Are you ever sitting in a meeting when you start to feel your brain wandering? Instead of focusing on the task at hand, you start thinking about who might win “Dancing with the Stars” this season. I have to say, I am guilty of this more often than I’d like to admit.
It doesn’t just happen at work. Sometimes when I get home, my husband will be telling me a story about his day and halfway through, I zone out. Then I will say something like, “I think I just figured out a better angle for that story I’ve been pitching.”
Well, according to recent studies, this trait can be a valuable asset in creative jobs such as PR and marketing. Thankfully, I chose the right profession.
Several recent studies, summarized by Wall Street Journal Columnist Jonah Lehrer, reveal that not paying attention can often have a positive effect, especially at work. He writes, “For instance, researchers have found a surprising link between daydreaming and creativity—people who daydream more are also better at generating new ideas.”
Scientists also concluded that those who struggle to focus end up letting more information in, allowing them to be more open-minded and better problem-solvers. “People unable to focus are more likely to consider information that might seem irrelevant but will later inspire the breakthrough. When we don’t know where to look, we need to look everywhere,” writes Lehrer.
Now, as tempting as it might be, you probably shouldn’t forget about focus all together. Just like all good things, distraction should be practiced in moderation for the best results. After all, even the most creative ideas still need to be executed properly to be effective. Although now, the next time you get caught spacing out at work, you can tell your boss it’s because you are a creative genius.
Ever find yourself humming or singing a tune that just won’t leave you?
One that has always stuck with me is the “Little Boxes” song by Malvina Reynolds from the Showtime hit “Weeds.” I found myself thinking of the song when reading the book “Content Rules” by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman.
The definition of content is:
a) something that is usually contained in a box, and
b) something that is to be expressed through some medium.
While reading “Content Rules,” I started to realize how many little boxes companies create to trap the great ideas they could be sharing through multiple mediums. If you have ever asked the following questions of your marketing or PR campaign, go find the answers in “Content Rules.”
- How can I show my customers I am serious about their needs?
- How do I start creating content?
- Why should I spend time creating content?
- How do I make my case studies standout?
- How can I learn from the best in the industry?
- How can I make my blog the hub of my online content?
The authors avoid marketing mumbo jumbo to help readers start small and create an approach that works. They help you psych yourself up to be a content creator and give you a step-by-step guide to create presentations, podcasts, videos, e-books, case studies and FAQs.
For those of you who have been playing the content marketing game for years, this book is a great refresher on how to create content that actually resonates with customers. My favorite line is the title of chapter 6: Share or Solve; Don’t Shill.
You have what it takes to create content that shares ideas and solves problems. Your imagination is waiting for you. Trust it, read “Content Rules,” and get started.
Recently, I attended a couples cooking class at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts with my husband, Michael. When we walked into the kitchen I immediately bee-lined for the table filled with people who resembled my grandparents. I told Michael that I spend too much time with people my own age and I thought it would be fun to hang out with a different crowd. I decided that we would probably talk about their lives, grandchildren, traveling experiences -- you know, grandparent stuff.
Instead, I heard stories about the tech companies in which they invest or at which they had worked. We discussed articles on TechCrunch and who we liked to follow on Twitter. They gave their opinions on cloud computing, data backup and online advertising.
At one point, I thought, “Where am I? Oh yeah, that’s right, Boston. What are Bostonians known for? Technology.” That’s right; the topic of conversation was technology. I looked at Michael and said, “Thank goodness we both work in the technology industry and know what they are talking about.” Somewhere between the fourth or fifth course, the 20-somethings started chiming into the conversation, and it turned out that most of them worked in the tech industry, as well.
After dinner concluded and I rolled myself out of the kitchen, I started to think about the conversations I had just had. I was truly impressed by the impact that technology has on the people of this city. People consider Boston a “Technology Capita,” and I think I experienced it firsthand. With institutes such as MIT and Harvard right next door, how can we not eat, breathe and live for technology and innovation?
After my wonderful evening, I came to two conclusions: 1) Cooking is more fun when you have a gourmet chef providing you with guidance; and 2) if you want to enjoy where you live, embrace what the city is known for.
What is your city known for?
I had the pleasure of visiting the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston recently. As I strolled past my favorite Mark Bradford piece (“Black Venus”) a couple of times, I realized that a great work of art and a good PR story share similar qualities in terms of intriguing the audience and keeping people captivated enough to make them come back for more.
Bradford’s artwork is one-of-a-kind. He transforms materials scavenged from the street into wall-sized, collage-like installations that speak to minority networks, underground economies and migrant communities within urban populations. They speak to civil rights history, racial issues and diversity – frequently resembling what looks like a city map. At first glance, the pieces are colorful, made of various materials and are aesthetically pleasing. After spending a few minutes, or perhaps even on second or third glance, viewers realize Bradford’s work is made of various and varying materials, has multiple layers and suggests connotations much deeper than what first meets the eye.
Many of us recognize and respond more to complex, contemporary creations over simple, one-dimensional watercolors of fruit, for example. We are drawn to art that tells a tale – art that is different, complex, compelling and rich. Successful PR storytelling provides a similar experience.
As PR professionals, we love a good challenge. We help spread the word about news that industry influencers and reporters want to know. But the real fun for us is when we can create a story that impacts reporters, publications and readers with varying levels and layers of meaning. Tying company news to industry trends creates a story that sticks with an audience. It makes readers stroll through the proverbial PR gallery and come back to a work of PR art for a second and third glance.
Imagine the quintessential first date: two people eager to get to know one another, hoping their personalities mesh well enough to form a dynamic bond. I witnessed hundreds of first dates when I worked in a restaurant. In every instance, both parties involved were hungry to find a common interest, something that tells them, “This relationship is a good idea.” The typical conversation goes something like this:
“I like red wine but not white.”
“Oh, same here. Merlot all the way!”
“I think Zach Galifianakis is beautiful.”
“Yes! He has the eyes of an angel!”
These “me too’s” confirm that successful relationships begin with and thrive on connection, and a bond can be created simply by respectfully acknowledging a person’s passion.
The first meeting with a potential client can be synonymous to a first date: nerve-racking with a desire to connect (but thankfully, no awkward handholding). The more you know about the client, the better chance you have at making a connection, but even a minute of casual conversation counts. A sentence like, “Schools must be closed out there with all that snow” to a Michigan client with kids can be enough to break the barrier.
The same applies when building relationships with the media. Staying current with a reporter’s recent work will tell you what he or she is currently interested in. A mention of this interest can help grab the reporter’s attention, differentiating your call from others and solidifying a bond. But remember to be honest. As a waitress, I served a table at which a man feigned interest in his date’s favorite TV show, only to draw a blank when asked his opinion on the latest season. Bad move. Liars always get busted.
Clients will trust you if you can demonstrate an understanding of their perspectives while also communicating yours. Reporters will give you information and listen to your opinion when they know you value their work. The cute guy sweating across from you at the dinner table will likely ask you on a second date if you’re honest with him, and with yourself. So put forth the effort to make a genuine connection. Sometimes in order to be professional, you must also be casual, especially in PR.
In my first entry discussing Dan Zarrella’s webinar, “The Science of Timing,” I discussed his tips for making your Twitter activity as effective as possible. HubSpot’s resident social media marketing scientist had similar advice for optimizing Facebook use:
- Pages that posted links every other day had the most likes. Facebook feeds can be taken over by mass sharing much easier than Twitter. If you constantly share links, especially your own, you run the risk of being blocked as spam. Like Twitter, take breaks between sharing your own links.
- Don’t be afraid to post news on weekends. Most information is shared during the week; yet, sharing activity spikes on weekends. In addition to people having more time on the weekends, fewer links are shared by news outlets and others. This means the links that are shared on weekends deal with much less competition, therefore receiving much more attention and are shared more often.
- Don’t be afraid to post off-hours, even late at night or very early in the morning. Zarella shared data showing that while sharing does take a dip at 1 or 2 a.m., the drop-off is not enough to discourage posting altogether. Again, posted material faces much less competition at these off-peak times.
How often do you post links on Facebook?
Some say he is a Seth Rogen look alike. Others say he resembles Teen Wolf. But to some American Idol fans, he is the biggest shock on season 10 thus far.
For those who don't watch the show (and don’t have an office pool on who will win), let me fill you in.
Casey Abrams was slated as one of America's favorites. He has 48,416 Twitter followers and stayed out of the bottom three for weeks. J-Lo even called him, "sexy." But a few weeks ago, Ryan Seacrest announced that Casey received the fewest number of votes and was poised to get sent home. The judges used their one and only save to keep Casey in the competition and he’s been safe ever since.
We can learn some lessons from this experience, including:
- Stick with your brand. From the beginning, Casey was coined as the funny guy and the singer with the soft growl. Early on in the season, he tried to mix it up and maybe even took it too far by performing Nirvana. Maintaining consistency is essential to building brand loyalty.
- Connect with your audience. Bravo on the Twitter followers, but engagement is the key to success. It would be great to see Casey interact with his fans because they want to hear from him.
- Know your audience and understand what they want. The average American likes familiarity. Casey can sing songs that people (i.e. voters) know while at the same time, picking one that suits his style and voice.
- Don’t take success for granted. In a competition like Idol, contestants can be on top one week and then in the bottom the next. With that kind of swing, there is no room for egos, but it’s important to know who you are and stick to it. If your audience loves you they will love you for who you are and will continue to follow you.
Is anyone else out there as dedicated to Idol this season as we are at Metis? Who are you rooting for?
After a long, brutal winter, spring has officially arrived. Forget the cold, drab days; we now have an extra hour of daylight and the promise of warmer weather. We Bostonians have been taking full advantage of the warm temperatures in the last few weeks. There are noticeably more people lingering outside with newfound energy.
So, let’s take a moment to positively channel this spring energy into increasing productivity during the workday.
- Perform a bit of workplace spring cleaning. Start by tackling your e-mail inbox. Respond to any outstanding messages and file important ones. Next, clean your desk and surrounding area. Papers tend to stack up over time, so sort through these and file necessary papers away. De-clutter any miscellaneous items you have lying around. A clean and clutter-free work area will let you concentrate on tasks.
- Dedicate time to brainstorming. Sit down with your team for a group brainstorming session to develop new ideas and get a fresh take on tired ones. Take some time to reevaluate your blog and PR angles, and use this moment as a jumping off point to evaluate your overall approach so far this year.
- Go outside. Stop staring out the window and take advantage of the nice weather by going for a walk. Sometimes, taking a break from the office is necessary to clear your head. As this study shows, warm weather can boost your mood, and send you back to the office feeling refreshed.
Spring is a great time to reboot. With an organized desk, new ideas and fresh air you will be focused and motivated to start checking items off your to-do list.
Last week, I attended a webinar entitled “The Science of Timing,” hosted by HubSpot’s Dan Zarella. The social media scientist presented research on the times that will result in maximum exposure for Twitter, Facebook and blog activity.
Throughout the presentation, Zarella kept coming back to the concept of “contra-competitive timing (CCT).” That is, time your activity so it has to face the least amount of competition as possible. The less competition your information faces, the better chance it has of getting attention. So, if you take away anything from this, remember to base your activity on contra-competitive timing, and you’ll be fine.
Here are some of Zarella’s tips on optimizing your Twitter presence:
- Tweet often. Now that Twitter has established itself as a necessary social media tool, people follow a large number of profiles. You no longer run the risk of flooding their feeds.
- Don’t be afraid to Tweet links more than once. Tweet it, then re-Tweet it an hour or so later, this time with a quote instead. Tweet it again later with a different pulled quote.
- Know your goals. If you are tweeting to build a follower base and attempting to portray yourself as a source of information, Tweet links at any time. But if you are Tweeting your own links, take breaks of an hour or so, at least. You don’t want to be seen as spam.
- The clock is not your enemy. Late in the day (2-5 p.m.) and late in the week are statistically the best time for getting re-Tweets, but there is plenty of activity 24/7. Don’t be afraid to Tweet around the clock. As for links, the general click-through rate (a metric that measures the number of links opened via Tweets) does not dip significantly on the weekends. Experiment with tweeting on Saturday and Sunday. These are the times when your tweets have the least competition, and thus have a better chance of getting viewed.
Want to know your personal best time for tweeting? Visit TweetWhen.com. This HubSpot site will analyze your last 1,000 Tweets, and provide a graph pinpointing the times and days you are most likely to be re-Tweeted.
Our best times for re-tweets are from 9-11 a.m., and our best day is Thursday. What’s yours?
Some may have shuddered at the thought of what prank they would fall victim to, but for us, April Fool’s Day was a great chance to see some of the smartest and most innovative people in the tech industry get really creative.
It was an excuse to be cheeky, to be shocking, and to just be downright impossible. Some of our favorites this year:
- NetApp acquired EMC? (*Gasps heard round the office.* Bravo, Storage Newsletter.)
- Ryanair announced that its Irish airline will offer child-free flights beginning in October. (Just kidding; we love kids.)
- The Huffington Post installed a paywall, which applied only to New York Times employees. (Aw, poor fellas.)
- YouTube videos went back to 1911. (It is unclear how this will fare for those babbling twin babies.)
On April Fool’s Day, I immediately check Google’s homepage every year. This year, Google made the option for Chrome users to browse solely in Comic Sans. (This font is apparently the bane of Web developers’ existence.) They also posted a job listing for an “autocompleter.” If that isn’t brilliant, I don’t know what is. But the big prank? Gmail Motion. On the heels of video games that use no controllers and are operated entirely by the player’s body movements, Gmail creatives came up with the future of e-mail. Imagine a world where you “Reply All” by waving both hands behind your head. Ah, the ease with which we could communicate. Well, maybe.
Some of us recorded our re-enactment of the most commonly used phrases in Gmail Motion. Enjoy!
What prank did you play this April Fool’s Day?