Audio and Video Writing Tips and Techniques

So you’ve been asked to write a script for an audio or video presentation. You’re an experienced writer. You’ve been doing it for years. Yet why does it feel like this assignment could be more challenging than you’ve anticipated?

As with any assignment, trying something new can be intimidating. I know whenever I take on a challenge I’ve never attempted before, I am worried about doing it wrong. I’m prepared to teach you everything you need to know to write a killer script; you will need to work on fending off the jitters on your own.

As a copywriter, chances are you will at some point be required to write for a podcast, internet video or commercial (radio or television) in your professional career. Don’t think this is up your ally? Online video is the fastest growing form of content on the Internet. In fact, according to Compete.com, YouTube ranks fourth in the world for site traffic, and Cisco believes that by 2015, nearly 90 percent of all Internet traffic will be video. If your company has any sense, it is already investing in online advertising, and supplementing this with video is the logical progression.

When writing for audio and video projects, you will notice one big difference: brevity. Usually we’re talking about writing copy that amounts to 30 seconds as spoken word. That amounts to two to three paragraphs at most. Even longer projects, like a scripted podcast, infomercial or product demo usually have a reasonable time constraint. That may sound easier than a long blog post, but you have a lot of important information to fit into 30 to 60 seconds, and you need to do it in an interesting, entertaining and informative way. This is more challenging than you might imagine.

 

General Script-writing Techniques

How do you hone your skill to create compelling copy, and do it all with an extremely limited amount of space? And you have to make your script stand out from the din of distractive noise that is modern day life. It takes deep concentration, skill and a clear understanding that this kind of writing is very different from other types to which you may be accustomed.

Writing for audio and video projects is different.  It takes a different mindset.  While basic marketing and copywriting rules still apply, there are some distinct differences:

  1. Write How You Speak
  2. Know Your Audience
  3. Write in a Reader-Friendly Manner
  4. Active Voice
  5. Avoid Clichés

Let’s look at each of these basic writing essentials first, and then delve into pointers specific to audio and video.

1.    Write How you Speak

Think back to your last time you bought something you really loved.  You were probably so excited you couldn’t wait to tell a friend about your new toy. What did you say? Chances are it went something like this:

“Hey, Peter. Check out what I just got.”

“Aw, man. Is that the new Taylormade driver?”

“Yeah, it’s the R11. It’s the exact same one I borrowed once from this guy at a tournament, and I’ll tell ya, I’ve never hit the ball farther and straighter.”

I know this is a genuine conversation between two golf buddies because this is the exact conversation I hope to someday have when I can finally afford that driver.  Now, compare that example to the following:

“Hello, Peter. Look at what I just purchased at the sporting goods store.”

“Is that the new Taylormade R11 TP Driver?”

“Why yes it is.  It has a titanium head with Thick-Thin Crown design and Flight Control Technology. I should manage an average of 30 to 50 additional yards on my drive with this club.”

Now I am clearly exaggerating, but it was actually easier for me to write the first example than it was to write the second. Why? Partially because I’ve been doing this for a while, but also because it is so much easier to write things exactly how you would say them. This isn’t to say there is no room in script copy for specific details, but you have to do it the right way.

There are limitations to this idea. You have to consider your audience (more on that later), and you want to avoid too many slang terms or colloquialisms.

I believe writing how you speak is the most important rule in script writing. If you don’t think it’s that simple, pay closer attention the next time you are driving down the road listening to the radio. Instead of quickly changing the station when a commercial comes on, stop and listen. If they have done their job right, the copywriter will make you think you are listening to a real conversation or a close friend giving you a valuable recommendation on some goods or services.

The bad examples stick out like a cowlick in a school picture. The dialog seems forced, unnatural and disruptive. This is often made manifest when a copywriter tries to sound “hip.” If you have to try too hard, you shouldn’t try at all. Copy that is too technical starts going over the listener’s head or becomes so confusing, he immediately reaches for the dial. If you really listen, it’s hard to miss, and it happens more often than it should.

2.    Know Your Audience

When you talk to your best friend, is it different fro, talking to your boss? When you speak to a young child, do you tend to use different language than you would with one of your college cohorts? In both cases, I would hope the answer is yes. When writing copy, it is easy to know what you want to say and how you would best receive the message, but you need to know your audience.

Take time to get to know them. What is their age range? Do they have a family? Are they blue collar or white collar? Upper, middle or lower class? Maybe they are older and less technologically savvy. There is a whole laundry list of variables that could apply to your audience, so slow down and figure out who it is. Better yet, focus on the individual; figure out who he or she is. What drives him? What speaks to her?

Sometimes, others have already conducted this research. You just need to get your hands on it. When products are created, they are developed with a specific demographic in mind. Tap into that information as a valuable resource but don’t use this resource to replace good old-fashioned investigation. You might find an angle that researchers in a lab could never discover. That’s why you are the writer and they are the developers.

3.    Write in a Reader-friendly Manner

Along with writing how you speak, make certain your copy can be read easily by the voice-over talent. Whether you are writing for a newspaper, print advertisement or a voice-over script, no one likes reading long, arduous paragraphs.

  • Break your content into smaller chunks by using shorter paragraphs.
  • Stagger the length of each paragraph.
  • Use bulleted lists and indentations. People speak in lists, so write them.

Each line in your copy should contain somewhere between 20 and 60 characters. Research has shown the human eye cannot efficiently read more or less than this.

Divide your copy into single thought units. If you’re making a really important point, don’t bog it down with unimportant or unrelated information. People tend to read three or four word groups at a time, and you don’t want your voice over talent to stumble through long, drawn-out thoughts.

Finally, write your script at a fourth- or fifth-grade reading level. This is a general rule, of course. If your video is for intellectuals or scientists, speak to them the way you should, but if your audience is the general public, follow this rule. This resonates back to the idea of “KISS”, or “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” If a fifth-grader can’t understand what you are trying to say, chances are your audience won’t understand either.

4.    Use Active Voice

Passive voice is copy killer. It makes the speaker sound unsure, weak, indecisive or evasive. Until you have trained yourself to recognize passive voice, it can be hard to avoid.  Both active and passive voices have the same basic elemental structure:

  • The actor – the person performing the action
  • The action – the verb
  • The receiver – the person or thing receiving the action

When a sentence begins with the actor, you have successfully achieved active voice writing.

The news anchor reads the stories in the rundown.

When a sentence begins with the receiver, you have committed the unpardonable sin of passive voice.

The stories in the rundown are being read by the news anchor.

Don’t get confused by “to be” verbs or past tense. These are not always passive. If you have to ask the question “by whom?” or “by what?” to clarify who is performing the action, then you have passive voice.

Here are three ways to make a passive sentence active, as suggested by GoimMedia.com:

  1. Change the verb.
  • Passive – The leaves on the trees would always turn before the rain comes.
  • Active – The trees reverse their leaves right before the rain.
  1. Rethink the sentence.
  • Passive – This research paper showed how “Malware” or malicious software can be used for causing harm to a computer system or network.
  • Active – The research paper shows how “Malware” or malicious software causes harm to a computer system or network.
  1. Turn the clause or sentence around (this is the easiest method).
  • Passive – The methods of proper type facing are covered above under rule nine.
  • Active – Rule number nine covers the methods of proper type facing.

5.    Avoid clichés.

Avoid them like the plague. You might be busy as a bee writing your copy, but here’s some food for thought. People who enjoy clichés are few and far between. Whether it sounds creative is a moot point. If you rely on clichés, word to the wise is you will have to pay the piper in the long run.

Clichés are worn-out phrases that at one point were very effective and creative, but have so become common people say them without thinking. Some clichés are appropriate and are effective metaphors. Just be sure when you decide to use one, you have fully considered all your options.

Did you catch all the clichés I used in the first paragraph of this section? If not, you better brush up because chances are you use them on a regular basis and can’t recognize them. You can find a wide assortment of resources to learn common clichés through a quick Web search.

 

Audio vs. Video

You now have a basic understanding of how to write a script for broadcast. Apply these to what you already know about copywriting and you’re well on your way to tackling this task.

Now we face the next big challenge: audio script writing vs. video script writing. While many of the fundamentals apply in both cases, there are some important differences.

Audio

The way the audience is exposed to your message is the most important thing to understand when writing for audio. The audience is only able to use one of their five senses to grasp all the meaning, emotion and information you are trying to convey; they can only listen.

With this constraint in mind, you need to realize the attention span of the listeners. They have four other senses trying to pull them away from your message, almost all of which are much more compelling than sound. You have to catch the listeners right away. As with news writing, the “lead”, or first, sentence is the most important part of your copy. It pulls the audience in and keeps it interested in what you are saying. This is essential in radio writing because it is really easy to reach over and switch to “Rockin’ Oldies” or turn on their MP3 player.

It’s worth taking note of the length of a radio news story. On commercial news radio stations, stories range between 35 and 40 seconds, while stories on television news run about 90 seconds. Radio news organizations know they can’t keep people listening for very long without images.  The same goes for your marketing copy. If your ad runs too long or isn’t captivating, once again, classic rock is just one push away.

With all this in mind:

Tip 1 – Know Your Time Constraints

A typical radio advertisement runs in lengths of 15, 30 or 60 seconds. With this in mind, here is a simple guide to follow:

15 seconds = four typed lines

30 seconds = seven to eight typed lines

60 seconds = 12 to 14 typed lines

Follow these guidelines to begin the process of getting your ideas down in the allotted amount of time. However, it is important to read the draft of your script out loud to make sure you’re staying under time. You don’t need to hit the mark exactly. Any additional time can be filled with music or brief pauses.

Tip 2 – Repetition

Because you can only appeal to the sense of sound, be certain to repeat important information: business names, contact information, special deal highlights, etc. You need the audience to memorize what you want them to remember and repetition is an effective memorization tool.

The general rule of thumb for repetition is to insert a business name twice for 15-second commercials, three times for 30-second commercials and at least four times for 60-second spots.  Contact information should be repeated three times. Phone numbers most common, but if you have a catchy Web address, use this instead.

Tip 3 – Audience Interaction

Where do most people listen to the radio? What are they doing while they listen? The top answer to both questions is in the car and driving, but not as much as it used to be. With Internet radio and headphones, many people listen to the radio at work, while exercising or on their smartphones.

Think about where you see your target audience when they hear your copy. Try to craft your writing to stand out to them in some way. An effective tool (but pet peeve of mine) used to catch the attention of drivers is screeching tires or police sirens. Both will jolt them to attention but may have negative repercussions.  Think outside the box, but always try to get into the mind of the listener.

Video

It should take no time to answer the following question: What is the biggest advantage video script writing has over audio?  Visuals! What does this mean to you as a scriptwriter? Use them. A video is primarily the visual imagery on the screen. You want to write images succinctly. A director should be able to glance at the script and immediately see the image you want to convey.

 Tip 1 – Pictures DO tell a thousand words

If you’re a sports nut like me, when the star athlete makes an incredible catch or hits a walk-off homerun, smart broadcasters, who are paid to talk, will do one thing—shut up. They let the images and emotions speak for themselves. You should do likewise. If you can tell a story with pictures and no words, do it.

Sometimes your topic doesn’t allow for much visual stimulation. For example, consider the writer putting together copy for one of those medical malpractice commercials. Short of showing sick or injured people, they’re left to explain the details of their offer with words. How do they best use visuals? Repeating what they are saying with words on the screen.

Tip 2 – When in doubt, throw it out

It is really easy to get carried away when writing a script. As a skilled writer, you’ve no doubt done a lot of research and have a lot to say about your topic or product.  Unfortunately, as with audio, video spots typically range between 30 and 60 seconds. Even product demos or other Internet-based video projects have time constraints. Go on too long and all the audience remembers is the boredom.

So, when in doubt, throw it out. If there is something you are considering saying, but it isn’t vital to a focused presentation, just get rid of it. Don’t adapt, rewrite or try to incorporate it elsewhere. Just get rid of it. Less really is more.

Tip 3 – Be seen

No one likes being compelled to action by a faceless, unknown higher authority. It’s the idea of “bowing to the man” or just “doing what you’re told.” However, most people are likely to take advice from a friend or do them a favor. Write your script to allow for a “friend” or spokesperson to appear on screen to share your message.

When a face is seen, trust is established—especially when that face is happy, smiling and telling them why they can save hundreds of dollars or how to use this new product. Providing a face the audience can trust will take your good copy and make it great.

Most of what I have discussed covers the ins and outs of writing scripts for a commercial, demonstration or online video. Presentation videos usually cover a much longer period of time, so these are a little different.  They require a significantly greater amount of copy. The purpose of these videos is to fully inform. You don’t need to be nearly as economical but still use good copywriting skills to keep your content concise and clear.

 

The Orabrush Guy

A small, start-up company from Provo, Utah, provides the perfect example of effective video writing. With one video, its marketing team took an idea on the brink of collapse and turned it into a YouTube phenomenon. Austin Craig is the official spokesman for Orabrush, also known as “The Orabrush Guy.”

“The success of Orabrush would not be possible without YouTube, which helped a small company like ours level the playing field with the big dogs. In 2009, a 75-year-old inventor named Dr. Bon Wagstaff was just about to give up on a product he created. It was a tongue scraper like no other on the market: the Orabrush. He has spent tens of thousands on traditional ad campaigns and infomercials, but he only sold about 100 brushes. So as a last ditch effort, he turned to some young marketing students at Brigham Young University for help. They did some market research and despite the overwhelming odds saying Internet marketing would not work for the Orabrush, one student, Jeffrey Harmon, decided he’d take on the challenge. If 92 percent of people who viewed an Orabrush ad online wouldn’t buy, that means 8 percent would. And that’s a lot of people.

“Dr. Bob offered Jeffrey his old motorcycle (at 75 years old, Dr. Bob didn’t ride his motorcycle much anymore) in return for helping market Orabrush. Jeffrey was thrilled and started working on Orabrush in the mornings and at nights before and after his full-time job.

“Jeffrey noticed a guy on a team he managed at his full-time job: me. I had just graduated in broadcast journalism and was working as an intern. Jeffrey noticed that the other team members would provoke me into little rants about politics or other issues that I was passionate about. Another coworker leaned over and nudged Jeffrey and said, “I would pay money to watch Austin rant like this. It is the best part of my day.” That is when it clicked. Jeff offered me $100 to be in a video to rant about bad breath.

“Jeffrey took his idea to his good friend, Joel Ackerman (a talented local script writer) and asked him if Joel could do some magic on this YouTube idea. As a favor for a friend, Joel quickly whipped out a clever script.

“Jeffrey, Dr. Bob, Jeffrey’s old roommate Devin Graham (a film major) and I shot the first Orabrush movie in a pool club. Dr. Bob held the microphone while Austin acted, and Jeffrey did his best to direct his first video ever. That video was a huge success, garnering millions of views, and bringing Orabrush to the attention of major distributors and retailers. From its invention in Dr. Bob’s basement workshop to retailers around the world, the success of the Orabrush was only possible when a few people believed in it, and YouTube opened the way.”

 

Conclusion

As with any skill, there is always more to learn, so I encourage to you use the references supplied at the end of the chapter, as well as other resources available at libraries and the Internet. Just as with any form of writing, it takes real skill to craft a dynamite script, and with audio and video projects you literally get to bring your words to life. Embrace the new challenge and take full advantage of it.

 

References:

Hose, C. (n.d.). How to write a video script. Retrieved from http://www.ehow.com/how_4883280_write-video-script.html.

Good copy vs. great copy. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.goimmedia.com/ArticlesWhitepapers/GoodCopyversusGreatCopy.aspx

Ferrell, R. (2008, November 18). Writing effective radio ad copy. Retrieved from http://suite101.com/article/writing-effective-radio-ad-copy-a79391

Barratt, C. (2010, September 2010). Write a radio ad. Retrieved from http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Radio-Ad

Anon. (n.d.). How to write a radio ad. Retrieved from http://www.ehow.com/how_2002075_write-radio-ad.html

Vanguard, R. (1997). Video scriptwriting. Retrieved from http://www.city-net.com/~roxman/script.html

Elements of the video script. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.mindspring.com/~mmm/element.html

Kant, G. (2005). How to write television news. (1 ed.). McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.

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Writing and Implementation of a Trade Show Campaign

You might have heard the phrase, “Before you criticize me, walk a mile in my shoes.” Have you actually tried that? I had the opportunity nearly three years ago when my co-worker and friend Chad succumbed to a rare and juvenile form of liver cancer.

He was 36 years old and left behind two-year-old twins and a wife. The greatest lesson he taught me was to never criticize during adverse situations, but rather find a solution and move forward.

Although Chad was my good friend and colleague, I always thought I could do his job better. I knew he worked hard and I saw the time he put in. But I thought: How hard can it be to manage the company’s trade show and sponsorship program? I was ushered into his role – it was baptism by fire.

After the first couple of months of walking in Chad’s shoes as an exhibit coordinator, I felt as though I should have taken a page from the Saturday Night Live series “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey” when Handey wrote, “Before you criticize someone you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.”

This position opened my eyes and stretched me professionally contrary to my prior belief of the simplicities regarding trade show management. I now find myself working many late nights and hours just like Chad. However, instead of wondering why he was working late, I diligently try to catch up and tread the waters of the exhibition oceans.

Writing a campaign and especially one involving trade shows as a focus determines in large part the success or failures of a project.

Tip: Get to know your company on a deeper level

As is the case with business development, SEO, sales and marketing, the first step to gaining market share is to know yourself, as in your company. Who are the founders and who are you working for now? Knowing the answers to these questions can position yourself to begin understanding the culture and beliefs of your company.

The personalities you work with are vital in understanding where to begin an exhibit plan. In the exhibit industry you will answer to the marketing and sales departments for the most part. However, you will also coordinate with all groups that can touch the trade show in any way.

Authors Tom Stovall and Dustin Grainger said in their book “Building Competitive Immunity,” “Knowing the attributes, strengths and weaknesses of your products is fairly straightforward. To know your company, you need to be familiar with its financial resources, science, technology and any other unique capabilities it brings to the table.”

For example, at an upcoming expo, ARUP Laboratories will bring nearly 30 people from the business development arena alone. Within the laboratory and technical sides of our business, another 50 or so will attend.

Each group has its own style and its own vernacular. Knowing how to effectively communicate with departments can set your program and plans up for success.

Technique: Who said what?

With email, instant messaging and texting, there seems to be a need to write quickly and break some rules. Capitalization takes a back seat, punctuation is hung out to dry and grammar plays second fiddle. The use of industry jargon is often difficult to understand. The correct choice of words establishes credibility.

Talk with the lead representatives from your company who will influence your efforts, including outside vendors too. Listen to the key words they use and ask “What do they expect me to know as their public relations and trade show coordinator?” Vendors and clients will open up with insights into their field using the keywords from their industry.

Never let people continue with their thoughts without first understanding what they are saying. If they are speaking over your head on a subject or term what makes you think that by smiling and nodding you increase your ability to strengthen the campaign.

The same bodes true with writing an exhibit plan. As an exhibit planner you must ensure that nothing is difficult for the reader to grasp. Although the CEO may have a Ph.D. after his or her name, you should still use simple terms and quick explanations when discussing your specific industry.

Nate King, VP of Sales with Insight Exhibits, hones in on the simplicity and importance of the written word in communication. He said, “As someone that has touched nearly every aspect of the trade show industry I want to make it clear that you have three to five seconds to capture someone’s attention. If it’s not written plain and simple what you do and what you can offer; it’s not worth creating.”

I echo that sentiment in writing your exhibit plan. You’ll definitely have your audience’s attention when they read a trade show plan, but if you make it too noisy and cumbersome you will lose any power in point that you try to convey.

Tip: Understand your audience

When you dive into the exhibit industry, the most important question you can ask is which exhibitions your company should attend. Expos and conferences happen every day in numerous industries.

There are expos for knitting, weddings, paintball, history, gaming, mathematics, cancer, housing and pastries to name a few. It’s similar to the phrase “There’s an app for that.” In the exhibit industry, you’d say “There is an expo for that.”

In my field of laboratory medicine I manage a handsome budget and coordinate approximately 75 trade shows and sponsorships annually. It seems like many, but we don’t attend numbers of expos in our field because they do not target our intended and immediate audience.

You’ll spend liberal amounts of money when exhibiting at conferences. As a rule of thumb you should triple the cost of the floor space you purchase. This will give you a close estimate on what you will spend on extras. I’ll speak more to budgeting later, but the reason I say this now is that when spending so much money and effort on a conference, you better know that you are targeting the right audience.

Technique: Align your collateral to the level of the audience

Take time to research forums and websites of your target audience at an upcoming conference. For example, make a list of three areas of interest and application in your life. For the first one pick something you love to do. Second, choose an activity or place that you’ve wanted to learn more about. Third, note what you do at work.

Research all three online and find forums and groups for each one. This is a great activity to understand how writing for three different topics reflects changes in style and technique. The exercise will give you the keywords and understanding necessary to speak with and write to your target audiences.

When writing your exhibit plan for the target audience for your product and services use the terms and phrases that you latched on to throughout your research. This will impress management and prove that you have an understanding of the industry.

Knowing how to write to your audience can close or break a deal. When we create a piece of literature or a brochure to be handed out at a conference, which is done numerous times per year, we must always write to and attempt to communicate best with the intended reader.

An audience has an agenda. People know where they want to be and have mapped out their stops at the trade show to maximize their time and efforts. What attendees want to get from you is the language they understand, put simply enough to comprehend and sophisticated enough to not be offended.

Tip: Will this cost money? Yes, budget for it!

My family purchased a car recently and I didn’t sleep for two nights as I constantly played over in my mind the “what if” game. The cost we had planned for was not what we paid for. We found a car under our budget and when we sat down to talk with the dealer we found ourselves going back and forth on what it would cost with taxes, licenses and fees. We left paying more than expected.

Trade shows are the same way. When you are filling out your exhibitor application to purchase the real estate of where your display will reside during the duration of the conference you see only a portion of the price it costs to rent that space.

You also need to take into account the other components of the exhibit – shipping your materials, labor, installation and dismantle, material handling at the conference center or hotel, electricity, audio and visual, floral, porter service, cleaning, lead retrieval, housing, transportation, etc.

Earlier this year our company exhibited at a conference in Hawaii. As a domestic company we seldom cross large bodies of water. I understood the cost of shipping our crates throughout the continental states, but evidently didn’t understand the cost of shipping over water.

Our booth space was costly for a 400-square-foot section of concrete over three days. It sounds steep, but when I opened our invoice from our carrier I felt my heart sink as I realized that they charged us nearly the cost of the floor space for a one-way shipment from Salt Lake City to Honolulu.

I called the carrier’s office and questioned the invoice, asking if it was a typo. Their response was that it wasn’t a typo and that we received a good deal on this shipment.  I panicked and started formulating a plan to tell my superior that I just sent our booth to Hawaii for what would end up being four times what I budgeted round trip in shipping cost alone. I found the gumption to tell my boss about my oversight during the budget process, not realizing the drastic increase in cost over water.

When my boss heard what I had done, she jovially told me not to worry. She said we were fine and confirmed what our carrier mentioned minutes earlier that she thought we got a great deal. I stood there with my mouth open wondering if she heard what I told her and restated the fact that I hadn’t budgeted this into our conference costs.

She explained that she padded the cost for shipping and wondered why I had budgeted so low. She understood the industry and realized that I had missed something. She forgot to tell me about that though and later explained that when shipping over water to plan for up to four times the cost as continental shipping.

Lesson learned is to double check on expenses and when in doubt, ask. I am now religious about receiving shipping quotes and quotes in general from vendors as to avoid these less-than-savory surprises.

Technique: Communicate the expenses up front with decision makers

When writing the budget into your trade show plan you will need to specify to the marketing and sales teams the estimated costs associated with the effort. To do this you will need to write the specifics and plan for the conference. Chronologically specify the happenings of the conference so management has an understanding of what to expect.

Next you should create a spreadsheet of the costs associated with the conference and be explicit in the numbers you show. This is the tricky part. Not all projections can be estimated accurately. Expect the unexpected at a trade show, not because you aren’t diligent in your planning efforts, but because you will undoubtedly come across barriers and hiccups that need addressing – at the expense of your company budget.

Lastly in the planning stage of budgeting be sure to educate the decision makers of the company of the jargon used. Let them know why you’ll be spending $5,000 on material handling and why the labor costs upwards to $100 per hour. Explain what a lead retrieval unit is and how it will increase the overall return on investment.

These terms may be confusing now, but once you’ve learned them in the next sections you will be able to communicate and understand the process much easier.

Tip: Know industry vernacular

Electrical – The electrical is generally run by the convention center. Every now and then there will be an outside agency that will lead the electrical services, but for the most part understand that you will deal with the hotel or convention center when ordering electrical services.

Get to know your equipment and how much voltage, amperage and watts are needed to safely run your display. When you order electrical services you will be asked to specify the amount of electricity your booth needs as well as where to set it on the floor or position it overhead.

Porter Service – This is the cleaning service offered by the general contractor at a conference. Is it nice to have, sure, but not worth the cost. A few years ago I purchased a Shark® rechargeable vacuum from a local store for under $70. This travels to all of my larger conferences now and has seen more of the United States than most of us. But it saves us a lot of money. To rent the vacuuming and garbage service you will likely pay close to $100 per show.

Take some time to roll up your sleeves and clean the booth, empty the trash bins and tidy up. If you run into a snag you can wrap duct tape around your shoe – sticky side out – and walk your carpet or flooring to pick up garbage, dirt and dust.

Material Handling – This is often called drayage. The general contractors at a conference make a financial killing on this service. It’s extortion, if you ask me, but we all have to play by those rules. How it works is that the exhibiting company pays per 200 pounds on crates, carpets, display materials and skids to be moved off your carrier’s truck and hauled to your exhibit space.

To give you an example of the cost let’s take the Hawaii show again. We shipped six large wooden crates, full of display materials, to the convention center. It cost us just less than $9,000 for a worker to pull up to our truck with a forklift, unload my crates off the truck and drive them 100 yards to my booth space and drop them off.

This service I must note also includes storing the crates in a corner of the convention hall, returning them at the end of the show so that I can pack them up again and then loading them back on the truck. If all goes to plan for the forklift driver, I estimate that this task would take no more than an hour tops to complete each of the four steps. That means that the contractor is making nearly $9,000 per hour. Of that money the forklift driver might see $30.

If that doesn’t boil your blood, I don’t know what will. Is there anything we can do about it? Nope. If you want to be where your customers are then you must play by the expo rules. Is it worth it in that case? Unfortunately, yes.

Lead Retrieval – This is a scanning device that you can capture the attendees’ information and be able to customize their status on your sales chain by scanning a bar code on the attendee’s badge or by entering in a number. Nearly every exhibitor will have this at their booth. Exhibitors will capture your information on that device and it will allow them to follow up in the future on products or services.

Unfortunately, this is an area of trade show marketing that goes neglected. Companies will capture leads and then watch them lie dormant in their data clouds without any sales follow-up. Unfortunately, many leads are forgotten about.

This is especially disheartening because the Center for Exhibition Industry Research reported in 2011 that “77 percent of the audience at any given trade show is a qualified lead.” A qualified lead is someone who has buying power, an agenda or a buying plan that can influence your bottom line.

Technique: Don’t be afraid to ask

When writing your marketing plan, you should use the most appropriate terms at the correct times. This will show your superiors that you understand the industry and its intricacies.

When you get into the trade show industry, you will quickly have vendors vying for your business. Use them as networking allies to assist you in your education as you write your exhibit plans.

Tip: Timeliness and the six Ps

As is the case with most aspects of life, procrastination is a nasty habit. In the exhibit industry it is also an expensive habit. As a general rule, begin writing your exhibit marketing plan for a specific expo no less than six months before the conference if possible.

This gives an opportunity to work with the components necessary for the show, whether that is booth staff or exhibition design. Most general contractors and convention centers will offer 10- to 20-percent discounts if the order is placed before a set date. Most look at a month to a month and a half before the show to end the discount pricing.

The six Ps referenced above stand for a phrase I learned during my junior high days: “Proper prior planning prevents poor performances.” That being said, there is only so much prior planning that can occur on your own timetable. Show management will often send out the exhibitor service manual, which includes all time-sensitive information and forms to purchase services, about two months before the show begins.

Once you receive the service manual, you should go through the approximately 70 pages and make notes and take care of business so that you are not playing with a ticking timeline that could cost your company money. When writing your plan it is extremely important to include dates and deadlines to the decision makers.

Technique: Write it, assign it and disseminate

An all-too-often trade show sin I see and am guilty of myself is not putting the plan in writing and sharing it with others. Six months before the show begins, you should have your first meeting with a small group within marketing and the sales lead regarding the show.

For example, if we have a genetics conference coming up, I will sit down with a Web editor, graphic designer, public relations specialist, marketing specialist and our genetics sales representative. We will create a timeline and ensure we are all on the same page.

This is the time that we run through a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). Once this meeting is finished I strongly recommend writing down all notes and sending out a confirmatory email to the team addressing goals and tasks with due dates. Include this in your exhibit plan.

Tip: Use the right bait to lure in your customers

An industry staple is that of swag or more properly known as giveaways. Swag is the bait that brings people into your booth. It is amazing to see physicians and executives making a fine salary, stand in a long line at a trade show, just to get the free stress ball or rubber ducky that someone is giving away.

Utilizing social media to announce your giveaways and communicate your message has become an industry-wide eruption. According to Exhibitor Magazine, “The use of social media as a marketing tool has exploded over the past two years. For one, the percentage of marketers using social media as part of their exhibiting programs has increased by nearly 90 percent.”

The first trade show I attended exposed me quickly to all the “junk” that is offered as an incentive to visit a booth. The problem with this technique is that you get a lot of traffic through your booth that may not have buying or decision power for their company. They just want the fluffy toy to bring back to their kids or dogs.

Lately we began giving away an iPad at the end of each of our in-booth presentations. We found that by doing this we spark a giant interest for people to attend the presentations. It is the bait that gets them in the booth. After they are forced to sit through 10 minutes of educational material we raffle off the iPad by using the fill-out surveys we’ve created.

If you feel the iPad is an expensive giveaway, I will argue that when there is an estimated $30,000-plus budget, what is another thousand dollars to attract many more people to the booth?

Obviously one out of the nearly 50 attendees at these presentations walks away with the iPad and the other 49 walk off empty-handed. But not before they have sat through our presentation, soaked in the information, rich with pertinent industry updates, and had the opportunity to get answers from our speaker or in-booth experts.

These opportunities for attendees to speak with our in-booth experts after being lured into the booth can pay off handsomely. According to an article from exhibitoronline.com, Travis Stanton and Ian Sequeira show that “81 percent of trade show attendees have the power to recommend or make final purchasing decisions. Statistics regarding net buying influence have remained almost constant averaging roughly 82 percent since 1998.”

Technique: What are you willing to stand in line for?

While writing your marketing plan for an upcoming trade show you should definitely ask yourself if there is anything that you would stand in line for or go out of your way to find. If there is, and I know there is, find out how to make it realistically work in your booth. Don’t invest effort and money in items that won’t reflect your brand well.

If you hand out cheap pens it says that you are a cheap company. If you have nice pens it leaves a better taste with the attendees and they will remember your booth in future meetings. Create a list with your team during the planning stages and write down the top three items you would want to see in your booth.

Next, get with your vendor and explain what you’d like to do and get an estimate on costs. Do this with plenty of time to allow for graphic prints and production of the pieces. Also note that at most meetings you will need to get written approval from show management to give away certain items.

I have registered my company at meetings that won’t even allow pens or chocolates to be given away because of the perception that follows. There are rules created to prohibit the influencing of physicians based on giveaways. Maybe a pen won’t sway a physician’s preference on a certain drug, but a handsome gift card or vacation for the physician’s family can certainly influence decisions. This is why the rules are in place.

Note your decision on your exhibit plan and write the importance and purpose for the giveaway.

An exhibitor at heart: Interview with Nate King, VP of Sales at Insight Exhibits

When speaking with Nate King in his cozy, back-room office you can tell that he loves his job, his Mac laptop, diesel trucks and the exhibit industry.

Q: What is it about trade shows that excite you?

A: “It’s more than just a job that keeps me doing this. It’s the excitement and variability of the industry. The stress, the change and the people are all factors that allow me to stay connected and excited for the next project.”

Q: What do you wish people understood of the exhibit build process.

A: “What people don’t understand is that we have a team of players here that are working tirelessly trying to keep up with last-second demands and needs. When customers are prepared and realistic with their expectations it makes for a great collaboration. There is recognized professionalism and appreciation we have for those that can write and deliver a timely game plan for us to assist them.”

Q: What are some components of an ideal exhibit plan?

A: “It would include an understanding of realistic objectives and goals. Know your strengths and limitations and include such important information as budgets and deadlines. Also one has to be clear with themselves on what they are willing to pay for and understanding the line between worth paying someone that knows what they are doing and creating a headache trying to solve an issue yourself. Understand your limits and concerns.”

Q: What are some trends that you see within the industry and how can clients prepare?

A: “Weight is a big deal. It costs a lot to ship heavy pieces and many people are looking at modular designs and light-weight structures and tension fabrics to save their bottom lines while continuing to make a splash with a flexible display. Lighting is another big component to your design. Proper lighting in a booth makes everything pop and acts as a beacon across the exhibit hall for others to see you,” says King. “The L.E.D. lighting is getting more and more attractive, adding a ‘green’ element to your booth by saving electricity and at the same time emitting a bright and clean white color that conveys a message of sophistication.”

Resources

Exhibitor Magazine

Building Competitive Immunity by Tom Stovall and Dustin Grainger

CEIR – Center for Exhibition and Industry Research

Nate King, Insight Exhibits

Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

www.exhibitoronline.com

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Grant Writing for Nonprofit Organizations

Many nonprofit organizations rely on donations and gifts from supporters to maintain their organizations. Often organizations turn to grant writing to seek additional funding for their programs. Grant writing is the process of locating and obtaining funds. With endless search results available on the Internet, finding a grant isn’t hard. However, in order to write a successful proposal you need to know what to put into the proposal and how to write well.

 

There is grant money for every purpose. Money can be obtained from the government in the form of federal or local grants. They are usually awarded to organizations, institutions and state and local government who are planning on doing a big project that will benefit a population or community. There are strict rules to follow when rewarded a government grant, which if not followed can result in severe penalty. Another type of grant can come from foundations set up by an individual, family or corporation.  Before applying for a grant, you must have a need or a problem that needs to be solved. The award usually specifies specific requirements….They want to know how you are going to use the money to support a mission or goal.

 

It’s important to make sure your goals are in line with the grant maker’s mission. Don’t force the fit …. For example, you should never replace an old program with a new one just to appeal to a donor. Instead, look at your current program from a donor’s perspective and highlight the program’s strengths in a way that will capture  attention. A good organization is mission-driven, not grant- driven.

 

Once you have determined that your organization is eligible for a specific grant, you should apply. Grant writing isn’t as simple as filling out an application to request funds. It requires a detailed description of your organization and how you plan to use the funds to meet certain objectives.

 

Fancy words and lengthy description won’t help you. You want to write in such a way that the grantor can’t say no. Take this story for example found in “Writing for a Good Cause-The Complete Guide to Crafting Proposals and Other Persuasive Pieces for Nonprofits,” by Joseph Barbato and Danielle S. Furlich.

 

Your’e walking down the street in your neighborhood when you meet a group of children with a pile of lumber next to a large tree.

 

“We want to build a tree house so all of the kids on the block have a place to meet,” one says. “Danny’s dad says he’ll help us build it, and Mr. McDonagh gave us lumber, and Mrs. Smith said we could borrow the tools out of her shed as long as we’re careful. All we need is nails, screws, and bolts and we can begin building!”

 

Will you refuse them the $20 for hardware? Of course not.

 

The problem is clearly outlined and the solution is so easy and logical. Your proposal needs to be this clear and concise.

 

Here is an all-purpose outline taken from “Writing for a Good Cause,” to follow when writing a proposal. This outline covers everything you’ll need in a formal proposal. You may not use all of the sections depending on who the donor is. Pick and choose which sections meet the grantor’s requirements.

 

  1. Cover Letter (required)
  2. Cover Sheet (optional
  3. Table of Contents (optional)
  4. Executive Summary (required)
  5. Introduction (required)
  6. Problem Statement (required)
  7. Program/Project Description
    1. Statement of Goals/Objectives (required)
    2. Methods (required)
    3. Evaluations ( sometimes optional but worth having)
    4. Future Funding (optional)
  1. Conclusion (required)
  2. Budget (required)
  3. Appendices
    1. Longer Background Narrative (optional)
    2. Credentials of Key Leaders (optional)
    3. List of Trustees and Their Affiliations (optional)
    4. Strategic Plan, Press Coverage, Letters of Support (optional)
    5. 501(c)(3) Tax Exemption Notification (optional)
    6. Audited Financial Statements and/or Annual Report (optional)
    7. Maps, Photographs, or Charts (optional)

 

The Cover Letter (Required)

 

The cover letter should be one to two pages signed by a senior-ranking official in your organization. The cover letter lets the reader know if the proposal is worth reading. It’s also a place to get personal and tie your proposal to current events in the community.

 

Here are a few things to remember:

    • Make sure that any vital information that is in your cover letter is somewhere in the proposal because often the proposal is copied for several readers without the cover letter attached.
    • Mention the amount you are requesting.
    • Mention what the money will be used for.
    • Mention how they can get in touch with you.
    • Let the recipient know when you will next be in touch.

 

The Cover Sheet (Optional)

 

This is the cover of the proposal. It is optional but it lends an air of formality so you decide if you need it. It usually has the name of the organization to which the proposal is being sent, the title of the project or program, the name of your organization, and the date. You can also include your agency’s phone number and address for convenience to the reader.

 

Table of Contents (Optional)

 

Include a table of contents if your proposal is more than seven pages or has a lot of appendices.

 

    • Number your pages.
    • Double-check your table of contents against the actual page numbers.

 

Executive Summary (Required)

 

The executive summary is usually the shortest, but the most important part of your proposal. It’s where readers decide whether to throw your proposal in the garbage or keep reading. It should never be more than one page and must include the problem you want to address, your proposed solution, and how much money you’re requesting. The amount you’re requesting should be in the first paragraph. You must hit the topics that will interest the reader. Put the most effort into this summary.

 

The Introduction (Required)

 

Sometimes this is referred to as the “Background” or “Organizational History.” In one to two pages you should describe who you are and why you are qualified to do the work.  The introduction will often include the number of employees, the number of offices, the number of clients, and the size of the annual budget. It will also reference partnerships, letters of support, media references and other attachments that outline your credibility.

 

This is an opportunity to list your organization’s strengths and successes. Don’t ruin it by giving your entire history and listing all of your programs.

 

The Problem Statement (Required)

 

This is also known as the “Needs Statement.” It is usually a one half to one page description of the specific problem your organization wants to address. Your agency’s lack of funding should not be the problem. Don’t appear needy.

 

Discuss the problem in a way that will interest the reader. Cite facts and statistics your group has discovered through research. It’s good to use a story or quote people who are experiencing the problem directly, but don’t go overboard because many of the readers know the issues as well as you do. Provide enough information to demonstrate that your organization understands the problem and can solve it effectively.

 

Program/Project Description

 

This is the meat of your proposal. This is where you say what you plan to do to address the problem. It is broken up into four parts: goals and objectives, methods, evaluation, and future funding.

 

Goals and Objectives (required)

Goals are often a one-sentence description of how things will be different if the project is successful and how you plan to reach that outcome. The objectives are specific and measurable. Use numbers. Objectives are often listed in a bulleted format.

 

Methods (required)

This is the who, what, where, how and why that describes how you will achieve your goals and objectives. If your program is long and complex include a timeline or a work plan that outlines the tasks. You must be specific in this section about what you plan to do. Research and interviews are important to describe your methods. Pursue people who will be involved with your program and ask them what they plan to do with the proposed money.

 

To decide what details to include, you have to think what information will persuade this donor about your program. Avoid unnecessary detail. Be selective and tell the reader specifically what you plan to do. If you feel like the reader needs more detail include it in the appendix.

 

Another tip, make sure your methods section matches your budget.

 

Evaluation (optional)

This section describes how you will determine whether the program was effective. Evaluation can be done internally, but if it’s a big project you may want to hire an outside agency. Be sure to list who is doing the evaluation.  It’s beneficial for you to come up with the evaluation criteria because if you don’t the founder will, and the criteria might be something you aren’t prepared for.

 

Your evaluation should be a checklist that shows how you met the goals and objectives you set. The evaluation can simply be questions that you will answer once the project is over or the grant money has been spent.

 

Future Funding (optional)

If applicable, discuss other resources for this project and how you will meet the needs of the project beyond the period of the grant. This section will show that you’ve given serious thought to the program and want to make it work long term.

 

Conclusion (Required)

 

This is where you ask for the money. You can also describe recognition of the donor if there is going to be any. Then you end with a last sentence or two about how the project and grantmaker’s involvement will make a difference. You want to make the donors feel good about this decision. You’ve given the donors all the reasons why and how. Now remind them how important they are to the cause.

 

Budget (Required)

 

Many foundations begin by reading the budget page so make it easy to read and understand. The person who writes the budget may be you or whoever has the time and knowledge. If someone else writes it, read over it carefully. If something is added to the budget that wasn’t listed in your methods, go back and fill it in.

 

Here are some items to consider including:

 

    • Personnel. If you have to hire additional staff for the project include their salary. If your existing staff is devoting more than 50 percent of their time to the project, include half of their salary as project expense.
    • Benefits. Some budgets break out benefits as a separate line item for salaries. Unless specifically requested, don’t list every benefit and its cost.
    • Consultants and Contract Service. Get an estimate from consultants of how much their services will cost.
    • General Overhead/Operating Costs. Include things like rent, utilities, telephone service, postage, copying costs, insurance, office supplies, bookkeeping, janitorial service, and landscaping.
    • Equipment. If you are going to buy new equipment for this project, get an estimate . Be sure to include installation, service and future upgrades
    • Travel. If travel is required, list an estimate of how much will be spent on airfare, meals, lodging, tips and mileage reimbursement.

 

 

Make sure you double-check your numbers and that they add up and match your text. If it helps, place your budget, your timeline and your text side by side and compare numbers.

 

Appendices (Optional)

 

This is where you include information that you know the reader will be interested in but wasn’t appropriate to fit into the proposal.

You can include:

    • a list of board members
    • articles about your nonprofit organization
    • 501(c)(3) tax-exemption notification
    • audited financial statements for the last fiscal year
    • maps of the area you work in
    • charts and graphs
    • photographs

 

Following this format will help you achieve the appropriate format for a grant proposal.

 

Here are a few tips to remember when writing your proposal.

 

  1. Follow the grantor’s guidelines. Answer every question.
  2. Be brief. Sometimes one or two sentences are all you need to get your point across.
  3. Organize your thoughts. Writing forces you to think. Determine what to include and in what order.
  4. Use stories and quotes appropriately. Don’t start out with a heart-wrenching story about horrible disadvantaged children who overcame their struggles. Instead include a clean, concise description of what the program offers.
  5. Avoid jargon. If you must use a technical term or acronym, make sure you define it. Use short words over long words. For example, use the word “use” vs “ utilized.” Write so that both a professional and the average person can understand.
  6. Be realistic. When writing objectives, keep in mind that you and your staff are going to have to live up to these promises.
  7. Be positive. Focus on your organization’s strengths. Don’t play the victim.
  8. Ask for money three times. A lot of people forget to ask. Ask in the cover letter, executive summary and conclusion. Make sure you ask for a specific amount, never “whatever you can spare.”
  9. Avoid cookie-cutter proposals. It’s okay to cut and paste key sections, but don’t merely change the name and address and send the same proposal to 40  potential funders.
  10. Proofread. Typos and inconsistencies reflect poorly on your organization and can cause your proposal to be turned down.

 

Too often writers think a grant is just a matter of filling out an application. In order to be a successful grant writer who wins, you need to have excellent writing skills and know the appropriate format for a proposal.

 

There are many books and free resources to writing a good proposal. Here is a list of the ones I found most helpful:

 

 

Tips from a Professional 

Rebecca Valdez, the founder of Youth with a Vision, has been writing grants for 14 years to go toward the mission of increasing the educational, economical and social accomplishments of at-risk youth living in the Denver area. Youth with a Vision has helped 8,720 teens through one-on-one mentoring and after-school programs.

Since 1998 Youth WAV has received $3.5 million in grants. In order to find grants, Valdez subscribes to the Colorado Community Resource Center catalog. She said a lot of research goes into finding a grant, adding you want to choose something you can potentially win. “We stay away from federal grants because we can’t compete,” says Valdez.

She begins her search by grouping all grants into categories that fit with her organization. She advises that you should research potential donors to see which organizations they’ve funded and how much they’ve given.

Out of the 150 grants she applies for each year she expects to receive about 10 percent. Some agencies will accept a common grant application and letter of intent or cover letter while others want a full grant proposal. Valdez estimates it takes 60 to 90 hours to write a full proposal for the first time. She says when they reapply the following year it only takes between 25 to 30 hours to revise and personalize the proposal.

When asked how she learned how to write grant proposals, Valdez said, “I learned by doing research and by trial and error. Some foundations are very picky. One mistake I made when reapplying for a grant was sending the application in two days before year end. They denied me for not following the guidelines.”

Valdez has found the best way to get funding is through networking. She contacts foundations, store managers and corporations to see if they would be interested in donating to her organization. Fourteen years ago she wrote a two-page letter to Philip Anchutz, who Forbes Magazine ranks the 34th richest person in the U.S., asking for a donation of $15,000. “He sent us a check for $25,000 and has done so for the past 14 years,” she says.

There is money available. You just have to do your research and apply, Valdez says. By networking and establishing yourself, foundations will want to know what amazing things your program is doing to inspire people to support your program, she concludes.

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Texting: A Legitimate Mode of Professional Communication

Communicating via mobile texts is no longer the exception it is the rule. Texting has drastically risen in popularity over the last five years. The sound of a whistle, duck quacking, or a subtle vibrate send people scrambling to check their phone for an incoming message. Texting has transformed human behavior and interaction forever. Widely known as a casual form of communication, texting has now infiltrated the workplace and is considered a legitimate mode of professional communication.

Guidelines pertaining to texting in the workplace are still developing despite its rapid growth and acceptance. An opportunity to send a client, colleague, or superior a text message can result in the same anxiety as when you find yourself in an extravagant restaurant staring at an excessive amount of silverware.

While choosing the dessert fork over the salad fork seems trivial, making that mistake can be detrimental to your image as a professional. Those who are polished in the area of etiquette indirectly portray that they are also polished in life. Similarly, a poorly crafted text can send the same message. Texting has evolved into more than a casual form of communication. Despite its evolution it remains a sticky medium but its convenience remains irresistible to busy professionals.

Texting is used heavily, with nearly 41.5 messages sent per day by the average user, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.  Few texts follow standard rules of grammar. Many avid texters have mastered the gift of shorthand. In some cases, these abbreviations and phrases more closely resemble a foreign language. You should never assume your boss, colleague, or client knows that “YIU” means “Yes, I understand” or “WYHAM CM” means “When you have a minute, call me.” Thousands of phrases just like these are popular in texting and while they might be fitting between friends, your superior can misinterpret them.

Directly or indirectly, each workplace culture sets a standard of professionalism. While one business considers texting a normal practice of communication, another deems it taboo. Many shy away from texting because of the casual image it portrays. Depending on the profession, overusing texting can detract from a company’s professional presence and under-usage can be equally detrimental.

The first text, or SMS (Short Message Service), was sent in December 1992. It was a casual greeting sent by a young engineer named Neil Papworth to his good friend Richard Jarvis. The message simply read, “Merry Christmas.” Papworth did not use any abbreviations. Papworth developed this technology so company staff could send simple messages to one another. Papworth sent the message from his work computer unaware that he just opened the door to a new revolution of communicating. Nearly 20 years later, it is the most efficient communication tool, as well as a multibillion-dollar business.

I was initially slow or perhaps resistant to texting, because I did not understand its practical use. I supported my “flip” phone for years, despite the wise cracks I received. I had a sense of pride in proving that I could survive personally and professionally without a smart phone. I used my phone for its true and original intent – to call people. My phone was capable of texting. However, I was limited to a standard 10-button keypad, making texting a monotonous task.

History has proven that humans have an innate creativity when it comes to communicating. The human race has come a long way in the area of telecommunication. My memory reaches only as far as pagers, also known as beepers. Pagers now seem archaic in comparison to more recent technology. Prior to cell phones, those with a pager were limited to only receiving call back numbers. All you had were 10 digits to decipher whether it was a true emergency, or warranted the effort to locate a landline.

Early forms of texting eventually occurred via pagers. In an effort to free us, numerical codes were created so communication could transpire immediately rather than through a call back. Below are examples to jog your memory or expose you, for the first time, to the early forms of texting:

121 = I need to talk to you

123 = I miss you

143 = I love you

220 = Why haven’t you called?

221 = Where are you?

Yes, they even had a numerical code for “BFF;” 477 was the code for “Best friends forever.” There were even numerical codes that spelled out words if your device was held upside-down. For example, the digits 17_31707_1 if viewed upside-down spell out (with a stretch) “I love you.” Until the adoption of mobile phones in the 1990s, pagers were the primary mode of personal communication. The inverted creativity had to persist until the bounds were broken with the use of cell phones. There is no longer a need to hold our devices upside-down to read the message, but the creativity persists. Abbreviations and acronyms have found themselves a home in the modern texting world as well.

If you are not up to speed on the thousands of abbreviations and acronyms used in texting you might need a teenage interpreter to read some of the texts you receive. Cracking these codes remind me of times on the freeway when I see a vanity license plate and it takes the brain power of everyone in the car to identify what that person is trying to communicate. Texting can also leave a lot for interpretation and plenty of room for error. Professional texts must follow standard grammatical rules and a rule of thumb is to spell everything out in a business text to avoid misinterpretation. After all, you do not want to make the wrong impression upon the person who has control over your monthly income. I am strongly discouraging, or rather pleading, that you omit the use of acronyms and abbreviations in professional texts. But in an effort to not be too stiff, I grant you full reign with your texts written for family and friends. So for fun, enjoy the following website to catch you up to speed on the most popular texting acronyms and abbreviations:

http://www.webopedia.com/quick_ref/textmessageabbreviations.asp

 

10 tips to professionalize your texts and texting habits

1.     Practice self-control

We send texts repeatedly to our friends and family without regard to the importance of the information. In the professional world the communication floodgates are not as wide open to send texts about anything and everything. You need to take a breath and ask yourself: Should I send this text? Would it be better if we spoke about this topic over the phone? Would a face-to-face conversation be more appropriate? If the information is simple in nature, then by all means text it. If the message has to be sent in multiple texts or exceeds 140 characters, the answer is clear, wait.

Be careful not to send personal text messages on a company phone. Text messages travel via cell phone lines or the Internet, so when you hit “delete” they do not disappear. Due to recent Supreme Court cases, your employer may have the right to check what you are messaging and can use those texts against you, legally, professionally, or both.

2.     Keep excessive shorthand for personal text messages

Some are fluent in shorthand and effectively use it in their text messages. Regardless of how well you have perfected the art, the use of shorthand can be a different language to the receiver. This style of communication is common for the younger generation, but not everyone is on board yet. And frankly, I do not believe they should have to be. Text messages sent in the professional world need to be polished, free of shorthand. It should only be used if you are certain the recipient will know exactly what you mean. Short messages such as BRB (Be right back) and YW (You’re welcome) may appear obvious to you, but will not be understandable to everyone. As a rule of thumb, “If in doubt, spell it out.”

3.     Keep text messages clear and concise

Everyone dreads the lengthy email. The same goes for incoming texts. How often do you receive an email or a text and find yourself thinking, what is the point? When the text exceeds your screen space, you need to condense the message. If this seems impossible, then refer to rule No. 1 and wait. The ability to be clear and concise is a special skill. Stacy Blackman stated six tips for clear and concise business communication in the University of Pennsylvania Wharton magazine.

  1. Lead with your main point
  2. Cut the jargon
  3. Use short, direct sentences
  4. Read it aloud
  5. Use spell check
  6. Don’t overuse spell check

Below is the link to the full article:

http://whartonmagazine.com/blog/6-tips-for-clear-and-concise-business-communication/

4.     Send texts at appropriate times

Texting is a convenient way to communicate and is tempting to use at inappropriate times of the day. Therefore, that so-called urgent text you felt inclined to send at 1:30 a.m. indicating you would pick up bagels for tomorrow morning’s meeting could potentially bring your boss out of a deep sleep. You might need to bring more than bagels to remain employed. Keep business-related text messages close to normal working hours. Of course, if your boss texts you after hours, then rule No. 4 is “trumped” and it is appropriate to respond.

5.     Beware of typos

Check for spelling and grammatical errors by proofreading before you touch send. On a Smartphone you can simultaneously surf the web and talk with a friend. You would think it was smart enough to send a sensible text with no problem. If you have your phone setting set to auto-correct, you know your cell phone has free reign to mutate a word into something nonsensical or embarrassing.  It may lead to a good laugh between friends, but in the workplace, it can cause problems. Remember, text messaging is a casual mode of communication, but do not embarrass yourself by being too casual or allowing your phone to speak for you.

6.     Be sensitive to those without a texting plan

Yes, they do exist and they become furious when you repeatedly send them work-related texts at 30 cents a pop. They become even more irate when they choose to read your text only to find out you are simply announcing they are stuck in line at Starbucks and will be late, but will be sure to bring you a latte.

7.     Don’t text apologies or criticism

When you find yourself in a situation where an apology must be expressed or a criticism needs to be communicated, then do it face to face. If this is not possible, a personal letter or a well-crafted email is more appropriate. It is difficult to fully express yourself in a text and an apology or criticism requires human tone and expression. However, feel free to share good news via text. Compliments and accomplishments are also great to send as a quick text to boost someone’s day.

8.     Don’t get caught balancing a meeting and cyberspace

In Lore McManus’s news article “The new rude – texting reaches a professional tipping point,” she cities research showing nearly 100 percent of people surveyed believe that texting or emailing during business gatherings is inconsiderate, yet two-thirds do it anyway. It has been proven that dividing attention between competing stimuli causes a person to be less efficient and actually creates anxiety. Resist the temptation to keep checking your phone and stop trying to be engaged in two different things.

This rule extends beyond meetings. It is a good practice to set the phone aside whenever you are engaging with another. Doing this will send a long and lasting impression to the person you are with that they are more important than any incoming call, email, tweet or text. By the way, you are not fooling anyone by texting underneath the table.

The link to McManus’s full article is below:

http://www.bulldogreporter.com/dailydog/article/new-rude-%E2%80%94-texting-reaches-professional-tipping-point

9.     Make sure your text does not have an underlying tone

It is nearly impossible to accurately interpret someone’s tone through a text but we all certainly try, which leads to assumptions. Choose your words carefully and stay away from humor or sarcasm, which is often misinterpreted. I had a colleague indicate to me in a return email that my font setting was set to 14 point and I often spelled words in all caps. He proceeded to tell me that while I probably meant no harm, my emails came across as yelling. This certainly was not my intention and I was unaware that my font size was so large. I was thankful for his feedback and immediately changed my font size and became conscious of my use of all caps. While this personal story refers to emailing it certainly applies to texting. If you are trying to yell at someone through a text, then it is better to re-evaluate your mode of communication. Take some time to collect your thoughts and share your feelings in person. We have been taught to think before we speak, so apply the same rule and think before you touch “send” because once it is gone you cannot retract it.

10.  Human connection remains the best form of communication

I have spent the majority of this paper convincing you there is a place in the workplace for texting and how to use it effectively and professionally. Despite the convenience of texting, it remains important to remember you are a human being. Avoiding in-person communication and sticking with the safety and predictability of texting only results in hiding from interaction. A young teen was quoted in The New York Times article “The Flight From Conversation” as saying, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.” If you are guilty of avoiding conversations and believe that a lot of online connection adds up to real conversation, then you have been deceived. You are missing out on truly understanding and knowing the people around you. Trust me, give traditional human connection a try and I promise you will feel more connected with people as you look them in the eye and communicate. I encourage you to read The New York Times article referenced above and linked below:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

In conclusion, texting is a legitimate form of professional communication and is here to stay. Adaptation and integration is the key to infusing it into the workplace, but do it thoughtfully. Have a plan and adopt practices that are in line with company values. If used correctly texting can help promote the company brand.

Words of Wisdom from an Expert

The European Business Development Manager of Skull Candy and good friend, Traci Dimond, sat down with me to discuss how she manages texting in a multimillion dollar company. Skullcandy is a Park City, Utah-based company that “markets high-end headphones, earphones, hands free devices, audio backpacks, MP3 players and other audio enabled lifestyle products.” Diamond travels the world targeting consumers who associate with extreme sports to build a strong brand identity for Skullcandy. This company is the real deal and made the Inc. 5000 in 2011 at number 870. Inc. 5000 is a magazine that publishes an annual list of the 5000 fastest growing private companies. In 2011, Skullcandy experienced 354 percent growth over three years and earned $160.6 million in annual revenue with a goal of world domination. Due to travel, Dimond relies on her hand-held device to keep business rolling and had fun telling me how important texting is to her profession.

Traci Dimond, European Business Development Manager for Skullcandy

1.     Do you utilize texting as part of your current job?

(Laughing) Absolutely. Texting is a huge part of what I do. Our company is young and tech savvy. Text messaging is a common medium of communication. I have moments where I want to unplug and I believe it is important to do so to maintain work-life balance. My job is totally rewarding, so in times of craziness and constant vibration (referring to her phones vibrations) I have to remember that this is how we do business and you have to manage it like everything else. Over time, I have realized that not everything is an emergency and a text can wait.

The company uses email a lot but it is truly unrealistic to get to all of my emails every day. I received up to 200 to 300 emails in one day and they are full of information and attachments.  I could not possibly read them all and respond. I love that texting is quick and to the point and rarely exceeds 100 words, which is manageable. Plus, it is so nice to shoot a text to a group indicating we are having a meeting in five minutes in the boardroom and not have to call them all individually.  

2.     How important to your job function is communication via text?

There is no way I would be able to keep up with my job responsibilities if I didn’t text daily. My phone is another appendage and allows me to do my job wherever I am during the day. I have mellowed out as I have gotten older with how much I text. For instance, now when I go out to dinner I leave my phone in my car so that I can focus on the person that I am with (and yes, her phone was left in the car during our casual interview). It is so important to spend time away from your phone and know that the world will go on if you don’t immediately answer a text or call. Texting is really the way that Skullcandy does business because we travel so much. I spend two weeks out of every month in the office in Europe. I realized 14 uninterrupted hours in the air is the only way I can catch up with my email, but also results in a lot of texts waiting for me on the other end.

3.     Do you ever see miscommunication from poorly written texts?

Unfortunately, I see poorly written texts daily. I don’t necessarily see them from upper management but I do see them from people who obviously are not taking into consideration that they are no longer texting their best friend. I learned quickly you must communicate differently when texting friends and family versus your boss. I used a simple abbreviation in one of my texts to a colleague and he quickly text me back three question marks. Luckily, he thought it was funny but I learned quickly to spell things out. I see a lot of misspelled words, tons of wrong words that alter the message that most likely happen from auto-correct. I can see how these texting blunders could be very damaging in another workplace but with Skullcandy we have a casual and hip environment that is kosher to the modern and casual text language.

4.     What tips/rules do you try to follow to ensure your text is well received?

I am in the habit of reading my texts before I send them. I get plenty of bad texts to remind me that this is an important practice. I use abbreviations if appropriate but sparingly. I find myself mostly responding to text messages so I have to craft my responses appropriately depending on whom I am texting. Because of the high volume of texts I receive hourly I can be managing multiple conversations at one point, so another thing I need to be very careful of is to not send a return message to the wrong person. That is always embarrassing.

5.     What one thing would you suggest is the most important thing to make sure you do when sending a professional text?

My work environment is so unique, but the most important tip I feel that I can provide is to be respectful of people’s lives. I don’t want to receive a lame text any more than I want to send one, so be sure to always identify if you have to send the text. A lot of time it can wait and that is an area that I have matured a lot with. I used to fire off texts about everything just so I could get a quick response but not everything is an emergency any more and I really find myself evaluating if I need to send it and more often than not it can wait. I think people really appreciate that approach.

If you are interested in reading more…

  • The Relationship Between “Textisms” and Formal and Informal Writing Among Young Adults by Larry D. Rosen, Jennifer Chang, Lynne Erwin, L. Mark Carrier and Nancy A.Cheever, Communication Research 2010, provides the results to research that targeted whether the reported use of texting in daily electronic communication is related to the quality of writing among young adults and yes there are negative implications.
  • Texting as a Life Medium by Rich Ling in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication is an interesting read about proven research that indicates that despite the heavy use of texting among the younger generation, texting is largely a life phase phenomenon.
  • Txt sux? Texting and Other Forms of Communication in Local Government Consultation by Ashleigh Jordan and Margie Comrie describes how local governments are taking advantage of the explosion in new technologies and communicating with their citizens.
  • Workplace Friendship in the Electronically Connected Organization by Patricia M. Sias, Hannah Pedersen, Erin B. Gallagher, and Irina Kopaneva in the 2012 Human Communication Research Journal. This article studies the dynamics between informational communication technologies and workplace friendship.

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Grant Writing

A United Way chapter receives a $42,000 federal grant from the Department of Agriculture for a farmers market geared toward getting nutritional food to the elderly.  A city amphitheater gets a $60,000 tax-based grant to provide shade for audience members.  A university receives an $80,000 grant from NASA to design a satellite frame.  These are all examples of types of programs funded through grants.  In its website, the National EMSC Data Analysis Resource Center [NEDRAC] states, “Grant seeking is big business; about one hundred fifty billion is spent on grants each year in the United States alone, and more than nine thousand public and private granting programs can be identified.  Businessdictionary.com defines a grant as:

Bounty, contribution, gift, or subsidy (in cash or kind) bestowed by a government or other organization (called the grantor) for specified purposes to an eligible recipient (called the grantee). Grants are usually conditional upon certain qualifications as to the use, maintenance of specified standards, or a proportional contribution by the grantee or other grantor(s).

According to Nikki Lovell, a grant center administrator for United Way of Northern Utah, many people think “just having a good idea will get you a grant” when in actuality, getting a grant requires a great deal more time and effort.  In his book “A Concise Guide to Getting Grants for Nonprofit Organizations”, Mark Guyner suggests that to get a grant three things are needed: a good plan, a good funder, and a good proposal.  This article will dissect these three ideas into 10 steps for writing a successful grant proposal.

Most grants start with an initial idea or need.  The first step in the grant writing process is to identify and crystallize the need of the organization.  To write a successful grant application, you must do the appropriate groundwork to support the written application.  This  is a time to identify what need may exist, who would be benefited, can  your program accomplish this project, and does your project have the buy-in of your organization.  These ideas are reviewed and defined in the first three steps for grant writing; strategic planning, need statement, and researching the need statement.

Step One: Identifying the Need – Strategic Planning

Before asking an entity for funding, you must be able to communicate its purpose in a clear, concise and logical message.  In “Grant Seeking in an Electronic Age”, authors Victoria Mikelonis, Signe Betsinger, and Constance Kampt recommend the use of a strategic plan to convey this message. They define a strategic plan as “a long-term (usually three- to five-year) blueprint for non-profit organizations.  This strategic plan contains the organization’s:

  • mission statement
  • goals and objectives
  • a description of the target population
  • descriptions of the roles and responsibilities of governing boards

If an organization is able to provide the basics of its purpose, it will then be able to move into the idea or need for which it wants to receive funding.  At this point, you have to define the need clearly and also demonstrate how this need relates to the mission and purpose of the organization.  In their book “Successful Grant Writing: Strategies for Health and Human
Services Professionals”,  Laura Gitlin and Kevin Lyons note, “One of the most challenging aspects of grantsmanship is identifying an idea that has the potential for funding” . However, the time spent identifying and defining the idea will create more ability to convince potential funders of the value of the proposal.

Step Two: Need Statement

Mikelonis, Betsinger, and Kampt define a need statement as “a succinct and persuasive presentation of facts and evidence that describe a problem and support the need for a project”. They then list the three major elements of a need statement:

  1. Description of the problem
  2. What the organization plans to do to solve the problem
  3. Statement of instrumental purpose or the organization wants the sponsor to do after reading the proposal

Defining a need statement assists in clarifying the need and assisting in research as the grant progresses. Usually, the need statement becomes the grant summary.  To create an effective need statement, Gitlin and Lyons recommend eight resources to “formulate a fundable or competitive idea: professional experience, professional literature, interaction with colleagues and funded investigators, societal health and population trends, legislative initiatives, public documents, agency program goals and specific priorities, and community organizations, key informants of a target population.

The need statement can offer the organization an opportunity to take a preliminary deep look at the feasibility of getting the grant, to review the fiscal capability of the organization to handle the funds, and “to go to the mirror, your Board, and your team and ask if and how will you not only submit a quality proposal but what will and how will you gauge the quality of your work?”.  By constructing an honest need statement, the organization can take a true look at the effects and challenges receiving the grant can offer.  Once the components for a need statement are gathered, they need to be presented in a way that is “timely, urgent, compelling, and unique” suggest Mikelonis.  This is a time to be concise and yet essential elements must be included.  Guyner says, “It is a brief review of your grant request.  The summary must be good, because it may be the only part that is read!  If the funder doesn’t like what is written here he may not go any farther” Some grants request a summary or need statement for approval before an organization can apply with a full grant proposal.

Step Three: Researching the Need Statement

Researching the need statement is different from the search for a grant funder.  In researching the need statement, the organization uses resources to find similar grant requests and see how their need statement measures up against competition.  While this is definitely a time to note potential sponsors, the goal is “to provide more relevant evidence and stronger arguments to justify your problem and proposed solutions to potential sponsors”.  In addition to finding comparable need statements, statistical data can be found on the Internet.  “Proposal writers often have to identify relevant statistical data and factual information to provide adequate justification for the importance and scope of their problem”, says Mikelonis.  By searching and finding this information on the Internet, the need statement can be bolstered by empirical evidence.  A good understanding of search engine optimization (SEO) will help, but basically the need statement should contain keywords that will help identify similar need statements and summaries that may be listed on Internet. By finding similar projects through keywords, the organization can find potential donors who have a history of donating.  An additional way to search is to conduct searches on the intended recipient of your idea or need.

Step Four: Funding

There are thousands of potential donors and funders.  Lovell  has access to over 200,000 potential donors.  Her center is an example of the many centers and resources that assist in matching grants with appropriate sponsors.  There are three primary types of organizations that create grants: foundations, corporations, and government.

Guymon lists the grant organization types as follows:

  • Foundations – a foundation is a nonprofit organization that exists to serve the public good by making grants.
  • Corporation – a corporation may have established a foundation to award grants.  Also, the corporation itself as a separate organization may award grants.
  • Government – the government gives more grant money than any other source. Available federal grants cover all kinds of physical needs: physical, educational, economic, etc.
  1. Foundations.  Four categories of foundations include independent, operating, community, and corporate.  Mikelonis defines independent foundations as “funded by individuals or families who invest large sums of money in an endowment fund … they must  give away 5 percent of their endowment annually.”  Mikelonis defines operating foundations as “large, well-established foundations that fund specific programs, do not solicit proposals, but instead fund the research or programs they want conducted” . Community foundations are “set up by local municipalities to fund local charitable work and corporate foundations are “set up as a philanthropic arm of many large corporations . . . funded annually from a fixed percentage of a company’s profits”
  2. Corporations.  Because corporate funding is usually based on company earnings, “when profits are high, more funding may be available.”  Corporate foundations may also benefit the communities around them more than entities in other areas as a way of being more supportive to the local area.  Corporations may also offer product as an in-kind donation.
  3. Government.  “Government funding sources often give away the largest sums of money.  If your project is large and your target population coincides with a target population for whom Congress has allocated funds, you will want to consider approaching government sponsors”

If prepared properly, the need statement can assist in determining the appropriate source of funding.  Each funding type has specific databases and resources for available monies and their associated sponsors. While libraries  remain a strong beginning step in the process, the Internet continues to be a growing force for information and the gateway into the most current grant opportunities and requirements.  The importance of understanding the different sponsors  and their respective motivations is crucial as the organization seeking funding begins to prepare to write the proposal.

Step Five: Letter of Intent

In many cases, the large foundations and government agencies do not want you to write a proposal immediately and send it to them.  Writing a proposal takes considerable time and effort and may not be the most efficient way to proceed.  Instead, many foundations want you to write a two- or three-page letter of intent.

When the time comes to write a letter of intent or summary, an effective need statement will pay off.  The elements required in writing the need statement are similar to the elements that make a good letter of intent.  To find the  letter of intent requirements of a potential sponsor, an organization can either review websites and resources or contact the sponsor directly.  Making a personal contact can avert problems, help establish the appropriateness match of the grant to the sponsor, and create connection.  Should the sponsor express immediate interest, a well-thought need statement will demonstrate the research and sincere interest of the inquiring organization.  The format of the letter of intent is usually in a formal business style and should be signed by the executive officer of the grant requesting organization.

Step Six: Proposal Narrative

Most grant sponsors will have a specific format for grant proposals.  The type of sponsor will usually dictate the tone of the grant writing.  According to Mikelonis, most proposals will consist of the following sections:

  • Cover Letter – short introductory letter signed by requesting organization executive officer
  • Cover Page – a standard sheet that includes: name of project, key people who will be involved in the project, duration of the project, amount of money being requested, short abstract, name and address of organization
  • Project Description/Need Statement – expanded description of the problem
  • Solution: Goal, Objectives, and Tasks – detailed specifics of the solution and execution
  • Evaluation and Sustainability – assessment of the success of the project
  • Dissemination – the plan for distributing the information following completion
  • Budget – specifics regarding how the money will be used
  • Appendices – supporting documents

Step Seven: Project Description/Need Statement.

Following the creation of a cover letter and cover page, the organization begins to get into the nuts and bolts of the proposal narrative.  The type of grant will determine the tone of the writing style.  According to Lovell, “Government grants are very technical and complex.  There is little room for creativity.”  What is required is a strong sense of logic as to how the requesting organization’s solution will work.

Benedetto Leopori and Andrea Rocci conducted research in the area of logic and reasonableness in grant proposal writing in regards to research grants.  They point out that a grant “proposal involves both a directive (asking the agency for funding) and a commissive speech act: the applicant promises to carry out a certain research activity, provided that he/she receives funding.  The researchers note several key components of a successful proposal including strategic maneuvering, topical potential, and adaption to the audience.  Overall, the proposal must be able to tell the story of how the organization is going to solve the stated problem. The proposal stands a better chance of winning approval if the plan is logical and provable.  Flowery, extraneous words can jeopardize the success of the grant where logic, details and proven results can seal the deal.  Lovell adds, “Most grants are not really new.  Most funding organizations want to fund something they know will have results so they will be looking for references to similar successful programs.”

Mikelonis recommends a “hook” statement at the beginning of the project description that can capture the attention of the reader while expressing the essence of the proposed project.  This part may include statistics or short stories about people potentially directly affected by the proposed solution.  Again, this will depend on the type of sponsor being courted.  While the “hook” may work for a corporate or local grant, if too schmaltzy, the “hook” may instantly signal a government grant reviewer of a novice proposal writer and potentially affect credibility. Government grants require a more rational, straight forward introduction.  “Proposal writing is not a time to be fancy or experimental in language use and composition.  A proposal requires a scientific, technical approach to writing in which the details of a project are clearly described”,  says Gitlin and Lyons.  Above all else, the proposal writing must reinforce the cause and effect of the proposal idea.

Step Eight: Monitoring and Reporting Plans

Step eight involves demonstrating to the potential sponsor your ability to follow through with your proposal and report results.  According to Mikelonis, “monitoring is a method for ongoing review and measurement of a project to gauge its progress relative to its objectives and to plan continual improvements to both activities and project management”.  She continues, “Evaluation takes a broad view of the project’s activities over time and looks not only at what the project did but how effective or successful it was in serving the target population and achieving its overall goal”.

In order to fully communicate the cause-and-effect implications of your proposal, realistic assessment measures must be created and detailed.  This will demonstrate to the sponsor how you will know if the project was a success or failure.  The more the data relies on empirical, scientific modes of measure, the more credibility the project will gain and potential for funding.  The majority of grants will require this information in a form of annual report or final report upon completion of the project.

Step Nine:  Dissemination and Sustainability

At this stage of the proposal, you must decide if the information and data gleaned from your project merits being shared by a wider audience and what your plan would be for making this happen.  This may be a concern or a bonus to the sponsor if their name would be proportionally attached to the completed research or project.  A plan should be created on how the results of the project will be used following completion  and what obligations may then exist for the sponsor.  The aspect of dissemination could also act as a selling point if the sponsor entity would benefit from beneficial exposure.

Another beneficial selling point of a proposal is the potential longevity of a project after completion.  “Sponsors are more likely to fund projects that will continue to benefit the target audience after the initial funding ceases.  As a result, sponsors want to know what your plans are for maintaining or sustaining the project” says Mikelonis.  A balance of persuasive writing with outlines of similar project results can help create credibility and demonstrate the maximum use of a potential grant.

Step 10:  The Budget

A budget can make or break a grant request.  Lovell warns, “The budget must be correct.  If you can’t balance a budget on the proposal, they [the sponsor] will question whether you can handle their money.   The budget sheet is one of the most significant pieces of the grant proposal and can ultimately decide if the grant is approved.  The proposing organization should carefully review all aspects of the budget.  Gitlin and Lyons advise, “The sign-off by a designated official from your institution on a grant proposal is a legal indicator that the institution has reviewed and approved the budget and that it accurately reflects salary figures and real costs .”For this reason it is advisable and critical that your organization’s financial officer assist in the preparation of the element of the proposal.

Bonus tip: Networking

Several sources advocate the use of networking to get to know potential sponsors and to assist in the preparation of a grant proposal. Leopori and Rocci recommend using colleagues to first test out a grant proposal. They say, “Proposal writing is in most cases not individual work, but rather a social process where other members of the team and colleagues are asked to contribute and to comment on successive drafts. Colleagues are deemed to play the role of referees or members of evaluation panels of the funding agency and thus their answers are considered as proxies of a dialogue with the funding agency.”

And while this is an important piece, these researchers also note another benefit of using colleagues: “This is related to the fact that in most agencies researchers themselves are involved in the evaluation process, especially in the academic-oriented research councils” .  By creating networks and being willing to contact potential sponsors in appropriate ways, credibility and familiarity can build and increase the potential of gaining a grant.  Lovell  recommends being nice to everyone and to also “create relationships with the people you will be working with through reviews, thank you notes, and reports.”

Conclusion

            Grant writing is a skill that demands a strong sense of technical attention and solid logical rhetoric.  More than just an idea, grant writing must take an idea and deconstruct, evaluate and reassemble the idea in a persuasive manner backed up by research.  In an increasingly competitive area, good grant writing is critical to getting results. By paying attention to detail, doing the research and creating connections, grant writing will yield success.

Interview with a Pro 

A Sidebar Conversation with
a Professional Grant Writer
by Chad L. Mosher

Nikki Lovell knows how to get money.  As the grant writing administrator for United Way of Northern Utah and the Zada Haws Community Grant Center and Cooperating Collection, Lovell heads “the most authoritative source of information on private philanthropy in Northern Utah.”  According to the United Way website, “The Center helps grantseekers, grantmakers, researchers, policymakers, the media, and the general public better understand the field of philanthropy. Instruction on funding research, help with proposal writing, tools for locating prospective funders, news and research on philanthropy are all available at the Center.”

Lovell offers her top 10 tips for effective grant writing:

1.  See the big picture first and put the details in later.  A proposal should be visionary and also clearly demonstrate cause and effect.  Write for what you want to see happen.

2.  Creative writing is not good for grant writing.  Writing should be systematic and more scientific than creative.  The grant proposal should point to similar proven research with noteworthy outcomes, especially for government grants.

3.  Good grant writing will get you more grants.  Cultivating a good reputation, getting to know grant managers, and creating a history are a “must have” to getting federal grants.

4.  Relationships equal grants.  As foundations based on “old money” age and their executors move to other cities, they tend to take the money with them.  Creating relationships will create the potential to keep grant money consistent on a long-term basis.

5.  Be exact. Especially in regards to government grants, the worksheets will tell you exactly what information to provide – provide it.  As a long-term government grant reviewer, Lovell is saddened by the points grants lose because of simple omissions and assumptions.

6. Gain experience, be a reader.  Lovell says the best way to gain experience is to become a grant reader for the government.  Government grants are reviewed by a minimum of three readers who evaluate the grant separately and then compare scores.  This consistent review opportunity teaches the nuances of grant writing and demonstrates what passes and what doesn’t.

7.  Edit, edit, edit, and add correctly.  Proofread the grant proposal and have others proofread as well.  If grant writers can’t spell, they can’t administer a grant.  This goes double for the budget.  Use an accountant to create the budget.

8.  If at first you don’t succeed.  Government reviewers have to write comments for every point taken away in a grant proposal review.  These reviews are public record and available for the submitter to review.  Get the review, correct what is wrong, and resubmit.

9.  Be thick skinned.  Rejection is part of grant writing.  Lovell says you will only get about 10 percent of the grants you submit.

10.  Grant writing is fun. Everybody loves you because you get them money.  Lovell has retired from professional grant writing but continues as a volunteer and says it is even more fun.

References

Businessdictionary.com (2012). Grants. Retrieved from:
http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/grant.html

Gitlin, L. N., & Lyons, K. J. (2008). Successful grant writing: Strategies for health and human
services professionals.
New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Guyer, M. (2002). A concise guide to getting grants for nonprofit organizations. Hauppauge,
NY: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). (2012) Top ten “to do’s” of grant
writing/proposal submission.
Retrieved from:
http://www.hrsa.gov/grants/apply/TechnicalAssistance/tipsforgoodgrantapplications.pdf

Lepori, B., & Rocci, A. (2009). Reasonableness in grant proposal writing. Studies in
communication sciences, 9
(2), 171-189.

Mikelonis, V. M., Betsinger, S. T., & C. Kampf, C. (2004). Grant seeking in an electronic age.
New York, NY: Pearson Education.

National EMSC Data Analysis Resource Center (NEDARC). (2011). What is a grant? Retrieved
from: http://nedarc.med.utah.edu/writingGrants/whatIsAGrant.html

Recreation, Arts, Museums, and Parks (RAMP). (2007).  2007 RAMP recipients. Retrieved from:
http://www.co.weber.ut.us/ramp/PDFs/2007_RAMP_grant_awards.pdf

Trotter, R. (2011, July 8). Farmers market opens in Ogden. Standard-Examiner. Retrieved from:
http://www.standard.net/stories/new-weeknight-farmers-market-opens-ogden

Weber state gets $80,000 grant for satellite frame. (1994, October, 26). Deseret News. Retrieved

from: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/383557/WEBER-STATE-GETS-80000-
GRANT-FOR-SATELLITE-FRAME.html


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Grant Writing

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Building Strategy and Managing Content with Editorial Calendars

“Share your tweets on Twitter!” “Share your thoughts on Facebook!” “Share your insights on a blog!” “Pin us on Pinterest!”

“Content is king” is a quote that’s been trotted out, hung up, reused, and overshared since Microsoft’s Bill Gates originally said it back in 1996. Sixteen years later and that simple phrase still holds true for marketers, but it has become somewhat more complicated. It’s not as easy as setting up a Facebook page and watching the revenue skyrocket.

In fact, I submit there isn’t a marketing communicator today who isn’t fretting over what content their company is sharing. Sure, a few may review campaign performances, track leads, or monitor budgets for a little while, but then they go right back to fretting over sharing content.

The content you share becomes your brand. So while content may still be king, the success of your content depends on it being contextually relevant, platform-specific, keyword-optimized, strategically guided, and customized for buyer personas. If you want online marketing success, you need more than a Pinterest account, you need a plan.

I know I am not the only marketing professional who has fielded the following questions from upper management: “Do we need a Twitter? What’s a Twitter, anyway?” The mistake in those questions, of course, is that they start with the channel, not the message or the audience. Having “a Twitter” just for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon isn’t a solid strategy for any communication team, but what’s worse, is finding out that once you get the Twitter account, or the YouTube channel, or the blog, or the Facebook page, now you have a real problem. Now you have to say something, share something, post something. And you need to keep doing it tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. So now you have to fill that pipeline with content, and not just any content, but content that speaks to your brand and is worth your customer’s time. What you share needs to be, well, “sharable.”

Your audience and your channel will dictate how often you need to share some sharable content. But whatever the appropriate time interval is, you need to fill it. What are you going to say today, tomorrow, and next month? The boom of social media and content marketing in the past five years has turned communications and marketing professionals into publishers. Our brands are being delivered in the form of content, and to be successful, we need to think and act like publishers, too.

Enter the editorial calendar.

Technique No. 1: Marketers are now publishers. Publishers plan ahead with editorial calendars.

Former journalists and magazine writers are familiar with editorial calendars, but this is a newer tool for corporate communicators and marketers accustomed to short-term marketing campaigns. However, a good calendar won’t just tell you a story idea and the date it will get published. Today’s numerous channels and SEO-optimized world requires special considerations for effective editorial calendars.

Joe Pulizzi, speaker, author, and founder of the Content Marketing Institute, said in a May 23, 2012,  article that most marketers are failing to find success with their content marketing by “a sheer lack of editorial calendar usage.” Yet, it’s the most useful exercise for producing and publishing valuable content on the numerous platforms that businesses employ today.

How complicated does it need to be? It can be as simple as a spreadsheet, with dates running down one side, and channels and topics in the corresponding rows. For communicators and marketers, the editorial calendar shows the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of your corporate story. It tells you what key messages you want to share with your audience, how often you are going to share particular topics, what voice and tone you should write in, who will do the writing, and through which channels those messages will be published. This allows for being strategic about both your messages and how you time them. It is easy to post a few great messages on Twitter a few times, but day after day, after day? You need a strategy and a plan, and the editorial calendar is the tool to get you there. Use it.

Tip! Ideally, the marketing professional has created a comprehensive content strategy for all messaging, channels and audiences. The editorial calendar grows from the content strategy, which is part of the overall communication plan and which includes carefully mapped user or buyer personas. There one gains the insight of what topics your audience will respond to and how they prefer to receive their communication from you, thus informing your topics and channels. Even without such a document, communication professionals should have a clear idea of how best to reach their audiences, and the types of messages their companies share.

Technique No. 2: Define Your Calendar’s Purpose to Keep it Bloat-free

At first glance, the calendar’s purpose seems obvious: the above-mentioned “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of your content strategy. However, there are some variables and considerations for those rows and columns that merit exploration. Careful thought about the purpose of your calendar will tell you which variables to fit and which don’t. It is critical that a good editorial calendar be usable and have enough of the right information, but it’s easy to let it get bloated with too much information, so decisions need to be made on how to structure and format your calendar.

It is important to think about the users of the calendar. Ask questions to get at your objectives. Will more than one writer need access to it?  What about the head of marketing—or other teams? If your calendar will be viewed by multiple teams, you will need to make it fairly streamlined and easy to review. The answers to your questions will guide how you build your calendar. For example, are there specific objectives you need to accomplish with your calendar? If tracking the success of each content piece is important, include columns for analytics. If aligning with specific marketing promotions or budgets, include those promotional dates, events and collateral. If integrating a whole brand story is the most important component, be sure to include all various channels and any corresponding marketing pieces. It’s possible that you may need more than one version of the calendar, such as one master calendar, and then a more detailed calendar that breaks out the variables such as analytics, budgets, review processes, and so forth. Think carefully about your objectives and strive to leave out those things that don’t serve your purpose.

Tip! It’s easy to get too many variables on your spreadsheet, which then requires so much scrolling that it renders your calendar nearly unusable. If you can’t read the basics—the information that is most relevant to you and your team— at a glance, then you need to make some decisions. It might help to list all the variables and prioritize them, leaving off the lowest priority items. Less is definitely more when it comes to what should be a functional and easy-to-maintain tool.

Technique No. 3: Curate for a Fresh Mix of Content

Content curation is a hot topic in marketing, thanks to social media and Pinterest. Curation means that you are the filter for all the information out there that your users or buyers might be interested in, and which is relevant to your business. Your job as a curator is to find content users might like and share it with them on your own channels, with appropriate citation. Providing links to stories, inviting users to contribute ideas and sharing media are excellent ways to keep your mix of content fresh, as well as provide a service of relevancy for your users or buyers. Curation is also important to lightening the amount of company-driven topics in your mix of media and channels, and can spark a fresh perspective on the types of content you want to build into your calendar in the future.

Another benefit of content curation is it extends your brand’s “personality” and voice by the addition of different writers and visuals. Of course, the smart marketer picks curated items that are relevant, and makes them “on topic” through discussion and commentary. Another aspect to this technique is to embrace a variety of platforms and media.

Tip! If the idea of content curation is new to you, spend some time on Pinterest to get a good feel for it. On Pinterest, the user creates collections of visual content, grouped into categories. This is an excellent exercise for practicing your curation skills. Additionally, once you get a feel for Pinterest, you will understand how to “optimize” your content to make it “pinnable” (hint: visuals!) if that is one of your strategic goals.

Example: a basic, Excel-based editorial calendar from the Content Marketing Institute:

http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/EditorialCalendar.jpg

Top 10 Tips for Making an Editorial Calendar Work for You

  1. Pick the right tool. Finding the right tool may require some trial and error, but there are many options. Most often, content marketers use Google Drive Spreadsheets or Microsoft Excel, or bloggers might use the WordPress Editorial Calendar plug-in. However, there are free and paid services such as KaPost, Compendium, DivvyHQ, Wunderkit, Central Desktop, Contently, and more that might serve your purposes. Search on the terms “Content Marketing Platform Calendar” to find a myriad of choices worthy of investigation.
  2. Keep a master calendar separate from detailed ones. The master calendar gives a big-picture view of ALL of your content deliverables at a glance. It should show dates, content types, channels, and a general overview. This is very helpful for the keeper of the calendar, and ideal for sharing with teammates or upper-level management when they want to see a high-level view of your content plan. It is likely that you will need to use one or more detailed calendars as an adjunct, especially if you have several writers or numerous specialized platforms or topics. One strategy if using Excel is to use multiple tabs to break out your editorial plan by channel or by topic.
  3. Start with holidays and events. One quick way to get started is to fill in the holidays that might drive stories or the events that are meaningful to your company. These are easiest to fill in and can get you going in the beginning. Your business may or may not be seasonally based, like traditional magazine publishing, but many companies drive promotions around holidays, and defining your key dates is a quick win.
  4. Customize the calendar for your needs. There is no one calendar template that will work for every company. One person’s meticulous budget detail will not be effective for another person, who is tracking “shares” and “likes.” Include those variables in your calendar that are important to your company (hint: go back to your content strategy or overall marketing plan). A single blogger will have different needs than those of a large company, with numerous channels, promotions, writers, or events.  Also, a calendar can be built magazine-style with the topic first rather than the dates. Keep working your iterations to figure out what will work best for you.
  5. Plan for more than topic and date. Be sure to include the variables that connect your content to your strategy and make the calendar most useful: content type, channel, visuals, writer/producer, targeted or segmented user personas, call to action, keywords and meta data, categories, tags, tone or mood, publish date, status, metrics, and notes. Seeing the connections between your strategies and your content, as well as the results, is critical to measuring your success. Of course, avoid overloading your calendar with so much detail it becomes unusable. See technique No. 2 for more on de-bloating your calendar.
  6. Define your user or buyer personas. It is a basic tenant of communication that one must know one’s audience to be an effective communicator. You need to find out what is important and relevant to them, and how they like to receive communication so that your messages have a chance of reaching them. Additionally, you may design different messages for different segments of your audience and this is critical to know when filling in your editorial calendar. You will be able to see at a glance if you are neglecting a certain segment or monitor if your timing is appropriate.
  7. Know what is customer-centric and what is company-centric. In other words, don’t talk about yourself all the time. Social media luminaries often cite numbers such as a 60/40 split of how often you should post topics about your company’s products and services versus discussing topics more focused on your customers’ needs and interests. Every industry is likely to have its own ratio and the savvy marketer will have a “feel” for balancing conversation with promotion. The important tip to remember is that your calendar should reflect the difference so you can keep your messaging in check.
  8. Build process and workflow into your calendar. Prior to publishing, many companies have a branding or editing review, approval on visuals, or may be followed by a legal review. Your workflow may be shorter or simpler, but build it into your dates so you don’t fall behind on deliverables.
  9. Use your calendar for idea generation. Once you see your topics and channels all scheduled out, it sparks connections between content and strategy that will generate more ideas for the pipeline. Don’t be afraid to include future ideas as a column in your calendar.
  10. Remember to include curated content in your calendar. Sharing other’s imagery or commenting on other’s stories (always with appropriate credits and links back to the source, of course) is a hallmark of social media, and is an important strategy in giving your company-centric promotional topics a rest. Your company’s goals and strategy will determine how much curated content you include in your editorial calendar, but be sure to build this into the mix.

Interview with the Experts

I interviewed two content strategists to get their feedback on how best to incorporate editorial calendars into the communicator’s tool box. They work differently, one as a consultant who runs her own blog, and one as a team member at a large agency. I knew their answers would be somewhat different, showing how an editorial calendar must be customized to the user and situation, so I felt both response sets warranted inclusion.

Experts

Ahava Leibtag is a digital strategist and content creator, and president of Aha Media Group, LLC, a digital content consultancy based in Washington, D.C. Ahava also runs her own blog “Online it ALL Matters.” She answered my questions primarily from the point of view of a blog owner.

Jennifer Carroll is a social media and content marketing strategist at Pole Position Marketing in Canton, Ohio. Jen answered the questions primarily from the point of view of running several initiatives with clients of the agency as well as managing the content on the company blog.

Interview

1. Do you keep an editorial calendar for your blog / website / social media? If yes, can you describe it? For example, is it a broad, top-level view or is it very detailed?

Ahava: It’s an Excel spreadsheet with ideas on one side, a list of what’s been published thus far, the date, and how many views the blog post received.

Jen: For Pole Position Marketing’s e-Marketing Performance blog (EMP), I keep a high-level editorial calendar and use WordPress Editorial Calendar plug-in to keep everything organized. With EMP, a detailed editorial calendar isn’t necessary because we’ve got very committed bloggers on our team. Little direction is required.

On the other hand, with clients who ask me to oversee their editorial process and content creation, I keep a much more detailed editorial calendar – down to the actual topic by publication date. This calendar is updated on a quarterly basis using input from a comprehensive marketing plan, analytics, keyword research, and sales/customer service.

2. How do you prioritize your key messages / brand stories into creating an editorial calendar? For example, do you schedule stories about particular topics at the same day of the week, every week or some other interval?

Ahava: I follow a set schedule in a round robin—I blog about four topics. However, if something is newsworthy or I get excited about a topic, I’ll “break” the sequence.

Jen: I think it’s important to recognize that a company’s “key messages” and “brand stories” should only account for a small portion of a website’s overall content – especially with the blog. Far more important is delivering information, opinions and ideas that customers and potential customers are looking for.

In fact, key messages and brand stories should be developed with customer personas, keyword research and sales/customer service feedback in mind. Otherwise, you run a real risk of sounding “markety” and pushing your own agenda, which doesn’t work very well with today’s savvy, yet distracted, content consumers.

As for scheduling stories, I recommend at least two or three blog posts per week. The blog itself should focus on only five to 10 main topics that center on a business theme or personality.

How you schedule posts depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with your overall marketing plan. Are you writing a series on a particular subject? Do you have an upcoming event? Are you launching a new product? Are you entering a new market? Are you experiencing customer service problems? Blog posts should align with your goals and be directed toward actual and potential customers.

3. Have you developed audience or buyer personas for your brand’s messages and do you build your calendar specifically for their interests/needs? If so, how often do you freshen your personas?

Ahava: I have in my mind who the blog is for, but I don’t have set personas. I do, however, have set personas for who I’m trying to reach with my business—but that’s leads vs. people who may be interested just by coming across my stuff.

Jen: See my answers for question two. As for freshening personas, I think you should do research on an annual basis or any time you’re launching a new product, entering a new market, etc.

4. How do you balance the interests of the audience persona with the needs of the company? In other words, how do you determine a ratio of content that is “fun, interesting and sharable” from the audience perspective, while also informing, persuading and marketing your company’s services/product? Do you develop an actual percentage in your editorial calendar or just “wing it”?

Ahava: I think all my content is fun, interesting and sharable. Otherwise, why would I bother?

Jen: “Fun, interesting and sharable” content – AKA compelling content – is a great goal. It’s optimal when you can create content that is both compelling and satisfies a marketing goal. However, that doesn’t always happen.

There are two key things to remember. First, many people are searching for information and want to learn. They don’t need to be entertained, and they don’t want a hard sell. Second, a blog is not the place market your company. It should be interesting, informative and softly persuasive, and it should reflect the personality of the writer.

Now, that’s not to say you can’t include a recommended solution to a problem with some pertinent product/service links, when appropriate. But, save your obvious marketing messages and strong calls to action for your website pages.

5. What do you do if you have one post planned for a day—it’s one of your key brand topics—but a news story hits that is relevant (to your brand and your audience, although not the topic you planned to post that day)? Do you drop your planned story and jump on the news of the day, choosing between a story that is relevant to the moment or one that is focused on your brand’s content strategy? What are the dangers of both choices?

Ahava: Yes. There is no danger.  My blog doesn’t have that huge a following that I might be disappointing someone. It’s a thought leadership blog so there are no ideas about journalistic needs or serving the public.  Most of my traffic comes within a month after a blog post, so I’m pretty sure my readers are people who are searching for this information and find it later.

Jen: I recommend relevance over a key brand topic. Take advantage of the interest that already exists and use it as a platform to share your angle. Failing to do so can leave the stage wide open for your competitors; you don’t want to be the company writing the “me too” post. Content strategy must be flexible enough to allow for this type of deviation.

6. There are many variables that can go into building an editorial calendar in a spreadsheet (story idea, assigned writer, publish date, removal date, channel, medium, story beats, timing, public events, holidays, meta data, etc.). What advice do you have to prioritize calendar variables to keep it clean and usable for many people?

Ahava: Get software if you have a more than three-person team.

Jen: Without hesitation, I recommend using a plug-in like WordPress Editorial Calendar (there are others). It makes it a breeze to keep everything in place and moving forward. If you use a spreadsheet, it should be on Google Docs/Drive so that all contributors can access it to see assignments and deadlines.

As for priorities, I think each writer must know his or her assigned story, core keywords and first-draft deadline. The rest of the variables are the editor’s primary concern. I recommend monthly or quarterly editorial planning meetings in person, via conference call or Skype to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

7. Can you talk about if or how often you share your editorial calendar with teammates, committees or executives? Do you ever experience top-level managers or executives wanting to change scheduled topics randomly, and how do you stick to your editorial strategy?

Ahava: I don’t have that problem.

Jen: I would mainly with small- to medium-sized businesses with just one layer of management or none at all. When we plan the editorial calendar for the quarter, all the key players who want or need to be involved are part of the conversation. This seems to keep “random changes” to a minimum.

8. If you work with a variety of content producers, how do you organize their assignments? Per  beat, with the same writer tweaking their piece for each channel and medium (Twitter, Facebook, intranet, external site, blog, YouTube), or do you use different producers for each channel, with them taking the original message and customizing it for their specialty? How do you ensure the “voice” of the brand is being properly represented if you use different media and channels?

Ahava: N/A

Jen: Again, I work mainly with small- to medium-sized businesses with limited resources. In most cases, it’s the same person writing channel-appropriate messages for each piece of content.

In social media, people like to connect with other people, not necessarily the “voice of a brand.” In fact, most people who are responsible for pushing out company content with company profiles also have their own personal social profiles. Often, I recommend that a company’s channel bio include a link to those personal profiles. That way readers can research the personality behind everything, giving the company a “face.”

And, right on the heels of that recommendation comes a second one: have a good social media policy in place. It should focus on what employees are encouraged to say and do (not a big long list of no-no’s) while using social media channels, especially when content pertains to the company. Of course, you may need to include a few key reminders of what’s not acceptable, but everything should be in harmony with common sense in communication.

9. How do you measure if your content is hitting the right note with your audience? Can you talk about any specific measurements and analytics you use and how those analytics then inform your editorial calendar?

Ahava: I look at my analytics obsessively but the truth is, the best feedback I get is from word of mouth. Most people who I meet tell me they follow my blog and find it very helpful.

Jen: When it comes to analytics, I take a page from Avinash Kaushik: segment, segment, segment. With content, referring sites and onsite visitor behavior is key. From referring sites, we might look at: What keywords? What landing pages? What bounce rate? For visitor behavior, we might look at: time on site (distribution), length of visit (seconds). What can I learn from those who spent the most time (had certain session length, consumed what content, etc.)?

Any report you look at should give you actionable insights, such as what content is resonating, what keywords are working best and ways most people finding my content. Then, assess the upcoming quarter’s content plan and determine how it needs to be tweaked (more posts on a particular topic, more of a particular form of content, etc.) in order to improve the visitor experience.

10. Do you follow a particular workflow for every piece of content: such as story ideas, writing, fact-checking, editing, legal, or other processes, and if so, do you build that into your editorial calendar?

Ahava: Sometimes.  I try to follow the plan for the month, but if something strikes me as being powerful I go for it.

Jen: I am a publisher, so I must think like one. First, I generate a quarterly calendar of topics and expected publication dates based on the four biggies I mentioned earlier: comprehensive marketing plan, analytics, keyword research and sales/customer service (voice of the customer). Then, I determine a first-draft deadline based on how much time I’ll need for research (fact checking), interviews, editing and legal, as necessary. Some stories will need more scrutiny than others. I try to make sure I build all that time into the process, so that I’m not running around at the last second looking for something to publish.

11. How do you think about your role? Do you consider yourself a storyteller, a curator, a content producer, a publisher, or any of these things?

Ahava: I consider myself someone who thinks about digital strategy and is in service to others to share what I know, think and dream. Practitioners in heavy duty marketing jobs need help—the ground is shifting too quickly for them to know what to do next.  So I try to inform their decisions with data and observations from the field.

Jen: Any and all, depending on the assignment.

12. Do you work from the channel first or the message first? When is it appropriate to focus on one versus the other?

Ahava: Your message should never CHANGE for a channel, it should adapt. I think your personas have to be the guide for that. If you’ve determined your personas hang out on FB more than Twitter, then you should modify your message for FB.

Jen: Each social channel has a unique audience and protocol. I make sure my message is formatted to match.

13. Have you had any feedback from users that you update too often or not frequently enough in your mix of channels? What advice do you have for determining the “just often enough” sweet spot to which your audience is most responsive?

Ahava: Nah, I try to let my personality show in Tweets that aren’t about my business and I don’t obsessively share my stuff. If people find it, great.  If they don’t, I was wrong about it being useful.  Social media requires a long time to build an audience.

Jen: Main feedback on Pole Position’s channel is that we talk about ourselves and our content too much. So, I’m always trying to be a better curator while still getting our content out there. But, there’s only one of me, and sometimes there’s not enough time in the day.

14. How do you keep “inventory” of all your content? Do you keep a rolling content audit (say quarterly, monthly or yearly?) that then informs your editorial calendar? 

Ahava: It’s all on the spreadsheet.

Jen: If you’re developing a quarterly calendar, all your documentation should be available at a glance. The plug-in calendar is a big help, too.

15. Do you have writers producing new stories most of the time, or do you often take existing messages and “refresh and repackage” them as needed to meet your overall content strategy?

Ahava: I have writers who specialize in certain topics for the blog but I’m always involved in that process—editing, brainstorming, etc.

Jen: Our CEO Stoney deGeyter has been blogging regularly since 1998, so he’s got an amazing repository of content that he refreshes and repackages. That’s a bit of an anomaly in this industry. I’m more of the norm. I generally write new stories for the Pole Position Marketing blog, as well as for clients’ blogs because I don’t have much to repurpose.

Conclusion

Reaching customers today is a bigger job than it used to be due to the extensive variety of channels and message types available. Continually producing and managing high-quality content that must be fed to a variety of platforms, while also attracting, converting and retaining customers is no small task. The best way for a communicator to manage this process is to add the editorial calendar to their tool box, and customized it to their needs and objectives.

Resources

Articles

Buyer, Lisa (January 12, 2012). How to Create a Social Media Editorial Calendar. Retrieved from Search Engine Watch website. http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2136988/How-to-Create-a-Social-Media-Editorial-Calendar

Linn, Michele (August 16, 2010). How to Put Together an Editorial Calendar for Content Marketing. Retrieved from Content Marketing Institute website. http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/2010/08/content-marketing-editorial-calendar/

Pulizzi, Joe (May 23, 2012). 12 Challenges that Stop Marketers from Creating Epic Content Marketing. Retrieved from Content Marketing Institute website. http://blog.junta42.com/2012/05/epic-content-marketing-challenges/

Rach, Melissa (July 21, 2011). The Dirt on Editorial Calendars. Retrieved from Brain Traffic Blog.
http://blog.braintraffic.com/2011/07/the-dirt-on-editorial-calendars/

Rosenbaum, Steve (April 27, 2012). 5 Tips for Great Content Curation by Steve Rosenbaum. Retrieved from Mashable website. http://mashable.com/2012/04/27/tips-great-content-curation/

Book

Halvorson, Kristina. (2010). Content Strategy for the Web. Berkeley, CA:  New Riders.

Cartoon

Cartoon by Tom Fishburne of Marketoonist http://tomfishburne.com/2011/11/social-media-monitoring.html shared under Fishburne’s “Free to use in blog posts” licensing option.

Experts

Ahava Leibtag’s blog: Online It ALL Matters. http://onlineitallmatters.blogspot.com/2012/06/healthcare-marketing-10-words-you.html

Jennifer Carroll’s LinkedIn Profile:
http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=20558627&authType=name&authToken=oXqC&goback=%2Egmp_1879338&trk=anet_mfeed_profile

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