunity to deliver prepared speeches once or twice a month, as well as speak extemporaneously on random subjects. It’s provided an excellent forum for practicing speech organization and delivery, and for receiving feedback that pushes me to strive for continuous improvement.”

So there you have it—a formula for success as a thought leader: an interest in the longer term, a willingness to shake things up in your industry, a solid PR plan, and a plan to practice until you’re close to perfect in your message delivery.

That’s really what it takes to be a thought leader. All that’s left is for you to take the leap and start becoming one.

The Problem with Your Content is You (and Other Content Marketing Truths)

Here’s a valuable lesson for anyone involved in content marketing. Recently, I was chatting with a small group of guests at a party. Then, the other partygoers gracefully exited the conversation—and suddenly, I was trapped. I looked right. I looked left. But my efforts were futile. I was officially stuck in a never-ending conversation. Yes, I had entered the dreaded Party Vortex, which is similar to the Polar Vortex but much less cold and much more dangerous.

But the real problem, and what made the circumstances so precarious, is that the never-ending conversation wasn’t a conversation at all. It was a monologue without audience participation. It was a soliloquy but far less articulate. It was all about my new acquaintance, who would most certainly not make the cut to be called a friend. As he continued to talk at me for 20 minutes, which felt like 20 hours, I smiled and nodded but secretly plotted my escape. Yet, despite my best Party Ninja skills, there was no way.

Spoiler alert: I survived this party trauma and lived to tell the tale. But sadly, this blog is not about party etiquette. It’s about content marketing because my Party Vortex nightmare is undeniably similar to the experience that potential customers might be having with your content right now.

While content marketing missteps are many and frequent, the biggest, most overarching mistake is that your content is all about you. It’s all about your company and your solutions. It’s all about your technology saving the world. This is the sort of content that not so subtly shouts “buy this.” After all, isn’t that your end goal?

However, touting the features and functionality of your newest product under the guise of a white paper often fails to make an impact—especially as healthcare professionals becomes savvier to the idea that they’re being sold to everyday. It falls short because it doesn’t take readers, your potential customers, into account. It doesn’t address what readers really want to know and what will compel them to take action. It leaves readers hanging, and then what happens?

Rather than completing a “contact us form” on your website to learn more, they’re lost to you. They may have simply decided that it’s not the right time to buy or that your company isn’t the right partner. They may have even—gasp—moved on to one of your competitors.

From company-focused to customer-focused
When developing a content marketing strategy and crafting each piece of content to support that plan, it’s critical to keep your future customers top-of-mind. Remember that every decision-maker or influencer that engages with your content could be your newest client, smartest super user, or most reliable reference.

How can you better connect with your audience? It’s simple but shockingly hard to do. Write what they want to hear about, rather than writing what you want to say. Write what they are hungry to learn about, rather than what you’re desperate to teach them. It’s a small change in perspective that makes a big difference. And while that may seem obvious, it’s not abundantly clear to many marketing and PR professionals—unless they’re just doing it wrong.

Effective, customer-focused content prompts an “aha moment,” by sharing new ideas or even the same old ideas in a new way. This matters because encouraging readers to think differently is the first step to being seen as a thought leader in their minds and then as the ideal strategic partner.

These new perspectives aren’t necessarily earth-shattering but they draw readers in. Customer-focused content addresses the problem you’re solving, not just the solution.
It also doesn’t oversimplify the solution by presenting painless and perfect success stories of IT solutions that were seamlessly implemented and quickly gained adoption by all end users. Further, it provides insights on process improvements, change management, and other tactics that readers can put into action, aside from just buying your technology.

Real-world tips and lessons learned are valuable takeaways that readers appreciate much more than a bulleted list of your product’s bells and whistles.

Your new customer-focused content will not only satisfy readers but also help turn more potential customers into actual ones. Even more importantly, we know that your new, improved content will ensure that you’re invited back to the party. And isn’t being invited back to the party the ultimate goal of any marketing?