Making the pivot

There is no doubt you have been inundated with information about the coronavirus outbreak that has spread across the globe and has sickened thousands of people. Governments have shut borders and imposed quarantines, and companies have imposed travel bans. The human and economic impacts on businesses have been stark.

As you attempt to navigate these uncharted waters, I have put together some key questions you need ask and be prepared to communicate in this crisis. Keeping your stakeholders informed is key in these situations. Here are internal and external communications questions you should consider:

Internal communications | Your employees need reliable information to help them successfully support your business through the crisis.

  • Are you making changes in sick leave or work from home policies to support workers who have children home from school or are directly impacted by the virus? How are these being communicated?
  • What other measures are you taking to protect employees from the virus, and should those measures be shared?
  • Do you have a communication plan in place if an outbreak happens in one of your locations?
  • Have you restricted business travel? Have you consistently and clearly communicated the details around these restrictions?
  • Are you considering contingency plans for larger-scale corporate events (e.g. sales meetings, client meetings or conferences)? Have you discussed how to communicate any changes?
  • Are you limiting or banning visitors to the workplace? If so, how will this be communicated?
  • Do you know where to get official local information on the outbreak to share with employees?
  • Do you have a reliable communication chain for employees to get and share updates about the situation? Do your managers know who to call to report a potential exposure?

External communications | This is an unprecedented crisis and calls for timely updates on your business is reacting.

  • Do you have a plan in place to communicate all changes you are taking in response to the crisis with customers and other external stakeholders?
  • Do you have a communication plan and basic messaging in place if an outbreak happens in one of your locations?
  • Have you considered contingency plans for planned public events?
  • If you have a major announcement that you are looking to have covered by the media? Media attention right now is almost exclusively on the crisis.
  • Have you considered suspending or changing planned social media posts to avoid appearing ‘tone deaf’ amid an emerging crisis?

I wish you the best as you navigate these difficult and challenging times. I’m happy to support your efforts as needed.

Tell me a story


Note – this post originally appeared on my agency’s blog.

Many, many brands have jumped on the content marketing bandwagon —from huge companies practically morphing into quasi-news organizations to mom-and-pops blogging to boost SEO. Content, to borrow a cliché, is king. But, the question is, what content? Recent research from the UK suggests eight out of ten readers are more likely to engage with brands that tell stories as a key part of their content marketing. Here are some guidelines on “storifying” your content to make it more attractive to your audience:

Include a human element

Consider the most mundane content you produce – is there a way to add a human element to it? Find the person behind the new product. Who came up with the innovation you’re announcing to the world in that news release? Is there someone who you can profile whose life has been improved by your offering? These are far more compelling than the typical dry lists of features and benefits. Chipotle could have produced a video of its CEO espousing brand values around nutrition and animal rights, but instead it produced a dramatic, remarkable animated short film that gathered 6 million views and won a Lion at Cannes. Now, I realize you might not have the budget Chipotle had, but that shouldn’t stop you from finding the human element to your content.

A great way to find the people behind your product is to connect with your internal audience – your employees – to gather true stories of the connections they make every day. So often they go beyond what’s required to truly make a difference in your customers’ lives.

Feature everyday people

The research also shows your content will benefit from featuring real people, saying those provide the best, most relatable stories. This means your content will gain more traction if it features a customer (or “regular” employee, as mentioned in the point above) than if it features a CEO or celebrity. You see examples of this in the content shared by RedBull and GoPro.

Have a sense of humor

Humor is another key element in successful brand stories, with a majority of respondents saying they believe it’s the genre that makes the best brand stories. In addition, consumers of all ages say they prefer humorous stories instead of inspirational or surprising ones. That might be why satirical news outlet The Onion has opened up its own content studio creating “Onionized” content for brands, including a video series poking fun of fantasy football for Lenovo.

Humanity, featuring everyday people, and a dash of humor will help engage your audience with authentic content.

Top 10 things David Letterman can teach us about content

From the home office in….

With David Letterman signing off, I thought a Top 10 list would be appropriate. Unfortunately, I don’t have Dave’s pull to get 10 celebrities to read these off for me…but here goes… drum roll please:

10) Don’t take yourself too seriously. One of the charming aspects of The Late Show (and Late Night before it) was Letterman’s self deprecating sense of humor. How can we incorporate that into the work we do?

9) Try new things. When Letterman came on the scene, especially in his early days, the bits he did were truly different, and forever changed the late-night landscape.

8) Have a great band. In the case of content marketing, I’m not talking about Paul and the CBS Orchestra. I’m talking about your writers or agencies that balance your content development and make it sing.

7) Know the news. Many of Dave’s monologue jokes tied into current events. You know I’m a believer in Newsjacking – Dave did it to get laughs, you can do it to get readers and build an audience.

6) Do lists… Dave’s Top 10s were a popular part of the show. And research shows lists get clicks.

5) Engage your audience. I had the rare and wonderful opportunity to see a taping of The Late Show (The Ed Sullivan Theatre is surprisingly small and cold, by the way). You need to wait in line a LONG time to get in, but during the wait, Dave has comedians and others “warm up” the crowd. He also engages his audience by having ordinary people and pets appear on the program. How can you engage your audience?

4) Don’t be safe, bland or boring. Particularly in his earlier work, Letterman did some wacky things. You, too can break the mold. Read this for more.

3) Look for the human element. Part of Dave’s appeal as a host was getting stars to come out of their shells – even for a short while – and give us a glimpse of their real lives.

2) He could tell a story. Many of his monologue jokes were told from a personal perspective about experiences he had. These can work in our content, too.

And… the number one thing David Letterman can teach us about content:

1) Everybody needs to learn about welding. See this clip Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 11.06.34 AMfrom his first show for context.

5/22 update: Great minds think alike… check out this post from PR Daily about what Dave can teach us about email marketing.


Peer: peer

During my time working with university recruitment pros and faculty, I would constantly come back to the idea of using real people in our communication. This article affirms my belief.

So, you might be saying, that’s great, Rob, but I’m in the B2B world and we don’t have smiling, happy undergraduates out there to write about us. Good point. But you do have customers… and you have your people that you are asking an organization to engage in a long professional relationship with. Why not put these elements of your organization front and center as opposed to rattling off the same features and benefits over and over?


Some recent (and not so recent) projects I’ve completed:

-I’ve worked on developing the new brand voice for the nation’s leading insurance companies, messaging and PR support for an industry-wide construction safety initiative,  and PR work for the region’s leading financial services firm.

-My work has been published in Tactics, a top industry PR publication offered by PRSA. Check out this article and this one.

-Several blog posts for my agency point out work we’ve done.

News release and Web content for the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences helped grow the institution’s share of voice internally and externally.

-Content for LasikPlus helped educate potential patients about the procedure and generate interest in Lasik surgery.

-Copy for not only helped drive traffic to their site, it helped generate completed applications – leading to business growth.

-Copy for Sunglass Hut’s corporate magazine connected associates with product offerings. See PDF and Word docs below.



-Lux Today, Luxottica’s internal newsletter, won a PRSA award in 2011. See article examples in the Word doc below.


-I wrote and edited an association magazine distributed to 20,000 members. I managed a redesign of the publication, which helped grow alumni memberships.

-NKU’s Northern magazine helped grow alumni engagement and donations to the university. I served as editor from 2005-2010.

-An ADA_Brochure (PDF) for Luxottica helped communicate the importance of ADA access to Luxottica-affiliated doctors.

-LensCrafters’ Heritage book helped celebrate the brand’s history and energize associates. See PDF below. HeritageBook12.2B

-Content for Hobart Corporation helped establish this brand as a thought leader in the food retail and foodservice industries. See example (PDF) below.


-An article in PRSA’s Tactics magazine provided advice to public relations writers.

-And, a blast from the past, an article from Cincinnati Magazine on swing dancing…

Posters, content marketing, David Carr



As someone who leads a campus marketing department at a major university, I bristle whenever someone emails or pops in my office saying something along the lines of “we have this event/new program/conference and need a poster.” I had a colleague say the other day – ‘I know you hate posters, but…’

It’s not that I hate posters. On a college campus, sometimes they can be a very effective part of an overall communication program. But all too often, time and effort and re-designing happens for a poster that will be ignored by hundreds of students who might be very interested in the material, but are buried with their face in their mobile device. Why aren’t we hitting them where they live – on their mobile devices via Twitter, email (yes, email) and other social media?

Content marketing and David Carr

I’ll be presenting on content marketing again for Higher Ed Experts – details to come – watch my Twitter feed. I note that David Carr NYT media critic, who died last week, acknowledged the increasingly blurry lines between corporate journalism/content marketing/native advertising and “real” journalism. I was interested to learn he was teaching a journalism class and thought how lucky these students were to learn from a guy like him. I think his catch phrase, something we can all learn from, is something like “just keep typing until it turns into writing.”

RIP David Carr.

New rules of PR and journalism

I’m going to be a guest on my local NPR station tomorrow to discuss changes in PR and journalism. This is no small topic! One of the points I’ll make is that we are looking at a future where the source of the information will be come less important. In the “olden days” we had our local newspaper, TV/radio stations and a few national magazines and that was it. Today, you literally can consume media from all over the world in the comfort of your home; and articles often come from others’ social media feeds versus you seeking them out. So in this new world, is it as important that the story appeared in the New York Times or that it was shared by YOUR key audience? At any rate, the show is on tomorrow at 1 pm – tune in to 91.7 or listen here.

Multicultural marketing

My job as marketing/communications director for the largest college at Ohio’s second-largest public institution gives me the chance to tell the story of our great faculty, students and alumni. But, since the college has 22 academic departments, we have a very broad audience to reach – from aspiring poets to lab-coat-and-goggles-wearing chemists. One subject that keeps coming up – and I don’t have a ready answer for, is how do we attract diverse populations? I’ll start by saying that attracting them and getting them in the door are two different things. I met high-school student this summer who was attracted to the school, but wanted to get out of her hometown and try something new. Totally understandable. But when I think of multi-cultural/diverse marketing, I believe many colleges merely do the traditional group photo of multi-cultural/ethnic/race students on the cover of the viewbook and leave it at that.

Isn’t there something else?

I can’t change that I’m a white kid who grew up in Cleveland. My mom spent years teaching in the public schools, but that pretty much was the extent of my exposure to people who had a different life experience than me. But what I observed then and through my college years and as a journalist is that communicating to people who might be different than we are has to go beyond the window dressing of who is in the photo. So, some recent blog posts on the topic piqued my interest. This post points out that universities collect race/ethnicity data in their applications, but never use that data to tailor messages based on that data. And this post shows the language gymnastics that we need to consider as we market on a global scale.

All good things to think about… no easy answer, but I believe that, like all communication, it starts with understanding your audiences.