danniewriter

A teachable moment

Actress/singer Erika Amato’s response to President Trump’s Independence Day gaffe is a big crowd pleaser. Read about Erika’s diverse career, reviews of her work and other highlights at www.erikaamato.com.

I would never wish a gaffe upon anyone as big as the mistake perpetrated by President Trump on Independence Day, but as someone who loves history, I found it just a tad gratifying. Sound strange? People often have that response when reading my posts, so please bear with me.

I imagined cellphones being pulled out across the nation as people asked themselves, “Exactly how many years off was he?” I pictured very small children asking why various beverages had just shot from their parents’ noses when the infamous remark was made.

The fact that people, especially young ones, are curious enough to ask questions about the past is a life preserver of optimism to which I cling mightily when I see “on the street” interviews where over 18ers opine that the presidential cabinet is a piece of furniture.

In recent years, the question of America’s history, especially in the South, has been a topic of heated debate as leaders, and entire communities, have opted to remove statues, plaques and names from public spaces and buildings. The country’s brutal past of slavery and racial discrimination is by no means a Southern phenomenon, but I think it’s fair to say that, in many corners of the region, there is a tendency to deliberately misunderstand the opposition of such symbols.

After all, in many areas of the South, it was commonplace to refer to the Civil War as “the recent unpleasantness,” into the 20th century.

We have an opportunity here, not to erase history by tearing down monuments and removing plaques, although in some cases I think that is entirely appropriate, and in just about all cases, I think a community is well within its right to make such a decision. Additionally, I am certainly not suggesting that we engage in group denial and giving into political correctness.

The opportunity is to get the story right … or at least as close to right as our faulty human nature will allow.

Ripping down statues is quick and easy. Putting history into context takes time and strength of will. And in some cases, it takes exploration. There are many important people who were so disenfranchised during their lifetimes, their stories are not yet fully known.

I ran across a profound piece of writing that illustrates beautifully the great need we have as a country for balance, context and “the whole story.” I hope you will take time to read Carly Berlin’s essay, Two Houses on the Eatonton-Milledgeville Road, recently posted on The Bitter Southerner.

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Crisis Capitalization

My new home state of Mississippi has really taken it on the chin this year. Parts of the Delta began flooding in February and still are underwater. To attempt to alleviate one catastrophic event, floodwaters from the Mississippi River have been released into the Gulf, creating another catastrophe. Dolphins and turtles have died, and the men and women who harvest oysters, shrimp and other delicacies from the deep have almost nothing to show for their labors because of the freshwater/floodwater contamination.

The continued release from the Bonnet Carré spillway has made the seasonal “dead zone” of oxygen-starved saltwater one for the record books, precipitating an algae bloom that now has closed many, but not all, beaches to swimming and water sports just in time for the Independence Day holidays.

There’s no sugar-coating the facts: the situation for farmers, fishers, plants and virtually all other forms of flora and fauna is decidedly bleak. Nevertheless, Mississippians on the Gulf have not thrown in the towel for the summer tourism season. In the process, they have provided an excellent lesson in “Don’t Panic PR.”

Milton Segarra, CEO of Coastal Mississippi, the regional tourism bureau, set just the right tone of concern and optimism along with a dash of “algae blooms happen all the time. We’ve got this.”

“We are a warm weather destination. We are in the Gulf of Mexico; this happens,” Segarra told WLOX-TV. His response wasn’t flippant, however. He emphasized that the closures were necessary to protect the public. The algae causes some nasty symptoms when people come in contact with it.

Now, no one wishes that the flooding, freshwater release and algae bloom had happened, but in a weird way, the challenge actually reinforced Coast Mississippi’s rebranding effort that began earlier this year.

The bureau’s previous name was Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast. “Coast is the place where the water meets the land, but coastal encompasses the beaches, the water and the land beyond,” Segarra said in the rebranding announcement.

The fact is, there is a great deal of beauty and charm in the region. And even if I can’t wade in the Gulf, the joy and peace I get from a beach sunset such as the one above is gift enough.

I hope tourists will take Segarra’s advice, keep their vacation plans unchanged, and explore beyond the beach. I’m sure they won’t be disappointed.

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The challenge of simplicity

Late last year, freelance content creator Matt Mansfield distilled 151 articles projecting marketing trends for 2017 into a glorious infographic. (I love infographics!) The article even comes with instructions on how to use the infographic depending on your interests and needs.

I’m glad there are marketing experts out there such as Mansfield, making sense of everything from analytics and chatbots to “ephemeral content,” but I’ll never be a Matt Mansfield.

I started this blog for small businesses and non-profits operating on shoestring marketing budgets that focus on free and do-it-yourself communications.

In short: I’m a peanut butter and jelly marketer.

As “the” expert about your business or non-profit, and most likely the “chief marketing officer,” it’s easy to lose a straightforward message amongst your intimate knowledge of all things organizational. That is when it is necessary to take a step back, remove your CEO hat and try to think like a consumer of that message.

A piece from Flee app creator Didac Hormiga on LinkedIn really spoke to me. Yes, there are marketing lessons to be learned from fortune cookies:

  • Make your message applicable to everyone.
  • Combine a product with a message.
  • Make your message short and sweet.

Nolan Berg, head of his own marketing consultancy, penned an equally straightforward and practical column after attending a Garth Brooks concert. I appreciated his insights.

If you own a small business, or are working to sustain a vital non-profit in your community, I encourage you to get organized and develop a marketing/PR plan to communicate a positive and compelling message. I think you will be amazed to see how it takes your mission to the next level. If you need assistance, don’t hesitate to contact me. My rates are reasonable and the initial consultation is free.

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Keeping track of success

Cute dog puppy

Last week we explored the myth of “truthful hyperbole” and I made three distinctions about content that passes the smell test. As a review, it should be based on:

  • internal research of my business and non-profit
  • statistics, other facts and opinions of reputable, and cited, sources
  • fairness and contextualization (Am I comparing apples to apples or applies to garden hoses?)

Let’s look more closely at the first item, internal research.

Those in public relations and marketing, as well as grant writers, are internal customers of business owners, key employees, CEOs, boards of directors and others. Our ads, press releases, billboards, videos, grant proposals, and social media posts are only as good as the data we are provided by an organization’s leaders.

Keeping track of the cost of your advertising and other marketing activities and calculating your return on that investment is vital, but that is a blog post for another day. I’m asking that you instead focus on data that you use in those advertising and marketing endeavors.

Rather than looking at data collection for public relations and marketing as a task separate from other necessary bookkeeping and record-keeping, look at the data you keep track of in the natural course of your work or mission.

For non-profits, the information on your IRS Form 990 can be a great source of positive statistics, if those facts are in line with characteristics sought most often by discerning donors. What are those? This article from Charity Navigator shares several, such as: “What is the percentage of every dollar donated that is spent on fundraising,” and, “How much does the CEO make annually?”

For small businesses, the approach is a little different. Are you tracking customer satisfaction through surveys, follow-up emails and phone calls? If you have a high percentage of your customers expressing enthusiastic satisfaction with their experience at your business, that’s a statistic worth sharing often and to a great many people.

Is your small business a major employer in your community? Are you recommended by the Better Business Bureau? If so, for how many years? What about positive ratings or accolades from the local Chamber of Commerce? Do you hire a significant number of military veterans, or perhaps individuals with disabilities? What other positive contributions do you make to your community through philanthropy, partnerships, and other initiatives?

Maybe you’re so busy running your small business you aren’t sure exactly where you stand? Here are a couple of articles that might help you gain perspective:

How To Know When It’s Time to Expand Your Business, from Value One

But Am I Making Any Money? from The Balance

Sharing positive, specific, and credible facts about your organization or business is a must for an effective communications strategy. Think of these facts as credible, reliable evidence submitted to the court of public opinion.

If you are ready to explore this or other marketing and communications issues for your business or non-profit, give me a call. I’d love to help.

 

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Connecting with donors

switch

There’s a great Far Side cartoon that depicts a man trying to correct a dog for an offense. In the first panel, titled “What we say,” the man is scolding: “I’ve had it, Ginger! Stay out of the garbage. Do you hear me, Ginger? Bad dog, Ginger.” In the second panel, titled “What they hear,” the dog interprets, “Blah, blah, Ginger! Blah, blah, blah, Ginger,” etc.

Working for non-profits for many years, there were times when I thought my communication skills were no better than that guy’s. Every message sounded the same to my ears.

To my surprise, I learned that, in a lot of ways, it was supposed to sound the same.

Because I was working for a non-profit with a clear and compelling mission statement, I discovered that it was a sign of having your ducks in a row if the main point essentially sounded identical from donor letter to donor letter, feature story to feature story, video to video. Supporters prefer to contribute to organizations that know exactly what they are doing and why.

What should change is the way in which a non-profit frames it’s consistent message.

It is in that re-framing that a wonderful thing often occurs: The switch is turned “on” and suddenly someone who was on the fringe of your audience buys into the message that they really can be part of your mission. That, dear readers, is exciting.

There are several ways to re-frame your message to get those exciting moments of resonance with your audience. Priority One is to include in every exchange a specific call to action. People want to help but most don’t have a lot of time so it’s up to you to give them solid suggestions. (I’ve altered my examples below for a variety of non-profits.)

Get specific with what a gift can do.

  • How much does it cost to care for an abandoned dog or cat for one week? Make that exact figure, or one like it, a giving option in print and online forms.
  • Itemize a grocery list to feed a family of four for one week and ask donors to provide it for your food pantry.
  • What does it take to fill a bag of personal-care items for a homeless man or woman, a nursing home resident, or the single mom of an infant? Get specific with the items and give supporters the option of contributing money or in-kind donations.

Provide something tangible for your donors as a way to keep your mission in front of them.

  • Bookmarks, refrigerator magnets, bracelets and more can serve as reminders to donors to continue their support. (Regarding give-away items such as pens, magnets, etc., don’t get the cheapest item available, no matter how tempting the price may look.)
  • Some items, such as bookmarks, can be incorporated into print materials. A creative graphic artist can help you brainstorm.

Tell stories

  • Brief stories about someone your organization has helped can be the approach that flips the “on” switch for many donors. Leave out identifying information to protect your clients’ confidentiality. Tell their story with accuracy as well as heart.
  • For those who are open to telling their own story, give them an opportunity to say “thank you” to donors. This could be done by publishing excerpts from letters, original art work, brief snippets of a video interview, etc. Be sure the client is informed and agrees, in writing, to the ways in which you intend to use what they share with you.

The year-end giving season is practically upon us. Don’t miss an opportunity to re-tell your mission in creative ways. If you need help, email me at danniewriter@gmail.com or call (502) 432-8725.

 

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