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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are your sound bites tweetable?

Twitter is now the platform of choice for communications- whether it's protesters in the Middle East, athletes and other celebrities at an event, elected officials in session, or professional communicators announcing corporate news. But sometimes it's a de facto platform regardless because your audience tweets what you are saying for you.

In today's social media environment you have to be more mindful than ever before of what you say and how it resonates with your audience. Try to envision your statements as tweets. When preparing to speak in public, or preparing for a media interview - do you develop sound bites that are tweetable? When you are preparing for the media or for a presentation or speech...do you plan on how your statements or quotes might come across when subjected to Twitter's limit of 140 characters or less?

A recent Congress.org article "Is the tweet the new sound bite?"explored the social-media strategy of the White House speechwriters when preparing President Obama's 2011 State of the Union address. A study determined that the address was written at an 8.8 grade level, the second lowest for any president. The main reason given for the low grade level was shorter sentences. Was it because of the writers' intention to have 140 characters that could be tweetable?

At CommCore, we have always advised our clients to keep their audience in mind when preparing for a speech or interview. That audience potentially includes thousands or even millions of people around the world who receive shorter bites than ever, in real time, from other people who are quoting or paraphrasing you.

Do you think of keeping some of your key sound bites to 140 characters or less? Do you think the social-media strategy for the State of the Union address was focused around Twitter?

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Are “Reality-TV Commercials” More Trustworthy?

For TV ads, it seems that the social media sphere does not just serve as a real-world focus group, but also as a key part of the creative development. And that may make the spots more believable. Call them “reality-TV-commercials.” A good example is what Greek yogurt brand Chobani has chosen to do for their multi-million-dollar television ad buy – let the people tell the story (see the article in recent the New York Times).

Our question is: are these commercials filled with Twitter excerpts and YouTube clips more credible to viewers than a traditional, scripted and acted-out spot? Or does the general public simply assume that companies and their ad agencies are cherry-picking these social media clips to put the best story forward, while hiding all the “I hate this product” tweets?

The beauty (and risk) in excerpting social media in ads is that the public can immediately fact-check. I would imagine that if a prospective consumer took 10 minutes to search through the Internet on conversations about the Chobani yogurt stories, they can prove or disprove the claims made in the commercial they just saw. Best case: that can solidify them as a new customer. Of course, the risk is that they might find too many adverse comments for them to trust the brand.

Generally, the public will be fair and recognize that they’ll always find negative comments about any brand. But, if the predominant sentiment even loosely supports the TV commercial’s claims, trust is instilled. We spent just a few minutes on the Internet and stumbled upon a very robust discussion on Chobani at Daily Spark where hundreds of comments were posted. With very few exceptions, the average sentiment seemed consistent with their commercial.

Reading about and viewing these social media-infused TV commercials reminds us at CommCore about an important lesson on communicating in any wide-reaching medium: In the end, trust is about whether the company is perceived by the public as having told the truth to the best of their knowledge and ability. In our message-building sessions, we often refer to Aristotle’s On Rhetoric and how he describes modes of persuasion with Ethos, Pathos and Logos. We also often remind marketing teams and spokespeople that there are three elements of truth that should always be considered as an overlay when building a message, ad, script or any marketing piece, and that is that your words:

1. Must be true
2. Must be true to you (the communicator and company putting out the piece)
3. Must ring true to others (the general public)

One can never guarantee the public’s reaction, but if your ad strategy and words pass this test, you’re more likely to enjoy a positive response and strengthen trust. If social media is part of your ad strategy, you can count on bloggers checking out how you’re doing.

What do you think? Will social media excerpted ads prove more trustworthy than traditional ads? What other examples have you seen?

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sometimes The "Fix" Works

As corporate apologies go, Groupon's mea culpa and corrective actions after its Super Bowl ad controversy was about as forthright as they come: "We hate that we offended people, and we're very sorry that we did," CEO and founder Andrew Mason wrote in a post last week on the corporate blog. "It’s the last thing we wanted." (http://nyti.ms/ff54Kj.)

The spot – since removed from Internet channels such as YouTube due to copyright issues –  featured actor Timothy Hutton humorously promoting Groupon's incentive to dine at a Tibetan Restaurant in Chicago after video clips and an announce track referred to Tibet's long-standing cultural and political troubles. Critics blasted it as dumb, insensitive and borderline offensive among even harsher responses.

Lost in the controversy was an important fact that was never mentioned in the original spot, or in two others featuring different "do-good" celebrities also "spoofing" less incendiary causes: that Groupon was contributing money to charities linked to the issues. "We thought we were poking fun at ourselves, but clearly the execution was off and the joke didn’t come through," Mason wrote. "I personally take responsibility. Although we worked with a professional ad agency, in the end it was my decision to run the ads."

As crisis counselors, CommCore advises our clients to assess their problem honestly, and if appropriate, demonstrate contrition that is genuine. One of the most important tenets of crisis response is: when one is correctly held to blame, admit the mistake without trying to explain it away. We applaud Mason and Groupon for the directness of their statement: they’re sorry, they erred, they didn’t intend to insult anybody. And Mason took the blame himself. Obviously, in cases involving ongoing or pending litigation, public responses have to be calibrated. But even with legal oversight it is still possible to communicate real concern IF the concern is really there.

Two other notes on crises: One is, who had the tin ear that let this ad get produced? The other and more important to those who want to avoid public embarrassment: learn from your mistakes, and formalize what you learned into new protocol so they will not be repeated. Presumably Mason and Groupon will change the way they evaluate their next promotional campaigns. And we also hope they continue to do good by supporting charitable causes.

What do you think of Groupon's apology? Can you think of similar situations involving your organization or clients?

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Joke's on Who?

One of the first tips CommCore provides our Public Speaking and Presentation Training clients is NOT to tell a joke as an ice-breaker, an unfortunate device relied on by too many public speakers. The reason should be obvious-- you have a 50-50 chance that all or part of the audience will not find the joke funny, and who wants to peg the success of their ensuing presentation to those odds?

Tell that to Groupon, the new shopping incentive website that has become the latest darling of the Internet. The joke’s on them after the quick negative fallout from their Super Bowl commercial featuring actor Timothy Hutton offering discounted dinners at a Tibetan restaurant in Chicago following a set-up and video clips about the ongoing cultural and political struggles in Tibet. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXGYK1eP_wo). "Borderline offensive," "crap," and "just plain dumb" are among the milder comments elicited by the spot.

Both Groupon and their ad agency have tried very hard to explain what they intended. CEO Andrew Mason said their ads seek to "highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon." Well, who's laughing at whom now? Internet news bible Fast Company opined that "there is nothing less humorous than a joke explained." (http://bit.ly/gmRcHT).

Whatever you think of the ad, the point should be taken: jokes are often at the expense of the jokester. There are plenty of ways to communicate effectively that use calibrated humor without running the very real risk of being too clever by half. The world is an increasingly out-of-context,sensitive, and intolerant place these days. Sometimes the best defense against your "joke" being misinterpreted is simply not to tell one, eliminating the risk that it will be perceived as offensive in the first place.

What are your experiences with humor – especially jokes – in public speeches or presentations?

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

There is no one-size-fits-all media interview

Watching the post-game interviews on the Super Bowl and thinking back on recent media trainings reminded me that there is no such thing as a "typical" media interview. Once we remember that reporters are all different and that their approaches and objectives differ, then it changes the way any spokesperson should prepare.

Perhaps it's because gaffes and investigational pieces gain so much notoriety, or maybe it's because most organizations still haven't learned to place enough value on successful media interviews - too many people prepare mostly for a defensive posture and fail to communicate their best information.

Surely, when we prepare for "60 Minutes" or a product recall, or a crisis, the whole model is one of defense. But other interviews with trade and business publications, and with some bloggers and webzines, are just great opportunities to communicate.

Here are a few of the interview types:

  • Product launch - this is a news interview. Reporters want your best information, examples and a third party who says your product is good. They will also ask about competition, but that should be a pretty easy defense.
  • I won the Super Bowl - reporters want your best reactions, emotion and why you won.
  • I lost the Super Bowl - reporters want to probe your mistakes.
  • Show me-how-this-works (aka cook-in-the-kitchen) - Trade show interviews are the prime example of these. Most reporters are trolling and are excited to learn your information. PepsiCo recently did a series of interviews with Fox Business News. The segment with CEO Indra Nooyi was a very straightforward business piece, with a few timely questions about Egypt. The segment with a VP of Product Development was all about creating tastes and flavors for global/local markets. The prep for this was to demonstrate enthusiasm and take advantage of the fun segment and help the reporter explain to his/her viewers, listeners and readers.
  • Round-up story - Here the reporter wants to cover several organizations in the same field. The key to this interview is finding out who else is being interviewed, trying to frame the story, and then having either the first interview and/or the best example.
  • Crisis/Negative news - This type of interview requires careful preparation and limited answers. The media is not a good place to discuss the organization's strategy. Often, the interview will consist of one basic answer that you don’t go beyond.
  • Punditry - This is the type of interview for Key Opinion Leaders and acknowledged experts. It's important to provide perspective to the reporter on these. One of our clients had a wonderful line for this type of interview: Tell the truth and look for opportunity to be provocative

These are just a few of our interview types. Let us know your favorite types.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Got Leadership Deficiencies? The Remedy is Almost Always Better Communication

Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric was delivering a speech in midtown Manhattan recently and the Q&A that followed covered a variety of relevant business topics. I asked an outlier: “Where would you rank ‘communication skills’ among all that is expected of a great leader?” He said “Communication is a top THREE leadership skill.” (Emphasis his). In fact, not only is effective communications a critical leadership skill, it is often the solution to other leadership deficiencies.

A recent article in the ‘Management’ section of Bloomberg Business discusses “Leaders’ Top Ten Blind-Spots.” Two elements really struck us about this top ten list: First was that poor communications skills is at the core of so many of them. (Or, at least an unwillingness to apply good communication skills.) Second, the solution almost always involved good or improved communication skills.

We took a random sample of three of the ‘blind spots’ in the article and tested our theory. Here’s what we came up with:

Going It Alone This was number one on the list. Poor communications was described as a symptom: “not talking about your stress or anxiety…” And, of course, central to the solution was improving communications: “Talk with others about your tendency to solve problems by yourself.” Not only do we agree with the advice, it’s proving our point that communication is at the root of both the problem and solution.

Avoiding Difficult Conversations At number four, the symptoms include a leader’s tendency to dance around an issue by avoiding tough discussions -- a bad communication trait. And the solution revolves around the art of being candid, forthright and addressing situations immediately, while also being sensitive and respectful, - all critical leadership communication skills. Ok, we’re two for two here.

Withholding Emotional Commitment Here it is arguable whether the core of the problem is communication, but clearly, the solution is all about communicating better. “When you are unable to fully commit, communicate and share where you are stuck instead of letting your behavior do the talking.” Not only is communication the leader’s way to improve this deficiency, it reminds us that nonverbal communication is very real and can have a deep, negative impact when coming from someone in a leadership postion.

As communication professionals, we might add one ‘blind spot” to this list and that is the failure of the CEO to properly rehearse for a key presentation. We recently blogged on this “The myth of "I do better in the actual speech or presentation than I do in rehearsal."
I encourage you to check out the rest of these ‘leader blind spots’ and I’m sure you’ll recognize a couple of traits many of us share and observe in others.

But, what others are there? Do you agree that communication is often at the root of the problem and almost always the solution? Got any examples to share?

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