Boilerplates

What is a boilerplate and how and when do we use them?

3 examples of a well-written boilerplate:

  1. About Andrea Obston Marketing Communications:
    Andrea Obston Marketing Communications works in partnership with its clients to maximize the impact of their marketing dollars. The firm creates and executes marketing strategies that improve clients’ bottom lines. It mobilizes traditional and social media in an approach it calls B2E (Business to Everyone) to bring a client’s message directly to the people and organizations it needs to reach. The firm’s expertise includes strategic marketing planning, brand development and marketing, public and media relations, social media and other website-based connections as well as communications training. Its subsidiary, Andrea Obston Crisis Management, provides public image crisis planning and management. The firm, which celebrated 25 years in business in 2007, is based in Bloomfield, CT. For more information see: http://www.aomc.comc, facebook/andreaobstonmarketingcommunications, @aobston or 860-243-1447.
  2. About Duncaster:
    Duncaster is a life care retirement community for active, healthy independent seniors who want lifetime protection against the potential costs of long-term care. The Bloomfield, CT retirement community is dedicated to helping residents live life to the fullest by providing security and fulfillment. Its campus includes 190 independent residences, assisted living and a short-and long-term healthcare facility. Duncaster’s Caleb Hitchcock Health Center has a five-star rating from the U.S. Government’s Medicare standards. Duncaster’s emphasis on serving the changing needs of older adults lead to an updating and expansion of its dining and hospitality amenities that reflects contemporary styles of dining and socializing. For more information, see http://www.duncaster.org or call (860) 380-5005.
  3. About Forensic Accounting Services:
    Stephen A. Pedneault is the principal and founder of Forensic Accounting Services, LLC, a public accounting firm specializing in fraud investigations, forensic accounting, employee embezzlement, fraud prevention, litigation support services, internal control evaluations, due diligence analysis and various other special projects. A forensic accountant, Steve is also a certified fraud examiner, certified in financial forensics and a forensic certified public accountant. He is an author and frequent public speaker on issues related to fraud. He has authored three books on the subject and is currently working on a fourth. Steve is frequently quoted in the media because of his ability to make sense of the complicated issues surrounding white-collar crime, including fraud and embezzlement. For more information, see: http://www.forensicaccountingservices.com.

August 19, 2011 at 1:45 pm Leave a comment

Do We Really Look That Stupid?

By Andrea Obston, President, Andrea Obston Marketing Communications, LLC

The recent spate of u-turns in crisis response makes me wonder just how dumb some folks think we are.

Most recently, it came to mind when I read a news account of the purported accidental leak of the PR plans for “Pottermore”, the super-secret Harry Potter-themed internet treasure hunt.  It seems the agency handling the PR for Pottermore inadvertently sent the timeline to The Times UK, The Guardian, The Independent and other media.  When confronted with the mistake their initial comeback was that those were “old plans.”  Maybe, but I had a lot of trouble buying into that and it turned out to be as much a fantasy as Hogwarts.

Interestingly, there has been some speculation that the leak was part of some elaborate marketing ploy to raise anticipation for the release of Pottermore.  My Google search had the phrase “Pottermore” and “leak” taking up the first page on Google.  You can’t buy that.  Unfortunately, J. K. Rowling’s PR representative, Mark Hutchinson, confirmed that the leak was nothing more than a mistake.  “Much as we would like to say this is an elaborate stunt to create excitement, I’m afraid it was a simple error,” Hutchinson said, while continuing to call it an “old plan” and pushing the next day’s news conference as the time when the real details would be revealed.  So first it was an “accident”, then it was a clever ruse and now we’re back to “accidental but still old”.  I suppose it fits with the playfulness of the whole venture, but frankly I’m inclined to distrust the whole thing and wonder at their need to continually u-turn.

And, of course, you’re going to have to go a long way to beat the newly crowned King of U-Turn Crisis Management: former Representative Anthony Weiner.  This guy thought we were dim-witted enough to buy his “My-Twitter-Account-was- Hacked” story for five days.  The more this guy u-turned, the more pathetic he seemed.  I’m told it fits with his larger-than-life persona to bluff his way through things, but does he really think the rest of us have minds that are smaller-than-life?

The approach isn’t new.  Who could forget the version played by the John Edwards’ campaign?  It was a variation on Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” line: “The Kid is Not My Son (daughter)”?  What started as a 2007 National Enquirer story about his affair with a former campaign staffer escalated to an August 2008 on-air interview with ABC News’ in which he confessed to having the affair but maintained that he was not the father of Rielle Hunter’s baby.  That was followed by a 2010 u-turn in which he admitted his paternity, saying “I will do everything in my power to provide her with the love and support she deserves.”  Earlier this month, the whole thing came home to roost.  This former presidential hopeful was indicted by federal prosecutors for violating campaign finance law by soliciting nearly $1 million to cover the cost of keeping Rielle Hunter and her baby out of sight.  Edwards response (and here the u-turns are definitely giving me whiplash) was to essentially say “I may be a lying creep, but that doesn’t mean I’m a felon.”

And let us not forget Tiger Woods’ explanation of his golf-club wielding encounter with his now ex-wife.  His U-Turn Crisis response was to try to sell us on the story that she was using the club to extricate him from the accident.  REALLY?

The lesson here is quite clear: U-Turns don’t fly.  When you mess up, fess up.  Don’t bob and weave hoping people will buy your story and forget it when the truth comes out.  It always comes out.  So why put yourself in the embarrassing situation of explaining two mistakes?  Are you listening, Mr. Weiner and anyone else who’s pondering covering a boo-boo with a tall tale?

My mother had a refrain that was the bane of my existence growing up.  When I’d weave a yarn to cover up a screw-up her response was, “What makes me really mad isn’t what you did.  It’s that you think I’m stupid enough to buy that story.”  I hated that then.  Now, it seems pretty wise.

This column appeared in the July 4, 2011 edition of the Hartford Business Journal.  It was just too much fun NOT to share.

Comments, Questions, Answers, Suggestions?

aobston@aomc.com

860-243-1447

@aobston

http://www.facebook.com/AndreaObstonMarketingCommunications

http://www.LinkedIn.com/aobston

July 6, 2011 at 8:24 pm Leave a comment

The Elevator Speech

By Andrea Obston, President, Andrea Obston Marketing Communications LLC.

Have you ever noticed how badly people fumble the question: “So, what do you do?”  I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve overheard someone responding to this question with more words than the average person should be required to ingest in a day.  “Well,” they say, gathering stream, “It’s hard to explain.  Actually what our company does is different than any other company’s approach to the problem.  Let’s just say, we innovate; we re-frame; we really clarify the issues our customers deal with on a day-to-day basis through new and exciting approaches using the latest technology and then…”  That’s right– they are just getting started and all the listener hears in her mind is “Shoot me now!”

And that, my friends, is why they invented the Elevator Speech.  A handy-dandy, well-constructed speech that within thirty to sixty seconds, informs the listener of the benefits your company offers and why you (and you alone) are the only solution to their problem.  Everyone in your company from the receptionist to the president, needs to know your Elevator Speech cold so they can deliver it at the drop of a hat.

What’s the Big Idea?  An elevator speech is a small but valuable component to your company and all that it represents.  This often times neglected marketing tool is beneficial to you, individuals in the organization and existing and potential clients.  It can be used as a reference point so that everyone involved can stay focused and communicate more efficiently while spreading a consistent and clear message.

Why is it called an ‘elevator’ speech?  Fear not.  This isn’t typically, a lengthy speech.  It is called and elevator speech because it should be delivered in the time it takes for an elevator to go two floors, or thirty to sixty seconds.  It is essentially three to five sentences that summarize the benefits of your organization that can be translated into action.

What are the benefits?  An elevator speech quickly allows someone to understand and assess your organization.  It reflects the mission statement but is worded in a more viewer-friendly way so that an individual outside of the organization can easily comprehend it as well as put it into action.

Bottom Line  Be sure that everyone in your organization can recite it, understand it and actually demonstrate it.  It must have content that everyone can use and apply daily so each individual in the organization can be a community ambassador.

Comments, Questions, Answers, Suggestions?

aobston@aomc.com

860-243-1447

@aobston

http://www.facebook.com/AndreaObstonMarketingCommunications

http://www.LinkedIn.com/aobston

June 8, 2011 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

Business Portraits

By Andrea Obston, President, Andrea Obston Marketing Communications LLC.

Business portraits are like trips to the supermarket.  Nobody wants to do them, you don’t feel any better after you’re done and you almost never like what you bring home.

I recently made that trip and I actually felt good when I brought home the results.

I decided to get an updated portrait because it’s been awhile since my last one and, well, I no longer look quite like the last shot.  No Baby Boomer likes to admit he or she is “of a certain age” but 80 million of us are.   And that means there are lots of us on many a website looking like we did around the turn of the century (OK, just writing that phrase made me feel old).

My rule of thumb is that your portrait should age with you.  Think of it as the Reverse Dorian Gray rule.  You and your portrait need to get old together.  If not, someone who sees that 10-year-old photo first will meet you and wonder what happened to you.  Face it, none of us looks like we did 10 years ago and anything that opens up a comparison is not going to end up in your favor.

So, now that I’ve raised this issue with 80 million of you, in this video you will hear about a few tips to help you make your portrait work in your favor:

  • Dress for your business arena – If your normal business attire is a suit or jacket, that’s how people will expect to see you in on your site.  You are dressing for your clients’ expectations, not to indulge your need to look cute or comfy.    If, on the other hand, everyone in your field (and your clients) comes to work in business casual, that’s fine for your shot.  Remember though, that you still need to look neat and pulled together.  No one looks good in fleece or flannel unless they are an American Eagle model.
  • Wear clothes that fit and are not revealing – Skip showing off that smoking hot body with revealing or tight clothing.  This is not the venue for it.  You may have spent hours in the gym honing it to near perfection, but it has no place in a business portrait.  If, on the other hand, your trips to the gym are less frequent than you’d like, choose clothing that honestly copes with your expanded girth.  None of us are a size four anymore, so live with it and dress accordingly.
  • Choose a shot that primarily focuses on your face – The center of attention for a business portrait should be your face.  Think of it as a little moment of intimacy between you and the camera.  That means no shots of you with fake gestures, on the phone or in the bogus pose with your jacket slung over your shoulder.  Let’s save that for the Sears catalog.
  • Look for shots that feature your eyes – People find credibility in your eyes, so make sure they are well represented.  Good portrait photographers capture what’s called “catch lights” in the eyes of their subjects.  These give life to the whole face.  And while we’re on the subject of eyes, if you wear glasses normally wear them in the portrait.  You will look more comfortable with them on.  Don’t worry about glare.  A professional photographer knows how to deal with that.  With that said, do NOT wear dark glasses or half-height reading glasses no matter what you do day-to-day.  Both make you look like you look untrustworthy because we can’t see your eyes.
  • Watch that background – Make sure the background is complementary.  I am of the opinion that all business portraits should be shot in a studio with a muted background.  Remember it’s about you and the face you present to the world.  So shooting it in a warehouse, up against an office wall or even in front of a stack of books (yes, attorneys I’m talking to you!) does not do the job.  And speaking of backgrounds, do check to make sure you’re not blending into what you’re in front of.  If you’ve got gray hair, for example, do not pose in front of a gray background.  If you’re skin is dark, brown is not a good idea.
  • Spring for the pro – If you take nothing from this blog entry, please take this: Do not try this at home.  A professionally done photo from someone who regularly does portraits is worth its weight in gold.  Not a wedding photographer; not a publicity photographer; not a nature photographer.  A portrait photographer.  They have unique skills, tricks and experience that make their subjects look natural, warm and approachable.  I know your sister’s kid just graduated from art school and needs a portfolio, but she is not the one to immortalize you for all the world to see.  Let her take your holiday photo.  No one looks good in matching sweaters anyway, so she can’t screw that up.  Bite the bullet.  Go to the studio.  Get that haircut and sit still for a professional.  They’ll light you so you look alive.  They’ll pose you so you look natural (yes, I know that’s a contradiction) and they’ll get the smile that makes the viewer say, “I like that guy.  I want to get to know him.”

Okay, Boomers, what are you waiting for?  It’s time our photos and our faces looked alike.  Trust me.  It’s better this way.

Comments, Questions, Answers, Suggestions?

aobston@aomc.com

860-243-1447

@aobston

http://www.facebook.com/AndreaObstonMarketingCommunications

http://www.LinkedIn.com/aobston

May 17, 2011 at 8:30 pm Leave a comment

Just Say Less

By Andrea Obston, President, Andrea Obston Marketing Communications, LLC.

One of the biggest frustrations people have about interviews with reporters is that the story doesn’t turn out the way they expected.  “I spent an hour with that reporter and nothing I said ended up in the story” is a common refrain.   Or, “I don’t understand. I explained myself so carefully and the story’s just wrong.”

Why is it that sometimes the results of an interview seem to bear no relation to the interview you know you gave?  Because you gave too much.

The attorneys we’ve worked with are smart, educated and passionate about what they do.  The interviews they give often reflect the knowledge and zeal they have for the law.  But the flip side of all this knowledge is that attorneys often say too much.  They go into more detail than the reporter needs or cares to know.  Reporters for most news outlets have neither the time nor inclination to share an attorney’s passion for how laws come to be.  What they do care about is what the changes mean.  Whereas attorneys are often fascinated with the process of the law, reporters are only interested in the outcome.  That’s the key difference between attorneys and reporters and the source of frustration for both parties.

So, how do you get your words heard, understood and used by news reporters?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Use MAPS – Narrow the scope of your remarks to three to five main points. We call these your Must Air Points (MAPS).  Make sure you keep an eye on the clock so that you deliver all of your MAPS during the interview.  It’s perfectly fine to start an interview by asking a reporter how long it will last.  If you’re 20 minutes into an expected 30 minute interview and you’ve only delivered one of your three MAPS, you can say something like, “Before we go any farther, there are two other important points I wanted to make with you.  They are the keys to understanding this issue.”
  • Dumb it Down – Don’t assume that any reporter is as well-informed as you are. Explain everything from the layperson’s perspective.  Think of it as if you were speaking to a jury.  Avoid legal terms.  If you must use them, explain what they mean and why they are important to understanding the topics.
  • Be Succinct – Get to the point quickly.  You’ve probably heard that reporters want 20-second sound bites and nothing more. It’s now down to seven seconds.  Use this guideline for interviews with both print and electronic journalists and you will have a better chance of being quoted.
  • Use Visual Images – Paint verbal pictures as you talk.  It makes your words more memorable and more quotable.  For example, “My client’s employees do not leave their child care problems at home.  They cart them into work in a paper bag.”  After these statements, pause and give the reporter time to write down the “pearls of wisdom” you have just imparted.
  • Summarize – When you have covered a lot of ground it’s a good idea to summarize where you’ve been in the interview.  If the summary is good enough, it will help the reporter structure the story and give you a better chance of being part of it.
  • Examples – The magic words to reporters are: “Let me give you an example.”  Examples help them frame their story.  Concentrate on timely examples from your firm’s experience. If you can’t deliver that, consider a situation in the public eye that demonstrates your point.  If you use a client example, you will probably need to withhold the name but give enough detail so the reporter knows it’s a real example.  For example, “We worked with a manufacturer in Bridgeport that was dealing with this kind of labor situation.  Here’s what happened…”  Be aware, though, that the reporter may request an interview with this client who can illustrate an issue…  Real world examples give a story substance.  Whether or not you can supply these names is obviously a matter of your choice and consultation with a client.
  • Interest Makers – Use these phrases to grab a reporter’s attention.  They indicate that something important is going to be said.  When you approach these phrases, slow down.  When you finish with them, be quiet and give the reporter a chance to write down your comments.  These phrases include:
    • “What is important…”
    • “What this all means is…”
    • “The major point is…”
    • “The key to understanding that issue is…”
  • When You Just Don’t Know – When you don’t know the answer or if you are still working on the information, it’s okay to admit it to a reporter.  In fact, it’s better to tell them you’ll look into a tough question and get back to them than to fake it.  You want to remain in control of the situation and be recognized as an ongoing, reliable source of accurate information.  Make sure you deliver on all promised information before the reporter’s deadline.  If a reporter is counting on information from you and doesn’t receive it in a timely manner, that does nothing for your credibility or chances of getting another opportunity for an interview.

Fair and accurate coverage of your story is often enhanced by an effective interview with the attorney.   Media interviews give you and your clients the opportunity to get your story out to a large group of people through a trusted source.  Interviews also offer a valuable scenario in which to build relationships with reporters whom you may utilize again, long-term.

Comments, Questions, Answers, Suggestions?

aobston@aomc.com

860-243-1447

@aobston

http://www.facebook.com/AndreaObstonMarketingCommunications

http://www.LinkedIn.com/aobston

May 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm Leave a comment

Is Radio Still Effective?

By Andrea Obston, President, Andrea Obston Marketing Communications LLC.

Remember radio?  It’s words without the hassle of looking at pictures or video.  You just, well, listen.  And it’s still there, still credible and that’s something a lot of folks overlook in the stampede towards “All-Social-Media-All-the-Time”.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love social media.  You can’t beat it for the back-and-forth that drives the give and take of a good a marketing campaign.  It’s an awesome tool, but it’s just that – one tool.

But then there’s good old dependable radio – the credible companion that wakes us in the morning (please don’t tell me you  use Facebook to rouse you for the day) and keeps us company in our cars (when we’re not texting).  It’s the invited guest we actually listen to for a quick hit of news (yes, I do still tune in at the top and bottom of the hour if I’m in the car), contentious talk and unencumbered entertainment (yippee, we don’t HAVE TO respond!).

So, an appearance on a local or national talk show has its advantages and should have a place as one tactic in a PR plan.  Here a few tips to make the most of one of those appearances:

  • Pick three to five key messages you want to deliver – If you listen to the smooth and uninterrupted patter of talk or sport radio, it’s easy to think it’s all spontaneous and that you’ll just go with the flow if you’re interviewed.  Wrong!  I’ve seen the pre-show notes for a few people who this for a living and believe me they prep like crazy.  You’re not going to have to carry a whole show like these guys, but please don’t try to wing it.  Decide on only three to five selected points you will make so you can make the most of your time on the air.
  •  Put your messages in writing – I suggest you arm yourself with one 3 X 5 card for each key message plus one more.  You will spread these out in front of you as soon as you sit down to do the interview.  Why the “one-more”?  Because you’ll need that card for your website and telephone number.  Why?  Because you WILL forget one or both of them when they ask and then you have to make that stupid joke about not calling yourself.  That one was never funny.
  • Get in and get out – This is NOT a social interaction.  You have a limited time to make your points so don’t waste it asking about their health or commenting on the weather.  All interviewers know neither of you cares about these things, so cut to the chase.  And don’t linger at the end.  Get out clean with a “thank you” without blubbering about how much your appreciate them giving you the time.  By the time your segment’s winding down, the interviewer is already on to the next thing.  Respect that and move on yourself.
  • Expect the interview to be on the phone – Most radio interviews are done on the phone.  Make sure it’s a landline to insure voice quality and, for goodness sake, do NOT use a speaker phone.  You’ll sound like you’re doing the interview from a metal garbage can.  Also, I like to stand when I do one of these phone interviews.  It gives your voice more energy.  If you’re going to stand, please make sure you don’t pace during the interview.  I had one client who paced with such fury during an interview that the phone came perilously close to falling off the desk.

It is a weird irony that I am blogging in a Web 3.0 world about a medium that’s from the Web -1.0 world, but there you have it.  It’s old.  It’s effective.  People pay attention to it.  So, why not give it a place in your PR plans?

Comments, Questions, Answers, Suggestions?

aobston@aomc.com

860-243-1447

@aobston

http://www.facebook.com/AndreaObstonMarketingCommunications

http://www.LinkedIn.com/aobston

April 25, 2011 at 2:44 pm Leave a comment

“No Comment” is No Good

By Andrea Obston, President, Andrea Obston Marketing Communications LLC.

A whole blog post on “no comment”?  What is there to say?  Nothing.  Just say no to “no comment.”    

This seemingly innocuous phrase provides false comfort.  It can give the speaker the illusion of thinking “Well, that’s done with.  We said nothing.  The press has nothing, so the story’s dead.  They’ll leave us alone.”  Unfortunately that’s simply not true. Companies that think that a “no comment” will lead the reporter to drop the story haven’t dealt with many reporters.  A “no comment” from a company often entices reporters to dig deeper.  And those reporters will go elsewhere for sources, allowing company outsiders like competitors and disgruntled ex-employees to shape the coverage.  In short, companies that choose the “no comment” route in the face of a crisis give control of their reputation to others.

In addition, the phrase “no comment” sounds a lot likes “I’m guilty” to both reporters and the general public.  It says “I know I did something wrong, but you’re not going to get me to say what it is.”  Research shows that 58% of Americans equate “no comment” with “I’m guilty”.

Here’s an example:  In her book The PR Crisis Bible, Robin Cohn tells the story of an executive who ran into a well-known business reporter in the halls of his company.  “Excuse me,” the reporter said to the executive, “I just have one question.”  The CEO responded with a gruff “No comment” and literally fled the scene.  It turns out the reporter had an interview with someone in the company and needed directions to his office.  But the CEO’s “No comment” was so intriguing that the reporter went back to his office and started trolling the Internet looking for problems at the company.  He found them and eventually the story he did lead to a loss of confidence by investors and a drastic drop in the company’s stock.

The point is, that saying “No comment” does not make the matter go away.  It gives it sizzle in a reporter’s mind, making them wonder just what you’re trying to hide.  Let me give you a local example:  We worked with a property management company that was having troubles with a union.  Despite the fact that the NLRB cleared them of any violations, the union persisted in staging very public and theatrical demonstrations outside one of their buildings. One morning, my client received word that another demonstration was planned for the next day.  That afternoon, I received a message from the real estate reporter for the local paper.  The client’s attorney refused to let me call the reporter back to find out why she called, directing me instead to send a fax that said, “Management will have no comment about any labor actions.”  Within minutes, the reporter was on the phone to me.  “I didn’t know they had labor problems,” she said.  “I was calling you to set up an interview about the new owners of the building.  What’s really going on?”

Make no mistake: I am not advocating sacrificing a quick public response for an accurate one.  I’ve worked with enough attorneys to know that a premature statement by a company can have disastrous effects on both litigation and the company’s reputations.  But so can giving control of the story to someone else.  I’m reminded the case of a natural gas company in Pennsylvania whose delayed reactions to a leak resulted in the death of two people.  In the crisis management team meeting early that morning the CEO, public relations officer and in-house counsel, decided that the company would publicly accept responsibility for the tragedy, outline how and why it happened and explain how they had modified their procedures to prevent a repeat.  “We knew we’d have to accept responsibility for the accident,” the PR counselor told me.  “It was the in-house counselor who approved the strategy, feeling it would mitigate punitive damages because, as he put it, ‘Juries read newspapers, too.’”  It would have been easy for the company to issue a “no comment” after such a horrendous incident, but by going into a pro-active mode, they were able to take control of the story quickly.  Incidentally, 18 months after the incident they were honored by the city as one of its most credible corporate citizens.

I’m not advocating such a dramatic response to every crisis.  This strategy would be too extreme for many clients.  But, what I am saying is that there are ways to respond to a crisis, even early on, with phrases that do not shut off further communications with reporters and make them wonder what the company’s hiding.   Consider these alternatives to “no comment:”

  • “We do not have enough information to make a statement right now.”
  • “We cannot tell you anything new at this time.”
  • “We will be coming out with information about that on…”
  • “We are looking into that situation…”
  • “It would not be appropriate to say anything at this time.”

What’s the difference?  These phrases avoid delivering information that is premature while keeping the channels of communication open for a more appropriate time.  When the company understands the situation and has developed its strategy for managing the situation, attorneys and public relations professions can develop strategies together to present the situation in the court of public opinion.

Remember, the public judges the worthiness of a company by its behavior under pressure.  “No comment” is the quickest way to undermine that public trust, both today and tomorrow.   We can do better for our clients.

Comments, Questions, Answers, Suggestions?

aobston@aomc.com

860-243-1447

@aobston

http://www.facebook.com/AndreaObstonMarketingCommunications

http://www.LinkedIn.com/aobston

April 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm Leave a comment

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