Thoughts from the Road

Don’t you just love the welcome signs that greet you as you cross state lines?  My travels took me from Pennsylvania to Maryland yesterday to meet with a client and I was struck by the differences in the welcome signs I noticed on either side of the  Mason-Dixon Line.  Because I was driving at the time, I didn’t snap photos of my own.  However, I dug them up on the internet:

Credit: Christopher Wheeler, PBase.com

Credit: Misty Garrick Miller, Flickr

Ok so a few thoughts immediately come to mind:

  • The “welcome” is quickly followed by rules!
  • The top priority for each state is quite different!  (At least on this roadway)
  • Although I love my home state of PA and I hate to see litter, isn’t safety a bigger concern?
  • Kudos to MD for enacting legislation prohibiting texting while driving and informing drivers of this fact right away.
  • Currently, PA has enacted a state law against texting while driving.  Some lawmakers are also trying to pass a statewide ban against hand-held devices.
  • Will PA be undertaking a signage campaign to make drivers aware of their ban on texting?
  • Are the days of large, friendly welcome signs gone?  I miss the nostalgic, gateway-style welcome signs where travelers could pull over and snap a photo as they entered a new state.

The challenge in signmaking, as in billboard design, is to stick to the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid).  Did you know the guideline for billboard design is to include no more than seven words?  Traveling along a highway, glancing at a sign, that is the optimum number of words that the average person can read.  It drives home the point (pun alert) that our messaging, whether on signs, or within advertising/marketing campaigns, needs to be informative, effective and to the point.  Every word needs to be carefully considered so that the overall message hits the target.

4 PR Lessons from “the Last Day of School”

By Karen Hendricks

Early June never fails to bring a contrasting mixture of sweet, as well as bittersweet, days.  My children are celebrating every moment that brings then closer to the last day of school.  As a Mom, I find myself celebrating as well, but also savoring those fleeting final milestones (i.e. final spring concert, last soccer game, etc.).

I think there are four basic, fun and useful lessons that can be learned, by looking at the public relations, marketing or writing world through a “last day of school” lens.

1.  Take time to celebrate.

Think back upon your childhood and try to remember that euphoric “last day of school,” when the entire summer beckoned to you, filled with the promise of sun-drenched adventures.   Pure bliss.  How often do you take the time to truly celebrate marketing or PR milestones, or look forward to new ones, with a similar spirit?  So often, we’re on to the next writing assignment, or caught up in the building blocks of a marketing campaign. This is the perfect time of year to be in touch with your “inner child” and allow yourself to celebrate your accomplishments.  Be reinvigorated by looking forward to new challenges.

2.  Reflect on how far you’ve come.

Depending on the age(s) of your children, they may or may not be in a reflecting mood at the end of the school year.  My children accumulate school papers, projects and other paraphernalia in large baskets throughout the school year.  At some point early in the summer season, they each go through his/her basket, deciding which items are truly worth saving, incorporating into scrapbooks, or tossing.  But it’s always a great exercise that results in several exclamations of “Wow, I forgot about this project,” or “Can you believe algebra (or fill in the blank) used to be hard for me?”  So too, should we as writers, marketing and PR practitioners, evaluate our work periodically and take stock of where we’ve been, noting which projects caused us angst but allowed us to grow.

3.  Are your goals within sight?

As the school year winds down, my children are simultaneously planning next year’s schedules, making sure they’re meeting school and graduation requirements, being mindful of their goals.  During this season of final endings and new beginnings, it’s the perfect time to evaluate our clients, our work and our future goals.  Are you accomplishing everything you set out to do?  If not, make adjustments that allow you to stay in focus and on track.

3.  Remember that summer is a season of growth.

I treasure summers for the time they allow me to spend with my children, so I’m not a fan of year-round school, however I do agree with the experts that summer presents some of the best opportunities for learning.  Studies show that children are healthier during the summer season, growing more during this season than any other–physically, emotionally and mentally.  We too, as writers, marketers and PR practitioners, should tap into the unbridled, wide-open skies of summer to find inspiration and new approaches to our projects (I was trying to avoid the cliché “think outside the box” here!).  Allow summer’s green horizons, blue skies and golden sunshine to work its magic on you.

Event Photography: Capturing your Audience

The first in a series of posts related to the specialized field of Event Photography       

By Karen Hendricks

Actions and emotions are always the focal points in event photography.  Similar to photojournalism, event photography strives to capture “the news” surrounding a brand or client, as it unfolds.  Just as breaking news offers no second chances, event photography is based upon the photographer’s ability to capture scenes that summarize the essence of a narrative, or story, about that client.  Event photography can refer to social events, performances, benefits, fundraisers, special events, sporting events or publicity events.  These are great opportunities to showcase brands or clients in their shining moments!

Shots of the audience are essential to event photography.  Several types of audience shots are often needed–consider the various uses these images will fulfill for the client.  For example, a wide angle shot at an outdoor concert will convey success to event sponsors (see example at the top of this post).

The emotions or reactions of an engaged audience capture the spirit of an event.  These shots can serve multiple purposes including distribution to the media, and placement  on a client’s website, social media sites or in marketing materials such as brochures.  These images are treasured reminders of a wonderful experience for audience members, as well as positive motivators for future audiences (see example below).

Cameo shots of audience members are also essential; consider a mixture of candid as well as posed shots.  Scan the crowd for couples or small groups who catch your eye and are obviously enjoying the event.

Given social media trends, there’s a greater need for excellent event photography than ever before.  The rise of Pinterest and Instagram, along with Facebook’s Timeline design, are all placing greater emphasis on photography.  And when photos generate likes, shares or feedback, they’re engaging customers with clients.

Photography goes to the very heart of marketing.  Remember the American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”  What better way to communicate value than through beautiful, powerful or creative images?

All images are © 2011 Hendricks Communications, taken for the Gettysburg Festival’s June 10, 2011 Straight No Chaser concert

More Inspiration: Check out the amazing event photography on the following websites:

MOOSE, Mayor’s Office of Special Events, Lancaster, PA

Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts

Gettysburg Festival’s Flickr Photostream

International Festivals & Events Association (IFEA)

Diagnosis; Sharing the Story

By Karen Hendricks

If you would have told me last week that being a doctor was a lot like being a PR practitioner, I would have laughed.

But this week I learned that it’s actually the truth, because it all comes down to “the story.”

Former CBS News Producer-turned-MD Lisa Sanders helped me arrive at this revelation, as I had the pleasure of hearing her speak earlier this week.  Author of the New York Times Magazine “Diagnosis” column, Sanders provided the inspiration for the wildly popular and offbeat TV show House.  Dr. Gregory House, aka Hugh Laurie, solves medical mysteries by using his instincts and clues, often gathered through unconventional means.  His demeanor doesn’t exactly encourage his patients to talk to him and tell their “stories.”

As a former journalist, “stories” have always been at the heart of Sanders’ work, even when she made the transition to the medical field.  One of three Technical Advisors to House, Sanders dreams up the shows’ fascinating medical storylines.  Her latest book Every Patient Tells a Story describes “Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis.”  It all comes down to patients who communicate their stories accurately and doctors truly taking the time to listen to their patients’ stories.  Between 70 to 90 percent of all medical diagnoses are made, not based upon physical exams or specialized tests, but upon patients’ stories.But Sanders’ use of “the story” doesn’t end there.  She contends, one of the most powerful gifts a doctor can give to his/her patient, is the communication of a diagnosis.  How the doctor relays this information, explains a disease or shares information, is the first step to helping a patient heal.  Sanders writes, “A story that can help a patient make sense of even a devastating illness is a story that can heal.”

Ok so what does this have to do with PR and marketing?

Just as doctors search for diagnoses, PR and marketing professionals seek “diagnoses” for their clients.  The messages and stories that form the backbone of a PR or marketing campaign are often found, not by examining the number of website page views or other diagnostic numbers, but simply by listening to clients’ stories and employing them directly into the heart of the campaign.  Compelling, stories, emotional, human and fascinating, translate into a more effective PR or marketing campaign.  Take the time to find out why or how your client is unique (I know—over-used word but it fits) through their stories.

I once interviewed an artist who had an unusual, but beautiful, perspective on landscapes that seemed to stretch on and on in layers.  As one of dozens of artists I interviewed for an arts festival’s PR campaign, he explained that he preferred painting from high mountaintops, as high an elevation as he could reach, for a birds-eye perspective.   I asked a series of questions about his background and it turned out that his early artistic ambitions had been put on hold for a stint in the U.S. Air Force.  Perhaps that experience provided the training ground for his unique approach to landscape painting?  What an interesting twist to “his story” that provided a “diagnosis” of sorts.

While I’m listening and focused on a client’s stories, I always take the time to capture quotes.  They inject color and emotion into press releases or marketing materials!  I recently worked with a young political candidate who projected such enthusiasm and passion through his quotes and interviews, while demonstrating a firm grasp of issues at hand, that he attracted attention and was elected to office.  He communicated his story and connected to his constituency well!

Everyone has a story to tell, medically or otherwise.  Are you taking the time to listen?  And are you retelling the story and sharing it?

House: often closes the door on communication

P.S. Many thanks to Lisa Sanders for the great book inscription!

Communicate in 8

By Karen Hendricks

The average person’s attention span is 8 seconds long, according to statistics compiled by the Associated Press in 2012.  Compare that to the average attention span in 2000 which was a whopping 12 seconds.  Or better yet, compare that to the average attention span of a goldfish at 9 seconds.  (How is that determined?!)

The simple truth is that communicating is more challenging today than ever before.  So what does it take, to capture someone’s attention span for 8 seconds or more and convey a compelling message?  Here are a few tips, gleaned from 20+ years in the communications field, used regularly at Hendricks Communications:

1.  Tell Personal Stories:  Good public relations and marketing campaigns are transformed into great campaigns when they’re based upon captivating, real-life experiences.  People are fascinating!  Taking the time to understand and tell a client’s story, highlighted with anecdotes or quotes, injects an element of emotion.

2.  Use A Hook:  Think of a hook as something that draws you in and compels you to read further, listen longer, click on a link or turn a page.  The hook can take any number of angles–clever writing, an attention-grabbing quote or a shocking statistic but it grabs your attention instantly and piques your curiousity.

3.  Know the Facts and Stats:  Don’t overwhelm your reader, but strengthen your writing with a handful of carefully-researched and selected facts and figures.  Statistics add a powerful punch.

4.  Use Words that Wow:  Using a rich variety of language, including attention-grabbing vocabulary, engages a reader or listener.  Ten dollar words aren’t necessarily needed; quick and clever words with zing are just as effective, if not more so.  Spice up your vocabulary with playful prose or strong speech to suit the tone and subject.

5.  Be Brief:  Stick to the point, weave the story with colorful quotes, lanuage or facts where needed and come to a compelling conclusion.  Remember your audience has an average attention span of 8 seconds; if you hold their attention any longer, it can be considered a victory.

6.  Remember Appearance Counts:  Good design, clean fonts and a touch of color encourage the reader to actually read your text.  Make it easy to read; not complicated or requiring a road map.  A similar piece of advice works for the spoken word:  make your presentation easy to understand so that main points are clearly defined.

7.  Feature Photos:  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so use one (or more!) to enhance your writing.  Photographs convey mood, tone and expression so much more effectively, and quickly, than text.

8. Check the 5 Ws and 1 H:  The foundation of good journalism depends on asking the right questions and then making sure you’ve “covered all the bases” in your writing.  Who, what, where, when, why and how:  All of these questions should be answered or you’re bound to have gaps in your writing.  Once a reader discovers a gap, he or she tunes your message out.

Remember your audience may only be with you for 8 seconds–coincidentally the same amount of time that a rodeo rider must stay atop a bull in order to be awarded a score and win.