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Showing posts from April, 2015

To Build Brand Equity, Develop Your Team

At the end of the day a good brand continuously builds its own equity - that is, a price differential between itself and its competitors - by doing three things well. They can be summarized by the following imperatives:
1. "Choose Me": Help the customer make a decision quickly.
2. "Be Me": Provide the customer with a sense of identity.
3. "Join Us": Create a like-minded group of people rallied around a meaningful cause.
The urgency behind these "commands" flows from a brand creator and their team working together to accomplish three goals:
1. Communicating: Explicitly or implicitly setting forth a unique value proposition that has value to a specific target audience.
2. Consistently delivering: Actually providing the real (functional) and/or perceived (emotional) value they promise.
3. Continuously moving: Symbolically and actually "living," moving about in the world and representing themselves to their audience/s.
But brand teams can't re…

Dissolving Workplace Dysfunction

I have a dear friend, colleague and mentor who spent her whole life in the government and was sidelined for almost as many years.

The "funny" thing is, she's a genius. And whenever they had a problem, they'd come to her.

"That's alright," she used to say, "I keep everything in Outlook."

And she would reach in to one of her folders from five years back and retrieve exactly the thing they wanted to know about right now. 

"I told them a long time ago this would come back to bite them," she used to say. "But of course and as usual, they never wanted to hear."

My friend is still around and I've urged her to write a book about her professional travels. I want her to tell you about the time they stuck an adult toy in the cubby of a high-ranking female executive, during that era (is it over?) when women were very rarely seen in the high ranks.

I want her to tell you about the boss, a woman (surely conscious of her stature), who "…

Why I Care (A Short Meditation)

I can't believe I'm getting so old.

My eyes, when they are not retouched by an Instagram filter, have wrinkles at the edges. I have, as they say, "a furrow on my brow." And when I leave the hair salon the grays come three weeks after coloring.

Around me the people are dropping like flies. Sometimes literally. People we know from childhood - dead from cancer. People we know only vaguely - dead from a heart attack suffered on the tennis court while on vacation.

Little symptoms here and there, nothing serious, maybe serious. Warnings from the doctor: Take care of yourself now, before problems progress from a whimper to a shout.

"And so are the Days of Our Lives."

The clock is ticking and it's time to start giving back, big time. Help other people and share what I can. 

I don't know what day will be my last.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government. Photo by John Watson via Flickr.

To Communicate Effectively, Begin With The Customer's Frame Of Reference

Two speakers, two topics, a different city than my own and a completely different type of culture than I have grown used to.

But their ideas were durable and resonant. They applied to my job, my program, my world.

More than that: The program I represent effectively answers some of the questions they raised. It offers a method of closing gaps in the system, gaps that they dwelled upon at length.

I found myself talking, not a lot but some. Explaining the connections between me and this place, this time.

And as I talked, I realized that the language I had available to me was applicable to my own frame of reference, that is to say - the world of science, the culture of Washington.

But these were people not of my world. I needed to get through to them.

And so I listened to the words that THEY used, and thought: There is a piece missing here. I'm doing things backwards.

Rather than explaining my world in my words, I need to explain their world to them using my frame of reference.

It was like so…

The Top 10 Mistakes DC Women Make When It Comes To Fashion

Yes, that's me with my astounding "Washington, DC" neon-handwritten wallet bag. And headphones.
I make no pretense to be stylish as I age. Frankly it's getting worse every year. But if I've become somewhat slovenly, maybe even a bit of a shlep, I am pointing the finger straight at this policy-oriented city in which I've lived and worked pretty much my entire career.
And not to pick on the women, but really - we can do better than this! We can. 
They are laughing at us up in New York.
Here are our top 10 fashion sins of late. I freely admit to most of them. May we repent and be forgiven:
1. Yoga pants outside yoga class, where your physical fitness level does not justify the exposure.
2. Pumps with a skinny heels. Yes, I'm talking to the ladies who get off the train at Pentagon City.
3. Sweatjackets, because you've given up.
4. Infinity scarves on women younger than 70.
5. Leopard leopard everywhere and not a drop to drink.
6. Sandals and no pedicure. Sandals an…

Marketing A Conference - The Pitch That Worked

I've been to a lot of conferences over the years, as a speaker and as an attendee. I know a lot of people who go to them, I've talked about them as a "thing" (i.e. are they worthwhile or not) and I've been the subject of many marketing pitches to either cover them or attend.

To begin with, there are two schools of thought when it comes to conferences generally.  Some people love them, and see all sorts of opportunity lurking nearby, what with all the networking and all. Others think they are a waste of time, suitable mainly for people who don't have jobs or who are trying to change out the lousy one they've got. Let's zero in on those who "love" them or at least are open to attending. Because when you market a thing, you want to "go with the flow" (as Wayne Dyer would say) rather than fight the river. The latter gets you very little in return, versus leveraging a natural source of energy means you expend less effort and gain exponenti…

Some books that really helped me understand branding

This is in response to a question on Quora. There are a lot more. Brand Warfare by David D'AlessandroBrand Hijack by Alex WipperfurthBrand Simple by Allen AdamsonThe Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine and Christopher LockeNext: Trends for the Near Future by Marian SalzmanPositioning: The Battle For Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack TroutEating The Big Fish by Adam MorganWhat would you add?
___ All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

Design Is How We Interact With The World

We crave to be in a pizza place.

We hunger for THAT BAG.

We like people who know what bubble tea is.

We fall in love with our first car.
Design is how we know where we are, who we are, and who we want to be with.
Design is personal, but it is a unit of social currency as well.
All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. No endorsement expressed or implied. Photos by me.

5 Ways To Unravel A Sexist System

This weekend in synagogue an elderly gentleman introduced himself to my husband. 
After a lengthy discussion about their respective careers, after talking about his daughter who is apparently highly sought-after by potential employers in a technical field, after asking my younger daughter where she planned to go to college and what she planned to study, he turned to me. 
"Do you cook or do you microwave?" he asked, very sincerely and with a kindly smile.
How do you dismantle a sexist system so complex and multifaceted, within which some women enjoy far greater equality than others, within which some great strides have taken place, one so interwoven with racism and classism that the knot seems almost inextricable?
And how do you define a "feminist movement" now, anyway? I for one don't want to be leading that synagogue service; it's quite fine by me that the role has been left to the men. But at the same time, I know there are women who do want to lead a service…

If You Want To Succeed, Get Hungry

"There's a line of other people who want your husband," someone once said to me. "If you want to stay married, keep that in mind." On the just-ended season of HBO's Girls (Season 4), Hannah leaves her boyfriend Adam in Manhattan. A fancy job as well, writing words for a magazine that blur eradicate the line between journalism and marketing.  Hannah is not just a writer by trade. She is claimed by writing. It owns her. She cannot do anything but write, real writing. She cannot think except about what her next piece will be. She cannot stop until her work is better, better, better. Hannah leaves Adam, whom she loves. She's been accepted to the renowned graduate program for creative writers, the Iowa Writer's Workshop.  Anyone who writes and cares about writing at all can recognize this expression on Hannah's face. It is Hannah, but it is really Lena Dunham and the show exemplifies her. As a college lecturer I can tell which students are really hungry t…

Life, Through An Instagram Filter

What if I told you I got these beautiful roses at a countryside shop in Paris?
That my love ran off to gather the handful, bucket and all.
Stuffed them in the back of the car we'd rented for our second honeymoon. 
Splayed them forth upon the grass to decorate our weekend picnic. On that shining, gorgeous spring day.
* * * 
And now it's Monday in the cold, harsh clear light filtered through a suburban Maryland window. 
As I am forced to admit these are dollar-store creations, plastic in a plastic case, made up substantially, to look like something more and better than they are.
My roses are filtered, once and twice and again. And I look at the photo and tell myself the story that I want to tell you. 
Repeat, repeat, repeat it again. Convincing myself that the steady drumbeat of a lie -- or should we say an altered representation of the truth -- will give them the glamour that they lack when viewed as real things. In their unfiltered properties and context.
Who is to say what is real and…

Why Sisterhood, Still?

Because women are half the population, but not even remotely half of our leadership. Because biased perceptions about women as bosses continues.

Because women earn less than men for the same work no matter how you slice it. But still pay more for health care.

Because women still do more than their fair share when it come to balancing work and family demands.

Because nearly one in every five women have been raped.

And because somewhere a woman is getting the crap beaten out of her every 9 seconds or so. And it's usually someone in her own family that's doing it.

Though much progress has been made, we can do a lot more for the female members of our population.

It's time we stepped up and started doing it.
All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by me, of my daughter Rebecca, giving a presentation about her recent class trip overseas. Book cover photo via

Question-Based PR: A New Paradigm

It is by now well-established that standing on a soapbox and yelling at the public does not work.
It does not make people trust you.
Even if you're Winston Churchill.

So what does work, now?
The answer used to be "reliance on influencers."
But, to take just one example, polls show that people don't trust journalists like they used to
It's been happening for awhile.
Not the least because the line between selling (marketing) and telling (journalism) has drastically blurred. (Note: the photo below is only used for the purpose of conceptual representation and dose not reflect any commentary about the actual people in it.)

What does work is organic social media. 
Meaning, comments from people who are sharing a genuine point of view.
Overwhelmingly, the trust numbers favor real talk by real people.
How can you take advantage of this new paradigm if you're building a brand?
Among other things, you can simply find out what questions people have, and answer them.

For this purpos…

"Why Are Most Fortune 500 CEOs Male?" - My Top 10 List

1. The notion of what it means to be a corporate CEO is tilted towards socially constructed norms of "maleness" - appearance, demeanor, personality.
2. Boys are still taught to lead, dominate, conquer, take charge and men feel obligated to do so, e.g. the military is mostly male and is still viewed as a male domain.
3. There is a biological element here that has to be taken into account, e.g. hormones do affect behavior. 
4. Girls are taught the converse of what boys are taught, albeit implicitly, subtly, etc. "Soft sexism" is very real and it is not respectful of women either at work or at home.
5. Children require thinking and rethinking priorities and more often, women will choose children first over the effort required to climb the corporate ladder - which is not as fulfilling for most.
6. Same as #5, but for relationships. Corporate success requires long hours and frequent overnight travel, as well as relocation as needed. These are all relationship-killers.
7. Wome…

Personal v. Professional Communication In A Government Job - My Two Cents

The issue of personal vs. professional public communication comes up for me a lot. 

In the spirit of being helpful, here are some thoughts. I really put a lot of time into this one, and asked for feedback before sharing the below as well. I was concerned you'd read my own personal "cheat sheet" and think I was speaking for my agency. 

It's tricky, right? Because I am bound by policy like everyone else, but at the same time we all have to use common sense.

**Long way of saying, these thoughts are not necessarily truisms across the government at all, and are offered only as a way of participating in an ongoing dialogue across our individual organizations.**

I. Variables

1. Agency - explicit and implicit rules/culture; includes your relationship with your supervisor, with Public Affairs, with other internal stakeholders 
2. Role - communicator or technical subject matter expert, for example 
3. Media of choice - e.g. book, blog, newspaper column, Tweet 
4. Seniority
5. Visibilit…

20 Lessons Learned From Great Federal Government Managers

It occurs to me that I shouldn't be giving away all my secrets.
But I am betting that a rising tide lifts all ships. So that my doing so will show I am a valuable asset by being selfless and helpful.
That's lesson 1. Here are the rest:
2. Travel with a posse. It makes you look important.
3. Delegate. Repeat that a hundred times.
4. Help people - give them credit - promote them - and maintain good relationships for life.
5. Ask for help. This is not the same as delegating. Find resources.
6. Overcommunicate, and collaborate genuinely.
7. Work around red tape. Do not fight it.
8. Be quietly effective most of the time, but know when to be loud.
9. Don't make enemies if you can help it.
10. Be nice to everyone, no matter what.
11. Don't take it personally.
12. Understand when something is a lost cause. Walk away.
13. Remember what's really important and go home on time.
14. Also remember it's all a game.
15. Be passionate about excellence. That's not just a line.
16. Have a cle…