Friday, July 29, 2011

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, with favorites

No matter how hard you try, a typewriter won't let you access Twitter--which is where I shared the links, articles and resources below this week. I'm @dontgetcaught on Twitter, and here's what caught my eye this week:
Here's a favorite and a few extras:
  • Vimeo offers widgets so you can more easily share its videos on blogs and websites.
  • Google+ is still on a invitation basis, in order to keep the rollout somewhat slowed down. If you haven't yet tried it and can't find another way, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for an invite.
  • You've got a week to catch the discounted registration rate for my next workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts. You can still register after that--minus the discount. Why wait?

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Compiled: How you got your start in #PR or #communications

Yesterday, I asked readers to share how they got their start in PR or communications. The post is one of the most-viewed this month, and several readers took the time to respond here, on the don't get caught Facebook page and on Twitter. There's a nice variety in the responses, with the usual array of surprises, twists and insects. (Read on and see.) Feel free to keep this compilation going and share your story of how you got your start in the comments!

Bruce Trachtenberg described how economic conditions created the opening for a shift from journalism to communications:
Wow...that question took me back a few years. I had the incredible fortune of getting hired as a copyboy for The Oregonian in 1970, the summer before I started college. A year later, I was promoted to a part-time reporting position. I managed both college and my job over the next 3 years. But in 1974 a recession hit and the newspaper laid off its part-time reporting staff. I took the summer off to finish a few missing credits for my degree. After that, I started looking for work again. I decided not to go for another newspaper or media job, and instead tried my hand freelancing for the communications department of a nearby community college. After that, I was hired to work for Portland Public Schools full-time, and from then on have always worked in the pr/communications field. I stayed on the for-profit side until 1992, when I joined a private grantmaking foundation as its first communications director.
Emily Culbertson came to communications for the better work conditions and grabbed onto the tail of a topic, health care:
Like Bruce, I started out in journalism first. In the early 90s, I was a stringer for AP and a bunch of suburban dailies. I covered federal court under the watchful eye of a more senior courthouse correspondent, Shannon Duffy, who is still there today. I took my first communications job, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, a few years later for more regular hours and HUP's awesome tuition benefits. Almost all of my communications work since then has been related to health care. This week, I have to say thanks to David Morse, just now leaving RWJF after 10 years, Larry Blumenthal, Kathryn Thomas and Phil Hagerty for deciding that, although I didn't have a traditional background for philanthropy, that I might do OK at a foundation.
A move took Jackie Fishman, APR, from journalism to PR:
I had been working as a writer/editor for trade publications in Atlanta, GA. A move to the wild west of South Florida in the go-go 80s enabled me to find an account exec position at a small PR firm. The clients were mostly residential real estate developers. It was a wild and crazy atmosphere full of bloated budget excess and Intracoastal yacht press briefings. Sounds glamorous, but pitching "lifestyle" over substance got old in nine months. The firm's prinicpal took on a local hospital as a a new client, I think he lost some kind of wager, and I volunteered to be the account exec. Pitching stories about new medical procedures and fact-oriented health information was refreshing. The response from the local media craving more medical pitches and leads solidified my career in healthcare PR.
Miriam M. Hughes read "how" and described her method and skills, on Facebook:
By talking about stuff I liked and getting results!
Russ Campbell shared on Facebook that his fork in the road came through a temp agency:
I was a disgruntled liberal arts graduate and thought grad school was going to solve my problems so I went to a temp agency that Penn used. They asked if I could start the next day in the university's communications office. A dozen years later, I think I'm finally a light shade of green.
Ginger Pinholster wins for the only insect-related motivation. That, and insurance. On Twitter she replied:
Newspaper had fleas, no healthcare so I got PIO job.
Your intrepid reporter here asked for an explainer, and she added:
Marietta Daily Journal, 1980s: Newsroom flea-infested and no healthcare. There was a PIO vacancy at Ga Tech. Voila!
Patric Lane can look back and see a chain of events that led him to PR, and fit that into a tweet:
Every job I've had = comms, but didn't always realize it: sales >  customer service >  teacher > journalist > builder > #PR
Karin Lornsen, also on Twitter, credits three great paths:
Internships, diploma and great mentors
Thanks to all the communicators who responded, and as for the rest of you: How did you get started in PR or communications?

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How did you get started in #PR or #communications?

These days, all sorts of people are considering switching gears from other professions to move into public relations, public information and communications--so maybe now's a good time for those of us who are in those fields to share what got us here in the first place.  Where did you start out in PR or communications? Was it your first job ever, or did you shift from another profession? Did someone talk you into it? What got you here? Share your answers in the comments.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Can you say no to an expert?

A long time ago, on the eve of a big announcement, I got a phone call at 5 p.m. from the chairman of the board of the nonprofit I worked for. He was on a speaker phone in my boss's office. "I just wanted you to know my expectations for the news coverage tomorrow," he said.

"Sure, go ahead," I said. Like I could do anything about it now.

"I want a story on the front page of the New York Times, above the fold, with my photo, in color," he said.

And I said, "Well, I'll have to grab some crayons and meet you down at the printing plant, since the last I looked, the Times was still printing in black and white." (I did say this was a long time ago, dear readers.)

Fortunately, he laughed. (And he did get coverage in the Times the next day, thankyouverymuch.) But in that moment, even if he was joking, he was putting me in a corner, asking for something he knew was impossible. Would I say no to a person of power, even if his expertise--Nobel-laureate-level expertise--didn't extend to what goes into an announcement getting coverage by a newspaper?

It's a situation that happens every day in communications operations. But if you're afraid to say no to the experts you work with, you'll never be as effective as you could be as a communicator. You can learn to understand the experts you work with--and how to work with them more effectively--in my upcoming workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts. Whether you put them in front of reporters, donors, legislatures or public audiences, the workshop's designed to help you learn:

  • How to anticipate your experts' default communications style, how to help them see it, and how to show them what public and media audiences want instead;
  • Why they don't need to "dumb down" their information to communicate clearly (and how to handle other common objections they raise);
  • How to assess your experts' skills and training needs, to help you approach coaching in savvy ways;
  • Handling hands-on training, giving feedback to smart people, pushback and Q-and-A.
This workshop, set for August 24 in Washington, DC, will work for communicators, fundraisers and government relations pros who work with smart people of any description, from scientists and engineers to policy wonks and other subject-matter experts. It's an interactive, small-group session where you can focus on your particular experts and get concrete tactics for working with them more effectively. And if you register by August 5, you'll save $50 per person on registration. I hope you'll sign up today, and share this opportunity with your colleagues--or register your team.


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Monday, July 25, 2011

Want the workshop on working with experts in NC or SF? Weigh in

Clients in North Carolina and San Francisco have asked whether I can bring the new workshop "Be an Expert on Working with Experts" to communicators, fundraisers and public affairs teams in those areas--and the answer is yes, if we can get sufficient interest.

All communicators are welcome to register for the August 24 session in Washington, DC (and you'll save $50 on your registration if you sign up by August 5). But I'm also happy to bring the workshop to your workplace for a private session, or to other cities if there's sufficient interest from communicators at a variety of organizations and companies.

So if you're in North Carolina (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) or San Francisco and the Bay area, and want to see the workshop locally, send me an email at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz, so I can determine the level of interest. Please do feel free to share this information with colleagues near you--and if you're in a different location and want to see the workshop there, email me with your location.

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5 things I haven't changed about my blogs since starting them

While I've changed several things about my blogs over time, in many ways, my content's been in a groove--and a good one. In that case, there's no reason to change what plays well. Instead, I try to build upon and enhance the aspects of the blog that work, the secret sauce that makes hit records of them both. Here are the things I've kept the same since starting this blog and The Eloquent Woman blog:
  1. A sound: Neither blog aims for be-all-end-all status.  Instead, this blog focuses on strategies and training--the things you need to avoid getting caught when you communicate--and on things communications directors need to know. The Eloquent Woman focuses on women and public speaking, preferring inspiring role models, ideas about new ways to present, and information useful to speakers. Staying focused in this way helps me decide about content quickly, and means readers know just what to expect.
  2. Fan favorites: Ask me a question in a workshop, share perspective on a feedback form, holler at me on Twitter or post a comment here or the Facebook pages and it's likely to wind up back here on the blog, inspiring a new post, or rounded up with other comments in a post that recaps the reactions. Reader questions have been an essential part of the growth of The Eloquent Woman blog, and the willingness of readers to send in questions helps keep both blogs on track.
  3. Guest artists: There are lots of people who do what I do, and when they've got great advice or leads--so great I wish I'd thought of them--I'll post about and link to their  posts or, in some cases, ask permission to repost their originals in full. Plenty of room out here for everyone, I say, and it's great to bring the perspectives of many talented coaches and consultants here for my clients to use.
  4. Crossover hits: Both blogs emanate from one business, so there are plenty of times when an idea works for both. In those cases, I'll cross-post the same item on both blogs or, more frequently, link from one to the other. In other cases, I'll cover different aspects of the same issue on each blog. For example, I'll cover the phenomenon of Twitter backchannels and the issues they pose for communicators on this blog; on The Eloquent Woman, I'll get more practical on how to use Twitter to promote your speech or how to actually manage that backchannel while you speak.
  5. Time away from the tour: As frequently as I post, weekends are post-free on both blogs, with only a few exceptions.
Related post: 12 things I've changed about my blogs since starting them

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, with favorites

Twitter can be a bit like a cool breeze--there's a lot moving over the windowsill. Here are the items that caught my eye this week on Twitter, where I'm @dontgetcaught. This week marks my third anniversary on Twitter--hard to believe it's been that short a time. These are the posts I found, read and shared:


And here are a few items favorited, to read later:


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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Can you do a better job working with scientists and experts?

If you're frustrated by your work helping experts and scientists reach non-technical audiences, it might be time to step back and assess whether you could be doing a better job at it. Telltale signs might be right in your sights.

In some cases, you'll set up a media interview, an appointment with a donor, a training session--only to have it canceled or mysteriously missed. Your requests to engage with external audiences might be met with more roadblocks and pushback over time, or kept to smaller and smaller windows. Or those interviews, meetings and appointments will happen--but may as well not have happened, since the exchange of information is too technical to be clear. Perhaps you sense trouble and attempt to coach the expert in communicating with non-technical audiences, or the expert assures you she's had plenty of previous training--but the problems still occur. And clearest of all the signals: The expert you can never reach, or the one who blows up his training session in some way.

I've trained thousands of experts, scientists, engineers and policy wonks in every academic discipline, and to me, those tea leaves spell trouble for communicators and others trying to bridge the gap between smart folks and the public audiences interested in their work. They signal experts who are hiding from contact with non-experts or media, those who think your requests are taking up too much of their time (perhaps because they don't know how to manage them), and those who don't understand how to shift their communication style when speaking to reporters, public audiences, donors and policymakers. Many of them are just afraid to fail--after all, they're supposed to be experts, right?

The good news: You can improve your success in working with experts in communications situations, in my new workshop, Be an Expert on Working with Experts. Slated for Wednesday, August 24 in Washington, DC, the workshop will cover:
  • How to anticipate your experts' default communications style, how to help them see it, and how to show them what public and media audiences want instead;
  • Why they don't need to "dumb down" their information to communicate clearly (and how to handle other common objections they raise);
  • How to assess your experts' skills and training needs, to help you approach coaching in savvy ways;
  • Handling hands-on training, giving feedback to smart people, pushback and Q-and-A when you're training experts. Find out what they don't know--but won't tell you--and how to fix that.
The workshop is a great value, and ideal for teams of communicators--a team signed up within the first hour. You'll get continental breakfast and lunch, plus resources you can refer to after the training. Register by August 5 at $300 per person, a $50 discount from the $350 registration fee. It's a small-group setting that will let you practice, ask questions and focus on the particular challenges you're facing with the experts you work with. Sign up today!

Can't make it on the 24th? Use the RSVP function to let me know you can't make it, but want to know about future sessions. I can bring this workshop to your workplace or your city, so let me know your interest, and share this, please, with colleagues and friends.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

7 sweet finds of mine, from beachcombing on social media

I love beachcombing for sea glass and smooth stones, the kind you carry home without knowing why or what you'll use them for. That's not the case, though, with these finds--I know why you want them and that you'll find them useful. They come from combing the beaches of blogs, Twitter feeds and more. Now's the time to unload them and share with my friends:

  1. U.S. government agencies on Tumblr: I read a tweet that led to a not very well sourced article about U.S. federal agencies on Tumblr, so I went to the source. Mark Coatney is Tumblr's media evangelist, and he pointed me to Jed Sundwall, who's keeping track of federal programs and agencies on Tumblr here. Have one that's not listed? Send it to Sundwall.
  2. What's the best time to post on your blog? KissMetrics has a great infographic here that will explain It All To You. Like videos, think about that hour heading into lunchtime...
  3. Tell the New York Times what's useful about PR: The public editor wrote about the Times' limits on David Pogue, who had been doing paid seminars telling PR folks how to pitch the paper, in violation of Times rules. Our more defensive colleagues objected, so now he's asking you to share what communicators contribute to the Times and what's useful about the craft.
  4. What's up with sharing? Here's a research look at the psychology of social sharing. If you're creating profiles of typical users, add this to the mix.
  5. Headlines count in social media: So this free ebook on creating headlines that go viral is a useful tool. It comes via Chris Garrett, one of the great minds behind the ProBlogger book.
  6. Exciting! Email! Eeek! might be your reaction if you read lots of emails with an abundance of points of exclamation. This New York Times piece explains that you're not alone. You'll wince in recognition.
  7. Get your own blog: The Times also cut reader comment length by 60 percent, from 5,000 characters to 2,000. News organizations have increasingly put limits on comments, as they are flooded with them. Will you follow suit?

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Monday, July 18, 2011

What you can learn in 3 years on Twitter

They tell me it's my third anniversary on Twitter today (you can find out such things here). As of this morning, I've put in 13,300 tweets, which averages out to a dozen a day. That won't set any records and I am clearly not an early adopter. But can you tell it's one of my favorite social tools?

That's in part because I learn so much on Twitter. There is no better send-up-a-flare source for breaking news, and it's put excitement and participation back into stories that are breaking in astonishing ways. The daily practice of editing or writing for brevity might just be the writer's best friend, and my inner headline writer is getting far more exercise these days. Few tools are as effective in driving traffic to my blogs as Twitter is. The open nature of the network means I can follow a wide variety of people and organizations and I do, to have great examples for my clients; it also means I can be followed by those with an interest in what I'm doing, which has turned out to be a great way to meet new clients and new friends. I've met and had wonderful, useful feedback from readers of my blogs on Twitter, feedback I might not otherwise get--but it's enriched both blogs and my work in general. I know I read more than I did before using Twitter, because it's pointed me to so many useful articles and posts. I follow lots of canaries in the coal mine and stalkers of just the information I'm seeking, my personal curators, as I like to think of them.

Balancing the personal and professional on Twitter, after some planning and thinking that through, has become second nature. I don't want to be all one or the other, in real life or on Twitter. I've found wonderful new friends and new clients, and reinforced longstanding relationships. A colleague I used to see once or twice a year at professional meetings said at the last one, "I used to come to this meeting to see people I hadn't seen all year. Now because of Twitter, I come to see people I'm talking to every day." Meetups in real life get richer and more fun, and I have a finely honed sense of the rhythms of my particular network and its work and play habits--there's something going on 24 hours a day, ebbing and flowing, in every time zone among those I follow. That in itself is a useful reminder each day.

If you're looking for the book on how to use Twitter effectively, especially for a team or to set office norms, go with The Twitter Book,co-authored by Twitter pal and early user Sarah Milstein. I'm honored to appear in it as a good example. What have you learned in your time on Twitter?

Related posts: 10 ways I use Twitter to boost my creativity

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, with favorites

This weekend, I'm leaving the praying mantises in charge of my garden and heading to the mountains and woods for a break. I hope you'll get a chance to recharge your communicator batteries this weekend, perhaps scanning this list of the best articles, tips and finds I shared on Twitter, where I'm @dontgetcaught.. (And if you are still looking for a way into Google+, please email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz with your Gmail address and I'll send you an invite.) Here's what caught my eye this week:


A few favorites, put aside for my own weekend reading:

  • Government Tumblrs: I got frustrated with a skimpy "report" on U.S. government agencies on Tumblr that had no sources, so I asked Mark Coatney, Tumblr's media evangelist. He pointed me to this list of government Tumblr sites, via Jed Sundwall, who's actually keeping track. Send any missing one straight to him.
  • The private network: There's a new network in town, and Google+ has already been touted as the site that really got it right when it comes to privacy settings. So this post on Google+ Privacy: 5 Settings You Should Know couldn't be far behind....
Finally, a new professional development opportunity: I'm debuting a new workshop for communicators and others who work with experts on August 24. Anyone can register, though it will be most useful for communicators, fundraisers and government relations folks who work with smart people, and want to know how to be more effective in coaching them for public and media appearances. Please pass this on to colleagues or register yourself and your team! You can register and find out more about "Be an Expert on Working with Experts" here.


Enjoy your weekend, and thanks, as always, for reading and sharing what you find here.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

For Thursday: For Communications Directors newsletter

It's the middle of the year, so you're either halfway through a budget or just starting a new fiscal year. But are you leaving training money on the table? Before you say "What training money?" check out the new issue of For Communications Directors newsletter, out this week on Thursday, which will give you tools and resources including:
  • Question to ask yourself when you're considering training for your team, experts or yourself,
  • Questions to ask prospective trainers (me included) when you're evaluation training options,
  • Details on a new train-the-trainer workshop for communicators, "Be an Expert on Working with Experts," that I'm offering next, and
  • How to put together a back-pocket plan for training, so you're ready to move on it when the funds or timing permits.
I can report that this has been one of my busiest years yet in training, with many more companies, government agencies, universities and nonprofits investing in professional development for executives, experts, members and communications teams. Clients are already booking training sessions with me through the end of 2011, so it's an excellent time to plan. Don't leave that training opportunity--or your training wallet--on the table. Sign up for the newsletter using the link below. It's free and monthly.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Is it time to loosen up your online profile?

I used to live in a city where the "weather girl," as they called the weather reporter there, must have used a can of hairspray a day. You could tell on especially windy, rainy days, when she did standups outside with everything in the shot moving sideways--except for her hair. Is that what your online profile is like? If so, it may be time to loosen it up.

I've been rethinking my own online profiles now that Google+ has made the Google profile more of a central part of that network--and because it's just time to revise them. I'm now glad I've had a Google profile. It's a real portrait, if you want it to be, more full than any resume and more engaging, and flexes to meet your needs. Adding links to your content is easy, and now, a Google profile will help your search-engine optimization if you publish frequently online, by telling Google that you're connected to the content you  produce:
Google Profile is Google's version of an author page. It's how you present yourself to the web and to Google. Use your profile to manage the information—such as your bio, contact details, and links to other sites by or about you—that people see. When you link your Google Profile to your author pages (or to sites you write for), you're telling Google that all of these pages represent you. If your content appears in search results, your photo (including a link to your Google Profile) can appear next to it. Content you’ve identified as yours will also be listed on the +1 tab of your Google Profile. To easily link to your Google Profile, add the Profile button to your site.
So the smart Googler will create a full profile and link your key content to it, whether you blog casually on Tumblr or publish ebooks, video, podcasts and RSS feeds.

Like many people, my very first online profiles of some years ago were simple cut-and-paste jobs, transfers from the resume. I try to update them regularly, since my "about" page on this blog and my profiles are among the most-viewed of my many online posts--and that's how it should be. I think Twitter and its super-short profiles did the most to help me figure out how to convey personality, quickly, and Google's profile gave me the most flexibility.

This bears repeating: The more time I spend online and in social networks, the more I see the benefits of putting personality into your online profiles. Those aspects of my profile are the ones that help me get new clients and bond with existing ones, provide people conversation openers so we can get acquainted, and show creativity and my voice, even though I'm sight-unseen in person. It lets you suss me out and feel familiar with me before we meet. At least, we can start from somewhere. But if your online profile parrots your resume or holds me at arm's length (hairspray distance?), all those advantages disappear and you're, well, just another resume.

Think of a personality-filled profile as the antidote to all the time we spend online. Whether you're looking for a new job, new clients, new opportunities or new ideas, an online profile that brings you into focus can reach across that sterile online divide and make you a person, not a resume. And isn't that what you want?

By the way, it looks as if Google+ is open to all at this point, but if you can't access it, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz and I'll extend an invitation to you. You can find my Google profile there, too.

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Friday, July 08, 2011

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter, with favorites and a job

Twitter's up to 200 million tweets per day, or more when the President holds a Twitter town hall. But once a week, I try to pare it down for you. This weekly read excludes tweets about my blogs and offers a selection of tweets from others I shared, usually good reads, smart data, and trends I'm watching. Find me on Twitter as @dontgetcaught and check out these items that caught my eye this week:
Some items I favorited to read later:
Thanks again for reading!

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Help students: Share some bad health news releases

Help is needed for the students of a friend of the blog: Reuters Health executive editor Ivan Oransky, MD, is looking for sources of poorly done news releases on health topics, so his University of Massachusetts public health students can learn by critiquing them. I just know readers of this blog have seen and perhaps put by some bad examples. Share links in the comments, or, if you're feeling generous and kind, send links to me (or ideas for sources) at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz. It's for students, people. Educational, even. Pony up your nominees, please.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

UPDATED: Dropbox changed its language, again. Will you delete your Dropbox account? I did.

UPDATE: A few minutes ago on Twitter, a rep from Edelman PR asked whether this might be an overreaction on my part (it's not clear to me whether Dropbox is a client of theirs). I took a look at Dropbox's Twitter feed and found out they've changed the terms of service, again. From the Dropbox  blog:


We asked for your feedback and we’ve been listening. As a result, we’ve clarified our language on licensing:
You retain ownership to your stuff. You are also solely responsible for your conduct, the content of your files and folders, and your communications with others while using the Services.
We sometimes need your permission to do what you ask us to do with your stuff (for example, hosting, making public, or sharing your files). By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service. This license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services. You must ensure you have the rights you need to grant us that permission.


So, was I overreacting? I think not. As an author and as a communications pro, and as someone who has helped to run a federal regulatory agency, I am not scared off by legalese and I understand copyright law and how it affects my business, thank you. The TOS as written (see below) was contradictory--we need an unfettered license to do whatever, but we're only going to use it for X. Either you need it unfettered, or you don't.

Worst of all, this change came only after people complained. The post below is now one of the best-read posts on this blog, which tells me a) that Dropbox had lots of fans and b) these terms come nowhere near what they thought they were signing up for. You can see some of that in the comments, and on Twitter.  lindseyb16 shared, as a reminder, how Evernote deals with the same issue, and I think communicators have a great lesson here--a what-to-do from Evernote and a what-not-to-do from Dropbox. Lesson? Don't tell me your intent is good when your legal language suggests an opening a truck could drive through. It's a trust thing.

Here's this morning's post, a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free one:

It happened over the holiday weekend, so no wonder you missed it. Joe Bonner shared this Dave Winer tweet and blog post about Dropbox's new terms of service, and after reading it and the new terms, I deleted my account, too. I'm noting it here because I was a frequent recommender of Dropbox, so I  want to correct the record. Here's the problem area:
By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service. This license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services. You must ensure you have the rights you need to grant us that permission.
As an author and creator of works, that means any of my own writing or photography or other files stored in Dropbox automatically get licensed to the service for free. Um, no. I've removed my files and deleted my account (go to help and search for "delete account"). There are plenty of other file-sharing and collaboration tools, from Google Docs to Evernote and Amazon Cloud, to turn to. Interestingly, I heard about this on Twitter hours before getting an email directly from Dropbox. Will you delete your Dropbox account? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Can your op-ed land the crucial one-two punch?

When you write an op-ed or letter to the editor (the shorter version of the form), do you pull your punches or land the crucial one-two punch that makes an opinion piece strong and effective? It's the simplest test of whether you've included the vital part of an op-ed: An opinion. 

Too many leaders, perhaps afraid to offend, manage to leave the opinion out of these editorials, an easy way to ensure they never appear. But the most effective op-eds land that punch in two places.  If you don't find the opinion in the first and last paragraphs, your op-ed's viewpoint won't win the day.

Take this recent example, an otherwise fine op-ed by the Rockefeller Foundation's Janice Nittoli. She has a clear position to propose, and the Times gave it a clear, pithy headline: "Pay Workers Fairly and Save Money." The first paragraph sets up the situation well and with appeal in two sentences:
Despite persistent unemployment and stagnant wages, few believe that our cash-strapped government is likely to simply create better-paying jobs. But there is a way for this country to get more from the millions of jobs we already finance with federal dollars, while reducing the cost of entitlement programs.
Then, instead of telling us what that way is, we get another paragraph with five sentences of argument--before we really know what we're arguing for. The real opinion awaits the reader in paragraph three, if the reader makes it there: "President Obama should mandate, in an executive order, that all federal contractors obey the wage and hour laws already on the books." Here is a punch that was pulled. We might have learned earlier that the focus was on federal contractors, and the desired mechanism for change. In that sense, an op-ed lede should be like any other, leaving you with a clear idea of the point, in case you can read no further.

The concluding paragraph does a better job at landing its punch in the final line, which reiterates what the author wants to see happen--a specific action by the president--although I'd have liked that line to reiterate the point with more specificity, to drive that point home:
Too many of them depend on public assistance to supplement their wages. As taxpayers, we pour money into this leaky bucket and end up paying twice for services we get once. Safety nets are important, but we should also seek to lay out trampolines to lift workers into a growth economy. One act of leadership could make our federal spending part of the solution instead of the problem.
The one-two punch approach ensures that you nail that opinion where it will have the most emphasis, before the reader loses interest. It also plays to your audience by inserting the answer to "so what?" instead of sharing all your data and arguments first. I use this chart to show that the way most experts are trained to make an argument is exactly the opposite of what your public audience is expecting--and you don't need to be a scientist for this to apply to your area of expertise:

The one-two punch is easy to plan when you're writing an op-ed, but it also should be part of your review before submitting the piece. Can I find and grasp your point by reading just the first and last paragraphs? Are your supporting arguments clearly sandwiched in the middle? If not, back to the locker room for you...

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Monday, July 04, 2011

Closed for holiday


I hope my U.S. readers are digging their toes into the sand or firing up the grill today...enjoy your 4th of July, and I'll be posting again tomorrow.


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Friday, July 01, 2011

Weekend read: My weekly share on Twitter

Did you leave your mark on the communications world this week? If you're a U.S. reader, you did that just in time for the long holiday weekend. Before we pack up for that break, here are the beach-minded items that caught my eye this week on Twitter, where I'm @dontgetcaught:
This week, my favorites are on hold so I can enjoy the long weekend. Hope you will, too.

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