Reporting for Duty, Here at Home

The Big 3
TG with TMC

For Veterans Day 2014, Talking GOOD is partnering with one of the Nation's most well-know service organizations, The Mission Continues, to recognize veterans who are making a difference here at home. Drawing from The Mission Continues’ community of more than 3,000 veterans, I am profiling three individuals who continue to give back, even as they endeavor to find their own paths. Each story is intensely personal, but collectively they convey themes that describe a generation of veterans. If you are moved by their stories, we invite you to share them with your own communities via social media. Thank you!

Here are the profiles:


Tina Thomas, age 34, Washington, DC: Veteran Tina Thomas draws from her dark experiences in the foster care system, to make it today as a professional and a mother, while inspiring others to rise above emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. (Read more)

Jeffrey Courter, age 56, Chicago, IL: By the time 49-year-old Jeffrey Courter left for Afghanistan, the husband and father of three had served his country as a Marine, a Navy Reservist, and an Army National Guardsman. Today, this accomplished author, public speaker, and seminarian is a serial volunteer, even as he seeks full-time employment. (Read more)


Nick Ellis, age 30, Palm Beach, FL: Veteran Nick Ellis had already overcome a traumatic brain injury by the time he re-entered college after Iraq. But something was still missing. Today he is a voice of inspiration, serving at risk youth in his community as he builds his own future as a professional, a husband, and a father.(Read more)

The Tweet that Changed Everything

It was 4:45 A.M. on Friday, September 21, 2012, when I realized I was under attack by malicious insurgent hackers. What other explanation was there? Until that moment, my upstart blog was drawing an average of 50 views per day (which is being generous). But on this particular morning, just five hours after posting a new profile about Kind Campaign founder Lauren Parsekian, I had already cleared 1,000 views. WTF!?! I went to my morning yoga class, but found it difficult to focus, beset with images of that cyber-criminal who was dispassionately crippling my Wordpress site from a coffee house halfway around the world. By 8:00 A.M., when I returned to my desk, Google Analytics was reporting well over 3,000 page views.

I emailed Lauren, who was based in Malibu, CA, to let her know what was happening and to see if she had any idea why her profile was receiving so much traffic. As concern mixed with excitement, I considered other possibilities, like the fact that Lauren is drop dead gorgeous. After all, it is well documented that attractive people draw more clicks. But 3,000? Before breakfast? Not in a million years, could I have guessed the real reason this was happening. And when I read Lauren’s email response a few minutes later, my jaw dropped:

My fiancé is an actor. His name is Aaron Paul. He is on Breaking Bad, and he really loved the article and he tweeted it early this morning. His twitter name is @aaronpaul_8

In that moment, I realized three things: 1) A single outlying data point will destroy one’s ability to read a Google Analytics graph, 2) I needed to do a better job researching my profile subjects, and 3) Talking GOOD was quickly becoming more than I had ever imagined.

On the Cusp of 100

It's been exactly two years since that tweet. To my amazement and great delight, Talking GOOD is poised to release its milestone 100th profile, scheduled for this November. I cannot yet disclose who it's going to be, but I'll say that it is a true honor to be profiling this individual and a fitting way to close out the first 100 (more on this next month).

“The first 100” … what a group it’s been. From 16-year-old Zach Bonner, whose homeless advocacy inspired a major motion picture; to Augie Nieto, whose success in business is being eclipsed only by his heroism in facing ALS. There was Ethan Zohn, the 2001 winner of Survivor:Africa, who survived Hodgkin's lymphoma (twice) and launched an organization to promote HIV education; and Maggie Doyne, the young woman from America who opened an orphanage in Nepal at age 19. We met Derrius Quarles, the kid from Chicago who, against all odds, earned a full-ride to Morehouse College and now teaches at-risk students how to thrive. And we met Joe Jones, a former drug user and deadbeat dad who now – among many other responsibilities – serves as an advisor on President Obama’s Task Force on Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families.

This just scratches the surface. To date, almost 100 people have used the Talking GOOD platform to open up about their extraordinary lives and how living with purpose is as great a gift to themselves as it it to others. With each profile that I write, I inevitably learn something new about myself.

Turning up the Heat!

With a dedicated website, a talented team of national contributing writers, frequent profile pick-up by other media sources, and an ever-growing community of followers, Talking GOOD will continue to profile inspiring people from around the world, who are making a difference and leading lives of purpose. But this is just the beginning.

Back in July, we teamed up with The Mission Continues to shine the spotlight on military veterans who continue to serve their country here at home. Together, we conducted a national search for veterans who have inspiring stories to tell and we'll be featuring them on Talking GOOD (and hopefully elsewhere) this coming Veterans Day (11/11/14). In 2015, we aim to partner with other organizations like The Mission Continues who champion important causes worthy of attention.

In addition, we are launching a corporate sponsorship program called "Talking GOOD Champions" in which companies can profile change-makers from their own extended communities via the Talking GOOD platform. For example, Infinite PR asked it's national client base of professional service firms to nominate the people they wanted to see profiled. Together, we zeroed in on two individuals who are doing outstanding work in the legal world, and we'll be featuring their "championed" profiles later this year. For socially conscious businesses that want to engage their communities in a unique and meaningful manner, a Talking GOOD sponsorship is worth exploring.

Other things we're exploring for the year ahead include the increased usage of original video, and an E-book chronicling the first 100 profiles.

By the way, if you're not yet receiving our periodic newsletters with new profiles, please click on this link to subscribe. You'll receive about 2 - 4 emails with new inspiring profiles each month, and I promise that your information will not be shared with anyone.

As always, thank you for reading and for your continued support!

A new kind of P.R.

I recently wrote an article for Smart CEO in which I distilled my entire 20-year public relations and communications career into a single piece of advice. Here’s what I said:

Recognize the people that make a difference to you. These words could change your entire approach to marketing. A brief excerpt from the article:

A friend recently told me there are two kinds of people: the ones who walk into a social situation and boldly declare, “Here I am!” and the ones who declare, “There you are!” Both attendees draw the attention of the crowd, but for very different reasons. Whether you’re an individual at a party or a business fighting for customers in a crowded marketplace, recognizing other people communicates partnership, trust and gratitude. Self-interest is no longer the obvious driver, so your audience perceives it as more genuine. In this era of corporate citizenship and social interaction, allocating marketing resources to recognize others says more about the kind of business you are than any self-promoting campaign ever could.

This is what sets Communicate GOOD apart from other P.R. agencies. In fact, we no longer refer to ourselves as a “public relations” agency. We practice Public Recognition. It’s the same end game as old school P.R. (credibility and positive recognition for our clients), but with new rules of engagement for a social world. From our recent work with Foundation Source, to the Mission Continues, to Givecorps, we always begin by asking the questions: “Who do we champion," "Who do we exist for," "Who should we be recognizing?”

This isn’t just business advice; this is life advice. It’s the guiding principle that inspires my professional and extracurricular activities. It’s the reason I practice communications, and the impetus for launching Talking GOOD, a platform dedicated to recognizing people who are making a difference.

Whether you’re thinking about your 2015 marketing goals, looking to be more successful in social media, or wanting to honor someone important to you, start with a Public Recognition plan. If you like the concept, but don't really know where to begin, give me a call and I'd be happy to chat about it with you.

To read the entire Smart CEO piece, visit this link:

What it feels like to sit in the hot seat ...

Sunday Series Intro

I've been in PR for a long time. I've watched as too many practitioners, businesses and organizations, screamed "look at me; look at us; look how great we are." While at times it is appropriate to self-promote (ahem ... this post), I firmly believe that the most enduring, engaging, successful, and genuine, PR campaigns are built upon recognizing others. It's what I've dedicated myself to professionally and through my philanthropy. On this day, I was privileged to have someone throw some of that recognition my way. Thank you Mark Brodinsky for this amazing write-up on everything we're doing with Talking GOOD. It felt nice (and a bit unsettling) to be answering the questions for a change.

The Sunday Series, with Mark Brodinsky


100 Tweeters of Social Good You Have to Follow in 2013


This is a re-post from Armchair Advocates

(where social media meets social good). I highly recommend checking out this list and following some -- or all -- of the people on it.


Each year, Armchair Advocates compiles a

list of

top Tweeters

in social good, cause marketing, corporate responsibility and nonprofit technology.  We have enjoyed following and learning from these tech-savvy influencers throughout the year.  This is not an exhaustive list; but we hope these social do-gooders will inspire you to tweet, act, and make a difference.

+Social Good

How can tech and new media make our world a better place? Join the conversation with 


 A project of the Social Good Summit.


Matthew Bishop

NY Bureau Chief, The Economist; co-author The Road From Ruin, Philanthrocapitalism & 

and In Gold We Trust?



Where Talent Meets Purpose.



Things that matter. Pass ‘em on.


Sean Gardner



 Ambassador, Huge 


 Fan, Surfer |


 Top 10 Social Media Influencer | Co-creator




The mission of this Twitter profile is to serve as a portal to all nonprofit organizations on Twitter [by only following nonprofits and nonprofit staff].


Beth Kanter

Let’s talk about networked approaches & social media for training and capacity building for the nonprofit sector that leverage learning and impact.


Allison Fine

Author of Momentum, co-author of The Networked Nonprofit, host of Social Good podcast. Thinking about social change.


Jennifer James

Lover of photography, travel. Founded


, Fast Co. Most Generous Social Media Maven; Writer: Gates, Babble, HuffPost, IRP Zambia, Tanzania Fellow


The Feast

#TheFeast gathers remarkable innovators from across industries to engage each other in creating world-shaking change. (Previously @alldaybuffet)


Charity Meets Style

Founder of Miss A | Charity Meets Style.™ Covering 21 cities w 1M+ readers/yr. As seen in: @VogueMagazine @Allure_magazine @Wmag @WashPost @Philanthropy @CNN


Katya Andresen

blogger, writer, nonprofit and cause marketer, Robin Hood Marketing author, Network for Good COO and mom of three


Claire Diaz-Ortiz

I innovate at Twitter, Inc. & wrote Twitter for Good. [Me: Speaker, Author, Blogger, MBA, Stanford/Oxford, Nonprofit Founder, World Wanderer.]


Allyson Kapin

Frogloop follows the latest trends in non-profit communications, marketing, fundraising and technology.


Melinda Gates

Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, businesswoman, and mother. Dedicated to helping all people lead healthy, productive lives.


Geoff Livingston

Marketing Strategist. Co-author, Marketing in the Round. Author, Welcome to the Fifth Estate. Agent for change.


Joe Waters

Blogger, Your guide to doing well and good. Cause Marketing for Dummies on sale now. This way you don’t have to hear my wicked Boston accent.


Kate Olsen

social good champion, cause marketing & CSR blogger, curious global citizen & sudoku fanatic (Director




) – opinions are my own


Susan McPherson

Passionate connector who tweets about global innovation, social entrepreneurship, #CSR, #causemarketing, fundraising, engagement strategies & hosts #CSRChat


Network for Good

We provide practical, free fundraising trainings for nonprofits, and resources and software that make it as easy to donate online as it is to shop online.


Alhoor Ladha

Partner & Head of Strategy, Purpose | Co-founder, The Rules ·


Social Impact

Global agency team that partners with nonprofits, foundations and corporations to build brands, mobilize advocates and demonstrate social impact.


Hope Mob

HopeMob is an amazing community of generous strangers that comes together to mob stories of need with real HOPE!


Mashable Social Good

News about social good events, innovations and non-profits from @Mashable.


Nick Kristof

New York Times columnist, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, co-author @Half the Sky,


Zoe Fox

@Mashable Content Coordinator + #socialgood writer | (Mis)using words for more than two decades


Dragon Fly Effect

Connect Social Media to Meaning. Proven strategies for harnessing the power of social media to drive social change by




. Socialgood


Small Act

Key donor intelligence.


Chelsea Krost

TV & Radio Talk Show Host of The Chelsea Krost Show, Millennial Lifestyle Spokesperson. @UbyKotex Advocate, Author, Philanthropist, Health Enthusiast.


Aman Singh

Experienced #Journalist; Blogger; Creative Communicator; #SocialMedia Strategist; Connecting #CSR, #sustainability, + #HR; Founder: Singh Solutions; ED @CSRwire


Ryan Scott

CEO of @Causecast. Social Entrepreneur/Investor pioneering Employee Engagement in CSR, Corporate Philanthropy, Volunteerism and Community Impact.


CSR Wire

CSRwire is a widely-respected digital #media platform for #CSR, #sustainability & #ImpInv #news, reports & commentary. Join our #community & share your news!


Global Giving

The world is full of problems. GlobalGiving is full of solutions. 10+ years, 1,000+ projects in 100+ countries in 140 characters.


Aaron Sherinian

In love w/ global conversations that lead to solutions…and my family! Tweeting about it all (Dad, PR, Social Good, Int’l Development and Policy). Tweets=mine.


Jessica Cohen

Social do-gooder. Sanity finder. Health & wellness writer at Babble. Media strategist. Sports nut. Carpooler. #actsofkindness #socialgood #payitforward



We bring together celebrities, fans and brands for social good & provide breaking news on how social media is changing our world!


Global Citizen

Take action. Earn points. See impact. #GlobalCitizen Festival 2013, Global Citizen Tickets and more.



The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s official Twitter page, dispensing news, advice, and commentary about the nonprofit world


Business for Social Responsibility – BSR

Community and information on sustainability around the globe. BSR works with its network of nearly 300 member companies to create a just and sustainable world.


Ashoka Changemakers

Follow us for the latest in innovation, social entrepreneurship and how you can make a difference. Why? Everyone Can Be a Changemaker.

@changemakers is the world’s fastest growing platform for social change, empowering millions to start and join campaigns for social change in their communities.


HuffPost Impact

Causes, social justice issues, actionable news and inspiring stories. Editors: @jessicaprois and @esgoldberg


Amy Neumann

Passionate for Good! #socialgood #nptech #sustainability Insatiably curious. Eternal optimist! PR & Marketing.


Morra Aarons Mele

Founder, WomenOnline/The Mission List; mom, online rabble rouser also




For Momentum

Leading cause marketing agency: Practical strategic partnership solutions w/real impact for companies, non-profits, agencies. Check out our BLOG.


Leon Kaye

I make the business case for #CSR & #sustainability. Write for @GuardianSustbiz @TriplePundit. @Inhabitat. Goal: internal sustainability & strategy comm.


Shelton Mercer III

Chief Operating Officer


|| Principal


|| Life/Leadership Coach I


at the corner of





Marcia Stepanek

Journalist, author, NYU faculty, social media strategist, new tech scribe, PopTech and SSIR blogger;


Gates Foundation

We work to help all people lead healthy, productive lives, focused on health, poverty, and opportunity. Follow our work: @gateshealth, @gatespoverty, @gatesed.


Henry Timms

Leading @92Y, Social Good Summit, #GivingTuesday. Following @josiahtimms


Chrysula Winegar





are two parts of the same whole. Tweeting on workplace reform and social media activism


Jennifer Burden

Founder of @worldmomsblog, a Forbes Top 100 Website for Women. Organizer, speaker, optimist. Lover of all things cultural and social good.


Full-time SAHM.


Trevor Neilson

Philanthropy, Finance, Technology



onPhilanthropy is a leading provider of News, Jobs, and Community for nonprofit and corporate professionals working in the philanthropic sector.


S. Stannard-Stockton

Sean Stannard-Stockton is the author of the Tactical Philanthropy blog and an investment advisor who specializes in serving philanthropic families.


Lucy Bernholz

Philanthropy wonk on rebelmouse


ONE Campaign

ONE is a hard-headed movement of 3 million people around the world fighting the absurdity of #extremepoverty.


Social Citizen

Emily, over


— inviting you to explore how the next generation is creating change through ideas, digital tools and people power with me.


Adam Hirsch

EVP, Emerging Media and Technology at @EdelmanDigital . Former COO/Current Advisor to @mashable and former CDO of


Arianna Huffington

president and editor-in-chief of the huffington post media group. mother. sister. flat shoe advocate. sleep evangelist.


Matt Flannery



Elaine Cohen

#CSR Consultant #Sustainability Reporter, Human Resources Professional, Ice Cream Addict, Author of CSR for HR – see


David Connor

Better business / CSR / sustainability / social enterprise / small business (SME) believer. Founder @coethica –

. Undisciplined runner.


Alice Korngold

Author, Leveraging Good Will.




consultant. Train/place corp execs on NGO/nonprofit boards.Blog



. Curiouser&curiouser!


Triple Pundit

CSR & sustainability news, direct from companies


Fabian Pattberg

Blogging and tweeting about topics of Sustainability, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Social Media.


Cara Jones

Storytellers For Good is a team of journalists and photographers who aim to tell and promote stories of people and organizations making a positive difference.


Caroyln Miles

@SavetheChildren Pres. & CEO. Champion for kid’s rights everywhere to survive/ thrive. Global, in the US – education, health, HIV/Aids, protection for children


Kris Putnam-Walkerly

Philanthropy consultant, evaluator, blogger & speaker. Mom and step-mom of five.


We run national cause campaigns. Tweets by CEO @nancylublin. Follow our designers @smithln @keri_goff. BizDev team @baylgreen @Naomi_NYC @muneerpanjwani


Jaclyn Schiff

Comms. Director @ASTMH | Host of Pangea podcast – where media meets the world | Zambia @IRPChirps Fellow | Lover of black licorice



Highlighting forces of good in the Twitter community.


Caroline Preston

Caroline Preston, senior reporter at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.


Social Earth

SocialEarth promotes social entrepreneurs, businesses and ideas. Tag #SocEnt. Tweets by @erikeliason @writerpollock @naiomieliason.


Echoing Green

Echoing Green – Think Big. Be Bold. Drive Change.


Sloane Berrent

Being the change I want to see in the world. SVP Digital Marketing @lippetaylor. Board member @shesthefirst. @thecausemo Founder. In love w/@tdavidson.


Wendy Harman

Director of Social Strategy for American Red Cross, but you can blame me for these tweets.


UN Foundation

Connecting people, ideas and resources with the United Nations.


Karen M. Sieminski

Digital Stylist – Inspired by #socialgood. Creative. #WomenLead. Cause/#nonprofit consultant. #GivingTuesday Ambassador


Mitchell Kutney

Hyper-engaged citizen; proponent for reimagining the roles of philanthropy and finance; cofounder of 


; blogger at 




GOOD is the global association of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits powering what works.



Passionate Stanford GSB Philanthropy Lecturer. Founder-SV2, Stanford PACS, & Giving 2.0. Author-Giving 2.0. Addictions: My Trophy Husband, Laughter & Generosity


Ryan Hodgson

Aussie dad & marketing/social media guy working for a PR company. Into philanthropy, music, running, travel. SVP at @WeberShandwick Founder of @TeamUp4NonProf


Stacey H. Weckstein

Heart-Centered Blogger, Community Manager & Social Media Strategist. Intuitive Visionary. Bold Pioneer. Snapshot of Inspiration. Mom.


3BL Media

CSR is more than press releases. It is videos, blogs, and more. 3BL is the leading distributor of CSR & sustainability news and content across the social web.


Carol Cone

Mother of Cause Marketing addicted to constant evolution of authentic cause linkages and deep social impact.


Myrdin Thompson

RESULTS-Grassroots Organizer US Poverty, Shot@Life Champion, MOMentumNation Cont. Ed., White House Champion of Change, Charity Miles All Star (runner), Writer


Farra Trompeter

VP @BigDuck — passionate about smart communications for nonprofits, online fundraising, branding, and activism. Brooklynite, LGBTQ advocate, foodie


Allison McGuire

Recovering actor. Anglophile. Love my #socialgood & #socialmedia work @Companies4Good. BU grad. Californian at heart. (RTs ≠ endorsements)


Third Eye Mom

I am an avid writer, volunteer, and world traveler who also advocates for Shot@Life and ONE Moms to end global poverty. Member of @globalteamof200


Susan Shiroma

Philanthropy & nonprofit specialist. Community leader. Disclaimer: I am employed by the Foundation Center. Tweets @SShiroma do not represent the FC. Views mine.


Ann Tran

Social media consultant, travel and tech writer. Lover of nature and wine. Forbes Top10 Social Media Influencer.


Robert Rosenthall

Head Comm guy at VolunteerMatch. Look for tweets on #nonprofits #socialgood #CSR #nptech #sm4sg #socent & #media. I heart OAK.


Nonprofit Quarterly

NPQ is the nonprofit sector’s leading management journal. Tweets on nonprofit trends, news, democratic activism, philanthropy and more.


Lorey Campese

@Oxfam Humanitarian Campaigner ¦ Specialize in digital campaigns ¦ #ArmsTreaty, #Syria, & #UN ¦ Fan of @controlarms ¦ Views my own but you’re welcome to borrow.


Adam Grant

Wharton professor and author of GIVE AND TAKE. Dad, former springboard diver and magician, Anagram aficionado, wannabe superhero, but only a supertaster.


Mia Farrow

I’m trying.


Alexandra Bornkessel

I believe in the heart of a person–power of the people. Apply social innovation, marketing & tech for good @RTI_Intl. Professor @ AU. Advocate @Research_MS.


Charles Bentley*

U.S. diplomat [@statedept Foreign Service Officer] tweeting #socialgood / #development / #diplomacy / #CSR / Founder of [Tweets=opinion]


Armchair Advocates* is a platform for sharing, connecting & discussing trends in


in an increasingly digital age.





My thoughts on Facebook's "Charitable" endeavor,


Have you tuned in to the growing controversy around Facebook's new venture It's being billed as a global effort to bring the Internet to everyone? Many people are concerned that what is being presented as a charitable endeavor is really just a front for growing FB's market in developing nations. Others have pointed to Google's Loon Project as a more altruistic manifestation of the same goal -- Internet for all. A key difference between the two projects, articulated by a commenter on an article from The Verge says: "Facebook is offering Facebook to the third world, Google is offering The Internet (including, even, Facebook)."

I, for one, am not opposed to businesses that pursue noble objectives even if they do benefit said company. I just think they need to be transparent about that fact. Facebook is definitely positioning as charitable in nature (they even took a dot ORG web address). This combined with their track record for seeking "world domination," is why they're now facing this backlash.

In my humble opinion.

A TED Talk you need to watch!


I'll keep this post short and let the video do the talking.

In early 1998,  some friends asked me to join them in this thing called the Boston to New York AIDS Ride. It would involve getting on a bike, pedaling for 260+ miles over 3 days, and raising a gargantuan $1,800 to benefit AIDS charities. At that point in my life, I had never raised money for a cause, I had not been on a bike since pre-driver's license, and I most certainly had never participated in a large-scale event with a predominantly gay and lesbian population.

The ride changed me. It taught me that I could undertake physical challenges never thought possible; that epic undertakings have the power to galvanize tremendous support for causes; and that diversity is something to be embraced, not feared. It also introduced me to cycling.  This single event, which happened on one amazing three-day weekend in September '98 did all of this for me. Major ripples in the pond of my life, which have continued to grow -- not diminish -- from their point of origin.

The man responsible for this ride was Dan Pallotta,  founder of Pallotta TeamWorks, and innovator of the multiday AIDSRides and Breast Cancer 3-Days. In 2002, after raising unprecedented amounts of money for causes, Dan's company went out of business. His sponsors abandoned him and he was vilified by the media for being an unethical leader. His story is outlined in great detail in news articles, in his book Uncharitable, and in the TED talk featured above. In my heart, I knew Dan had been wronged, but I was unable to articulate why. Now, I don't have to because this fantastic TED talk -- one of the best I've seen -- does it succinctly and powerfully.

In 2007, I had the opportunity to take Dan out for lunch in Boston. I told him "thank you for changing my life."


Connecting with a Hero

Every week, one of my standard Talking GOOD questions has been: “WHO IS YOUR HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE?”

Almost every week, whenever it’s been possible, I’ve privately reached out to the interviewee’s “hero,” to see if they would respond to the person’s question on our blog (or by email). Well … after 45 weeks of trying, I am so unbelievably excited to share that philanthropist, Dr. David Suzuki, co-founder and former board member head of Canada’s David Suzuki Foundation has answered my request. Last Friday, his communications rep emailed me Dr. Suzuki’s response to featured do-gooder, Diane Moran.

Here was what Diane originally asked: “My male hero is David Suzuki. He has been a driving force in our society as a planet protector and champion of change. My question to him: Do you ever get discouraged with the many environmental issues like global warming and other obstacles that are among us today and how do you deal with that?

And Dr. Suzuki’s response: “I am honoured to be named as her male hero, but I'm just one of thousands of people working in our various ways to make Canada a better place. It has been very, very discouraging to watch Canada's rapid international decline from a country that talked about the value of wilderness and protecting the environment to one that is mocked at global conferences as a disruption in climate and biodiversity negotiations. What keeps me going is the grassroots activity and the widespread public support for environmental groups as a direct result of the government's attacks on them. -David Suzuki

I am so proud that Talking GOOD can serve as a platform to not only showcase someone’s inspirational story of giving back, but that it could serve as a direct conduit to that person’s hero. AMAZING! Please share this post, if this story moves you to. Thanks!!!

Rule #4: Don’t reside in the safety of the middle

Don't Reside in the Safety of the Middle

Today I'm going to jump ahead to rule #4 of my Communicate Good homepage video, which lists ten all-important “rules to live by” for communications and PR success. Rule #4 says: "Don't reside in the safety of the middle ... take a position and defend it." This seems especially appropriate today because I just wrote a somewhat polarizing opinion piece for the Baltimore Sun on the topic of Lance Armstrong. This is one of the more straightforward rules on my list, but it's also the one that I've seen broken most consistently in the past by clients. Here's what lies at the root of the problem.

The media is in the business of presenting issues in a black and white manner. An editorial, or opinion piece, is by definition an article that articulates a clear stance about something. Even news articles that aim to achieve the status of "fair and balanced," will do so by presenting both sides of an issue. In other words, reporters will seek quotes from sources who can articulate one side of the issue, and then they'll seek quotes from someone who can represent the other side of the issue.

Rarely will you hear a source in an article articulating BOTH sides of an issue. And even rarer will you find a source argue no sides of an issue (e.g., "this is a very complex issue and both arguments have merit and I personally have not decided where I stand yet on this topic").

My point is that you must be able to take a stance, articulate it, and then defend it, if you want to have success in the public arena. Conversely, if you are a person of prominence -- an entertainer, an athlete, a business magnate -- people will expect you to have opinions about things. Imagine if an athlete, when asked about the ethics of taking performance enhancing drugs, answered by saying: "It's a highly complex issue and I'm not yet sure where I stand on the matter." For a politician to appear ambivalent about anything at all is suicidal. After all, who wants a leader that doesn't have strong beliefs about issues and the courage to stand behind them with conviction?

The reason this is so much easier said than done is because every time we express a point of view, particularly in a public forum, we know that someone is going to disagree with us. That's scary stuff. Especially if you're not one for confrontation, or you don't like offending people, or you need validation from others to feel good about yourself, etc. It's not easy to stand up for something and open yourself up to being shot down by others.

It's also difficult to publicly declare something to be black or white because, as experts in our particular fields, we know that things are never black and white and that the world is filled with grayness and nuance. So why would we want to go public, in front of all our peers and diminish ourselves by saying something that seems one-dimensional?

Have you ever noticed just how many comments on popular news sites and blogs appear hateful, or at least argumentative in nature. It shouldn't come as a surprise. It's easier to attack someone who voices a position publicly than it is to stand alongside that person and risk being attacked as well.

My advice for business and organizational leaders who want to have more success in the media -- with the public in general -- is this: Don't reside in the safety of the middle ... take a position and defend it. This is even more important for people whose businesses appear to be outside the realm of controversy. If you're a CPA, become outspoken about changes in the tax code. An artist; become outspoken about  schools cutting back on art funding. The owner of a landscaping company; get angry about the plight of the small business owner, or become an outspoken proponent and purveyor of green landscaping techniques. You get the idea.

Last week, I decided to put this idea to the test on a topic around which I feel tremendous ambivalence -- Lance Armstrong. Without going into it here, I'll simply say that Lance evokes all kinds of internal dialogues for me. Do the means justify the ends? Does his work in the cancer community trump his improprieties on the bike? Is doping wrong if everyone is doing it? And so forth. But I knew that in order to land an op-ed piece in a major daily newspaper (The Baltimore Sun is still a major daily, right??), I would need to take a stance and defend it. So that is exactly what I did ... for better or worse. And you know what, I found it to be a healthy and empowering exercise.

There are plenty of people attacking Lance right now. Sure ... it's the easy position to take. And while I'm not going to blindly defend the guy -- after all I think much of what he did is deplorable -- I did want to say that I'm not ready to give up on him. It's what I feel in my heart. Read the comments and you'll see what people had to say. Beyond these, I received a healthy dose of emails direct to my inbox. Many took issue with what I had to say:

Either you are another Lance wanna be or you are delusional. Lance's illegal behavior over the years is exactly what is wrong with our country today.You are right the story is much larger than Lance the cyclist however Lance the human being as he exists is of no positive value. -Mark

But I also received some wonderfully supportive comments:

Just a quick note to say that Lance will always be a hero in my mind. I am a former Marine, cyclist and marathon runner. He has inspired me with his inspiring words and deeds throughout his life. Think about Lance this way, if he and all of the other riders were doping, he still beat them all. Case closed. -Joe Hann

I even received a very kind note from the CFO of LiveStrong, Greg Lee. Talk about getting your message out there!!

Personally, I've never been one to advance strong opinions on polarizing topics for many of the reasons that I cited above. I'm not a very political person and I don't like to undermine other people's beliefs. In fact, because of my work in PR, I've become so good at playing devil's advocate that I'll often shoot down my own opinions before I even have a chance to articulate them outwardly. So practicing the art of taking a stance and defending it, is a healthy one for me.

Give it a try. It'll not only benefit you in your day-to-day interactions, but it will make you a more effective representative for your business, and a stronger spokesperson in general.

Baltimore Sun: Rich Polt Commentary on Lance

The below article ran in the 10/29 edition of the Baltimore Sun. More interesting (in my opinion) than what I wrote is the myriad comments it elicited. Some very articulate and compelling arguments from readers, mostly disagreeing with what I had to say. Given how  torn I am on this subject myself, I find merit in what many of these folks had to say.

Lance Armstrong: Not a lost cause

Armstrong's doping was wrong, but he has done much more good than harm -- and can still redeem himself

By Rich Polt

Earlier this month, Lance Armstrong participated in a triathlon in Columbia, benefiting the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. Despite some poor weather, the event was an overwhelming success. People turned out in droves to watch Mr. Armstrong compete and to hear him speak at Centennial High School.

Like the spectators in Columbia and so many other people around the country, I am not prepared to write off Lance Armstrong as just the latest in a long line of professional athletes who have fallen from grace.

Mr. Armstrong may be the leader of the "most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen," according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, but his legacy is about much more than his exploits on the bike.

To be clear, I believe the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports is wrong. I also believe that Lance Armstrong doped. Ergo, I believe Mr. Armstrong is wrong. Way wrong. And his misdeeds are being compounded by the fervor with which he denies his accusers. Despite being one of the most talented cyclists of his generation (yes, even with blood transfusions, winning seven Tours de France is nearly impossible), Mr. Armstrong now appears to be the John Gotti of the sport. Behind the scenes he was calculating, and in front of the cameras he was duplicitous.

Mr. Armstrong should take a page from the playbooks of so many other athletes tangled in webs of deceit: Stop the madness, admit wrongdoing, face the consequences, and get on with it. But I digress. Whether Mr. Armstrong fesses up or not, I maintain that his legacy will not be relegated to a series of asterisks. Nor should it be.

For more than a decade, Lance Armstrong has touched people in the most fundamental of ways. He has provided them with hope and inspiration. He has challenged people to look into themselves and to find the strength, courage and tenacity to face great adversity head on. Over the course of 16 years, he has built an organization, Livestrong, that itself has done immeasurable good, providing direct and indirect service to millions of people around the world.

Will the ripples of inspiration that have lapped against these millions of cancer survivors now be obviated as a result of his improprieties? I don't believe they will be.

Every day, politicians make choices about which constituency groups to embrace, in order to grow their supporter base. To oversimplify matters, when a politician is faced with a major scandal, his or her ability to weather the storm becomes a function of the level of crime, taking a conciliatory stance, and the strength of the supporter base. This is why someone like Bill Clinton can rise from the depths of an impeachment hearing and leave the Oval Office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any U.S. president since World War II.

I use this example not to create a justification for breaking rules but to demonstrate why Mr. Armstrong's situation differs from other athlete-related scandals. Simply stated, he has a much stronger base vis-à-vis the cancer community than in the sporting world.

In 2012, the NBC Sports Group reported an average of 409,000 viewers for each stage of the Tour de France. Also for 2012, the American Cancer Society estimated that 1.6 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed. Studies by the National Cancer Institute showed that in 2008, there were almost 12 million people living with cancer in the U.S.

The counterpoint to this argument is that people were duped into supporting Livestrong (formerly the Lance Armstrong Foundation) — inspired under false pretenses. Many have said that Mr. Armstrong leveraged his undeserved success to take advantage of donors and to fuel his own personal brand. To be certain, some donors are going to feel hoodwinked. But early indications show that the Livestrong base of supporters is rallying around the foundation and Mr. Armstrong.

A recent article in USA Today said that "Since August, when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced it would ban Armstrong for life and strip his Tour titles, the number of people turning to Livestrong for financial, emotional and practical services has risen by nearly 15 percent, according to the charity. Over the same period, the dollar amount of donations has increased by about 8 percent from the previous year, up to about $3.4 million."

I am not an absolutist. I believe that people are complex and nuanced, that the human condition is one of imperfection. People are fallible, myself included. They make mistakes. Some even deny making them. So when it comes to evaluating the deeds of a fellow human, I try to avoid making broad generalizations. Instead, like an accountant, I base my opinions on an analysis of one's perceived assets and liabilities.

By my accounting, the amount of good that Lance Armstrong has brought to this world still outweighs the amount of bad. I believe he has the potential to get beyond this scandal and to deliver untold benefits to millions of people in the years ahead.

Mr. Armstrong is savvy. He will realize what needs to be done. It will start with an apology.

Rich Polt is a passionate cyclist who enjoys riding in Baltimore and the surrounding counties. He is also principal of a public relations firm that helps business and organizational leaders build and sustain their personal brands. His email is

Copyright © 2012, The Baltimore Sun

Quoted in Story

Yesterday, I posted about Lance Armstrong's recent troubles and how they might impact his foundation. As I always do, I tagged my post with a ton of relevant terms, which describe the content (e.g., "PR," "communications." "Lance." etc.). Several hours later, I received an email from a reporter in Chicago who wanted to interview me for a piece he was writing on the subject. He told me that he Googled "Lance Armstrong and PR" and my post came up in the search! Thanks to the simple act of tagging, I was interviewed for and quoted multiple times in this story yesterday.

Don’t Judge a Charity by Its Founder’s Fame

Well it's official. As reported just about everywhere this morning, Lance Armstrong is being banned from cycling and will definitely probably maybe have his Tours de France victories stripped from him. And while Lance still maintains his innocence, I'm not sure it really matters at this point. Some will continue to doubt him, some will continue to believe him, and forever there will be asterisks next to the list of Tours de France winners between 1999 and 2005. Given the timeliness of this news, I have decided to reprint here the opinion piece that I wrote for the Chronicle of Philanthropy on this matter back in May of 2011, when new allegations about Lance surfaced. Essentially, I ask people not to hold the Livestrong Foundation accountable for the actions of its namesake. I welcome your feedback in this forum and am interested to know what you think the future holds for Livestrong.


Don’t Judge a Charity by Its Founder’s Fame

May 27, 2011

The Livestrong Foundation is staring down the barrel of a shotgun. Its heroic founder and chairman of the board, Lance Armstrong—known for his ascendency to the pinnacle of professional cycling after a grueling battle with cancer—may finally have met his match in the form of the U.S. Justice Department.

As a federal grand-jury investigation continues to hear testimony from Mr. Armstrong’s former teammates, increasingly damaging details about his alleged use of performance- enhancing substances gush into the digital universe and water- cooler conversations everywhere.

From a legal standpoint, Lance Armstrong is innocent until proven otherwise; but in the court of public opinion, deliberations are officially under way.

Now it will be up to the foundation to help donors understand a basic lesson: A charity’s founder, no matter how famous, isn’t the measure of whether a charity is worthy of a charitable contribution. And as this controversy unfolds, it is an important reminder to everyone in the nonprofit world about the reasons it’s unwise to count too much on the name and charisma of a celebrity.

To date, the organizations and corporate sponsors associated with Lance Armstrong have remained unwavering in their support for him and the charity he started. A recent tweet from a Nike spokesperson stated, “We are proud to work with [Lance] and support his foundation.”

Yet if it were to be proven that Mr. Armstrong doped during his career, the shockwave from the scandal could be massive and the fallout catastrophic for people with cancer and for all those working with the foundation to find treatments for the disease.

In a heartbeat, a name that is synonymous with heroism, integrity, and strength of will could be eclipsed by images of deceit, hypocrisy, and cheating.

The Livestrong foundation could experience a precipitous decline in support as donors and the companies that support it through licensing and merchandising deals disappear. Simply stated, it's possible that many would avoid giving to a foundation that evoked images of the greatest sports fraud in history.

But that isn’t a smart way for donors to think about giving. Nobody should ever have given to the Livestrong foundation based on Lance Armstrong’s exploits on the bike. Instead, corporations, foundations, and individuals should always base decisions on whether to give on the questions asked of all nonprofits: Are its programs effective, is it achieving its mission, and is it responsibly stewarding financial resources?

As a communications specialist, I am well aware of the power that a brand wields. In fact, I’ve seen this scenario play out before. In 2004 I represented an upstart foundation started by another wildly successful American cyclist: Tyler Hamilton (yes, the same Tyler Hamilton who just appeared on “60 Minutes” and said he had seen Mr. Armstrong use performance-enhancing substances).

Mr. Hamilton rose to prominence in 1999, 2000, and 2001, helping Lance Armstrong secure his first three Tour de France victories.

In late 2003, he started a foundation with his name to fight multiple sclerosis, and as Mr. Hamilton’s celebrity grew, so too did the foundation’s ability to secure donations and volunteers.

A few months later, Tyler Hamilton won an Olympic gold medal in Athens. Everyone associated with Mr. Hamilton and his foundation was floating on air. This victory gave the foundation a publicity bonanza that allowed it to build a pool of supporters and to promote its forthcoming series of charity bike rides around the United States and in Europe.

Then, just one month later, as Mr. Hamilton was soaring to new heights, he failed a series of drug tests and was hit with a two-year ban from the sport.

The still young and undercapitalized foundation was powerless to do anything. It had not yet reached a critical mass of donors and had not existed long enough to sustain itself on the merits of its successes. Within months, most marketing activity for the organization ceased. The Tyler Hamilton Foundation quietly lives on today, but its impact at this point is questionable.

Regardless of how the government investigation into Lance Armstrong unfolds in the coming weeks and months, the fate of his foundation does not need to resemble that of Hamilton’s foundation as long as it:

  • Decouples its brand from that of its founder.
  • Communicates the good works achieved by the foundation because of the many thousands of donors, volunteers, staff members, and cancer survivors who have done their part to make the Lance Armstrong Foundation what it is today.

I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen so far.

An October 2010 article in Fast Company (written well before the most recent developments in this evolving matter), examined how the Lance Armstrong Foundation lives with a founder that has long been simultaneously its greatest asset and its greatest potential risk.

Under the leadership of Doug Ulman, the foundation’s chief executive, the organization rebranded itself Livestrong in 2009. In addition, it has actively developed promotional strategies that rely less on the cachet of its founder and more on the triumphs and stories of the many thousands of individuals who have been helped directly by its programs and advocacy work.

As the Fast Company article says: "Ulman sees the investigation as a cycling scandal that pales in importance compared to fighting the world’s deadliest disease. But that’s not to say Armstrong's legal trouble doesn't enter into his thinking. 'It’s made me more focused,' Ulman says. 'Twenty-eight million people are counting on us.'"

Faced with the potential of the largest doping scandal of all time, Livestrong so far has been sending all the right messages to its supporters and to the rest of the public. Now it’s time to hope that the rest of the public is savvy enough to recognize that an organization and the good that it does in the world is about much more than one person, even if that one person is the founder.

Rule #2: Don't have all the answers (part 1)

In this post, I examine rule #2 of my Communicate Good homepage video, which lists ten all-important "rules to live by" for communications and PR success. To see my post on Rule #1 (Don't tell me what you do. Tell me why you do it.), follow this link.What I'm about to say, I've never admitted publicly. Earlier in my career, I had a fear that people would think I was a fraud. I was struggling with what I later would learn was a very mild version of the phobia known as Imposter Syndrome.

To be clear, at no time have I ever been a fraud (or fraudulent), nor did I believe in any rational sense that this was the case. Like most phobias, this was one that irrationally sprang forth from my subconscious.

Have you ever felt this way, even a little bit?

Thankfully, I was handed some wisdom several years ago that helped me move beyond this fear. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First let's look at the reality of the situation. I have worked in the field of communications and PR consistently since 1994 and have accumulated a wealth of knowledge and expertise about my chosen profession. I have amassed experiences -- both successes and failures -- and served literally hundreds of clients during this time. I have run my own agency (twice), and articulated philosophies, approaches, methodologies, and systems for PR success. I have testimonials and endorsements from many satisfied clients. By any reasonable measure, I am not a fraud. And as much as I detest the term "expert," it's safe to say that I am more an expert than neophyte.

Yet the irrational sensation that I was a fraud dogged me at times. Ironically, I didn't have this early in my career, when I actually didn't know anything about PR. No, the fear grew slowly and quietly over time, as I ascended the corporate ladder in seniority and responsibility. The more I learned about PR and communications, the less I felt I knew. Typically, the fear was nothing more than a faint, nagging voice that I could easily squash, but every now and again it would shout at me. I would pass up speaking opportunities and the like -- not because I feared public speaking, but because I feared being called out publicly for a lack of knowledge.

Several years ago, I was chatting with a public speaking consultant, and confessed how I sometimes felt. I was more than relieved when she told me that this fear was quite common among professionals. She explained that it was particularly prevalent among contemplative individuals: people who were more likely to question the universe than believe they had the answers. She explained that the phobia grows over time because every single nugget of information learned can generate an additional three questions. It reminded me of the wonderful saying, “It is a wise man who knows that he knows nothing.

I asked the consultant what she told her clients who have this fear and her answer was straightforward and liberating. She said: “Know that you don’t have to have all the answers.”

It was the proverbial “aha” moment for me. In a business environment where everyone says they are an expert, I had always assumed that I needed to have all the answers … about anything remotely related to PR and marketing. I was being unrealistic and way too hard on myself.

To make matters worse, I have always been turned off by “know it alls.” And therefore, I had placed myself in an impossible situation: either A) act like I knew it all (and take on a characteristic that I disliked), or B) admit that I didn't have all the answers and was therefore not an expert. When I realized that being an "expert" was not about having all the answers, I was freed from my dilemma.

So if being an expert is not about having all the answers, what does make someone an expert? This question was not only fundamental to my own success as a service practitioner, but to the success of my clients, who also want to be perceived as experts (and "thought leaders") in their respective fields.

For starters, it's important to recognize that as we learn more and more about our given areas of expertise, and become mired increasingly in the complexities and minutiae, we forget that other people are not equipped with even the basic information about our professions. What we consider foundational knowledge -- things that are givens -- are often outside the realm of the average person's scope of experience. Therefore, when it comes to effective communications and PR, our job as experts is to distill the complexities of our work into its basic components. In other words, to spend less time worrying about every answer, and more time on how to convey the big answers.

In PART 2 of this post (coming to a website near you in September), I will address another critical element to conveying one's expertise. As the graphic above states, communicating one's expertise has less to do with having  all the answers and much more to do with being able to ask the right questions. Stay tuned...

The Tao of Bear Grylls

Confession: One of my guilty pleasures is watching the TV show Man vs. Wild. I am in awe of the show's star, Bear Grylls, and the insanity to which he subjects himself. And yes, while I realize he has an entire production team with him, he is still placing himself in harm's way and taking crazy risks for each show. Despite what some people say, he is the real deal. And this is why I recently purchased his new autobiography, Mud, Sweat, and Tears to read while on vacation. I wanted to know what makes someone like Bear tick. The 400-page book is an exceedingly quick and easy read. It's written in the same staccato style that Bear (we're on a first name basis now) delivers his voice-overs for the TV show. Simple language, lots of sound bites, quick scene changes, and many chapters. In fact, after reading the book, I have an even greater respect for the guy.

His gumption, his perseverance in the face of adversity, his general disposition, and his philosophies about living are all qualities that I respect a great deal. Therefore, I would encourage anyone and everyone to read his book, particularly those who think Bear to be anything less than inspirational. You may walk away learning a thing or two about living well. Following are three passages in the book that I earmarked:

  • Commenting on having finally found a company to give him £10,000 in support of his Mt. Everest expedition (before anyone knew him from Adam): "So I got lucky. But then again, it took me many hundreds of rejections to manage to find that luck. I am sure there is a lesson in that somewhere." Personally, I am a firm believer that LUCK lies at the intersection of opportunity and preparedness. If you're not prepared to take advantage of that once in a lifetime opportunity (or even to recognize it as such) when it comes your way, then you'll never be lucky.
  • Bear relates a story about meeting his future wife. The weekend he meets her, he takes her and several other women on a fairly adventurous and aggressive hike. He says: "But things didn't go quite as planned. The first panicked whimper seemed to set off a cacophony of cheeps, as, one by one, the girls began to voice their fears. It is funny how quickly everyone can go from being totally fine to totally not-fine, very fast, once one person starts to panic." I see this dynamic a lot in PR. Once one person goes on record as being either for or against a particular product or idea, others begin to follow more readily. The power of the group is not to be underestimated. It's why people spend so much time and energy trying to reach "influencers."
  • On public speaking (specifically his own experience): "Men tend to think that they have to be funny, witty, or incisive onstage. You don't. You just have to be honest. If you can be intimate and give the inside story -- emotions, doubts, struggles, fears, the lot -- then people will respond." As someone who continues to work at overcoming a fear of public speaking, I found this sentiment to be especially poignant and encouraging. And it's a philosophy that I encourage my clients to follow as well. Be true to yourself in your communications and PR efforts and the results will be so much stronger than if you're posturing.

Thanks for the great read Bear. You're no Jack London, but hey, that's not why I'm a fan anyway. Keep up the great work.


Rule #1: Don't tell me what you do...

My Communicate Good homepage video lists ten all-important "rules to live by" for communications and PR success. In an effort to further explain these ideas , I've decided to write blog posts for each rule. In this, my first post, I dissect Rule #1: Don't tell me what you do. Tell me why you do it. This is a topic that could fill an entire book. Many books in fact. So I will do my best to keep the explanation as succinct and straightforward as possible. First a WARNING: Unlike math, there are no absolute answers when it comes to human language. In this respect, we are dealing more with an art than a science. 2 + 2 will always equal 4. But the way one person answers the questions "what do you do?" is never guaranteed to elicit interest on the part of the listener. There are just too many other variables that can impact the exchange. For example, a speaker's personality and tone of voice; the listener's mood and/or general disposition; or the situation in which the exchange is occurring. So for the purpose of this blog post, we need to forget that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to communications. Simply remember that, all things being equal, emphasizing the "WHY" over the "WHAT" is the better choice when communicating with an audience. Okay... if you're in a hurry, I will get to the punch line without delay (the details will then follow).

When you talk or write about WHAT you do, you are speaking about things that are very specific to you. Therefore, the WHAT provides your audience with the least amount of "fodder for connection." On the other hand, when you talk or write about WHY you do what you do, you typically draw from a broader set of conditions and circumstances, greatly increasing the chances that your audience will be able to connect with you. Okay, let's dissect this...


By way of example:  Imagine you're at an early A.M. networking event, sponsored by your local chamber of commerce. There is a wide variety of professionals gathered, most of whom you do not know. You stand at the coffee urn, slowly stirring your milk and sugar, delaying for just another few seconds that inevitable moment when you must introduce yourself to someone and commence with the small talk (I've always hated small talk). In the corner of your eye you notice an individual sidling over to you. You take a deep breath, ready to do the networking dance. Bill Johanson, with EnviroClean Technology, Inc. extends his hand, squints as he reads the name on your sticker, and says: "Hi [insert your name here], what do you do?"

I have to admit that for the first 10+ years of my career, I struggled in this situation. Why? Because I did what most people do when faced with this question. I would tell Bill Johanson what I, Rich Polt, did to earn my paycheck. For example, I might have said: "Nice to meet you Bill. I work for a large PR agency that specializes in high-tech and medical technology companies. We focus on media and analyst relations and also help our clients land speaking opportunities in front of the right audiences. Do you use a PR agency?" This would be a perfectly acceptable answer to the question "what do you do?" And for effect, I would trumpet my response with a wide smile and great confidence, as if this would increase my chances of winning Bill as a client.

Bill might nod his head with apparent interest. Perhaps he'd ask me a follow-up question to be courteous. And then he would tell me what he does to earn his paycheck. A few more follow-up questions in both directions. An exchange of business cards. And then we would break in opposite directions, seeking our next innocent victim target, standing alone, ready to do the networking dance again. Sound at all familiar?


As I stated earlier, in order to engage your audience (either an individual or a standing-room-only auditorium), you must provide them with maximum fodder for engagement. In the above example, I was telling Bill what I did on a daily basis. It was a highly specific account of my day-to-day experience, and Bill was simply not able to relate to it. As I spoke, Bill desperately cross-referenced my words with his own experiences, looking for anything that rang familiar and could better engage him in the conversation. If he found something, we would have had the kernel of a budding conversation. But since he didn't, he went into his own spiel.

Staying with this example, let's look at WHY I might do what I do. I may have worked at a high-tech PR agency because I was passionate about technology (twas not the case), or because tech was all the rage in the late 90s and paid extremely well (much more the case), or because there was a glut of technology vendors who didn't know the first thing about PR and they needed help. Here is another way that the conversation could have gone:

Bill Johanson: Hi, Bill Johanson with EnviroClean Technology, Inc [he extends his hand]. So what do you do?"

Me: Good to meet you Bill. I do PR and communications in the technology space. In my line of work, I see so many people who are really smart about technology, struggling to communicate effectively about their work. They're using lots of jargon and double speak, and as a result some really innovative ideas are being lost. I'm curious, especially since you're in technology, do you see that happening at all among your peers?

See the difference? I quickly acknowledged his question with a general statement about my profession, but then I opened up the response by addressing just some of the conditions in the market that make my job necessary. Instead of narrowing my response with the specific services that my agency offered (which actually moves into the realm of HOW), I gave Bill a softball opportunity for engagement. It's also worth noting that in both examples, I ended my response with a question (a basic conversational best practice), but in the first example, the question was salesy and potentially off-putting. In the second example, I invited Bill to speak about something based on his expertise.

Here are two examples that I found on YouTube, in which someone is essentially answering the question "What do you do?" The interviewer doesn't use those words exactly, but he could have been. Listen to each response for the first 60 seconds. Who focuses on the WHAT and who focuses on the WHY? Which response is more engaging? (In fairness ... the topic is mobile advertising. So we're already working at a disadvantage on the "engagement meter.") EXAMPLE 1or EXAMPLE 2?


In closing, I'll say that I first came up with the WHAT/WHY axiom back in 2006 when I was working on a client presentation. I thought to myself ... "this is pure gold!" It was only later, once I was convinced that I had invented some groundbreaking law of communication that I realized this was already out there. There are a number of respected communications gurus who talk about the WHAT and the WHY. Consider this piece from Guy Kawasaki or this piece from Simon Sinek.

Yet despite the increased awareness of this and other communications dynamics, the problem doesn't seem to be abating. It seems to be getting worse (or at least staying the same). So my challenge to you is not only to internalize this concept, but to put it into practice. Begin by articulating your own WHY. And then use it as the foundation for more rewarding and engaging interactions with your audience(s).

Win Free Access to Reinvention Summit 2!

Reinvention Summit 2

I just dropped $200 for REINVENTION SUMMIT 2, billed as "The most compelling, transformative, actionable, learning event on storytelling." It's a week-long virtual conference, scheduled for April 16-20, that you can attend from the comfort of your own desk. Considering what I normally pay for conferences, this is quite the deal. For registering early, I get to invite a guest with me to the conference (i.e., give them free access). So here is what I'm doing. I'd really like to up my number of followers on Twitter. Specifically, I'd like to see if I can reach 500+ followers by the end of the week! So between now and when I reach 500, any followers (new or old) who send a version of the tweet below will be entered into a raffle for the spot.

RT & follow @communicategood for opp. to win access to premier conference on storytelling #story12 details:

If you send out the tweet twice, that's good for two entries into the raffle. Three times, three entries, and so on. Let's set the max to 10 though, so that no one can blame me for twitter-spam.

Thanks in advance for your help in getting the word out!

Baltimore Business Journal's "Crash Course in Social Media"

Okay, I'm a few months late here. This would be an example of poorly timed marketing if my goal had been to drive attendance to the event. Luckily, the Baltimore Business Journal's first ever Crash Course in Social Media at Maryland Public Television last December was standing room only. It would seem that there are still a lot of people who are trying to figure out this social media thing! The entire 2+ hour event can be viewed here.

The topic of my presentation was "How to move people with your social media content." As the ad read: "Even the best social media strategy will fall flat if your content lacks punch, is off message, or doesn’t engage the audience. During this session we’ll discuss strategies for breathing life into your social media content and look at examples of folks doing it well. My co-presenters were Ryan Goff, VP Social Media Director, MGH, Colleen McKenna, Principal, Intero Advisory, and Deborah Gallant, Founder of Bold Business Works.

Overall, it was an engaging and enjoyable morning. The high point (or low point, depending how you look at it), was when my 30-minute presentation was momentarily derailed by my laptop shutting down to conduct "automatic updates." As someone who has spent years working to overcome a fear of public speaking, it was one of those wonderful gut check moments. Actually, I have video footage of the moment ... but I'll wait and make that the focus of an upcoming blog post.

Thanks to everyone involved for putting together a great event.

Looking for “Must Reads” in 2012?

reading rocks

When our first child was born in 2007, I took a hiatus from reading books. My limited free time was spent doing daddy/husband duties and exercising. By the time I got in bed each night, I could read no more than a page before falling asleep. This dynamic was compounded in 2010 when we had our second child. Last year, I made reading a priority again. Beginning in June, I averaged just over one book per month; exploring a diverse mix of genres and issues (I’ve included my full 2011 reading list below). I read about String Theory, the Civil War, social media, cycling, wizards, and the case for Atheism. After the long break from reading, I felt like my mind had been reawakened after a long period of hibernation. It was liberating. Plus … I now had a ton of fodder for my networking events!

In 2012, I am eager to continue at this one-book-per-month pace. Since recommendations are the best way to find good reads, I’ll ask you – my trusted community – what is the one “must read” I should put on my 2012 list? My penchant is for non-fiction, but I am certainly open to fiction as well. At the moment, I’m in the midst of an intense read about a WWII P.O.W. named Louis Zamperini. The book, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit), is certain to be made into a movie.

Below is my 2011 reading list. If I had to pick the very best of the bunch (a challenging task since I liked most of them), I would say to read “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara. It’s technically historical fiction. It chronicles the events of the Battle of Gettysburg from the perspective of key players. Lee, Longstreet, Chamberlain, Buford, and others. It’s the kind of book that makes you say (in my best Beavis and Butthead voice) “reading rocks!”

  1. Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos, by Michio Kaku
  2. Hell on Two Wheels: An Astonishing Story of Suffering, Triumph, and the Most Extreme Endurance Race in the World, By Amy Snyder
  3. The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War, By Michael Shaara
  4. The Heart and the Fist: The education of a humanitarian, the making of a Navy SEAL, By Eric Greitens
  5. The Time of Our Lives: A conversation about America; Who we are, where we've been, and where we need to go now, to recapture the American dream, By Tom Brokaw
  6. Everywhere: Comprehensive Digital Business Strategy for the Social Media Era,By Larry Weber
  7. The God Delusion, By Richard Dawkins
  8. Storm Front, Jim Butcher

I look forward to your recommendations. Thanks!

A Big Welcome to Foundation Source!

As you may know, I disdain press release quotes that begin with the phrase 'we are thrilled.' Still, every rule has it's exception and today I will break my own rule. I am genuinely thrilled to announce that Fairfield, CT-based FOUNDATION SOURCE has selected Communicate Good as it's "PR consultant of record." If you're not familiar with Foundation Source, well ... it's my job to help change that! Foundation Source is empowering a new generation of private philanthropists with administration, compliance, and impact advisory services. Today, they are the largest provider of philanthropy support services in the nation, with a client base of 1,000 small to mid-size private foundations.

In 2012, I will work very closely with Foundation Source and its new CEO, King McGlaughon, to boost visibility for the company and to communicate how people can experience greater control, reward, and impact in their personal philanthropy.

This is a great fit for Communicate Good given my background and past client experiences. Foundation Source is a for-profit social enterprise, bringing together elements from the worlds of philanthropy, finance, and technology. More importantly, Foundation Source does solid work and has the results to show for it. I named my former agency Louder Than Words, because I believe that the actions of a company go much further on the PR front, than the words on a press release. This is a company that has built itself from the ground-up through strength of action.

In the coming year we will unveil a number of exciting initiatives that will shine the spotlight on the new generation of private philanthropy. We're just getting started, but already we see the wonderful potential in 2012. Onward!


365 Days to do Something ... Anything!


A year is a long time. This year, being a leap year, we are granted one extra day to boot. 366 days. 8,784 hours. Over half a million minutes! For most of us, our days are tapped out to the rhythm of repetition: eating meals, commuting to work, drinking coffee, sleeping. During any given day, these activities represent just a small fraction of our time, but aggregated over the course of a year, each of these activities adds up to shocking amounts.

If you spend $2 on a large cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee 5 days a week (who me??), that lops $520 from the family budget. If you watch a moderate amount of TV -- say 3 hour-long shows over the course of one week -- then you will log 156 hours of tube time. Assuming the average person is awake for 16 hours each day, this means that almost 10 full waking days will be dedicated to watching TV in 2012. And let's face it, there are a lot of us watching more than 3 hours of TV per week.

I've been thinking a lot about this stuff lately because, for starters it was just new years; a natural time to contemplate the year ahead. But also, because I will turn 40 in July. The typical human gets 28,000 days on this rock and I've used about 14,000 of them.

So I'm now kind of obsessed about the next 366 days (well ... 360 since it's already January 6th). What small behavior or activity can I engage in on a daily or weekly basis, starting TODAY, that will slowly morph into something infinitely more meaningful by the end of the year? To be clear, I'm not suggesting some massive undertaking like a trip to the Biggest Loser ranch, or hiking and skiing all the 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado, or dancing my way around the world. With a family and a growing business, I need to stay much closer to home. No, what I am talking about has to be much more accessible, even mundane. Like not shaving and taking a picture of myself each day so that I can shrink a year's worth of facial hair growth in to a two-minute video. Oh darn ... that's already been done.

In truth, I have yet to come up with a cute, creative idea that only requires a minute of my time each day. But I have taken some positive steps towards growth over the next year. I joined a local chapter of Toastmasters International to work on my public speaking skills, and I've committed to one "date night" every other week with my wife. I am also committed to adding at least one new blog post every other week to this site ... even if it kills me.

In the entire nonprofit sector, my favorite name for an organization is Do Something. Why? Because it's a fundamental truism of life. We each are granted a finite amount of days, some more and some less, therefore doing something -- anything -- is a much better option than sitting in indecision or procrastination. In the immortal words of the best rock band ever, Rush, "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."

So onward to 2012. And I'll be sure to let you know when I come up with that slam dunk one-a-day idea. I'd certainly be interested in hearing about yours. (OOH ... something just came to me ... I need to let it percolate though ... I'll report back on this later)