Friday, December 30, 2016

The weekend read

Ready to toast the end of 2016, are you, communicators? Pause for a moment to check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. Then clink away and get smarter by 2017. Here's to a great new year ahead:
Shall we work together in 2017? If we haven't thrown that glass into the fireplace to toast a new partnership, email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com to discuss your project.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by William Neuheisel)

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Our top 10 social media & communications posts for 2016

In 2016, the most-read posts on this blog focused on two of my wheelhouses: Handling and preparing for media interviews, and wrangling social media before it wrangles you. Here are the posts you read the most this year:
  1. Better media interviews: 13 tips and resources rounds up the blog's best tips for navigating media interviews wisely and well.
  2. For comms pros: Why you should consider publicizing scientific retractions makes the case for putting forward these important shifts in scientific knowledge.
  3. The 15 percent less rule, a lifesaver for speeches and media interviews really works, particularly for the long-winded among us. Yes, you can end your talk on time and not take all the air out of the room in an interview.
  4. For artists: Promoting your work on social media recaps the discussion I led with a group of visual artists hoping to get their work a further audience, and sales.
  5. Building relationships with reporters shares some of the best tactics up my sleeve for creating real relationships, not imaginary ones, with the reporters you aid.
  6. I don't write blog posts until I'm ready came from the vault, but is still among this year's most popular posts. It's a writing strategy that serves me well.
  7. Starting a great conversation in your office about media interviews shares an oft-neglected, small, easy tactic that will help your future spokespeople get more comfortable and knowledgeable. I have a few clients trying this, and it's a low-cost way to get an entire team savvy on media interactions.
  8. Is that one blog post or five? Using your listicles to create more content is one of my tactics for making sure the story queue has plenty in it.
  9. 12 years in, extraordinarily happy about my 'Leap' shares my progress in getting this far with this business, and shares a good guide if you're considering the same.
  10. The re-use blues: Recycling press releases, speeches, and slides is a cautionary tale. Don't get caught, people. Don't get caught.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by pEtE)

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The weekend read

Whatever holiday you're about to celebrate, I'm feeling certain that a midnight snack will be involved. It's a bit like this plate of my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. Munch away, communicators:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by kashia)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Can a 2-question list change your communications career? Mine did.

"How did you decide what you wanted to do?"

I was talking recently with a wannabe entrepreneur in a similar field when this question came up, as it often does in such conversations. She was asking about how I chose the services I offer to clients. But the way she phrased it, I realized, made it a relevant question at any point in your career as a communications pro.

So I told her about my 2-question list. And I think you can use it wherever you are in your career.

The list is one I made when I decided to start this business almost 14 years ago. I'd freelanced, successfully, when I was younger and everything I owned fit in the back of my car. Now, with a mortgage and more responsibilities, I needed to think things through. I knew I could handle the discipline, the admin, the confidence of getting clients. But what would I be offering as services?

The list really was a list of answers to these two questions:
  1. What are you good at that the market wants and that you still want to do?
  2. What are you good at that the market wants, but you never want to do again?
At that stage in my career, I was in my early 40s but had just won a huge career award in communications, my second career after journalism. So I had plenty of skills. But those two questions helped me sort through which skills would be a part of my new business, quickly and decisively.

The questions can guide you to different end points, depending on the skill. For example, I had a great reputation in media relations, including pitching reporters, being a spokesperson, and media training. But the training was the only part I wanted to continue doing. This was important to know when nice people called, having been referred by folks who'd said, "She's outstanding in media relations!" and I had to allow as how that was true, but it wasn't among my offerings. Being able to say no with certainty is a wonderful thing.

On the positive side of the tally, I included training (media training and coaching speakers); developing strategies (communications strategies and later, social media strategies); and message development. These were all things I'd been doing my entire career. And while the proportion of my time on each of those tasks varies, they are the very same things I offer to this day. More important, I'm still happy in my work.

For the skills I wanted to stop offering, I just needed to find people to whom I could refer the work. (It's a great way to make friends.) For the skills I wanted to keep offering, I did another pass, and realized they all had something in common: I like strategy and preparation, both in my personality profile and the work I like best. And that suggested don't get caught--as in don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message.

I think that short list of questions is one you can use at any time, but particularly when you have sand in your shoe about dissatisfaction with what you are doing now. You may find there's a gap between your wants and the market's wants, or that your part of the industry is in a transition phase. Seth Godin offers a good discussion here of what happens when your market shifts.

When I started this business, the idea of writing my own books seemed a long way off, and blogging was just beginning. So I did offer writing to some clients initially, but once blogs emerged as a stronger option, I stopped writing for others and doubled down on learning blogging as a marketing tool for my own business. Don't assume that you know which things will be big. While I loved coaching speakers--something I've been doing in other jobs for decades--I never thought it would be my most-sought-after skill. Your willingness to try (and accept) new things should not be ignored, even though it's not specified in those two questions. Keep an open mind.

That goes double if you are thinking about retirement. I'm not near retirement age, but I love this article, which suggests you skip traditional retirement, and just find work you love that keeps you from dipping into your reserves. I think I've set myself up well for that.

We have a new year ahead, loaded with uncertainty. But one thing I know for sure: These two questions are a great way to turn the page, wherever you are in your career. Happy thinking!

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The weekend read

This week went by like that shooting star you weren't looking for communicators. But it's the weekend, or nearly so. Time to lean back, look up at the sky, and check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. You're always a shooting star in my book:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by ClaraDon)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Interview: @ivanoransky on life without press embargoes


(Editor's note: Physician and journalist Ivan Oransky and I often talk about the finer points of press embargoes for science journalists, since I used to manage same for the journal Science (where we had them) and the journals of the American Chemical Society (where I got rid of them, during my tenure). When Eurekalert was hacked recently, I saw his proposal to do a research project on embargoes using the hiatus as a control, and asked him to answer these questions. Oransky edits Embargo Watch and Retraction Watch, two of my favorite blogs; is Distinguished Writer In Residence at New York University’s Carter Journalism Institute; is the vice president of the Association of Health Care Journalists; and is the vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today.)

While Eurekalert! was on hiatus due to a hacking, you proposed an analysis of how the disruption would affect coverage. Why? What was your inspiration?

In a 1991 paper, David Phillips and colleagues explored what happened to science coverage during a 1978 strike at the New York Times. Reporters and editors still produced a paper, but the strike meant that it was never distributed, nor read by anyone outside of the building. Their goal was to see whether coverage in The Times would have any effect on citations, specifically “whether publicity in the popular press truly amplifies the transmission of scientific findings to the medical community.”

It was an elegant natural experiment that took advantage of an unplanned event, and so I thought of it when the Eurekalert! hack happened. Here might be a chance, once and for all to see what effects embargoes have on coverage of science.

(Another note from Denise: Read the results to see the highly positive impact that news coverage has on a paper's citation rate--something that matters to scientists. It's an old but good study to share with researchers who ask, "What's in it for me?" when deciding whether to talk to reporters.)

What did you hope to learn or prove?

A lot of the discussion about embargoes, appropriately, has to do with whether they make coverage of science better or worse. Do the benefits -- advocates usually cite time to digest and report on a particular study -- outweigh the disadvantages, such as letting journals dictate priorities? Those discussions, however, take place largely in the absence of evidence.

While the study I proposed would have a number of caveats -- a relatively short duration, the fact that some big journals are not part of Eurekalert!, and the fact that Eurekalert! staffers worked to minimize the disruption of the hack by sending content by request -- it might give us a clue how reporters would behave if embargoes went away. Would they look for non-embargoed stories? Would coverage be more superficial because they scrambled to report on studies once they came out? Those and other questions seem important to answer.

Ivan Oransky
Reporters don't talk much in public about embargoes--they're a type of inside baseball, Embargo Watch being a notable example of the opposite. How did reporters react to your arguments against embargoes, pro and con?

I’ve been delighted by the very thoughtful and challenging discussions about my Embargo Watch posts and Vox piece. A sampling:

Embargoes do help science journalists report stories better, and they give us a modicum of control over our lives,” wrote veteran science journalist Maggie Fox, now of NBC News.

“Embargoes might seem like a necessary evil within the system of science news as we’re practicing it today,” wrote former Scientific American editor in chief John Rennie, “but I think that’s all the more reason for us to rethink our approach to it.”

“I think that science writers should learn to live without embargoes,” said New York Times and STAT columnist Carl Zimmer.

“I agree that journalists should avoid the embargo treadmill, but that’s different from suggesting that they should stop looking at the embargoed studies until after they are published,” wrote Forbes health editor Matthew Herper.

One of the themes that I was particularly happy to see emerge was that the Ingelfinger Rule was bad for science journalism. That rule was promulgated in the late 1960s by an editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine who wanted to make sure researchers weren’t making unsupported claims based on non-peer-reviewed findings. But it has come to have a chilling effect on scientists’ willingness to speak to reporters.

Did PIOs (public information officers) react? How?

They did. Broad PIO Tom Ulrich wrote: “Embargoes absolutely have their ups and downs, but I think that, at least when it comes to writing and (for PIOs, communicating) about new studies, there will (and should) always be one limiting time-based factor…the date & time a given study’s actually published and/or it’s findings and data are publicly available.”

And longtime PR pro Brian Reid warned in a guest post that when it comes to embargoes’ problems, the cure may be worse than the disease.

Make the case for getting rid of embargoes, if you haven't done so already.


As I argued in Vox, “embargoes allow journals, universities, nonprofits, and corporations to decide what’s important — and when. That should be up to journalists and, frankly, anyone who writes about science. Reporters, even with the best intentions, end up on the study-of-the-week treadmill, and they’re less creative because of the limitations of something called the Ingelfinger Rule, which scares researchers out of talking to them...Science, rather than appearing like a human enterprise, full of fits and starts in the never-ending search for knowledge, is expected to prove claims once a week, or even more frequently. And I think that’s bad for readers and viewers.”

Make the case for keeping them.

I think Brian Reid makes this case well: “To be sure, the boiler-room speedsters and the clickbaiters and the flacks and the crowdsourcing crowd all exist now (and, indeed, may represent a growing slice of the media pie). But what the embargo system does is ensure that when 5 p.m. rolls around, news consumers have the option to ignore those voices in favor of thoroughly reported pieces by experienced reporters who have extensive Rolodexes. Take away that high-quality coverage, and the attention doesn’t vanish. It just flows somewhere else. Probably somewhere worse.”

What's one thing that press offices can do to improve their use of embargoes that you would welcome?

I’ll do better than one thing. Here are 10: “If you must use embargoes, here’s how to do it.”

Should press offices use unexpected hiatuses to conduct research like this?

I’d be delighted if they did, and I’d welcome the opportunity to help with that kind of research, presuming the results could be made public. I do realize, however, that when it comes to embargoes, university press officers are largely at the mercy of journals, which probably limits how much of an effect they can have on their own.

What did I miss?

A lot of the objections to doing away with embargoes presume that the only options are what we have now, or a mad scramble to cover studies once they’re already out. But that’s only true because of the Ingelfinger Rule. If we did away with that -- and in some ways we’re already chipping away at it -- science journalism would have the chance to reflect the ebbs and flows of the way science really works, instead of relying on the awful “study of the week” paradigm.

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The weekend read

Cold set in this week, communicators. But now it's the weekend, or almost so. Time to wrap yourself in the warmth of my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. Scarf 'em down:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Angela)

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The hypothetical media question, and how to answer it

"What if," asked the faculty member in one of my media training workshops, "you get a hypothetical question from a reporter?"

"Is that a hypothetical question about a hypothetical question?" I asked in return.

Hypothetical questions may be fine for your wide-ranging personal conversations, but as George H.W. Bush noted, they don't work so well in your public statements and media interviews. And of course, reporters love to pose hypothetical questions.

Another scientist, during one of my presentations on working well with the media, suggested that we can blame reporters' "misquoting" for mistakes that appear to be those of the interviewee. But in my experience, it's overstepping out loud by the interviewee--going well beyond what's known, proven, or just safe to say--that gets quoted, and then decried as "misquoting." Hypothetical questions set you up well for making statements that you can't support, creating the right conditions, as the saying goes, for letting your mouth write a check that your ass can't cash.

Based on a hypothesis, such a question poses "a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation." So it might be heard as a "what if..." question, or one that starts with "Suppose..." The situation posed could be one for today (as in, "If that kind of crime isn't happening here now, what if it did?") or in the future.

These are tempting, seemingly innocent, pie-in-the-sky kinds of questions, aren't they? The sly suggestion is "You know so much, put your imagination to work and tell us what might be?"

But no matter how it's framed, a hypothetical question also might wind up with you being quoted as if the hypothesis is hardened fact. This is particularly dangerous for a scientist trying to describe published work that proves what is, but can trip up any profession.

In most cases, it's far better for you to say, "I don't want to speculate" or "I wish I could tell you" or "I don't have any data on that," than to spin an answer out of thin air. Don't let the invitation of a hypothetical question let you get "beyond where you want to be" in your next media interview.

Photo by Ziglar Vault

Friday, December 02, 2016

The weekend read

I've been in Palm Springs, California, this week, coaching speakers at TEDMED--the medical and science TED conference--for the sixth year in a row. Time to end the week with my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, curated here for you. Call it our own little backstage magic:
(TEDMED photo)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tell It Better: Breaking down storytelling skills for communicators

Lots of communications pros style themselves as storytellers...but are all at sea when it comes to story choice, components, structure, and other basics. So I'm breaking down those storytelling skills for you, using our Tell It Better storytelling series to give you the basics, special story tests, and good examples, with 14 important factors you should know:

Storytelling structure:
  1. Avoiding chronological order when telling a story: Many storytellers (hello, scientists and ye who labor in academe) have been taught that you have to start at the beginning and plow straight through a story. But sometimes, changing the chronology takes a story from plain and uninteresting to special and mesmerizing. I have a Nobel laureate's example for you at the link.
  2. Why you should 'plant the seed' for a storytelling payoff: When you want to really underscore a point in your story, it pays to think about the payoff--and how you can set that up earlier in the tale.
  3. Storytelling with themes and symmetry: Themes are an important part of any layered story, and if you can reflect them at the beginning and end, your audience will be more satisfied with the outcome. That symmetry pays off in greater understanding.
  4. Who's the hero when you tell the story of your customer's journey? If you thought that was you, your product or service, or your cause, you're wrong--in a way that will make all the difference when you're using storytelling to pitch.
On choosing which story to tell:
  1. Borrowing a story: If you want to add personal touches to your story--which are like catnip for the audience--but don't want to share your own story, borrowing one is a time-honored tradition, although there are some rules that go with it.
  2. Should you or your speechwriter get that story for your speech? If you're lucky enough to have a speechwriter, you shouldn't necessarily delegate to her the responsibility for finding a story for your speech. A frequent speaker explains why. Speechwriters, listen up.
Components that enhance or hurt your story:
  1. 4 ways slides can interfere with your storytelling: It's not that you can't use slides with storytelling, but that you must use them wisely. Here's my shortlist of pitfalls.
  2. Using metaphor to tell a visual story can reinforce your message, particularly when you carry it all the way through, verbally and visually. I have a great example at the link.
  3. Is your metaphor working...or working against you? Use metaphor, the power tool of public speaking...as long as you test it first. A great cautionary tale here.
  4. Storytelling with surprise and suspense: In our era of informational slide presentations, we've taken all the surprise and suspense out of our presenting. Good storytelling can bring that back. Here's how.
Great storytelling examples:
  1. The Whistlestop podcast shares campaign stories that review American politics through the lens of history, and in the process, shares some great storytelling examples for you to follow.
  2. A street doctor's lessons in storytelling take issues of health care and homelessness and make them real. One of the most compelling storytellers I've worked with shares lessons and examples.
  3. Getting patient data in healthcare from storytelling shares a bonus that emerged from a group of community health activists I coached for a conference: Storytelling can be another way for policymakers to collect data.
Want a workshop on storytelling for your executives, or your communications team? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Phillippe Gressien)

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The weekend read

I reject the notion that the weekend read is like your Thanksgiving leftovers. This, my friends, is a curated sandwich of elements cooked precisely for this purpose, from my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook. Dig in:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by jeffreyw)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What your email auto-respond can do for you

"I saw your out-of-office message," said the vice president, the boss of the group of general managers I was training at a big corporation.

I'd crafted a message that told clients where I was traveling, which companies and groups I was working with and what we were doing, with links to my clients' websites...including his. And, of course, when I'd be back and how I was handling responses.

"I'm going to steal that idea," he said. "My group travels a lot, and their auto-responses could be telling clients and prospects about our work, and sharing examples, instead of just saying we're out of the office. And I like that you promoted us and the training we are doing with you. Makes us look smart."

That was when I told him I'd stolen the idea from another client, who was using her out-of-office automated messages to say things like "I'm in Portland, Oregon, for the week, working with the most amazing scientists and hearing about their plans to change how we protect the environment!" -- a message with good internal and external content, and likely a real team-builder, if nothing else.

Much as I learned in What's in a filename? The story of scipak and why filenames matter, these seemingly mundane, routine bits of content can play a powerful role in your messaging. And by that, I don't mean adding your corporate tagline to your signature block. I mean going a little further, being concrete and specific and authentic to what's happening right now, since an auto-responder most often reflects something that's happening right now, aka your absence. Your primary message is about how long you're away and how you will handle messages during that time. But you *could* add value by telling us more about the work you are doing, where you will be, with whom you are working, whether you want to meet up with people who also are there, and more. And that lets you co-promote your colleagues, your clients, and your portfolio.

If you work with clients, internally or externally, this is a no-brainer. Even if you can't mention with whom you are working or the specifics of the job for an external client, you can say you're in Seattle to work with a major client in aerospace or a corporate client for a high-level training. Get descriptive. And if it's your internal client taking you out of town, treat them the same way. "This week, I'm teaming up with our publishing department to work with the top editors of our award-winning magazine" will win you a few bonus points at the office.

I'm looking forward to seeing the new out-of-office messages that work better for you.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Tommaso Galli)

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The weekend read

See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil--it's the ancient version of "don't get caught," communicators. But it's Friday. Peek through your fingers for just a few minutes, now, and check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, curated here for you:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Japanexperterna)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The 15 percent less rule, a lifesaver for speeches & media interviews

It's said that former U.S. President Bill Clinton--famous for talking well past his assigned time slot, earlier in his career--has been able to rein himself in with what I call the "15 percent rule." The rule: You plan to fill 85 percent of the time allotted.

That leaves 15 percent of your time as a cushion to ensure you don't exceed the limit. But the benefits go further, and Clinton uses it as time in which he can make an aside, or do some back-and-forth with the audience extemporaneously, based on where he feels the audience is emotionally, on the spot.

This rule also works when you a media interview before you. You'll often hear radio interviewers signal, "We just have 20 seconds left..." to prompt the interviewee to be brief. Why not make better use of your time by stopping short of what you see as complete?

When I coach a group of speakers, or train a group of experts in media interview skills, I sometimes ask them to complete a questionnaire in advance. "I talk too long" is among the most common self-assessments they make, and to my ear, that reads as "I'm unwilling to take the time to plan and make choices about the content I'm going to present, based on the needs of the audience or the interviewer." I always recommend the 15 percent rule as one of the tools you can use to achieve better media interviews and speeches. The old vaudeville rule "Leave them wanting more" really says it best!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Luigi Mengato)

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message--but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The weekend read

We're tired, fatigued, exhausted, communicators. Flat on the floor, and not just from the election season. Let's end the week with something woke: check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, and curated here for you. You still have time for a nap before you get smarter by Monday:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Henti Smith)

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

What leaders should ask for instead of "more" media coverage

The CEO of a nonprofit client popped in as a surprise when I was training his media relations team a few years ago. He ostensibly wanted to thank them for their efforts and say how important he found their work. It was all good, until he left them with these parting words: "Remember, when it comes to media coverage, I want more, more, MORE!" And off he went.

You can imagine how *that* felt in the room, after he left. After all, we're in an age when legacy media is decreasing, and smart social media measurement doesn't overemphasize high numbers of likes alone. "More" isn't necessarily better when it comes to media coverage, but often, leaders don't know what else to ask for. So here's my list of suggested targets for a good media relations team to aim for, instead, in expanding its range and its coverage:
I can say with conviction--because I've done all those things--that your media coverage will improve by avoiding problems and by building better awareness within your company, among your experts, and among reporters. Better than a thousand press releases and pitch calls.

Finally, if your CEO wants "more, more, MORE" media coverage, sit down and talk to him about his executive compensation and whether and how it is likely to make news--again, an issue for nonprofits as well as for-profits. That might change his "any publicity is good publicity" perspective.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Ernst Moeksis)

Friday, November 04, 2016

The weekend read

The autumn leaves are fiery, scarlet, ruby-colored...oh, let's just call 'em red, communicators. That gives us more time to check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, curated here just for you:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Ian Sane)

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

What Bob Dylan can tell you about your awards program & publicity

It's making headlines that Bob Dylan has "finally" acknowledge his Nobel Prize. And if you're a communicator, or working in any capacity for a company or organization, you should be asking yourself why that is.

The answer is not as simple as Dylan's apparent refusal to answer the Nobel committee's call or talk to the press on the day the prize was announced (or for a couple of weeks beyond that, as it turned out). But the answer is hinted at by what the Brits would dryly term the "shock-horror" implied in the coverage: Can you believe that he didn't take the call or acknowledge the award? The nerve!

The real answer lies in the expectation behind the prize, prompting a question for you: Why are you sponsoring a prize or award?

When I've asked this question from within organizations--some of them with hundreds of prizes to hand out--the answer often is "for the publicity." Sometimes, the answer is "to draw attention" to the issue or topic that's the focus of the prize. Sometimes, the answer is "public outreach."

The problem with that expectation? It's rarely based on facts. If you survey reporters (and I have), awards and prizes are the very last thing on the list of topics they might cover. If there were a box to tick saying "Never," they'd tick that one. The Nobels are a notable exception each year, but it's possible that even that organization has fallen for the attention racket. If the expectation was that the winner was going to answer that early morning call and talk to the press, Dylan didn't get the memo, and the coverage didn't go in its expected direction. A member of the Swedish Academy called him "impolite and arrogant." Dylan, when he did surface, said the award had left him "speechless."

The reporters I know are skeptical of awards for all sorts of reasons. They don't see awards selection as unbiased, and it typically isn't. They view askance the funders of awards--a common aspect, as many nonprofits don't have endowments that allow for prizes, so they raise money and get corporate sponsors for awards. Reporters, then, want to know what the funder's motivation is, and the organization's motivation. And finally, most important of all, there are simply too many awards to cover, a result of thousands of groups having the same idea at the same time.

Most awards are most effective within your organization, but have little impact beyond it and virtually no impact on your media coverage. There, I've said it out loud. Your press office, if it's smart and not pandering to internal critics, will issue just one type of press release for an award: One targeted to the hometown media of the winner, with the headline "[Insert Name of City] Woman Wins National Award for [Topic]." Asking them for more is a waste of time and effort, generally.

If we can acknowledge that reality, then we can consider what your organization's real motivation is for awarding this and other prizes. Better reasons might be motivation your members, saluting career achievements and big discoveries, sharing stunning examples of the craft, and creating incentives to invent new things. Those really should suffice, shouldn't they? If those are your reasons, enjoy promoting the awards to the audiences that really care about them: Your members, customers, partners, and allies.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Dena Flows)

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Friday, October 28, 2016

The weekend read

Feel like you've been chopping wood all week, communicators? Time to stack those logs and check out my finds of the week, shared via @dontgetcaught on Twitter and don't get caught on Facebook, curated here for you. Call it kindling for your bright ideas:
(Creative Commons licensed photo by Christoph)