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She who tells the best story wins.

Star Power: Where Does It Come From?

On his blog Web Ink Now David Meerman Scott asks a really provocative question: does star power come from a personal brand or from a corporate brand?  Essentially, does Really Big Company lose out when Really Famous Guy leaves or does Really Famous Guy lose credibility when he is no longer associated with Really Big Company?

This reminded me of one of my favorite bits from Ruth Reichl’s book, Garlic and Sapphires, which is about her years as the New York Times restaurant critic.

As she tells the tale, the former critic, Bryan Miller, starts to give her the cold shoulder.  Unsure of why she asks one of the secretaries who tells her that he is bitter at having given up the job as he now realizes this star power has been much diminshed.  The secretary tells her:

After nine years he thought it was all about him, that the paper was holding him back.  When he gave up the beat, he thought the offers would come pouring in.

The offers do not, as it turns out, pour in.

The woman goes on to advise Ruth to remember where the fame really comes from:

[L]ater, when everyone’s telling you how wonderful you are, don’t forget this.  Remember that no matter how well you do the job, the power is not yours.  It all, every scrap of it, belongs to this institution.  You’re just a byline. Take a good look.  The minute you give up the job, you become a nobody.  Like him.

Ruth learns the lesson.  She does eventually give up the Times job, but only after landing an even better gig as the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.

I actually think the answer is either/or.  It’s both/and.  No question that Ruth Reichl became a star because of her association with the Times and then Gourmet.  But now she is Ruth Reichl and has a personal brand that is separate from the specific institution she is associated with.

What does this mean for companies and for employees?

My advice to companies:

  1. Don’t overestimate the importance of “stars”: Yes, superstars can be a boon to your company and even to your brand.  But if you’ve built and enduring brand that is bigger than any one person then the loss of even a few key superstars isn’t the end of the world.
  2. Support your stars, but do it in the context of your corporate brand: Let your employees worry about their personal brands.  They will anyway.  You can support their efforts but do it in a way that enhances your company brand.
  3. Hire lots of stars: This is a no-brainer.  Diversify your assets.  If just one person speaks on behalf of your company then you are truly up a creek if that star leaves.  Have a stable of stars.  Then you are less vulnerable to any one of them leaving.

My advice to employees:

  1. Take a page from the Book of Ruth: Don’t underestimate the reflected glow that comes from the company you work for.  The bigger your employer’s brand, the more care you should take to not believe too much of your own press.  And be sure to set yourself up with a new great gig before you leave the current great gig.
  2. Associate with great brands: No matter how smart or talented you are the brand for which you work has a big effect on your personal brand.  Choose your employers well.

Filed under: Marketing

NYTimes Op-Ed Column: Plain English Is the Best Policy

I loved this column in today’s New York Times about the gobbledy-gook that passes for English in most health insurance information.

The best part of the column is that the writer offers examples of actual health insurance policy language, which is generally written at a college or graduate-school reading level, and rewrites it into plain English.  It’s very illuminating.  Why can’t all information be written in this straightforward, simple way?

Let’s be clear about something: if you are in the communications profession then your job is to communicate.  If the audience that you are communicating with does not understand what you write, say or present then you have failed.  Period.

I think this gobbledy-gook phenomenon falls into two categories, and how you, the communication professional, respond should be considered accordingly:

Category 1: The gobbledy-gook is intentional.  The goal is NOT to inform and communicate, but to confuse and obfuscate.  If you find yourself working in a job where you are being charged — implicitly or explicitly — with creating content that is purposely confusing there is only one thing to do.  You have to quit.  Life is too short.

Category 2: The gobbledy-gook is unintentional.  In this scenario you and your colleagues are really, really smart about something and you want the whole world to know how really, really smart you are.  Or you are all swimming so deep in your own Kool-Aid that the jargon and acronyms actually make sense to you.  The cure for this is two-fold.  First, if you as the communications person recognize the lack of clarity you need to fight it at every turn.  You need to simplify, simplify, simplify, while still being complete and accurate.  Easier said than done, but that’s your job.  Second, if you are deep into the subject such that you don’t recognize the lack of clarity then you need to get outside perspectives from the intended audience.  Ask current clients if what you’ve written make sense to them.  Even better, ask prospects.

Either way, commit to plain English, always.

Filed under: Content

Don’t Be Afraid to Suck

In my post Advice on Corporate Blogging I offered the tip to “edit lightly” so as to let the real voices of your company come through.  Blogs are held to a different standard than other kinds of marketing communication.  Trying to make your blog conform to the same standards is not a great strategy — it wastes time and resources and diminishes the true power of blogs.

A corollary to that is my new tip: Don’t Be Afraid to Suck.

Not every single blog post will be a masterpiece and that is okay.  Honestly, the so-so blog post is 10x more helpful than the unwritten one.

When you are blogging, especially early on, your mantra should be to post a lot.  As much as you can stand.  Every day if you can swing it, at least three to five times per week if you can’t.

Here are some reasons why blogging early and often is good for you:

1. The more you write, the better you get: Write every day and you will find after about a month or so that your writing is better, more cogent, livelier.  Practice may not make perfect, but it sure makes better.

2. The more you write, the easier it gets: I can sometimes bang out 500 words in about 20 minutes.  And they are 500 good words, too.

3. The more you write, the more ingrained the habit becomes: Write often enough and it eventually becomes automatic.  You no longer have to “make time” because the time has built itself into your routine.  Plus, it gets easier and you get better and that is a self-reinforcing loop that makes the habit fun.

4. The more you write, the more readers you will have: Attention is the scarcest resource today, and readers will quickly lose focus if you aren’t publishing often.

5. The more you write, the more content you have for other stuff: Part of the beauty of blogging is that you are creating a repository of content that you can re-use and repurpose.  Even mediocre posts may one day come in handy and can be turned into something great.

Ultimately, your blog will be judged by the overall quality, not the quality of each individual post.  As long as most of your posts are good — and a few are excellent — the occasional dud won’t doom you.

For a different, but complementary, perspective on this idea read The Most Horrible Blog Post Ever on Copyblogger.

Filed under: Blogging, Content

Marketing with Data

David Meerman Scott published a great post about marketing with data.

At my company, we made a concerted effort in 2007 to publish more research studies and it paid off in a big bump in PR coverage, both mainstream press (including trades) and in the blogosphere.  We are continuing with it this year and looking into ways to accelerate the process.

It’s not easy, of course.  You need resources to do it well.  But it might be as easy as some of the other stuff your are already doing and it’s much more effective.  Journalists (traditional and not) love data.  Clients love data.  Prospects really love data.

What could you be doing to get the audiences you care about loving your data?

Filed under: Marketing, Media Relations

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