Professional Development Q&A With Brett Myers

This post is the eighth in a series of Q&A sessions with friends, former colleagues, acquaintances and other contacts who I consider both influential and inspirational. Each of these individuals possesses a skillset that I believe you will find valuable. They have each made an impact throughout my career path and I wanted to feature them in this series.

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5   Part 6   Part 7 

Name: Brett Myers (@brettmyers0)
Profession: Program Director in a Research, Innovation, Strategy capacity/role
Degree: Accounting

I’ve known Brett for nearly 15 years now (time flies!). We met through mutual friends while in college and immediately formed a bond over Cardinals baseball, good laughs and good drinks. Brett has been there for me every step of my adult life as I’ve moved states, switched jobs, got married, got fired, got divorced, rediscovered myself, found peace, re-married and while making this latest move looking for new opportunities.

Throughout my life journey, I’ve had many conversations with Brett about a variety of things. He constantly challenges me to think differently about things. Whether it pertains to my career path, my personal life or even my sometimes overly passionate feelings about the Cardinals. Brett won’t let me settle for average. He won’t let me settle for a situation that’s overly comfortable. Brett likes disruption, but in a good way. He knows that’s not my personality, but challenges me to think differently.

I could write an entire post about my relationship with Brett. He’s been such an important person in my life. But, I should probably let him speak for himself. He was kind enough to answer my career questions and I’m honored to feature him on this little blog of mine. Brett is an inspiration to me and I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Brett Myers.

1) How does your current profession align with the degree you graduated with? If you have held other jobs, how closely have they been aligned?
My degree was in accounting, so most people would say it doesn’t have much to do with running a team that focuses on research, strategy, and innovation. I understand why people think that way, but my thoughts are very contrary to that. I went into accounting because I wanted to understand how businesses worked, and numbers made a lot of sense/were easy for me. As I got more into the degree in college, I realized I didn’t really want to do accounting in the traditional sense. Instead of changing majors, I realized it still made sense for me to study accounting. This is because I had the realization that my brain understood numbers very well and accounting increased my ability to understand business through numbers. So, my classes in college sharpened my natural mentality towards logic and data, which I think is a lot more valuable long-term than being an expert at accounting or some other specific topic.

2) What did you ‘plan to do’ after college and how close is that to what you’re doing at this point in your career? Were there any deviations along the way and did they help/hurt your path to your current job?
My plan after college was to help run companies at whatever level I was able to achieve in terms of success (still working on that part!). I think back then I had a lot of specific job roles, job titles, financial definitions of success, and so on. I think at a high level the big things have been directionally according to plan, but the specific journey definitely could not have been predicted. The biggest change between now and then, almost 15 years ago (sad face), is that when I think about my plan and how I define success. It is geared much more around a few things: my ability to impact people and companies. Whether I’m getting opportunities I desire, and whether I get the experiences I enjoy and/or need. Don’t get me wrong, money 100% matters and one should know their value. I even recommend talking to others in some form outside of your company to know your market value. But to me, I don’t focus on money or power as much because they aren’t really inputs or leading indicators of success. If I’m making impact, money and decision rights likely come. If I’m getting challenging opportunities, I’m likely doing something right and will continue getting those opportunities. If I focus on the next experiences I enjoy, I tend to be happier and produce better work. Focusing on the experiences I need helps me more than focusing on a job title.

3) What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
Getting the actual tasks of the work done is important, but if that’s all you’re doing early in your career it will catch up to you in your late 20’s or early 30’s. Think about it, assuming this is your best case scenario: you’re hired in and do better than all of the other new hires. You get a few promotions your first 3-5 years out of school. Most others your age are moving up just a little slower most likely. Now, at 27 your peers are 30-40 years old and much more experienced than you. You may still have a lot of talent compared to others, but at this point your talent stops being enough for you to be head and shoulders above your new 30-40 year old peers. Then what happens??? This is when your personal brand, habits, and processes become critical to make you more than talented. This will happen at different points for everyone, but at some point your talent will find a ceiling in the workplace. You can wait for that to happen, or you can start right away learning about yourself so that you don’t become only as good as your talent. Understand your core values before facing tough decisions or tough moments. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Study self-awareness. Don’t collect business cards, build relationships. Study the science of leading, and know how to be led by others.

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4) What do like the most about your profession?
Problems and people. Which ironically, are more often than not very intertwined. I love identifying problems that are happening, creating an abundance of options for solutions, and then quickly testing and evolving the solution ideas. As for the people side, the more years I spend formally leading people the more I find deep satisfaction from being a part of their journey. Seeing people start families, achieve new career goals, etc. is just amazing. Knowing in some small way I am helping them achieve those things is a great feeling.

5) What is your favorite social media platform?
I’m all over the place with social media right now, here’s my current relationship status for each. I feel like Facebook is the girlfriend I know I need to break up with, I keep leaning on the good times, but it’s too much now and turns out she just keeps making up fake things. Instagram is the one in front of your face that you took for granted – nearly all good stuff, not complicated, and doesn’t bug you with a lot of stuff you don’t want. Snapchat is the girl that is either too young and cool or too weird to date…i’m just not sure which. I just know I don’t understand it so I haven’t really used it. As for Twitter, it’s in the friend zone and don’t see it getting out. So I’m currently in a move from Facebook to Instagram for the most part.

6) What was the last book you read? The last TED talk or other e-learning content you consumed?
A lot of my reading of late has been focused on empathy. I think empathy is going to be an increasingly valued skill across professions. With that in mind, I just finished two books back-to-back which really challenged me to empathize with how someone’s experiences shape them. 1) The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace; 2) Hillbilly Elegy.

Both books are about someone that came from a tough, disadvantaged upbringing, ended up making it to Ivy League colleges, and then much more. The irony being one is from Newark, NJ while the other is from small, factory town Appalachia. Would highly recommend reading either, and especially reading both. Great perspective building books without being apologists for circumstances.

7) Where do you receive your news and information? 
I have a few network news online sites I’ll read regularly, some social media, and some television, including fun news/entertainment like The Daily Show. I find myself in search of diverse sources to hear different sides of most news items.

8) What are your hobbies? Do you wish you had more time to pick up a hobby?
Most of my free time is around my family and friends. Outside of that, I like to read more and more. I also love to travel. I haven’t seen near enough of the people and parts of the world I’d like to as of yet. I think I have plenty of time for hobbies and make time for the things I want to do in life. When people “don’t have time” on a long-term basis, I think they typically just aren’t making things a priority. You’ll rarely hear me say “I don’t have time…” because I just don’t generally buy into it is a cause of not doing things. One exception, parents with young kids I think is fair to not have a mix of energy and time for things. Even then, I would say there are probably some ways to find time or more strategically use time.

Professional Development Q&A With Troy Johnson

This post is the fifth in a series of Q&A sessions with friends, former colleagues, acquaintances and other contacts who I consider both influential and inspirational. Each of these individuals possesses a skillset that I believe you will find valuable. They have each made an impact throughout my career path and I wanted to feature them in this series.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4

Name: Troy Johnson (@TroyJohnsonAU)
Profession: Director of Communications & Marketing, Auburn University Raymond J. Harbert College of Business
Degree: Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations/Journalism from Troy University; Master of Technical and Professional Communication from Auburn University

Troy and I first met in Auburn around 2015 when I was looking for new opportunities. Though he and I were both members of the local PRCA Chapter, we weren’t close friends at the time. However, I reached out to form a better relationship in hopes of picking his brain as I searched for new opportunities. We’ve remained close since then.

In 2016, Troy and I also formed an agency/client relationship. The Raymond J. Harbert College of Business is a client of Verge Pipe Media‘s and I was the main point of contact for the account. Troy and I worked closely on strategic digital marketing efforts and further strengthened our relationship.

Even though I am no longer with VPM, Troy and I remain close friends and he is still a sounding board for me when I need one. I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Troy Johnson.

1) How does your current profession align with the degree you graduated with? If you have held other jobs, how closely have they been aligned?
While I earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations, the profession has experienced dynamic changes since my initial graduation in 1992. Portable technology and social media were as fanciful as the flying DeLorean from “Back to the Future” at that point. The Internet wasn’t accessible to the masses yet. It was another three years before I worked in an office where we were able to receive e-mail, and that was to a departmental address rather than a personal inbox. While the foundational elements of public relations I learned as an undergraduate remain relevant, there is little resemblance between what we were being prepared for then and what I experience now. The media landscape is very different, for one. We still place value on earned media, but we’re frequently able to bypass the traditional messengers these days and share information directly with our publics through social media, e-mail, push notifications, and other means. The biggest change I’ve experienced is the ability to collect relevant data and to be nimble in making necessary changes. We now have the ability to monitor the success of a campaign in real time and move to Plan B with minimal discomfort. All of those wonderful algorithms in the social media and software as a service universe also enable us to be far more targeted in our communication. A process that may have once resembled a shotgun blast is now a laser pointer.

I recently completed a master’s degree (while working full-time) in technical and professional communication. I selected the program because of its emphasis on web usability and accessibility, as well as design and rhetoric. The latter component is surprisingly relevant to what I do now. Part of my function is helping the public understand the value of academic and industry-focused research. Often, you have to simplify complex information in a way that makes it easily understandable for the masses.

The latter component, the focus on rhetoric, was particularly interesting and applicable as well. We studied Aristotle, among others, and examined the rhetorical moves they executed in attempting to persuade others. That’s useful for any PR or marketing practitioner.

2) What did you ‘plan to do’ after college and how close is that to what you’re doing at this point in your career? Were there any deviations along the way and did they help/hurt your path to your current job?
It took me a while to settle on public relations as a career choice. That was my initial plan, to do PR in the non-profit, agency, or political realm. But, as a double major in college, I was offered a six-month journalism internship at the Birmingham News (now better known as AL.com). They treated me like a veteran reporter, even assigning me to interview Michael Jordan during the height of his athletic fame. I loved the adrenalin rush of competing against other media and digging for news. That led to a 16-year career in which I covered everything from Southeastern Conference sports to the Olympics for various newspapers in the Southeast. I left that industry in 2008 because I didn’t like the uncertainty plaguing it. I had worked as a columnist for the last half of my career, which probably connected to PR in more ways than I realized. You’re the face of your news organization, for better or worse, but have opportunities to engage the community in ways many reporters don’t. One day I’d speak at a Rotary Club, the next day I’d be a guest on a radio or TV show.

In making the transition to public relations while initially working for Auburn University’s College of Education, I’ll admit there was a learning curve. In journalism, deadlines are often managed in minutes or hours rather than days. The focus is on immediacy. But people interact differently with the academic side of a university than they do with its athletic teams. At the same time, journalists are conditioned to be observant, to be resourceful, and to be multi-taskers. Those qualities are important for public relations practitioners, too. Coming from journalism, you may be well prepared to handle the tactical materials — the deliverables — that your organization or client needs. But there is an adjustment in terms of understanding the value of primary and secondary research before a project and conducting research on the back end to evaluate. You have to ensure that what you do is purpose-driven.

3) What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
When you apply for a job, show that you have done your homework. Have you visited the organization’s website, looked through any of its print materials, taken inventory of its social media, experienced its product or service in some way? Having been on a number of search committees and making various hires, I can say my biggest pet peeve is when an applicant misses the mark in a cover letter. So many write about how being hired by the university fulfills their dream or objective. That’s nice, but I want to know how you are going to add value to my team. A lot of people view cover letters as a formality, but it’s a chance for you to tell your story. How does your skillset align with the job opening? That’s what I want to know — not that you’ve been an Auburn fan since you were 5 years old.

4) What do like the most about your profession?
I love the problem-solving component. You’re trying to drive action, change perception, build awareness, curate existing relationships and foster new ones. There’s no better feeling than seeing your work result in a national media placement, or being able to see that you have helped persuade previously disengaged individuals or groups to invest their time, talent or treasure in your organization.

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5) What is the biggest challenge you face in your profession?
Managing the flow of data. It’s referred to as Big Data for a reason. There’s more of it than there used to be, and it can be overwhelming. We’re fortunate in that we have a Data Scientist who is helping us build a better framework for managing the flow of information and helping to ensure the right people know the right things at the right time.

6) Why do people leave your field or company? Do you agree with why they leave?
In my professional circle, most fellow practitioners are long-timers or are just beginning their careers. If they’re not leaving because of retirement, you may have some who start their own firms or set up an LLC and do consulting work. They may leave an organization, but they tend to remain connected to PR and/or marketing. In the corporate sector, you see some departures due to downsizing or restructuring.

7) Are you considering leaving your current field or company?
Not at all. I wish I had made the transition to PR sooner. I also enjoy working in a higher education setting. You come to work feeling good about who and what you represent.

8) What is your favorite social media platform?
Probably Facebook, although I understand why it wears down so many people. It’s a versatile platform, and it’s more personal than, say, Twitter. In my personal use, I probably treat it the way I would a barstool at a local pub. It’s the place where I pontificate, try to make people laugh, occasionally argue, and share news I consider important. Because I work for a College of Business, I can say LinkedIn is an important platform in my professional role. You’re able to conduct research there on alumni or industry partners. I also value the ability to target specific companies or industry sectors. Some of the applied research conducted by our faculty offers relevance to executives in a variety of industry settings — banking, supply chain and logistics, management, accounting. We’re able to connect and share news with corporate leaders who may not be part of our alumni network.

Lately, I’m finding myself becoming more active with Instagram. It is becoming more vital for our organization since we serve individuals in their late teens and early to mid-20s.

9) What was the last book you read? The last TED talk or other e-learning content you consumed?
Not counting what I read to my 5-year-old son at night … my recent reads have included “Edelman and the Rise of Public Relations,” a non-fiction account chronicling the life and career arc of the firm’s namesake, and “Headed for Home,” a fiction/humor book by a friend, former Auburn University professor Mary Helen Brown. In terms of web-based learning, it runs the gamut. The Public Relations Society of American offers an abundance of resources. Also, as someone who works within a College of Business, I find value in checking out occasional webinars offered by Harvard Business Review. That sometimes helps me in understanding the common language or our faculty and industry partners.

10) Where do you receive your news and information?
It’s a mix of print and online newspapers, TV, and Facebook. I tend to read the following newspapers online: The New York Times, Washington Post, and the Opelika-Auburn News (local). I also have access to print issues of the NYT and Wall Street Journal. I watch local TV stations, and will occasionally check out the weekend morning shows like “Meet the Press,” but rarely consume cable news. I tend to monitor on Twitter rather than engage on the platform. I find Facebook to be useful in finding useful stories that may surface throughout the day, but tend to be very selective about what I read or view from it.

11) What are your hobbies? Do you wish you had more time to pick up a hobby?
I love spending time with my family. I have a 5-year-old son who is into a bit of a polymath. He’s taking lessons in everything from tennis to acting to ceramics to Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

I love to travel. My first time outside the U.S. was covering the 2000 Olympics on assignment in Sydney, Australia. I’ve been making up for lost time since then.

And, finally, having been an athlete in my fading youth (football and soccer), I love to exercise and play sports. Right now, because my creaky joints don’t hold up well running full-court in basketball, my primary diversion involves weight training and power lifting. I like pushing, pulling and moving heavy things. I refer to myself as an AFG — Athletic Fat Guy.

I’m trying to make time for other pursuits. I serve on the state board the Public Relations Council of Alabama and have just recently started as a board member for Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity.

Professional Development Q&A With Kristin Seed

This post is the fourth in a series of Q&A sessions with friends, former colleagues, aquainternces and other contacts who I consider both influential and inspirational. Each of these individuals possesses a skillet that I believe you will find valuable. They have each made an impact throughout my career path and I wanted to feature them in this series.

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

Name: Kristin Seed (@KristinSeed)
Profession: Professional Services Consultant for Determine Inc.
Degree: Dual bachelor’s degrees in accounting and computer management

Kristin Seed is my oldest sister. She has always been a source of inspiration for me and also an invaluable resource for me in many different areas. After entering the workforce in the late 90s for State Farm, she got married and was a “career mom” until 2012.

With her kids in junior high and high school, she entered the business world once again and has shared with me her experiences. I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Kristin Seed.

1) How does your current profession align with the degree you graduated with?
My current profession is very closely aligned with my degrees. I earned dual bachelor’s degrees in accounting and computer management from Eastern Illinois University. I’m currently working for a software company that sells purchasing software that integrates with a company’s financial system.

If you have held other jobs, how closely have they been aligned?
Nearly all of my positions have been closely aligned with my degrees. Directly out of college, I was a mainframe computer programmer. However, I didn’t program on accounting systems. My first professional transition was to move to programming accounting software on the PeopleSoft Financials platform. My two latest positions are both in technology, but are now in the property tax and procurement industries.

2) What did you ‘plan to do’ after college and how close is that to what you’re doing at this point in your career?
I began at State Farm as a computer programmer. My career is still very similar in that it is working with software; however, there have been so many advances in technology and computer languages that my skill set now is more broad and less deep. And, I have expanded my role to be more of a business consultant – who helps the client understand how the software will integrate with their processes in their offices.

Were there any deviations along the way and did they help/hurt your path to your current job?
Well, I stayed home to raise kids for 12 years. That was quite the deviation! It hurt my career path because technology advanced significantly and there was quite a bit of re-training to do upon re-entry to work. Also, because of the gap in work, I’m still working at a much more tactical role rather than strategic. I’m still a team member rather than leading the team. That’s my next career step.

3) What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
Learn constantly. Watch TED talks. Join MeetUp groups. Follow tech start-ups on social media. Don’t surround yourself with those who think like you – seek out and follow those who introduce you to new ideas and concepts.

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4) What do like the most about your profession?
I love the one-on-one work the customer. With software implementation, I normally have 3-5 customers who I’m working closely with through decision making, testing and early support. It’s interesting to see the similarities and differences across their industries. It’s interesting to see how different team members approach project management and problem solving.

5) What is the biggest challenge you face in your profession?
I work fast. I ask lots of questions. I want to talk about the ‘elephant in the room’ first thing. This direct, fast-paced approach is not comfortable for everyone.

6) How has your industry changed during your time as a professional?
Huge move to cloud software – SAAS (Software as a Service) rather than companies having their own version of software loaded on to their own servers. Individuals having 24/7 access to their employer email and work makes for global corroboration as well as the expectation of constant working hours. It’s both great and terrible.

7) Why do people leave your field or company?
I don’t think people leave the field. They either decide they only like to code and they don’t like to work with the customer – so they specialize. Or they like working with the customer so move into support, training, testing, etc. Those who like the interaction of software and business move towards consulting.

Do you agree with why they leave?
I think it makes sense

8) Are you considering leaving your current field or company?
I just switched jobs about 8 weeks ago! I’ve found that I get bored about the end of year 2 and then move on to something new during the 3rd year. While networking to move jobs this time, I had a few people tell me that in this field they expect a 2 year commitment from an employee to be what they should expect.

9) What is your favorite social media platform?
I prefer Twitter for business, FaceBook for personal, and don’t really like Instagram, SnapChat, etc.

10) What was the last book you read?
I’m reading the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. I want to understand how to work really hard, for a really short period of time.

The last TED talk or other e-learning content you consumed?
I’m taking an online MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) about mental health.
I’ve been watching TED talks about building strong teams at work. Right now I like Simon Sinek talks.

11) Where do you receive your news and information? 
A. Print Newspaper – never
B. Online Newspaper – rarely
C. Television – once or twice a week I’ll watch morning show or evening news
D. Twitter – local business news
E. Facebook – family and friends updates
F. Other – researching things I’ve heard others talking about or follow up online with a newsource about a particular topic

12) What are your hobbies?
I like following the local food and craft beer scene and being current on what is going on in Indianpolis and now Carmel, the suburb we’ve moved to. I hear my new gym has pickle ball on Saturdays – so ask again in a few weeks! 🙂

Do you wish you had more time to pick up a hobby?
Yes – focus has been on work and kids’ activities. Used to do things like scrapbook and go to book club. Looking for new ideas.

Top 3 Ways an Inbound Agency Adds Value

Inbound Marketing and its core tenants are starting to become a mainstream way of thinking as more business decision makers realize its ROI power. We’ve said it before, but outbound marketing features company focused collateral that is un-trackable. Inbound marketing is completely customer focused and based around metrics that are easily trackable.

Therefore, Inbound Marketing agencies can help business generate more qualified leads by producing content that helps lead prospects to make informed decisions. Sounds awesome right? But, how do they do this and what exactly makes partnering with an Inbound agency valuable?

Keep reading below or watch my video HERE!

Turning Projects into Programs

Inbound agencies aren’t bogged down in the internal business struggles that may get in the way of you ultimately helping your company meet its growth goals. An Inbound agency can help you think about not just the list of projects that need completed, but how those ultimately can become long-term programs and campaigns. Inbound marketing at its core creates assets. CEO’s and decision makers love assets. They especially love the when those assets increase in value. Every blog post, ebook, infographic, video, slide share, landing page, CTA, email, lead nurturing series, workflow, process you document and system you help put in place is an asset. The best news is that these assets grow in value without needing to make any additional investments and can all be integral parts of ongoing and successful marketing programs.

Creativity and Expertise

Not every business is ahead of the game when it comes to social media marketing. They may excel on one platform, but struggle on others. Or they may try to be on all social platforms out there and therefore can’t produce compelling content on each one. An Inbound agency can provide the strategy and expertise needed to succeed with social content, while bringing a creative flair which will help your campaigns reach their goals. Agencies typically showcase creativity and a willingness to push the envelope that internal team members may not feel comfortable offering on their own. Trusting an Inbound agency to bring fresh, relevant ideas and knowing they can track and measure how the success was achieved will make you look good to your CEO.   

Goal Setting and Measurement 

As we mentioned above, being able to track and measure success is at the heart of Inbound Marketing. All the assets created above will be loaded with keywords and other elements to help your company’s content be indexed an easily searchable on Google. As your indexed content grows, you will no longer have to chase customers. Inbound marketing is founded on the idea that being an educational resource adds value and nurtures leads into customers, so you’ll stop wasting money on chasing people that don’t matter to your bottom line. Inbound agencies are so wrapped up in your bottom line that they’ll constantly measure what is working and what isn’t and adjust accordingly to keep you on track to meet your goals. It’s this data-driven, ROI first mentality that ultimately makes partnering with an Inbound agency valuable.

These are just a few of the reasons that working with an Inbound agency can help you look good to your bosses. 

If you’d like more tips on how Inbound Marketing can help you, subscribe to my blog here

A Giving Tuesday Success Story

Entering its fifth year, #GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.), #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

Since its inaugural year in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources.

As #GivingTuesday approaches for 2016, I wanted to highlight a shining example of a well-executed giving day. My alma mater, Illinois State University, has broken annual fundraising records for two consecutive years thanks to its efforts on #GivingTuesday.

Recently I spoke with Lora Wey, Executive Director of Annual Giving at ISU, to pick her brain about what tactics ISU has used to break these records. Click below to read the full  transcript of our question and answer session.

Tod: How did you and your team decide to capitalize on #GivingTuesday?

LW: On Giving Tuesday, annual giving drives the bus for this project. We had to get other units on campus like marketing and communications, web services, donor information services, etc. to buy in to the day. Those units are needed to create your core committee. Next were meetings with the President and Provost, the Deans at each college, and the various department chairs. Gaining buy in top-down is simply a function of how Illinois State is set up. In addition, each college and department manage their own social media so having them on board enhanced a coordinated effort.

Tod: How far in advance did you begin these talks? 

LW: In our first year, we began planning in August (for an event in December). Even at a large institution, we were able to get everyone on the same page and pull off a successful event with only three months planning.

Tod: How did you decide what areas to fund?

LW: At Illinois State, there are over 1,000 funds! Listing that many choices on a dropdown menu loses your audience. We decided to start with the largest priority fund per college and department. After the first year, we increased the number of funds to just over 50. People really enjoyed having more options because that is our culture at Illinois State. We’ve found that sticking to around 50 choices is the sweet spot.

Tod: How do you keep momentum going?

LW: We started with the major gift officers. Donors making gifts or pledges payable within the current fiscal were asked if we could use their gift as a challenge on Giving Tuesday. On Giving Tuesday, we opted to use six to eight challenges; these drive the momentum. Throughout the course of the day, larger gifts and challenges will happen organically as donors see the momentum and the excitement of the day. But, having those challenges ready and adding new ones excites and motivates the external audience.

Tod: How many triggers do you suggest throughout the day?

LW: We have always had between five and seven trigger events throughout the day. However, they aren’t always about dollars or specific donor connections. A big part of the efforts is social media participation, so we incorporated re-tweet challenges. That engaged a segment by spreading the word and helping raise awareness.

Tod: Which trigger event was the most successful?

LW: The re-tweet challenge was our most successful and we reached our target very quickly. I would suggest incorporating an engagement challenge in any crowdfunding plan. Re-tweet challenges really engage an observer to get involved in the day.

Tod: What advice do you have as far as timing for content?

LW: Consider memes, short impact videos etc., after lunch and in the afternoon lull. We did the re-tweet challenge at 12:30 p.m. and had other things cued up until 2 p.m. to help fight that afternoon lull. We also sent an email during that period to help counter the quiet period.

Tod: Is it counterintuitive to start with a low giving threshold?

LW: A lot of people in fundraising may think so, but Illinois State is growing a culture of philanthropy, so we had to illustrate that every gift matters. There was concern that the average gift would be $10. We actually found after removing the really large gifts, that the actual average gift for us was $49. So our donors were rising to the challenge and not backing down, even though our first ask was $10.

Tod: What are your goals for year three? 

LW: We’ve had success each year, but it hasn’t been around total dollar amounts or average gift. We still want to emphasize donor participation in order to grow the pipeline. This year we may increase our first donor goal challenge to 600 or 650.

Tod: What would you say are key components to a successful day?

LW: Recruit your social media ambassadors! Our social media ambassadors consisted of on-campus ambassadors such as faculty and staff that took an interest, and then alumni “social media ambassadors” that follow us on Facebook and Twitter and engage regularly. We had alumni that are regularly follow our flagship accounts and we reached out to them with information on what we were doing and asked them to share information. We probably had 15-200 social media ambassadors sharing the information via their social media throughout the day. It takes little time and doesn’t cost anything.

Tod: Did you leverage any LIVE components?

LW: LIVE video on social media has really come about in the last year, so we haven’t done anything like that yet. We had all the content and memes prepared beforehand though and rolled those out during the day. This year we plan to have more video components and feature the football and basketball coaches, because we know we should leverage more video content.

Tod: Did you utilize traditional media? 

LW: We utilized local and regional media outlets, both print and television. We weren’t the only local not for profits participating in Giving Tuesday but we were the most visible. I would suggest utilizing all forms of media to get your messaging out.

Tod: How was your “War Room” set up?

LW: The room consisted of our core committee. The IT person who designed our giving site, marketing who designed memes and posted on the university Facebook page, and gift processing. There were also other members helping to “like” and “share” as specific units and we also had a dedicated person for questions and support. In total, 8-10 of us coordinating messaging and answering questions. The School of Communications’ SMACC Lab which tracks trends, social sentiment, etc. gave us access into who and what was trending, what ambassadors had the most influence, etc. This also helped us to diffuse anything that was said negatively.

Tod: What are your major “Dos and Don’ts” for hosting a successful Giving Day?

LW: 1) Get the buy-in early with your core team of people. 

2) You need someone who understands the web. We “home built” our platform, for lack of a better term, instead of contracting with an outside vendor, so you need someone from IT on board. Even if you use an outside vendor, the IT person needs to be familiar with the platform and how to troubleshoot and prepare for any problems.

3) You need the appropriate marketing and communications people on board to help you promote the messaging and to generate the right chatter on the day of the event. The hope is that the online giving site blows up with activity, so it’s key to make sure your online site can accommodate the rush of visitors. 

4) Make sure your email provider/server can accommodate sending mass email sends. Email is a big component, not just social media. You have to make sure your system can send 20,000-50,000 emails in one drop. We asked after year one “how did you hear about this” and the answer was emails.

5) Six emails were lined up to go during the day. The content was written ahead of time and included broad messaging so that we could add additional text right before we sent it. We sent an email once we hit the initial goal and encouraged people to learn more and to keep giving. A lull between 12:30-3:30 was sent to keep momentum going. 

6) Involve campus “faces” like the President, coach, or the mascot creatively.  

7) Plan to steward Giving Tuesday donors throughout the year to keep them engaged with your university.

With the right buy-in, a well thought out strategic plan and clever content, Illinois State University has been able to crush their annual giving goals. What’s in store for them in 2016? Well, you should keep on the lookout for announcements from them.

In the meantime, I can tell you that you can’t just “wing it” on #GivingTuesday or whatever time of the year you decide to execute your Giving Day. You must have proper planning to ensure solid execution. 

For more tips and tricks on how to use Inbound Marketing for fundraising, click here

How Marketing Automation Helps Improve Your Alumni Relations

Football season is back! That means tailgates and re-connecting with alumni when they return to campus. Most alumni associations spend considerable amounts of time during the offseason planning tailgate events.

Marketing automation is a great way to nurture these relationships with highly personalized, useful content that helps convert prospects to strong leads and turn those leads into delighted customers. This type of marketing automation normally generates new revenue for your alumni accociation and provides an excellent ROI.

I know that higher education professionals cringe at the words prospects, leads, and sell. But, bear with us here. Though we’re using some marketing lingo, the techniques we discuss are the same whether we’re talking about customers buying a product, or alumni donating to your campaign.

Let me tell you how marketing automation helps improve your alumni relations.

Improved Insights into Donor Behavior

Marketing automation software works to gather information from prospects on a consistent basis. Many have the ability to track actions such as page visits, email opens, downloads, form signups, donations, and much more. All of this data is stored into a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and helps build customer profiles. These profiles help you:

  • Deeply understand your donor profiles by knowing their interests and actions
  • Measure engagement from most-engaged to least-engaged
  • Analyze effectiveness of campaigns and outreach efforts  

Improved Fundraising, Member Retention and Nurturing

Marketing automation also allows for better communication with your entire prospect base. This communication can be personalized to each individual in various ways such as.

  • Campaigns targeted to current members that automatically send 30-60 days before renewal dates and/or important giving initiatives. These messages can be tailored to each member based on activity level, or donation level.
  • Messages triggered to individual donors based on webpage visits, page clicks or form signups to help solicit additional gifts.
  • Newsletter delivery, instant communications based on certain web actions, other membership offers and survey data capturing for potential members or very new leads to help gauge interest in certain initiatives and allow for up-to-date and immediate contacting.

Marketing automation allows for messages to be sent at the right time, in the right way, to the right person without delay. When you automate parts of your higher education marketing strategy, you gain great insight into how your alumni and possible donors think and act.

This competitive advantage allows you to predict behavior and respond to their inquiries more effectively. This technology isn’t just for increasing giving potential. You can also use it to maintain long-term relationships with alumni and donors.

For more information on marketing automation and inbound marketing, subscribe to my blog

This post was originally published by Verge Pipe Media

Be A Partner NOT A Vendor

Leading clients is a contact sport. It’s one of the most important things I learned while at Account Executive College. This means that if I’m going to lead our clients successfully, I must be in front of them consistently and speak with them frequently.
This constant contact requires the utilization of certain tools and principles by which to abide. In this blog I want to discuss how it is important to be a partner NOT a vendor for your clients. Clients will often try to do more on their own, so you have to be there to lead and advise them during your relationship so they realize the impact you can make in their marketing efforts. The deeper the relationship you can build and the better leader you can be for them, the less they will want to explore other options when the new “in” thing comes along.

Having said that, here are three ways to help you be a leader for your clients to help guide them through the changing media and marketing landscape.

Look for inconsistencies to fix 

An easy way to get quick wins early in a client relationship and a tactic that will help gain their trust for the duration of the partnership is to look for brand inconsistencies. Once you’ve identified the areas you can help correct for them, immediately tell them, “we can fix this!” This can be as easy as suggesting better content to post, better times to post it or making sure all social profiles have consistent bio information. Prioritize the importance on these projects and knock them out quickly and effectively. Your client will be impressed that you solved, what seemed to them, complex problems more quickly than they could. This will help you earn immediate trust.

Take work off their plate

One of the first questions we ask when we start working with new clients is, “what keeps you up at night?” Actually, we begin to ask that question well before we’ve signed on as the agency of record, and then we reiterate it again during our first meetings. We want to take work off our cleint’s plate very quickly and be known for the problems we solve for them. If you are consistently making their workload lighter, you’ll start to become a trusted advisor for them. They will come to you when they’re considering making a decision or will ask that you be in meetings that impact their daily workload. This action goes a long way in building up lasting trust.  

Always show value

The final step in becoming a trusted partner and earning long lasting confidence from your client is for you to always show value. The first two points listed above will help you establish quick value and value during the early stages of the new relationship. But, being able to consistently show value will make a partnership last a long time. Value can mean many things to many people. In the case of a client partnership it can be in the form of offering ideas, solving problems, being available when called upon, sticking up for your client when they face internal strife, meeting and exceeding deadlines, and generally just making their lives easier.

I mentioned zero-cost client service initiatives in the first blog of this series and being a trusted partner is also a way to bring your agency tremendous returns at zero cost. Following these above steps will also help you gain various levels of trust with your client that can lead to a lasting and productive relationship.

For more client service tips and tricks, subscribe to my blog

This post was originally published for Verge Pipe Media

Listening With Mirrors

Leading clients is a contact sport. As the former Executive Director of Client Leadership (fancy title I know!) at Verge Pipe Media, I learned to roll up my sleeves and get dirty to lead our clients successfully. pexels-photo-85040

Being able to do this requires certain tools in your client services toolbox. Therefore, in my upcoming series of blogs I pull back the curtain and reveal some tools that I’ve used to be successful.

The first tip I’d like to discuss is “listening with mirrors.” “Listening with mirrors?” you say. “What does that even mean?” I’m glad you asked.

Reflective Listening

The way I like to define listening with mirrors is as follows: Listen to your clients intently and then reflect back to them what they just communicated. This is sometimes called “reflective listening,” I’ve come to learn. But I like the sound of listening with mirrors. It presents a great visual reminder for me.

Seriously it does. If I think in my head “mirrors” as I start a discussion with a client, it reminds me to focus on what a client is telling me and then probe deeper into what they just said. This doesn’t mean just repeating what they said, it means responding with reflection (mirrors, get it). Responding with reflection allows the client to “re-see” or rethink about what they just told you.

Reflective sentences may begin like this:

“It sounds like…”

“What I’m hearing is…”

“You feel…”

Beginning your phrasing like this allows you to reflect back, in your own words, what you understood them say. This is often different than what they actually said or what they mean to say. Listening with mirrors usually prompts the client to fill in gaps or add further explanation as to what they wanted to convey. Thus, you are both ultimately speaking the same language when it comes to the problem or situation the client is laying out before you.

Don’t Judge

Another key piece of listening with mirrors is to not judge what the person said when you reflect back. This gives your client a chance to see how they’re coming across, which may or may not be how they meant to come across with the message. Not judging will prevent you from coming across as rude or argumentative, which could lead the client to get defensive.

Overstate

Reflecting back with clients can give you the chance to overstate or slightly embellish their comment or issue in order to see if they really meant what they said. This method may surprise your client, but will usually cause them to pause and consider if they really meant what they said, or if the problem is a big as it seems. Again, it’s all about making the client think about their needs in a different light and possibly re-evaluate or re-prioritize what really matters.

Trust me, it works

I have found in most cases that listening with mirrors is validating to our clients. Think about who you communicate with on a regular basis. How do you feel when that someone takes the time to really listen to what you say and take the time to understand your problems? Feels pretty good right?!

Listening with mirrors is a zero-cost client service and the return can be tremendous! Reflecting back to clients consistently will help you better retain your current clients and make it easier for prospects and new clients to see that you are genuinely interested in helping them solve problems. Doesn’t get much better than that, does it? 

For more client success insights, subscribe to my blog here

This blog was originally posted by Verge Pipe Media. 

 

Creating Content For “Boring” Industries Can Be Easy

Selling a service can be hard, especially a B2B service that may be considered “boring” to the average person. At Verge Pipe Media we pride ourselves on figuring out the problems that keep our clients up at night. The pain points, if you will, that we can help them solve to effectively get the conversions for which they are looking.

During my tenure working for a boring industry, I liked to say that “we aren’t selling Nikes,” so we had to cut through some clutter and make engaging and educational content that would convert visitors into prospects.

Think for a minute about the end user or the person making this “considered purchase.” What are they trying to understand? What research are they doing? What problem are they trying to solve with the service? When you nail that down, produce content and content offers around that problem.

It may be hard to “un-boring” your service (think engineering, finance, banking, etc.) but it’s not about making something that isn’t flashy, into something flashy. Rather, it’s creating content and offers that compel people to want to learn more about how your business can solve a particular problem. Inbound marketing for boring industries is all about producing educational content that shows you are the trusted resource in the industry.

Try hard to find an un-boring angle if possible. Good content for boring industries doesn’t have to be exciting, but it has to be compelling to your target audience. Creating compelling content for boring industries is also about finding that one un-boring angle and using it to your advantage. Knowledge is power, so as long as you prove that you know what you’re talking about and know it better than your competitors, you’re on your way to gaining customers.

We do want to caution you, although what we just said may seem simple, it’s not. Boring industry marketers are often at a disadvantage because we have to do lots of extra homework. Often we find ourselves teaching our team in great depth about what this industry does and who it serves, before we can even start marketing.

With that said, here are some helpful tips to follow if you need to convert new customers for your “boring” industry:

It’s all about your personas

In order to create compelling content, you must know your target audience. Creating detailed buyer personas will help you know the likes, dislikes, interests, activities and influences of your ideal customer. Want to learn more about personas? We have you covered.

Leverage your subject matter experts

Every industry has subject matter experts, no matter how boring it may seem. These experts often have unique insights to share and can bring an “everyman” perspective to the content. They often have to explain their craft to people, so leverage those thoughts into blog posts, content offers or white papers.

Offer educational content consistently 

Be known by the problems you solve! If you are consistently creating and distributing content that is solving problems for your personas, you will see conversions. It’s as simple as that. The inbound marketing methodology works in spades when you’re solving problems and making people’s lives easier with your content.

Sales and Marketing have to be closely linked/share input

Mixed messages will derail any progress. You can’t create content that solves problems if your sales and marketing teams aren’t aligned and pushing out the same messages. It may also be helpful to involve your customer service team (if you have one) when creating content. The sales team usually knows what’s preventing prospects from becoming customers and can help you create content around those problems. Same with the customer service team. They can help you delight customers by telling you what customer love, or what aspects with which they struggle.

Constantly search for success stories and trends

Leveraging testimonials and “warm” stories can go a long way to building trust and brand loyalty. Let those advocates help tell your brand’s story and how it solved their problems. Additionally, always look for how you can capitalize on trends, keywords, etc. You’re not boring if you’re providing answers to timely questions and to make things relatable to your potential customers.

Don’t be afraid of the challenges that may come with trying to market a boring industry. Dig in, roll up your sleeves, and learn all about what it does, how it works and its ideal customers. Then begin to create content that will be helpful, educational and problem solving.

To learn more Inbound Marketing tips, subscribe to my blog here

This blog was originally published by Verge Pipe Media

How to Position Your Company for Each Stage of The Buyer’s Journal

There’s a fundamental shift occurring in the marketing world. A shift in approach and methodology that we at Verge Pipe Media are embracing whole-heartedly. This shift is Inbound Marketing.

The buyer's journey

Inbound Marketing is promoting a company through various forms of content which serves to attract customers through the different stages throughout a purchase. These stages are referred to as the Buyer’s Journey and this journey is the foundation to this new methodology.

In this post, we want to take a quick look at this journey. We also want to provide you with some practical ideas for how your company can create content to match each stage of the journey. Matching your content correctly allows what you produce to gain better qualified leads for your brand.

The Buyers Journey

Awareness – At this stage people are beginning to recognize that they have a problem. Maybe it’s that they have a fever, their throat is sore and want to know what’s wrong with them. Or a mother has been thinking about taking a family bonding trip, but isn’t sure where to start her research. They are aware they want or need to take some action and are ready to research what to do next.

Consideration – At this stage they are fully aware of the problem they are facing and are actively looking for a solution. They’ve figured out they have strep throat and they want to know their options for relieving the symptoms. The mother would be looking to find options for the best family bonding trips in their area.

Decision – They have looked at a number of brands to find the best one that fits their needs. In the case of the person with strep throat, they can visit a physician, go to the ER, or visit an easy access clinic. They will be able to decide what fits their insurance plan. The mother would have her list of local options and would be able to make a decision based on the family’s needs and price range.

What Content Goes Where?

By now you’ve gathered how specific content offers are more relevant to buyers at specific times during The Buyer’s Journey. That basic premise is true, but now let’s discuss how you as the marketer can decide which one of your content offers to choose for each stage.

You will need to have a firm grasp of your buyer personas and how their behaviors may differ during the process. This will help you to determine what specific content types are most relevant to them along the Buyer’s Journey. Below is a quick reference guide to help you plan your proper content types.

Awareness – Content should be vendor neutral and include words like troubleshoot, issue, resolve, risks, improve, upgrade and prevent. The type of content produced should be in the form of analytics or research reports, white papers, eBooks and basic educational content. 

Consideration – Content should be mostly vendor neutral and help explain available methods to solving a problem. You should include words like solution, provider, service, tool, software and device. The type of content produced should be in the form of comparison white papers, expert guides, videos and other live interactions.

Decision – Content should be VERY vendor heavy and provide documentation, data, benchmarks and endorsements to recommend your product as the solution to the problem. The type of content produced should be in the form of vendor comparisons, case studies, trial downloads, specific product literature and live demos.

Now What?

It has been proven that leads nurtured with targeted content produce and increase of in sales opportunities of nearly 20%. So it goes without saying, that using the tips above can help you produce and deliver the right content at the right time.

From here, work to map and catalogue your entire content library as it stands currently. Look to see if you have the proper content for each stage. Re-categorize items into the areas mentioned above and mark down pieces of content that need to be produced. While this step may seem laborious, there are many examples of content inventory worksheets offered by Hubspot that can help with this step.

We hope this brief rundown on producing content for the buyer’s journey is helpful. We can’t stress enough that matching your content correctly to each stage will help you gain better qualified leads and better sales opportunities.

For more Inbound Marketing insights, subscribe to my blog here.

This blog was originally published for Verge Pipe Media.