My small, woman-owned public relations/marketing firm, Advice Unlimited, has been serving the Federal government marketplace for nearly 30 years to help companies with innovative technology get their solutions to the government. Every month, I’ll offer unlimited advice on how to work with this unique market. Please email me with questions or comments.

Advice Unlimited

Advice Unlimited

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How are contractors adapting their pr/marketing strategy in a tough government market?

As we approach the end of 2010, one thing is certain: it’s been a turbulent year. Amid White House plans to eliminate potentially billions in spending on underperforming technology projects, Secretary Gates’ $100-billion budget cut across the DoD, and talk of increasing insourcing, there was plenty of reason for concern.

How are contractors adapting their marketing strategies – and dollars – for the greatest impact in these changing times?

Advice Unlimited, a small, women-owned strategic communications consulting firm, is conducting an anonymous survey in December to find out. Once our survey is completed, we’ll post the final results in a group discussion for your benefit, to assist in your planning for 2011.

Please share your opinion! Take the brief, 11-question survey yourself, which we’ve made available on Survey Monkey:

Survey entries must be submitted by January 08, 2011 in order to be included.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Social Media Can Help You Communicate Faster in a Disaster

The following article, written by Sandy Levine, recently appeared in Government Security News. View the article here:

Do you use social media to communicate with your public? Have you updated your disaster preparedness communications plan to include social media? If not, add that to your priority ‘To Do’ list!

Information about practically everything -- both factual and wildly inaccurate -- now travels around the globe literally in minutes, through new communication tools -- Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to name a few. In a natural or manmade disaster, if you don’t reach out to the public with the facts quickly, someone else will get there with a rumor -- and as we all know, misinformation can cause havoc, create panic and potentially increase danger to those at risk who we want to protect.

As communication tools change, government communicators have to keep up. This is important always; however, in a disaster, it is critical. How are you going to inform the public about the problem? What tools do you use to make sure they get the crucial instructions they need that could keep them safe? We must not only inform, we must persuade, secure trust, calm, reassure -- and get people to actually follow the procedures we detail -- or lives will be lost. The tools used to reach out in a disaster must integrate today’s communication tools -- you must go where your public is to ensure they get your message. And more and more of your public is online.

A recent national survey from Arbitron and Edison Research, The Infinite Dial 2010, (April 23, 2010) provides insight into some of the changes occurring in communication tools in the U.S. According to this survey, the percentage of Americans age 12-and-older who have a profile on one or more social networking Web sites has reached 48 percent of the population in 2010, double the level from two years ago.

The new study reveals that consumer use of social networking sites is not just a youth phenomenon. Personal profile pages are maintained by:
  • 78% of teens
  • 77% of 18-to-24 year olds
  • 65% of 25-to-34 year olds
  • 51% of 35-to-44 year olds

The study also shows that 30 percent of Americans age 12-and-older, who have a profile on at least one social networking Web site, use those sites "several times a day," compared with only 18 percent one year ago.

Bill Rose, senior vice president of marketing at Arbitron Inc, said, "The use of social networking sites has expanded beyond younger consumers, with substantial numbers of Americans over the age of 35 now using social media.”

Also, for the first time, more Americans say the Internet is "most essential" to their lives when given a choice along with television, radio and newspapers:

  • 42% chose the Internet as "most essential"
  • 37% selected television
  • 14% chose radio
  • 5% said newspapers

While television still leads among those over the age of 45, Internet dominates among younger persons, aged 12-to-44 years old.

The key is to know who your audience is, and to take the time to research what communications tools they use and trust. There are still certain areas where radio is king; other areas where religious centers are going to be the most important communication tool in your arsenal. But, social media cannot be ignored -- especially when speed matters. Integrating the “basics” -- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, online postings of press releases, online links with appropriate media -- and making sure processes are in place so that these communication tools get accurate information immediately -- will help ensure your public gets the right information as quickly as possible, minimizing confusion and improving understanding in a difficult situation.

Integrating social media into your communications plan ensures you will reach a broader pool of people faster. The flow of accurate information will go more smoothly, the public will be informed appropriately and efficiently, and answers will be delivered swiftly. It can make the difference between a bad situation and a calamity.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

3 case studies in social media experimentation -- Federal Computer Week

Interesting article in FCW this week - if you're looking to integrate innovation into your outreach, we can provide proven techniques to engage your audience and boost interest! Contact me at to discuss how we can work together to ensure your venture into social networking and other innovative communication tools deliver the results you want!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Choose Communication Tools Wisely

There are constantly new tools and techniques emerging in the marketplace that can help you communicate with your audience. It’s important to understand what’s out there, and new tools are fun, but you also want to be sure any new tool will actually help you reach your target audience and get your message across. Quick Response (QR) Codes are one of the most recent tools to come into play – following is some basic information on this new tool to help you determine if it’s right for your audience....

Developed by Denso Wave in 1994, a QR Code is a two-dimensional code (meaning it contains information in both the vertical and the horizontal) that is readable by QR scanners, cell phones equipped with cameras, and smartphones. The code is made up of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, URL or other data. As implied by the name, the information can be decoded at high speed.

QR Codes were initially used for tracking parts in vehicle manufacturing. The use of QR Codes has expanded to include commercial tracking applications and convenience-oriented applications aimed at cell phone users – this is known as “mobile tagging.”

The idea behind mobile tagging is that when you see a code, you take a picture of the code with your cell phone. Your phone will decode the information, and you will be automatically directed to, say, a company’s website. These QR Codes can be displayed in a variety of ways, including magazines, signs, buses and business cards.

To be able to scan the codes, users must download an application to their phone. The Android Market and iTunes App Store offer some applications that can decode QR matrices. Decoding can result in the display of contact information, text, connection to a wireless network, or the opening of a web page in the phone’s browser.

QR Codes were widely used at SXSW (a film/music gathering in Austin) in March of this year. They had QR Codes on flyers, postcards, business cards and stickers. One of the more memorable examples was a QR Code embedded in a t-shirt, which directed scanners to a Twitter feed.

QR Codes have been slow to take off in the U.S. market. A recent study showed that less than 10% of consumers know what a QR Code is. Their use is much more common in Japan. Many people in the U.S. seem to think that while they are visually interesting, QR Codes are gimmicky and clumsy. The use of QR Codes does not seem to make sense (at least at this point) for the government marketplace. Many people will feel as though they create an extra step. For example, a QR Code on a panelist card used at SXSW will take you to the SXSW website, which requires login and password information, and then you will eventually reach a small blurb about the panelist. This whole process takes much longer than it would to simply exchange a business card.

There is also the issue of user responsibility. This technology requires people to distinguish between a regular barcode and a QR Code. It is impossible to differentiate with the naked eye. It is also heavily dependent on the user wanting to interact with it. They have to pull out their phone, download an application, scan the code and follow the prompts.

Another problem, especially for use in the government marketplace, is that the QR Code obscures the destination it intends to send the user to. That creates the potential for the user to unknowingly click through to a malicious or unwanted site via QR Code.

Call us at 301-924-0330 or email me at so we can help you wisely choose the communication tools and techniques that best fit your purpose. No gimmicky or clumsy tools here – just tried and true methods, ready to help you on your way to success!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Use contests effectively!

Alice Lipowicz of Federal Computer Week wrote an interesting article about different government contests going on – some very successful, some not so much:

I expect we’ll be seeing more of this trend, so if you’re planning to try this approach, I’d like to offer some advice on how to ensure your organization’s contests fall in the ‘very successful’ category.

The trend didn’t come out of thin air. Last September, the Obama administration released the ‘Strategy for American Innovation,’ which, as part of its recommendations for integrating more innovation into our efforts to improve sustainable growth and quality jobs, called on agencies to use prizes and challenges as a different way to engage the public and get input and ideas from a broader pool. The obvious advantage of the prize approach is that the government only pays the winner - the competitors invest their own money in research and development.

Some government organizations are incredibly successful with this approach – for example, NASA has solved several unusual challenges through successful public contests, such as the NASA Astronaut Glove Challenge in 2009 – where entrants competed for $400,000 in total prize money for creating a new astronaut glove design that allowed for more movement and increased flexibility. They truly pulled from disparate sources, ensuring the result was something different than what their researchers could have come up with in their lab. (According to a NASA spokesperson, the first prize winner in the astronaut glove competition was an engineer, who built his first glove on his kitchen table; and the second place winner was a Brooklyn costume designer working in the theater industry). Other contests, such as the SSA recent video contest drawing only 10 entries, aren’t doing so well.

So what makes a successful government contest (or for that matter, a contest sponsored by anyone – company or government organization?) The answer is amazingly simple – just as with any effective public relations campaign, you must think strategically, define your goals and objectives, and then define the actions that will help you achieve those goals and objectives.

First up: what are you trying to accomplish with this contest? What is the ultimate goal? Then: who is the target audience – who do you want to respond and submit an entry for this contest? Once you define who your target audience is, you can think through what are the communication tools that would be most effective in reaching this audience, and what kind of prize would entice them to participate? Money isn’t necessarily required, though it can be a great incentive – especially when it’s coupled with significant or prestigious recognition. Most people don’t enter contests just for the money, but a good prize definitely helps people take it more seriously, and helps to pull in a larger pool of entrants.

A crucial step is to think through the communication tools you use to inform people about the contest, and inspire folks to enter. Just issuing a press release or posting the information on your website is not enough – we can help you match the communication tools with your target audience, to ensure you’re reaching – and enticing – people who can contribute innovation, inspiration, and winning entries to your contest! If you’re planning a contest or game-changing open grant program or challenge, call us at 301-924-0330 or email me at – and let us help you make sure your contest is a winner!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Taking the Next Step: How Public Relations Can Help Your Organization Succeed in a Competitive Government Marketplace

Public Relations has long been regarded as the foundation for successful marketing. Effective public relations can build your company’s brand recognition, your company’s exposure in key markets, and can help establish your credibility on issues that are important to your customers. Using targeted, strategic press placements, public relations can help you reach the right people in government, sharing your organization’s story and educating them about your unique value proposition.

Effective public relations is best accomplished by retaining the services of a public relations firm that specializes in your target market. Especially in the government marketplace, where government decision makers and influencers rely heavily on government trade publications for information, insights, and education to help them make buying decisions, choosing a firm with years of government expertise will help you maximize the value of this investment. Because of its complexity, government is often considered a “high-barrier-to-entry” market. Retaining a firm with solid depth of knowledge in government can help ensure that your organization gets consistent, positive press coverage – delivering your message to your target audience appropriately and effectively.

Why Government-Focused Public Relations Works

Trade press carries much greater clout in government; government-focused public relations can leverage this to your advantage, helping your company tell its story, champion its successes and customers in this highly credible forum.

Unlike advertising, which is recognized as a “paid-for” opportunity, earned publicity has much more credibility, is far less costly, and can yield significantly greater ROI. Particularly in the government space, where procurement rules are so different, government trade publications carry a lot of weight with decision makers faced with buying decisions. They need information, education and understanding of the many options available to help them solve their IT challenges. Government-facing public relations can help you position your organization to take advantage of this opportunity.

How Can You Use Public Relations in the Government Marketplace?

Launch a targeted media campaign for a specific sales effort or contract opportunity.

Many government organizations face similar types of challenges. By highlighting a successful implementation of your solution that solved a problem at one government agency, you build credibility with other agencies. Focused PR can help you tell this success story, through the publications your prospects read and trust.

Retaining the services of a government-facing public relations firm can be instrumental in promoting your involvement with certain contracts – regardless of your organization’s size or your status within the contract hierarchy. How? PR firms that focus specifically on government often have stronger relationships with government public affairs officers and have a deeper understanding of the strict approval process that must be followed.

Since 1983, Advice Unlimited has helped businesses selling to the government tell their story to the audience that matters most: government decision makers and influencers. Through our strategic approach, our extensive understanding of the government marketplace, and the relationships we maintain with tier-one government editors, reporters, publications, and government organizations, we consistently secure positive press coverage that tells your company’s story in the publications your customers read and trust – month after month after month. Working with startups and industry leaders, we have always delivered consistent, positive coverage for all of our clients – for more than 27 years!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Paradigm shift: Use Consultants Surgically

We applaud Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ recent announcement of his proposed initiative to cut costs, as we also applaud the Office of Management and Budget’s move to halt IT modernization efforts that have consistently cost more and delivered less than promised. We see a paradigm shift in how government is working – instead of just talking about doing more with less, I believe government leaders are trying to actually do more by being more efficient, focused, and specific in what they need delivered. This is good news for smart government contractors as well as for the taxpayers and the government organizations themselves.

My organization, Advice Unlimited, provides strategic planning and communications outreach consulting services to the government. We offer our services surgically – in modules that clearly define the project that will be delivered, how long it takes and what it costs. The customer only pays for what they actually need at that time; they can then purchase additional modules when they’re ready, both financially and operationally, to implement that next project. We consistently deliver outstanding results, and part of our success is because realistic expectations are established up front, and everyone is clear about the scope of the project. There is minimal ‘scope creep’ because the project is short and focused.

I believe this surgical approach to delivering services to the government is the wave of the future – it delivers the services needed in a timely, cost-effective, agile manner, so that if something isn’t working, adjustments can be made and the process can be back on track very quickly, with minimal cost or time expended. We don’t place full time employees at customer sites; we provide experienced consultants to work with the customer – and the problem – for only the amount of time necessary to deliver the results the customer needs in support of their mission. We’re not doing more with less, we’re doing more with less fat and more focus. It saves time and money, and delivers better results.

Monday, August 9, 2010

How to Ensure Effective Outreach

When it comes to implementing effective outreach, it is crucial that every spokesperson for your organization is talking from the same page. How many officials from your organization are tasked with ‘spreading the word,’ and speaking with different constituents about your mission, the services and support you provide, or new programs that you are introducing?

We can all agree that the more spokespeople you have, the more chance there is that your message is getting garbled. While all of your spokespeople are probably outstanding, you must be sure that they are all delivering the same message and consistently highlighting the same top priorities.

Spokespeople, of course, are an essential part of every organization. They help to influence key decision makers and explain to the public exactly why and how your services support their needs. It can severely hurt your organization, however, if not every spokesperson is on the same page. How does it look to have conflicting information coming from people who are supposed to be working together? It is now more important than ever before to be certain that your spokespeople are saying the same things across the board. With the advent of social media, comments from a spokesperson can be published mere seconds after the words leave their mouths. These comments will then immediately be dissected, discussed and compared in the social media sphere. You cannot leave any room for inconsistency.

Don’t let this issue go unsolved! My team and I can assist you in your all-important mission of outreach consistency with our ‘Speaker’s Kit.’

This 3-ring binder enables an organization to have confidence that even if several people are serving as spokespersons on an important topic, they are all using the same language, the same messaging and the same presentation. Each spokesperson will have all the tools they need to effectively deliver the message of your organization.

The Speaker’s Kit that we provide is built around a PowerPoint presentation. It will include both a digital and hard copy of the PowerPoint – and in transparencies if desired. The Kit will also contain the talking points, a copy of a full speech, as well as background information. This Kit can be duplicated for as many people as needed to make the presentation, which ensures that everyone is using the same materials and the same messaging. It also affords a higher level of comfort and confidence to the spokespeople themselves, as they have everything they need in one binder to ensure an effective and successful presentation.

Simple? Very. Effective? Absolutely! Try it – your speakers will thank you!

Contact me at or 301-924-0330 for more information on public outreach efforts. My team and I would love to help you create and implement a successful Speaker’s Kit!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Homeland Security Television Wins Three National Telly Awards For Outstanding Training and Documentary Programming, and Editing

The 31st Annual Telly Awards Recognizes HSTV Programs For Production and Editing Excellence

Homeland Security Television has won three Telly Awards in the categories of Training, Documentary and Editing for its diversity training program, Women in Homeland Security, and its special coverage of The 2009 Influenza Pandemic.

With more than 13,000 entries from top cable and television stations, production firms, advertising agencies and corporate video departments around the world, the recognition of HSTV's programming by the Telly Awards competition is a significant achievement.

Founded in 1978, the Telly Awards is the premier award honoring outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs, the finest video and film productions, and online film and video.

"HSTV is honored to be recognized for its hard work supporting the Department of Homeland Security and the nation in providing high quality training, education and awareness programming," said Dan Verton, Homeland Security Television's President and Executive Producer. "The programs that won and the categories in which they were recognized is proof that HSTV produces highly professional programming that not only resonates with our core viewership but also stands out among broadcast professionals. This is a great feather in HSTV's cap."

HSTV thanks the subject matter experts who participated in the programming, including: Sandy Evans Levine, Dr. Laura Schwartz, Kathleen Kiernan, Ellen McCarthy, Karen Esaias, Dr. Darlene Sparks Washington, Dr. Eric Von Hoffe, and Dr. Margaret Lewin.

HSTV joins the ranks of other top production companies that have won Telly Awards in the past, including the likes of BET News, Busch Entertainment Corporation, Chicago Tribune, Comcast Entertainment Group, Cox Media Services, Eagles Television Network, ESPN, Gaiam, General Motors - Spring Hill Manufacturing, Golf Channel, Kohl's Department Stores, NASA, NBA Entertainment, NYC TV, Outdoor Channel, PBS, Penn State University, PGA Tour Productions, SCI FI Channel, Sports Illustrated, The Boeing Company, The Weather Channel, Time Life, Warner Bros.

NOTE: I had the privilege of being involved with HSTV's 'Women in Training' video - it was well done, thoughtful and valuable - check it out if you haven't yet...and congrats to HSTV for this impressive recognition!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Public Messaging is a Crucial Element for Any Disaster Recovery Plan

Many of our homeland security, defense, health and human services, and emergency management organizations are doing an outstanding job of contingency planning – creating thorough disaster recovery and contingency plans for specific potential disasters, both natural and man-made. They are thinking through to very specific details and scenarios and they are to be applauded for this. That said, it is startling to me how many of these plans do not incorporate public messaging as a standard element of the plan.

How are you going to inform the public about the problem? How are you going to communicate with the public, to get them to follow crucial instructions that will save their lives? We must not only inform, we must persuade, secure trust, calm, reassure – and get people to actually follow the procedures we detail – or lives will be lost.

Public messaging – how you communicate these crucial, life-saving messages to the public – is just as important as public safety. It is an integral piece of any disaster recovery or contingency plan, yet is often overlooked, ignored, shied away from. Why?

One person said that public relations is often thought of as ‘political communications’ within certain circles of the government, so no one ‘wants to go there.’ But without proper attention, planning and preparation, this crucial piece will not go smoothly. It’s not easy to build trust and calm a public that is in the middle of a disaster; it’s not instinctive to know what are the best words, the appropriate tone, the right level of detail, to diffuse a traumatic situation and lay out a positive plan of action. Just as with all other aspects of a disaster recovery plan, public messaging must be strategically thought through and planned for. Ignoring this element invites chaos, distrust, distress.

Planning for public messaging ensures things will go more smoothly, the public will be informed appropriately and efficiently, and answers will be delivered swiftly. It can make the difference between a bad situation and a calamity; and focuses our attention on a crucial need of the most important element in any disaster recovery plan – the safety and security of our citizens.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Make the Most of Your Trade Show Experience!

As we begin to gear up for Trade Show Season in the government marketplace, I thought it would be helpful to review some basic preparations you and your team should go through, to ensure you reap maximum benefits from your significant trade show investment. We'd love to help you leverage your trade show investment through focused pre-show, at-show, and post-show pr/marketing initiatives; if you're interested, contact me at to brainstorm ideas that best support your goals!
Meanwhile...some food for thought as you prepare for this busy season...
Before the Show:
-Think through who will be attending the show, who your target audience is, and clearly define 2-3 individual goals for the show, and 1-2 team goals for the show.
- Reach out to current customers you know will be attending, and set up at least 2 meetings at the show with current customers.
- If there are current customers in the area where the trade show is being held, reach out to these customers and try to set up at least 2 meetings immediately before or during the show.
- Be aware of what partners and competitors are exhibiting, and share that information among all those from your firm attending the show.
- Be sure there is a written schedule of who is manning the booth when, and everyone involved knows when they’re expected to be at the booth, what they’re expected to wear, etc.
- Take plenty of business cards!

During the Show:
- The first day: get to the show floor at least 15 minutes before your shift so you have time to walk around a bit and get a feel for the layout, where your partners and competitors are, where there’s a quiet area and tables for quieter meetings, etc, before you head to your booth.
- Always be at least 5 minutes early for your shift at the booth, so that the person you’re relieving can share any updates or important information with you before they need to leave.
- The first time you go to the booth, take a few minutes to review the demos being offered, literature available to distribute to the folks you talk with, giveaways, any other physical information that will be useful to be most effective while at the booth.
- At the booth: when you’re at the booth, you want to always be accessible to talk to customers or partners, and visually send that signal as folks walk by.
Recommended behavior:
o Stand, face the traffic flow, smile, be alert, look interested in talking with people
o Don’t eat at the booth
o Don’t talk on the phone at the booth; if you get a call that you must take, try to move away or toward the back, and let your booth partner know so they can be the ‘face’ for the booth during that time
o Don’t check emails or otherwise be distracted when at the booth; your focus should be on catching the eye and interest of those walking by to get them to visit your booth
o Don’t block access to the booth, or eye appeal of demo or display – you want people to want to come into the booth, engage you in conversation
- When talking with a potential customer/partner:
o Bring them into the booth by asking them what they’re top priority is at the show, how you can help make this a productive show for them – make it about them
o Have your elevator pitch down – who we are, what we do, how we support the customer in their mission
o Qualify them as quickly as possible: do they use this type of solution, or work for someone who would purchase this type of solution? If it’s not a good fit, always be polite, see if there are any ways you can help them, and disengage gently
o If they are a good fit: be sure and get their business card or contact information for follow-up; if appropriate, set a meeting for some time during the show to talk at more length, do a demo, etc.

After the Show:
- Categorize leads based on qualifications, and make sure the most qualified leads are handed to the right person for immediate follow-up.
- Get your initial follow-up actions done within the first week after the show – everyone you talked with who’s a potential customer or partner should hear from you in that next week, either with a request for a meeting, sending information they requested, or sending a ‘thanks for stopping by’ note to those on your list you plan to follow-up with at a later date, to be sure they get some ‘touch’ from you immediately.
- Fill out your company's show survey so that you have good information for next year’s show; including notes regarding what could have been done better/different.
- Follow-up to close those sales and build those new relationships!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Leveraging Social Media in Crisis Communications

There’s a lot of buzz around social media these days – why is this such a popular topic? Not just because it’s new; I think it’s also because it’s a great way to communicate quickly with a broad audience. What is this really good for? Communicating in a crisis.
If there’s a natural disaster, if there’s a pandemic or food contamination, if there’s a horrible crime spree or terrorist attack – a driving force is to calm the public and provide guidance on appropriate activity to keep everyone as safe as possible. In addition to the tremendous challenge of assessing the situation and crafting this crucial message, delivery of this message to the broadest amount of people as quickly as possible has always been a daunting task. Harnessing the power of social media can help tremendously.
Now is the time to update your organization’s crisis communications plan, and include a section on social media. What social media activities has your organization implemented for standard operating procedure? How do you leverage these tools in a crisis? Who has jurisdiction, what are the processes needed to ensure messages from the right source can be disseminated through the right tools speedily and appropriately? What processes are in place to get feedback, answer the public’s questions and concerns, and encourage and manage an effective dialog?
Spending the time now to review the how, what, why, where, and who of using these tools is time well spent, to help ensure your organization is ready to roll out an effective crisis communications effort when needed, using all of today’s new tools and advantages.