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Showing posts from January, 2013

"I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar"

Niceness is a curse. You can be a nice person -- you can treat other people nicely -- but never fall into the trap where you **need** other people to call you that.

When men are powerful, decisive and stand their ground, they are "strong."

When women do exactly the same thing --and somebody disagrees with them or wants to take away their power -- get ready for the "B" word.

I used to be afraid to be called a "B." But one day I realized - "B's" have more fun. We get things done. We laugh loudly. We swing our arms with joy.

We don't need to always look pretty and shiny and sweet.

Some people take the "B" thing too far. But my thing is, who am I to tell them so? Liberation means you can do what you want - and be judged equally to a man when you act badly.

Not all "B" words violate the rule of politeness. It also stands for "barracuda." I am proudly one of those.

One day I hope that all women wake up and embrace our in…

The Suze Orman of Personal Branding

Whether you are describing a product or introducing a person, always relate them to something familiar.

"She works in Company X. That's kind of like the Google of B2B."

"It plays movies on a little screen. Kind of like a personal DVD player on a notebook."

People fear the unfamiliar. Sometimes they reject it outright, just because it's new.

To gain acceptance, associate new things with old things as if the old thing got a fresh coat of paint.

10 Reputation Mistakes You're Making Right Now

1. Ignoring gossip: By its nature you cannot hear it, but it affects you whether you are listening or not.

2. Waiting for complaints: People attack in packs. Early intervention means seeking out customer unhappiness while they are still too timid to "make trouble."

3. Making excuses for no metrics: Google Search is a metric. Twitter js one. Social Mention.com is free and easy to understand. It costs you nothing.

4. Avoiding the details: Details are not exciting to big-picture types. But a little nail can puncture your tires. Check the fine print.

5. Not communicating to employees: Communication means listening and talking. You can convey confidence and stability just by creating a space for interchange. Nothing new need be said. You can always collect questions.

6. Surrounding yourself with yes-men: It amazes me that anyone still does this. A friend told me my pin was ugly today. Thank you!

7. Avoiding social media: In 2013 if you still can't find your way around LinkedIn, ple…

Authenticity Is Overrated

Scenario 1 "Come over here, Mommy. I have to show you something." "What? I'm working." "It's _____. Look at this post on Facebook." I peered over my computer at hers.  "There he goes again, trying to be cool." Sometimes you just want a teacher to be a teacher. 
Scenario 2 A month ago, in the hallway, we bump into The Artist. "Hi." "Hi." "How are you?" "Oh, I'm fine." It is twenty degrees outside and snowing. She is dressed for the beach. It's none of my business; I focus on the elevator, waiting for it to hit the ground level. But looking at her was jarring.
Scenario 3 The end of a great interview, a few years back. "So if you got this job..." Sounds good. "...and if you had a demoralized workforce..." Oh. That's interesting, that they would say that. "...and almost zero when it comes to resources..." A-ha. O-kay. "What would you do?" I responded directly. "As good a…

Rethinking The Typical Office of Public Affairs (Updated Jan. 27 2013)

Download from Slideshare here, or see below. It's pretty self-explanatory, given my general approach to communications, but please ask me any questions you might have. Obviously the main difference is the word "engagement" - it's all about the interaction. - Dannielle Blumenthal




Looking at this you might be thinking - what do we do with the Web?  I envision that it would become part of an interagency portal, much like Amazon.com. The portal is an IT function and thus would be administered by the Federal Chief Information Officer. Each agency would be deputized to contribute to this portal.  Generally each individual agency public engagement function would answer to or be part of a larger interagency task force, group or committee - whether it's FOIA, social media, media relations, writing and so on. This is the concept of shared services as applied to citizen communications as well as the concept of a customer-centric organization organized from the outside-in. The Am…

The Missing Discipline - The Missing Mother

Remember that movie "Not Without My Daughter" with Sally Field?

A long time ago, in a smallish apartment on the Upper West Side of New York, I shared an apartment with a noted psychologist who did couples counseling.

It was curious to me how a noted psychologist getting a divorce could do couples counseling. But then again I am not always clear when I communicate. And my profession is to help other people do this very same thing.

So perhaps we spend our lives in the dogged pursuit of excellence in what we're bad at.

In relation to this, let's talk about corporate communicators for a bit. Because we're trained to actually write things, get feedback on things, strategize and measure. Yet we spend too much time playing a role we aren't trained for and that is outside our scope to carry out - that of organizational development (OD) specialist.

This is the missing discipline in most organiza…

"Social Media Is A Waste Of Money" - What To Say

The role is really citizen engagement and the set of tools includes social media. 

Done properly you are building the infrastructure - culture of openness, accessible tools, and policy - to enable everyone and anyone to engage. 

I too have seen wasteful spending on flashy outreach with dubious results. But a lot of executives like that. They think glossy billboards means we did something. They can be argued down from that particular tree. 

But the real task is to help leaders see who they need to engage, segment these publics into target audiences with a high level goal for each, and empower organizational ambassadors accordingly. 

As far as cost, it is minimal:

You can get an army of ordinary frontline employees to proselytize on Facebook just by giving them permission. Cost - $0. You can train anyone to do a rotation at the customer service chat desk. Cost - in-house training and time away from regular duties. You can also empower subject matter experts to talk about complex and controve…

Never Abandon Social Media (Just The Opposite)

The following is adapted from a comment I made on GovLoop.com in response to the question of whether an organization should cease its social media activity due to a lack of interest among the public.
Don't walk away from social media. Lack of response just means the organization is implementing it in a way that misses the target. What people want from organizations, government specifically is as follows: 1) To gain benefit - e.g. be connected to the services they are paying for with their tax dollars 2) To not get in trouble - e.g. be informed as to how to follow law and regulation administered by that agency 3) To have a voice - e.g. to be able to influence what the agency does or at least be heard The best way to address all of the above is social media, supported by a platform that makes pure data easily accessible (e.g. Open Government) and mashable - no bells and whistles. This is why the function of public affairs is obsolete and should be morphed to social media completely. The CIO…

5 Ways To Counteract Those DC Stereotypes

Photo of the National Archives Building by WallyG via Flickr
For those of us in the metro D.C. area, it's sometimes hard to see ourselves "outside-in." As in outside the Beltway, in New York or California or Florida or the Midwest.

You might not actually care about perceptions of Washingtonians naturally. Except there are a few reasons to do so. For one thing, bias against the federal worker ("lazy, overpaid, incompetent") means automatic negative judgment when budget times get tough.

For another, it just doesn't feel good to be laughed at. Hey - we Feds are people too!

It occurs to me that maybe we government employees don't know how to fight those stereotypes. It's not - to me - about saying what we're entitled to but rather proving our worth every single day. A totally different paradigm than what people are used to hearing from us.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Think private sector. Dress & think corporate. Get that MBA or at least read the busines…

Toughen Up

That's right. I'm tough. Like Hilary Swank in "Million Dollar Baby.
Once when I was a little girl I scraped my knee and started crying.

"Turn off the waterworks," my mother said. "Toughen up."

As a tween I went to a new summer camp one year and got bullied.

"I want to come home," I sobbed into the phone. "I HATE these people. They're horrible."

"Forget it," said my mom. "You're not sitting in your room all summer. Handle it."

I had a boss once who was particularly cruel. "I'm going for that promotion," I told a coworker, referring to a job opening we both knew about and were qualified for. "I deserve it after all of this."

"Oh yeah?" the coworker responded. "I've been here for thirty years putting up with that crap. Get in line."

All of us fall, all the time, every day. And we figuratively punched in the face too. By people who sense weakness and respond to …

The Unit of Work Is The Project (Email = Dangerous Crutch)

Even the most creative solo endeavors are really projects. Photo via Wikimedia.
Just wanted to take a minute and share briefly the kinds of conversations I'm having lately, about how the nature of work is changing. Basically there seems to be a growing recognition that organizing your work around email is not the best way to go. This is because email, in government, has become a kind of crutch for communication. Think of all the things it does: It documents conversations in case there is an argument laterIt gives us a kind of dashboard where we can see all the fires we have to put out for that dayIt enables us to communicate without having to go through the labor of listening (as most people prefer to talk than have to sit there while someone goes on and on)At this point, in the government, it does not seem that the faster mode of communication (instant chat) or the more efficient one from a knowledge management standpoint (Sharepoint and the like) have caught on. For the following re…

5 Components Of A Good Awards Ceremony

Generic photo of employees posing with awards by ZSRLibrary via Flickr


Today I attended my first annual awards ceremony at work.

It was great to be recognized but what surprised me was how good the actual ceremony was.

Let me quantify that with specifics:

1. Leaders' speech was spontaneous, and sincere - engaging people, boosting morale by lending meaning to the day-to-day work.

2. Speakers gave remarks full of substantive information about wide-ranging aspects of the organization - good training.

3. There was extensive inclusion of the field offices through video - very unifying.

4. Leaders took time to praise employees in specific enough terms that we learned what behaviors are valued - good training.

5. There was appropriate humor sprinkled throughout - keeping it real. This builds a bond between leader and led without crossing the boundary into overfamiliarity or buffoonery.

I walked into the event expecting a self-congratulatory waste of tim…

What's Hot Right Now

1. Webstagram

2. Playing games on iPad

3. Remote controlled toy helicopters

4. Massage chair recliners instead of couch

5. Seaweed flavored like potato chips

6. Monster diet lemonade - energy + vitamins + taste

7. Neon sneakers

8. Mary Janes

9. Fringe

10. MSNBC

Profitability In A Facebook Economy (Why You Can't Afford To Be Antisocial)

Today, people do business with their friends. Friends are a known commodity. Strangers may have the technical skill but are un-trusted - unless highly recommended through word-of-mouth.

At a coffee shop I overheard this conversation:

"So what are we going to do for dinner tonight?"

"I don't know, I'm sick of Chinese."

"After this next interview, let's just get out of here. We have to check the house."

The walls have ears, and those ears in the coffee shop were me: Was this a couple I was listening to, or the co-owners of a computer repair business?

From the sound of it, the answer was "both."

The concept of "the clubhouse" is as old as time. As little kids we built them literally, or turned back-to-back chairs into living room forts. High school kids form cliques, that morph into tribes. Friends become romantic partners, then live-ins, and sometimes marriage. Men withdraw to man-caves and other female-free hangouts; women go to co…

The Right Discount Dynamic To Preserve Brand Equity

It's the classic branding problem:

The better your image, the better your brand equity - the higher the margin between your stuff and a commodity. But if your merchandise isn't moving, offering discounts is a short-term fix that leaves you leaking brand equity like the Titanic.
So how do you offer a markdown without seeming "cheap?" Target the method of discount to your audience. As follows:

Premium: Distribute fancy print cards, in person, to the luxury shopper who has already paid full price; provide fee-based credit card with discounts to loyalty club.Semi-Premium: Mail "specials" to members of your loyalty club; provide no-fee loyalty card enrollment programMass market: Leak promo code virally, online; offer app-based discountsNeighborhood market: Print coupons in the Sunday paper and/or neighborhood newsletters; tear-offs in the local Starbucks
The bottom line: Discounts are not inherently deadly to your brand. But thoughtless discounting is. If you custom…

Government Critics: A PR Opportunity

If you haven't heard of Alex Jones before you probably know the name now after the epic TV battle between him and Piers Morgan.

As of today,

4,684,171

people have watched Piers Morgan and Jones go at it over gun control.

I've been reading Jones' and similar blogs for a few years now, roughly since the Fast and Furious scandal broke (2010).

As a Homeland Security component employee working in public affairs (I joined another agency last year), this should have been laudable. After all from a communications perspective there were so many factors involved that almost required such attention:

An agent - a fellow employee - murdered, and deep concern among the workforceRelatively closemouthed agency - information shared internally based on "need to know" culture Insistent and persistent criticism from the blogosphere Speculation on public but not publicized employee social media boards about what was happeningRelative silence in the mainstream media
While the subject matter …

10 Things I Love About America - The Scene At An Airport

1. Nathan's cheese fries (no bacon :-) and Dunkin' Donuts coffee with cream. Red Bull x 3 due to early morning flight.

2. Hasidim and Muslims crowding around the same gate, completely oblivious to each other. Hearing so many different languages.

3. Plug-vultures hunting for a charge and I got there first!

4. Watching "Homeland" with free airport wifi.

5. Reading "OK" Magazine.

6. Geeky sweatshirts and mug.

7. TSA explaining that Scotch is, indeed, a beverage and can't come through the X-ray scanner.

8. That feeling of adventure.

9. People-watching.

10. Appreciating home.

How To Get Out Of Your Own Way

Photo: nonanet via Flickr
The other day I spotted a friend, standing a few feet away. She was just past the security turnstile at work. So happy to see her, I practically ran through.

Only problem - the two or three people right there. Who I was blocking with my big hug. They couldn't exactly squeeze by.

Politely my friend pulled me over. A pitying look on her face.

"Sorry," I imagined her saying to the ebb-and-flowing crowd, "my friend has no spatial perception."

It's true. Getting out of a cab, I'll hit my head. I do bump into people, trying to figure out which way to walk in oncoming foot traffic.

Sometimes I have trouble getting out of my own way too.

As a little girl I said once, to my mother, "I'm happy." My dad and my aunt were in the room.

Immediately three forefingers stood poised at attention, slicing at imaginary oncoming swords.

"Shhhhh," they collectively said. "You're going to bring on an ayin hara!"

In Hebrew &…

The Art of the Question - The Art of Listening

Image via Wikimedia ("Princess Merida") "Good questions can move your business, organization, or career forward. They squeeze incremental value from interactions, the drops of which add up to reservoirs of insight. Of all the skills innovators can learn from journalists, the art of the expert Q&A is the most useful." - Fast Company, Dec. 17, 2012
According to Shane Snow at Fast Company, questions are "the one conversational tool that will make you better at absolutely everything." He offers this advice for asking the kind of questions that yield insight:
"Don't ramble on--terminate the sentence at the question mark.""Get comfortable with silence.""Start with "who, what, when, where, how, or why" for more meaningful answers.""Don't fish for the answer you want.""Stop nodding if you don't understand--ask a follow-up instead.""If you get a non-answer, approach it again from a diffe…

How To Know If You're Really A Writer: 10 Signs

Photo: OkayCityNate via Flickr
Nowadays "everyone's a writer," and writing is available so cheap. (Cheaply, yes, I know...but it would have ruined the rhythm of the sentence.)
But having the urge to write, or knowing your way around Dragon Dictate, is not the same thing as actually having the bug.
In the end I'm not sure this really matters. We all do whatever we do. But it seems important to know. Because if you are a writer, you have no choice but to write and you will have to build it into your day.
Here's how I figured it out:
1) I am impossible to live with unless I write every single day. I'll get into a bad mood and not know why, and then I know - I haven't written. You might think that writing is an incredible joy all the time, but it's not, necessarily. It's more like a physical need. And when I have writers' block, better get the hell away because that is even worse. 
2) It's not about the money. In fact I worry that money would corrup…

Rule #1: Don't Make The Customer Think

Image: Zen Garden via Wikipedia
Apple. Microsoft. Coca-Cola. IBM. Google.

As of October 2012, these were the world's 5 most most powerful brands, according to Forbes, drawing on research by Landor and Penn Schoen Berland.

You can get a glimpse of the methodology by which they made that call (they won't tell you everything of course) but at the end of the day it's not hard to see why you'd choose these.

They're very simple to choose.

All of them are almost a default when you're making a buying decision. As in, "Of course!"

There is a saying: "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM."

In Brand Simple(2006), Landor's Allen Adamson says:

"A brand should not be complex, confusing, or mysterious in any way.....A brand should be simple. People use brands as a shortcut to make business decisions."

Consider also that customers don't judge a brand by its own performance. Rather, "customer expectations are set by the best customer experience…

Working Together When You're Ahead Of The Curve

"Brain-Machine Interface" via Innovationwatch.com
In the rush to get more and more credentials we sometimes forget one thing: it's mostly for the resume.

Because most organizations are not up-to-date with the training their employees have taken.

Across public and private industry there are scores of new-style workers ready to fly around on wings made of collaboration software, mobile apps, virtual work and of course the latest techniques for busting those stovepipes out the wazoo.

But then those same workers walk into the average workplace and can't believe it's not like the teacher told them.

A friend of ours told us that the kids in Florida now go to school with their iPads! While we are still learning to connect them to our networks.

Forget the training class: If you read the business journals, you might start to think that every company is like the ones profiled in those magical case studies.

But the reality is that we're sort of playing catch-up. In a world whe…

Administrative Assistants: An Undervalued Brand Asset

Screenshot from Working Girl via EternityofDream
Awards and perks aside there is one simple way to tell how much an employee is valued: their salary.
Clearly, companies value their chief executive officers a lot. Last year the average CEO pay at a S&P 500 index company was $12.9 million, according to the AFL-CIO. By their calculations, that's 380 times what the typical worker makes.
Image source: AFL-CIO
Of course not all CEOs work for S&P 500 Index companies. According to Salary.com, the median U.S. salary for the job title "CEO" is actually far lower - $732,744 per year.

But we still value corporate leaders much more than those who work for them. About 10.5 times more, in the case of administrative assistants who report to the CEO. According to the same site, the median salary for a "secretary to the CEO" is $69,854.

On the face of it you might say to yourself that a gap of ten times pay sounds just about right. After all it's the CEO who makes the big …