Archive for the ‘Communication Tools’ Category

Travel = Museums

IMG_4549When I was 16 I wanted to see the Mona Lisa, in person. Travel means art museums. At home, like many people, I forget what’s in my backyard. Thankfully the Minneapolis Institute of Arts just send me a few emails reminding me of their new exhibit, Italian Style:  Fashion Since 1945.

Fantastic marketers, the MIA employs direct marketing via email and social media, such as their Facebook page and videos, to remind art lovers to visit. Getting there is only part of the marketing journey; consider the brochures, catalogs, and signage one encounters at a museum, as well. In fact, I have rather large box of postcards from museums I’ve visited all over the world.

Art in Your Backyard

Yesterday, I took my marketing communications students to the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery yesterday to understand the role of artists statements as supplemental media. In preparation, they read two different perspectives on this type of writing:

And then wrote their own about Adé Bethune: The Power of One Person and the Great Mother of Islam.

The Catherine G. Murphy Gallery is free and open every day. Plan your visit, soon.

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What does courage mean in college? Claiming your education? Be honest with yourself? Doing the right thing when it’s extra work?

Regardless, you need to be fearless.


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My Integrated Marketing Communications class writes an almost-weekly marketing communications blog. My goals are to teach the blogging medium and business writing skills. I promised to write 500 words with them every week. Here’s my first post. The topic is my favorite thing.

I assign this topic to have my students market it across the IMC spectrum. Today they’ve created a content marketing piece for it in WordPress and will personally sell their item in class. Later in the semester we will create print mock ups and prescribe the magazine choice, ad size, and location within the journal. By the end of class, we’ve fully explored all aspects of IMC in the metaphor of a small, personal object. The word of mouth is incredibly powerful.

The only rule it that the item must be portable and something they could actually sell. Handmade objects are difficult, so I advise they choose something they know intimately. I want to hear about why this object is truly a favorite thing.

20140212-130932.jpg My favorite thing, this semester, is my Julie Hewitt lipstick.

It’s not the shiny case that attracted me, although it does possess an 80s glamour. My brow artist who works wonders with my prolific eyebrows sells the Julie Hewitt line in her shop. I’ve always used my hometown brand, Aveda, because I like it’s minty-ness and sustainable packaging. In many years I’ve never thought of changing brands. I am Aveda loyal.

However…the colors change and I’ve had more than one Juut make up artist suggest a truly ugly color for me. Ugly, like coral orange. It’s not that coral is an ugly color, but with my skin tone it looks awful.

Julie Hewitt sells gorgeous blue-tinted reds and pinks. I have exactly three shades:  Femme Noir (pictured above to the left), Sin Noir (not for class) and my go to favorite, Scarlett.

Why I love this lipstick

First of all, I love color. I consider red, purple, and fuchsia almost as wardrobe neutrals. I wear brown and black, as well, but I also wear something colorful. My purses are black or bright. My hats are the same.

I often match my lipstick to what I’m wearing. My red and white herringbone “statement” jacket matches my Julie Hewitt Femme Noir lipstick perfectly. I don’t wear a lot of makeup — usually just tinted sunscreen and lipstick, maybe a little eye liner now and again.

I don’t wear much eye makeup because I have wild eyebrows. Well, they would be if I didn’t seek professional help from Brow Chic. My eyebrows are my true vanity. Having grown up in the era of Brooke Shields full brows, my almost Freda Kahlo-esque brows were very stylish in the 80s…

The unibrow is not in style. I really don’t think it ever was. Thinking positively, having full brows means my eyebrow stylist can shape them easily without requiring me to fill them in with additional color. I trust her judgement implicitly.

My stylist recommended Julie Hewitt. I was hooked ever since..

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This semester I’m teaching three courses, of which two are writing intensive. Sometimes this feels like I’m teaching six of them. These are business courses. My students must know how to communicate effectively among their colleagues and of course, in social media with potential customers. The following is an excerpt from our private class blog. I figure they are not the only ones who could benefit from some writing insights.

the Point

It’s snowing today. It’s the middle of April. The weather thrills no one.

I’m reading blogs and integrated marketing communication plans today and I noticed that my students’ sentences are usually a lot longer than mine (see my three sentences above). In business writing, we aim to inform our readers concisely. Many of us tend to write what we think, which is a great way to begin. However, everyone needs to go back and rewrite so our readers understand immediately what we mean.

According to INC. magazine we should obey Rule No. 1: Get to the Point. I agree–the lesson is how. Below I’ve curated a few sections from Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) to help you, get to the point.

Online writing tips from the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL)

Conciseness:  http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/683/04/

Directness  http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/683/01/

Academic writing in North America has often been described as “direct.” This can mean two things: 1) dealing immediately with the topic at hand without extra information; 2) using clear and precise language to describe even the most uncomfortable and taboo subjects. Direct writing will be seen by professors and other readers as lean and efficient. Follow these strategies to make your writing more direct:

  • Create an outline of your text before writing, and compare your early drafts with the outline. If a word or a sentence does not contribute to any of the points in your outline, remove it.
  • When you review your early drafts, look for ways to make your sentences shorter, but without removing any important meanings from them. If you can do this, then make them shorter.
  • Look for euphemisms (mild or vague expressions for something that is uncomfortable to talk about). If you find any euphemisms, change them to clearer language.

Writing for a North American Business Audience   http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/651/1/

Every country has its own set of rules and expectations about the ways to communicate in a business setting. In some countries, they may place less emphasis on written materials and more emphasis on verbal communication. However, in the United States, memos, letters, [social media, white papers,] and emails are important and play a role in creating a person’s business reputation.

Getting to the Point

The question “so what is your point” is very common with American audiences. In general, North Americans prefer to get a preview of the main ideas so that they know what to expect. Time is an important factor for U.S. business people because they do not have much of it. So it is important to state your purpose or “the bottom line” for writing at the beginning of your document.

Here is an example of a hidden main point where the writer is requesting employment verification*:

Dear Personnel Director:

On March 27, I received a phone call from Mrs. Karen Krane from New York, who was once a data entry clerk in your Ohio office. She was under the direct supervision of…..

As you can see, the above statement goes on several sentences and the writer still has not revealed his or her purpose. A busy personnel director might skip over this request and make it a last priority.

This is an example with the main point clearly stated:

Dear Personnel Director:

Would you verify the employment of Mrs. Karen Krane? She was a data entry clerk in your Ohio office (fill in the details) Sincerely,

Often times writers will place their main point at the bottom of their document because they are either delivering bad news or they are afraid their ideas will be rejected. But business writing experts warn against this style of writing. Bad news should always be delivered up front. Also remember that while you do not want to be too shy about delivering bad news, you also do not want to be too aggressive when you submit an idea or suggestion. For example, “We must hire a new secretary now” has an aggressive tone that your reader may not appreciate. Instead write something like, “I know that you do not think we should hire a new secretary now, but I really think we need to. Please let me explain my reasons.”

Keeping It Simple

You may have heard your English instructors tell you not to worry yourself over complicated sentences and impressive words. Just use simple language to get your point across and you will have more success. Well, the same proves true for business writing. You might feel compelled to use bigger words or more complex sentences to build credibility with your audience.

The two primary reasons to avoid such tactics are:a) you might be perceived as a con artist or, b) your message might become confusing.

An example of using “impressive words”:

Subsequent to the passage of the subject legislation, it is incumbent upon you to advise your organization to comply with it.*

An example using simple words:

After the law passes, you must tell your people to comply with it.*

The second passage is much easier to understand and it gets straight to the point. There is little room for misunderstanding with that statement.

Using Passive and Active Voice*

Passive voice has three basic characteristics:

A form of the verb to be (is, am are, was, were, be, been, or being).

A past participle (a verb ending in -ed or -en except irregular verbs like kept).

A prepositional phrase beginning with by (though this is not always the case)

Here is a sentence using all three characteristics:

The meeting is being held by the human resources department.

Another sample of a passive sentence:

It was decided that the experiment would be conducted at noon.

Passive statements convey a clear message and in some cases (those without the prepositional phrase) are grammatically correct. But the problem is that writers often over use passive phrases.

A writer uses passive voice to purposefully leave out the actor or subject of the sentence in an effort to sound more diplomatic. Look at this example.

Active: “I decided that everyone must retake the exam.”
Passive: “It has been decided that everyone must retake the exam.”

The passive example takes the actor out of the sentence so that the audience cannot directly blame someone.

Author Edward Bailey offers a few suggestions on when to use passive voice. He says there are three instances to use it:

When you don’t know the actor

When the actor is unimportant to the point you’re making (“The Congressman was re-elected.”)

When the emphasis is clearly not on the actor but on the acted upon (“What happened to the little girl? The little girl was rescued.”)

If your purpose does not fall into one of three categories above then use active direct voice. But be careful not to be too direct. You would not want to tell an employer that he or she should hire you because “I am the best.”

For more about active and passive voice, click here for a whole OWL handout devoted to it.

Using Nondiscriminatory Language

Nondiscriminatory language is language that treats all people equally. It does not use any discriminatory words, remarks, or ideas. It is very important that the business writer communicate in a way that expresses equality and respect for all individuals. It is the kind of language that can come between you and your reader. Make sure your writing is free of sexist language and free of bias based on such factors as race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, and disability.

Use neutral job titles.

Not Good: Chairman
Better: Chairperson

Avoid demeaning or stereotypical terms.

Not Good: After the girls in the office receive an order, our office fills it within 24 hours
Better: When orders are received from the office, they are filled within 24 hours

Avoid words and phrases that unnecessarily imply gender.

Not Good: Executives and their wives
Better: Executives and their spouses

Omit information about group membership

Not Good: Connie Green performed the job well for her age.
Better: Connie Green performed the job well

If you do not know a reader’s gender, use a nonsexist salutation.

Not Good: Dear Gentlemen:
Better: Associate Director Chris Hammond:

Do not use masculine pronouns

Not Good: Each student must provide his own lab jacket
Better: Students must provide their own lab jackets. Or Each student must provide his or her own lab jacket.

For more about nondiscriminatory language, please see our OWL handout on nonsexist or appropriate language use.

Notes and References

* Bailey, Edward P. The Plain English Approach to Business Writing. Oxford University Press: NY, 1990.
** Mark Dollar. “Basic Tips for ESL Students: Writing for an American Audience.” Purdue OWL, 1999.

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If you like to golf, there are almost too many options in St. Paul. In fact, last year MinnPost reported that the city is trying to figure out what to do with all the city courses because they’re no longer profitable (learn more about urban golf course decline here).

  • Are kids too busy?
  • Does it take too long to learn?
  • Is it too expensive?
  • Doesn’t anyone golf anymore?

Family golf scheduleRegardless of the reason, the Saintly City is looking to grow their own future players with a number of programs.

The newest is their Sunday night “Family Fun Golf” where kids golf pay nothing and an adult plays for only $10. Children must be 7 years old and you can only make reservations 2 weeks in advance. Part of me thinks these will fill up fast–it’s a great deal and low-pressure atmosphere for kids. With extra short tees and lots of kids on the course there shouldn’t be anyone demanding to play through.

Golf lesson

First Tee, a national golf non-profit, provides lessons and junior leagues through the local St. Paul branch and in cooperation with St. Paul Parks and Recreation. For only $30 young kids can learn to chip, putt, and drive in twice-a-week two-week series of lessons.

Better players, or at least, passionate ones can play in a weekly Monday morning league (5 or 9 holes), including one just for girls.

How do I know about this? I’m on the email list.

We need a summer activities fair.

But what if you’re a new parent whose child is ready to move up beyond plastic golf clubs?

How do parents learn of programs for their kids? Is it all word-of-mouth and Google searches? We’ve got a Home Improvement Fair in Highland Park, why not a summer activities fair–in February when we’re all dreaming of warm summer breezes?

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6789077586_6b476299e2_q Shout it out! Show your pride! Be a Katie!

Thursday is Shout Out St. Kate’s Day. My students wrote, produced, starred in and generally lived and breathed the topic since early February. They’ve had one month to learn the public relations value of this event and contribute their own creativity to the effort.

What did they learn?

  • Using events to create publicity (A Tweet Up at the Mall of America)
  • Encouraging and involving stakeholders (How would students envision and publicize the video contest?)
  • Communicating goals and important dates (When were the videos due?)
  • Being flexible to the external environment (Vine is only 5 weeks, old, after all!)

My Students’ Work


YouTube: (more to come)

Shout Out to the Katie Nation

A Day in the Life of  a “Katie”

Shout Out Saint Kate’s Day 2013

The Commuter Experience

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The view from St. Paul–specifically St. Catherine University looks a lot like this today. Although I wish the sidewalks around the neighborhood were as clean as the ones in Teresa Boardman‘s photo below–I trudged through a lot of deep snow to get to campus.5293171188_af3aaa55fc

Minnesotans seem to be natural innovators who can spend an hour talking about the weather while coming up with new ways to enjoy it. Social media give us that power, too. If you’re reading this blog, you already know that social media gives voice to small businesses in a crowded media landscape. The secret is not being everywhere, but being different–making yourself stand out where your customers are.

Two years ago we had a glorious December blizzard in St. Paul that dumped about a foot of snow and effectively shut down the city for the day. I wrote about the Groveland Tap’s half price offer and praised their marketing. They were open and their target market mostly lived within a 2-mile radius. How could they make people want to brave the weather and savor a Summit and a Juicy Lucy? I wish I had a picture of all the skis and snowshoes lined up against the building that day. This kind of nimbleness requires leadership AND a sense of humor. Just think about the great Oreo (slam) dunk on Twitter during the Superbowl.

UPDATE  9:15 pm:  And while you’re thinking about the snow in your neighborhood, you could take Scusi up on their offer posted on Facebook around 8 pm!

Facebook offer from Scusi Wine Bar

Facebook offer from Scusi Wine Bar

Are you enjoying today’s snow?

What’s happening in your neighborhood?

What are your favorite businesses doing to make you want to stop by?

What could they do?

How could they use social media?

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