Archive for October, 2012

Breaking News That Has Already Been Broken: The Consequences of Poor Timing

By Samantha

Every four years the world gathers together to watch the Summer Olympic Games.  This summer, however, anger and frustration often overshadowed excitement.  The timing of news releases is becoming increasingly more important as communication platforms expand, and this summer no one learned that lesson harder than NBC.  NBC’s choice to delay airing main Olympic events until primetime hours allowed for others, such as athletes and people in other countries, to tweet the results long before Americans could watch for themselves.  Twitter’s rapid increase in popularity begs the question, how do companies communicate breaking news when the breaking news has already been broken? The debate over NBC’s Olympic coverage identifies strategies that can help companies adapt to social media’s impact on the timing of communication.

Control: For NBC, control over the communication of Olympic results was directly correlated to the time difference in London, a factor that NBC had little control over.  NBC chose to delay broadcasting main events of the Olympics until primetime in order to maximize advertising revenues and accommodate the schedules of many working Americans.  Companies often encounter a variety of factors that influence when they choose the timing of their communication.  What NBC and other companies must realize and adjust to, however, is that in today’s social-media world the audience and customers can choose the timing of communication too. 

Timing: The ability to constantly update Twitter and Facebook allows the audience to stay current with news regardless of whether or not companies have chosen to break the news yet.  For NBC, people tweeting results long before it chose to air the results led to angry viewers and the popular hash-tag #NBCfail.  But if the results are spoiled, whom should be blamed?  If viewers don’t want to find out results isn’t it their responsibility to avoid using platforms that might reveal them? Apparently not, as generations become increasingly comfortable with using social media on a daily basis, people will inevitably come across news whether by choice or by accident. Viewers, therefore, found NBC responsible for improving the timing of airing the Olympics, and NBC suffered the backlash of angry and sarcastic viewers, as reflected in the following tweets:

Moving forward: So how should companies adjust their communication to balance both profits and customer satisfaction? In order to find this balance companies need to:

  • Be aware of the different news platforms: Gone are the days when one news outlet could break a story. Now anyone can use platforms such as Twitter or Facebook to tell the world anything at anytime. Companies need to be aware that their control is decreasing.  As a result, companies need to predict when customers might find out information on their own and companies must reflect those predictions in their timing decisions.
  • Learn what the audience wants: In the case of NBC, the company did not realize the demand for airing live Olympic coverage.  Companies need to learn what their audience wants and adjust the timing of their communication appropriately.  If viewers want to see the Olympics live, maybe NBC could have televised the coverage live and then re-televised it during primetime hours.

Overall, finding perfect timing in a world that offers little control is hard; therefore, many companies are having a difficult time adjusting. What NBC has taught us, however, is that as social media becomes increasingly popular, companies cannot release information on their own schedule; instead, they must cater to the demands of an audience that is constantly consuming information.  While airing tape-delayed primetime results was not a huge problem four years ago, now, in 2012, it is.  In order to decrease backlash, companies need to update their methods to stay current with the ever-changing platforms of communication that influence consumer demand.

October 31, 2012 at 3:06 pm 1 comment

Coaching Professional Athletes On and Off the Field

By Brian Holberton

In 2011, Jerry Richardson, the owner of the Carolina Panthers, had a huge choice to make when deciding on which player to choose for the number-one overall pick in the draft. The fan favorite and sports analyst projected number-one pick was Cam Newton. Newton was coming off one of the most impressive college seasons ever as a quarterback with a national championship under his belt along with a Heisman trophy. Cam Newton seemed to be an entirely different quarterback than the NFL had ever seen. He had the speed of a running back combined with the size of a defensive line backer and the arm of Brett Favre. A complete tool player with one downside, he had a history of scandals and broken rules in the NCAA. Newton’s questionable history seemed to arise in every owner and general manager’s head throughout the NFL. Richardson, the owner of the team since the Panthers formed, has built his organization around one principle, character. Richardson knew that Newton was a great football player. Newton’s ability was not the doubt Richardson had when choosing the first pick. The doubt in the back of Richardson’s mind was whether or not Cam Newton was a man of character. Would he be able to lead his team to a championship but also have a positive image in the eyes of the fans? As we all know, the Panthers did select Cam Newton as the first overall pick, but something was different. In the owner’s first meeting with Cam, they did not speak about his future on the field; they spoke about his future off the field. Richardson wanted Newton to know from day one that his image had to change. To help change his image, the Panthers, just like many other professional organizations, enlisted the help of Big Crowd Communications, a professional-athlete communication training organization. Why would Richardson enlist the help of a communications professional for his star quarterback in the NFL?

Off-the-Field Training

Big Crowd Communications is an organization that helps to give athletes a positive image in the eyes of the public by teaching them proper communication skills. Athletes today not only have to train for on-the-field play but also off-the-field play. Skills such as interviewing, public speaking, and public appearances become a huge part of athletics once athletes become famous. Athletes like Cam Newton are prime candidates for being taught the proper way to respond in certain situations by these organizations. Internet and social media communication today is so fast that something said in an interview can be seen by millions of people in one day. Last year, Nyjer Morgan, a Milwaukee Brewers outfielder, changed his public image completely when he dropped the “F word” three times in an interview on national television. Morgan could learn to avoid the errors evident in this short 20-second interview if he gets the proper training. With such a large population following professional athletes, teams such as the Panthers have mandatory sessions with rookie players to teach them the proper way to handle any situation. The players reflect the organization that they play for, and owners want their players to reflect the good qualities they have. A simple way to make sure the players reflect good qualities is to teach them effective communication skills.

The Rules Have Changed

Tabloids and reporters are ruthless this day in age. Reporters can twist a comment for a good story. These twists are a main reason for having communication training for athletes. Scandals are at an all-time high within every sport, and athletes need to know not only how to give an intelligent interview but also protect themselves from media exaggerations. Communication skills not only apply to business-world settings anymore but to almost every job environment imaginable, especially the athletic world. When watching professional sports interviews, most people would never realize that these athletes have been trained to respond to the media. A well-known stereotype is that athletes are not the most intelligent people. A lot of professional athletes skip some of the college years to turn professional, which results in less education. This stereotype is reinforced if you turn on ESPN and listen to some of the professional athletes. Proper English, grammar, and basic talking skills are lacking in some athletes across every sport. In today’s world, failing on the field is not enough; reporters might attack every aspect of an athlete–including communication skills. Knowing or not knowing the best way to respond to any question or situation can help or hurt an entire organization. That is why professional sport owners spend top dollar to teach athletes proper communication skills. Communication-oriented positions are not the only jobs that need communication skills anymore. These skills have grown in importance within the fast-paced job world and today are needed in almost every job environment, including professional sports.

October 31, 2012 at 2:49 pm 3 comments

Practice Makes Perfect

By Trisha Turlington

Practice. It’s the part of playing a sport that everyone dreads, the part of studying for a math exam that no one wants to actually do, or even the part of baking when you can’t take kitchen shortcuts. Practice is what makes us better at the things we do, but for some reason, myself included, nobody ever wants to practice. We all want to cut right to the chase, assume we have it all under control, and believe we will be able to perform the right actions on the very first try. And then, when it all comes down to it, how many times have we looked back and said, “Man, I wish I had put in a little practice…”?

Why Practice?

Practice takes time. Practice takes an extra effort. And, most importantly, practice takes failing or messing up, time after time, until you’ve mastered your task up to the standards that you expect. We all have this erroneous perception in our heads that we do not need to practice. We believe that we know what we are doing and when it comes time to perform, we will be just fine. How many times do we have to mess up before we realize where we went wrong? The answer is practice. We didn’t practice at all, or we just didn’t practice enough.

Case in Point

How many times have we watched a basketball game where an 80% free-throw shooter misses a free shot with 5 seconds left and the game on the line? The game ends 81-80. The underdog team lost its one and only chance to upset the leading team in the league. The situation ends as the player walks into the locker room after the game thinking, “If I had only stayed after practice one more time and shot an additional 10 free throws, maybe the game would have had a completely different outcome.”

Outside of Sports, On to the Real Word…

The situation doesn’t only happen in sports. Practice leads to perfection in almost every aspect of our lives. Likewise, how many times have we been so confident in our speaking abilities that we decide not to run through our presentation before giving it to our intended viewers? We think it will be fine, but our speech somehow never seems to go the way we had envisioned? It’s the night before a presentation, and we all believe we have it under control. “We don’t need to practice; we’ll be fine; we know the material.” We say these excuses to ourselves, at one point or another, just to get a few extra minutes of sleep or to get in some late night TV.

To Wrap It Up…

Practice is a simple concept we have all been taught since we were children. It’s a simple concept that, in the long run, can go a long way. Practice can be the difference between just squeaking by on a presentation or blowing the audience out of the water. It can make the difference between going home from an interview without a job or receiving an offer right on the spot. Practice has proven so beneficial in almost everything we do that we shouldn’t even question its value. Practice and repetition is the only way to tweak out the nervousness and uncertainty we all feel when it comes to speaking in public. Practice drives away all signs of doubt and allows us to become confident in what we have to say. Just as the Earth revolves around the Sun every 365 days, we know that some things in life prove to be true. And, more often than not, practice makes perfect, or at least gets us closer to it.

October 31, 2012 at 11:40 am 2 comments

How do you talk to yourself?

By Konrad Kosmala

The Battle Inside Your Mind

We are our own worst critics. We tell ourselves that we’re hungry, that we’re cold, that we’re not happy, that we did so badly on an exam, that we can’t do something all the time. The question now is – how much does this affect us? 

Our attitude is everything. According to Charles Raison of Emory University School of Medicine, a negative mental attitude makes stress seem completely overwhelming and limits our productivity. So why is it that we seem to focus entirely on the negatives, and when success comes our way, our mental voice goes quiet?

The Reasons

Many experts believe this silence comes from how we are raised. We’ve grown up in an academic setting that emphasizes critique over praise, where it seems arrogant to speak of ourselves with praise (Peter Bregman, Harvard Business Review). In a recent survey among employers, the question most students struggle with is the one asking them to discuss their skills and accomplishments.

A common worry is that if we start praising our achievements, we might not accomplish anything at all and will instead slip down into the wide path of laziness.

Moving Forward

  1. Start by noticing the voice. How do you talk to yourself? Are you critical of every detail? Do you tell yourself you’re not good enough?
  2. Don’t focus on negative behavior or results. Distract yourself. Go do something completely opposite from it.
  3. Focus on your successes. Let yourself be seen through your good work. Rather than saying, “I’m exhausted and I’m not going to be able to do anything today,” try saying things like, “Yeah, I definitely didn’t get any sleep, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try as hard as I possibly can.”
  4. Notice that talking to oneself intentionally is awkward. This is normal. The only person who notices this awkwardness is you. Focus on what you want in your life. You have a choice. Do you want to live a life of productivity in a good mood, or would you rather be in a terrible mood and see your productivity decrease?
  5. Notice that recognition of your own positive results isn’t arrogance. This praise is about positively encouraging yourself to focus on the positives rather than the negatives. Arrogance is usually a protective mechanism that results from insecurity about oneself. See talking to yourself as encouragement to push yourself to the greatness you see yourself achieving.

Long-Term Impact

  1. Renewed confidence,
  2. Improved communication skills due to a decrease in nervousness,
  3. Decreased stress levels,
  4. Increased performance both academically and in terms of day-to-day life, and
  5. Gradually increased positive impact on your colleagues due to being respectful to yourself, which will influence how you interact with those around you.

Yes, You Can

The choice is yours. After reading any blog post, you can either take to heart the message and allow it to impact you for the better, or you can choose to move on and let the message only somewhat impact you. Either way, every morning, you can choose what conversations you have with yourself that day.

What choice will you make?

For further readings, take a look at these:

October 31, 2012 at 10:19 am 2 comments

When No Dress Code is the Best Dress Code

By Michael Kennedy

“Actually, we don’t take résumés.” I abandoned all expectations when I heard the hiring manager utter these words during my interview and quickly learned that some of the most important communication skills are nonverbal ones. This summer I interned at Neighborhood Theatre, a 1000-capacity music venue in Charlotte, NC. On top of its no-résumé policy, Neighborhood Theatre has unique views on dress codes, even for a concert hall. Larger Livenation venues hire professional event security dressed in black slacks and a tucked-in yellow shirt with “SECURITY” written on the back. Many venues similar to Neighborhood Theatre’s size allow employees to wear jeans and matching shirts with the concert hall’s name on them. However, Neighborhood Theatre’s general manager, Ansley Wynn, encourages employees to wear what they would normally wear to a concert. Upon first impression, one might view not having a dress code as too unprofessional, even for a concert hall. I hope to question standard dress code assumptions by explaining a few benefits of Neighborhood Theatre’s no-dress-code philosophy.

Standard of Standing Out

Neighborhood Theatre sits right in the center of Charlotte’s arts district, Noda. If you walk one block north you can get a drink with fellow pet owners while your leash-free dog runs around nearby. If you walk one block west you can find people dancing with hula-hoops to live trance or jazz music right on the street. In Noda, standing out is the standard. If your business doesn’t have something unique or original to offer, it will have great difficulty cementing its place in Noda. To make Neighborhood Theatre more unique, Wynn encourages his staff to be more unique. He doesn’t want the Theatre’s staff to be merely a façade of professional robots. Wynn reasons that the staff can more freely be themselves if they can wear what they want. As a result, each staff member is more like a unique individual than a cog in a machine.

A Comfortable Staff is a Friendly Staff

Wynn likens hosting a concert to throwing a party. Just as personable, friendly hosts improve a party, personable and friendly staff members improve a concert. Wynn thinks that if Neighborhood Theatre’s employees dress comfortably in their own clothes and style, then their increased comfort will make them more likely to engage with guests in a personable manner rather than purely professional.

The “Yellow-Shirts”

Overall, Wynn wants to avoid the “yellow-shirt” image. A Yellow-Shirt is Wynn’s name for the large event security guards who wear yellow shirts. The Yellow-Shirt worker is not friendly and usually looks intimidating. A Yellow-Shirt’s job is to tell you what you can’t do, which would put quite a damper on a party. Instead, Wynn wants Neighborhood Theatre’s staff and security to connect with guests. The Yellow-Shirt image would hinder employees’ ability to truly connect. For example, imagine you’re at a concert sit your drink down near some valuable equipment. In Case A, an employee in jeans and a band t-shirt asks you to not sit the drink there because it might spill on the equipment. In Case B, an employee says the same things in the same way, but he’s wearing a yellow shirt with “SECURITY” stamped on it. Either way, you would probably remove the drink. However, in Case A you might be responding out of politeness or respect, whereas in Case B you might be more inclined to remove the drink from fear of punishment. If an employee in a yellow shirt says you can’t do something, their image implies a subtle, “Or else I’ll kick you out.” Neighborhood Theatre avoids these implied threats by having its employees dressed just like the fans.

When choosing a dress code, managers should always consider the hidden option of “none” because sometimes the best dress code is no dress code.

October 30, 2012 at 5:22 pm Leave a comment

When No Communication Becomes the Worst Communication

By Sotos Pagiavlas

This past weekend, NBC Universal agreed to become the exclusive media rights holder to English Premier League soccer matches in the United States starting in August of 2013.  NBC’s acquisition of the rights proves momentous for soccer fans in the U.S., due in large part to the following facts:

  • The winning bid ($250 million for a three-year deal) is a sum more than triple that of FOX’s previous deal, which totaled $23 million per year.
  • NBC obtained the rights to all 380 English Premier League games, a tremendous increase from previous broadcasts in the United States.

While signs of encouragement abound for the future trajectory of the soccer in the United States, the epidemic of “diving” (where players exaggerate contact to garner foul calls or feign injuries to persuade referees into administering harsher penalties) has become a corrosive influence on the credibility of the “beautiful game.”  The most indicting aspect of the whole fiasco revolves around the lack of interest by FIFA (the world governing body of soccer) to present a unified stand against diving and take the subsequent action to eradicate the practice.  Soccer has become big business in the United States and FIFA must, in turn, accept responsibility for committing one of the most obvious errors in communication: not communicating.

Lacking Unity, Lacking Action

While FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce recently stated that diving has become a “cancer” to the game, FIFA and the major European soccer leagues (the English Premier League, La Liga in Spain, Serie A in Italy, and the Bundesliga of Germany) all remain divided on what, if any, action should be taken.  The contradictory nature of FIFA’s communication is equivalent to a CEO identifying a chronic problem within her company, and her employees ignoring her warnings.  A business without a commitment to following communication with action steps loses credibility and simultaneously creates a culture of division in thinking and ambiguity in position.

Stakeholder Disappointment

Petitions abound online from concerned fans, fearing the integrity of soccer compromised by dishonest diving.  The viewers who tune in weekly drive the ratings that NBC has studied to determine the magnitude of its record-setting bid.  The same committed viewers constitute the vast majority of the disgruntled stakeholders directly affected by FIFA’s uncommunicative nature.  A company that avoids taking action against a corruptive force that deteriorates the quality of its product conveys to stakeholders that communication goes down a one-way street.  Imagine Hanes neglecting to acknowledge concerned customers who have noticed large holes in Hanes underwear and socks.  In the case of FIFA v. Diving, the lack of communication has proven to be the deadliest form of communication.

Competitor Free-for-All

Those familiar with the PR failures of Netflix in properly describing a revised pricing structure adopted by the company realize that in a digital age, turning to a competitor proves very simple.  Someone dissatisfied with the quality of an in-ground pool installation finds it far more difficult to seek the services of a competitor than a sports fan does changing channels.  A lack of communication with one’s customers grabs the attention of a competitor immediately, and few competitors come with track records of success superior to those of the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL.

Final Thoughts

Solutions for ridding soccer of the epidemic of diving prove feasible and easy to implement.  The fundamental problem that FIFA faces, however, boils down to its unwillingness to communicate anything of substance to its constituents and to the viewing public.  The communication of an organization requires unity among all decision makers to produce the desired effects, and FIFA lacks a platform that we as viewers can believe in.  By continuing to allow an essentially defective product to circulate amongst consumers, FIFA displays an absence of acknowledgement to those who have elevated the organization to possess the power it currently wields.  As the business dimension of soccer continues to expand in the United States, FIFA has a golden opportunity to face competitors for viewership head on, but must commit to more effective communication policies to defeat the threat of diving and retain its dedicated supporters.

October 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm 2 comments

Reviving a Lost Art: Handwritten Thank-You Notes

By Gina Barbato 

Remember when your mom made you write thank-you notes to every person who came to your birthday party in middle school?  You had to find all of their home addresses, stamps, and cards.  Of course, you also had to mention a special thanks for each present.  However, your mom assured you that all of the parents would really appreciate that letter though.  I’ll bet it still took you awhile to finish them–right?

Handwritten thank-you notes have become a lost art in today’s world.  Without our moms always over our shoulders, we don’t take extra time to write them because handwritten notes are not necessary.  Instead, we choose to send quick, generic thank-you emails online to our friends, colleagues, interviewers, and customers.  With the fast-paced nature of our culture now, any kind of thanks seems to be better than none at all.

Thank-You Notes in Business

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse dismisses the idea that handwritten thank-you notes are a “lost art,” even in the corporate world.  In an article from USA Today, I discovered why Hesse values the personal touch of sending his company’s loyal customers handwritten thank-you notes.

In an effort to connect with its customers, Sprint has created “Thank You Thursdays” in which the company encourages employees to write at least five thank-you notes.  Sprint provides cards to the employees and gives them the freedom to write anything that they want.  Sprint even offers a 25% discount off any accessory to customers who bring their note to a store.  Since August of this year, Sprint proudly claims that its employees, including Hesse, sent over 470,000 handwritten notes.

Do It Yourself

In today’s competitive business world, handwritten thank-you notes can set a company apart from its contenders.  Customers appreciate sincere attention and will continue to remain loyal to a company where they feel valued.

If you want to start a handwritten thank-you note initiative in your company, I have provided a few tips below.

  • Be personal.  Connect with your customers in the best way possible, keeping the size of your company in mind.  In small businesses, capitalize on the relationships you have with regular customers by referencing a funny story or your last encounter for example.  In a company as large as Sprint, having the employees write something different to individual customers allows the company to be personal in another way. 
  • Keep it short.  Do not write a lengthy note thanking your customers for every service and product they have ever purchased from your company.  By keeping the note short and sweet, the customer will feel your gratitude rather than focusing on anything else. 
  • Use a small card.  Do not bother with a long or large sheet of paper.  A simple 3” x 5” card without a lot of detail will suffice.
  • Write legibly.  Not everyone has the best handwriting.  Thus, you should write the note slowly so the words can be neat and legible.

Although handwritten thank-you notes take time, they can be effective in showing customers that a company genuinely values their loyalty.  Because you don’t need to write them, your customers will feel your company’s commitment to them personally.  Writing these notes in the business world demonstrates the same appreciation that your mom wanted you to show to all the attendees at your middle school birthday parties. After all, mom always knows best.

Read the complete story on USA Today about Sprint’s latest thank-you note initiative.

October 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm 5 comments

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