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A New Approach to Generating Ideas Faster and Putting Them into Action --Rob Marzulli, associate director, Communications Strategy and Editorial, The SPI Group.

How do five strangers build a better wallet in three hours?
They co-create.

At the March IABC/NJ event participants learned how to co-create from an expert, Pinaki Kathiari, chief executive officer of Local Wisdom, a digital design, development and content production firm. I attended the event with about 20 other communicators.

Co-creating is when a team improves a product or idea. This process helps you generate ideas faster, refine them and try them out. Pinaki explained seven Dos and Don’ts of co-creation. Participants broke out into four creative groups and put these principles to use by trying to build a better wallet.

To start, a team should bring the right people together. That means including people with diverse perspectives who have a strong working relationship with each other.

To build that rapport, every member of the four creative teams reviewed a chart of personality types, picked two that best characterized him/her and explained that choice to his/her team mates. This exercise helped each team learn about their colleagues. It’s also intended to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their opinion.

Create an Inspired Vision
Another principle Pinaki spoke about was creating an inspired vision among team members. Doing this requires the creative team to know their customer and his/her pain points. The team leader should communicate that vision to help the customer in a memorable way. Think of Steve Jobs.

For example, while my team didn’t have a leader, we followed through on this principle by asking a colleague to be our customer. Bob volunteered and showed us his “George Costanza” wallet — bursting with cards and receipts. We asked Bob how his wallet could be better. He said its thickness made the wallet uncomfortable to carry. Sometimes it slipped out of his pocket.

Don’t be Afraid to Fail Fast
Fail fast, fail cheap, succeed sooner was another principle Pinaki explained. In a nutshell, you need to get your ideas out in an actionable way and see what happens.
Using felt, Velcro and construction paper, my team designed a prototype wallet. We zeroed in on Bob’s concerns by making it modular. Bob only carried the section he needed. We put treads on the outside to prevent it from slipping out of his pocket. Other teams created a wallet where the customer’s driver’s license popped up, making is easier to show ID; a third wallet hung from the customer’s neck.

Following Pinaki’s principles helped us develop ideas, visualize them and make a prototype. As a communicator who needs to deliver solutions at an increasingly faster pace, co-creation is a great tool to get the job done. What approach does your team take to co-create? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Rob Marzulli, associate director, Communications Strategy and Editorial, The SPI Group.

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3 Ways Communicators Can Help Combat Cybercrime

Cybercrime goes beyond just losing money and compromised personal data. Organizations – whether a business, a non-profit or a government – have far more to lose. Industrial espionage, activist attacks, disrupting the enterprise, outright terrorism or beyond, and every company has probably been targeted or is a target right now. ??

It’s not just about technology
But cyber terrorism isn’t really just a technology problem, says Michael Zimet, a member of the Board of Governors of InfraGard, an FBI partnership with the private sector that focuses on information sharing and learning opportunities to promote cyber awareness and advance national security. It’s a people problem. Up to 90 percent of data breaches start with a person giving an attacker access to a computer network via a phishing attempt   

Malware can be embedded in almost every file type, and our world is already under what Zimet calls “cyberstress” – which can let defenses down. It’s a costly issue. With more than $5 million paid for ransomware, a compromise of business email costing $2.3 billion and the toll of economic espionage is up to $1 trillion. One 2017 estimate puts the cost of all cybercrime topping $2 trillion, with a projected bill of more than $6 trillion annually by 2021.

The role of internal communications
So how can communicators help? Helping build cyber awareness and sensitivity in an organization is where communications comes in, says Zimet. He shared three key priorities in his session with IABC New Jersey in October:

  1. Educate. Help employees know their role in protecting the organization and why cyber vigilance is needed, not only at work, but at home. ?
  2. Deliver. Use simulated exercises to test a person’s ability to detect attacks of social engineering and know the risks.?
  3. Communicate. Sustain awareness of security and provide tools to drive positive behavior.?

Partner with IT
The goal is to drive behavior change amid an ongoing environment of learning. This is where the partnership between IT and communications comes in. Zimet says to be sure to ask:

  • What problems have they seen/experienced? ?
  • What is their greatest concern, exposure? What are the risks? ?
  • What’s most important for employees to learn/do? ?

Elements of a good cybersecurity awareness program also include executive support, funding and the tone set from leaders; defined and understood audiences; a foundation to build upon and sustain cybersecurity awareness; and creativity.

IT provides the tools, while communications provides the mindset.

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Even More Reasons to Join IABC or Renew in October

Regardless of your career stage, IABC membership expands on your (or your team’s) ability to deliver a higher standard of professional communication.

IABC membership allows you (or your team) to stay on top of business communication trends and critical developments. This expands your ability to ensure your organization’s voice remains relevant, informed and proactive. Membership in IABC helps you (or your team) increase the effectiveness of your business communication to expand the impact you have on your organization’s business results.

To Join, click HERE

To Renew, click HERE

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Tell Me … What Do You Do?

Our guest blogger this month is IABC NJ member Laina Minervino, find her at https://lainaminervino.com/

My family and friends often ask me “what do you do all day”? Not that they question if I go to work but more so because they don’t understand what a business communicator does. Business communicators can be writers, strategists, content managers, public relations specialists, marketers or people with skills in each of these areas.

However, unlike, doctors or nurses or plumbers or teachers, there really is no clear definition of what communications professionals do. And television or movie characters don’t help because they just show glamourous people doing something in an office or running around town after a high-powered executive or someone that is just a “fixer” for corporate issues.

Here’s a quick look at how to answer the “What do you do?” question:

1. We are storytellers. Whether it’s for a customer, a reporter, an investor or an employee, we are the craftsman (and woman) building the message, framing the story. We’re the masters of engagement … and wordsmithing.

2. We see the big picture and help leaders see it too. In many situations, communicators have their fingers on the pulse of the organization, industry and community. We know what is working well and what isn’t. We guide the conversations to support the company and leadership mission.

3. We are idea generators and problem solvers. Doing the same things over and over is not only the definition of insanity; it is also boring. Communicators need to find the balance between traditional activities and breaking through the clutter that inundates the industry, the investors and employees. Innovation is critical but so is finding the solution to a multitude of things from bad press to unhappy customers to negative employee morale.

4. We are relationship builders, negotiators and peacemakers. A good healthy dose of emotional intelligence is a good personality characteristic for business communicators. We’re often in the position to influence – the media, the conversation, the direction of an employee program – but that means we must build relationships, understand a wide-range of personalities and how to mediate.

5. We are multitaskers. With more companies looking to do more with less, communications teams are often small which results in a great deal of work done by a few people. The work consists of planning, strategy, writing, editing, coordinating with vendors, reporting on what we’ve accomplished and even ordering food for meetings or making sure microphones work at events.

How do you describe what you do? Do you have insights or ideas about what business communicators do – or should do? Share your thoughts here.

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IABC NJ Spring Social Shows How Comedy Can Enable Standout Communications

Comedy can enable standout communications... it comes with risk, but can bring great rewards.

That’s how Chip Ambrogio characterizes the use of humor in strategic communications, both inside and outside an organization. The award-winning communicator, comedian and comedy writer provided insights on leveraging the power of the laugh to educate and inspire during IABC New Jersey’s recent Spring Social. The social brought together nearly 50 New Jersey communications professionals, both IABC members and beyond, May 17 at the Basking Ridge Country Club. ??Chip’s background as a stand-up comedian and comedy writer includes writing for the Friars Club Roast, TV and film, and many of today's top performers. He has successfully used that experience to add appropriate humor and fun to a diverse corporate communications. He showed how appealing to an audience’s funny bone can raise awareness, create a sense of community, enhance performance and align with an organization’s corporate mission.

But, first, about those risks, which are office politics and egos, the chance of stepping on toes, navigating areas of diversity and inclusion, to name a few. Comedy is subjective, and some people are literal. Balance those with the rewards – using humor can stand out from traditional tactics. It can also create connection on multiple levels – whether it’s great writing, great performance or a strong emotional appeal. Great comedians – Robin Williams, Richard Pryor and George Carlin – mastered each of these, respectively, Chip shared.

Chip’s own comedic journey began nearly a quarter century ago when he was in a job he hated. An advertisement for a comedy class in the Village Voice caught his eye, and he entered the world of stand up. At the same time, he began a new job in communications.

“For the last 23 years, I’ve been dealing with difficult audiences, prima donnas and with hecklers, and then of course there was the stand-up,” Chip says. “But the more I did stand-up at night and communications during the day, the more I saw the connection – the cross-over skills – where comedy could help me with my day job.” Chip’s takeaways included:

  • Write for the stage, not for the page. Be conversational, be engaging and humanize the perspective.
  • Get to the point, and do it fast. Writing a great joke is about getting from the set-up to the punch line as fast as possible. The approach also applies to communications tactics.
  • Make the core message clear. Great communication and great comedy is stripping down to the connection … to what the audience can take home with them.
  • Comedy lets you create characters and tell a story. “By putting the characters in similar situation as the audience, we build empathy and understanding, and get them to laugh,” says Chip. “It’s less parental and more organic way to get the word out.”
  • Take risks, and enjoy success.
  • All you really need is that first one to work. You need someone to believe and then deliver on it.

According to Chip, learning to use humor appropriately in a corporate situation is an art, but if you're willing to take a chance the benefits are many. After all, comedy can elicit an emotional reaction much more than any email can. Seinfeld would say if an audience does not laugh at a joke, it means they do not like the joke. It does not mean they do not like me. Chip adds: “That fearlessness allows you to open doors, get buy-in on projects other people may be afraid to pitch, and open up new ways to connect with your audience.” Thank you to IABC New Jersey Spring Social cocktail opening hour sponsor Davis & Company, as well as IABC sponsors Spi Group, Monmouth University, Fairleigh Hickinson University, BMW Morristown and HomeAdvisor. Find out more about IABC New Jersey, join and get involved at the IABC New Jersey website.

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An inside look at Verizon’s Innovation Lab and how emerging technology can change how the world connects

by Malecia S. Walker

As the speed of communications becomes more crucial to business, busy professionals don’t have time to wait for their mobile devices to perform.

At April’s IABC New Jersey professional development event, business communicators got a look into how new technology might affect the way the world works. As part of “Future Tech and the Future of Communications,” Verizon offered a tour of its Innovation Lab in Bedminster, N.J., on April 26, which included a peek – and at times no pictures, please – at developments in mobile communications technology, such as 5G.

Howie Waterman, media relations lead for wireless networks and technology at Verizon, and Lutz Erhlich, director of device performance, offered some insight to attendees before the group split up for tours.

“We always try to be ahead of the curve,” Waterman said of Verizon’s efforts with 5G, which is being tested in 11 U.S. cities and is expected to bring faster speeds and shorter wait times to device users.

To highlight the evolution of mobile phones today, Erhlich asked the group to take out their phones, look at a slide of an old newspaper ad from RadioShack, then determine the relationship between the phones and the products in the ad.

“Everything except the microwave” is in the smartphone, he said.

Although the process is extensive, evaluations of new devices are done within a three-week time period, Erhlich added. A device’s path to consumers includes simulating locations with background noise and field testing in situations like driving (presumably hands-free).

If a manufacturer’s device fails on multiple fronts, Waterman said, Verizon will not allow it to reach its retail storefronts or retail website.

On the tour, communicators saw firsthand what devices go through. Tests are performed early (repeated as much as 20 times) to see how well batteries withstand shock if, for example, a user touches something that generates static electricity. Products are tumbled by a machine then visually inspected for damage. A second chamber drops devices six times on multiple sides onto a steel plate at the bottom. If those tests aren’t passed, they go back to the manufacturer.

But if they make it past that point, the devices are tested for other qualities like sound clarity -- in a soundproof room, of course -- using male and female voices in different languages. A room is also exclusively used to test various antennas.

What does all this mean for the future of the communications profession? Time and network speed will tell.

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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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