Wednesday, April 29, 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 read brand creators' minds. To help them deliver every single day, the brand creator must provide guidelines:

1. Purpose (Meaning)

     a. Vision: In one or two words, how do we make a positive difference in the world?

     b. Mission: In a sentence, how are we making the vision happen? 

     c. Values: What kind of people are we? Why would you want to work with and/or buy from us?

2. Approach (Style)

     a. Complexity: Highly technical, college-educated, or mass-market?

     b. Narrative: Just-the-facts, research paper, or romance novel?

     c. Data: Screenshots, photos, infographics, multimedia, or charts and tables?

3. Brand (Persona)

     a. Visual: Wordmark/logo usage, color palette, photography style, and font

     b. Spokespeople: Just the boss, senior executives, all employees, or customers?

     c. Themes: One big theme, two interlocking, or three related (no more than three)

In short, brands win by "acting spontaneously," but the spontaneity comes from an immersive approach to training. 

This doesn't mean handing out dry, stiff guidelines that take the wind out of everyone's sails.

It does mean having an ongoing conversation, one that starts with a basic set of principles.

When you're doing it right, your representatives are so fluent -- so fluid in the brand's language, culture and symbols -- that they come up with new and better representations of the brand on your behalf.

They don't ride your wave, they create their own.

And they don't even have to think twice about what they're trying to accomplish.

All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by Alexey Naumov via Flickr.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

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 "made up" for sexism with the words "we never close," and who sequestered her in a hotel room for months away from her very young child because "these are sensitive negotiations and I can't afford the risk of a leak."

It would be better if you could hear from her mouth how she submitted an idea very practical in nature to the "suggestion box," only to hear "we'll get back to you, thanks," and later to learn that a high school student was getting nationwide press for the exact same idea.

Yes, my friend put up with a lot.

"Back in the day, you had to go drinking after work with the guys," she also told me. "Because if you didn't, forget getting anything done from 9 to 5."

My friend did what the system told her to. And by the grace of G-d, she was saved from one of those guys she had gone drinking with.

It was this friend who told me we could do incredible Tweets even before people knew how to use Tweet as a verb (i.e. they used to say "I'm Twittering.")

9:00...9:15...10:30 a.m. and we could wait until the end of time to get a single "status update" approved.

"It's a big game, Dannielle, you see?"

She was telling me how executives get recruited.

"They only get people who have something on them. That way they can keep them under control."

I didn't believe it. She must have been lying, or making something up.

But the comment did make me think.

We frequently read about suffering employees in the news. And the corresponding bullying bosses who - quite literally - throw their weight around.

"I told one of them that he should keep throwing things," she said once. "Because the next time he did it, I'd be calling the cops."

We hear about women, and men, who are sexually harassed and who keep their mouths sealed firmly shut.

Whistleblowers warned about the possible consequences to themselves and their families.

And "ordinary" talented people who just can't seem to make it in the workplace, while sycophants and incompetents rise to rule the roost.

If any of the statistics are even remotely correct, most of the salaries paid and earned on any given day are a total waste of time - managers and employees alike are often, essentially, "checked out."

And yet the workplace goes on and goes on. Don't tell me that it's the government because I've been around. In the public sector, private sector or academia, the same toxic dynamics.

What I believe, in my heart of hearts, is that the problem is not a lack of data. Data we have aplenty.

Nor is it a lack of will. I don't say this to be a sycophant myself, but most people I know really are essentially good. They need to earn a paycheck, but they want to do a good job, and to make a positive difference in the process.

Here is where the problem comes in: a gigantic, complicated, massive superstructure of a social-economic system that beats them down every day. It's all mixed together: work, education, relationships, caregiving, health, "the meaning of life," church/synagogue/mosque/temple, getting the car fixed, shoveling snow, going shopping for food and you can't find tomato sauce in Aisle 5...all of it is impossible.

Another friend said the other day, "I called customer service at the airline and they told me they're not in the business of customer service, they're in the business of transportation."


And so dismantling any of this, especially the more problematic aspects, starts to seem impossible.

Almost like someone trying to re-architect the Empire State Building, beam by supporting beam.

I am here to tell you that the system can be changed.

It can be transformed.

It can be overcome.

We, together, can do it.

It isn't a big deal. It's not as daunting as it seems.

It doesn't have to take exaggerated drama.

And it doesn't require cruelty to those who are doing just fine in the toxic system, thank you.

All it takes is that collective "aha," that single breakthrough moment. Not just by "the people in charge" but by the workforce, the community, as a whole.

We have to decide, together, that there are certain things we will and will not tolerate. Not for ourselves, and not for each other.

The day we decide to make the workplace better - by taking concrete steps to support and encourage one another in health - is the day all the pain is going to end.

And in the end, the people who seemed content to live in a broken castle will reveal themselves to be sorrowful at having been contained within its walls.

It's time to build a better village.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by FromTheNorth via Flickr.

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.

Friday, April 24, 2015

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 somebody flipped on a gigantic light switch.

I further realized that it was not my job to push and sustain an outreach program of my own.

Rather, it is to ride the wave of momentum that ALREADY EXISTS out there. There is a huge natural flow of interest in disruptive innovation, in "Made In America," in bringing jobs home.

It isn't my job to think of new themes.

It is my job to LOOK AT WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING ALREADY. Speak to that, fold in with that, ride the wave of that.

In short, to surf.

And then I realized the very big thing, the thing that has been eluding me all along, nagging at me, tugging at my brain and I haven't had words for it.

The meaning of "social" is not, as many think, "a range of tools associated with interactive, self-powered digital communication."

Well, maybe it's partly that. But that's not all of it. That's just the means.

"Social" is really about a different paradigm for marketing.

Instead of building desire where none existed before - instead of creating false need - it's about clueing in to the needs that people are articulating ALL THE TIME.

Really looking at them and paying attention to that.

And it's not about "owning" a particular and separate space from all your competitors.

Rather it's about JOINING and RISING ABOVE the competitive set so that you become a trusted part of the community, a wanted purveyor of things, services and ideas.

It was an eye-opening experience to go to that event yesterday. My Tweets went through the roof.

And I think my brain exploded along with them.

All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

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 and ragged toenails. Sandals in winter with open toes. 

7. Matchy-matchy costume jewelry, earrings and necklace.

8. Black on top of black "because it makes me look thinner."

9. Blouses generally. They never look good. Who even says "blouse?" 

10. ...and my all-time favorite, rhinestone lanyards with your government ID.


All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

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 exponentially more reward.

Let's also take into account all the factors associated with conference marketing, with a focus on the subconscious drivers that people might prefer not to talk about. For a couple of reasons.
  • The subconscious drives behavior as much as, if not more than conscious or rational motivators. In particular, the less aware a person is of their subconscious drives, the more reliably you can tap into them as a source of motivation, because the subject is less able to confront and control their own desires.
  • Emotional motivators are a greater wellspring of brand equity because they're more difficult to duplicate than rational ones. E.g., you can get the same education from a website as from a liv conference, but the emotional experience is impossible to duplicate.
All that said, here's a roundup of the top reasons I think people choose to attend a conference:
  1. Status: They think it will make them look good to go there. E.g., this is an event where the "right" people go, people who have relevance in their professional world. Or, it's an "exclusive" event and they've been invited.
  2. Connections: Similar to status but not the same, they believe they will meet the "right" kind of people, who will then serve as a gateway to future opportunities.
  3. Sustenance: They think they will find a job or an opportunity to do business.
  4. Inspiration: They believe they will gain motivation to pursue their goals.
  5. Education: They see renowned, reputable, or qualified people on the roster and actually believe they will learn something.
  6. Vacation: They see it as a legitimate chance to get away, e.g. one that can be justified.
  7. Sex/Romance: They think they will find someone to partner with, albeit temporarily.
  8. Cost-Neutral: They don't experience the cost as an expense, because it's deductible, or the company pays, or it seems like a drop in the bucket compared with the potential returns, or the money simply doesn't matter; OR 
  9. Cost-Prohibitive: They believe the cost is so high that only a very few, very worthy people can attend, themselves among that group.
  10. Schedule-Neutral: They have the time, or believe they have the time to go.
If the above represents the total potential universe of key drivers, e.g. the factors that appeal to the target audience generally, there are going to be ones that appeal to particular subsets. We could characterize these as:
  1. Speakers who do their talk and then leave - influential, celebrity, high-powered types
  2. Speakers who also attend - moderately successful types (I would fall into this group)
  3. Attendees who prefer the audience role, though some may in the future be speakers
As a subset of the target audience, here are the particular factors that speak to me out of the "top 10" list above, in priority order and with some explanation:
  1. Status - attendance enhances my professional brand.
  2. Schedule-Neutral - unless it's absolutely essential, I don't travel overnight unless my husband and I are going together. 
  3. Cost-Neutral - as a government employee, it's extremely important to me that the cost be as low as possible, or free, because I am very mindful of the taxpayer's investment in my time. 
  4. Inspiration - Often I find presentations boring, but I am energized by the passion of the speaker, and it gives me the strength to manage my own professional challenges. 
  5. Education - There is always some gold within the drek, and it's normally worth my time to hear it directly and live.
  6. Sustenance  - promote my organization, do outreach on its behalf, either by presenting or by talking to people about it.
  7. Connections - I'm not the most extroverted person in a conference setting, but I do believe it's important to be around other people who are in the same "space" because it's the quality of your connections that matters, not only the quantity
A couple of recent pitches to attend came close to hitting the mark with me; one succeeded and the other did not. 

The one that was successful:
  1. Involved a personal invitation from someone I knew professionally for many years, someone involved in the professional branding space in a very forward-thinking way, someone who has the same thought-style as me. I knew that any event she organized would be the right one to attend.
  2. Was exclusive, and the invitation list was limited, and somewhat mysterious in terms of its agenda, which told me that the organizers were savvy and would not let me down in terms of the content.
  3. Was forward-leaning in terms of the workshop process, meaning highly interactive, a customized agenda, and small-group-oriented.
  4. Was offered to attendees at no charge (other than covering one's own travel) and I could fly in and out on the same day.
  5. Was beneficial to my organization in terms of being an audience I want to reach and whose interests align closely with what we're doing.
The one that was not successful involved an offer to live-blog the event in my personal capacity, and although the presenters didn't seem the most amazing in the world, the subject matter was sufficiently advanced and the organizer sufficiently forward-thinking that I seriously considered attending. However, it involved expensive flights, overnight travel and it was very far away.

I share all this to reflect back how involved conferences are from a marketing and organizational perspective. Events have huge potential for productive engagement and profit. It's worth it to hire the right person to do the job.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. No endorsement expressed or implied. Photo by Diana Robinson via Flickr.

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'Alessandro
  • Brand Hijack by Alex Wipperfurth
  • Brand Simple by Allen Adamson
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine and Christopher Locke
  • Next: Trends for the Near Future by Marian Salzman
  • Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout
  • Eating The Big Fish by Adam Morgan
What 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.

Monday, April 20, 2015

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 and who have become rabbis.

Last year, for a "women in history" class, my younger daughter interviewed my mother about her perceptions of gender roles and sexism.

Taped my mother saying, "I never knew what feminism was until your mother [meaning me] started talking about it in high school."

Continuing on, "In my household there was no such thing. Everyone just did their job."

"But who made the decisions?" asked my daughter.

"Well the men did, of course," said my mom. "Of course."

And then there's dead silence.

So sexism does exist, despite the empowerment of some women in some quarters and at some times and places in our world and throughout history. 

Frankly, so does reverse sexism against men.

The way you take down an unfair, unequal system is to attack it from all sides. As a sociologist I'm going to give you five of the secrets:

1. Remove its support beams:  This refers to taking down the interlocking aspects of the system. Very often sexism, classism, racism, etc. go together. You attack an entire problem by addressing its component parts all at the same time.

2. Make the system visible to itself: This means making our assumptions clear so that they become open for debate - often forcing the ugliness of dysfunction to the surface. For example: really examining the things people say in conversation, through video and audiotape, when they think nobody's looking. Looking at that and asking whether we really think these kinds of things are OK.

3. Institutionalize an alternative vision: This means tangibly manifesting equality - such as visible diversity in leadership roles at work, in the political system, in the religious system, in education, in healthcare, everywhere you look - so that people in junior positions see people in senior positions who look like them.

4. Empower the weak: It's not enough to do theoretical things. You actually help real people obtain real power in the system as it exists today. Mentoring is a good example of how this gets done on a practical level. 

5. Promote free speech: Oddly to me, somme think that political correctness is helpful to feminism. I would argue the opposite. It is only by enabling the free flow of conversation that flaws in the the logic of a dysfunctional system - e.g. the function of the dysfunction - become clear.


All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

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 to learn. It doesn't matter if they're good at grammar, or if they understand the subject matter, either. 
The desire bubbles up to me. The rest is unimportant.
Same when I work with staff. I will always gravitate to people who are excited by what they're doing. Even if it seems mundane to you, they actually care about getting it right. 
It's a waste of time to deal with anybody else on that particular subject.
Someone recently said, "I've been so bad about keeping up with social media, you know? It's so hard."
Earlier I'd walked while snapping photo after photo of...garbage...houses...the sky...cherry blossoms...myself...and more garbage, and walkways.
I wanted to see what the Instagram filters could do with this.
And I said to her, "You don't want to be doing social media at all. Don't bother."
She can pay for someone to do Instagram. She can't pay for someone to round people up to go to a party, which is the thing she loves to do.
If you ever read advice to the effect that "work and passion are separate," disregard it.
You must do what you love. What you care about so much that your limbs shake when you think about it. That it burns your guts.
If you aren't then you are missing out on your mission on this planet.
That jealousy you feel when you look at someone else?
It's the thing you ought to be doing right now. 
All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government. Photo by Luke Saagi via Flickr. Screenshot via HBO via Indiewire.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

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 what is not real? Who is the author? Whose version are we bound to believe?

* * * 

I was talking to someone about religion once. I talk about religion a lot.

The person held very fixed beliefs about right and wrong. "I won't give up my beliefs for anything."

Looking at her I had the opposite thought. I will give up my beliefs for something. If I am causing myself or others unnecessary pain. If I come to believe I am unnecessarily rigid. If I am lazy, if it's inconvenient, if I rationalize. If...

My thoughts trailed off. I really could not finish the sentences. Because from my point of view, a primary purpose of life is to explore, refine and sometimes revise your basic beliefs. And to learn to embrace (well sometimes, tolerate) others.

To parse out which of your thought processes are real and helpful, and which are artifacts of superstition, brainwashing and fear.

To encourage the productive use of deep emotion, creativity, rebellion, fantasy.

* * * 

There are really only two ways of looking at the world, two different axes upon which all of us grind the gears of our thinking. 

Neither is superior to the other, although if you inhabit X, you'd be forgiven for choosing it above Y.

The first is a kind of ruthless allegiance to a given framework of thinking. Buddhist, scientist, artist, feminist, Kabbalist, baseball player, parent or some complicated combination of the above. The point is, you find an axiom -- or to be more precise about it, a version of an axiom combined with versions of the other truths-for-granted -- and you learn its ways thoroughly and follow that path.

Almost like being a grammarian. The art is in the application of what you see and experience to the frameworks you've come to believe are true.

The second is a refusal to believe in anything, any axiom at all. That is to say, you sample ideas the way you taste the hot food at a $6.99 a pound buffet. One day you want the fried cauliflower, another day you want the soup, and maybe on the third you decide to take up macrobiotic cooking, and you whip up a week's worth of food from scratch.

You tell yourself you are "into" this framework or that one, but what you're really doing is sampling the experience of the framework like a child eats ice cream at the local 31 flavors place. It's all good, you know this and it's all limited in its way.

You free your mind from the constraints that other people seem to impose on themselves and instead you embrace your mind's capacity to imagine. You fantasize the experience you want to have in this life, and you mentally align the best of the thought-worlds you've sampled. 

It's not so much about validity or not, in this scheme, but more about exercising your capacity to pick, choose, weave and synthesize at will. 

The danger of the first course of action is that you can't see anything outside your predetermined states -- which facts become comprehensible. You miss opportunity.

The danger of the second, of course, is that you risk a descent into madness. If everything is equally possibly true then what guarantee do you have that your personal observation, experience, decision, belief have any validity at all?

* * * 

Most of us decide not to make such a drastic choice. Instead we hover in the world, perched warily on the edge of indecision.

Worse, we fail to acknowledge that we're doing it.

You take the photo and you see that the lens only got one version of what your eyes saw. And you refine that vision yet again, through the Instagram filter.

What makes the experience a real one, even beautiful, is that all of us share your the desire you hold inside your deepest heart.

To live in a world free from any constraints or forced choices at all.

To live in a state of beautiful, potentially real illusion.


All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by me, (filter by Instagram :-)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

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.

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 purpose I like Quora a lot.

But I'm still not sure how to use it.

I think it is potentially a way to be "real" with one's audience.

But it is also rife with risk for exploitation, for being ruined.

One can as easily succeed as fail by being perceived as a corporate or government shill.

The basic best practices of public relations haven't changed, really.

Tell the truth, earn the people's trust and as such become a credible information ambassador.

But the means are shifting like sand under our feet. 

We can look at the trends and establish a way forward.

Remembering that whatever we do and whoever we represent, we have to tread carefully.


All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the U.S. federal government as a whole. Main (bird) photo by Matthias Ripp via Flickr. Other photos via Wikimedia Commons, including Winston Churchill and journalist with subject. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

"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. Women are less likely to be groomed/mentored for corporate success because the mentor if male may fear accusations of harassment; women fear competition especially since there are fewer seats in the C suite for women than men.

8. Women have trouble with the notion that they are financially responsible for themselves (because it implies there is no Prince Charming and they will end up alone)  versus men assume they must be financially literate.

9. Women have trouble with self esteem and so do not demand what they rightfully deserve.

10. The CEO job is conceived of in a way that reflects old-fashioned stereotypes about work and the division of labor - most obviously that one person occupies the job rather than two partners. If CEOs had job-sharing, this would make it easier for women to aspire to the role without harming their ability to be caregivers as well as serious participants in committed romantic relationships.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by thetaxhaven via Flickr. This post began as an answer to a question posted on

Thursday, April 9, 2015

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. Visibility personally; visibility of program 

6. Whether you routinely deal with public-facing information or non-public facing information 

7. Types of topics you tend to communicate about - e.g., are they related to your job, are they explicitly about your job, are you an official communicator on behalf of your program, are they about the policy/management/budget of your agency, and so on

II. What I Do 

1. Public communication outside my job and outside the area of expertise for which I was hired - I don't consult with the agency but I do keep in mind that I'm a public servant and that my actions always reflect on the brand of the federal government as well as my agency.

2. If a reporter calls me on an unofficial basis, I call Public Affairs. 

3.   If I produce content where I'm offering expertise about government communication specifically, I ask Public Affairs/my boss to review it before posting. Review doesn't mean approval, it means giving them a chance to react. Sometimes I miss things that can be misinterpreted.

4. If I produce a substantive piece (e.g. a blog, brochure, video) about my program or the policy/management/budget of my agency, Public Affairs/my boss have input and can disapprove it.

5. I direct reporters straight to Public Affairs for official media interviews rather than taking the call and then serving as an intermediary.

III. Things I Keep In Mind

1.  Public Affairs is busy

2.  Beware of broad, general, strong, declarative statements that lack substantiation 

3. Thoughtful, substantive, nuanced communication is vastly better, but too technical or complex and you lose your audience 

4.  Content tends to be better when it's "fresh" and "stream of consciousness" but feedback also tends to help 


IV. Other

1. I use a strong disclaimer that incorporates a statement like "I don't represent my agency or the federal government as a whole." This can seem like overkill until you hear from people who literally tell you that they think you're speaking for the government when you're totally not.

2. In personal communication, I don't name my agency in the disclaimer because that just draws more attention to the agency, and my goal is to keep the distinction intact.

3. You are entitled to be human and unique and everybody understands that some social media environments are more informal, like Facebook. But also remember that the higher your position in the organization, the more likely that your opinions may be interpreted as your agency's opinions, even with a disclaimer.

4. Be especially cautious when it comes to the Hatch Act. 

5. Remember that posts to professional listservs are a form of public communication. You see it as an email, but a thousand people just got that rant.

- Dannielle Blumenthal

P.S. This is one of those posts where I want to reinforce that this is a post based on my own experience; others' experiences and the expectations placed on them will vary widely, even within the same agency; any opinions expressed are my own; and of course my personal thoughts don't reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo via Wikimedia.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

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 clear competitor in mind. This is not the same thing as an enemy.

17. Learn one skill from everyone you meet.

18. Understand how truly ignorant you are.

19. Stay out of things that are not your business.

20. Be humble and grateful, but don't pass up a chance to shine.

All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by Heng Fu Ming via Flickr.

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