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.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Remember the Meaning of Memorial Day

Memorial Day has become a great celebration for families to mark the official kickoff of the summer season. People enjoy parades, cookouts and all kinds of sales across America. It’s great to have fun and celebrate summer; but we also want to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day. 

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery.

Today, cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, Ga., claim the title, as well as Richmond, Va. The village of Boalsburg, Pa., claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, Ill., cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. Carbondale was the wartime home of Gen. Logan. Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.

In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were either informal, not community-wide or one-time events.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.

It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May.

To ensure the sacrifices of America’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission’s charter is to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.

The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day."

This year, please take some time to honor the brave men and women that have served our country. One organization that is dedicated to honoring our servicemembers every day of the year is the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore (USO-Metro). This is a wonderful nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that is dedicated to "serving those who serve, and their families" in the Washington-Baltimore region. With the help of nearly 5,000 volunteers, USO-Metro provides programs and services for active duty troops and their families at area military hospitals and local military bases; through their Mobile USO program; at six USO Centers, and four USO airport lounges.

Volunteering with USO-Metro is a great way to honor our servicemembers and make a direct impact. There are many different types of programs, so you can choose where you feel your skills and interest will be most effective. The generous support of individuals and organizations in the local community is what allows USO-Metro to fulfill its mission. You can find out more about getting involved with USO-Metro here.

And have a wonderful, memorable Memorial Day!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Using Videos on Your Website: Pros and Cons

The use of videos on organization pages has become a growing trend. Partnered with social media and interactive links, videos can be a strong asset for any organization; they’re a great way to give a little personality to your organization. There is a multitude of ways that videos can be useful to capture the attention of your target audience, position your organization and your executives as trusted thought leaders, and increase awareness of particular products or initiatives. However, the misuse of video can ruin an organization’s website and diminish credibility, so it is always critical to pay close attention to the videos posted and ensure they do not become overly intrusive.  Below are some of the pros and cons of using video for your organization.

The Good:

1. Video is easier than text. If your goal is to inform your website visitors, video is more convenient than text. It is much easier to watch a 30 second to one minute video than it is to click around an entire website until you find the same information. The U.S. Air Force does a great job of integrating video into the right places. The brief U.S. Air Force history video is a wonderful example of how to use video to inform your audience without being overly intrusive. 

2. Videos allow for stronger search engine optimization. Using keywords in the description and headline of the video directs the content right to search engines, helping to gain more traffic to your website. This can also generate more traffic to your website after the video is watched because of the viewer’s curiosity to learn more and their propensity to share what they’ve viewed. 

3. Getting to see the personality of an organization can make a huge impression on the website visitors. Video allows for an organization to show a little personality and gives viewers an idea of the culture of the organization. A great example of this is the White House website video section. They do a great job of using video for the President’s speeches and other events that the White House is involved with. Most videos get thousands of views and help to give personality to the President and his family; this allows viewers to feel more connected and in-tune with current goals and initiatives.
4. Versatility is a great benefit of video; as videos can be used in a variety of ways in addition to residing on your website. You can use the videos in other venues, such as public events or internal training videos; they can also become a great sales pitching tool.

The Bad:

1. Videos can oftentimes turn out poorly if the people who are being filmed are camera shy. When planning the video, it is extremely important to figure out who the correct people are to film. That is as important as what the person is saying. A poor video can easily sully a viewer’s perception of the organization as a whole. Be sure the spokespeople being filmed are comfortable in front of the camera and that they speak clearly, exuding both charisma and knowledge. Ensure everyone has their script ahead of time and that they practice enough to sound like they’re not reading a memorized script. It should be thought of as a conversation between the spokesperson and their target audience – a dry, lecture-style speech will do nothing to attract and retain viewers.   

2. Another disadvantage is buffering or quality of the video while being viewed. This is something that varies with every person’s connection, but it can be intrusive for the viewer and lead to dissatisfaction for that person. Attention spans seem to be steadily decreasing. According to a recent article by The Guardian, studies have shown that 32% of consumers will start abandoning slow sites between one and five seconds. A one second delay in page load time can result in 11% fewer page views, 16% decreased customer satisfaction and 7% lost conversations. At a time when everyone is expecting instant gratification, you cannot afford to have slow or interrupted videos on your page.

3. 'Do it yourself' videos often look like just that, and still require a commitment of time, and an investment in software and hardware. For example, some software like Adobe’s “After Effects” can cost $50 per month for an annual contract. And not all of the video editing software is easy to use. Some of these programs take time to learn. That can be done through online education sites like, which can be up to $375 annually or more. A smarter approach might be to hire your PR/Marketing firm to handle the creation of the videos from soup to nuts: writing the script, managing the shoot, editing the video, etc. They can add the professionalism you want to ensure your video is engaging and will draw in, entertain and educate your audience.   

Ultimately, videos can be extremely beneficial, helping you to increase website traffic, connect more deeply with your target audience, and increase trust in your leaders and your organization. Strong, well-spoken leaders and experienced communications teams and video teams are essential to creating successful videos. Make sure you review your goals before starting the video process, get your teams in place, and you’ll be well on your way to reaping the benefits that videos can bring!