A New Age of Women-Led Entrepreneurship and Innovation (One Thin Mint at a Time)

This year's Google "doodle" honoring International Women's Day

Some of you may have noticed the colorful Google doodle on your screens last Thursday, in honor of International Women’s Day.   Google’s acknowledgement rightly paid tribute to the day and what it represented: celebrating the achievements of women worldwide.  And yes, social media played a significant role in elevating the day’s presence.  In a press release, Glenda Stone, the founder of the “internationalwomensday.com,” pointed to the success of the website, which rallied over 10,000 followers to share videos and news about celebratory activities around the world.

According to Stone: “Offline large scale women’s rallies have become even larger through the use of social media.  It would be hard to find any country that did not celebrate the news in some way.”

In honor of the recent celebration, I’d like to call to attention women who are doing exceptional work in the business and entrepreneurial fields.

Anna Maria Chávez at the Launch of ToGetHerThere (January 31, 2012 - Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images North America)

The first is Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chávez.  For those of you wondering what your favorite cookies have to do with women business leaders: “More than two thirds of U.S. Congress women and an incredible 80% of women business owners were Girl Scouts.”  And, according to Forbes today: “Selling cookies teaches girls goal-setting, decision-making, people skills, and business ethics.”

Recently, Chávez set a goal to close the leadership gap between men and women – within one generation.  To further her goal, Girl Scouts launched a multi-year campaign, ToGetHerThere.  Thanks to strong communications (a clear call to action website and robust social media tactics including a dedicated YouTube channel), the campaign is off to a strong start.

Yes, we are entering into a new age of women leadership, one that will feature more entrepreneurship initiatives by women.   Boston is no exception.  In November, The Boston Globe featured a group of local female CEOs in Kathleen Pierce’s “The (new) old girls’ network.”  The group, known as the “SheEOs”, is helping dissolve Boston’s reputation for being an “old boys” town, meeting regularly to brainstorm, troubleshoot and network.

While men cannot join the SheEOs, Bettina Hein, SheEO member and founder of video marketing company Pixability, told the Globe: “We are not trying to put any distance between us and the male entrepreneurs. We want to make the gender issue go away. It’s not supposed to be special that women are doing this. It’s supposed to be completely normal.’’

Afghanistan's first women-only cyber cafe is a place for women to connect & communicate. Read more: http://on.mash.to/y9tvam. Photo courtesy of mashable.com

Indeed.  Hats off to the vision and leadership of business leaders such as Chávez and the women behind SheEO.  They are helping close the leadership gap, but it’s a process.  A clear voice and communications plan is critical for women looking to quite literally make themselves, and their business plans, heard.

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Six Essential Elements in a White Paper

A well-crafted white paper can position a company as a subject-matter expert and serve as a digital and print marketing tool. For example, one client had printed a white paper as an 8×10 brochure and used it effectively as a calling card to establish themselves in a new market. Others clients share white papers on their website, or a landing page while their sales and marketing teams share it electronically with customers and prospects.

white paper, sales, marketing, communications, public relationsThe Purdue Online Writing Lab defines a white paper as “a certain type of report that is distinctive in terms of purpose, audience and organization.” A white paper goes deeper, vs. broader. Think about it as an “inch-wide and a mile deep.” It explores a specific topic, offering insight in the form of a potential solution or taking a position on an issue.

Content documents like white papers can also be optimized for search with SEO, and serve as fresh/new content on your organization’s website, also increasing visibility for that site. White papers can easily be shared and are searchable, making them valuable marketing tools as individuals rely more heavily on the Internet for information.

A study by Eccolo Media found:

  • 84% of businesses said white papers were moderately or extremely influential in their purchasing decisions.
  • White papers are the most highly shared form of marketing collateral; 89% of respondents pass them along to others.  In addition, white papers were the most viral marketing collateral with nearly one in three respondents sharing them      with three or more people.
  • Readers prefer white papers between 6 - 10 pages in length.
  • While papers have been shown to be most effective in the presales process; they are the number one form of collateral at all stages of the sales process.
  • The majority of respondents felt high-quality writing is either very important or extremely influential.

Here are my 6 essential white paper components:

  1. Identify your audience – your paper should be tailored for a specific audience and their needs.
  2. Identify the problem/opportunity. (Note: This must be the challenge as viewed through your audience’s eyes, as an effective paper will be built around their interests.)
  3. Present proof that the problem exists. Cite third-party sources, quote industry experts – in this section you validate the challenge.
  4. The basic solution – an overview of how the problem/challenge could be addressed, including how others may be addressing it.
  5. Your solution – the opportunity to talk about your perspective or solution, how it’s different and why it’s compelling.
  6. Conclusion – restatement of the current situation and the need for change.

In a document this length, it’s also important to include a title page, table of contents, and references. White space is always important, as are visuals like charts and graphs and infographics. Infographics (visual representations of data or information) attract a lot of attention, are highly shareable, and convey a large amount of information concisely.

A paper of this length may seem daunting, but as with any research paper, by the time you have a solid outline in place, the rest of the paper will come more easily (again, provided you have done your research). One word of caution: as with all good business writing – keep it tight. If the paper is too long/winding, you’ll lose your reader and it won’t be an effective tool for your organization.

Send me your guidelines for white paper development, and I’ll be sure to share them!

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Crisis Communications: 6 Simple Steps To Apologize

Most crisis communications experts, like our own Peter Morrissey, will advise clients to say “you’re sorry” as soon as it has been realized an error has been committed.   While it seems like a common sense response to many of us, to others in industry, government, media and sports — and to the ordinary person — saying “I’m sorry” is often the hardest part of the execution phase of a crisis communications plan.

Typically, however, it’s the only right place to start.

Perhaps its Spring fever, or perhaps the message is finally seeping in.  Whatever the reason, recently it has been raining apologies.

For example, last week President Obama apologized to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai because American military personnel burned Korans in Afghanistan.  In an official apology letter to Karzai, Obama said those responsible will be held accountable.

Here in the U.S, ESPN editor Anthony Federico has been fired from his job after posting the headline, “Chink in the Armor” in a reference to New York Knicks Asian-American point guard Jeremy Lin.

“I’m so sorry if I offended people.  I’m so sorry if I offended Jeremy. … My faith is my life. I’d love to tell Jeremy what happened and explain that it was an honest mistake,” said  Federico, who also said he understands why he was terminated by ESPN (unlike the opinion of my colleague Aimee Charest, my view is ESPN over reacted and putting Federico and other ESPN editors in a sensitivity/diversity training program would have been the right prescription vs. destroying the career of a 28-year-old).

In what is one of the most bizarre stories involving an apology in recent memory is the story of a Cincinnati man who was ordered by a judge to apologize to his estranged wife for 30 consecutive days on the same Facebook page that he criticized her on over their pending divorce; or serve a 60-day jail term.  Apparently, Mark Byron took the 30 days and has been apologizing ever since.

And finally, at least for this round of apologies, Denver Broncos backup quarterback Brady Quinn apologized last week to starting quarterback Tim Tebow for telling “GQ” that much of the team’s success last season was luck and that Tebow’s very public expression of his faith doesn’t “seem very humble.”   Naturally, Quinn says the magazine misquoted him and via twitter says he “reached out to Tim to clear this up. … I apologize to anyone who feels I was trying to take anything away from our Team’s or Tim’s success this season.”

There are as many perspectives on “the apology” as there are apologies themselves.

Quote machine and 1950′s author Margaret Lee Runbec says, “Apology is a lovely perfume; it can transform the clumsiest moment into a gracious gift.”

And cartoonist Lynn Johnston echoes Runbec’s sentiment with,  “An apology is the superglue of life.  It can repair just about anything.”

But opposing views on “the apology” are abundant.  Take legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach who said:  “The only correct actions are those that demand no explanation and no apology.” 

Or British humorist P.G. Wodehouse who offers, “It is a good rule in life never to apologize.  The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.”

An apology doesn’t always invite, or earn, forgiveness.  Nonetheless, when a wrong has been committed, it’s usually the right — and smart — thing to do.

Corporations would be wise to build the following apology basics into their crisis communications plans.  Peter Morrissey, who developed them, will be pleased you did –and so will your company.

6 Simple Steps to Apologize

  • Apologize to victims and families first – privately and publicly.
  • Issue a blanket apology.
  • Have the CEO issue the apology and empower employees to do the same.
  • Keep the channels of communication open – keep restating the apology at every opportunity.
  • Keep the public posted on the progress to solve problem.
  • Restate the company’s intent to take responsibility; fix the problem and do what is right.

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Posted in Industry & Current Events, Reputation Props | Tagged Anthony Federico, dismissal, ESPN, ESPN.com, firing, headline, Jeremy Lin, New York Knicks, reputation, sports communications | Leave a comment

Kodak’s (Unfortunate) Arrested Development

The evolution of Eastman Kodak Co's logo (Kodak.com)

For many, the news that American photography pioneer Kodak had filed for bankruptcy last month came as a surprise.  Surprise or not, it was certainly a depressing announcement.

Founded by George Eastman in 1880 (a high school dropout with big ideas), Eastman Kodak brought “toys” like the $1 Brownie and Instamatic to the mass market.   The company dominated the photography industry for years, building a strong reputation for innovation in the U.S.and abroad.   This strong reputation was enjoyed by employees as well, as the company pioneered motivational HR tools such as a “Wage Dividend”, which gave bonuses to employees based on results.  In 1975, Kodak invented the world’s first digital camera. Even Apple’s QuickTake 100 digital camera – the first consumer digital camera – was produced by Kodak with the Apple label.

The brand also became part of American pop culture.  Remember Paul Simon’s 1973 “Kodachrome”?  And “Kodak Moments”?  As a child, I recall sitting in front of the TV entranced by Kodak’s commercial featuring Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.” In recent years, I bought a few Kodak point-and-shoot cameras as I wasn’t interested in committing to a new digital camera (I think it actually makes for better photos because there is something about real film that makes it stand apart from digital + you don’t spend your vacation with your nose to a camera).  But I digress…

Kodal's Instamatic 104 - over 60 million sold by Kodak alone (courtesy of http://camerapedia.wikia.com)

Nostalgia aside, nothing changes the fact that Kodak didn’t, or couldn’t, compete in the digital camera market, despite the fact that they were “there” before anyone.   For Kodak, digital was an afterthought (see Forbes.com’s recent “No More Kodak Moments”), and the company chose instead to continue its focus on film and developing materials.  While all evidence pointed to the growth of digital, it seems that over the years the company simply lost touch with what consumers wanted, leading to its present day situation.  Instead of continuing to innovate, the company fell behind.  After filing Chapter 11 on January 19, it eliminated its digital cameras, pocket video cameras and digital picture frame products, and will now focus on photo printing and licensing its brand name to other manufacturers.

The future remains uncertain but Kodak’s fall from grace offers specific lessons to learn – namely that even companies and organizations with the greatest of brand equity must never fail to evolve and to listen to its consumers.

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Four Communication Keys for Bruins Goalie Tim Thomas

I want in on the Tim Thomas brouhaha.

Boston Bruins MVP goalie Tim Thomas is a superstar in the crease but not in front of microphones and TV cameras.

If you haven’t heard, Thomas, for the second time in about a month, is being scrutinized for his “personal” opinions on religion and politics.  A month ago his refusal to join his team at the White House, as reigning NHL champions, for the customary photo opp with the standing president of the U.S. drew both praise and criticism from fans.  At the time, Thomas said he was protesting the U.S. government and not President Obama, but refused to elaborate and grew snippy with reporters when they pressed him.

This week, journalists are spilling ink over Thomas’s recent Facebook post in which he states his defense for the Catholic Church by quoting a known anti-Nazi pastor.  This most recent post is Thomas’ response to President Obama’s position that insurers must provide women access to free contraceptives.  This goes for insurance plans connected to religious organizations, such as schools and hospitals.

Following Wednesday’s hockey game, Thomas was engulfed by broadcast and print journalists who cared less about the shutout the Bruins suffered at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres but were salivating over Thomas’ post on Facebook.  Thomas was as consistent in front of the media as he has been in front of the net, and essentially refused to comment citing Facebook as part of his “personal life.” Of course, he said he was happy to talk hockey with the media, but when members of the media continued to press him on his religious and political beliefs, he abruptly ended the session and walked.

Is Tim Thomas seriously that naive?  Does he really think Facebook is “private” and “personal” and that his recent provocative actions wouldn’t be considered “news.”

I have zero issue with Thomas’ Facebook posting (though I think he should have sucked it up and joined his teammates on the White House boon doggle).  But any public figure — professional athlete, business leader, actor, politician — has to expect interest and questions from their followers and the media when their actions or positions run upstream.  It’s simply part of the deal of being a public figure and refusing to accept this fact typically has negative consequences in the court of public opinion.

If I were Tim Thomas’ PR counsel, I would advise him of these four communication keys:

  • as a public figure, your personal and professional lives are inextricably connected.  People read your Facebook page for only one reason:  you are a public figure;
  • you can’t be provocative and controversial and then expect to be allowed to run and hide.  Stand up to your convictions;
  • you’re a hero to Bostonians because you’re a winner.  You’re enjoying the halo affect of a career season. But like most things, halo affects have a shelf life. And they are typically shorter in Boston than in other towns, and
  • be proactive instead of defensive (not a hockey pun).  Let your fans see who you really are — the man behind the mask and the Wall.  How about a “town meeting” for your fans (and the media) after the season, where you can explain your important positions on politics and religion because you clearly have a lot to say.

But between now and then, prepare to back up what you do, say and publish — outside of the hockey realm — or just stop pucks.

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