Both clients and members

Seduced by Twitter

Author Kathryn Schultz just published a great article, subtitled How Twitter Hijacked My Mind, on the New York Magazine website. From being a total skeptic, she became a Twitter addict. Not only is it engrossing but it also points out how Twitter’s a great tool for authors.

As the saying goes, been there, done that. I got deeply engrossed in Twitter but it became such a time suck that I gave it up cold turkey. Don’t get me wrong… I love it. The reason I gave it up is because I’m usually on a contract assignment where I’m dedicated to full-time work during normal business hours. I saw many of my colleagues and friends apparently spending most of their waking hours dedicated to Twitter and, as far as I can tell, giving their employers less than fair value for their wages. I didn’t want to do that… when I’m on an assignment, I don’t feel that it’s right for me to spend time during those hours on Twitter or Facebook or other personal-level social media. I’m not as engrossed with Facebook as I was with Twitter… I didn’t feel that I needed to give it up; I can manage my use of Facebook during my off hours. I will tell you this… when the time comes that I’m ready and able to retire, I’ll be back on Twitter in a heartbeat.

That time of year again

One of the fond memories from my youth was when the Chicago Tribune published the (now politically incorrect) Injun Summer by John T. McCutcheon each year on its front page. First published in 1907, it became an annual event. It brings a good feeling to the inevitability of fall and demonstrates how we can use our imaginations. The Tribune has a brief article about it here.

Working Writers of Wisconsin at BizExpo

Joel Habush and Linda Presto reminded me that I had neglected to report on our participation at BizExpo on May 21st at Potawatomie Bingo and Casino. I had a good supply of handouts. I also had a nice banner that I draped across the front of our table. I wanted to hang it on the top edge of the backdrop behind our table but didn’t have what I needed to attach it… I’ll know better if we do this again. I got there early in the morning and got our table set up before the expo opened (wasn’t much to it… hang the banner on the front of the table, put out a generous supply of handouts, and set up my laptop.

Attendance was very good. Our booth was in the very last row but we got a great number of folks stopping by to find out more about what we’re all about. I told our story more times than I can remember and gave out a good number of our handouts. Late in the morning, Lora Hyler joined me to help out and I was actually able to take a break and grab a quick sandwich. Things started to thin out around 4PM and I closed up shop about 4:30. My dogs were barking from being on my feet most of the day.

A Season in the Show

Science fiction author John Scalzi just posted an inspirational message for fiction writers on his blog Whatever. Wander over to http://whatever.scalzi.com/2014/01/20/a-season-in-the-show/ and check it out.

Who’s Managing Your Communications?

As the owner or manager at a typical nonprofit organization or business, you have a web site to communicate your mission, products or services. You also may have a newsletter — whether printed or posted on your web site — for customers, donors, potential clients, and associates. You also have other ways of communicating to your customers through marketing brochures, direct mail, and solicitation letters.

And while most large corporations have a staff of professional communications specialists to manage these things, you either don’t have the resources or can’t afford to hire staff. The burden then falls on the executive director, a secretary or business owner to manage web content, newsletters, and other communications.

Professional writing and succinct, clear communications are important for all organizations. If you are explaining a product application, writing a feature article about a person, or profiling a success, your writing needs to flow. Unfortunately, how often do we see awkward sentence structure or way too many words and adjectives stop the flow when reading an article? Grammatical errors and typos (far too common on blogs and web sites today) only further frustrate a reader.

Your organization’s image is on the line. You need to draw potential clients and attract donors to your nonprofit. Make sure your communications are professional and consistent each time web content is posted, a newsletter is published or a news release is issued.

What is the main purpose of writing your column, blog or home page? Ask an executive and he might say to tell readers about the company’s financial picture.  Ask a marketer and she likely will say to sell the product. Both answers are wrong. The main purpose of anything written is to be read. What good is writing about your great financial success if it isn’t read?

  • Don’t stop the reader by not transitioning
  • Don’t confuse the reader with run-on sentences
  • Don’t strain the reader with lofty but unknown words
  • Don’t irritate the reader with puffed up marketing-speak

Back in journalism school, we were taught to write in the “inverted pyramid” where the most important stuff came in the first paragraph and lesser information or background information, followed in succeeding paragraphs. This was done because a newspaper editor often had to cut the article to fit it in the layout. A reporter needs to tell the who, what, when, and why in the first paragraphs. If space allows, she can tell the “how.”

This same rule applies today but for different reasons. People don’t read web sites; they scan web sites for content they’re looking for. Our eyes scan in a similar pattern to reading but much faster on a web site. We are accustomed to looking in certain areas and are less patient reading through unnecessary words. A narrative style of writing just won’t do on your home page.

Here are a few steps you can take to build professional communications in your organization:

  • Adopt a style manual for all external communications. A common style manual used by business professionals is The Chicago Manual of Style. (Being a hometown Milwaukee guy, I’m not too crazy about the name!!) There are others and you don’t have to use a published stylebook; you could make up your own.  The important thing is consistency in writing style. Using a known stylebook makes it easier.
  • Two sets of eyes are better than one and three sets are even better.  Adopt a procedure for proofing all content written. The worst case scenario is when one person is doing all the writing, proofing, and publishing. Typos are guaranteed to happen and once it’s printed, it’s too late.
  • Designate someone to be the go-to person or Editor-In-Chief for all written communication by the company. This editor can oversee company style and consistency in communication. This duty could be split between two people but both need to use the same stylebook.
  • Find someone outside the loop to give a final review of the communication piece. Often, two people who are so close to the situation and ingrained in what they are writing, will overlook something that needs more clarification. They may know what they’re saying, but what about another reader? An impartial review by someone not so close to the situation may be revealing.

Terry Bolda began his communications career as a newspaper editor in 1979. He has worked in corporate communications, public relations, and more recently, marketing and fund development for nonprofit organizations. His business, Bolda Communications, provides nonprofits and businesses with marketing communications, public relations, and fund development services.

Reporting on a national tragedy in Oak Creek, Wisconsin

It’s been more than a month since Oak Creek, Wisconsin stepped into the national spotlight when a crazed gunman slaughtered six people and injured several others at the Sikh Temple. I learned on Monday, August 6th from fellow Working Writer Barbara Abel that Time Inc. was seeking a reporter to cover the aftermath of the tragedy from a local angle. About an hour after accepting the assignment, I set off for Oak Creek. In my briefcase, was a hastily written letter I had requested from the news director in case anyone questioned my credentials. In the darkness, outside a local church, I stood among about a hundred solemn others at the first of several candlelight vigils held in honor of the victims.

I respectfully requested interviews, fully aware that Temple members were among the crowd, as well as shocked residents from throughout the area. They all simply found it too painful to sit in front of their television sets and do nothing. I gained easy access to people close to the tragedy, the shock still fresh on their faces. Yet, they needed to give voice to the voiceless—their friends, family members and peaceful worshippers–who stared at the barrel of a gun that Sunday morning on August 5. I felt the raw pain of the Sikh Temple vice president Vikramjit Singh who lost not only his leader, but his friend.

I filed my first story.

The next day, I got in my car and drove to the Cudahy neighborhood where Wade Michael Page, the gunman last lived in an upper duplex just above a single mom and her two girls, ages 11 and 17. After doing a bit of research, I learned the address. The family had been there for a year prior to Page moving in above their heads. I thought I’d interview neighbors, but was surprised when I found Jennifer Dunn and her two daughters and their black lab huddled together on their front porch.

As I slowly approached, the lab moved forward barking loudly, sensing yet another intruding reporter. I backed off and smiled that I didn’t want to upset her dog. Somehow when I asked if she lived at the home and whether I could talk to her, Dunn sighed and simply asked, “Do you have a camera?” I quickly responded no, and that turned out to be my passport to gain entry onto the front porch.

It was a surreal scene as we sat on her porch in the early afternoon sun with gawkers slowly driving by, reminding me of the Jeffrey Dahmer scene. Another neighborhood disrupted by mass violence. Dunn remarked that she wasn’t sleeping, and mentioned she was lying awake nights figuring “how to get out of here.” It was clear she had a lot to struggle with. As a psychiatric nurse, she was second guessing herself for not figuring out that Page had some mental health issues. She was upset at her landlord for telling her he ran a proper background check on his new tenant, and she blamed herself for unwittingly exposing her vulnerable children to a mass murderer.

I set aside my journalist role for a minute to tell her, “You can’t blame yourself for not figuring this man to be a killer after five minutes of conversation over a three-week period.” She nodded, and I went on with the interview. As I left her porch front, I realized Page himself had walked up and down these same stairs. Both mailboxes– for the upper and lower units –were in the front of the house.

I filed my second and final story.

A few days later, I started a long-term corporate consulting project with a leading downtown Milwaukee global financial services provider, but I’ve often wondered whatever happened to Dunn and her two girls. I’ll also remember them as the family with the unfortunate luck of renting the same home as one of the nation’s most notorious killers. Thankfully, they lived to tell the tale.

Read Hyler’s Time articles at:

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Lora Hyler began her career as a radio news journalist with WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio and WISN radio, an ABC affiliate. She now works primarily in corporate communications, public relations and marketing. She’s based in Glendale, Wisconsin.

The Joy of Biking

I’ve spent my summer rediscovering the joy of biking. I am a fair weather rider, and often forget from season to season how much fun biking is. This year with the cost of gasoline and the desire to shed a few extra winter pounds, I’ve turned to the bike for commuting and neighborhood errands almost every day.

Up until a few years ago, I had not been on a bicycle for 30 years. Then my husband got me the best Christmas present ever – a shiny white and silver “commuter bike.” My “Townie” has fat tires, a seat designed for the middle-aged anatomy, no toe clips and brakes that are easy to reach and upright handlebars that didn’t require me to ride hunched over like I was competing in the Tour de France.

I was a little nervous at first. But, after trying out my new wheels on the asphalt parking lot of the elementary school down the street, I quickly found that it was “like riding a bike” – you don’t forget. Soon I was rolling around the neighborhood, running errands and even venturing onto local bike paths and off to parks and stores outside the neighborhood.

The gear was great – a sturdy helmet, a comfortable t-shirt and padded, billowing, biking shorts. When I first suited up, my teen-age son complimented me as I set out for my ride: “That’s what I like about you mom. You’re not afraid to try anything no matter how stupid you look.” My fashion-conscious daughter added her own advice. “I don’t want to hear the words ‘spandex’ and ‘mom’ in the same sentence.”

I quickly discovered the biker’s rules of the road:

  • Always make eye contact with drivers who are pulling out from stop signs, especially if they’re on cell phones;
  • Keep an eye out ahead for drivers who may be ready to either pull out or open their car door just as you’re passing;
  • Read the weather forecast religiously; and, pay attention to which way the wind is blowing.  On one of my first trips down the bike path, I was amazed at how far and how fast I could go – until I turned back north and started riding into the brisk wind that had propelled me so swiftly and easily south.
  • If you’re going someplace to work, check to see if the facilities are bike friendly with racks, a place to change; and maybe even a shower.

Like any form of transportation, riding has its dangers. One of my sisters scraped the pavement with her face and broke a few teeth when a bike right in front of her on a tour lost a pack, and she went headfirst over the handlebars as her bike struck it. A good friend, like me a grandmother, broke her hip and fractured a few other bones while training for a triathlon. So, I ride slowly and stay vigilant.

On the positive side, I’ve also discovered the joys of seeing and smelling the world close-up. Milwaukee’s Lakefront is lovely from a car window; it’s astonishingly beautiful cruising along on a bike in places cars can’t go. The aroma of French fries and pie that wafts over the Capitol Drive bridge on the Oak Leaf trail in the evening speeds me on my way home to dinner. And you never get that mixed floral smell that is a Milwaukee summer when you’re driving along with the windows rolled up.

I’ve notched a number of small athletic accomplishments.

  • I have actually passed one person (on a bike, not on foot) this summer.
  • I rode in with a group I work with on Bike to Work Day. I was the last one to arrive, but I made it up the half-mile long incline at the end without getting off and walking.
  • I managed to successfully transport a bowl of fruit salad to a party on the bike. (Bowl and fruit in separate containers in the backpack).
  • I’ve ridden all the way to Irish Fest (and back) for the Sunday morning Mass and morning buns on my August birthday weekend every year for the past five years – not bad for a mother of four, grandmother of five. Every year I tell myself “I’m too old for this;” and every year I do it again.

When I was a teen (many years ago), the bike was my only form of summer transportation. My dad took the one and only family car to work every day, and my mom was too busy taking care of a large and growing family to drive us all over even if she’d had a car at home.

I remember fastening my clarinet case to my bike handle, meeting up with my friends and fellow musicians and heading off to band practice. It was five miles each way and we thought nothing of it.

Now, as I fasten my grocery bag to the bike handles and head out to buy a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter on a summer day, I feel that young again.

Kathy Quirk of Quirk Ink was born in Lima, Ohio (fictional hometown of Glee) where she learned to ride her first bike. She earned her degree in journalism from Ohio State University, worked for ten years as a newspaper reporter in Dayton, Ohio and moved to Milwaukee 30 years ago. She’s continued to write about everything from Tuvan throat singing to car seat safety for various clients ever since.

FedEx Office needs to slap someone at their ad agency

A friend of mine needed to send a fax, and I wasn’t busy so I went with him to the local FedEx Office store. So we got his fax sent, and we’re standing at the counter checking out. I looked down on the counter and there’s this beautifully done advertising mat (kind of like a jumbo mouse pad, maybe 12″ x 18″) on the counter. I looked at it, and it says something in big type about how three of their most popular large-format pieces are now on sale: posters, banners, and (nothing). Did someone at the ad agency fail first grade arithmetic (a quick web search indicates that it’s probably BBDO, who should definitely know how to count to three)? If you’re going to advertise that there are three things on sale, you really, really ought to list all three of them.

In addition to that bit of bone-headed stupidity, the bottom inch and a half or so is taken up by a picture of an American Express card and a line of text that trumpets that FedEx Office gladly accepts the American Express card. Okay, that’s cool… joint promotions are a good thing for both businesses. However… they cleverly forgot to put the FedEx Office logo anywhere on the piece. The only way to tell whose advertisement this was was the fairly small and not very noticeable URL pointing to a page on the FedEx site. It’s a sorry state of affairs when it’s easier to identify the secondary advertiser than the primary.

Yep, FedEx Office needs to slap someone at their ad agency. At the same time, somebody at FedEx needs to get called on the carpet and reamed good and proper as well for approving this crappy example of “professional” advertising.

I haven’t forgiven FedEx yet for discarding the well-known Kinkos brand. On the plus side, I will compliment FedEx Office for hanging a banner on the store window with the Kinkos logo on it… seems that folks apparently aren’t as tuned in to thinking of a FedEx Office store for copying and the like as they were with Kinkos.

The Case of “The” Missing Articles

It was a bleak Monday morning. So, as required by the Private Eye Union (PEU), I was nursing a hangover.

Then, SHE walked in without knocking, but not without (…fill in with your own sexist comment here).

“I hear you’re a good detective,” she vamped,“ as she leaned over my desk, and two of her self-popping buttons self popped, as did my eyeballs.

“And I hear you’re a bad girl,” I riposted. This was an arrant lie; I had never heard of her, but in my line of business, it was always a pretty good guess.

“So, what’s the caper, sister?” I asked with a nonchalance acquired from years of watching Humphrey Bogart play Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Over the years, I had also pilfered demeanors from other hard boiled eggs, mainly Dirty Harry, Popeye Doyle, Charles Bronson, and John Shaft. Oh, yeah, I’m bad.

When she told me that some articles were missing, my eyebrows shot up, as did my blood pressure.

She said the main one was “the.”

“So, ‘the‘ is missing,” I said. “From where?”

“Mainly, television.”

““Well television is hardly the bastion of proper English,” I said.

“But it’s so pervasive, and so influential. I fear we may lose the word “the,” completely. Somebody is murdering the English Language, and I don’t know who or why. You’ve got to help me,” she sobbed.

I patted her on the shoulder, uttering a few “There, there”s and asked, “When did you first notice this?”

“A few years ago, when “The Discovery Channel” started calling itself “Discovery Channel,” as in ‘Don’t miss ‘Tasmanian Devil Week’ on Discovery Channel,” she said, dabbing at her eyes. “They got away with that. Then they brazenly hit “The Disney Channel,” recently they struck what is now called “Hallmark Channel,” and yesterday the crime spree reached its height.”

“You mean…?”

“Yes, I just saw a promo that invited me to watch ‘The Top Ten Nap-Inducing Tournaments, next week on Golf Channel.’”

I agreed that this was alarming. “Why didn’t you go to The Grammar Police?”

“I did, but they were too busy high fiving each other for having crossed out typos on the menus of one of our more prestigious restaurants.”

I decided to help her. I’m a sucker for a hard luck story. I’m not saying hers was one, I’m just stating a fact.

“If you’re looking for a motive, it’s Branding.”

“What’s that?”

“Branding is a way of extracting money from companies by promising to make their company name, product, or service become more memorable and/or put in a more positive light.”

“So companies actually believe that by dumbing down, they will increase sales and profits?” She was so innocent. Me? I was born guilty.

“Give somebody a pie chart to drop in a PowerPoint presentation and you can convince anybody of anything,” I said. “At least, that’s the theory.”

“So talking like Tarzan, and dropping necessary articles, helps with that?”

“That’s the flavor of the decade, anyway. Tarzan’s English teachers should have been subject to peer review. On the hottest days in the steamiest jungles, he still wore more articles than he used in speech. Apparently he never learned about personal pronouns either. He shared this defect with Tonto. ‘Me go to saloon and see Sheriff. Him big feller.’ Also they referred to themselves in the third person. ‘Tarzan take nap now.’ “Tonto go discuss phenomenon of Buffalo returning, and subsequent consequences.’”

She wrung her hands and asked me piteously, “What can we do?”

“Just what you’ve been doing. Fight the good fight. Send the guilty companies emails. Start a Facebook page. Keep trying with the Grammar Police.”

I saw that this kind of tough guy talk turned her on. So I threw her a bone.

“All is not lost, though; many of the missing “the”s can be found on TV before big professional football games when the participants say where they went to college. ‘The,’ though pronounced ‘thee’ can be found in front of ‘Ohio State University.’”

“That solves the Case of the Missing Articles. Listen, Doll,” (Hey don’t get excited, I’m not being chauvinistic—that was her first name.) “You look like you could use some cheering up. Wanna work on a couple of cold cases with me?

She brightened. “Of murder?”

“Of beer.”

www.joelhabush.com

© Copyright by author, used with permission by Humor Press. No unauthorized reproduction or redistribution is allowed.

Amazon takes one for the team

Amazon’s been occasionally putting collections of classical music MP3 s on sale (99 Essential Pieces by <composer>).  These collections are performances by orchestras and artists you’ve never heard of… akin to the classical music you used to find in the bargain bins at the record store (remember record stores?). I like classical music so I bought one last night… 99 Essential Beethoven Pieces.

However, recently I got a new Discover card. Discover had some sort of security issue and even though I hadn’t had any problems, they issued me (and probably thousands of others) a new card. Well, I hadn’t updated my Amazon account, deleting the old Discover card and adding the new one in its place. Since my Discover card has been my primary card on Amazon, that’s the one they used for last night’s purchase. Now, one would have expected that when the transaction was processed, it would’ve said “Hey… you can’t use that credit card… it’s not valid.” But for whatever reason (possibly because I buy a lot of crap through Amazon), the transaction went through unchallenged and I downloaded all 99 Beethoven pieces last night.

Bright and early this morning, I got an email from Amazon that they had not received a valid method of payment for my order so they were cancelling it. Oops… mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Hard to cancel a transaction though when I’ve already received the merchandise. So I signed in to Amazon, deleted the old Discover card and added the new one. That business taken care of, I tried to figure out how to actually pay Amazon for the purchase I’d made. Lo and behold, there was nothing there about it. The transaction wasn’t even in my purchase history.

Being the nice guy I am, I decided I’d better call them and try to make it right. Well, there’s a challenge, let me tell you. Try to find an actual phone number on the website of most merchants… it’s always a challenge and in some cases impossible. However, persistent sod that I am, I finally managed to find a page where I was told that if I clicked the button below, Amazon would call me back. “Click.” Immediately the phone started warbling my default ringtone, Harlem Nocturne. So I answer, and after the announcement with the usual disclaimers about how the call might be monitored for quality assurance, I’m connected to a helpful call center agent named Anne.

I explained my situation to Anne, that I owe Amazon $3.99, and I’d like to pay it, and that I’d already dealt with the cancelled credit card and added the replacement card. She went “Hmmmmm.” Then she said she was going to transfer me to the MP3 department. I said thanks, and after about 45 seconds on hold, an agent came on the line. After I explained my situation, she told me that they didn’t have a way of taking my payment so I should consider last night’s purchase a gift from Amazon. She did ask me to tell her the last four digits of the credit card I’d like to use for future MP3 transactions, so I told her and she took care of that. Having concluded my business, I thanked her profusely for her help and signed off with my customary “Take the rest of the day off with pay and tell ‘em I said it’s okay.”

So Amazon… thanks for the free music, for handling the call very nicely and and for taking one for the team. We hear all too often about bad experiences but not often enough about the good experiences.