The Holy Trinity of Social Media

HolyTrinity

This morning, I co-presented at a "Crash Course in Social Media," sponsored by the Baltimore Business Journal. During my presentation, I was making the point that it's okay to have mixed feelings about social media. On one hand, we can be excited and optimistic about the unlimited promise that this new frontier presents. But on the other hand, it's completely appropriate to feel overwhelmed by the fire hose of content that is being shot at us every second of every day. To illustrate my point I created the above visual based on the logos of the "Holy Trinity" of social media sites: LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. I thought it was pretty cool, so I wanted to share it with you.

LIFT is the acronym that you get from LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. That was a no-brainer and took just a few seconds to figure out. I wouldn't be surprised if others have already created that exact same logo/acronym mash-up. However, the anagram of LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter took me a number of hours. In fact, in order to make it work, I had to add a single letter "N" to the mix. You can see, by looking at the middle set of logos, how I got away with the extra N. Cheap -- I know. But I still think the final anagram is pretty darn compelling!

If anyone else has seen sites with this kind of stuff , I'd love to see them.

Say “Purpose”… Not “Mission”

When I started my former agency in 2003, I stopped using the term “mission” despite its pervasiveness in organizational and business life. The top definition of mission is “a group or committee of persons sent to a foreign country to conduct negotiations, establish relations, provide scientific and technical assistance, or the like.” This definition of “mission,” felt overly specific; perhaps too tactical in nature. For me, it just didn’t convey that which is supposed to lie behind the word. Furthermore, whenever I heard the term “mission,” I would think of that 1986 Robert De Niro flick, where he is fencing in the jungle.

Instead, I opted to say “purpose,” and by extension “purpose statement.” Consider the definition of purpose: “the reason for which something exists or is done…” BAM!! Now that is compelling stuff!

Whereas the definition of “mission” deals mostly with the entity itself – the group or committee, the business or organization – “purpose” takes the emphasis away from the entity and places it on the reason for which that entity exists. Said another way, mission is internally focused and purpose is externally focused.

This fundamental distinction between mission and purpose, between the internal stance and external stance, has defined how I approach communications, messaging, PR, and life. It is why rule #9 in my video (“Know your Purpose”) gets that little bit of extra emphasis. Everything we do stems from it.

Back in 2003, shortly after I articulated my own concept of purpose, I began to notice it everywhere I went. I was at the show Avenue Q on Broadway and lo and behold, there was an entire musical number called Purpose! The definition in the song was slightly different than mine … but powerful nevertheless: “It’s that little flame that lights a fire under your ass.”

Even the letters in the word P-U-R-P-O-S-E took on significance for me. I began to say that people needed good PR, because without it you pose (get it … P U R P O S E). Thankfully, I stopped saying this on the advice of my coworkers. It really made no sense. ANYWHOOOO…

Fast forward to August, 2011. I had just launched my new communications consultancy, built on the very same tenets of purpose that I described above, and who is my first client? ... The Mission Continues (italics added for emphasis). Despite the irony of their name, this veterans service organization – my first client out of the gate – could not have been a more perfect fit given my beliefs about the universality and need for purpose.

In a sentence, The Mission Continues helps post-9/11 veterans rebuild a sense of purpose in the communities they return home to. Allow me to quote from a recent byline article by their COO, that ran in Huffington Post in the lead-up to Veterans Day. The article was titled The Power of Purpose:

“At the center of the human spirit lies purpose. Purpose compels us to act. Purpose drives us to achieve. Purpose shapes our identity, and this identity then impacts how we pursue our professions, our communities, our education, and our ideals. Strip a person of purpose, and you leave them with a void -- emotional, spiritual, physical.  The first-time marathon runner may be unprepared for the void they experience after they cross the finish line. The recent retiree may languish on the backside of the milestone they sought for years. The runner and the retiree alike are experiencing life without the purpose that once drove them.”

The Mission Continues works with veterans who struggle with a profound loss of purpose. The work they do is very important and seriously inspiring. I’ll let their new promotional video – released just days ago – speak for itself.

Working with The Mission Continues has reminded me how important the concept of purpose truly is, not just for organizations and businesses, but for individuals and communities as well.

Communicate Good Featured in Balt. Business Journal

BBJ_2.5 Minutes Column2_110411

I'm still struggling with this whole "we" / "I" thing. I have no co-workers under the Communicate Good umbrella, therefore Communicate Good is just me. I am an independent consultant. Yet, when I refer to the entity known as Communicate Good, it feels strange saying "I." Conversely, saying "we" sounds disingenuous. Suffice it to say that all of us here at Communicate Good (i.e., me) will be working on this language issue in the coming months. Anyway... I was just featured on page 2 of the Baltimore Business Journal in the "2.5 Minutes With..." section. Very exciting to see my face in print under the moniker of the new company. Thanks to Joanna Sullivan for interviewing me.

The power of one idea

It Gets Better Project

The most successful communications efforts begin with one clear idea that is conveyed in a compelling manner. Next year, rewrite your communications playbook. Focus on just one big idea and do it well. Your organization will thank you. On three occasions this month, the It Gets Better Project captured my headspace and time. Not that I mind – it’s a fantastic campaign with a compelling message and some seriously engaging video. What is noteworthy about the fact that I was exposed to it thrice is that I don’t subscribe to or follow them in any way. Nevertheless, as a result of hearing about it again and again and again, I spent upwards of 15 minutes perusing their site, swept away by the raw power of the user contributed videos.

If you’re not yet familiar with the It Gets Better phenomenon, it is one of those amazing examples of a simple idea that took the world by storm and created a great deal of “good” along the way. From its website:

In September 2010, syndicated columnist and author Dan Savage created a YouTube video with his partner Terry to … tell Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender youth that, yes, it does indeed get better. Eleven months later, the It Gets Better Project (TM) has turned into a worldwide movement, inspiring more than 25,000 user-created videos viewed more than 40 million times.

This is the kind of unfettered marketing success that we dream about, either for our own nonprofits or for the organizations we fund. And for those of us who serve in any kind of communications capacity, we secretly (or not so secretly) harbor visions of our next campaign breaching the tipping point and delivering our messages to the masses in a flurry of fundraising, strategic alliances, public awareness, and meaningful impact.

This kind of marketing wildfire is not the norm. It’s the exception. For the vast majority of us, we’ll want to aim for incremental growth and attainable benchmarks that take place over time. Still, the It Gets Better Project demonstrates what I believe to be a very important communications lesson; something that this sector struggles with consistently. The most successful communications efforts begin with one clear idea that is conveyed in a compelling manner.

There are actually three components to that statement: 1) one idea, 2) a clear idea, and 3) conveyed in a compelling manner. Each component warrants elaboration:

Just one idea: The less number of ideas that one tries to communicate, the greater the stickiness of those ideas. “I have a dream” being one of the clearest examples. The rule of three says that in writing and storytelling, things that come in threes are inherently more satisfying and the reader/audience of this form of text is also more likely to consume information. This is true, but it applies more for narrative than for marketing campaigns and oration. In general, if you want to raise awareness, educate, inspire, drive action, incite change, galvanize movements, and get media attention along the way, then keep it simple and strive to convey just one central idea. Everything else should be adornment.

Eschew Obfuscation: Even a single powerful idea can be corrupted by verbosity, jargon, multiple clauses, caveats, and sub-messages. Resist the urge to layer your ideas with nuance. In fact, think of nuance as your metaphorical sacrifice to the communications gods. A common fear when simplifying our messages – is that we’ll be perceived as “simple” – particularly among peers. The thinking goes like this: I need to assert my sophistication within my chosen field, not mask it. If I dumb down my ideas, my competitors (or other leaders in this space) will assault my simple views to gain relative advantage among target audiences.

Nothing could be further from reality. By engaging audiences with clear and basic ideas, we become conduits for a larger dialogue. Audiences will perceive you to be accessible and down-to-earth, not simple.

Compelling Manner: At first blush, this one feels more subjective than my last two points. What makes something compelling? Isn’t it true that what one person interprets as compelling, another might find down right un-engaging? Yes, this is absolutely true. Nevertheless, there are marketing campaigns and ideas that, despite differences in how individuals interpret them, are touted by the masses as compelling. The “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” advertising campaign. Barrack Obama’s Presidential run. And the It Gets Better Project.

So what then makes these compelling? Beyond the simplicity and cleanliness of the message, I would suggest that it’s the lack of glitter and flash around the idea that helps to make something compelling. Take the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC campaign.” Two guys talking to each other standing in a completely white space. Only after the initial success of the original ads did they begin to layer in new elements. The “Yes We Can” campaign: a powerful message, delivered by one charismatic statesman. It Gets Better: A simple message delivered from real people talking into a web cam. No fancy production value. When there are too many moving parts, it often serves to distract and remove focus from the main idea. This makes the idea itself less compelling.

I’ll wrap this post up with a somewhat unrelated observation, but one that will be interesting to you if you’ve made it this far. Despite the power of the It Gets Better message, despite my spending 15 minutes on the website, and despite my writing this blog post, I didn’t give anything to the nonprofit itself. I didn’t purchase any of their schwag, and I didn’t sign the pledge. There are a ton of great causes out there which compete for our wallets, our voice, and our time. A single powerful idea delivered in a compelling manner in no way guarantees that any one individual will be inspired to action. But it will stack the odds in your organization’s favor.

100-mile run for charity ... a SUCCESS!

Last month, I wrote about my friend Peter Christie, who was about to undertake a 100-mile run, raising money to benefit Boston’s Epiphany School. Well I'm happy to report that Peter achieved his goal -- completing the run in under 30 hours and raising $4,500 as a bonus. Unbelievable! If you want to know what it's like to run 100 miles in the mountains, here is an abridged version of Peter's account, written in Peter's classic understated style. (Nice photo Pete ... love the Billy Idol face)

The race started with almost ideal conditions: mid 40s temperatures under a clear starry sky.  The first check point was 13.5 miles in and it took me about 2 hours 25 minutes. 

I kept an easy pace thru the 40 mile mark and felt comfortable as the sun came out.  This check point was critical as the trail went from 9,000 to 12,600 feet in just 3 miles. 

The climb up to Hope Pass was grueling.  I had a hard time gauging my effort and keeping my heart rate at a threshold level.  It was slow moving, and I knew that I was losing valuable time.

I was only 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff at the next checkpoint.  At Leadville, runners have 30 hours to get to the end, but they also must reach checkpoints within certain time limits.  If you fall behind these times, race officials will pull you from the course and your race is over.  This adds an enormous mental burden to the race, and you constantly start to ask, "Am I running fast enough?" 

Mile 50 gave me a boost as I met my pacer Jon.  Jon helped me go right back up the same mountain I had just come down from.  Our pace was much quicker than my solo effort despite tired legs.

I had not eaten much thru these first 60 miles.  I had stayed hydrated and was taking in calories with energy gels, but I knew I was undernourished.  My stomach was starting to really feel bad which, in turn, caused me to eat even less and so began the downward spiral. 

Running slowly morphed into power walking as I picked up my next pacer, Drew, and got ready for the final big climb of the day at Powerline.  Drew stayed incredibly positive and encouraged me to push up that mountain.  I was filled with relief when we reached mile 85 and started heading back down.

The sun was starting to come up and this gave me a bit of a lift as I pulled into the last aid station.  It all came down to this: I had 3 hours and 55 minutes to go 13.5 miles.  I knew it was going to be close.

Drew and I worked hard over the final section.  That next hour of running was the hardest effort of my life.  I dug deeper than I thought possible, and when I emerged from the forest with 4 miles to go, I had about 2 hours to get to the line. Only then did I start to think I was going to make it.

I cruised comfortably toward the finish and was greeted with a hug from a volunteer who said four words I will never forget, "welcome back to Leadville."  What a feeling to finally finish and get some sleep!

It took me 29 hours and 34 minute to finish the Leadville 100 Trail Run.  The mountains, the altitude, and the overall distance make this a pretty tough event.  I owe so much to my crew, Chris and Matt, as well as my pacers, Jon and Drew.  Without the help of those four people, I could not have completed the run.  Thanks guys!

You’re doing WHAT for charity?!?

Epip

Last Friday, I received an email from my friend Peter Christie. It was one of those pseudo-formulaic charitable appeals that have become ever so common these days. Like an altruistic version of Mad Libs, they all begin the same way: Dear Friends and Family, On (date), I will be (running, biking, hiking, swimming, walking) in the (name of event) to support (cause). Like so many other email appeals, Peter’s followed the form to a tee. It was splendidly unremarkable. So matter-of-fact in tone, that after just a few words of the note I filed it away in my Things-to-Read-Later folder. “Dear Friends and Family, On Saturday, August 20th, I will be running the…” Had I read the subject line, I would not have been so dismissive.

In retrospect, I should have known this was not going to be the typical fundraising appeal. Peter is an athlete and he is also understated as hell. That’s a lethal combination. For much of 2009 and 2010, Peter and I rode together in the same cycling group. Peter was consistently one of the strongest in the bunch, yet his training was sporadic and undisciplined. With three kids and a demanding job, Peter would still find time for his family and volunteering in the community.

So how was this “weekend warrior” on the bike always able to hang with the seasoned racers? When I finally got around to reading his email, I had my answer. It would seem that Peter is also a bit of a runner. His letter read:

Dear Friends and Family, On Saturday, August 20th, I will be running the Leadville 100 Trail Run to support Epiphany School. I will have 30 hours to complete the 100 mile odyssey which will take me through some of the most beautiful and challenging parts of the Colorado Rockies, at elevations that start at 9,200 and go up to 12,600 feet. To understand why I would try to tackle such a difficult ultra-marathon, you need to understand a bit more about Epiphany School...

That was all his email had to say about his little charity run. The remainder of the note was squarely focused on Boston’s Epiphany School, of which Peter is a board member. To put it in perspective, Peter hopes to run a distance that is just shy of four marathons, while climbing over 15,000 feet (the height of 12.5 Empire State Buildings) in less than 30 hours. It’s an amazing feet of athleticism and mental resolve. But I’m sure Peter would say that it’s nothing when you consider what Epiphany School has been able to accomplish for disadvantaged boys and girls in Boston.

In fact, before leaving Boston last year, I had the privilege of meeting the school’s founder and Head, John Finley, along with some of his accomplished students. I understand why Peter is doing what he’s doing. Epiphany School is an independent, tuition-free middle school for boys and girls from economically disadvantaged families. New students are admitted using a lottery system that is blind to academic ability and promotes a school community that reflects the diversity of faiths, races and cultures of the surrounding Boston neighborhoods. In each new class, 20% of seats are reserved for children who are involved with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families as a result of parental abuse or neglect. Once enrolled, students take on a 12-hour school day that includes meals, athletics and study time to support a strong academic program designed to prepare them for admission to competitive high schools. Epiphany receives almost no federal, state or local funding and instead relies on private, foundation and corporate support.

This year, I wasn’t in a position to support Peter with a donation, but I told him I would spread the word about the school and his epic undertaking, because I firmly believe in the school’s mission and have seen firsthand the difference it is making in these students’ lives.

If you want to help spread the word, please tweet this blog post or forward the link to others. Or, feel free to support Peter’s run directly here. One hundred percent of all funds donated will go directly to the School to support the 2011-2012 Annual Fund. Peter will be absorbing all expenses related to his run in Colorado, as well as any handling charges on the donation web site.

Good luck Peter! We’ll be thinking about you on August 20-21 and know you’ll cross the finish line.

Bike program gives youth a path for life

Bike Program

My good friend Neil Leifer, a teacher, philanthropist, and former attorney, helped to spearhead a remarkable program in Boston this summer. Partnering with the nonprofit Bikes Not Bombs and Body by Brandy Fitness Center, the "On My Way, On My Bike" program offers inner-city youth an opportunity to learn about bikes and bike maintenance, and earn their own bike at the end of the program. But the program is about so much more than just bicycling.

From yesterday's story in the Boston Globe: The new summer program emphasizes fitness, self-esteem, and self-confidence, and the children are encouraged to participate in year-round activities of Bikes Not Bombs, which is dedicated to peace and social change. In fact, the youth instructors at On My Way are alumni of Bikes Not Bombs, and they will speak to the participants about guns and violence and how to avoid them.

Kudos to Neil and the many others who dedicated themselves to making this pilot program a reality. Much continued success!! (and let me know when it's ready to expand into the Baltimore market)

Coming Soon To a Nonprofit Near You

I am really excited right now because I just saw an example of a pie-in-the-sky idea that I’ve been talking about for years. But before I tell you what it is, allow me to give you some context. I’ll begin with a question that I often ask people:  What is your favorite part of the traditional movie-going experience? If you’re like most individuals, you’re favorite part is the previews. I know, right! I love seeing movies on the big screen, and I love the popcorn, particularly when the butter is real, but nothing is more enjoyable than a quality mix of 4-5 trailers.

Ever wondered why we love our movie trailers so much? Upon quick reflection, it’s not so surprising.  For one, previews take the most compelling scenes from a two-hour feature film and boil them down to two-minute, bite-sized nuggets of cinematic goodness. Secondly, trailers are often how we first learn of a new movie, or even better, that a long-awaited movie is close to release (is The Hobbit trailer ever going to come out!?).

But these are the obvious reasons. Push further. What fundamental attributes of movie trailers make them so darn enticing? What grabs us by the psyches and demands “you must see this movie!” What was it about this trailer and this trailer that convinced me to waste my money and my time? I assure you, there is a science to making good sneak previews and it results in millions of dollars in consumer spending each year.

The power of movie trailers is built around the idea of CONTEXT. Trailers will almost never begin by showing you a movie star or explaining the main plot thrust of the story. No. Instead, they set the stage by providing context and letting you the viewer get transported, if only for an instant, into the realm of the movie. It’s an absolutely essential part of the trailer because it primes the viewer for what follows next.

How does the stereotypical movie trailer always begin? In a world where ...” or “In a land before time …” or “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …” Trailers always lead with context. It’s only once the context has been provided that the narrator can deliver part two of his one-two punch and say, “one man lived to tell the tale.” Don’t believe me? Check out this hysterical and utterly appropriate trailer on YouTube.

If there is a lesson to be learned here it’s that context is a key aspect of effective communication. Yet so many of us neglect to utilize it. We speak as if everyone is already quite knowledgeable about that which we ourselves are passionate. We assume audiences understand the intricacies of our worlds, as if the complex plot thrust of our day-to-day professional lives hold meaning for others

Said bluntly, assume that the audience knows nothing about you or your organization. When a person asks you what you do at your next networking event or cocktail party, don’t start by answering with the “one man…” part of the trailer, which is what we normally do. Begin with the “in a world where…” part. Not only will you find that your listener is more engaged in what you have to say, they will more readily understand why you do what you do.

Here is an example of a person who does not provide context when asked about what he does (it begins at second 23 in the video). It’s a shame because the Acumen Fund is a really cool organization and does amazing work. They have a compelling story to tell, but their value proposition is meaningless without context. The speaker in the video begins to address context at around the 60 second mark. But by that point, he's lost his audience. Basically, he does a backwards movie trailer ("One man _____, in a world where ______.")

Contrast that video with this one – also from Acumen Fund – in which CEO Jacqueline Novogratz provides over a minute of context (albeit with the help of music and compelling footage) before talking about Acumen Fund (**note the title of the video**). What a difference!

At the beginning of this blog, I mentioned that I had recently seen an example of something I’ve been talking about for a long time. What I saw was a nonprofit, in this case Davidson College, produce this full-on movie trailer as a way of saying thank you to its donors. The video is campy and awkward. It’s not even the best example of how to effectively use context. But when I saw it, it put a smile on my face and inspired me to write this post.

It’s time for organizations to take a cue from Hollywood trailers, and to incorporate the power of context into presentations, interviews, elevator pitches, and cocktail party dialogue. Also … more buttered popcorn at board meetings.

How would your organization’s movie trailer begin? “In a world where ____________, one organization dared to _____________!”

A Matter of Perspective

This morning, I was reading to my almost one-year-old son, Ethan, the timeless classic Goodnight Moon, when something extraordinary happened. For the sake of context, I should say that I’ve read Goodnight Moon at least 500 times over the last few years, first with my older son who is now 4, and more recently with my younger son. It’s a great book – classic prose and beautiful illustrations. I could probably recite it by heart. In fact, I’m so familiar with the book that I hardly pay attention anymore as I read it. I mindlessly say the words and flip through the pages, hoping that my boy is enjoying the book and the quality time spent with dad on the rocking chair.

It’s also worth noting that Ethan just started mumbling some of his first basic words. His extended repertoire includes the words “Baaaah” (bear) and “Baaaaal” (ball)… that’s about it.

So back to what happened this morning that was so crazy cool…

Ethan awoke at 6:00 am, as usual, with his screaming declarations to the world. I went in to get him out of his crib, change his diaper, and read him a few short books, before handing him over to Mommy and starting my day. There is a certain page in Goodnight Moon that reads “And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush.” On the page is a simple picture of a table with those three objects, illuminated by a lamp (see the embedded picture).

When we got to this page, Ethan insisted on turning the book upside down. Since he often grabs at the books I’m reading and tosses them on the floor or flips them over, I thought nothing of this. I simply turned the book back over and continued reading. When I finished the book, he clapped his hands and indicated that he wanted me to read it again. I did.

On the second pass, we arrived at the page with the comb and the brush and the bowl, and again Ethan grabbed the book and flipped it over to look at the picture upside down. Only this time, I noticed he was screaming Baaaah, Baaaah, Baaaah. What bear was he talking about I wondered? I began to stare at the picture, this time dissociating myself with the content of the book, which I of course know so well. I squinted to blur the image, allowing the details to recede to the background and all I was left with was the overall tone of the image. This is what I saw! My jaw dropped.

At this point in Ethan’s young life, he has internalized visual associations with a relative few objects. “Bear” is one of the big ones – not brushes or combs or bowls, lamps and tables sitting in that particular configuration. Ethan’s brain saw the combined image of a bear – even in its upside down state – and he turned the book over so that it would appear the right way.

A little later we tested him with the book a few more times to make sure this wasn’t a fluke and sure enough, it was not.

The moral of this story is this: Just because we have done something 1,000 times before or believe we know all there is to know about something, we can always find new ways to look at things by shifting our perspective and letting go of assumptions. Thank you Ethan for teaching Daddy an important lesson this morning!

Pyramids, Plates, and Carbon Rods

In my all-time favorite episode of the Simpsons, the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant (where Homer works) is holding the ceremony for the "Worker of the Week" award and Homer, the only employee who has never won the award, is confident he will win. But alas, his boss Mr. Burns gives the award to an 'inanimate carbon rod'. Later, Homer (who becomes an astronaut) is returning from a space mission with fellow-passenger Buzz Aldrin when disaster strikes in the way of an open hatch door that threatens to suck everyone out of the craft. Homer uses an inanimate rod to inadvertently seal the door shut, thereby averting tragedy.

With the problem solved, the shuttle successfully returns to Earth, making a convenient crash-landing through the roof of a press reporters' convention. Although Buzz Aldrin declares Homer a hero, the press only have eyes for the inanimate carbon rod he used. The rod is featured on magazine covers with the headline "In Rod We Trust" and is given its own ticker-tape parade.

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture told the media that it will unveil a new icon to better symbolize and convey healthy eating habits for Americans, doing away with the age-old and ever-changing food pyramid. The new icon will be a plate. According to one CNN analyst: "We presume that it will be divided into sections that will show you how much of different types of foods you should be eating.”

I’m struck but in no way surprised by the volume of reporting that is dedicated to the icon switch itself, and not the underlying reasons for which the icon switch is needed. Just like the fantastic commentary made in the Simpsons episode, our media – and as a result the millions of people that consume media – put icons on a pedestal, often at the expense of telling the real story.

One of the better pieces on this topic appears today on the Scientific American website, in the form of an interview with a nutritionist. It does address the bigger picture questions, namely “Why does the food pyramid need to go?” and “Are these new recommendations based on good science about diet and how people are likely to use the chart?” However, my favorite question and response are as follows:

Do you think this new model will really influence people's diets and help them eat better? It remains to be seen. It depends on how they're used, how big of a public relations campaign it has, and if it generates controversy. If it doesn't generate controversy, nobody will know anything about it...

It’s true … if this icon switch is going to have any impact whatsoever (which unfortunately, I’m doubtful of), the USDA and other public interest groups need to make a MASSIVE public awareness splash about obesity. The icon switch was a wonderful start to doing this, but I really wanted to see bolder messaging around the fact that Americans today are losing the fight against obesity. That wasn’t there.

I’m hoping that the publicity campaign that follows in the wake of this announcement does the issue greater justice.

“In plate we trust!”

Foundations Don't Blood Dope

In 2004, I represented a young charitable foundation, named for a celebrated American cyclist who had ridden in the Tour de France for Team U.S. Postal Service. No, it’s not who you’re thinking … Tyler Hamilton wasn’t just an average cyclist, he was superlative – a true rising star and one of the nicest, most humble people you’d ever meet. He rose to prominence in 1999, 2000, and 2001, helping Lance Armstrong secure his first three Tour de France victories.

Launched in late 2003, The Tyler Hamilton Foundation (THF) raised money in the fight against Multiple Sclerosis and as Tyler’s celebrity grew, so too did the Foundation’s ability to secure funding and volunteerism. In August of 2004, Tyler Hamilton won an Olympic gold medal in Athens. The victory gave the foundation fantastic leverage to build its funder base and to promote its upcoming series of charity bike rides around the US and in Europe.

Do you know where this is heading?

Just one month later, the floor dropped out from under Tyler when he failed a series of drug tests. Shortly thereafter, Tyler was hit with a two-year ban from the sport. The still young and under-capitalized foundation was powerless to do anything. It had not yet reached a critical mass of donors nor had it existed long enough to sustain itself on the merits of its organizational successes. Within months, most marketing activity for the foundation ceased. THF quietly lives on today, but its impact at this point is questionable.

Last Sunday, on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Tyler Hamilton asserted that Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs throughout his racing career. In a fantastic bonus feature to the segment, accessible online only at http://bit.ly/ivuV2h, the question is asked: “If … [Lance] is a liar and a cheater, does that diminish all of the good works that he has accomplished?” My answer to that question (and one which is thankfully echoed on the 60 Minutes online segment) is a resounding no.

I outline my further thoughts on this subject in an op-ed piece in today’s Chronicle of Philanthropy. What do you think? If Lance was doping, will it change how you regard the Livestrong foundation? Should it?

The most important communications tip ever

I'm certain that today's blog post (or a flavor of this post) has been addressed a billion times already, but I'm going to write about it again because it's so important. It's critically important. In fact, on a Top Ten list of communications "best practices," this edges out "stop saying 'um'" for the #1 slot. If you can master this, you will find more success in business and in life than you could possibly fathom in your wildest dreams. You will gain influence, you will be liked, you will engender trust.

So what is this magical practice of which I speak? It's a six-word phrase that you must commit to memory and commit to using at least once per day for the rest of your life. The phrase: "Thank you. I really appreciated that."

I was reminded of this just a few days ago when I received an email from a client after a particularly trying week. For months, we had been preparing for a launch, and, as is often the case in PR, all of our efforts culminated in a few insane days of work. Everyone was thrilled with the outcomes. Our team internally was over the moon, and we knew we had met our client's high expectations. But then, I received a wonderful email from the client that made my week. I'll spare you the details. This was the phrase that mattered: "Before I shut down for the day, I want to say thank you for your outstanding support." Wow. Let's be honest ... how often do you hear that from a client?

The reality is, there is an entire science behind gratitude. It's powerful stuff. The way it makes other people feel about themselves; the way it makes other people feel about you; and the way it makes you feel about yourself. Deborah Norville wrote this book about it, and somebody spoke about it at TED (so it's gotta be important). Then of course, there is this classic line about saying thanks from the Microsoft Small Business Center, which refers to it as "leveraging an underutilized edge in the marketplace." Good stuff Microsoft!

In my prior PR jobs, I never got enough thank yous. I was starving for them. After a while, you feel like clients look at you as a commodity and not a person. At Louder Than Words [*6/25/12* this agency has closed, I am now Communicate GOOD], we've been blessed (that's right, I'm not a religious person but I just said blessed) to have clients that say thank you. It's invigorating. It makes the work that much more fulfilling and it inspires us to work even harder on our clients' behalves.

Thank you for reading my blog post. I really appreciate it.

-Rich

20 years ago I had a mullett...

Pitch Letter

In two weeks, I fly to Baltimore for my 20th High School reunion. Appropriate timing  since I just wrote a piece paralleling the new media landscape and the turbulent social realities of high school. Coincidentally, my first PR gig was also in 1990 -- part of my high school "senior project." My dad's cousin owned a small agency outside Baltimore, MD called Phil Willen & Associates (don't look for them on Twitter... they're long gone). I interned there for about two months. My upcoming trip has me thinking a lot about how much has changed since 1990, specifically in the PR field. I hate using the cliche "now more than ever before," but the fact is, PR as a field has undergone more change in the last 20 years than in any 20 year period prior (perhaps with the exception of that 20 year period when a meteor struck Earth and wiped out the Dinosaurs. Those two decades really sucked if you were in the PR game!). So I thought I would dedicate this post to some of the big and not so big changes in PR since 1990 -- in no particular order. Here goes...

1) No more tongue calluses: In 1990, snail mail was the distribution medium of choice (although fax was coming on strong). We would have "stuffing parties," in which a team would stay late at the office with a stack of 1,000 mail-merged letters, 1,000 press releases, 1,000 envelopes, 1,000 labels, and a case of some fancy-pants microbrew. Although one could easily obtain envelope-sponges, I preferred the tried and true licking approach. After about 200 envelopes, your tongue would start to go numb. Despite what happened to George Costanza's fiance on Seinfeld, I think we proved that one cannot die from licking envelopes (you just get a bit woozy).

2) Social networking: Although not as significant as tongue calluses, this thing called the Internet happened over the last 20 years. At the risk of understating it's importance, I'll just say that the Internet has fundamentally impacted everything, everywhere, forever -- PR and otherwise.

3)  #  #  #: The first thing I learned in my PR internship was to always end press releases with the ole "trip-pound." This was one of those things that I simply accepted as a truism, but never understood why we did it. I found this Web site here, which says that "professional press release writers add three pound signs (###) at the end, which conveys to reporters and media professionals they have reached the end of press release information." Do people still use trip-pound today? ... of course they do. So what has changed you might ask? Reporters actually reading a press release in its entirety. It just doesn't happen. Rendering "#  #  #" a quaint throwback to simpler times.

4) Implosion of the traditional media universe: Diminishing ad revenues, consolidation, circulation shrinkage, content consumption shifting to the Web, lay-offs, broadsheet shifting to tabloid, and on and on. Landing a sit-down "meet and greet" between a client and a beat reporter has become a thing of the past.

5) R.I.P. ye verbose pitch: There was a time in the not too distant past when PR folk would spend hours crafting beautiful pitch letters. They would begin not with the actual pitch, but with a context-laying paragraph intended to grab a reporter by his chest hair and yank him into a brilliantly composed four-paragraph letter. I pulled (at random) a pitch letter that I wrote in 1995 for a specialty veterinary practice which offered cardiology, ophthalmology, acupuncture, etc. for dogs and cats. Nowadays, the pitch would be written like this: "Dear Bill, I work with a veterinary practice, that offers cardiology, ophthalmology, and even acupuncture for dogs and cats. Check out the Web site here. Wanted to see if you had interest in learning more about this one-of-a-kind operation in your backyard." That's about all the space you get to entice a reporter these days. This is how my pitch letter started in 1995:

Dear Bill,

If your family doctor told you that your vision was blurry due to cataracts, you would probably consult an ophthalmologist. If you were having lower back pain, your doctor may refer you to an orthopedic surgeon. For any number of potential medical afflictions, your general practitioner will refer you to a specialty physician. Increasingly, veterinary medicine is adapting a similar model for specialize care. General practicing veterinarians are referring pet owners to ...

You get the idea.

6) A never-ending flow of crap: Tweets galore, Facebook updates, RSS feeds, voice mails (on my biz phone, cell phone, and home phone), snail mail, email, spam, Google alerts ... I could go on. To be sure, some of it is important and even valued. But in general, it's crap. I've come to accept this reality as the way things are, and have developed wonderful systems for organizing, filtering, and coping with the ever-present deluge. Doesn't mean I have to like it though. In some respects this massive influx has finally taught us what it's like to be a reporter on the receiving end of bad pitches.

7) Real time feedback: One of the amazing tools we are now afforded in the PR biz, is the ability to see what audiences are saying about our clients. It's one of the truly wonderful byproducts of the Internet Age. It allows us to more effectively gauge audience attitudes and tailor messaging in an appropriate fashion.

I'm sure there are plenty of other things, but I think it's time to draw this post to a close. Let me know what else you think has changed in PR (for better or worse) in the last two decades.

-Rich

A Simple Ask

120407coatrack

The Social Innovation Forum, a Boston-based program that helps promising nonprofits improve and grow, just launched an “Innovator Wish List” that details donation requests from its portfolio of organizations. Requests range from a digital camera for the Actors’ Shakespeare Project, to a coat rack for domestic violence organization Close to Home, to board meeting space for Girls’ LEAP.  It’s a great example of a simple, concrete “ask” that goes beyond a request for money to rally resources for deserving organizations.

Most social problems can’t be solved by the barter system, and true social change is complex. Perhaps that’s why initiatives like the Wish List appeal to people – the link between need and solution is compellingly clear. From a communications standpoint, the Wish List is also a great example of how online networks provide an efficient way to deliver personal appeals and to inspire donor action. Two other examples:

  • Modest Needs  has built an online community around fulfilling the unexpected, one-time expenses that threaten to push people living paycheck-to-paycheck into poverty. They vet requests (such as: a car repair so a person can travel to work) and donors fulfill the “modest needs” of others before needs spiral into bigger problems. By detailing specific needs, and providing a way to protect against fraud (through information verification as well as by paying vendors directly on behalf of those in need), Modest Needs has built an effective online exchange; 70% of those who receive help become donors themselves.

  • Donors Choose is perhaps the best-known example here, where teachers provide information about classroom projects that they need funding for, and donors choose those that resonate based on topic, location, or whatever interests and qualifiers they bring to the table. Children then send thank-yous and photos to reinforce the value of the gift and enhance the donor experience.

For those organizations that are not directly connecting donors with people in need, there is still much food for thought: Are the voices of the people you are serving represented in your communications materials? Do donors understand how their donations help? Are there concrete examples and stories you can use to demonstrate impact?

Answering those questions can make fundraising and marketing communications more engaging, and more effective.

What's the future of PR? Look back to high school...

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Recently, I was asked to write a "big think piece" about how the field of public relations will be different after the world is destroyed in 2012. Okay ... I'm joking about the world being destroyed part (although that would be a great topic for another thought piece). I was actually asked to write about how organizations must totally rethink PR practice to thrive in this brave new interconnected world. Frankly, I feel like I've read a million articles on this topic already. But I hadn't yet taken a stab at the assignment myself, and thought it would be a healthy exercise. Besides, the request came from someone I have lots of respect for: social media guru Brian Reich, author of the best selling Media Rules. He's compiling a new book of essays, in which folks from different industries tackle the issue of organizational best practices for the future. As he presented it to me: "I have this crazy idea that we need to re-think the way we create, support, and sustain ventures.  What does that mean exactly?  ... it means re-building the whole infrastructure of innovation ... from how we teach it, promote it, cover it in the media, what skills we value, who gets to serve as gatekeepers, and more." I dove in, tasked with writing an 800 word piece. My premise was something I've been toying with for years. In a nutshell: there are strong similarities between the social environment of high school, and organizational PR today. By studying the successful students in high school (those with a good reputation, who excelled in activities and rose above the pettiness of cliques), we can learn a great deal about how organizations can succeed with PR and reputation management in a socially connected world. Might sound trite, but the more I dug, the more I was taken by the strength of the comparison. 3 days and 2,400 words later (d'oh!), I finished the essay, which  is set to be released at the WeMedia Conference in Miami in the next few days (it will be posted on the conference blog). If you're interested, I've posted the first 800 words below... just to whet your appetite ;-)

-----------------

It’s the human condition to resist change. As familiar systems disappear, we instinctively clamp down on them, making the process of adopting new systems all the more painful and protracted. Welcome to life in the PR industry. 

New media has turned the decades old profession of PR on its head. If you’re like me (old enough to remember the Cold War), you’ve spent many a sleepless night trying to crack the code for advancing ideas, influencing people, and forging reputations amidst the utter madness that is TwitterBook, the Blogosphere, citizen journalism, and an imploding traditional media universe. Not only have the rules changed, it often feels as if there aren’t any rules.

A mere fifteen years ago, things were much easier. Organizations could feed carefully crafted messages through the narrow but powerful media funnel, which in turn would pump messages out to audiences infused with gobs of third-party credibility. Consumers saw the media as their primary source of information, thus the old PR model afforded companies a great deal of control in dictating how they were perceived and gaining an edge over the competition.

But as we know, new media has forever done away with the traditional media filter by exponentially expanding the sources and nature of information flow. At some point in the last five years, every person on the Web was granted amateur media status, meaning an organization’s ideas could no longer be funneled and amplified by traditional media alone. Instead, those carefully crafted messages are being interpreted, dissected, skewed, altered, and then re-broadcast (if you’re lucky) by the masses in a manner that would appeal to literature’s famed chaos-theorist, Ian Malcolm.

So does this mean that PR is losing its relevance? Hardly. In a world where organizations have seemingly little control building and sustaining reputations, it becomes even more important to have a strategy for doing so. Define yourself, lest ye be defined by the masses!  But instead of rethinking the fundamentals of PR to accommodate a brave new world, most PR professionals are desperately clinging to the conventions of yesteryear – churning out press release after press release, and touting utterly uninteresting achievements in the hopes that someone somewhere realizes they are a “leading ______.” So what is the future of PR? How do we once again find our bearings?

As I developed my theory for PR change, I began by asking myself this: Was there ever a time when I personally felt helpless to dictate and affect the way I was perceived by the community around me?  I had to go back a ways…

In fact, I went all the way back to high school; that period of wondrous development and horrid social turbulence, when we struggled to understand who we were and what we believed. A time when we allowed the opinions of others to not only color, but actually dictate our own self-image. In high school, we had not yet formed our own personal mission statements, and thus we experimented with personalities, belief-systems, and actions. Often, we became what we thought our “community” wanted us to be – an athlete, a brainiac, a creative, a rebel. It was a normal process of growth, but an extremely trying process nonetheless. It was also the period when we learned about the importance and implications of having a reputation.

Like the contemporary PR practitioner, hoping to influence audiences in a shifting cultural and technological landscape, high school students are thrust into a new world of social connections where opinions are formed virally and affecting one’s own reputation can be a Herculean labor. Is it surprising that the early adopters of social media were teenagers? It’s a medium that maps perfectly to the complex social dynamics already at play during that stage of life; a dynamic in which gossip, sensationalism, “cool” factors, and popularity are the laws of the land.

As the parallels between my high school social scene and the new realities of organizational reputation management came into focus, I asked myself this: Who were the winners during our high school years and what might be gleaned from them?

To clarify, I didn’t mean “winners” in the sense that we might have meant when we were teenagers. Every high school had the popular kids and the unpopular ones. Back then, a “winner” supposedly ran with the in crowd. That’s not what I was talking about. I also didn’t mean “winner” in the academic sense.

Within every high school ecosystem, there existed a small handful of kids who rose above the frivolity and competitiveness of cliques. These were the students who would simultaneously interact with the jocks and the geeks – yet were ridiculed by neither. The students who would run for Class President, and win. The students who would play varsity sports, lead the school play, and do well academically (think Chris 'Oz' Ostreicher from the American Pie movies). What did they know that we didn’t? What allowed them to transcend the pettiness of their surroundings and succeed to such a high degree?

TO BE CONTINUED...

What Tiger Has Taught Us

LTW Logo for CG Blog

Last week, Tiger Woods apologized to his friends, family, fans and business partners at a nationally televised speech from Florida, expressing regret for his recent illicit behaviors. Few people will likely ever find themselves in his shoes, but there are several communications lessons that can be drawn from his speech, applicable to anyone trying to communicate effectively: 

  1. Be authentic. In good times, and especially during the bad times, it is critical to be authentic in your communications. It’s tough to judge what was behind this particular speech, and whether it was truly a sincere effort, or one that was thrust upon Tiger by his advisors to help “make good” with the public. On paper, the speech reads as though it could have been heartfelt, but its delivery was less than stellar, and made me question his sincerity. Personal reactions to this speech aside, authenticity is the first rule of good PR, and effective communications more generally. The lesson: Make sure that your communications efforts are authentic, and true to the values of the organization you represent. That will come across in your presentation, and benefit you in the long-run.    
  2. Practice Makes Perfect…but there is also an important balance to strike in terms of how one prepares. Tiger’s speech was a tough one, so being well prepared was essential. That said, I found it difficult to watch it without thinking about the many hours he and his team spent gearing up for this speech…but to no avail in terms of outcome. It felt far too orchestrated, to the point where even short pauses in speech looked like they had been strategically inserted for dramatic effect. This hampered the benefits of what could have been a good opportunity to help mend broken relationships. The lesson: Being prepared is critical to effective communications, particularly when going in front of the media. When prepping, it is just as important to focus on delivery as it is on content. Not everyone is a natural speaker, but by spending some time practicing delivery, you can increase your odds of effectively getting your message across.    
  3. Consider the Cumulative Impact. In reality, the rebuilding process for Tiger – the man and the brand– is just beginning. No single speech or media interview could undo the damage created by his actions, and this speech was just a step in a much longer journey. Sure, I think it could have been done more effectively, but there will be other opportunities for him to get out there, and better tell his side of the story. Just as cumulative bad news adds up, the repair process will take time, consistent communications, and actions backing up his words. The lesson: Any communication, be it speech, interview, or conversation should be viewed as a building block. Over time, it is the cumulative impact of consistent communication that has the greatest impact.  

Show, Don’t Tell

LTW Logo for CG Blog

The old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words can be particularly useful to social-sector organizations looking for high-impact marketing initiatives.  Here are three examples from Flickr – a photo-sharing site where in a matter of minutes you can be up-and-running, posting images that illustrate your organization or cause. Just like YouTube, where only a tiny percentage of content virally “finds” an audience, organizations do still need to let their audiences know this content exists, and invite them to share it with others. A few illustrations: Empowerment International provides education to impoverished children in Nicaragua. Its photostream includes pictures of children learning and playing:

Caught studying by KathyAAdams.
These kids we 'caught' studying. This is a lovely sight for us to see in the barrio...a definite shift in culture of the value of education (and the ability to have one).
 
Very effective caption, as well!
 
Hands On Disaster Response, a Louder Than Words Press for Action partner, is now on the ground in Haiti helping to clear debris and rebuild communities. HODR's photostream provides a look at progress:
our neighbors by Hands On Disaster Response.
Animal Haven is a no-kill animal shelter serving New Haven, Conn. that uses Flickr to share profiles of animals waiting for adoption:
Can you spot the hidden Kitten? by Adopt a pet, save a Life @ TheAnimalHaven.com.

Each of these Flickr photostreams includes links where people can go for more information or to make donations. Even more importantly, these groups proactively introduce Web site visitors and community members to their photostreams. A low-budget way to make a big visual impact!

 

Why I love the Nonprofit “S.O.S."

SOS

In the wake of my post last week about Idealist.org, I was invited to contribute an opinion piece to Tactical Philanthropy about the similarities (and differences) between Idealist and another organization that recently made a plea for funding. I'm copying the piece I wrote below. It examines what I've dubbed the "Nonprofit S.O.S." through a communications lens. Enjoy! ----

47 seconds ago (as of this writing), Idealist.org received a $35 donation from Shelburne, VT. Now bear with me while I hit refresh on my Web browser … just another second … wait for it … BAM! Less than 2 minutes have elapsed and a $20 donation just came in from Laurel, MD.

This is what life has been like at Idealist.org since Executive Director Ami Dar sent out his “help save us” email/tweet on Wednesday, January 27. In just eight days, Idealist has brought in $143,452, about 29 percent of their half-million dollar target. The donations have come in from 4,293 people, which averages out to about $33.40 per donation. Astounding! You can watch the process unfold for yourself on Idealist’s recently installed real-time fundraising counter here.

For a moment, let’s set aside messy issues like organizational strategy, public relations fallout, pathways to social “profitability,” and so forth. What Ami has been able to accomplish over these last few days is darn impressive and speaks volumes about the community and credibility Idealist has fostered since its inception in 1995. And how many of us wish that, like Ami, we had the network and the political capital required to elicit $143,452 in donations with an email and a few tweets?

In October of 2008, Kjerstin Erickson would have given almost anything for that kind of fundraising power. Kjerstin, as you might recall if you’ve been part of the Tactical Philanthropy community for a while, is Executive Director of FORGE, an international nonprofit doing critical work in war-torn African communities. On October 17, 2008, Kjerstin wrote a blog on Social Edge titled “We’re in trouble…,” in which she also issued an organizational distress call: “it's time to send conventional wisdom to hell. The truth is that though our programs have never been stronger, our bank accounts have never been lower. We're in trouble… and I can't sit back and act as if everything is okay.”

In the wake of both Ami’s and Kjerstin’s communications, lots of intelligent folks from the Nonprofit sector offered a great deal of critique. On this very blog, Sean invoked the rare superlative by calling Kjerstin’s Social Edge post “The Most Important Nonprofit Blog.” He was impressed and excited by how Kjerstin embraced utter transparency and was open to exploring new models to achieve long-term success. This stands in stark contrast to yesterday’s post on Social Velocity, in which Nell Edgington called Ami’s public appeal “a mistake” because he failed to articulate Idealist’s long-term plan for ensuring this doesn’t happen again.

To be certain, the situations facing Idealist and FORGE were and are not the same. These are very different organizations in different phases of their life-cycle, with drastically different causes, and completely different business models. But as a communications specialist, I’m much more interested in the similarities here. Both Idealist and FORGE required an immediate infusion of cash, both E.D.s went public with their appeals via the social Web, and both appeals were met with short-term, game-changing responses (Kjerstin received a healthy dose of funding and a great deal of pro-bono support to get FORGE back on its feet).

So does this mean if you’re a nonprofit in trouble, you should be issuing a public S.O.S. call? I certainly don’t think you can answer that question with an outright yes or no, but I do think a sinking nonprofit would be foolish if it didn’t at least consider the option. In Kjerstin’s case, she had absolutely nothing to lose. FORGE was going to go under anyway, so she decided to make a Hail Mary pass. Many variables contributed to FORGES eventual success, but I believe these were the two most important: 1) The passion and dedication that Kjerstin exudes is palpable. This comes across on the social Web and I’m certain it’s why she was able to rally the troops, and 2) She was open to the critique that followed. She put her ego aside and said the cause is more important than me or my reputation.

Idealist on the other hand, is not in a do or die situation. As a more mature organization with a larger infrastructure, they have been bleeding money each month since the economic downturn. Idealist needs these funds not to survive, but to “breathe, recover, and plan ahead.” Like Kjerstin, Ami could only do this kind of thing ONCE. But for different reasons. As an organization grows, it accrues goodwill, just as one amasses chips in a casino. By issuing an S.O.S., Ami has cashed in his chips. The onus is squarely on Idealist to convert these funds in to demonstrable outcomes. They cannot make a similar appeal until they’ve once again stockpiled goodwill.

Like Kjerstin, Ami is passionate about his work, and like Kjerstin, he is not dismissive of the critiques that are rolling in almost as fast as the donations (he responded to Nell in the comments section of her blog). Overall, I am very impressed with how Idealist has been able to grow such a dedicated network and I commend Ami for tapping all that goodwill in the organization’s time of need. Incidentally, I spoke with Ami earlier in the week, and he told me that although this has been a stressful time, it has also been strangely wonderful because he was not aware of just how much goodwill there actually was out there. Sometimes that kind of validation is just the shot of adrenaline an organization needs to reaffirm its commitment to mission and cause.

All this said, I do believe that Ami’s note could have been used to greater effect, but that is me splitting hairs as a communications dude (see this post on my agency blog Communicate Good if you’re interested in learning more).

In conclusion, I think what we’ve learned over the last year is that the “nonprofit S.O.S.” is just another arrow in an organization’s quiver of options, when facing hard times. But we’ll still need to see many more S.O.S.s before we can gauge their true impact or develop a comprehensive list of “best practices” (do you know of others besides FORGE and Idealist?). By the way – I just checked the Idealist Web site and they’re up to $144,687; $1,235 in donations since I started writing this. Wow!

Clicks for Cookies: SUCCESS!

I awoke this morning to about 6 inches of fresh snow (still coming down hard), and the very exciting realization that we met our goal of 1,000 cookies in just over 3 days! Read this post here to learn more about the Clicks for Cookies campaign. Thanks to you, the many generous folks who decided to click through to our new blog, we are able to supply the nonprofit Birthday Wishes with enough cookies to stock every Massachusetts-based birthday party in the month of January (one cookie per child in attendance). I was told by Lisa Vasiloff, founder of the organization, that these cookies will be placed in childrens' gift bags (along with other knick-knacks) to take after the party. If you're looking to do some volunteer work with a minimal time commitment... helping out at a Birthday Wishes party is an incredibly rewarding way to spend two hours. Check out their Web site to find an upcoming party in your area. A special thanks goes to Trish Karter, Scott Miller, and the rest of the folks over at Dancing Deer Baking Company for helping us make this happen by extending a healthy discount on product. I've known Trish for several years now, but we REALLY got to know each other this past April when Louder Than Words helped promote Trish's 1,500 mile bike ride to end homelessness. Trish averaged 100 miles per day, riding from Atlanta to Boston, staying at homeless shelters each night to help raise awareness for family homelessness. She is passionate for the cause, dedicated to her trade, and a powerful cyclist to boot.

We launched this blog in early November and, like most new blogs, have only enjoyed a small amount of readership. These things tend to grow organically over time. So it's worth checking the blog stats to see how this campaign so drastically skewed our numbers (for the better!) over the last few days. Click on the image of the graph to the right to see the numbers. We posted the blog at 2:30 pm on Thursday and then sent word out via email to our "friends of Louder Than Words" list. We also tweeted about the campaign and posted it to Facebook. Within minutes, unique hits to the post started to roll in and they didn't stop.

As a communications agency, we are no strangers to the power of social media and viral marketing. Nevertheless, we have never been on the receiving end of this kind of campaign. So you can imagine how exciting it was to see how many people had retweeted our message -- from far away as Quito, Ecuador. My wife, Jennifer, was particularly excited to see that the founder of Wholesomebabyfood.com had retweeted about clicks for cookies (she used their recipes quite often when our son was born). I, on the other hand, was much more excited about the fact that MISS UNIVERSE 2003 paid our campaign forward.

All of us at Louder Than Words had a great time putting this little campaign together. Seeing how strong the response was, I have a feeling it won't be another 12 months before we do something similar again. Happy holidays all!! Enjoy the snow.