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American Idol had it all wrong by asking contestants to sing Billy Joel tunes this week.  Even though he was 24 years old when The Piano Man was released, Billy Joel was not your typical 20-something – certainly not like this year’s Idol contestants.  By then, he had earned his stripes as a lounge singer, healing his wounds from a first album failure.

Plus, you have to consider the idea that Billy Joel’s ’24′ is not the same as yours and mine – that dude is an old soul with a lot of layers.  Which is perhaps why Garth Brooks performing New York State of Mind with Billy Joel and Barry White’s take on Just The Way You Are works…

Aside from wanting to share some old footage of Barry White, there is a marketing communications lesson here: don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole.

American Idol tried to make its contestants (square peg) sing songs that just weren’t (in my humble opinion) suited to their strengths (round hole).  These contestants have some very strong voices – something that may be better suited for the likes of Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Marc Anthony and the like.  You don’t need a powerhouse voice to perform a Billy Joel song – his music doesn’t require vocal gymnastic.  I believe that the more you add on, the less ‘Joel’ you get.

As a marketing communications pro, you should never try to fit your square peg into a round hole – epsecially if you’ve delivered at a  certain level on other projects.  Case in point: when I was in New York, I worked with this one guy who could write just about anyone under the table – he was fast, smart and very creative at re-working dull copy.  The one time we let him speak to the client was enough to give him the opportunity to decline future meetings – the dude was sweating, stammered his way through a few sentences and looked shifty.  He was so nervous that it just presented an inaccurate portait of his strengths.

Squre Peg | Round Hole.

This is not to say that you should stay in your square peg world.  Nay Nay.  You should definitely try new things and strengthen what weaknesses you may have.  But to put yourself out there as being able to perform at the same level with *everything* that comes with the gig…is…a…mistake.  Know when to ask for help; seek advice; get a mentor; and lean on your team.  That’s what they are there for!

So, when was the last time you saw a ‘square peg in a round hole’ situation?  Have *you* ever put yourself into a ‘square peg | round hole’ situation?

Swagger

courtesy of oxandoak

What do Robert Plant, Maya Angelou, Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Diane Sawyer have in common…?…Aside from talent, what helps Snoop Dogg sell records and Andy Samberg sell his (sometimes off-kilter) ideas…?…why do we pay far too much money for a pair of jeans or (what may seem like) a simple hair cut…?

 

Swagger.

 

This is nothing new: Swagger has been a determining factor for a lot of things. Think back to your time on the playground: the one kiddo that was the captain of the kickball team…it wasn’t because he/she showed up with the ball…it’s because he/she had that little (at the time) indescribable quality that just brought everyone together. I can recall this one kid that just made things a little bit more fun on the playground – it’s like he knew what to say, how to play fair, when to break out the Big League Chew…he just got it.

 

It’s like he walked to a ‘Billy Bad A**’ song that only he heard…

 

 

Don’t underestimate the power of Swagger – it can help move the needle for a company in the right direction. It can bring teams together and unite them for a worthy cause.  It can help create some excitement for a team when the chips are down.  It can help you identify with a product or service. Swagger can help you sell.

 

The great thing about Swagger is that everyone has it.  Some people come by it like their distributors, while some may not even realize they have it.

 

But it’s there.

 

All you have to do is just tap into that a little and you’ll find that extra bit of courage to pitch that story…present that idea to the board…sell that product…write that great American novel…start that business…ask that girl out.

 

But, how, you may ask, does one ‘tap into’ that Swagger?  Look, I’m no doctor, nor an expert on how the human brain works.  But I can tell you what works for me: (big surprise) music. We’re all emotional people, and the best way to tap into that place of Swagger is to find a song that makes you sway with confidence. A good tune goes a long way.

 

I recall a time when @ArikHanson, @StoryAssistant, @DMullen and myself were talking over an idea and came to a particular song that could serve as opening music to our entrance. We each have our own strengths and talents (making us sound like Charlie’s Angels), but this song would’ve helped amp up our Swagger.

 

I’ve been using songs and poems to pump up the swagger for quite some time…

 

 

What do you think?  Am I overrating this whole thing?

Do You Get It?

Say What?

 

One of the biggest gripes I have with people (myself included) is that we aren’t the best at…well, expressing ourselves clearly.  We’re pretty good at things like naming what TV shows we like, what kind of foods we prefer and what movie may have seen over the weekend. 

 

But when it comes to telling our own story (especially in business), quite often what comes out is something close to the Charlie Brown teacher…

 

 

Just a lot of jibberish that only makes sense to those who are used to the internal shorthand of the team.  With friends, this kind of thing can pass – we all have our own little picadillos and nicknames that only make sense to our individual tribes. 

 

However, in the business of communications, how can we let this happen?  There are lots of websites, press kits, etc. out there that are about as useful as a floppy disk for an iMac G3 (internal dialogue: ‘NERD’). Like Peppermint Patty, did we fall asleep in the midst of translating the ‘kwaah-kwaah-kwaah’ (Charlie Brown Teacher speak) for the masses?

 

Quite simply, I believe that we’ve taken for granted that outside audiences will ‘get it’ when they read your materials – be it a website, a company fact sheet, a BIO, whatever.  But unless your external audience is comprised of people from your board room, it is safe to say that no one will ‘get it.’

 

It is with this in mind that I offer up three tips to keep in mind when helping your audience ‘get it’…

 

Take a Quick Look: take a look at what you have drafted up (be it copy for your client’s website, a press kit, etc.) and take a quick snapshot of one piece.  Does this one piece look like something that would make sense to your target audience? Is it filled with jargon or industry-speak that can only be understood by 10% of your audience?

 

Take a Breather: it’s quite easy to get so entrenched with your own work that your fuzzy parts start looking clear.  It’s kind of like working at a chicken farm or at a cattle ranch – pretty soon you forget about ‘the smell’ until some ‘city folk’ come in to remind you of the stench.  You need to give yourself a break to get some outside air and perspective.

 

Bring In An Outsider: be it someone from your team who’s not involved with the drafting of the ‘working documents,’ a colleague that’s familiar with your particular industry or a family member, give someone else a look-see. Having a fresh point of view on what you already have working almost always leads to improvements.

 

So, communicators: what do you think?  What other things have you done to help bring some clarity to your client’s materials?  What have you done to help people on the outside ‘get it’ for your clients?

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This post was cross-posted on Waxing Unlyrical – a blog that is owned and operated by the wonderfully savvy and smart Shonali Burke.

I remember the time I went through my first fire drill. I was finger painting in kindergarten and having a good ole time.  No doubt I was probably doing what I thought to be a rendition of Hong Kong Phooey or the Lone Ranger(both great heroes in their own right, in my humble opinion).

I was so shocked by the noise and the flurry of activity that I began to wipe the paint on my clothes to hurry myself outside. And of course, then came the questions from my mom: “What happened to your clothes?”

Fire drills are important – they get kids used to the idea of orderly exits in case of an emergency and ultimately aim to keep them safe.

In the business of communications, the need for a “fire drill” can be equated to needing a crisis plan in place. Although not quite as simple as school’s fire drill, having a crisis plan serves the same purpose: to keep everyone in the company (including its reputation) safe.

Not everyone agrees with this… before it hits the fan, that is.

Tiger Woods took things into his own hands by saying NOTHING when he had his accident not too long ago. He avoided the press, refused to make a statement and just stayed out of sight. This kind of attitude BEFORE this incident made him come off as mysterious or unattainable – like a hard-to-get kind of prospect. Not realizing that his circumstances were quite as big as they were, this same demeanor made him look like he was hiding something…

…or guilty of something.

You can also see this kind of attitude with the current housing crisis. A lot of builders went into duck-n-cover mode – quite a PASSIVE move if you ask me. Especially since this kind of climate serves as a great opportunity for homebuilders to identify themselves as homeowners, reconsider their plans and RETHINK their efforts – not pull back. The smart brands kept their chips in: they stayed in the game with different messages, new incentives and, ultimately made themselves part of the conversation.

I can go into other examples, but… you get the point.

Keeping all this in mind, following are my top tips for whenever you have to develop a crisis management plan.

1. Prepare contingency plans – like we did as kids with the fire drills, we have to

  • Know what to do.
  • How to do it.
  • When.
  • How to behave.

2. Move swiftly; unlike Tiger and BP, this is no time to hide out or “ride the storm.”

  • Take charge of the situation by making yourself the focal point.
  • Speak with the press.
  • Use your online presence.

3. Adapt & change; keep yourself loose and flexible. Things happen, and change, in times like these: long hours…emotions.

4. Give accurate & correct information.

  • Don’t provide “shades” of the truth.
  • Keep it real.
  • Be a resource.

5. Be yourself – people and the press respond to a human being that is both emotional and rational. Plus, it immediately humanizes and puts a face to the situation.

What other tips would you recommend?  How have your “fire drills” helped your clients?

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This post was cross-posted on Waxing Unlyrical – a blog that is owned and operated by the wonderfully savvy and smart Shonali Burke.


Play that funky music


I’ve said it before, but I’m gonna say it again: I’m a bit of a music freak.

Anytime I can take some time away (be it in business or pleasure) to jam out to a good tune or two, I’m a happy camper. It could be Marvin Gaye, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Kid Koala or a studio performance by John Legend & The Roots – I don’t care.

If it’s got a good vibe, I’m there.

There’s a lot you can learn from musicians and their music: they can help express a thought or feeling in 4 minutes or less; the right song can lift your mood on a bad day; and a band has the ability to rally an organization to an important cause with a fitting melody.

They can also help drive home an important point in business.

If you’ve seen Some Kind of Monster, Metallica may not be the first band you think of when you consider “equality,” especially since the film depicts the group in the midst of a huge crisis.

The big thing I get from the film (aside from the drama) is that, like a romantic comedy, the players emerged from that experience much stronger, closer and wiser. And in the case of Metallica, much more democratic.

And even though the funky and powerful Robert Trujillo plays the role of bassist in Metallica, he does not let it define him.


More importantly, the band does not allow Robert to be defined by this role.

As the video shows, James & Kirk didn’t shush him away when Robert started playing a six-stringer. They did quite the opposite: the other members of Metallica not only heard him play, these guys collaborated on how to ‘Metallica-lize’ it for their sound. They threw something heavy n’ hard down together with “the bass player” as partners… kinda like a real band.

Go figure.

Supervisors/Managers/Directors/VPs: we’re still in a bit of a workforce-money pinch. As a result, you’re probably piling on some additional duties to your team; they’re working longer hours and getting paid the same (or less) salary. You’re probably in the same boat: trying to wrangle new business, handle existing clients, mentor, etc. and getting weary just thinking about it. It’s not a great scenario. You know it; I know it.


Consider this: instead of allowing the ‘leader’ role to define you, why not lead with your team?

  • Just because someone works in a different group doesn’t mean that they may not add some value. Chances are, if they are eager, they may actually have something worth exploring. You can’t get fresh ideas from a burnt out team.
  • Those volunteers you’re working with may see something on the street or have a chance conversation with a friend that can shine a light in an area that (for some reason) you and your team have been missing.
  • That “kid” who just graduated from college may blurt out something that could turn the tide for a vital client. I’ve see it happen at various agencies (large and small) way more often than you may think.

Who knows… you may have a flamenco artist in your midst.

When was the last time you were jolted by a fantastic concept from an unusual source? What has been the most “surprising find” in your group?


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This post was cross-posted on Waxing Unlyrical – a blog that is owned and operated by the wonderfully savvy and smart Shonali Burke.


Keep it Mental

As you may have read in a previous post, I recently completed a Triathlon…and although it was great to have actually completed this feat, it brought out more of my competitive spirit that had not been seen since I made All State in High School Soccer (yes…soccer).  One of my cohorts told me that if there was any type of competitiveness in me, doing a TRI would certainly bring it out!  Sure enough, I’m prepping myself to be stronger, faster and more focused this next go-round.

Which brings me to this big point that I want to share: one of the biggest things I learned about myself in that race is that I need to keep it mental.  I know this because I ran into issues with

  • The Unknown: it was my first race.  And regardless how many books I may have read, advice I received from seasoned athletes, training I had under my belt, it was all new.  Transitions, the amount of people in my way, bubbles underwater during the swim – although it was great, it was unchartered territory for me.
  • Intimidation: hey, it was my first race…This rarely happens to me as I’m one to do everything I can to get myself prepped.  But seeing these athletes with their bikes, cool looking tri-tops and (let’s face it) triathlete-looking physiques.  I’m no slouch, but certainly not going to gracing any magazine covers (yet).
  • Pacing: come on now, it was my first race…!  Excitement and nerves got the best of me in certain spots – I lost good form, my flow was a bit off and I let little things get the best of me too often.  Had to keep reminding myself to stay calm and carry on to reach my happy race place.

For some, getting mental means getting in that zone where you have everything set and prepared.  For me, it means that I’ve prepared enough to stay loose and be flexible with whatever may come my way…

Be it in a race or with business, it pays to keep it mental.  You will always have moments where things are completely new to you; when you’re not the smartest person in the room; or when you’re so nervous that your hands get clammy, you start stuttering or speed through to the end of a presentation.

Get mental. Do your prep work. Find out who’s going to be in the board room and get some background info on all the players. Breath.  Pace yourself. Breath some more.  Find your ‘loose + easy Homer’ place and keep it all in perspective.

What do you do to keep it mental? How do you handle the unknown?

This morning, the ever-smart (and happy) Gini Dietrich Asks If Happiness is the Same As Being Dumb? It’s all based on a recent blog (Are Happy People Dumb?) from the folks at the Harvard Business Review.  And this all got me to thinking: What’s So Bad About Being Happy?!

Don’t get me wrong – I can sort of see where they’re going with this.  It seems to me that far too many people are worried that we don’t brush stuff under the perverbial rug and take things a bit more seriously.  I get that.

But it also feels like far too many people mistake ‘happiness’ for some kind of blank existence where we just focus on what makes us feel good or sing a happy tune tune in our head…kind of like the 80′s ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ song/mantra from Bobby McFerrin.

Unfortunately, this great song gets associated with the foolhardiness of the decade (i.e. not being responsible with money, health, etc.)…And, it seems to me, that this kind of thinking may have trickled over to this report.  And, like I said, I can see his point:

  • In just About Everyting You do In Life, You’ve Got to Be Responsible
  • Although I Enjoy the Foibles That Homer Simpson Gets Himself Into, You Have to Be Smart
  • You Can’t Just Snuff Off Big Issues Like It’s Someone Else’s Problem

 

BUT, That Should *Never* Get in the Way of Your Happiness.

 

Cause at the end of the day, unless you’re saving the world, what you’re doing should never interfere with your happiness.  You should make some room to

Smile

Laugh

Just Shut Up and Dance

And Stop Taking Yourself So Seriously…Having That Kind of ‘Seriousness’ Impedes With your Intelligence – It’s Making You More ‘Dumb’ In My Opinion.

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