Lessons on how to be compassionate, courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo is more than just a pretty face. Look beyond his chiseled bone structure and gelled hair and you’ll see a source of wisdom in business and in life.

It’s a bold statement, I know, just like his eyebrow game. Please allow me to explain.

In 2005, during an integral time in the season for his team, Manchester United, Ronaldo’s father fell into a coma in London. It was likely that his father would die, and this created a huge dilemma for the Portuguese forward whose presence on the pitch played a key part in the team’s overall success. His leaving would most likely mean the loss of a title for the team.

What could have been a major source of shame for Ronaldo, was quickly quelled by the excellent leadership skills shown by manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Ronaldo explained their conversation to the Daily Mirror;

“I said, ‘Boss, I don’t feel good.’We are in a key moment in the league and theChampions League, but I say, ‘Boss, I don’t feel good. I want to see my dad.’

“[He said] ‘Cristiano, you want to go one day, two days, one week, you can go. I’m going to miss you here because you know you are important. But your dad [comes] first.’

When he told me that, I thought, ‘This guy’s unbelievable’. He was a football father for me.”

Ferguson’s compassion is the lesson to be learned here. He knew that the core values of the individual (or business) is what determines success. He stuck by his guiding principles and proved that ultimately ‘doing the right thing’ would influence not only how Ronaldo would perform in the short-term, but how he would behave and view himself throughout his career and his life. As a result, Ferguson became ‘like a father’ to Ronaldo and the pair enjoyed many successes throughout their time together. 


Why trust should be given upfront

It’s difficult for me to extend high-levels of compassion to new team members upfront because I believe trust is a core value that’s built over time. I’m quickly finding that withholding trust is not only a detriment to my personal leadership, but it is also just flat out wrong.

“In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you,” Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

Our new copywriter, Alex, is a perfect example. She started two months ago and has never once given me reason to not trust her work ethic. She possesses integrity, intelligence and energy, but for some reason I found myself holding back on fully trusting her when she requested to work from home (WFH) over the holidays.

Before starting at AirHelp, she was honest about her availability. She was looking forward to joining the team full-time, but was also transitioning out of being a full-time freelance writer and had to wrap up ongoing projects before fully committing to AirHelp. It meant she’d have 15 days out of the office during her first two months at the company.

I wasn’t happy.

I replied to the HR Director who was still in negotiation with her, “That’s 15 workdays she’s requesting to work from home within the first two months of being employed here. It’s going to be hard to acclimate her to the business without her being in the office. I’m not against working from home, but I want to make it clear that this would not be a regular occurrence.”

Show, don’t tell how to trust

As a manager my concerns were valid, but what I failed to see were the examples Alex was simultaneously showing me that proved her trustworthiness. She was forthright with her initial availability and was insistent that time spent out of the office wouldn’t be a regular occurrence. Later, she proved to be true to her word by never missing a deadline and being consistently available for phone calls or last-minute projects. In fact, I was so assured by her work ethic (trustworthiness) that I began ordering her to sign out of Slack and Skype and go enjoy herself.

Nevertheless, the holidays are coming up and when she asked me for if she could work from home for 15 days over Thanksgiving, my old concerns of trust and reliability were renewed. Her reasoning is valid; her grandmother had fallen ill and she wants to spend a significant amount of time in Montana to be with her.

I told her I would think about it.

AirHelp is a tech start-up that is thriving and hiring aggressively. It’s important that the team bonds and grows up together. I was concerned that continued, lengthy absences would break this bond and also set a false precedent that working from home is the rule and not the exception. What I failed to acknowledge at the time was that 60 percent of my team isn’t even based in New York, anyway. We have offices in 15+ countries across the world, so why was I placing different expectations on her than the other team members? I know it’s because I knew them already. Once again, I failed to trust upfront.

You gotta give, give, give

“I’m not a micromanager,” I tell my team, which is true. I don’t question every decision, invoice or metric that comes across my desk. We don’t work off a scoreboard or use templated to-do lists. We don’t have set working hours.

Naturally, this hands-off approach only works with a mutual level of trust that everyone involved will actually do what they say they’re going to do. I failed on my half of the bargain. I didn’t trust. Alex, I’m sorry I failed you!

Naturally, this hands-off approach only works with a mutual level of trust that everyone involved will actually do what they say they’re going to do. I failed on my half of the bargain.

Two nights ago around 2 a.m., while suffering through a sinus infection that wouldn’t let me to sleep, I came across the quote from Cristiano Ronaldo and it knocked me back into place. I learned that I need to trust from the beginning and evaluate if it can be maintained over time. Sure, it was Ferguson who taught me this, but I’d also like to thank the messenger.

The next morning, I was done thinking about it. I sent her an email, “Regarding vacation and WFH days … it does not matter to me how many vacation days you need for spending time with family. Family is the most important aspect of life and you need to do what you need to do.”

This ugly af writing tool is actually a secret weapon

A brand’s website is its storefront. So what does that make the headline… the window dressing? The display case? The sales tag? The devil is in the details, especially when it comes to the presentation and display of a brand’s message.

It’s a lot of responsibility, which is a trait I’ve never been known for, instead outsourcing the headline writing task to the editors. Well, no more. Now I’m the Head of Content at AirHelp, which means I’m the brand equivalent to the website’s Editor-in-Chief. I’ve got to say that it really is lonely at the top. I have no more editors to turn to. So, naturally I turned to the Internet.

Take one: Editorial headline writing 

The Columbia University headline guide tops the SEO search and therefore naturally became the only page I used for reference, but gawd is it boring af. I mean look at it. It reads like a undergrad curriculum. It uses words like “imperative,” which any good journalist knows is 1.) an adjective and is therefore lazy sentence structure and 2.) not likely to please the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test. It makes three good points, though.

  • Headlines are usually written as an afterthought (true)
  • Readers look at headlines and photos first (true)
  • It must be correct, “easily understood,” interesting and set the tone of the article (non-negotiable requirement)

Take two: Advertorial headline writing

K, well, we’re not amateurs here so let’s move beyond the basics and into the real shit … the Advanced Marketing Institute’s Headline AnalyzerThis site could not be more ugly … or rude. It’s algorithm straight up judges your headline writing skills so hard and without empathy that it is now my most favorite tool to play. Here’s how it works.  

  1. Enter the headline into the text box (20 words or less, obviously)
  2. Select your industry category
  3. Submit your headline for analysis

Recently, the AirHelp tech dudes hosted a hackathon and the video that came out of it is so, so good that I knew the responsibility (ugh, this word) of selling this window display to the public was all mine. I tried 15 options before settling in on “Tears and caffeine are the two ingredients to a successful hackathon.” My score was a 45.45% and I officially ranked as a professional copywriter as I tapped into the blend of Intellectual and Spiritual. Hellz yeah.

Take three: Professional headline writing

This tool tests your resilience. It requires you to be a mix of both editorial and advertorial and I’m determined to beat it at its own game. The score indicates your headline as a percentage of Emotional Marketing Value Words (EMV)

It’s also where it gets super judgy, explaining, “Most professional copywriters’ headlines will have 30% – 40% EMV Words in their headlines, while the most gifted copywriters will have 50%-75% EMV words.Essentially, if your headline is less than 30% your writing is terrible. To put that into perspective, the English language contains approximately 20% EMV words – I’ve ranked at 10% more than once.

The ideal headline comprises three predominant emotions: Intellectual, Spiritual and Empathetic. Intellectual impact words are best aimed at people in the fields of education, law, medicine, research and politics. Spiritual words are for New Age and health-related markets as well as women, children and other ninnies. Empathetic words bring out profound and strong positive emotional reactions.

Just in case you were wondering – this headline scored a solid 60% EMV words. I’m officially gifted.


How to write an email to a potential employer

Cover letters are dead. If I were to receive an email leading in with “Dear Hannah … I’m interested in this position because of X,Y and Z … “? I would delete it. This is tone deaf. What I need is someone who can help me reach my needs, which is the reason why I’m hiring in the first place.

Today I didn’t delete. Instead, I’m sharing an email of a great way to write to a potential employer. The email is from a writer who heard through a friend that I’m hiring a copywriter and it’s a perfect example of what many of us fail to do: meet the needs of the other person before highlighting our own talents.

It shouldn’t matter – but it is worth noting – that this man is a Baby Boomer. I know this because of his gmail pic. Anyway, his writing proves he knows his audience.Here’s what’s so good about his email before reading it in full:

1. It addresseimagess my needs as his potential employer first
2. Then he shows me actionable evidence of how he can help
3. Which is supported by prior experience
4. He uses the email itself to set a tempo – short sentences followed by long ones, which creates a sort of song with the words.

Now that’s a good writer.

“I heard you were looking for a copywriter. I also understand you’ve hired someone. For future reference here I am because you never know.

Thomas Jefferson said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.””

I’m X, a content and integrated copywriter with digital DNA and a Jeffersonian twist. I understand the value of the right words. And the power of pauses.

My diverse background includes CPG, B2B, and non-profit. Everything from HP to P&G to Twinkies to The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

When I’m not writing I’m a volunteer music therapist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where I pay guitar and sing for patients. I was fortunate to be honored as New Yorker of the Week for my work with cancer patients.  I also teach a business-oriented listening/communications workshop using improv comedy techniques. Amy Poehler was my first instructor so I learned from the best.

You can see some of my thinking at X.com. I also blog for the Huffington Post: huffingtonpost.com/X


[Cover Letter Template]: Application for Assistant to the Coffeemaker

As a volunteer at a local old folk’s home in Virginia, my mom has unique insight into the bureaucracy and egoism that can be rampant in small towns. Politics play a huge role, even with something as simple as making coffee for the elderly, in an environment where everyone knows each other and needs to glean a sense of authority over one’s neighbors. Lots of big fishes in a small pond, if you will.

For example, accompanying my mom to one 45-minute volunteer stint required several rounds of permissions and approvals. It seems there are no less hoops to jump through when volunteering in a small town as there are for me to secure a job as a content lead in New York City. This is pretty commendable, which is why I wrote this template and it is what I would use if I were to move home and apply. Make no mistake about it – preparing coffee for the elderly can be just as important and detailed of a job as any other, depending on your perspective.

For those of you looking for an actual template on how to write a cover letter – and not the satirical paragraphs seen below – please pay heed to the footnotes for professional advice. Here’s hoping you enjoy this read while sipping your morning coffee.


To Whom it May Concern,

I’m writing to request an interview for the unadvertised role of “Assistant to the Coffeemaker” at the Adult Care Center in Purcellville, Virginia. Hopefully you will find that my experience is in line with what you are not even looking for in an ideal candidate.

Tip: State your purpose clearly at the beginning. This is the idea behind the inverted pyramid used by journalists. It is followed up by the nut graph, which is a summation of the entire purpose of the document.

For starters, I am the daughter of the Coffeemaker. As a familial relation, my apprenticeship will not only include a step-by-step tutorial of the proper placement of each powdered donut hole and quarter-sliced apple pastry on the appropriate serving platter, but also a keen knowledge of the complete roster of every man and woman who has ever – or can ever be expected in the foreseeable future – been known to have drank the coffee made by this Maker.

Tip: When you can, make sure to use specifics. The more detailed you can be in pointing out your strengths, the better

It is to your benefit that I have already been given a tutorial of the coffee-making procedure in advance of a potential in-person interview. For instance, I already know that the decaf coffee comes in packets and that it is to be dispensed from the carafe marked with black Sharpie-scripted letters spelling “decaf.” The caffeinated variety, on the other hand, comes pre-ground and must be administered with a freeform filter.

Tip: Present the potential employer with the reasons why your unique set of skills is advantageous to them. Remember, it’s not about you getting the job – they don’t care about that. They care about how you can make the business run more smoothly and therefore make them more money.

If you need further proof, please let me show you that I am fully capable of meeting the key duties and responsibilities as outlined in the Assistant to the Coffeemaker role.

My Core Capabilities:

  • Ability to wash hands for no less, and no more, than 20 seconds while disposing of my paper towel properly in the trash bin
  • Awareness of the skill of serving one half scoop of ice into the milk dish; and a further one and one half scoops for the iced tea and apple juice, respectively
  • Experience warming apple turnovers and blueberry muffins in the microwave; with awareness that the powdered donut holes need an extra 30 seconds
  • Superior upper-body strength supports the need to lift and carry large portions of liquids from counter-to-cart-to-table
  • Keen knowledge of my rank, understanding that whatever the Coffeemaker says, is what goes, because she holds the key fob to the main entrance on a chain around her neck

Tip: Recruiters love bullet point lists. If most people spend 15 seconds or less on articles that they sourced themselves – and therefore are uniquely interested in – then how long do you think they’ll spend on reading a one-pager that’s all about you? Also, most people scroll down to the bottom first and then head back up to the top – don’t fool yourself that this is a key placement area for your core strengths.

I’m sure you are looking for someone who can tend to the Adult Care Members with the utmost of care. Your ideal candidate will probably know how to serve coffee made with love. This, I can assure you, is a core strength of mine as I have spent 31 years learning to love the endless list of mindless tasks served up to me by my Maker.

Tip: Always add a personal touch at the end – it humanizes you.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,


Why your LinkedIn Pulse post should be more basic

Writers are people who write. Therefore, “pulsers” are people who pulse. It sounds so simple, but it’s not so easy.

If you’re wondering why so many people are hot for content, the answer is easy: Consumers are wary of brands; they’re deaf to sales pitches; and they desire authenticity. This is the three-course meal that content serves up on your behalf.

Content in all its forms, including writing LinkedIn Pulse posts, is a daily commitment that is slow to show results. It can be difficult to see the return on your upfront time investment. I’m not going to talk about topics, sourcing ideas or creating an editorial calendar. I’m just going to mention the very, very basics of a post.

If you’re looking for a deeper level of help, check out this guideline by Hubspot.

1. Write a headline that’s on and poppin’

Opinions are divided on the use of click-bait headlines. I personally love to read them. “The 10 Foods to Avoid to Reduce Belly Bloat” << yup, I’ll click on it. “The Secret Ramen Spots You Won’t Want to Miss,” “Millennials: Push Back on Those Older Managers,” “Hamptons Rose Shortage Anticipated for Summer ’16,” click. click. click.

As a writer, I hate to write click-bait headlines because I’m soooooo above that cheap way of grabbing attention. Well, I need to get over myself because I don’t write for the Wall Street Journal; I’m a Content Director at an events planning company and need to be as poppin’ as possible. My general rules of thumb are:

  1. Use odd numbers when writing a headline for a list (5,7,9 or 16, since we’re in the year 2016)
  2. The headline should be no more than 8 words
  3. Use the active voice (ex., no “-ing” words)

2. Use keywords and SEO terms judiciously

Perhaps your reader isn’t hyper-aware of what you’re doing when you repeat your SEO terms/keywords four times in one sentence. What they are aware of is that the voice you’re using when you do so is not a genuine voice. Not to mention, it’s also burdensome to read. No one wants to read the same phrases and keywords over and over again. It’s annoying and it messes up the flow.

There was recently a flurry of posts remarking on a high schoolers essay that helped secure her admission into several top universities. When asked what was so stellar about it, the admissions officers complimented her ability to connect with people of all ages and backgrounds based on a common experience, which was visiting Costco in this case.

What stuck out to me was their one piece of constructive criticism. They remarked on her heavy hand with adjectives and adverbs. This is a piece of advice that I believe should stand as a lesson to marketers and writers who are double her age:

“Personally, I would advise [her] to use less adjectives and adverbs for purposes of word economy and ease of reading, but it isn’t a huge deal in this case,” Nelson Ureña, co-founder of Mentorverse noted to Business Insider.

Point being: Keep it simple, stupid.

3. Does your pulse post look pretty?

Like I said at the beginning, this is a very basic post, but there is a need for it because people who are trying to write and use LinkedIn to gain more business are unaware of the foundational tools to get them there. Keep these things in mind:

  1. Use an eye-catching header photo
  2. Make sure your own LinkedIn photo is pretty and professional, and more importantly to me, that it shows your personality
  3. Use Subheds, lists and numbers – people scan an entire post before deciding whether or not they want to read it. If all they see are blocks of text, then you’ve got a problem. A paragraph should be no “thicker” than five lines. Your post should have hyperlinks throughout and have bolded words and phrases for emphasis.

Words on a page are like notes in sheet music. If one beat is off – the whole piece sounds terrible. Remember that.

How to write a press release

Trying to sell your product or service, but at a loss as to how to elbow your way through to the front of the media stage?

Journalist stage fright is very real. ‘Journos’ are scary. I know this because I was one. I was trained to be a human-stone wall who hid her opinion while casting a skeptical eye. I never took any fact or truth at face value until I substantiated it myself. The good news is journalists are people too, and with a little preparation and self-deprecation, these walls will chip away.

Let’s start with the basics of a press release.

1. The Five W’s

Raise your hand if you remember the five W’s from English class? It seems obvious, but many business owners, and even public relations professionals, forget to include these equally important aspects in their press release. Who are you; What do you do/sell; Where are your headquarters (this is especially important to local media)/Where is your product or service distributed; Whendid you open/expand/relocate; and Why are you contacting me?

2. Define yourself clearly

You should be able to state the reason why you’re writing the press release in one sentence. This sentence goes in the first paragraph (Google: the inverted pyramid). I know, I’m mean. But consider this – you have about 15 seconds to explain — simply — what you want them to know before they move on to the hundreds of other emails in their inbox. Not much different than a marketing email, is it? Don’t worry, you can further expand on your company’s background at the end of the press release in the “about us” paragraph.

Tip: Be careful not to use industry jargon. The media doesn’t use industry speak because of the depth and breadth of its audience.

3. What’s the benefit to the public?

This should be a part of your business plan and behind everything that you do, so if it’s stumping you, it is time to take a look at your business model.

4. Highlight the hook

Journalists are as attracted to small businesses as they are to large Fortune 500 companies. They’re itching to break a story and loathe having to write up something that’s already been covered a million times before. We write about corporations because they’re sexy and increase our SEO, but we report on small businesses because we want to beat our competitors to the next new thing.

Mid-sized businesses tend to get lost in the fold because they don’t have the resources to market themselves but they also don’t need us as much “love.” You can pick up the slack by pointing out exactly what it is that makes you different from your competitors. You know how you’re better and different, so show the facts without selling yourself.

5. Include contact information

Always let the journalist know who they can contact if they’re interested in more information. Sorry PR folks, we want to hear directly from the horse’s mouth, be it the product developer, engineer or the C-suite exec. Finally, always, always include your website URL.

**I first wrote this in 2012, but it’s still applicable today. What do you think?

Just how “effortless” is CX when served on a silver platter?

One would think that the more you’re in contact with a customer, the deeper your relationship will grow. The opposite is true.

If a customer comes into contact with you directly, the likelihood of you retaining their business decreases fourfold, according to research by the Corporate Executive Board and presented by Matt Dixon, the best-selling author of “The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty.”

This is because a whopping 84 percent of customers value ease of use and low effort over channel choice. Dixon’s research has left him with the overwhelming conclusion that excellent service is not delightful. In fact, it’s a key driver behind disloyalty.

Reducing the customer’s effort increases loyalty and reduces attrition. Low-effort means that they shouldn’t be hearing scripted agents or having to repeat themselves. They shouldn’t have to jump channels or endure countless transfers.

The CEB conducted a series of surveys that found that 88 percent of low-effort customers increased their spending and 94 percent who had  low-effort experiences were more likely to repurchase later on, Dixon says. So, how do you reduce customer effort?

The Three Pillars of Effortless Experience

1.) Channel Stickiness. Self-service is where it’s at. Customers don’t really want to talk. Agents are aware of this fact that holds true across ages and  demographics. But because customers are still picking up the phone, senior executives are reluctant to acknowledge this shift in channel preference.

It’s true that telephony wields the lion’s share of first contacts, but this is unfortunately due to the lack of other viable options. Most callers (58 percent) first attempted resolution through self-service options and another 25 percent were online while also on the phone with the agent in an effort to learn how to resolve the issue themselves in the future. The customers want fast resolutions without having to jump channels.

2. Next Issue Avoidance. The worst question you can ask a customer is also one of the most common closers, “Have I fully resolved your issue today?” Dixon says this question sends two bad messages to the customer – that they are being rushed off the phone, or that the agent may be missing the deeper issue at hand.

Think of it this way – if you were measured by first-contact resolutions wouldn’t you avoid asking other issues exist? When asked in the study whether a first-contact resolution had been achieved, 77 percent of companies believed that it had. Their customers didn’t agree — only 40 percent felt their issue was entirely resolved.

Callbacks for repeated issues are a byproduct of both explicit and implicit issue failures. Fifty-four percent of explicit failures are because the agent failed to resolve the issue in the first place. Implicit failures arise because the agents failed to see the adjacent issues at hand, or the problem behind the problem. Ask your tenured customer service professionals to help identify the chain of “problem events,” so that you can think ahead of the customer, not alongside of them.

3. Mismatched perception of effort. Consider the behavioral economics of your organization. If the agents are advocating on behalf of the customers, then they are also empathetic to their upsets. One hotel chain told its front-desk workers to move out from behind the service counter to physically stand next to the upset client. This nonverbal communication led to a decrease of 77 percent in customer effort for the hotel. 

The same goes for the spoken word. We’re all aware that words hold weight, Dixon says, but are you aware of what you’re saying? Delivering bad news in a positive way is at the cornerstone of customer effort perception. This is where Disney is exemplary. For example, when a park visitor asks a Disney employee when the park closes, they respond, “We’re open until 9 p.m.,” instead of “It closes at 9 p.m.” This simple shift to positive language led to a decrease in customer effort by 73 percent.

Listen. Learn. Write. Repeat.