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.
Monday, December 12, 2011
If you attend, you’ll have 19 innovative speakers, who will share their strategies and experiences in using social media as well as traditional communication channels. The conference will consist of over 25 hours of intense, interactive learning, with an abundance of networking opportunities. The knowledge you gain will help you ensure that you get the right information to the right people, efficiently and effectively. The conference also provides the opportunity to customize your learning by participating in unique and interactive workshop sessions that will enable you to practice and apply your skills in peer groups – you’ll receive strategies and tactics that you can immediately begin to implement in your own organization.
I’ll be leading one of these interactive workshops – my session will be held on Thursday, February 16 from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (continental breakfast will be provided at 8:00 a.m. for the morning workshop attendees). In my workshop, we’ll focus on how to strategically drive public outreach using traditional and new media, as well as innovative communication tools and techniques. With the current budget cuts, it’s essential that your organization is able to educate your constituents on what you do, how you serve, and how your work positively impacts the world. The session will help you to acquire the strategies you need to accomplish this goal.
Do you have any comments or suggestions on my workshop topic? Please let me know at email@example.com; I’d love to hear from you!
If you’re serious about improving your communications by using new media and traditional channels to enhance transparency and drive meaningful results, this is a must-attend event. If you register by December 14th, you can get the early bird rate and save $400! To learn more about the conference and register, please visit http://www.aliconferences.com/conf/social_media_gov_comm0212/register.htm. I look forward to seeing you there!
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Many of you go through similar exercises this time of year, right? And if not, you should seriously think about adding a strategic planning session to your list of things to do before Dec. 31.
For those who are new at this but recognize the importance of this type of exercise, we offer what we call a Brainfry. It is truly that – an intensive, 4-hour session that will fry your brain – and deliver new ideas, new insights, and good solid direction for moving forward. The effort is focused around this intensive, 4-hour session with your top decisionmakers, incorporating a SWOT Analysis and facilitated by me.
We integrate key elements of that intensive discussion with our expertise and market knowledge to create a positioning paper for your organization, which is delivered to you within three weeks from the Brainfry. This helps focus you on what you want to present to your customers, how the services you offer are unique, and how you want to describe the services you offer to the world. It also becomes an excellent foundation for your public relations/marketing initiatives, helping you focus on your goals and on the right road to get there. I’d say a pretty good way to get into a positive spirit for the holiday season! If you’d like more information on fees and scheduling, contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always interested in new brains to fry!
Friday, October 14, 2011
The advice that will be touched on during the conference includes using the latest communication tools to promote transparency, enhance engagement and foster collaboration; communicating effectively and efficiently through the use of social media avenues; taking citizen and stakeholder feedback and ideas and putting them into action plans; delivering the information that citizens want, when they want it, using the channel they prefer; leveraging citizen satisfaction analytics to guide resource allocation decisions to make improvements in the organization; and utilizing social media in a crisis situation as a place for planning, strategy implementation, networking and recruiting.
My session will be held Thursday, December 8 from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (continental breakfast will be provided at 8:00 a.m. for the morning workshop attendees) and will focus on how to strategically drive public outreach using traditional and new media as well as innovative communication tools and techniques. In today’s environment of budget cuts and government disillusionment, it is more important than ever for your organization to educate your constituents on what you do, how you serve, and how your work positively impacts the world. This workshop will help you learn how to listen better to your audiences and get them to listen better to you, understand the different approaches to communicating (including the array of communication tools available today), define your organization’s priorities and build your communications plan around them, and choose the most effective communication tool for the specific message being communicated and audience you’re communicating to.
If you have suggestions for must-topics to include in this session, I’d love to hear from you. And if you decide to sign up, please let me know so I make sure to meet you at the session!
If you’re interested in improving your citizen and stakeholder engagement efforts, this is a must-attend event. You’ll receive over 25 hours of intense, interactive learning, great networking opportunities and a comprehensive overview of engagement strategies and processes from leading practitioners. My fellow speakers include U.S. Army Public Affairs; National Institute of Corrections, U.S. Department of Justice; Maryland Emergency Management Agency; U.S. Census Bureau; Google; Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation; GovLoop; U.S. Department of State; OhMyGov!; and the Washington State Office of the Attorney General.
To learn more about the conference and register, please visit http://www.aliconferences.com/conf/citizen_stake_eng_govt1211/register.htm. Hope to see you there!
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Today, public outreach is interactive. Whether we as government public affairs organizations are ready for this or not, citizens are involved and engaged in information sharing – especially in a crisis or disaster. If we are to do our jobs and stay on top of ensuring the public gets accurate information in a timely manner, we must be much more proactive, flexible, and connected.
In fact, it is even more important in today’s interactive environment for us to be responsive and responsible – to ensure the public gets accurate information and the guidance they need to stay safe in a crisis. We as public information specialists must be proactive, leveraging the many communication channels our public will look to for information, guidance, reassurance. We must incorporate these new tools – along with traditional communication channels – to ensure we are reaching all of our different citizen groups with timely, accurate, clearly understandable information and guidance through the communication channels they use and trust.
I believe it is also our responsibility to be vigilant against misinformation – rumors being spread, panic being encouraged, because of some source of information that has it wrong but has the public’s attention. This requires awareness and monitoring of those sources of information that impact our target audience, and rapid response capabilities to correct misinformation and set the record straight authoritatively and calmly. We are not only the providers of information; we also set the tone for response and reaction by providing, proactively before people begin to panic, specific information to the most basic and important questions: how bad is it? Will my family be safe? What do we need to do to be safe? Will our basic needs be taken care of?
Several of the news reports after the East Coast earthquake on August 23 joked that a lot of people did exactly what they were not supposed to do – they ran into the streets rather than seeking safety in their homes or buildings. They panicked. They had never experienced this before. Where should they turn for information? One of the greatest challenges with a crisis is that it happens unexpectedly, and the worst of it is immediate. There’s minimal preparation time, and the more terrible and frightening the crisis, the harder it is to get people to listen to any source of information, much less an ‘official’ message. The best we can do is plan for the worst, prepare now for what might happen so that when disaster strikes, we are well trained to jump into action and reach out to reassure, provide guidance and calm fears. And understand that our communication must accommodate our citizens responding and communicating with each other as well as with us, in an interactive, collaborative environment.
As the stewards of communication, it is our responsibility to understand this new dynamic, prepare for it and integrate this new reality into our planning and preparation, to ensure we are leveraging all communication channels and participants effectively to ensure everyone has accurate facts and the information they need to stay safe.
Welcome to the new world of crisis communications.
Sandy Evans Levine is President of Advice Unlimited, a WOSB public outreach/strategic communications firm serving government organizations and IT companies, based in Olney, MD. Ms. Levine can be reached at email@example.com.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
The speed and precision you exhibit when communicating with your public correlates directly with how bad the crisis will be – when you have a solid plan in place you can move faster to calm fears, negate rumors, and build trust with your audience. By placing your clients' needs first in dealing with a crisis you are more likely to survive a crisis situation. The mantra before Irene from many government organizations was the focus on how they could help their citizens: ‘we can’t stop the winds or the floods, but we can move to protect our citizens and save lives.’ Some felt the mandatory evacuations in some places was a bit of overkill, but NJ Governor Christie, for one, clearly stated, “no regrets.” Many followed that pattern of better safe than sorry, and most found calm acceptance from their constituents. There was even patient acceptance that the power company crews ‘were doing their best,’ as people were consistently updated through various media sources on the battle against power outages by crews working 24/7, and supplemented with traveling crews from other parts of the country.
Clearly, some things were done right. Is your organization in good shape for the next time a calamity impacts your operations? How up to date is your crisis communications plan?
The Calm Before the Storm
Before a disaster occurs, your priority and top-level goal is to prevent or minimize a crisis situation before it escalates. Many government organizations are reviewing their crisis communications plans and putting Public Information Centers (PICs) in place. These organizations understand preparedness is vital to successful crisis communications and have gone through the necessary procedures to be ready when disaster strikes.
There are key steps to preventing or minimizing a crisis. To begin, prepare a plan that dictates the roles of the leaders on the crisis communications team. This plan designates the makeup of the confidential working group that will deal with the crisis, and defines the logistics of immediately assembling this group to assess the situation should a crisis occur. Once the leaders are in place, determine key facts surrounding the disaster; including: What is at stake? Who is the audience? What are your immediate and longer-term communication needs? What needs are exclusive to this type of disaster? Understanding the scope of the situation allows both primary and secondary prevention to be considered. Primary prevention averts incidents from occurring, while secondary prevention thwarts an incident from escalating by swiftly addressing issues made public.
An effective crisis communications plan will provide the processes to help you anticipate challenges, recognize your vulnerabilities, and evaluate and assess potentially damaging scenarios. It provides the tools to thoughtfully define the parameters of a crisis - what's the worst news that could come out of a possible disaster - and the best way to prevent and/or manage such a scenario.
The more you prepare during the calm, the faster you can get ahead of the storm when a disaster hits. As our constituents become more connected and communication tools become more interconnected and interactive, the more important an effective crisis communications plan becomes. This plan helps your team navigate rough waters effectively, to minimize panic, reassure your audiences, and protect sensitive sources. A delicate balancing act - but one Public Affairs and Public Relations professionals must engage in more and more frequently. And we all want to be able to say, confidently and calmly, at the end of the storm: ‘no regrets.’
Sandy Evans Levine is President of Advice Unlimited, a Woman-Owned Small Business public outreach/strategic communications firm serving government organizations and IT companies, based in Olney, MD. Ms. Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Kraus and Shullman describe how they used their “Mendelsohn Affluent Barometer” throughout 2011 to track new and traditional media use among affluent Americans (defined as respondents who make at least $100,000 in annual household income). Their monthly survey, conducted between March and May 2011, consisted of over 1,000 online interviews with affluent Americans. In other words, they explain, these are the 20% of Americans who account for about 60% of U.S. income and approximately 70% of U.S. net worth. Their findings may surprise those who are quick to discount traditional media outlets.
Kraus and Shullman’s survey results break down the statistics: “When asked how they read magazines, 93% said they read hard-copy print versions; in contrast, less than a third read them on computers, and no other format garnered more than 10%. The same pattern is evident for newspapers, which 86% read in print, compared to the 39% who read them on computers, and 14% who read them via smart phone. TV shows are watched on TVs by 94%, followed by 23% who watch them on computers. Websites are viewed on computers by 94%, followed by 32% viewing them on smart phones. The pattern is clear across all media. The vast majority consume content through its most traditional outlet: magazines and newspapers in print, websites on computers, video content through TVs and so on.”
Some may say that these results only encompass the older generations, but Kraus and Shullman make sure to point out that even among the younger generation, traditional media has an advantage. They found that among those aged 18-34, “88% read magazines in print, followed by 35% who read them online; Newspapers show the greatest amount of experimentation -- 70% read newspapers in print, followed relatively closely by 54% who read them online; 94% view video content on TV, followed by 35% who do so on computers and 93% read websites on computers, followed by 38% who do so on smart phones.”
Of course, no one is denying the rise of social media and broader use of different digital communication channels, and the growing influence these changes have on our everyday lives. This survey only reinforces my view that all communication channels bring value. You can’t completely discount traditional media outlets just because there is a new study each week quoting social media statistics. The key always has been, and always will be, to work strategically to define who your target audience is, and then use the communication channels that resonate best with your target audience. Need help deciding which of the many communication channels to use? Contact me today at email@example.com or 301-924-0330 to figure out how to get your message to the right people, through the communication channel they use and trust!
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Plain language is communication that your target audience can understand the first time they hear or read it. Use clear, direct language to say what you mean, so your audience can understand your message, and find what they need. On October 13, 2010, President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 into law, requiring federal agencies to use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.” Three Executive Orders have also been issued on this topic.
The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN), a community of federal employees dedicated to the idea that the public deserves clear communication from government, recommends making your plain language program SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Realistic, with a Timeframe. How can you begin to turn this idea into action? PLAIN recommends the following:
- Start with a clearly defined goal, and communicate your expectations to everyone involved in the effort.
- Implement a training program so that the entire organization is on the same page.
- Look for small successes and aim for continuous improvement — not rapid change.
- Revise first those documents that have the biggest circulation and are the hardest to understand.
- Post examples of clearly written documents on a website or home directory as a reference tool.
- Evaluate your progress frequently and seek feedback. Adjust your course if necessary.
- Designate “go to” people on your staff who are accessible and knowledgeable.
- Make sure your top managers are plain language practitioners.
- Encourage these managers to champion the process.
Plain language is something that every organization needs to be aware of. No good comes from getting your message out there, if your message is not clear enough to be understood. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-924-0330 to discuss how we can help you set up your plain language program, and get you going on the path to clearer communication!
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Elaine was recognized for her incredible dedication to the servicemembers and their families, through tireless efforts to expand and innovate programming at USO-Metro, including significant expansion of USO-Metro’s charter to provide services and support for military families, particularly local families of deployed servicemembers, and family members visiting wounded heroes at the local hospitals. Elaine has worked with USO-Metro for over 35 years, serving as president for the last 34 years. Under Elaine’s leadership, USO-Metro has increased the scope and depth of the programs it provides to active duty military and their families. USO-Metro services have grown to include emergency housing, food assistance, therapeutic and morale boosting programs at area military hospitals, the TicketLine program, nine family service centers and airport lounges – including the flagship USO International Gateway Lounge at BWI Airport, and Operation USO Care Package – a worldwide program managed by USO-Metro that has successfully delivered nearly 2 million care packages to deployed and deploying troops.
Throughout her tenure, Elaine has worked to grow private and corporate annual donations from $100,000 to over $14 million in cash, goods and services. She has successfully developed the volunteer roster from 50 to nearly 5,000. This dedicated volunteer corps, along with meticulous, program-focused management continues to ensure that 93 cents out of every dollar donated to USO-Metro goes directly to programs and services.
For her tireless dedication to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families, Elaine has been recognized by the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force with service awards and medals. She has also been honored by the Secretary of Defense with the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal and by the Military District of Washington with the Doctor Mary E. Walker Award.
Advice Unlimited has been actively engaged with USO-Metro for over 14 years, serving as USO-Metro’s pro bono public relations firm. I am privileged to be involved with this wonderful organization, and Elaine’s prominent award could not be better deserved! Congratulations, Elaine, on this amazing recognition – and thank you so much for all you do for our troops – and all you inspire so many of us to do to try to keep up with you!
Friday, May 13, 2011
There are so many lessons to be learned from this incredibly poorly conceived stunt:
1. Taking the high road is always better – people will listen when you’re honorable in presenting facts and information;
2. Journalists do have standards and morals – and most of them will staunchly defend those standards and morals, that’s a big reason why they’re good journalists;
3. Throwing mud usually gets the thrower dirty, too – it may work occasionally in politics, but it’s a terrible approach to take, and reduces everyone involved to be less than they can be;
4. If you’re going to call out a negative about a competitor, take a stand and clearly identify yourself and your motives. Then if you’re right, you’ll be taken seriously.
I could go on...but you get the point. For the record, if you’re interested in launching a negative, underhanded campaign, don’t call me – we work for wonderful, honorable companies who understand the value of positive pr...
And if you’re foolish enough to get yourself into such a predicament, we provide great crisis communications expertise...
Thursday, May 5, 2011
The contest is open to amateur videographers, including high school and college students, and will commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The goal is to look toward the future to find solutions to the security challenges that are still out there. This is a great way to commemorate 9/11 in a positive, forward-looking way...and a wonderful summer project: entries are due by August 1, 2011, so participants will have much of the summer to work on it! Winners will be announced September 12, 2011- the perfect way to share IDEAS that will help us grow stronger and look toward the future!
For more details, including a list of prizes that will be awarded, check out the competition page at www.hstvchannel.com/contest.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Think of it this way: as public relations and communications practitioners, with social media our toolkit has expanded. We still need to think strategically, define our target audience for any campaign, and look carefully – and objectively – at what communications channels that specific audience prefers. What are the communications channels they use on a regular basis, and trust as a source of information? That is what should drive the means used to reach this targeted audience.
The growth of new social media avenues enables us to bring more options to the table, and expand the discussion of approaches for outreach. That’s a great thing. Video and podcasts are playing a more active role, interactive approaches and ideas are discussed and implemented more frequently – and all of this expands our toolkit and our ability to touch our audience. Still, it comes down to fundamentals: if you haven’t thought through your approach strategically, and you’re not keeping your focus on your target, you’ll miss. You might use a lot of social media, but if you’re not talking to your target audience it’s just more noise out there.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
The site was founded by two former Facebook employees and had its public launch in June 2010. Quora intends to build itself into the place to go whenever you have a question. Questions range from those with clear-cut, non-negotiable answers to those that are more open to interpretation. The site aims to grow its database of knowledge until nearly everything that anyone wants to know can be found in the system.
How exactly does the site work? It’s free to sign up, but to get started with an account, you are encouraged to link to either your Facebook or Twitter. This automatically sets you up to follow all your Facebook or Twitter friends who are already connected to Quora at the time you join. Once logged in, you are presented with topics that might interest you, based on the information found in your Facebook or Twitter account. Alternatively, you can select topics of interest if you choose not to link with Facebook or Twitter. There is an easy-to-use search box at the top of the page, where you can either add a new question or search topics. Selecting a topic will take you to that specific page, containing a plethora of questions and answers exclusively on the topic of your choice.
Quora is reminiscent of Twitter in that you can “follow” people and topics. Its comparisons to Digg stem from the fact that you can vote your impression of questions and answers, either up or down, to convey if you find them helpful or not. The Facebook-feel can be attributed to the fact that it is attempting to harness the powers of community – this is the greatest asset of the site by far. Everyone likes to feel that they are a part of something, and Quora has the potential to build upon that. Of course, not every question will be answered, but the quality of answers has proven to be impressive. One example cited numerous times involves a Quora member posing a question about an AOL marketing campaign from the 1990’s. Two of the respondents were AOL founder Steve Case and Jan Brandt, the marketing executive who actually came up with the campaign in question.
Less than a year after opening to the public, coverage of Quora is rapidly expanding. In the past month, it has been written about in GovLoop, Ragan.com, TechCrunch, Time and Federal Computer Week, to name a few. Some of the articles are full of praise, while others bring up concerns and challenges.
The kind of impact Quora could have on the government marketplace has yet to be seen, but there was a great article in Federal Computer Week recently, explaining how a staff member for GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) used Quora to get a feel for public sentiment on using social media for legislation. (http://fcw.com/articles/2011/02/23/rep-eric-cantor-usinig-quora-for-ideas-on-social-media.aspx).
It is far too early to tell if Quora will indeed be the next big thing. It appears to have potential for use in the government marketplace and could change the way you interact with your target audience. This site is one to keep an eye on. Email me at email@example.com or call me at 301-924-0330 and let me know if you use Quora, or if there’s another new site you’d like to know more about – we’d love to hear from you, and we’re glad to help you determine what communications tools best help you meet your pr/marketing goals and objectives!
Friday, February 25, 2011
1.What’s the point? Make your key point upfront – and clearly. Elaborate, explain,
2. Short and simple: Keep your writing succinct. We all want it fast online.
3. Be bold: Bold is good – it helps to draw the eye, and people can scan and get the meat of
your comments quickly.
4. Casual works: We use the web for business, so our writing is still professional, but a bit of
a conversational tone is fine – and often even appreciated. Know your audience and your
format, and go for a more casual tone when appropriate.
5. Don’t skimp when it matters: This post is consciously short and sweet, but when you
have something important to say, say it. Just keep sentences within the post/article/essay
short, focused and relevant.
6. Respect your reader’s time: This is true always, in all formats. Web readers seem to get
impatient faster, and take action more swiftly – after all, different information is just a click
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
The naming of Advice Unlimited as one of the top businesses in the country is a huge honor, as the award is the basis of DiversityBusiness.com’s annual “Top Business List,” which is seen by over 15 million people and is used by Fortune 500 companies and large buying organizations to find new business partners.
This list is the most comprehensive look at the most important segment of the United States economy – America’s privately held companies. The list has become the most recognized and respected compilation of companies that truly differentiate themselves in the marketplace in a time when doing so has never been more important.
As a small business, we focus on delivering consistent outstanding results and superior customer service for our clients, and our reputation has grown through that dedication to exceeding expectations. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.