Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Who? Who are you? Tell me...NOW!

I’ve worked with more than one organization to help them develop advertising, promotion, communications, and PR efforts. In every situation, their burning desire was to “just get something out there.”

The feeling was that if they could just get an ad in the local paper, an article in the local business magazine, a commercial on the local radio station, or a nice story on TV, everything would be okay.

When I asked them what they wanted their ad or article to say, their response was, “Just get the name of the organization out there! You know, and our URL! And phone number! We just need to get our name out! Now!”

Talk about your Jack Bauer style of advertising!

But since they don't have a gun pointed at my knees, I always push back and do a little CSI-type of discovery. This is where I become a source of annoyance asking them questions such as these:
  • What differentiates you from all of your competitors?
  • What makes you special and unique?
  • What is your story; the story that repeatedly drew their most loyal customers back?
  • Who are your typical customers? The leading users of your products or services?
  • Who are your customer cheerleaders?
Jack Bauer would have shot me and moved on by now.

But we needed to go through a CSI-like process of self-discovery that would yield the unique story that would drive the key messages that would set them apart and above everyone else.

So do you.

So does anyone who wants to promote themselves, their business, their school, their charity, their whatever!
  • For example, is your organization a college or university in an area where there are dozens of colleges and universities? Why should someone choose you over all the others?
  • Or, if you are a church wanting to engage your community where there’s a church on every corner? What does you church offer that the others don’t?
  • Or, if you’re a… [fill in the blank]. You get the idea.
Doing the basic detective work and engaging in a process of self-discovery will give you the tools to create a story from which you can build compelling communications that will yield profitable outcomes.

Not engaging in this process will only lead to useless ads and news releases no one will look at or read. Not even Jack Bauer.

Unless you’re a Nike or a Coca-Cola, you’re going to need more than your company name and contact information to generate interest and attract customers.

Take a good look at who you are, your origins, who you’re best customers are now, and clarify what you want to accomplish in the marketplace. Then, build your story and start telling it to the world.

When was the last time you really took a close look at who you are as a business or organization? Have you ever asked your customers how they think of you? How do effectively get your name out?

Jesus was a mean teacher

Students today are totally spoiled.

We all know it.

We see it in their behavior and read the articles about how nurturing self-esteem is so critical. And then there are the news stories of yet another teacher being forced to resign because he or she said something a student felt was hurtful.

Poor wittle student got its wittle self-esteem all hurted? Awwww. Get over it!

Many of those who have grown up in a feel-good affirming haze of “pat on the head” self-esteem are now in the workforce.

Oy vey. These “Millennials” expect six-figure salaries with their first job, a promotion to VP in six months or less, and ping-pong at work.

Actually, I don’t have an issue with ping-pong. At the greenhouse where my dad was foreman in Indiana, and where I went to work in the summers as soon as I turned 14, the guys played horseshoes. They played during their 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon, and at lunch. The rest of the day, they worked. Hard. So, ping-pong is cool.

The rest? Jeesh, get over yourselves.

Today’s students and Millennials wouldn’t survive one second as a disciple of Jesus. He was a really mean, tough teacher.

If you don’t believe me, just read the gospels again. Start with Mark if you’ve got a short attention span; it moves at a good clip.

Let me give you just a couple of examples.

A band of cowards

In Mark 4, Jesus the disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee at night. This wasn’t your typical moonlit cruise. They reached the middle of the lake and a whopper of a storm pops up. The disciples feared for their lives as the waves began to fill the boat.

Keep in mind that the first four disciples Jesus recruited – Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John – were fishermen who worked on the Sea of Galilee. They were familiar with its penchant for storms and knew how to handle a boat. Yet, they, with the others, were terrified.

After waking Jesus and after Jesus commanded the storm to chill, He looked at his disciples and asked them, “Why are you so cowardly? Do you still not have faith?” Then He went back to sleep.

What? Cowardly? He called them cowards? Now, that’s not very affirming at all! A school board would toss him to the curb in a second for something like this.

We don’t use the “s” word here

But this was neither the first time Jesus has spoken harshly to his “pupils,” nor would it be the last.

In Mark 7:18, Jesus looks at his poor, confused little disciples and says, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him?”

The original Greek meaning of the word translated here as “foolish” means “unintelligent, without understanding, stupid.”

None of the disciples ran home crying out, “Mo-ommmm! Jesus called me the ‘s’ word!!!!”

They may have cringed inside and felt their faces burn with a mix of shame and anger, but they took it like men. And they learned.

Pampering doesn’t build strong spirits

This ragtag bunch of misfits from a crazy mixed-bag of backgrounds learned, stuck it out with Jesus, grew in wisdom and stature, and went on to change the world as well as face incredible hardship and, in some instances, excruciatingly painful deaths.

Except for one. Judas didn’t like what he was hearing and thought he’d take the easy way out and bring Jesus down at the same time. Wanting his “promotion” without paying the price cost him his soul.

What about you? Is it time to get over it and get on with it?

Maybe this is why so many people eschew church. It doesn’t nurture their self-esteem. Well, unless of course you’re attending the First Church of Your Best Life Now.

Real church, real discipleship is costly. Sermons that are truly biblical will make your soul sting from time to time. Being in relationship with a ragtag bunch of other believers will be annoying from time to time. The whole thing is just so messy and hard and, well, rewarding.

We’ve all heard the truism that the best things in life are the result of honest, hard work. Nothing really good comes easy. There is no free lunch. And there’s no easy path to building a godly character.

Walking with Jesus means you’re going to get your spiritual knees and elbows skinned and, from time to time, your feelings hurt. Can you handle it?

Seems such a small cost to pay for everlasting life and fellowship with God, the Creator of all things.

Or, we could just head over to mamby-pamby land because yellow and Jesus makes us sad. Just sayin'.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

15 simple tips for using basic technology tools in business

To be successful in business, you need to know how to use basic communications tools.

If you can’t figure out your office phone, refuse to keep up with emails, or are clueless about texting, please immediately seek professional help.

When using these basic tools, here are 15 simple tips to keep in mind:

  • Learn how to use it if you aren’t. You have no excuses for not.
  • Reply to messages you receive, and reply promptly.
  • When replying, respond to every item or question.
  • Keep your inbox cleared so new messages aren’t bounced.
  • Create a signature that appears on every email and reply with ID/contact info.

  • Pick it up when you aren’t getting a reply to your email; call them.
  • Make sure your phone sends caller ID.
  • Leave a detailed message if you encounter voicemail; don’t just hang-up.
  • Return calls within 24 hours (check your voicemail regularly).
  • Keep you incoming voicemail message professional and brief.

  • Use sparingly and only for immediate issues.
  • Don’t use text like email; keep messages very, very short and on topic.
  • Never send anonymous texts; not everyone will recognize your phone number.
  • Create a signature that always IDs you as the sender (yes, you can create signatures for text messages).
  • Always include subject text when sending a photo.

What useful tips have you learned? Share them in the comments!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

This is my cat rant

Cats do not need to be outdoors.

In fact, letting cats (or any pet) roam free is never a good idea. Yet, many cat “owners” insist on allowing their cats to go wherever they want outside, in the mistaken belief that it’s both their “right” to do so and what’s best for the cat.

These people are wrong twice.

First, no pet owner has the right to let their pets wander the neighborhood. Instead, every pet owner is responsible for keeping their pet on their own property or on a leash when wandering.

Second, cats have no need to be outside. Sure, maybe they’re intrigued by what’s happening outside a window, but that doesn’t mean they need to be outdoors.

Cats on the roam are at risk and pose a threat to others.

Probably the number one risk to a cat is getting hit by a car. Additionally they can be injured by other animals, and be exposed to a variety of diseases. Letting them roam also puts them at risk of abuse.

Cats also pose a threat to wildlife, particularly songbirds. And few people want cat (or dog) feces littering their yards. In homes with children, cats are an especially noisome nuisance using their child’s sandbox as a litter box.

There is nothing cruel about keeping a cat indoors. In fact, the most loving thing you can do for your cat is keep it safe inside.

Not knowing any better, I let my first cat go outside. It was injured by another animal, contracted a disease, and, before I realized what was happening, died. After that, I talked with vets, did a little research, and learned that I had been my first cat’s worst enemy.

I now have two cats and I care about them so much, I have never let them go outside. Ever. And, at 7-years-old, they’re quite happy and healthy and very content to observe the outside through the window.

However, if your cat comes into my yard I’ll make sure he doesn’t come back into my yard again. I don’t want your cat (or dog or other pet) roaming, digging, and pooping in my yard. I don’t want your cat stalking the birds at my feeders. I don’t want your cat getting into my garage. I don’t want to see your cat dead, rotting in the street.

This is one of those issues where there’s no other reasonable response. Keep your cats inside your house or, at the least, inside your yard. If you won’t, then you have no business having a cat as a pet because you really don’t care about their well-being.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sticks and stones only sting; bad language can kill

As children we used to defend ourselves from tormentors with this noxious little rhyme: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

What I learned in kindergarten is I’ll take the sticks and stones over the words almost every time. Words can be deadly to dreams, aspirations, and self-esteem. Just consider some of the cruel nicknames that can follow a person their entire life!

Brains over beauty

I recently read an article where the author explained how, when meeting a child, she no longer makes a reference to appearance.

For example, instead of saying, “Hello, Sam, you’re so cute!” She’ll say something like, “Hello, Sam, do you like books?”

She feels that in this way she’s helping the child to not be obsessed with their or others’ outward appearance, while positively reinforcing the value of intellectual pursuit and development.

In other words, making it about brains not beauty.

It’s a noble gesture. But I wonder if her care with words would extend into the workplace?

When language is thuggish

For example, people in companies are regularly referred to as assets, members, commodities, associates, resources, deadwood, and other less-than-human labels. Instead of being characterized as people, they are viewed as disposable, unnecessary, and unwanted things.

Could communicating the subtle message that employees are a necessary evil have a negative impact on people’s morale and loyalty to the company?

Criminals in the drug trade are afforded respect by being called lords, kingpins, and bosses. This attributes to them an air of esteem and dignity they don’t deserve – they’re mostly murdering thugs. Also, by connecting labels of power to these violent goons, impressionable young people view them with admiration, wanting to emulate them.

This is a little messed up.

Words have impact, use with care

Any time impersonal language is used, in business, in the press, or in life, the intent is to dehumanize or disrespect one group while artificially inflating another.

This happens within families when the father is referred to as the old man (or much worse), the wife is called the old bag (or much worse), and the children are called brats (or much worse), creating a hotbed of dysfunction. It’s verbal abuse and it’s wrong.

This isn’t an issue of being politically correct (PC). Being PC has its own pitfalls. In fact, some PC people will work harder to respect perceived rights of convicted murderers while labeling those who don’t agree with them in the vilest of terms. Again, it’s verbal abuse and it’s wrong.

Rather, this is a matter of representing people in communications accurately and respectfully (when respect is deserved; unrepentant violent criminals do not deserve respect).

A manger is a person. A clerk is a person. An IT worker is a person. A CEO is a person. None are assets or commodities.

When writing or talking about people, especially in the workplace, be careful and courteous when choosing your words to describe them. You are influencing your audience for better or for worse, and you are revealing your own attitude toward your colleagues.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sometimes, it's hard to keep breathing...

"It was hard for me to breathe last night,"
she says at least three times
as if the nurses' responses
are inadequate,
as if the responses will find a way
to fill her lungs with painless air,
as if their responses will lift her
up and carry her over the cancer,
over the chemo, over all the drugs, over the pain,
dropping her on the other side of hope and healthy,
where it won't be hard for her to breathe,
and she is still breathing.

From time to time, because of a non-life threatening issue with anemia, I have to get iron infusions. Many of the other patients are there much more frequently for much more serious issues getting chemo and other treatments. They are dealing with life and death. The subject of the above reflection was a young woman sitting across the room from me; from her chatting with the nurses I learned that she's dealing with some sort of cancer, recently had a child, and was also being treated for pain. My anemia is merely an annoyance and minor inconvenience compared to what this woman and other patients are battling and enduring.

This poem is included in this collection: