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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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Expanding your connections in the IABC community

Expanding your connections in the IABC community

Amy Miller, IABC Heritage Region Chair

What do you want to do when you grow up?

When you were asked that question years ago, did you tell people you wanted to be a writer? A designer? A creative person? A strategist? Did people give you an amused smile or look at you like you were a hopeless dreamer?

Many of us came from that kind of start and found ways to get the right education and practical experience to turn our dreams into reality. Practical experience … like volunteering with the college newspaper or literary magazine. Volunteering for a non-profit. Volunteering to do communication work in a paid job that doesn’t officially include communication. Accepting low pay in an entry- level job as we “paid our dues,” grateful that we could live our dream, enjoying our work and barely paying off our school loans.

Along the way, we found IABC. Maybe it was the “international” aspect that sounded appealing. Perhaps it was the term “communicator” rather than another related discipline. Or maybe it was the people who brought us in.

Very shortly after I joined IABC in 2000, a board member in the local chapter asked me to volunteer as membership VP. She assured me that the work would be reasonable and it would be a great way to meet more people in the chapter. She was right. And I’ve never looked back. That role led to other volunteer leadership opportunities at the chapter and then the region level. Now, it’s hard to imagine working as a communication professional without being part of the IABC community.

It’s not that I’m outgoing. I tend to be introverted. But to thrive as a communicator, I need connection with others in our field—people who enjoy sharing ideas, trying new approaches and helping our peers. I believe we need to keep feeding our creativity and building our skills to bring our best to work every day.

When I moved away from my local chapter and became a member-at-large, I discovered how much IABC can help foster a strong virtual network. Now, as chair of the region board, I connect with professionals across our 17-state region regularly. We enjoy working on projects to support chapters and members. We meet regularly online and by phone. We help each other when job challenges arise. We learn new skills and gain leadership experience before we need it at work. And we form lasting friendships that transcend geographic boundaries.

We even enjoy getting together in person once in a while! This year I’ll see many IABC people at the Heritage Region Conference November 5 – 17 in Pittsburgh, PA. I encourage you to take a look at the website—and make a note in your calendar to check back in a month or so. We are finishing speaker selection now and will have much more information soon!

In conjunction with that event, the Heritage Region also holds a complimentary regional leadership Institute, providing an opportunity for chapter leaders to share best practices. I hope I’ll get a chance to meet some of you there.

As you think about the ways IABC can help you thrive, please consider volunteering in your local chapter. Volunteering—just a little, or more when you can—helps you get the greatest benefit from your IABC membership. As many experienced IABC volunteers attest, you really gain more than you give.

If you have volunteered locally and would like to enjoy some broader connections, you may want to explore opportunities on the region board. For example, past chapter presidents are ideal candidates to serve as chapter liaisons—helping a few chapters in different locations via email, phone, web calls and even in-person visits.

For each of us, IABC means learning, growing and sharing. I hope you enjoy making the most of your growing connections—locally and across our community.

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Getting Through the Resume Black Hole

By Debra Capua, Davis & Company

Going through the job search process is no easy task as recruiting continues to become more impersonal. But with persistence and know-how, you can stand out from the crowd. IABC NJ’s expert panel recently shared tips for landing the job of your dreams.  

1) Put your accomplishments front and center
Sandra Ille, Human Resources Business Partner for Bayer Corporation, an expert in talent acquisition, stresses the importance of having accomplishments related to the job you’re applying for at the top of your resume. That means that in addition to tailoring your key words to each job description, your accomplishments should clearly relate to the position you aspire to.

And have no fear if you’re looking to transition to a new career, have been out of the job market or are starting your career. You do have accomplishments to highlight. Think about what you’ve achieved and how it related to the job you are seeking.

If you’ve been taking care of an elderly parent, for example, highlight your financial acumen, negotiation skills (necessary for navigating through the home healthcare maze) and flexibility.  

In college? You have transferable skills from internships and part-time jobs.

2) Meet your audience’s needs
Recruiters are busy and have stacks of resumes to review. That means you have just 6 seconds to get the recruiter’s attention.

Sandy Charet, President of Charet & Associates, a Senior Recruiter for PR, Corporate Communications, Investor Relations, Employee Communications and related fields, says it’s crucial to make the resume easy to read. No one wants to go through pages of dense text, so keep it short, scannable and remember white space.

Knowing about those precious 6 seconds is another reason to focus on getting your accomplishments to stand out at the top of the resume.

3) Network, network, network
Ilene Kahn, Project Specialist at Davis & Company, is a savvy networker who recently joined this internal communication consulting firm after a career in publishing. She encourages job seekers to make the most of LinkedIn to find people who can introduce you to those who work at companies you’re targeting in your search. Ilene is also a firm believer in being creative and adding a personal touch, as long as you stay authentic.

All of our experts agreed on the importance of networking and building relationships, particularly before a job is posted. Do your research, target the companies you’d like to work for and forge relationships. Most people are happy to help.

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Grammar still counts: Why it matters and online resources to help

As we know, it's not only what you say, but also how you say it that matters. And as business communication advisors to our clients, we know that why it matters cannot be stressed enough.

Maybe it's that in today's fast-paced, deadline-driven and resource-tight work environment we think that nobody will notice a typo or grammar mistake here or there. Let's just get the job done and move on to the next! It's a new world of information overload after all, and who will really read the full text, word by word anyway?

Good grammar buildS trust; poor grammar erodes it

Over the past few years I've run across a definite increase in the number of sloppy communication mistakes, even from reputable newspapers and sites online. Where are the editors, you wonder? And does it leave the same shrill sound in your professional communicator ears as it does mine?

It's like running across that website or ad intended for the U.S. market that was clearly written by someone who didn't master the English language. It immediately appears of lesser quality, almost silly. Legitimacy is lost quickly and delivery of any intended message most likely pointless, not to mention that it tarnishes your brand!

Business communication mistakes do leave a lasting impression. Even with seemingly innocent and minor issues, it can lead an audience to question the level of authority, professionalism and ultimately trust they place in the person trying to convey a message. And once trust is broken and legitimacy is questioned, it becomes very hard to convince anyone to fully listen to what's communicated going forward.

While the misspoken word can oftentimes be more easily forgiven and forgotten, the written mistake endures, especially in our online world. So even with informal messages in email or social media, it's important to keep that keen eye on proper spelling and grammar since mistakes still have the potential to devalue your message and leave the impression you're quite OK with just winging it.

Here are a few common pet peeves of mine, where, after perpetual misuse, the correct usage can actually appear a little odd in cases. And although language is always in transition and exceptions exist, reinforcing the correct use of a word and knowing how to explain the difference to colleagues or clients — without sounding too arrogant — is vital for business communicators.

Further vs. Farther

The misuse of "further" and "farther:" The first is figurative and the latter refers to physical distance. Yet often we hear people say things such as, "I'll meet you further up the road."

Less vs. Fewer

"Less" is often interchanged with "fewer." The first is for quantities or qualities that can't be counted, the latter for quantities or units that can be counted. It's incorrect to say, "I have less days for vacation this year." A few exceptions do exist, but what I try to remember is that "less" is generally used with singular nouns, and "fewer" with plural nouns.

Then vs. Than

When to use "then" and "than" is frequently confused. Simply put, the first relates to issues of time ("He went to the bank and then the office."), the second is used with comparisons ("She has more patience than anyone I know.")

resources can help with grammar 

When in doubt, my trusted blue GrammarBook is where I go when I need help with grammar or punctuation questions. The easy search function helps pinpoint what I'm looking for and I like the many examples they offer in sentences to further clarify a rule. Grammar Girl is usually good for a quick, down-and-dirty explanation, whereas Grammarist is more analytical and provides greater background detail on a topic.

The expectation of professional communicators to use language correctly is especially relentless. Making grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistakes in our field can be downright embarrassing. And even though advising clients about their incorrect use of a word or spelling may be a delicate message to convey, you could be helping to save the reputation you've been trying to help them build all along.

It's safer to assume there will always be someone in your audience who will care about how your message is being communicated — about how precise your spelling, punctuation, and grammar are. We're specialists in communication after all, and if it's not our client's reputation on the line, it's our own professional reputation that is!

Alanna Fenner is a marketing communications professional with more than ten years of corporate communication experience, and holds a master's degree in international business.  She manages GreenView Communication, serving communication agencies and corporate clients in the New York / New Jersey area, and is on the board of the New Jersey chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. Find Alanna on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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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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10 Tips to Help Your Executive Look and Sound Great on Camera

 I once watched a brilliant, polished executive turn to jelly while taping an internal corporate video. She knew the subject matter back and forth, but she was really uncomfortable on camera: she rushed and stumbled her way through the teleprompter copy, voice quivering, hands shaking.

I was confused: In meetings, this woman was engaging and smooth, but on camera, she was suddenly stiff and awkward. Why?

Simple. Cameras, lights, microphones – and sometimes a crew of onlookers – just don’t feel natural. The camera is not a live person. There’s no interaction with it, no authentic connection. So unless you’re a broadcast professional who talks into a lens for a living, it can feel really weird.

Plus, with corporate videos, there are usually other execs or staffers in the room, and their presence can put the “performer” on edge. Let’s face it: A video camera – and the crew it comes with – can turn even the best public speaker into a Nervous Nelly.

It’s your job as a corporate communications professional to help your CEO tell the company’s brand story (either internally or externally) in a compelling way. So how do we get our execs to relax, stay on point, and even enjoy being the star of the show?

Here are 10 tips to help your executive be his or her best on camera:

1) Practice on a smart phone

For nervous execs, you may want to book some time ahead of the shoot to show up in their office with a smart phone or other visual recording device, and have them practice what they’re going to say. It doesn’t matter that they’re looking into a smartphone for practice before using a bigger camera for the actual taping. All that matters is that they’re getting used to the feeling of talking to a lens instead of a human being. The screen size doesn’t matter, but the act of talking to it does. This will get them primed and ready for their close-up, and as they practice going through the motions, they will feel more at ease.

Record this practice. They can play it back to see their on-camera presence: the way their hands move, or if they have a nervous tic, or if there’s something in their mannerisms that they want to correct before taping. Practice it again and again, and work to correct any stumbling points. Most people have no idea that they tend to make a certain facial expression, eye movement, or hand gesture while talking. These are subtle, unconscious tics that can be corrected with practice, once they’re pointed out.

2) Help them understand the format

If the video isn’t being sent out live, as is often the case with many internal videos, don’t be afraid to tell the crew to stop during taping. Remind your CEO that he can simply start a sentence over if he makes a mistake. He just needs to pause, take a breath and pick it up from the sentence before – that’s all the editor needs to make a clean cut, and just like that, poof! Stumble erased.

If your CEO didn’t notice he made a mistake, but you did, then it’s up to you to tell the crew to stop, and take it again. Of course, you may not want to interrupt a long-form roundtable-type interview, because it could throw off the flow of the conversation. In that case, make a note of what he said and ask him to stay for a moment after the show, so he can re-tape that sentence, if the mistake is crucial. Editors can work magic, particularly if there is video to cover the edit. If it’s not a serious mistake, let it go, because the viewer will forgive natural stumbles in conversation.

3) Let your CEO Shine on Camera – but not literally!

Makeup is key for both men and women. Just some powder for the men – simple and easy. It does make a difference; you don’t want a shiny head to distract viewers from the message. Explain to your CEO and guests that each and every aspect of the show is being executed in a highly professional manner, and makeup is part of its flawless execution.

4) Include a host or MC

If you’re planning a long-form roundtable interview on camera, or a Town Hall, for example, try to select a host who’s familiar with the company’s products and services. A host will handle all the on-camera logistics, while directing the flow of the show. He or she can open and close the show, moderate the agenda, listen for cues from the control room, keep track of time, and much more. This makes everything look smooth and polished. There’s no guesswork for the CEO and her guests because they’re only answering questions from the host. The production flows smoothly, and the guests only need to show up and talk about their favorite content.

5) The teleprompter is your friend

In fact, it can be your best friend, even if your CEO says he hates it. Just make sure your executive gets a chance to practice with it. Timing and pacing are really important, and if he takes a few minutes to practice reading from it, he’ll feel confident in no time. The added benefit to reading from a prompter is that you know he’ll stick to the script, word for word – and that eliminates wasted time having to stop and re-tape something that was inaccurate.

Remind your executive of the need to read slowly. Even when you tell your CEO not to speed, she’ll do it anyway, because the temptation is to rush it, in order to get through it faster. She doesn’t even know she’s doing it.

6) Have the crew “roll” on rehearsal

Be sure your guests show up early and sit on the set while you check shots and mic levels. Here’s where you can loosen them up – a lot. Record this pre-show chitchat. Sometimes, they say something golden that you can use later in editing (and quite frankly, this is where some CEOs deliver their best information.) But they’re also getting the butterflies in check here. The goal is to get the guests to relax, so that their conversation has a much smoother flow. Talk about anything – if they start talking about subjects that interest them, before taping, it eliminates the stiff look and feel of having them sit around quietly waiting for the cameras to roll.

7)  If it’s possible, and appropriate, use humor during the taping

It doesn’t have to be anything over the top, but a clever observation, or a quick-witted comment can evoke smiles and laughs, and that just puts the whole “cast” at ease, making for a much more fun and engaging segment.

8) Natural is better than corporate speak

Lose the corporate jargon, and the heavy corporate voice/tone; the read should be friendly and conversational. If you have to, tape a picture of someone funny/friendly to the side of the teleprompter if it helps the subject relax and read more naturally. The goal is to have them read as naturally as possible, so it doesn’t look stiff, awkward and too corporate.

9) Clear the room

Make all on-lookers leave the room, if possible. A lot of executives will be reading off the prompter while subconsciously thinking more about who’s looking at them instead of concentrating on the work they need to perform. This can unwittingly cause them to stumble, and lose their place. Clear everyone out who doesn’t need to be there, and let your executive have some space.

10) Break up the talking heads with video Cutaways

Find time to record pictures and video that pertain to the script. These can become video cutaways that make the video more interesting, as opposed to just showing your CEO on camera for the whole time. Cutaways can also fill in when the audio works and the video doesn’t, or to mask a need for an edit. The end result is also more engaging.

Keep it short, sweet and “snackable." No one can stay tuned in to a 10-minute video anymore. Make sure there's a version that's condensed down to about 1:30; you'll have more of a chance to get your message across to employees. Some formats (like roundtable video shows) need a longer window of time. In those cases, gather as many visual cutaways as you can before the show. An editor can cut to a picture or video while the conversation flows, making the show much more interesting.

With a little bit of practice and a few small tweaks, your boss will thank you for helping her enjoy the process!

Monica Brown is a corporate storyteller for a Fortune 500 technology company. A former television journalist, she enjoys helping companies tell their brand-defining stories through video and digital platforms. Monica lives in Pearl River, NY with her husband and two children. You can find Monica on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter @brownmonica1.

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A Professional Speechwriter Offers Lessons from Political Conventions

Anyone who has watched even a small portion of the political convention coverage these past two weeks would realize that there are speeches and there are Speeches.

As corporate communications professionals, we are often called upon to help leaders prepare and deliver carefully crafted messages, not unlike what is done at these conventions. The topics may differ, but the concepts are similar.

What can corporate communicators learn from the orators at the conventions? Quite a bit, according to Joellen Brown, a professional communicator and chief speechwriter for Verizon's chairman and CEO, Lowell McAdam.

“I love conventions,” she says. “They’re like Bonnaroo for speechwriters.”

We asked Joellen to consider what the conventions can teach us about a successful speech. Here are some of her thoughts.

On Melania and Michelle

Two thoughts. First, plagiarism is surprisingly easy to commit. The best defense – besides good software – is having an original thought. Second, when I heard Melania deliver the purloined section, I thought, “platitudes.” When I saw Michelle Obama deliver the same lines, they were still platitudes, but suddenly they came alive through the power and sincerity of her delivery. Amazing how passion can redeem even the most banal of sentiments.

On Michelle Obama

And when that passion is married to words that paint a picture, the result is pure magic. Why did this speech stand out? Because we felt like she was talking to us from her heart. She brought us into her life (that picture of her girls getting into the Secret Service limo, of her daughters playing on the lawn of a house built by slaves). She showed us what’s at stake (vote for your children’s future). She asked for the sale (“Let’s get to work”). All in her own voice, with an emotional investment in her message that radiated across a huge auditorium.

On how to begin a speech

Aristotle was right. The first words in Bill Clinton’s speech were: "In the spring of 1971 I met a girl." No "happy to be heres," no "I’m going to tell you three things," no clearing-your-throat intros to give the audience a chance to settle in. Bill Clinton started, per Aristotle, in medias res – in the middle of things – and did what good speakers do: he told a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end … and a moral.

On the differences between men and women as speakers

Apparently on Mars you’re allowed to shout. On Venus you’re not. Just saying.

On overcoming challenges

Want to see someone wrestle cultural norms to the ground and win? Watch this: the speech Anastasia Somoza gave at the Democratic convention.

On the importance of the messenger

In corporate speechwriting, we tend to think that a speech is about the information it contains or the point of view we’re selling. But almost two weeks’ worth of speeches remind me that the most important message is the speaker herself or himself. Every time your CEO speaks without a teleprompter, or shows up in sneakers and a polo shirt, or talks in English rather than corporate-speak, or shows he/she can take a joke, it says something to the audience … not just about his or her own personality, but about the culture of your institution.

On speaking in the age of instant sharing

Speeches used to be ephemera, or at least they would live on as oral history or urban legends. But now they live on in a multitude of forms and are subject to the instant-replay, instant-analysis that we associate with sporting events. It puts even more pressure on speakers who aren’t Meryl Streep or Lebron James … or, dare I say it … Donald Trump – to compete with the pervasive celebrity culture we swim in 24x7. 

On performance

In an era when “messaging” is supposed to be conveyed in 140 characters and we’re told that people have the attention span of fruit flies, it’s good to be reminded that there’s still a place in our public discourse for The Speech: a long-form piece of writing that reveals the speaker’s intellectual concerns, vision of the future, and if we’re very lucky, his or her emotional center. But of course, it’s not just a piece of writing – a speech is also a performance. Standing in front of an audience, subjecting yourself to the public gaze, inviting scrutiny of your clothes, your hair, your voice, your mannerisms is both an intensely personal form of self-revelation and a confrontation with powerful cultural norms, many of them about gender and physical abilities. The speechwriter can help make the narrative itself successful. But only the narrator can do the rest.

Joellen Brown is the chief speechwriter for Verizon's chairman and CEO, Lowell McAdam, and leads a team of executive communicators responsible for strategic messaging, positioning and placement for Verizon's C-suite executives and for coordination of executive messaging across the company through the Verizon Speaker Bureau. Joellen is a Verizon veteran, having written speeches for the CEOs of Verizon and its predecessor companies for longer than she cares to admit.

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Event Recap: Obtaining and Enhancing a Career in Corporate Communications

On February 24, IABC NJ, together with Rutgers University and the Rutgers PRSSA chapter, hosted a panel session on “Obtaining & Enhancing a Career in Communications.” Bob Varettoni, Director, Corporate Communications at Verizon; Sandy Charet, CEO of Charet & Associates; and Deidre Breakenridge, CEO of Pure Performance Communications, participated on a panel to offer advice for PR students and professionals.

Each panelist had about 10 to 15 minutes to discuss the most important career advice based on their own professional experiences. Here are the highlights of our panel session, as posted on Deidre’s website.

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By Bob Varettoni

Observing George Washington’s birthday today, I can’t tell a lie:

When my colleagues on the IABC-NJ Board, Kristin Federico Nestor and Jeryl Turner, first suggested a professional development event called “Obtaining and Enhancing a Career in Communications,” I thought a more honest title might be “Finding a Unicorn and Teaching It to Fly.”

After all, great comms jobs are hard to find and harder to excel at. And the ever-changing nature of what a career in communications looks like these days is not for the faint of heart.

But Kristin and Jeryl are fearless — and well-connected. They’ve lined up two of the industry’s best to lead an informal panel at the Rutgers University School of Communications & Information in New Brunswick on Wednesday evening, Feb. 24.

When it comes to “obtaining a career in communications,” there’s no better expert than Sandy Charet, who has been recruiting for the PR and corporate communications industry for over 20 years. As president of Charet & Associates, based in Bergen County, she has led her firm to grow along with the changes and developments in the communications industry. She regularly places top talent in fields such as digital content, integrated marketing, social media, employee engagement and corporate social responsibility.

When it comes to “enhancing a career in communications,” there’s no better expert than Deidre Breakenridge. If you were at IABC-NJ’s spring social last May, you know she’s an entrepreneur and the CEO of Pure Performance Communications. A 25+ year veteran in PR and marketing, Deidre is the author of five Prentice Hall and Financial Times Press books. Based in New Jersey, she speaks nationally and internationally on the topics of PR, marketing, branding and social media.

As keynote speaker at our chapter’s spring social, Deidre asked, “Are You the Modern Day Communicator?” She stressed that the future of communications is now, and emphasized how as communicators we must drive that future. Sandy has also been a friend to our chapter. At a career development seminar this past July, she encouraged the audience to work with purpose and passion, pointing out how job candidates are often more concerned about salary and title. She closed with a favorite quote from Confucius: “If you choose the job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

I’ll have the pleasure of joining Sandy and Deidre on the panel at Rutgers on Feb. 24. I plan to provide the perspective of someone who has been lucky enough to have spent a long career in communications. I’ll likely mention the value of professional development, and the value of organizations such as, well, IABC-NJ.

With constantly updated skills and a supportive professional network, you may find that building a career in communications really isn’t unicorn-impossible. It does take some work, though. It might be right up there in difficulty with finding true love and making it last.

But I know that’s possible too. After all, I was reminded of this just yesterday, on Valentine’s Day.

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