Friday, February 29, 2008

Tim Goeglein, Nancy Nall, and the speed of 21st century communication

The Tim Goeglein plagiarism story broke just 12 hours ago, and it's already moved from humble blog post to national news sensation. It's a great example of the speed at which communication moves today, with lessons for bloggers, writers and anyone else who's interested in old or new media.

I've been out of town most of the day, yet I was able to follow it pretty closely thanks to RSS feeds, wireless access, a Blackberry,, Panera Bread, and e-mails from friends. A timeline of what I heard when:

- I check Google Reader at about 7:00 a.m. Just another day in the blogosphere, it seems.

- "Copycat" first appears on at 7:38 a.m.

- I break for lunch about 12:30. I'm sitting in a Panera Bread in Kokomo (consistently great wireless internet access, by the way), when I read this Fort Wayne Observed post.

- Which leads me to this Journal Gazette story.

- Which leads me to this News-Sentinel story.

- A friend e-mails me some thoughts at 1:30 p.m., helping shape my understanding of what's going on

- I disappear into meetings all afternoon, but when I get home another friend has e-mailed me this AP story

- As of 8:00 p.m., there are 242 comments to Nall's "Copycat" post

Let's make one thing clear: Nancy Nall didn't bring down Tim
Goeglein. Tim Goeglein brought down Tim Goeglein. But still, this is pretty amazing stuff. A few takeaways:

- Blogs matter. They matter a lot.

- Don't plagiarize. It's bad and you can get fired.

- The Internet is your permanent record, and it's everyone else's permanent record, too. Blatant plagiarism in 2008, then, is pretty stupid. (In fact, we all should be aware of the Internet's lengthy memory, as The Marketing Technology Blog aptly pointed out on Monday.)

- Blogs matter. They matter a lot.

- Great blogs combine the best of old media--
fact checking, good judgment about what makes a story a story, and good writing--with the best of new media--immediacy and interactivity. Nall has an advantage in being a journalist, but this is really a case of collaboration. Nall posted about one instance of Goeglein's plagiarism, then her commenters found others. It's unclear whether he would have been compelled to resign if it only happened once, but being revealed as a serial plagiarizer--with 20 offending columns identified so far--sure didn't help him.

- News has always traveled fast, but today the citizen journalist can break a national news story in a second.

- And if you're the subject of this news, your first response matters.
Goeglein seemed resigned (pun intentional) to the worst from the start.

- Hell hath no fury like a blogger scorned. Nall's criticism of Goeglein goes back quite a bit, and it seems likely that she wouldn't have been as quick to call him out if he was a friend. This probably would have caught up with Goeglein eventually, but Nall and her commenters/collaborators brought it to a quick, certain conclusion.

- Newspapers can still be incredibly relevant when they commit to covering a story as it happens. Make no mistake about it, this was Nall's baby. But the local papers did a good job of becoming part of the conversation. (The Sentinel, however, loses a few points for refusing to acknowledge Nall's former employment with the paper in their early coverage. They had a chance to include an interesting angle, and they chose not to. Hard to say why, but they probably felt outshined. And while they should have, they made things even worse by ignoring the obvious.)

- Blogs matter. They matter a lot.

Today, Nancy Nall demonstrated the true power of new media, while also defending the integrity of old media. In doing so, she showed how media are changing, and how quickly communication can move when you have a good story to tell.

All the SNUS that's fit to print: News-Sentinel on tobacco targeting kids

Great story by Jennifer Boen in yesterday's News-Sentinel: "Kids are tobacco targets." Boen details the latest round of products that appear to be aimed at minors:

Kauai Kolada Camel cigarettes, strawberry Liquid Zoo cigarettes, Black & Mild apple-flavored pipe tobacco cigars or peach-flavored Swisher Sweets small cigars, to name just a few. If cigarettes or cigars are not the tobacco product of choice, there is Kayak's smokeless grape-flavored chewing tobacco or Camel's spice or frost SNUS, which are a smokeless, spit-less tobacco product.
And if you're going to give a kid a Camel, you'll have to market it to him, too:
A report released Feb. 20 titled “Big Tobacco's Guinea Pigs: How an Unregulated Industry Experiments on America's Kids and Consumers,” blasts the tobacco industry's use of flavorings, youth-appealing packaging and market strategies that include large ads in magazines such as Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated, which have high youth readership.


South Side [High School students] Jessica Rosales...[and Jose] Bardallo...[agree that] flavored products or those with eye-catching packaging are wooing young people. The sleek hot pink-and-black packaging of Camel No. 9s, introduced last year, is especially appealing to teenage girls, she said. The 2004 Brown & Williamson Kool Mixx campaign featured young rappers, disc jockeys and dancers on cigarette packs and advertisements.


Bardallo and Rosales said another issue affecting sales of tobacco to youths is that more outlets such as gas stations, particularly in lower-income parts of town, are selling more affordable single products rather than just packs.
The root of the debate is whether the FDA should regulate tobacco products, a measure that has failed several times in the past. But lawmakers, including Indiana's two senators, seem serious this time:
“With new marketing campaigns targeting younger audiences each year, consumers must be aware of the potential health consequences of the tobacco products they purchase and use, as well as uncertain claims that one product may be less detrimental to one's health than another,” [Richard] Lugar said in a news release issued with the report. The bill has bipartisan support, with 56 Senate co-sponsors and 215 House co-sponsors. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., has also signed on in support.
The big tobacco companies apparently haven't learned from previous controversies surrounding its efforts to market products to children. What they seem to forget is that the fallout from these controversies helped fuel the anti-tobacco sentiment that persists to this day. Now they have people fired up again, they might just be one step closer to digging their own grave.

What reporters REALLY say when you're not around

A friend alerted me to a new site that provides an unvarnished view of journalists' pet peeves: It's a compilation of everything from the frustrations reporters are feeling to the office politics of the newsroom. The site also serves a very practical purpose, giving PR people good examples of what NOT to do--like this, for example:

Why are you angry today? PR people who don’t do their research. They insist on wasting my time to promote their pathetic story which if they knew ANYTHING about our paper would know that we’re not interested at all. As well as asking if I would like to meet with a representative from their organisation when they visit a town four hours away from me.
If you're willing to learn, the angry journalist's pain can be your gain. Just be sure to wear your thickest skin to the party.

Hat tip: The Bad Pitch Blog

alex-s on Flickr

Thursday, February 28, 2008

TV advertisers choosing whether to captivate audiences, or just hold them captive

TV advertisers face a big challenge today: even though the medium is still the best way to reach a mass audience, it's getting harder and harder to keep viewers focused on commercial content. This has led to two very different schools of thought on how to fix the problem:

  1. Find a way to "force" people to watch ads, or
  2. Improve the creative, the message, and the way ads are delivered

I'll be pretty clear about solution #1: it's a bad, bad, bad idea. Here's just a sample of what's being discussed, as reported in Monday's New York Times:

Looking to strike a blow against the proliferation of digital video recorders, the ABC network, its affiliated broadcast stations, and Cox Communications’ cable systems are establishing an on-demand video service that would allow viewers to watch ABC shows like “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” any time they choose.

The catch: It uses a new technology that disables the viewers’ ability to fast-forward through commercials.

The problem with this thinking is that it assumes viewers are doing nothing else while watching their favorite shows, with their full attention focused on the screen. More than half, however, are multitasking, and if an unsolicited ad comes on they'll just tune out and divert their attention elsewhere. You would think industry leaders would realize that there must be something wrong with content you have to force people to watch, but some don’t seem to get that.

But some, on the other hand, do. Those people are working on solution #2.

This work is harder, that's for sure. It will mean rethinking the meaning of advertising as a whole, while also improving creative execution. It will also require advertisers to get much better at targeting precisely the right audience at precisely the right time. What will this new era of TV advertising look like? No one's quite certain yet, but Tuesday's discusses a research project called "Beyond :30" that seeks to answer that very question:

Some of the tests involve video games superimposed over the ads. Others gauge how the average couch potato might react when pausing a recorded program and seeing an advertiser's logo on screen. Another effort involves news tickers -- much like those on CNBC -- that offer information while ads play.

[Murdoch University professor Duane] Varan has tested commercial lengths and placements within breaks as well as how many viewings of a commercial it might take before someone clicks in response to a TV ad's invitation. In some cases, he also is monitoring eye movement, heart rate and physiological arousal as people encounter the ads. "It's a number of studies that are starting to pile up and help us form pictures of what the future will actually look like," said Barbara Singer, Kraft's director of strategic media information.

Not everything is a hit. Some experiments reveal ad formats that turn a viewer off or have no effect, said Emma Jenkins, head of digital marketing for Procter & Gamble U.K. Others show that too many elements on screen can affect brand recall. "If you throw a consumer one ball, they'll catch it. If you throw them four or five, they'll drop them all," she said.
It's too early to say whether "Beyond :30" will help advertisers truly connect with TV viewers. But it’s almost certain to result in something better than what we usually do today—trying to hold audiences captive, that is, instead of trying to captivate them.

Scott the Nametag Guy on how marketing is changing

Last month, I shared some thoughts on how marketing is changing. Today, Scott the Nametag Guy gives his take. A sample:

SHTICK is no longer enough. The word shtick is defined as “A characteristic attribute, talent, gimmick or trait that is helpful in securing recognition or attention.” The challenge is, shtick won’t sustain you. Sure, shtick is catchy and cool and clever and fun and different; but it’s not enough.

REMEMBER: Shtick might get you in the door, but only substance will keep you in the room.
Good stuff, and worth a visit.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Does anyone else think this is totally insane?

From Email Insider:

A recent In-Box Insiders discussion was whether a click on the unsubscribe link in an email should be included in the response rate calculation, as would a click on a product link. While most agreed that this negative action should not be counted as a positive, S-------- M----,* vice president of strategic services for R----- P---, made this excellent point: "I don't think unsubscribes are negative. They are simply feedback -- and as such, are positive in that they are actionable for marketers who care about creating solid subscriber experiences. There are lots of reasons why someone wants off the list, and usually it's an indication of relevancy."
I'm sorry, but if you ask me, this is NOT an "excellent point"--it's a bunch of babble, with a dash of irrational optimism thrown in for good measure. Let's be honest: an unsubscribe is someone telling you they no longer want to hear from you. Sure, it's "feedback"--but only in the sense described under definition #3 here. To call it anything but a "negative action" is just plain nuts.

We marketers should stop kidding ourselves. People don't always want to hear from us. They don't always want to buy our stuff. And sometimes an unsubscribe is just their way of telling us that. By trying to put a happy face on it, we're doing ourselves a huge disservice.

If you take an honest look at yourself as a consumer, you'll realize that marketing can sometimes be obtrusive. No big surprise there. The key is to be objective enough to not propagate the types of messages that encourage unsubscribes, while also realizing that even the most well-crafted message is not always going to receive a positive response. We're in the business of marketing to people who don't always want to be marketed to. Sure, that makes our job difficult, but ignoring that fact only makes our job more difficult.

*Name redacted, because this is about the sentiment, not the person. Ye who hath never said something stupid in the name of marketing, cast the first stone. Yeah, I thought not.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Free (with purchase): McD's giving away McSkillet burritos this week

Your neighborhood McDonald's is treating you to a somewhat free breakfast this week, as reports:

The chain...will give away more than 2 million McSkillet burritos the morning of Feb. 28 and 29 as part of a national sampling event. On those days, McDonalds's customers will be offered a free burrito with the purchase of a medium or large drink. The McSkillet, composed of scrambled eggs, potatoes, sausage, salsa, onions, peppers and cheese wrapped in a flour tortilla, retails for about $2.49.
Why would McDonald's invite you to do your best Hamburglar impression, with no threat of being billy-clubbed by a cop with a Quarter Pounder for a head? It's called sampling, and it's usually a good idea:
"Sampling is critical to any marketplace," said McDonald's spokeswoman Shanelle Armstrong..."Ultimately we want to get our product in our customer's hands...
I'm a pretty big fan of getting new customers into your store any way you can. After all, sometimes simple unfamiliarity--not knowing where you're located, or not knowing what to expect once they get there--can be a formidable barrier preventing them from giving you a shot. And this isn't the first time McDonald's has offered a free sample of one of its products. Still, this strategy seems a little Filet-O-Fishy to me. McDonald's is probably too familiar to most of us and the McSkillet burrito has been around long enough to give McDonald's execs a taste of whether or not it will be a success. My guess is that this is the McSkillet's last chance to show off its McSkills.

Cheesy marketing-speak like this, from one such McDonald's exec, makes me even more skeptical:
"Mornings can be a busy time for many consumers and we're thrilled to be able to provide a great start to their mornings with a free McSkillet Burrito," Neil Golden, chief marketing officer of McDonald's U.S., said in a statement. "We encourage customers everywhere to stop by their local McDonald's restaurant for a delicious way to kick-off the Leap Year."
Ugh. This is why the world hates marketing people.

In any case, Golden's arch language isn't the only thing that will keep me away from the McSkillet Madness. As much as I like free stuff, I just know that the queue is going to be longer than the last half of a bad Morgan Spurlock documentary. I'll just have to find another "delicious way to kick off the Leap Year." Maybe I'll try one of these.

Man overboard

Remember the whole Lipitor/Dr. Robert Jarvik controversy? Well, the good doctor just got kicked off the rowing team, as Reuters reports:

Pfizer Inc said on Monday it was pulling television advertisements for its Lipitor cholesterol drug featuring Dr. Robert Jarvik, inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart, because they created "misimpressions."

The ads involving Jarvik had come under scrutiny from a U.S. House of Representative committee as part of an investigation into celebrity endorsements of prescription medicines.

Democratic lawmakers had voiced concern that Jarvik's qualifications were misrepresented in widely seen TV commercials touting the blockbuster drug. They said Jarvik seemed to be dispensing medical advice even though he is not a practicing physician.

The commercials, which portray Jarvik in various outdoor activities, also raised eyebrows after news reports that a stunt double was used in a scene with a man rowing across a lake.

Yeah, kind of looks that way.

The lesson in all of this? Testimonials can be a great thing, but since people make mistakes, there's significant risk involved. This is especially true when you're advertising serious stuff like pharmaceuticals, but it applies anytime you put a face on your product. Just keep that in mind when you're considering putting your CEO, a customer, or a celebrity endorser in front of the camera. Make sure you keep it authentic, and by all means choose people with solid ethics. Nobody's perfect, and that's why there's no such thing as a rock solid endorser.

Local ADDY Awards this weekend

I'll be at the Advertising Federation of Fort Wayne, Inc. ADDY Awards on Saturday night. I plan to post some highlights after we find out who the big winners are.

My two cents on advertising awards programs:

  • Designers, copywriters, and other creatives take a lot of crap from people, including some who don't know what they're talking about. And since opinions about good design can be pretty subjective, it's rare that creative work is judged on an even playing field. The best thing about awards shows, then, is that they recognize the work of some very talented guys and gals who often get taken for granted, and who usually hear much more criticism than praise.
  • That being said, awards shows in general can be kind of silly (ergo my lack of enthusiasm for the Oscars, for example). The key is to enjoy the night, but don't take it too seriously. Although the judges are professionals, their opinions are somewhat arbitrary (and I speak from experience, having been an awards judge once myself).
  • One way to improve upon the current format would be to recognize marketing strategy, not just design. The best work may not always look all that special, but if the goal is to sell a product or service, that should be taken into account. If agencies were given a chance to tell a story about the strategy behind a campaign/ad/marketing piece, and about the results it delivered, I'd bet you'd have some different winners at the end of the night.

Monday, February 25, 2008

And the award for most disappointing advertising buy goes to...

This weekend, I shared a story about a downturn in advertiser confidence in TV. Earlier this month, the news focused on whether the writers' strike would cause more viewers to hit the off button. And today, published a story showing more evidence of TV's troubles. A sample:

Last night's Oscars drew the fewest viewers in more than 30 years, reaching an average of approximately 32 million...

[V]iewership figure fell far short of the 40.2 million viewers who tuned in last year... And the total viewer turnout for the glitzy event was the lowest since 1974.

The Oscars is one of the most-watched--and, for advertisers, most expensive-- programs on TV. ABC was seeking as much as $1.82 million for a 30-second spot this year, representing an approximately 7% increase over last year's top price of $1.7 million...The program also was being watched as a potential barometer of the health of broadcast TV, as it was the first big event to air on a traditional broadcast network since the resolution of the months-long writers strike.
The question is whether the downturn was due to an overall decline in TV viewership, or a lack of interest in this year's crop of Oscar candidates, as AdAge suggests:
When small, independent films hold sway, the audience tends to dwindle. This year's big nominees included smaller films such as "Juno," "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men." When "Titanic," a big blockbuster, won Best Picture in 1998, about 55.2 million people tuned in...
I have to confess that I've never been a fan of Awards shows, so my lack of interest was nothing new. But how about you? Did this year's slate of nominees make you less (or more) likely to watch?

Newspapers seek to redefine medium through "N2"

Editor and Publisher, the chronicle of the newspaper industry, reports on a new study entitled "Newspaper Next 2.0: Making the Leap Beyond 'Newspaper Companies" that strives to point the way for the continued relevance of the medium:

To get to [the] next step...newspapers must stop thinking of themselves as newspaper companies, the report argues. Instead, they should consider themselves their "local information and connection utility." [...] For consumers, it must no longer just present news and information, but become the first choice for customers and non-customers alike "to help me know or do whatever it takes to live here." Newspapers must do that by using all the tools available from social networking, databases, localized wikipedia, "knowledge repositories," and more. For all the businesses in the market, advertisers or not, the job newspapers must "own" is "help me connect with anyone who lives here, in the most effective way possible."
I think the medium may be on to something here. Earlier this month, I discussed some of print's problems, while also offering what I saw as a potential solution. Here's an excerpt from my comments:
The future will depend upon their ability to move the medium online and provide advertisers with more valuable strategies for reaching readers and quantifying ROI. One idea: papers should drop everything but local content and information that’s unavailable anywhere else, and make new and updated content available continuously, as it happens. No national sports (that’s why we have No national news (that’s why we have and Google News). No stock listings or weather, both of which demand resources beyond the means of local news outlets. But no one else is better positioned to provide in-depth coverage of news, sports, and entertainment, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And the good news is that they probably can do this with little investment in new staff or technology, as long they as they focus existing resources on their core competencies.
It sounds like N2 is a more sophisticated version of this, but I'd be concerned if it were too ambitious. I think there's some opportunities for newspapers to become niche social network portals that bring together people already linked by geography. But first, they should concentrate on leveraging their greatest asset--local news and information--and then slowly embed other products. This is a case where slow growth might be the best model, simply because what they're trying to do is so huge.

In a comment to another post about the state of print, SBB reader Julianne said this:
[W]hile I'm guessing some evolutionary form of media will pick up newspapers' local beat, I mourn the loss of an institution. Reporters and editors weren't making widgets. Nor much money, either. They were motivated by a commitment to truth, to community, to the hope that they could make a difference. Who will pick up that torch and carry it forth, illuminating the dusty corners of local politics and community action? What communal forum will exist for commentary, especially from those who don't have access to technology? Who will keep watch and monitor truth and change for us all?
I think this is very well said, and I share Julianne's concerns. Time will tell whether the N2 report offers real solutions, but it's great to see that the industry is taking action instead of hoping for the return of the good old days. There's a lot at stake--not just for newspapers, but for the communities they serve.

The full "Newspaper Next 2.0" report is available for download

Sunday, February 24, 2008

NYT story praises semicolon, misuses punctuation

Last week, the controversy surrounding the allegations of impropriety against John McCain overshadowed some real news in the New York Times: rumors of the semicolon's death are greatly exaggerated. A New York City transit agency employee, it seems, added a semicolon to a public service placard, setting off a punctuation lovefest that includes references to Hemingway, David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, and San Francisco's gay marriage statute, along with analysis from Noam Chomsky, Lynne Truss, and no fewer than two professors. And in what might be the year's wackiest punctuation mishap, the story also included an erroneous omission of a comma. Let's just say that the Times was probably pretty glad when last week came to an end.

While we're on the subject, here's the aforementioned Truss' description of the semicolon's function, from her great book Eats, Shoots & Leaves:

The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added…The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with the semicolon there you get a pleasant feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.
And here's my take on its two primary uses:

1. Separates items in a series with internal punctuation—-commas within commas, that is (“My favorite bands are The Clash, until Mick Jones left; The Rolling Stones, but not for their most recent work; and The Black Crowes, who are like The Stones back when they were good.”)

2. Separates closely-related sentences not joined by a conjunction (“We left on Friday; she stayed through the weekend.” or “In 1975, Ford was our President; in 1976, we elected Carter.”)

Still confused? You could always just go with Dave Barry's definition:

Q. What is the purpose of the semicolon?

A. It can be used to either (1) separate two independent clauses, or (2) indicate an insect attack.


(1) ``Well, I'm a clause that certainly doesn't need any help!''; ``Me either!''

(2) ``Be careful not to bump into that ;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; AIEEEEEEE!''

Hat tip: Daily Writing Tips

What's next? Free e-mail?

I've posted before about how just doesn't get it. And then yesterday I see this banner ad:

In a world where I already can access a "gazillion" photos for free on Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, etc., etc., etc., why is this news? I guess for a company that still charges people to read their e-mail, this seems pretty revolutionary. It's not.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Free e-book for all the writers out there

The Lonely Writer by Geoffrey Hineman might be the best e-book I've ever read with a reference to Theo from The Cosby Show. A sample of what's inside:

We humans, by nature, are a social lot. Being alone, and projecting the discomforts of that loneliness can get in the way of productive writing. For instance, how many times have you found yourself looking forward to some uninterrupted alone time as the perfect opportunity to get some writing done. Then, when the time came, you squandered it? And how many times was it spent doing things that weren't as important or fulfilling to you as your writing is?

If this sounds like you, then please keep reading. This book is for you.

In the following pages, I will be sharing with you ways to capture (or in some cases recapture) the ability to embrace this lonely act of writing and tap your own innate, and very distinct, sense of creativity.
Hat tip: Copyblogger

Social networks moving from macro to micro

On Thu., the BBC reported that Facebook experienced its first drop in UK users last month:

Users fell 5% to 8.5 million in January from 8.9 million in December, according to data from Nielsen Online.

This was the first drop in user numbers since July 2006 when Nielsen began compiling data on the site.

Nic Howell, deputy editor of industry magazine New Media Age, said the site was no longer as popular among its core audience of young people.

"Social networking is as much about who isn't on the site as who is - when Tory MPs and major corporations start profiles on Facebook, its brand is devalued, driving its core user base into the arms of newer and more credible alternatives," he said.

Some of this, of course, is just a normal result of the phenomenal growth of macro social media networks. (What goes up, after all, must come down.) And as the Beeb explains, it's also a backlash against the corporatization and decreased exclusivity of the macros. But despite the mention of "Tory MPs" above, this isn't just a UK phenomenon. There's something larger at work here: it's part of a shift in preference from macro social networks like Facebook and MySpace to micro social networks that link smaller groups of people with real-world common bonds.

I'm already part of a few such networks, including two hosted by Smaller Indiana and Fort Wayne Born to Run. Both offer significant advantages over macro social networking sites (even though the Ning interface has its flaws), including their specificity (the first is for Indiana's "creative class";
the second is for Fort Wayne runners). My guess is that the macros slowly decline as users look for the social networking equivalent of "bricks and clicks"--an ability to enhance both the online and F2F ends of relationships, in forums that are manageable and specific.

I think this shift is analogous to what we've seen happen with TV. Facebook and MySpace are like the broadcast networks, offering all things to all people depending on when you tune in. Micro social networks, conversely, are like cable, offering very specific programming for a very specific audience. We'll still use both, but the niche networks will get an increasing share of our attention.

TV's in trouble, too

Earlier this week I discussed some of the problems plaguing the newspaper industry. It's important to understand, however, that print isn't the only medium that's less effective for advertisers than it used to be. Wednesday's, for example, reports that marketers also are losing confidence in television advertising:

Sixty-two percent of marketers believe traditional TV ads have become less effective during the last two years. Given that belief, it's no surprise that close to half of them already have experimented with other ad formats that work with digital video recorders or video-on-demand programs. And more than 50% of marketers reported that when half of all TV households use DVRs, they will cut spending on TV advertising by 12%.
Now, TV still can be a great tool for reaching your audience--and it's by far the strongest traditional mass media vehicle available. But the truth is that all forms of mass media advertising are less effective than they used to be, and they'll probably be even less effective tomorrow. That's not to say they're irrelevant by any means, but you no longer can go lightly into a major ad campaign. The web has changed everything, and marketing is no longer about spending the most money or reaching the most people. It's about engagment. It's about great creating great content. And it's about knowing your audience.

In short, it's about this. And this.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I had the opportunity to do some PR for PR this month, in Indiana Business Magazine. Here's a recap of the section that included my comments:

Asher Agency in Fort Wayne has been in business since 1974 as a full-service marketing and advertising firm with PR as an important component, says Anthony Juliano, account supervisor and PR manager. "There are two reasons you'd hire a PR firm," he says. "First, for experience and manpower you don't have in-house, and second, objectivity." Monitoring TV news coverage and print is important, he says, but the explosion of information on the Internet makes it difficult for companies to track what is being said about them in blogs, message boards and podcasts. The same technology that makes it easy to get a message out also makes it harder to manage. A PR firm can help, he says, by knowing where time is best spent looking for information, which blogs to read, and which message boards get the most traffic. Then prioritize. If a factual error is found, send the correct information, he advises. But be careful not to respond hastily to someone's opinion; you could just escalate the situation out of control.

To Juliano's second point of "objectivity," he says PR firms help by looking at a situation in the same way as your company's audience. "Make your language easy to understand. Don't forget what your audience doesn't know. Also, know what's newsworthy. Know what content a reporter can use and know about timing."

Juliano works with clients on both a proactive basis and in crisis, and says the former can have a mitigating effect on the latter. "Consistently share your story," he advises. "You don't want the negative to be the first time people hear about you."

Sound branding

When you hear this sound, what brand comes to mind? How about this one? And even without an audible clue, what brand goes with the sound "Ding!"?

You probably can identify at least one of these, and likely all three (if not, see below for the answers). The reason they're so well known? They were developed for precisely one reason: to act as unique audio cues repeated over and over to help call the brand to mind.

A recent Mediapost article discusses the wisdom of this strategy. To reach today's fragmented, short-attention span audience, you need to appeal to the ears as well as the eyes. And in doing so, the consistent use of an audio cue is as important as the consistent
use of visual cues:

[A] growing number of marketers are beginning to see the benefits of using audio, the sense of hearing, at a much higher level than ever before. They use music and sound as an integrated, planned, strategic communication tool rather than a lowly production afterthought. These marketers are creating the new discipline of audio brand identity and realizing a new area of competitive advantage.
One of the clients I work with commissioned new instrumental music when they relaunched their brand a few years ago. Since then, they've stuck with it, working it into everything from their on-hold music to PowerPoint presentations. As a result of this audio branding, this client's TV spots are identifiable even when viewers' eyes are turned away from the TV. Their radio spots are identifiable the minute the music begins. And they're creating a message that's more sticky because it appeals to multiple senses.

One caveat: audio branding that works includes rights-managed music, commissioned instrumental music, and sound effects. IT DOES NOT INCLUDE JINGLES. Jingles are to be avoided at all costs, unless they're tongue in cheek or parodies of bad jingles. (And there's a very, very fine line between bad jingles and a parody of a bad jingle.) Why am I so opposed to jingles? Well, here's one reason. That should be plenty.

Answers: 1, 2, and 3. Not that you needed any help, of course.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Learn something new today

Communication is changing every day. The only way to keep pace is to learn as much as you can, as soon as you can. This stuff isn't going away, so it's important to get comfortable with it and not fall behind. The good news is that you can learn most of what you need to know quickly, at no cost. And it's fun.

Here are a few ideas to get you started. Pick the thing you know the least about and jump in with both feet--and do it today:

So you say you've already tried all of these things? Great. What else do you recommend for those who want to learn more about communication technology tools and trends?

What does your written message say to your audience?

I'm traveling for work this week, bouncing from hotel to hotel. The places I'm staying at are pretty middle-of-the-road: not fancy, but not too bad, either. As a result, my expectations are modest: I'm looking for a quiet place, a wireless connection, and a reasonable amount of cleanliness and comfort. The hotel I stayed at last night, located in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, did pretty well on most counts, but there's one place where a little change would have gone a long way toward making me feel more welcome. It's a small thing, but reflective of a common mistake that businesses make when communicating with their customers.

On the top of the TV, there was a laminated TV station listing, along with two notes:

Channel line up subject to change without notice
That's it. No "thank you for staying with us"; no "please call the front desk with any questions." Just one big, capitalized "NOT" followed by a cold, hard "without notice." They're basically taking something most guests probably have no interest in--pay-per-view movies--and calling attention to its absence, turning it from something people don't want into something they feel like they're missing out on.

When I saw this, I immediately thought of
a Seth Godin post from January that discussed a sign in a florist's shop with similarly unwelcoming language. Godin said this about word choice:
If it's in print, it matters even more. Things in print have a tone and a finality that add an impact that you need to care about.

So, after the lawyers are done, let the marketers make sure it sounds like you. Your signs, your contacts, your fine print... your words don't just sit there, they shout.

Stuff like this is easy to avoid if you remember the true function of the written word. Whether it's an advertisement, a sign, or a note left on the TV, your written message to your audience acts as your surrogate. It's there when you can't be there. So why write in a language you'd never use when speaking face-to-face?

The problem is that we often ask too much of the written word, hoping it will replace conversations instead of starting new, better ones. We use language designed to shut down conflict instead of inviting feedback.

Once you realize that your words should be consistent with the larger conversation you want to have with your audience, it's easy to fix language that needs improvement. The hotel I stayed at, for example, has several options for editing its message, depending on what kind of conversation they hope to engender. They could:

  • Be more courteous: This one's simple. Instead of accentuating the negative by screaming "PAY-PER-VIEW IS NOT AVAILABLE," why not say "We apologize, but pay-per-view is not available"?
  • Explain: Is there a reason why "PAY-PER-VIEW IS NOT AVAILABLE"? If you can offer a quick explanation, do so. Maybe "We're sorry, but in order to keep rates low our channel selection is limited to basic cable." This isn't perfect, but at least it reminds the customer that they're getting a lower price by sacrificing a luxury. Instead, in not acknowledging the reason why pay-per-view isn't available, they're leaving the impression that they're just choosing to make it unavailable.
  • Offer an alternative: Could the hotel make a DVD player available in each room, or make portable players and movies available for checkout at the front desk? How about passes to a local movie theatre for those who really want to see a movie? Even though those solutions are a little inconvenient for their customer, it's better than offering no alternative.
  • Add by subtracting: Why is the second phrase, "Channel line up subject to change without notice," even necessary? Why not delete it altogether?
  • Stop talking like a lawyer. I have to agree with Godin on this one. "Channel line up subject to change without notice"? Really? Are they afraid someone is going to sue them for breach of contract or emotional distress?
  • Fix the problem. Instead of showcasing the fact that you're unwilling or unable to update the list of TV stations, why not just commit to changing it when needed?
  • Change the conversation. People who stay in hotels usually aren't in town for the hotel stay itself (especially when it's a modest hotel). Why not acknowledge that--and offer a warm welcome at the same time? "Pay per view isn't available at our hotel, because we encourage you to spend time at all of our great restaurants, shops, and attractions. Please ask the front desk for a visitor's guide, and enjoy your stay."
All things considered, minor issues like this aren't deal breakers--but only because the bar is set so low. The right language, on the other hand, can make you stand out and make enough of a difference to make you a preferred choice. Regardless of what business you're in, it's important that your surrogate voice be consistent with the voice you use when you're face-to-face with your customers. Because if you don't make them feel 100% welcome, someone else will.

Bonus coverage: if you want to read about some REALLY bad hotel stays, check out the 10 Worst Hotel Reviews of All Time (hat tip:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Would you interview this guy? I would.

A very reliable source sent me the following cover letter, along with evidence to show that it's 100% genuine (personal information has been removed, however, to protect the sender's true identity):


I have three middle names: Sterling , David, and Freeman. My favorite food is chili on rice. When I was 6 years old, I discovered at a Denny's that I could say the alphabet backwards. I was grounded for being a "sass-mouth" during the entire 8th grade. Orienteering, backpacking, and skiing are my three favorite activities and they keep me anchored while afloat in the chaotic sea of life.

I believe every person should step foot on all 243 nations in the world before they die. So far I've been to 9. A mere 3.7% but it's a start. My disinterest in being stalked and or tracked prevented me from signing onto Facebook, however the need to network in today's world has forced me to see the light.

I have a major sweet tooth (gummies, not chocolate) but I brush a lot. I like writing rhymes and taking pictures. I'm definitely an outdoors person, which I attribute to constantly being told to, "go outside and play." I'm a drummer, but lack rhythm on the dance floor (I tend to flail).

I possess a willingness to help others and do at least one good deed per day. I also possess great patience and a high tolerance of annoying people. I have a very open mind, but finicky when it comes to toilet paper. And when I die, I either want my epitaph to be an available ad space, or I'd like to have a Norwegian Viking style funeral, I haven't yet decided.

Be it e-mail, phone, or carrier pigeon, I look forward to hearing from you.


The problem with most cover letters is that they're boring. Most are repetitive to the resume they're packaged with, and they're written in a language that sounds nothing like human speech. Few make the reader laugh (for the right reasons) or even smile, and fewer still give you sense of the sender's personality. And that's what makes this one stand out. It's the one thing that most cover letters never are: unexpected.

Now, this approach definitely wouldn't work for everyone. If you're a wallflower, or you're an inherently somber person, your cover letter is no place to play the wacky card. The key is to leverage whatever makes you unique and whatever strengths you believe best compliment what's in your resume. If that's humor, go with it. If you have a great story to tell, why not use the cover letter to give an example of one time when you really came through for your employer, a customer, or a friend? Maybe you could use your cover letter to draw an analogy between a hobby and a workplace skill.

Your other option is to do the same same thing as everyone else. And while that might not hurt you, it's probably not going to help you, either.

Maybe you think your prospective employer would be turned off by too unique a pitch--and you might be right. But here's the thing: as long as you're authentic to your true personality, being unique is actually much less risky than submitting a blah-blah-blah cover letter that's nothing more than word processed camouflage. After all, if you pretend to be someone else in your cover letter, you're going to have to fake it during the interview, too (assuming, that is, that you get the interview at all). And on the outside chance that the interview gets you the job, you may have to keep faking it for a long, long time. Maybe a better approach is to stop worrying about
offending people you probably don't want to work for anyway.

So, would you interview this guy? (It depends upon his qualifications, of course, but let's assume he has the skills to do the job.) I probably would give him a call--and here's why: he sounds like someone who might be smart and fun to work with. You wouldn't know until you met him, but you'd probably want to meet him. He's done something that's a little risky, sure, but he's also set himself apart. Most of the time, that's enough to get your foot in the door. And when that happens, then your cover letter has done exactly what it's supposed to do.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Newspapers going out of Business?

It's Monday, which means today's News-Sentinel will include a standalone Business section. If recent months are any indication, however, there's a good chance that Business Monday will include very little--if any--local stories. Aside from the usual recap of who's been hired/promoted by whom, the Sentinel's business coverage consists primarily of wire stories that have little relevance locally.

According to a Friday story on, the Sentinel's plight is far from unique--and the worst may be yet to come. The story counts eight daily newspapers that have gotten rid of their standalone Business sections in the past year, including the Denver Post and the Orange County Register. What's behind these changes?:

[A]nalysts, advertisers and publishers say that the stand-alone sections were relatively poor sources of ad revenue that tended to be overmatched by national and online competition on anything beyond the most hyperlocal stories.


Said veteran newspaper-industry analyst Ed Atorino, of Benchmark Capital: "You do get a story once in awhile about a local storeowner or a closing or something, which you might miss, but most of what's in those sections is rip and read [wireservice copy]," he said. "With all the business news on TV and the internet, the consumer is getting it someplace else."
And the impact goes well beyond the newspapers and their readers, of course. While only a few reporters' jobs may be cut in each community, the big picture shows very real job losses, and local economies do take a small hit. Less of a concern, but a concern nonetheless, is what this means for others who make their living working with the media, as AdAge notes:
The cuts are a source of much public-relations executives at small local firms and agencies that may have trouble securing news coverage without them.
From my perspective as someone in PR, this definitely doesn't make my job any easier.
Fort Wayne, however, is pretty lucky: the Sentinel's neighbor across the hall, the Journal Gazette, does an excellent job of providing meaningful local business news and features. We're also fortunate to have the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly, which gives deep coverage to issues that affect business people throughout northeast Indiana. (Perhaps it's no coincidence that GFWBW's reporters include two Sentinel veterans, Linda Lipp and Doug LeDuc.)

But as the number of outlets decreases, fewer local businesses will have a chance to tell their story. The irony in all this, of course, is that perhaps the biggest advantage local papers have is access to local news and information, which readers can't get anywhere else. As discussed in an earlier post, newspapers certainly are struggling, but they still have some great opportunities to compete.

Regardless of what happens, one thing's certain: since this trend affects local businesses, there's one place you're not likely to read about it--in the business section of the News-Sentinel.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

"This is not about Lickable Ads": First Flavor prez writes in to clarify WSJ story

Jay Minkoff, president and CEO of First Flavor, Inc., left the following comment today in hopes of clearing up some misconceptions about the ad his company helped create for Welch's:

As the president of First Flavor, the company bringing this Peel 'n Taste product to market, there is a major correction to the WSJ article: This is not about Lickable Ads. Welch's used the term 'lick' in their ad and no one seems to have bothered to read the fine print.

Our product, which can be attached to a print ad and peeled off, is a sealed tamper evident foil pouch containing a piece of edible film. (Similar to popular breath strips.) One peels opens the pouch and places the piece of edible film on your tongue. The edible film dissolves quickly leaving you with a burst of flavor. No licking involved!

The point that was really missed was that finally consumers now have a way of trying the taste of a product before they buy it. We call it taking a product for a 'Taste Drive'!
First, I want to thank Jay for his comment--it's always good to hear from those directly involved in the work discussed on SBB. I also want to give him major kudos from a PR perspective, since (unlike others who will go unmentioned) he clearly understands the role bloggers play in today's communication environment.

I think First Flavor is experiencing the double-edged sword that is free publicity. Most companies would salivate over the opportunity to get a story in the Wall Street Journal. However, if there are inaccuracies in the story, they spread just as fast as the accurate information.
The original SBB post repeated a quote from Welch's that I think created the misunderstanding:
"A lot of people won't lick a magazine no matter how good it tastes," says Chris Heye, Welch's marketing chief.
Heye may have considered his comment a throwaway, but it seems to have stuck with readers. After all, if you say "lick a magazine," that's pretty provocative...and provocative comments stick.

Now, Minkoff is working his tail off--on a Sunday, no less--to help others get things right. So in that same spirit, here are a couple links to show you how First Flavor's product really works:

Who clicks through? Few. Do you?

No, this isn't another Seuss post. This one's about a new study claiming that a small minority of web users account for the vast majority of ad clicks. As The ClickZ Network reports:

The report, "Natural Born Clickers," commissioned by Starcom and AOL's Tacoda and conducted by comScore, finds 16 percent of Internet users click on 80 percent of ads, and those people aren't representative of the general online population.

"Close to 70 percent of the online universe doesn't click at all," said Greg Rogers, VP of sales strategy at Tacoda.

Heavy clickers, classified as someone who clicks on an ad four or more times in a month, comprise six percent of the online population and 50 percent of the clicks. Moderate clickers, Internet users who click ads two to three times per month, account for 10 percent of the online population and the additional 30 percent of clicks.

With this in mind, you might be tempted to try to learn more about those heavy clickers and how to reach them. Well, not so fast, Sparky:

The research identifies the demographics behind the heavy clicker. They are somewhat equally divided between male and female and between the ages 25 to 44. The typical household income for heavy clickers is below $40,000. Online, heavy clickers are also more likely to visit auctions, gambling, and career services sites.

"Heavy clickers spent five times more time online than a non-clicker, which to me is astounding," said Rogers. "Think about how much time we spent online and multiply that by five, and think about the amount of pages we consume, and multiply that by eight."

Rogers suggested heavy clickers respond to ads more often because they're exposed to more ads. While this group sometimes buys in response to advertising, he questions the long-term value for marketers.

Heavy clickers may also skew e-commerce statistics. "Because they are online, e-commerce becomes the channel of choice. The rest of us, we go to a brick and mortar store. That's where marketers are mislead," said Rogers.
What's to be learned from this research? Well, it's a great reminder that ads on the web are still a work in progess. We know the answer's not interruption. And we know that we're just beginning to understand the possibilities. But maybe what we're really discovering is that the web presents many of the same challenges as traditional media. Just like impressions are meaningless if viewers aren't engaged, not all click-throughs are created equal. Instead of just measuring the number of hits you get, then, be sure to measure whether those hits translate into increased sales.

Photo: morgueFile

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Word imperfect

Great reminder over at Daily Writing Tips: "Warning: Microsoft Did Not Invent Grammar!" DWT gives examples of the Microsoft Word grammar checker's shortcomings, and provides a few better solutions for the grammatically challenged, none of which include ignoring grammar altogether and claiming you're just being "conversational."

Also, don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Remember, one thing that makes great writers great is that they look stuff up. With all the resources available today, you don't need to keep all the rules in your head--just be sure to acknowledge when you don't know the answer. And treat Word's grammar checker as a source of suggestions, not authoritative answers.

It's 8 degrees. That's why this is a great idea.

As I type this, it's 8 degrees. For those of us in the northern U.S., it's a day when people will be talking about the weather--mostly about how much the weather sucks. This time of year, as you well know, we're tired of cold. We're tired of snow. We're tired of grey vistas only temporarily interrupted by swatches of brown mud.

And that's what makes South Carolina's Time to Thaw campaign such a great idea. South Carolina, you see, is expecting a high of 69 today, with a strange yellow orb appearing in the sky. Today in South Carolina, some people are probably even wearing shorts. Shorts, for the love of God!

As AdFreak reports, the people at the South Carolina
Department of Recreation Parks and Tourism are well aware of all of this. And while they could offer a warm hug to their neighbors to the north, they have chosen instead to single out the people of Chicago for one collective neener-neener-neener:

The effort includes: 360-degree elevator wraps “that literally put passengers inside South Carolina locations”; phone kiosks in which the handsets have been refitted with conch shells; and a wall of hand dryers in the Grant Park North lobby that read, “Press button for warm South Carolina breezes.”
In short, the campaign offers Chicagoans repeated reminders that relief is just a flight-and-hotel-stay away--if, that is, they don't get stuck in a snowstorm at O'Hare.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Nine questions about Axe's "Clinton Endorses Obama" ad

  1. Is it funny?
  2. Are presidential candidates fair game for parody ads?
  3. Would it be better, worse, or no different if the button said "McCain"?
  4. Is it sexist (any more so than the typical Axe ad)?
  5. Does it help Obama?
  6. Does it help Clinton?
  7. Does it have any effect on either candidate?
  8. What do you think they're implying?
  9. Will it help Axe sell any products?
Your thoughts?

Hat tip: Collective Wisdom

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Single Screen System

I'm a big believer in having a system, and I know the same life hacks don't work for everyone. But here's something that's served me well during the past couple of years: The Single Screen System. It's effective because of its simplicity: you just commit to keeping no more than one screen of active e-mails in your in-box at any given time. Everything else gets put in its place, making your in-box more of a throughway than a parking lot.

Now, if you're the type of person who gets a couple hun
dred e-mails a day, I know what you're thinking: "That's impossible." But here's the thing: as someone who gets a couple hundred e-mails a day, I can assure you that it's not impossible. In fact, it's much, much more impossible to try to deal with an in-box full of 1,000 messages. Or, worse yet, an unknown number.

This is how I strive for my in-box to look (names of senders and folders have been blurred to protect the innocent):

Notice that nice swatch of white space at the bottom. You can immediately see the biggest benefit: at a glance, I can see every e-mail I have yet to deal with. No scrolling. No sorting. No guessing. If I don't see it immediately, it's handled, one way or the other. (So, where are all my other messages? I'll get to that in a minute.) That's not only efficient, but it's a lot less stressful, too.

Now, it's not less stressful because it magically makes things disappear. (This isn't the equivalent of a nine year-old cleaning his room by jamming all his toys under the bed.) Keeping your in-box down to 27 items or less (my magic number) doesn't mean I only have 27 things to do: it just means I only have 27 e-mails to deal with. The key is that it prevents me from trying to use the e-mails in my in-box as a to-do list. Since e-mail has no built in reminders that can help you keep track of priorities, it's not designed to help you stay on task. Even worse, out of sight e-mails tend to be out-of-mind e-mails, which leads to either wasted time re-reading them over and over or worrying about what you might be forgetting.

E-mail should be used exactly how it's intended to be used: to send and receive messages. That's it. It should be just one of the tools you use to keep your communication house in order. For example, to help keep my priorities straight, I put my to-do list and calendar to serious use, turning e-mails into tasks and appointments with a simple drag-and-drop. How is managing 150+ tasks and an infinite number of calendar items better than managing a bunch of e-mails? Well, to-do lists can be sorted by date and/or priority, allowing for you to focus only on what's most important today or this week, and calendar items are inherently date-driven and can be automatically recalled with built in alarms. The key is to use your calendar and tasks together, knowing which items belong on which list. To steal a tip from The David Allen Company's Kelly Forrister:

If you need to take action ON a day or time, put the action reminder on your calendar. If it needs to be done BY a day or can be done ANY day, organize it on a Task list.
Two other tools that make the Single Screen System work are folders and "Good to Know" notes. The folders are easy to explain: they're where you put messages not tied to an immediate pending action. So what are "Good to Know" notes? They're things like your company's wireless network password (e-mailed to you from IT), your son's gift list (e-mailed to you by your spouse), or your running total of benefit days remaining (e-mailed to you by HR). If kept in your in-box, notes like these just take up space as messages that are no longer actionable. And they inevitably get lost, causing you to ask for them again, which just wastes everyone's time. They need a home--and it's not your in-box.

Once you have a handle on these tools, it's time to get serious about building your Single Screen System. Here's how you get started:

1. Schedule time to clean out your in-box. The first step is to get your current in-box down to no more than a few e-mails. You'll need to build folders to hold e-mails that don't need to stay in your in-box, and you'll need to know what you should drag to your task list, calendar, and "Good to Know" file. And, of course, delete as much as you can. It will take some time to get things cleaned up, but it's crucial to start fresh so you don't fall into old habits.

2. Get mail only when you're ready for it. One of the most underutilized productivity tools on your desktop is the "offline" feature (or its equivalent for non-Outlook users). By setting your e-mail to "offline" (see screen capture above, with arrow) you control the influx of mail, allowing you to read/sort/delete in phases--only when you hit the "Send/Receive" button--instead of trying to handle each message as it comes in. (One note: your sent messages will also accumulate in your Outbox until you hit send and receive--but this is a great way to give yourself a second chance to retrieve e-mails with forgotten attachments or that you never should have sent in the first place.) If you don't do anything else, follow this step. You'll be amazed at how much time you save by handling e-mails a few times a day instead of continuously throughout the day.

3. Four choices: Act, file, hold, or trash--decide immediately. That's every possibility for each e-mail you receive, and you should know almost immediately which choice is right:
  • "Act" e-mails can be closed out in 5 minutes or less (such as someone e-mailing you for your fax number or a yes or no question that doesn't require a lot of research)
  • "File" e-mails are those that you need to either convert to a task, calendar, or "Good to Know" item (or add to an existing item), or that require no immediate action whatsoever.
  • "Hold" e-mails are the rarest kind--the ones that need to stay in your in-box. Maybe you're waiting for an answer from someone else, and you don't know whether you'll get it in 2 mins. or 2 days (and remember, you could always manage the latter by moving it to your task list...sounds inefficient but it's better than reading the same e-mail four times--or forgetting about it altogether).
  • "Trash" e-mails--well, that's self-explanatory.
4. Be vigilant about what deserves space in your in-box. When you use the Single Screen System, your in-box will become prime real estate. You should do everything you can to move a message elsewhere--and if you accumulate more than one screen, something's gotta give. Maybe that answer you were waiting for is taking three days instead of two. Move it to the task list. Maybe you have an older e-mail that's repetitive to a newer e-mail thread. Delete it. The key is to be vigilant about keeping as few e-mails as possible. Remember, you can't do 28 things at once, so there's no need to try to keep anything other than immediately actionable items in your in-box.

5. Cut yourself some occasional slack--but not too much. After a couple of weeks using the Single Screen System, you'll be very good at not letting things get out of control--when possible. But there will be times when you need to cut yourself some slack (when you're out of the office, when you have to stay online because you're waiting for an urgent message, or when you get back from vacation). The key is to get back on track as quickly as possible, so that you limit the amount of time you spend getting your system back in shape. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to get back to Single Screen nirvana.

If you follow these steps, the Single Screen System certainly will improve your productivity, but it also does something much more valuable: it will make you a better communicator. Why? Good communicators listen, and they have a well-honed message that's delivered at the right place and time. By organizing your messages, and by limiting distractions, you gain the time you need to focus on the task at hand, whether you're on the sending or receiving end of a message. That allows you not only to do more work, but to do better work, too.

More "e-mail triage" ideas at