A few grammar tips

Just some clarification on a few grammar errors I’ve been seeing lately, including one mistake made by a major U.S. newspaper.

immigrate vs. emigrate

One immigrates TO somewhere; one emigrates FROM somewhere

“My grandfather emigrated from Poland”

“My grandfather immigrated to the United States.”

 

should have, not should of

“I should have brought my umbrella with me”

or as a contraction: “I should’ve brought my umbrella with me.”

 

more than, not more then

“George is more than likely to show up early.”

 

Another Social Media Fail – Brought to you (Again) by Malaysia Airlines

It’s a given that 2014 has been a very bad year for Malaysia Airlines. Just about as bad as it can get in the airline industry. In two separate incidents – the crash of flight MH17 in Ukraine and the disappearance of flight MH370 – 510 passengers lost their lives.

In addition to the tragic human loss, the company is now riddled with financial losses that began even before the ML370 “crash” in March. Of course the two tragedies caused an even larger snowball effect as the company is currently faced with insurance payouts, lost planes and crews and a not surprisingly decline in bookings (in the 2nd quarter, average weekly bookings declined 33%).

But heck, thank God they have a marketing and social media team to take passengers’ minds off of things as well as to take the brand to new heights. Right?

Well…not so much.

Just last week, the social media team for Malaysia Airlines had to apologize after sending a very bizarre tweet that was an attempt to promote last-minute holiday travel deals. There’s no need for further set up – here’s the post:

“Want to go somewhere, but don’t know where? Our Year-End Specials might just help.”Malaysia Airline Tweet

Oh dear. Probably not the best slogan if only 8 months ago, you lost a plane that just disappeared without a trace.   Well, one could chalk it up to a possible loss in translation I suppose. But that certainly doesn’t explain another big faux pas that occurred just in September.

Brilliantly trying to devise ways to inspire and incentivize consumers, the marketing department created a dialogue and contest where it asked folks what types of things and destinations are on their “bucket list.”

Oh yes they did. Not as obviously offensive as the most recent Tweet, but this one is pretty inappropriate too.

I am going to take the high road and blame it on another poor translation. But if that is the case, I would strongly advise Malaysia Airlines, and all global brands, to ensure that they use only native speakers as community managers for their social media channels. I know doing so can be costly, but it can greatly help to reduce these types of incidents from happening.

However, this still wouldn’t necessarily get rid of careless and poorly thought out marketing strategies, would it?

What do you think?

 

 

 

Why History Matters if You Work in Marketing

Did you hear about American Apparel’s social media snafu last week? Apparently one of the social media managers was attempting to be festive for the July 4th holiday. Did he or she provide the obligatory patriotic image of the Stars & Stripes, the Liberty Bell or fireworks bursting over a city skyline? Nope. What about any images of baseball, hot dogs and apple pie? Nope, nope and nope.

A recent social media blunder by American Apparel

Instead, this person chose to use what he or she thought was a cool photo and re-blogged on the brand’s Tumblr account an image of the space shuttle Challenger exploding. You know the photo – it’s the one of the white trail of smoke that loops around against a deep blue sky. Accompanying the photo were hashtags with “smoke” and “clouds,” and the blue sky was changed to a red background.

#Fail. The image was immediately recognized and triggered a deluge of shaming responses that lit up Twitter as American Apparel was called out on such an egregious American error on the most American of holidays. Here’s the company’s response:

“We deeply apologize for today’s Tumblr post of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The image was re-blogged in error by one of our international social media employees who was born after the tragedy and was unaware of the event. We sincerely regret the insensitivity of that selection and the post has been deleted.”

Okay. I accept the apology. What I don’t accept among younger people today is what I have often observed to be a lack of iconic historical knowledge, accompanied by a blasé excuse that they truly believes gets them off the hook: “That happened before I was born.”

Really? No seriously, really? That attitude would be akin to me – born in 1967 – not knowing or caring to learn anything about WWII and its significance today, just because WWII ended 22 years before I was born.

I’m not suggesting that everyone in business have a history minor. But I do think that advertising and PR executives should realize that knowing key social, economic, and historical events and trends of years gone by is an advantage for them now for three reasons:

Geico ad with Lincoln

Geico ad with Lincoln

1) Being informed and well-rounded makes for more a marketable job candidate. It gives an edge to those that are able to draw from the past in order to help solve current business challenges and to generate creativity today (most of the best Creative Directors I know have a keen understanding of history that they have successfully incorporated into great client work – think of the Geico ad with Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln to be exact).

2) It prevents future offenses like the American Apparel one – or something even worse – from occurring in the future.

3) It helps you do your job better. As a marketer it gives you a better understanding of your target audience, and to me, that’s what it’s all about. Your target audiences’ past experiences have played an important role in shaping their buying habits and purchasing power today.

Think about it. You could be missing a game-changing opportunity to engage and truly resonate with your target audience; all because you weren’t born before “Friends” originally aired.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

5 Pearls of wisdom from my little Italian-American mother

Mom and me - Florence

Mom and me in Florence

This weekend is Mother’s Day in the U.S., so I thought it would only be appropriate to share some of the wisdom and truths from my mom that have profoundly shaped me both personally and professionally. I owe so much to her (and my dad too, of course).

Mom grew up in Cleveland in an Italian neighborhood on the city’s East side. Like many Italian-American moms I know, she is warm, affectionate and extremely loyal. She’s also equally as tough, having weathered many of life’s storms. As with many folks her age, it’s clear that her heritage as well as living during the tail end of the Great Depression and World War II were instrumental in developing her great character.

My mom is the most cheerful person I know. She has always been that way.   She appreciates life and her loved ones, and rarely belies that persona (only in the direst of circumstances). She’s also the most caring and loving individual I have ever met.   While she might tell you she doesn’t have a sense of humor, I think she’s hilariously funny, more lately in her newfound bluntness, which is one of the privileges that comes with age.

Throughout my life – in good times and in bad ones – I’ve always looked to her for guidance and advice. At this point in my life I am ready to admit that yes, my mother is always right. I had some doubt in my youth, sure – but doggone it, when I really examine things; she’s got a ‘being right’ slugging percentage of 3 point something (for you non baseball fans, that’s pretty dang great as 4.0 is perfect).

Some of the following pearls of wisdom from mom continue to resonate with me in every aspect of my life:

1.  Good manners really do make a difference
Of course I’ve mastered those tried and true manners like putting a napkin in my lap and keeping my elbows off the table. My mother always made sure I wrote my thank you notes – as a kid just a few sentences – and that I understood this gesture to be a truly sincere and appreciative way to demonstrate one’s gratitude.   Saying please, thank you and wishing someone to have a nice day have also always stayed with me. Trust me, it makes a big difference.

2.  I can do it.
I don’t believe I have or have ever had a greater champion than my mother. Whether I was starting out with violin lessons, making the varsity softball team or getting national coverage on the Today show for one of my clients.   She’s never wavered, even if she secretly thought I couldn’t do something. I think part of the feeling for me that I can do something is that I really believe my mom thinks there’s nothing I can’t do. Of course it’s not true, but how great is it to have my own Stuart Smalley?

3.  Brush your hair so it doesn’t look stringy
What can I say, I have fine hair and when I wear it long, I can easily look like one of those poor urchins hiding behind the cloak of the Ghost of Christmas Future at the end of A Christmas Carol. Mom’s got my back!

4.  Be financially independent
There was never any doubt when I was young that I would attend college. My parents went for a little while but never finished.   My mother was a stay at home mom, and like other women in her generation, she depended on my father for money. She didn’t want that for me. She always made sure to instill in me strength in myself to be financially self-reliant and independent.   Thanks, Mom!

5.  If you lose something, just ask St. Anthony to help you find it
Saint Anthony (the patron saint of lost things) must really be sick and tired of me losing my keys in my purse.   I find he’s progressed with the times and can even help find lost files on the computer as well. For the most part, he always comes through. Except in the case of my 14th birthday present, a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt shorts which I never received because my mother forgot where she hid them. I am still waiting.

And so it appears that mom does always know best. I love you Mom! Happy Mother’s Day to you and to all the wonderful moms out there!

7 Tips for a Better Brainstorming Session

brain-storm-thinking-300x191

photo credit: clearmarketboard.com

Having worked in the marketing and communications industry my entire career, I’ve participated in my share of brainstorming sessions. Many have been very successful in reaching objectives; others not so much. One of the biggest misconceptions about brainstorming is that it’s only the marketing or creative department experts that can add value to a session. I completely disagree.

Watch the Master
One of my fondest brainstorming bombs was when I worked for a vacuum cleaner manufacturer years ago. While the small marketing department had always done a fine job of naming products, on this particular occasion, the chairman of the company had hired a “real expert” advertising consultant to join us in the session. This guy was some big-shot ex advertising agency CEO who now peddled his years of experience and expertise to consumer products’ companies in exchange for big consulting bucks.

The new product was a hand-held vacuum cleaner that actually housed a light, stretchy hose (for suction in hard to reach places) on the little vacuum itself. It’s old hat now, but at the time in the early 90s, it was a real breakthrough for the hose not to be a separate attachment.

The team was on a roll spewing out words and phrases that embodied the new product’s main feature and benefits: the hose on board offered power, ease of use and convenience.

We were a half hour into the session and our consultant hadn’t uttered a word. We all figured he was drawing from his vast experience and wizardly marketing talents, strategically waiting to wow us. We knew that once he did speak, he would utter the ‘be all end all’ of names, one that would end the session and henceforth be the genesis for all new product names.

Then he magically spoke. We waited for his wisdom.

“How about,” he asked while beaming and nodding his head, “…hand vac with hose?” He looked around the room, now nodding his head more fervently. The group was silent as we couldn’t tell if he was joking. Soon enough, we realized he was indeed serious.  We did our best to contain our laughter, and a few of us offered several disingenuous nods.

Correctly interpreting our silence for disapproval, he appeared to have another “Aha” moment and stood up with excitement, waving his arms. “No, no, no. Wait,” he shouted proudly. “This is it. I’ve got it! I’ve got it.” He could no longer contain his own excitement and flashed a huge smile, “What about… hose vac!?”

Needless to say, that was not what we named the product.

Tips For A Better Brainstorm Session
Over the years, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and I’ve come to recognize a few practices to get the most for your time and money.

  1. Include a mix of people from different departments or areas of expertise – Creativity and great ideas aren’t just limited to the marketing folks (as my story clearly proves). In fact, sometimes marketing folks are too close to a project and lack the objectivity to see an idea from all sides. Plus, everyone is a consumer. I was in a brainstorming session once when someone from the financial department had a great idea that eventually germinated into the platform for a successful new product launch. You really never know where a great idea will come from.
  2. Have a desired result for this particular brainstorm – Be sure to establish what you want out of this particular meeting. Are you looking to develop an employee incentive program? Or maybe a great new product name or the theme for your next annual meeting? Remember that it will likely take a few meetings to reach your goal. Define what your objective is and let the team know so that everyone is on the same page at the session.
  3. Have the meeting off-site if possible – A different setting helps get people out of the usual “work mode” which can be stifling for brainstorming. Being offsite also better prevents the chance that a fellow brainstormer might be paged or interrupted and consequentially throws off the momentum of the entire session.
  4. Implement at fun exercise to get people in a relaxed and positive mood – Start off with a fun exercise to get the group in a mindset that lends itself to creativity. It could be a group game of MadLib’s, or the game where everyone tells two truths and one lie about themselves and the audience guesses the lie. The point is to create a sense of belonging and camaraderie where members won’t feel embarrassed or restrained to contribute.
  5. No bad ideas – Try not to be discouraging to ideas you don’t agree with or like. Write everything down. Be open-minded to know that any idea can ultimately lead to “The” idea. Well, except for ‘hose vac’ maybe.
  6. Provide a recap to participants – This is beneficial because, as stated above, seeing these ideas and notes from the brainstorm might actually trigger other creative thoughts and ideas from the brainstorm members.
  7. Don’t be disappointed – If you don’t reach your objective in the first brainstorm session as it typically the case, realize that the initial brainstorm is a stepping stone to other ideas and insights from participants. Who knows, someone might even mull the idea around at home over the family dinner and come back with some great options.

Remember, brainstorming is a process. Treating it as such helps eliminate the anxiety of having to come up with a solution with your back up against the wall. Of course, this will happen from time to time, but in most cases, if you choose your group wisely and determine goals, you’ll be able to reach your objective in a reasonable time frame. If not, I think I might know a very talented, retired ex agency CEO who might be able to help you…at least he’d be good for a laugh or two.

Podcasting: Become Your Own Dr. Oz

A guest blog by Jim Harold 

Jim Knaggs

Jim Harold

Burned out and depressed.  This described me very well in 2005.  I was in ad sales, in my mid-30s and had given up on my dream which, if you didn’t guess, was not ad sales.  Then, one day, I heard about something that saved me professionally and, in many ways, personally.  It was…well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

Flash forward to today.   Here is where things stand:

  • I have a #1 Best Seller on the Amazon Kindle.
  • I have a dedicated user community that spans most English speaking countries.
  • I am making a living doing something I love while incorporating my 20 years of business experience.
  • I was just interviewed on a nationally syndicated radio show with 570 affiliates to talk about my book and my success.
  • My “product” has been downloaded over 10 million times since 2010, and is most popular of its type on the Internet.
  • I can’t believe all of this is happening to me after almost giving up all those years ago.

Yes, things have changed considerably in 8 years and the reason why comes down to one simple word:  Podcasting.

For those unfamiliar, podcasts are typically on-demand audio programs (though some are video) that can be listened to for free via iTunes and many other apps.  With the proliferation of smartphones, the ease of accessing podcasts is light years beyond what it was eight years ago when I started.

Podcast listening is growing in popularity every day.  According the 2013 Infinite Dial study by Edison Research, an estimated 32 million Americans have listened to a podcast in the last month.  My surmise is that these people are in higher SES categories than the average person which has obvious benefits to marketers, etc.

Long story short, I started a podcast on a subject that fascinates me.  I began as a hobbyist but now podcasting has turned into my full time job and given me the opportunity to become a published author.  I’ve gone from a very depressed man who thought his professional life had passed him by to someone who can’t wait to get to his desk each day.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that you ditch your current career and leave it all to become a carefree podcaster!

My message to you is that podcasting, regardless of your walk of life, is a great way to market your personal brand and enhance the success of whatever it is that you do.  While it might not become a full time job, and doesn’t need to be, it can become the conduit to increased stature in your business and a healthier bottom line.  All of this can be done by investing a little spare time and a bit of sweat equity.

Podcasts allow those willing to work at producing them to become “your own Dr. Oz.”

What do I mean by that?  It is my proposition that if most people needed a cardiothoracic surgeon (Dr. Oz’s specialty), the vast majority would choose Dr. Oz over another surgeon solely due to his celebrity.  FYI, if you are reading this Dr. Oz this is not a knock on your skills, I am sure you are a fantastic surgeon.

Hosting an audio podcast on a niche subject can raise you to the level of expert on your given topic.  It may not be quite at the Dr. Oz level, but the benefits can be substantial.  Also, the networking benefits of being a sought-after host of a successful program are innumerable.

The formula is simple, here are some examples:

  • Financial Advisor – Podcast on how to manage your money and answer listener questions
  • Dentist – Podcast on dental health issues and answer listener questions
  • Auto Mechanic – Podcast on car care and answer listener questions

You get the picture.   Enhanced credibility leads to more leads, which at the risk of overusing the word, leads to more sales which leads to more money for you!

The great news is that audio podcasts can be produced with a very small budget (I started out with a $50 headset and a PC).  Plus, once you get rolling you can expect to spend an hour or two a week producing a quality show including bookings, recording, etc.

A willingness to learn, a couple of hours a week, some elbow grease, and maybe a couple hundred bucks invested in equipment…sounds like a pretty good tradeoff to become “your own Dr. Oz.”  So, grab a mic and get started.  It worked for me!

If you want to learn more about Jim’s upcoming online class on podcasting visit PodcastWithJim.com.

——

Jim Harold is the President of Jim Harold Media LLC, and the host of numerous podcasts on the paranormal.  He is America’s favorite paranormal podcaster.  You can find his programs and books at JimHarold.com.

Why Doodling Can Be Good for Business

I am a chronic doodler. I’ve been chided my entire life for doodling, from grade school to college and at various jobs.Bestdoodle

There has always been a long line of critics of doodlers. Parents, teachers and bosses admonish us to put our pens down and pay attention. I have often been the recipient of the disapproving eye-roll whenever I begin to draw in meetings with non-doodlers (yet ironically they are the ones constantly checking their smart phones throughout a meeting).

At one agency where I was on the management team, I doodled away in board meetings and on weekly conference calls. Most of my colleagues (especially our CEO) showed signs of annoyance whenever I doodled through weighty discussions. It was obvious to me that most were thinking that I was bored or uninterested, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was actually the times when I couldn’t doodle in a meeting (say a new client meeting or presentation), where I had more trouble concentrating and became bored.

It turns out, I’m not alone. There are many doodlers out there who get the same grief as I do from co-workers and bosses. But guess what? There is actual research that vindicates us and confirms what we’ve already known – that doodling doesn’t mean we are unfocused, but rather the opposite: doodling can actually aid in concentration.

According to a study published by psychologist Jackie Andrade that appeared in Applied Cognitive Psychology in 2009, basic doodling can actually help one focus better and it aides in preventing daydreaming which actually takes one more off task and out of focus. Results of the study showed that individuals doodling through a meeting retained information 29% better than their non-doodling counterparts (view the study at http://bit.ly/R4X5lh).

Even former U.S. Presidents were avid doodlers. Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy were known to doodle during meetings according to an article from The Atlantic http://bit.ly/OpWESj. Leonardo di Vinci was an avid doodler as is Bill Gates.

So, to all of you bosses out there, please give your doodling employees a break, or better yet, join in. And to all of my doodling peers: Keep calm and doodle on! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself – oh and by the way, apparently Tony Blair is a doodler too).