Category Archives: Backstory blog

My journalist’s blog hosted by Times Community Media.

You are so special to me

You are so special to me.

It’s in the signature of grandma’s letters. It’s a phrase reiterated in person and it’s a phrase that resonates after her death.

It’s a phrase to remember her because throughout my life she proved it was true.

I will remember her hands as they stirred through the steps to creamy, homemade fudge in an attempt to satisfy the sweettooth we’ve all inherited.

I will remember her excusing herself from a room of company only to reappear with a slash of bright pink lighting her lips. Always a lady.

I will remember her candor in agreeing Pop Pop was a good looking man — but only when he had hair.

I will remember her hands as never still even after she could no longer sew or write. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.

I will remember her hanging laundry from the clothes line behind her house as the wind whipped down from the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I will remember last spring when she hobbled out to her vegetable garden, and having been dissatisfied with its state, bending down and weeding it herself.

I will remember the last time we sat on her porch on a beautiful spring day and her instructing me to listen to the birds, slow down and hear God.

I will remember her telling me that this is my life to live after I had decided to move to New York and was coming to terms with the real possibility that she could pass away without a goodbye.

I will remember her belief that I will return to Virginia because it’s where I came from.

I will remember her summoning the strength to whisper for the last time that she is proud of me.

I will remember thanking her for setting an example of how to live my life as a woman and as a Christian. And, I will remember when she could no longer speak, that I was able to say for her:

You are so special to me.

Purcellville resident turns 100

This is an article I wrote for my grandmother’s 100th birthday. It appeared in the March 27 edition of the Loudoun Times-Mirror.

In 1913, during the relatively quiet year after the Titanic sank and before the escalation of the First World War in Europe, Geraldine Jane Potts James was born to Linda Kidwell and Walter Potts at their home in Hillsboro, three days before Easter on March 20. Their kitchen counter meat scale read that she weighed 4 lbs., give or take a few ounces.

One century later and several towns over, Geraldine celebrated her 100th birthday March 24 at the Loudoun Golf and Country Club in Purcellville amongst more than 120 close family and friends. The celebration of her birthday and life was hosted by her three children; Roberta East of Purcellville, Linda James of Round Hill, and Gerald James of Herndon.

As children of the Great Depression, Geraldine and her brothers Raymond and Lloyd Potts – who lived to see 93 and 94, respectively –were expected to pitch in on the farm, especially after their father died when she was three years-old. Her tasks included feeding the chickens and milking the cows. To earn extra cash, her family would dress and prepare their chickens and eggs and load them on the train at the Purcellville station to be sold to city dwellers in Washington, D.C.

“You couldn’t buy gasoline for the car, so we had to be very careful anywhere we went. We bought very little at the store; mainly coffee, sugar and flour with a ration book,” Geraldine said. Back then, “You survived by growing things you had on the farm.”

She credits her long life to her faith in God, being a teetotaler – with an undisputed and never satiated sweet tooth – and “walking for her education.”

While in primary school, she would walk – or hitch a ride on the horse-drawn school bus – to Hillsboro. When she reached high school age, she walked two miles to then catch a ride in her neighbor’s Model – T Ford that was headed to Lincoln High School (now Lincoln Elementary School).

It shouldn’t be a surprise that she later became one of the few women of her time to attend college, graduating in 1935 from Madison College, now James Madison University. Her mother, “who believed in two things; the Lord and education,” died a few months after Geraldine graduated.

On July 3, 1936, she had the pleasure of shaking the hand of one of the most beloved presidents in history, Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he dedicated Shenandoah National Park. She was 23. She spent her roaring twenties as a home economics teacher at Lincoln High School, taking respites to swim in “the Big Eddy” in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and vacationing with a girlfriend to Atlantic City, N.J., where they were reprimanded by a police officer for showing their legs on the boardwalk.

Geraldine wore a navy suit when she married Robert “Bob” James on February 21, 1942, with only the pastor and his wife serving as witnesses. She was 28 years-old. Their long and happy union lead to the proudest moments of her life when she became “a mother of three good children.” She is now a grandmother to five and the great-grandmother of seven children.

During her days as a homemaker she kept a garden and canned, froze or cooked the yield for her family and the workers who helped butcher the meat, harvest the grain and tend to their dairy farm operation. Dairy farms were once the economic mainstay in Loudoun, but today only one remains and is operated by Geraldine’s cousins in Purcellville.

Geraldine considers her greatest achievement to be “becoming a Christian and loving the Lord.” She and Bob, before he died in 1983, were lifelong members of Purcellville Baptist Church where she has taught numerous Sunday school and vocational classes. In 1996, she was recognized by the church as one of the first recipients of their Oaks of Righteousness program for her dedication to God and the church.

“Life has been good. I’ve enjoyed living on the farm; raising my children, feeding all my neighbors,” she said. “We had simple things, but we had fun, a lot of homemade fun.”

Roll Out New Value Propositions For Your Shared Services Center

Each transaction is a customer interaction. So it’s incumbent upon managers to reinforce their teams with continuous improvement and customer service training on all levels in order to increase the shared service center’s value propositions. Jim Berry, Director, Customer Service & Innovation, Schneider Electric, shows how to do so in six areas ; cost reduction, quality, people, customer intimacy, transparency and predictability.

1. What factors are involved in creating a more efficient Global HR Shared Service Center?
You must first change the mindset of your organization to truly focus on the customer. They must recognize the value of their daily work to the organization. They must view each transaction as a customer interaction- not just a transaction.

Once your team has a customer mindset, you reinforce it with continuous improvement and customer service training at ALL levels. Finally, you keep it alive by making it part of your team’s daily conversation. You do this by reference in team meeting, visual aide (posters, desk toys), appointing an employee champion in each location, constant refresher of the value proposition, adding the value proposition to the hiring process to ensure you are bringing in the right people, team contests that reward people for customer centric behaviors, and more.

2. What is the biggest value a Shared Service Center can add to an organization beyond cost reduction?
A shared service center can add value to the business in a number of areas. We have expanded the conversation by rolling out a new value proposition that includes the following six areas: Cost Reduction, Quality, People, Customer Intimacy, Transparency, and Predictability. Of these, predictability and quality seem to be very well accepted in business conversations.

3. What are some Shared Services best practices and how do you benchmark your services?
Shared service centers in general tend to be a little bulky and have difficulty changing quickly. As a result, we have started having horizon meetings with the business leaders. These meetings are designed to discuss anticipated business needs 1-3 years out. Shared Services can then determine how best to support these needs, and change before the need becomes and issue. We have implemented global networks to discuss both customer service and continuous improvement. These networks promote best practice sharing in these areas and ensure that we have focus on these topics in all regions.

4. What are three of the biggest challenges or mistakes you see organizations make when implementing a Shared Services Center?
Focus too much on cost reduction and not on adding business value (which of course can include cost reduction) not investing some of the savings produced back into new efficiencies for the shared service center Internal Service Providers do not “Act” and “Think” like a business. This makes them susceptible to outsourcing when vendors come in with an outside approach.

5. Is there a new or up-and-coming technology within the space that you’re particularly excited about?
The technology is not new, but I am excited about the possibility of connecting with our customers (employees and managers) through mobile applications. This solves an ongoing communication difficulty we have had reaching our blue collar population. Not everyone has computer access- but almost everyone globally has smart phone access. Finding ways to connect with all of our employees over multiple time zones- when they want to connect- is extremely exciting.

The ROI of Big Data for Marketers

Chief Marketing Officers know the benefits of Big Data. Oftentimes what they don’t know is how to use it. David Rogers and Don Sexton at the Columbia Business School wanted to gain a better understanding of the changing practices among large corporate marketers. What they found was support for the use of new data to drive marketing decisions and measuring ROI and a widespread adoption of new digital tools.

Still, significant gaps exist between conception and execution when it comes to Big Data Marketing efforts and there remains a need to improve on the use of data, the measurement of digital marketing and the assessment of ROI.

Successful brands use customer data to drive marketing decisions, 91% of senior corporate marketers

Yet, 39% say their own company’s data is collected too infrequently or not in true real-time

A lack of sharing customer data within their own organization is a barrier to effectively measuring marketing ROI, according to 51% of respondents

Around 85% of large corporations maintain brand accounts on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Foursquare

Comparison of the effectiveness of marketing across different digital media is “a major challenge” for 65% of marketers

Financial outcomes where omitted by 37% of respondents when asked to define what “marketing ROI” meant for their own organization

57% of respondents are not basing their marketing budgets on any ROI analysis

Brand awareness is the sole measure to evaluate marketing spend for 22% of marketers

Source: Marketing ROI in the Era of Big Data: The 2012 BRITE/NYAMA Marketing Transition Study

Words journalists hate in a press release

Journalists are taught to be allergic to certain words. They downright abhor longevity. Their love of brevity harkens back to the time when the number of allowable words were dictated by the number of column inches designated by the editor.

Today, the Internet has put no end to what a journalist can write. Instead of opening their worlds to words, however, they’ve instead held tight to the notion that less is best. Why? Because reader’s attention spans are still the size of a goldfish’s memory.

You have exactly two sentences to capture a journalist’s attention with your press release. As you can imagine, it takes less time than that to turn them off. Here’s a list of the most common, annoying, frivolous, and downright ridiculous words to never use on a press release:

1. Adjectives

This event/book/promotion is the most “amazing, first time ever, premiere, best” thing that’s ever happened to your company, right? That doesn’t mean the journalist — or the reader they’re writing for — thinks so. Avoid adjectives at all costs. Instead, paint a picture of why you or your company is the best. Don’t tell them.

2. Jargon

You’re a thought leader in the healthcare, information technology space. You’ve secured two million end-users for your product. The company’s new EMR system has already proven to increase efficiency and cut costs. Did you know journalists are trained to write for people who read at an eighth grade level? If, at 13 years-old, you knew that end-users who implemented EMR systems became thought leaders in their space … I pity you.

3. No acronyms

FBI. CIA. NAACP. These are three of maybe 10 accepted acronyms within the AP Stylebook. Don’t assume that the acronyms of your everyday lexicon are understood outside your industry. Please comb through your press release twice before sending it to delete acronyms.

…. to be continued

The Top 5 Reasons Big Data Is Valuable to Your Business

Have you started thinking about how your company will value and leverage your big data assets? If not, it’s time to play some catch up.

Cross industry businesses have welcomed big data analytics with open arms after seeing its benefits first hand. As proof, the McKinsey Global Institute delves deep into the benefits of big data in their report, “Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity.” What they found were five, actionable reasons businesses need to jump into the practice with both feet. Here is what they determined:

1. Big Data Brings Improved Business Models, Products and Services

What’s with the flurry of excitement that accompanies each new generation of the iPad? The folks at Apple are pros at understanding what their customer needs – sometimes even before they do. Manufacturers now use data captured when consumers use their products to improve upon their existing offerings, thereby creating new and improved models that benefit the consumer and push them to buy.

2. Putting A Smile On the Face of Your Stakeholders

Improving transparency leads to improved quality of product and service. Big data can be made readily available to relevant stakeholders, which creates value by reducing search and processing time between departments, according to McKinsey. Big data keeps everyone in your department moving in the same direction.

3. Peek Into Personnel Performance

Upper management will be empowered by the collection of more accurate and detailed personnel performance data that can be reported in real or near real time. Find out instantly your company’s turnover rate or its total number of personnel sick days, according to the report, to try to understand the root causes of certain performance-based issues.

4. Customize Your Customer Experience

You’ve been segmenting your customers for years, but now it’s time to microsegment them. Big data empowers organizations to tailor their products and services to meet the very specific needs of each customer. An example the report gives is tailoring applications on a smartphone based on the owner’s personality.

5. Find the Algorithm Groove

According to McKinsey Global Institute, “Sophisticated analytics can substantially improve decision making, minimize risks, and unearth valuable insights that would otherwise remain hidden.” They site the following examples; tax agencies can flag candidates for further examination or retailers can use algorithms to fine-tune inventories or pricing structures.

Now is the time to jump on the big data bandwagon.

Why advertise on a newspaper’s website?

“I have my own website, why do I need to advertise on your newspaper’s website?”

In this day and technological age, this is still a common inquiry. I’ve been asked by advertising executives to create a fact sheet for potential advertisers that will include the basic reasons why simply having your own website isn’t enough.

Just as in days past proprietors believed they would attract business by placing signage on their storefront, some still believe hosting their own URL is the appropriate amount of advertising. It’s not. Why hope a potential client will find you via a search engine when you can spread the word to our hundreds of thousands of readers instead?

While the logistics of the fact sheet are worked out, I would like to attach the following press release from JK Moving and Storage, the no. 3 moving company in the country, who just launched a multimedia advertising campaign. In their own words:

JK Moving Services, a full-service moving company founded in 1981 and specializing in residential, commercial, and international moving and storage will launch its first integrated advertising campaign on August 13th in the Washington, D.C. region.

Specifically, the campaign will consist of radio, print, online, mobile, and social media elements.

“Even as the third largest independent mover in North America, we are still ‘a best kept secret’ among some key audiences located right in our backyard,” said Charles Kuhn, Founder, President, and CEO, JK Moving Services.

“Our goal is to reach women in this region who typically are the ones selecting the moving company for their families, introduce them to JK Moving, and let them know how we can make this process ‘worry-free.’”

A campaign was developed consisting of four :30 second radio spots and unique banner ads, a mobile-specific ad, a social media campaign, and a print execution.

As part of the program, customers will be directed to JK Moving’s web site to request a free estimate and be entered for a chance to win a free move.

The campaign’s theme is centered on JK Moving Services’ ability to reduce the stress of moving for the homeowner, offering a “worry-free” move. It’s designed to speak to female heads of household who tend to be the decision-maker in selecting a moving company.

They are the ones most involved in the logistics of moving — ensuring a smooth transition.

Each 30 second spot will demonstrate what makes JK Moving different and how the company can alleviate the stress of moving.

The radio ads will be coupled with an online and print campaign that will target the Metro D.C. market.

If an $85 million company feels the need to advertise across that many channels, chances are you may, too.

What to write about in your blog

It’s not uncommon for inspiration to drain from regular bloggers. Creativity is a beast that takes you on a ride from the summit of enlightenment to the abyss of nothingness. Sometimes it will feel as if you have no advice or encouragement to impart upon your readers.

It’s important to know that we’ve all been there, and it is OK if you can’t post new content because nothing is coming. The cure is in the calendar. Avid bloggers and successful authors with millions of followers will tell you that mapping out an editorial calendar has saved them during their own creativity droughts.

In my personal and professional life, I ardently map out my duties, goals and tasks. When I was the Editor of an executive-level business magazine I had my editorial calendar planned out a year in advance. Not so when it comes to my creative writing. I’m not a “creative planner” and I suffer from dry spells. My blog was the creative stepchild that was tended to when I found the time.

So, I started carrying a pen and pad with me wherever I go (yes, I have an iPhone, and no it’s not the same) so that I can jot down blog ideas throughout the day. On the back of a wedding invitation sitting on my desk I have written “On Pinterest” to remind myself that eventually I want to write about best practices for businesses using Pinterest. The idea hasn’t matured yet and I want to let it ferment further.

If you have no clue where to start in planning out your editorial calendar, look at your monthly calendar. No matter what your industry, you will find an event each month that will relate to your business. For instance, October is not only Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is also Women in Small Business Month. If that can’t provide me with inspiration, nothing will.

Here’s a list of themed months to chew on:

January – National Poverty in America Awareness Month

February – Black History Month

March – National Umbrella Month

April – National Autism Awareness Month

May – Meditation Month

June – Great Outdoors Month

July – Roots and Branches Month

August – National Inventors Month (also Beach Month!)

September – Baby Safety Month

October – Mental Illness Awareness Month

November – American Diabetes Month

December – Universal Human Rights Month (Read A New Book Month)

How to write a “How to” article

During a presentation on “How to Market Yourself to the Media,” an elderly architect and his wife were stupefied when I suggested they start a blog.

“Well, we don’t have anything to say …” and yada, yada, yada the conversation turned into how small business owners — and media companies alike — believe that potential clients outside their industry share their expertise.

Enter the “how to” article/blog post. One can literally write anything in “how to” form … from “how to tie your shoe” to “how to preserve vegetables” to “how to increase SEO by repeating ‘how to’ as many times as possible within a blog post.”

Don’t sell yourself short by assuming your clients share your knowledge. Instead, impart upon them, in the most conversational tone as possible, the wisdom you’ve incurred through the many years you’ve spent in your industry. Here’s a three-step guide on “‘how to write a ‘how to’ article:”

1. Name the problem.

Newspapers are printed on paper + kids these days haven’t seen a sheet of paper their whole lives = newspapers are dying.

2. Find the solution.

Teens are always on their phone + many professionals 35-60 years-old sit in front of a desk all day = capture an online audience and sell digital ads.

Provide tips:

1. Start by posting relevant content

2. Write to your target audience

3. Write posts frequently. Then more frequently. Then all the time.

4. Share photos.

5. Join Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest …

You get the picture.

The all-important “what NOT to do”

In any situation, there are definitely ways one should not behave. You’ve made mistakes along the way, so why not make sure others don’t do the same? Save them from common errors if you want to truly provide them with invaluable knowledge.

The No. 1 rule for your company’s domain name

I broke some rules when I chose my company’s name. First of all, I knowingly used a name that already existed. On top of that, I’m using my initials. I don’t care for two reasons; hrh media is named after its founder, Hannah Rebekah Hager, and that founder also happens to have the initials of Her Royal Highness. I’ve been playing that card my entire life and I wasn’t about to stop it because some other business also has my initials.

Don’t follow my suit. When it comes to your customer, and the likelihood of them finding you in the virtual world, you need to remove as many roadblocks as possible on their route to your website.

Your business name = Your domain name

When you meet someone you’d like to do business with, the first thing either one of you do when you return to your computer is Google one another. You might not have had a business card at the time, they might not remember your name, but hopefully they will remember your company’s name, “I Write Good.” Chances are they’ll look you up on a search engine or type the URL directly into their browser. When http://www.IWriteGood.com doesn’t automatically show up — or worse, your competitor’s website does instead — its over for you. Your business name should equal your domain name. One more thing; be a .com. No one really trusts a .biz or a .net.