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Highlights of Our February Event - Dollars & Sense: Effectively Communicating Financial Results

Dollars & Sense: Effectively Communicating Financial Results
Highlights of the February 6th Event

If you’re like most professional communicators, you hate working with financial figures, let alone having to write about them. We deal in words, not numbers. But numbers can tell a story too. And financial figures can be the key to unlocking the story of your organization…if you know how to look at them.

To make this topic less forbidding for communicators, the IABC NJ assembled a panel of experts in this area to share some insight on how they tackle this challenge. On Feb. 6, at The Library of Fairleigh Dickinson University, the panel presented various perspectives on communicating financial information to the press, the public, and internal employees, and answered many interesting questions from our engaged audience. On our panel included:

Bob Varettoni, Director of Corporate Communications, Verizon
Bob is Verizon’s chief media spokesperson on financial, strategic and governance issues and directs external communications support for other corporate functions. He also served on the IABC NJ Board for many years.

Melissa Daly, President of MFD Communications
Melissa is a consultant who has worked in financial and business communications for more than 20 years, including a stint at VP of Corporate Communications at Goldman Sachs. Her focus is on key message development and strategy around critical issues. Melissa is often quoted in the press and appears on CNBC and CNN as an industry commentator.

Laura Enderle, Manager of Employee Communications at BASF, North America
Laura develops content for internal executive messaging, corporate strategy communications, employee newsletters and digital signage. She is an experienced writer and editor, who is also passionate about good design and visual communications.

One thing that was clear from these speakers is that there are many different ways to come at this challenge, including using visual communications, as Laura Enderle demonstrated. So what were some of the key takeaways from their talks that can help when you are faced with having to translate complex financial and data-driven details into effective and engaging messages? We try to distill the most salient points for you next:

  • First and foremost, don’t be intimated. It’s not rocket science. Accounting and legal have your back. You are the writer, not the source of the numbers. Something as important as a press release on financial results will be triple-checked by the financial experts before it leaves the door.

  • Simplify, simplify, simplify…while this applies to almost all corporate communications, it’s especially important for financial messaging. Keep it conversational. You’re not writing an SEC filing.

    • What three points do you want to hit on? Be consistent with those and vary the supporting points as necessary. No matter how complex the whole picture may be, always bring it back to those three points.

  • Get familiar with your company’s 10-K/annual report, both the letter to shareholders and the agate-type financials, your company’s earnings releases, and SEC filings. These can be a treasure trove of information to help inform a communicator (once you get familiar with their type of content). Expect to get very cozy with these documents.

  • Avoid the spin-zone or create your own “no spin zone”. The corporate world is in the spotlight these days and big companies, especially, are favorite targets of politicians and others in the media. Don’t let them write your story. Stick to the facts and let the numbers tell the true story.

  • A picture says a thousand words…or perhaps a $1,000. Don’t under estimate the power of simple visual clues like a thumbs up or thumbs down, or an arrow pointing up.

    • BASF developed an easily customizable infographic for communicating quarterly earnings to its employees. With simple visuals like a thumbs up, along with other icons, they communicate information such as global sales, regional sales, market profit, sales and earning in different segments, as well as various KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that together indicate the overall health of the company. The infographic has been an extremely helpful tool that was well received by management and employees (and was a big hit with our audience).

  • When working with experts like CFOs your biggest challenge will be to keep them grounded. Their thoughts are filled with facts and figures and obscure financial terms and they will want to tell the audience all of them, at the same time. Coach your finance people on communications.

    • Work to pull those three key points mentioned earlier out of them, and show them how to connect those points to all the things they’re itching to say (or write) so that they can always bring it back to those, instead of going on tangents or getting too complex. This will help accomplish the second key point – simplify!

There was a lot more excellent wisdom shared during our panelists’ presentations, and some very thoughtful questions from our audience that brought out even more insight – too much to summarize here. We hope the above points give you a flavor of what was a very interesting event along with some helpful tips you can use.

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Staying Social - Media Relevant in the New Year

By Erica Martell

I just bought myself a new pair of pants one size smaller for two reasons:  One, I hope to lose some weight and two, I’m told that they’ll stretch.  This is a little bit how we all start our New Year isn’t it?  We set goals for ourselves that are somewhat uncomfortable, hoping that we’ll also stretch and adjust to them.

This brings me to my New Year’s topic:  How do we, as communicators, stay relevant with regard to our social media outreach?

I've noticed that when some approach a social media campaign they toss out all that they know about communications. I'm not sure why, but it's a mistake. The rules are the same: Keep the basics in mind.

  1. Know your audience:  Are they female or male?  Are they millennials or boomers?  What career level does your demographic fall into? 

  2. Do your research:  Look at where your groups live and breathe on social media, maybe this means doing a survey to a segmented group of your prospective list to find out.

  3. Pick a platform:  Start with a platform that you’re comfortable in and suits your audience.

  4. Video is the language of social according to Anna Gonzalez, Head of Social Media & Video, at Nasdaq.  Brands are becoming media companies which yields higher engagement and makes them more monetizable. Video also helps sell anything from products to services.

  5. Share or curate content that is relevant to your industry.  Comment or join a conversation in online discussion groups that are timely.

  6. Measure the ROI of social media for your brand.  Key performance indicators such as Google Analytics or open rates are often not given enough credit.  Knowing what worked or failed in your social media campaign will help you adjust your efforts going forward.

“Taking each of these points and making it a whole strategy will be key to your social media success,” claims Becky Livingston, CEO of Penheel Marketing. “Social media is not a set-it-and-forget-it deal. You have to monitor, measure, and adjust your strategy along the way—just as you would with any resolution or goal.”

Social media is a practice of regimen:  you must be consistent. Unless you represent a well- known and beloved brand, to have impact, you cannot dive in once in a while and expect people to follow you any more than you will fit into those new pants by dieting once a month.  Take it at your own pace.  As you get feedback from your followers, you’ll be encouraged to expand your social media initiatives.

Erica A. Martell is a marketer, content and business development writer and social media professional.  She generates leads and grows revenue for clients by working smart, even with the most challenging of budgets. She is also recognized for her traditional integrated marketing campaigns which include direct mail, e-mail and online. Skilled in the strategy and execution of key messaging and social media for B-to-B events, programs and services, she tells clients’ stories in a clear and compelling way to drive engagement and profits. 

As a consultant for EAM Marketing, she represents a range of companies in education, professional development and media services. Erica is a member of New York Women in Communications, (NYWICI), from which she received a Membership Empowerment Grant and holds a BA from Allegheny College.  She is an active participant in IABC and Toastmasters and an avid movie, culture and theater enthusiast.

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8 Things to Include in a Branding RFP By Lou Leonardis, Partner and Branding Creative Director at Trillion

Searching for a company to create or redesign your organization’s brand can be daunting. A good first step for finding the right resource is to generate a request for proposal, or RFP.

A carefully crafted RFP will create interest in your project, while clearly expressing your problems and goals. On the other hand, an RFP that is not well prepared could be disregarded and ignored by reputable creative teams. 

It is important to consider that the process of responding to an RFP is time consuming for branding companies; they will need to determine whether it is worth the effort to respond.

Some considerations include:

  • Whether they feel they have a good chance of winning,
  • If the project requirements clearly reflect their capabilities, portfolio and organizational set-up, and
  • The availability of a contact person to discuss the project with them.

The following tips define a proposal format that will reflect your organization's professionalism, provide the best information for your possible resopndents and make it easier to compare their responses when you receive them.  

1) Provide Your Company Background

Providing a high-level overview of your company and its history is important to help the branding companies understand more about your business. Include information about your “perceived” mission, vision and value proposition statements. I say “perceived” because you may need these defined or redefined by your branding company; they might not exist or may no longer be relevant. Either way, try to be as descriptive as possible in saying who you are, what you do, who you help, and how you help.

2) Define Your Problem or Challenge

Sometimes a brand can have internal or external issues — or both. Clearly define the challenges and issues your company is having. An example could be inconsistent messaging from business unit to business unit, or the fact that your brand is perceived as dated or irrelevant in the current marketplace. Explain the immediate problems as well as potential long-term problems that you foresee. Frequently, the branding and rebranding process reveals unknown issues that will need to be solved by the branding team.

3) Define the Scope of the Project

Clearly list specific deliverables or tasks you require, such as:

  • Conducting research (such as interviews, focus groups, surveys)
  • Auditing existing brand and marketing materials
  • Defining user personas
  • Creating an online brand guideline
  • Designing specific marketing collateral

You will want to identify the volume of content, number of applications, quantity of interviews or any other specifics the branding company should consider. Another option is to ask the branding company to define the scope as they see it as part of the RFP.

If you are unclear about the project scope, or need help defining it, specify your expectations by requesting a discovery phase with minimum requirements noted, such as the number of meetings or research that will be shared. Then list what you expect to learn from the discovery phase.

4) Define Your Ideal Candidate

Stating that you want to work with a team that is based within a specific geographic location or is of a certain size is helpful. You may want to require that all team members be employees of the branding company and not consultants or freelancers. You can also list your preferences for experience.

5) Define Your Selection Criteria

Defining how and when you will select finalists and determine the eventual winner of the bid is critical. Are you most interested in a branding studio’s portfolio? Relevant work samples? Or is price the most important deciding factor? Defining the key factors will help ensure that your expectations are met. To be fair to the branding companies responding, stay committed to your dates and keep them informed of any delays.

Additionally, I recommend requiring relevant samples of branding projects the branding company has completed. This basic request will show you the caliber of work of each of your respondents, as well as provide an opportunity to hear and see their process, as well as their success stories.

6) List Your RFP Process and Timeline

In order to compare branding proposals more effectively, it’s important to define how you want their proposals submitted to you, including due dates. Is email accepted? Does the file format need to be a PDF? Do you have file size limitations? Do you have a maximum number of pages? You may also require a specific outline format in addition to any naming conventions that are to follow.

It goes without saying that there will be questions. You should have specific protocols for incoming questions and the deadline for receiving them. In order to prevent you from answering the same questions over and over, it is a good idea to include a web link where applicant questions and your answers can be posted. Your website or Google Docs are great places for this.

7) Discuss Your Branding or Rebranding Budget

If you are able to clearly define the scope of the project, deliverables, timeline and requirements, you may be in a good place to define budgetary range. This range can help prevent wide pricing variations.

8) Pose Questions for the Branding Company to Answer

Presenting questions you may ask of your prospective branding company partner will help you gain insights into their thinking and culture and how it can relate back to your business. How the questions are answered can be helpful in the selection process.

The following are questions you should have your branding agency answer, in addition to having them provide a company overview and their accreditations:

  • What is your branding/rebranding process?
  • Why do you think you are the best branding company for the project?
  • Tell us about your leadership and creative team members.
  • What makes you different from your competitors?
  • Which of your team members will be doing the work?

THese tips help you avoid making RFP Mistakes

Omitting key information can lead to dramatically different proposals with tremendously wide variety of cost, resources and timeline. It could waste a lot of time for you and for the branding companies responding to your RFP. Including the right elements will help generate branding proposals that are similar enough for you to be comparing apples to apples.

About the author: Lou Leonardis is Partner and Branding Creative Director at Trillion, a creative studio that specializes in graphic design and web design with a focus on branding. He is a lifelong resident of New Jersey and brings nearly 20 years of design know-how to Trillion. His branding and graphic design work is published internationally and has been recognized with many awards and honors. Lou’s design education was at duCret School of Art as well as School of Visual Arts. You can find Lou and Trillion on Facebook and Twitter @trillioncreates.

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