Posts Tagged ‘communications’

Why you need good content to win

You need better content.

If you’re a savvy communications strategist or a whiz-bang writer who knows the value of good content, then you already know everything I’m about to say.

This is for everyone else.

4551538712_c8251a67b0_zDuring the 2014 election cycle, I watched in frustration as far too many campaigns didn’t make their case as well as they might. They didn’t let the candidate’s true principles and personality show through. It was hidden behind carefully crafted talking points that were message-tested within an inch of their lives.

Too many candidates couched their positions in what they thought voters wanted to hear, instead of saying what they really believed.

Too many candidates focused on what they were against instead of running on what they stood for. Opposition messaging is part of the game in politics, but it shouldn’t be the whole ballgame. So we never really got to know who some of these men and women were. We only knew that they wanted you to vote against their opponents.

Who got it right? Senator Al Franken of Minnesota leaps to mind. So does Senator-elect Gary Peters of Michigan. Both of these winning campaigns illuminated the candidates’ humanity, a word used by Sen. Franken’s digital director, my friend Sara Cederberg, to describe what’s at the heart of good messaging. I could not agree more.

Al+FranniFor example, Sen. Franken was frequently shown with his wife, Franni, telling stories of their life and work together. This photo of Al, Franni and their first grandson, Joseph, is at the top of the “Meet Al” page of the campaign website. The campaign gets bonus points for putting a button on every blog post that says “I care about this,” so supporters could instantly share content that reinforced their own values. The tone was consistently warm, friendly and fun where appropriate, yet serious when it needed to be. The campaign team found just the right balance.

In one of the best TV ads of the campaign cycle, Sen.-elect Peters showed off his favorite raggedy sweatshirt and worn-out shoes while his family teased him about being frugal. It was an entertaining spot that helped him drive home his message about careful spending. See for yourself.

When I was volunteering by making phone calls to voters in Michigan, one woman said, “Tell Gary Peters I just love that ad with the shoes! He should make more like that.” A refreshing change from the majority of comments I heard about people being sick of negative campaign ads.

That’s not to say that these candidates didn’t go on the offensive. Although their emphasis was on what they were fighting for, they talked about what they were fighting against. But they did it with solid facts about policy, not personal attacks.

What’s true for campaigns is just as true for any endeavor that requires persuasion. People want to feel an affinity for your candidate, your cause, your product. One of the very best ways to do that is through storytelling. Both campaigns did this extremely well.

Start with a clear mission statement and brand identity, which applies to both people and products. Then tell the story of the brand and make your mission clear. Everything else — social media, emails, videos, speeches, media interviews — builds on that. Keep the messaging disciplined and stay on point, absolutely. But never forget there’s a personality behind the brand, especially if there’s a person involved.

3957524793_cabbf8da6e_zSure, you need to know your audience. Factor in all the data and demographics that can help you tailor the message and target the right people. But your brand’s message comes first, always.

And don’t forget the details. Quality content matters, whether you’re writing a speech, a blog post, an ad or a tweet. Be consistent, be authentic and be accurate. We can all make mistakes, but spelling and grammar still count — especially when you want to persuade someone that you’re the best person for the job.

Most of all, be human. Let your brand’s humanity shine through. Interact with your audience on a personal level. Because in the end, if you’re going to win you need people to choose you, whether you’re a politician or a product. Give them something they can relate to. Make them like you enough to say “yes.”

[Typewriter photos by Steven Depolo (top) and Leo Reynolds (bottom).]

You can teach an old(er) cat new tricks

Is there anyone who likes speaking in front of an audience or on camera? I actually do, but despite kudos I’ve received for it I’ve often feared I must sound just like that teacher in the Charlie Brown TV specials. We all think that way. It’s human nature.

But, really, I’ve had no reason to feel ill at ease. I’ve been a professional communicator my entire career. I also spent 20 years performing onstage and directing theatre, which requires an understanding of how to put your best foot forward and, in the case of directing, teaching the skill to others.

At Netroots Nation 2013, a conference largely devoted to using technology to amplify voices and influence public debate, I attended a training session on how to be a “media star.” It was led by Joel Silberman, who brings years of theatrical experience to his work as a media strategist and trainer for organizations, online activists and candidates.

You can teach an old(er) cat new tricksEven if he hadn’t uttered a word about how to be authentic and put forth a presence while in the eye of the media, his own skills would have illustrated it perfectly. The advice and guidance he shared was invaluable, whether I’ll be on camera or coaching someone who will be. And I had the exhilarating, enlightening experience of being selected to receive one-on-one coaching in a mock on-camera interview.

I’ve never felt more self-assured and articulate on camera. I feel like I’m ready for anything now. Including my close-up.

Immersing Myself in Imagination

I’m heading to TEDMED this week, and I have no idea what to expect.

I couldn’t be happier about that.

Of course, I know the tangible details of what TEDMED is all about. It’s is a multi-disciplinary gathering of people eager to share ideas, innovation and inspiration that can create a better future for health and medicine.

I’m thrilled to have been chosen as a delegate for TEDMED this year, joining attendees from across multiple fields — healthcare, science, technology, music, art, education, communication … you name it. I’ll also be part of TEDMED’s first-ever Great Challenges Day, where small groups of delegates work together using storytelling to help clarify and communicate some of today’s most complex issues in health and medicine.

Part me of wants to learn as much as I can about everything and everyone involved before I get there. The other part of me wants to put down my iPad and stop trying to absorb it all. (Especially at night, because the dizzying thought of the whole thing makes me too excited to sleep.)

Immersing Myself in Imagination

Instead, maybe I should just clear my mind and immerse myself in the experience, letting it wash over me as it comes.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to be prepared. I want to make sure I don’t miss a thing, and there’s a lot to take in. But I think there’s a reason every day of the conference starts with the option of running, yoga or meditation. It’s a chance to invigorate our bodies and spirits before we begin. Exercise and meditation always clear my head; they help me see things I might otherwise overlook and prepare me to experience things in a different way.

Which, when you come right down to it, is the essence of TEDMED. We’re there to learn, of course, from the impressive lineup of presenters. But equally important, we’re there to create new connections that can spark innovation, to contribute what’s unique about each of us to the larger goal of uncovering new ways of seeing health and medicine — and the world around us.

Each of us will bring our knowledge, our curiosity and our dreams for what’s possible to TEDMED. The event will be organic, shaped by everyone who’s there. Which means there’s really no way to know what to expect.

I do know this: TEDMED will be a great adventure. So I plan to experience every moment as it unfolds, with a heart and mind open to the infinite potential in each of us. Because when we do that, great things can happen.


Photo: Sue Austin, a performance audience and presenter at TEDMED 2013, “aims to find dramatic and powerful ways to reveal the ‘Hidden Secret’ of disability.”

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