Category Archives: writing

The Successful Message: Sincere & Relevant

Our president, Fran Hendricks, is a retired Air Force brigadier general and a 1979 graduate of our university .
A sincere Veterans Day message from him seemed like it would be appreciated by veterans and non-veterans alike. We wrote a script and he edited it. We shot it with a single camera in his office with the U.S. and Pennsylvania flags behind him. These were not props. They’re part of his office.
He speaks straight into the camera. We cut to B-roll of photos of MU graduates and area veterans from all branches.
It ends with him saying: “Veterans, thank you,” and a salute. We fade to an image of  raising the flag on Iwo Jima.
The music carrying it is “America the Beautiful.”
I had put a lot of thought behind this before we even started. We did not want him in uniform. He is a university president. But after serving the country for 33-years, Fran Hendricks is very much a soldier, and always will be. It’s a source of pride to him, faculty, students, staff, alumni and area residents.
Hendricks is a humble man and I knew that a “message from the president” would not pass muster. He’s a service-oriented person and the university is the greater body that he now serves. The message would be from Mansfield University.
Most importantly, there was no sales pitch. I repeat for all of you PR folks who need reinforcement for your superiors: no sales pitch. No website at the end telling veterans or potential students to check us out. It is a message, pure and simple, of appreciation to veterans and current service people.
The results were heartwarming, inspiring and revealing. We posted it on YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Our ultra-savvy web person, John Maslar, targeted veterans and bases in a five-state circumference, as well as alumni and students
His stats show show that in a five day period, the video:
-was seen by 125,000 Facebook/Twitter users;
-was shared on Facebook 75 times;
-earned more than 700 likes;
-was retweeted 8 times
-Between likes/views/shares/retweets/clicks, we had about 2,500 interactions.
As John points out: “that’s 18 cents per person who took the time to read and interact with the message.”
The video worked for several reasons:
-It is succinct (1:12);
-Hendricks is straightforward and sincere;
-the message is simple and direct;
-There is no “extra message.”
It gained us appreciation from students, alumni, staff, faculty, constituents and introduced us to new audiences.
Yes, you can count on one hand the number of colleges who have a retired general as a president, but every college has a special person who can convey a relevant message on an appropriate occasion.
Just be clear, concise and don’t pollute it. A clean message has its own halo effect that lasts for years.

In other words, make the salute sincere.


Marketing Vengeance, Part 2

I’m doing this series because at least half the people I’ve met in my life are either writers or want to be writers.   Everybody has a book in them and someday wants to write it.

The problem is, after the slow process of watching blood pop  through your pores to write your masterpiece, you’re faced with either the 19th century pace of trying to find an agent in the Old Boy Network of the slowly dying publishing world, or marketing the book yourself.  I chose the latter.

I’m fortunate to have friends in the media.   Anthony Cardno writes a respected arts blog,  interviewed with me and yes, sales spiked for days after it appeared.
Another writer friend, whom I had interviewed for my Conversations show, Bill Robertson, interviewed me for the show. Again, sales jumped, then sank. Robyn Bradley, author of the beautifully written and intriguing novel What Happened at Granite Creek has been incredibly generous in sharing what she’s learned promoting through social media.
But I learned again that reading about how to do things and actually doing them are two different worlds. I’ve been immersed in social media for years and I knew that you have to seek out websites and blogs of people with similar interests and through engagement become a part of that community and then quietly promote your book.
This, I found, is really time-consuming.
I was also amazed all over again at the nearly infinite world of social media sites. One Woman’s Vengeance is a western. I found — and joined — sites on everything from the American Cowboy to Tombstone to Doc Holliday and I engage. I haven’t had the courage to introduce my book yet. I still have that feeling of a new kid in town coming to a  school and not wanting to be ridiculed or banished from the circles.
I have found that reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble don’t do that much except boost the author’s ego if they’re good.

A couple radio interviews — one was 15 minutes by a host who loved the book and the genre — shot blanks.  But it was fun.

The reviews, from people I know and complete strangers, are almost consistently 5 stars and passionate in their love of the main character, Nora Hawks. But passion, so far, has not translated into sales.
(I will say that I have learned a lot about my own book and characters through the reviews but that’s the subject for another post).
What I find most annoying is that, after work,  I’m a writer. I just want to write.  I made the choice to self-publish because I dislike the System and I really don’t have years to waste with rejection slips.  I did that in my 20’s.
I wonder, though, how most writers succeed in this social media world. Marketing and self-promotion is tough. I’m familiar with marketing. I do it everyday at Mansfield University and I’m finding it hard, with a couple hours each night, to do it for myself.

And yet, I wouldn’t do it any other way.

I’m learning, and if you’re interested, I’ll keep sharing my successes and my stumbles.   Pretty interesting journey.


Marketing One Woman’s Vengeance

I’ve slowed down with my higher ed marketing posts because marketing my second novel, One Woman’s Vengeance has been so all-consuming.
I made a decision 10 years ago that I would not go with the  tiresome, good-old-boy 19th century rejection slip model of trying to find an agent who would then try to find a publisher while watching your life pass in this anachronistic,  dying game.
So I talked to writer friends,  did my own research and finally decided upon Lulu. I had published The Perfect Song (pseudonym Damon) with iUniverse in 2004 and was  happy with their process, with the exception of the cover, and that’s a whole post in itself.
Lulu offered more freedom (again, maybe another post for those interested in publishing).
I found a cover artist  and it was worth every penny of his price (another post!)
We had a couple technical glitches and I give Lulu high marks for helping work through them, though all communications had to be through chat.  Once Vengeance was published I found myself standing in the world of social media marketing, surprised that it seemed so vast and new.
Understand that when I published The Perfect Song, Facebook was barely a DNA sample and such sites as Goodreads did not exist. Amazon was the 800-pound gorilla but it wasn’t yet the ubiquitous force that it is now. Social media marketing was barely out of diapers.
And (most importantly) the  e-books industry was just inching onto  the radar with the general reading public.
I paid a designer to create a website for The Perfect Song and did all the things the experts at the time said you should do. I look at it now as a creaky structure whose owner had good intentions.  With Vengeance, I created my own site with WordPress, which I use for all four of my blogs.
I should note that as the PR director at Mansfield University I have worked hard over the years to stay, if not ahead of the curve, at least on it, as far as social media and marketing.
We were among the first  to use podcasting in recruiting and other areas of promotion.  I jumped on Animoto and other forms of social media promotion.
But now, with One Woman’s Vengeance, I was on my own, confused and naive.

I took a step forward, feeling like Frodo, moving into a strange, vast land where the shifting mists constantly keep you off balance and just a little directionless.


Next:  Nora Hawks watched her husband get murdered, and lived through an ultra-violent  near fatal gang rape.  Can she now survive the grueling gauntlet social media?

My Blog High Ed sabbatical: life, death and a new novel

In the time that I was gone from BHE, a lot has happened.

I finally finished my second novel, One Woman’s Vengeance, which I have been working  on for about eight years.    I found, again, that writers — especially fiction writers — and technology are an unholy mix. But the publisher is very good and I’ll do another post later to detail my experiences.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested, I created a One Woman’s Vengeance blog (of course!) for it.  If you’re interested in the process of writing and publishing, check it out and subscribe or “like” the Facebook page.

I thought I knew a lot about today’s marketing,  but I’m still learning.


We lost our beloved German Shepherd.   Only seven years old, he developed a tumor on his heart and had two weeks to live.   I had forgotten how absolutely devastating it is to lose a dog. We grieved, then began the search for a new puppy. Anyone who has gone through this loss knows you cannot replace your dog who had its own personality and was a part of the family.
You also know you can’t live without the presence of these special beings.


We found a new puppy and the process of learning, joy and hope begins again.


We spent two weeks in Alaska. Our daughter lives in Anchorage and was the perfect hostess.   We’ve traveled a lot across the U.S., but this was one of the most memorable trips ever.


At work there were new marketing challenges with the chopping of budgets.  Mansfield University has the added challenge of being right in the heart  of the Marcellus Shale.  High school students are graduating and going to work for the gas companies instead of going to college.  There are no motel rooms for visitors, no houses or apartments for students, faculty or staff.  (We’ve  had VPs and staff living in residence halls).


While I was gone from here, life, in all its variety, and with all its surprises, joys and occasional heartbreaks, went on.

And continues to.


Next post:   The world’s most famous former FBI terrorist interrogator writes his memoir, challenges the CIA, and credits his alma mater for giving him his start. 

I’m back. Umm, do you remember me?

Putting the blog in moratorium, then coming back held many lessons.
First, I missed the BHE community. It was, and continues to be a group of pioneers who enthusiastically explore, experiment, write and share.
The second thing I learned is that I was not missed. A few friends and colleagues  wrote on the occasion of my last blog in 2010 with helpful advice about battling burnout.
But after that . . . nothing. I didn’t take it personally. During the few years I posted I received tens of thousands of hits. But when I stopped, the audience went elsewhere. I know, in marketing, you don’t quit a project and then plan to pick it up again and regain your momentum without some struggle.
But that never bothered me. I’m in the enviable position of writing because I want to, knowing that the folks who will benefit from it will find it.
But it was a very real reminder that we’re expendable. In fact, more than ever.
Cause for panic? No. It makes me want to –more than ever– do the best I can do. To develop the best content and write in the simplest most dynamic way I can and contribute to the field.
I do this now, realizing that we are operating in the continual now. And when we’re  done, we’re dust, blowing lazily in the wind as life goes on.
In a way, everything I just said is true.
In another way, as I found out on July 4, it may be utterly false.
I’ll tell you why in the next post.

More Words & Phrases I’d Like to See Dead

Back in January I did a post on Words and Phrases That Should be Buried.

I’m on Rant 2.

“Literally” is still the most overused word.  It is the Ramen of our vocabulary.

Here are more additions:

Wrap my head around it. I never got this phrase.  It conjurs up something you’d see  watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  I think this image came from an aging hippie suffering one too many acid trips.

Getting eyeballs is  overused in the worlds of advertising, marketing and the Web. It’s a disgusting image, conjuring up pictures of those bloody eyeballs you see on low budget horror films and Garbage Pail Kids trading cards.  “Getting eyeballs” still doesn’t address getting the mind behind the eyeballs to concentrate on the message.

Silos. I’ve just starting hearing this in office conversation and I’ve seen it a few times in writing.  It’s one of those words that creates an appropriate image.  (See yourself as dried corn nestled in your own comfortable silo not wanting to communicate with the corn in the other silos).  The image was used as early as 1989 in the context of “vertical silo syndrome.”   Now I hear it on campus as in “departments are silos,” not caring about other departments.  It’s going to wear itself out fast because it’s an easy concept for lazy speakers.

Butts in seats.  Kind of like “getting eyeballs.”  Butts in seats, of course, is filling seats with people.   So why can’t we say we want to “fill seats?”  We’ve broken humans into butts and eyeballs.  Not a pretty picture.

I don’t know wherecreepy edged into the national daily dialogue but it spread like The Blob in a microwave.    It probably evolved from “it creeps me out.”  I suppose it’s popular because it’s fun to say and is easily inserted into any kind of description of something somewhat distasteful.  I think it’s adolescent and no one over the age of 18 should be using it.

Unfortunately they do use it.  I heard a middle-aged secretary today relating a story of a couple accidents in which two friends in different parts of the country died about the same time.  “That’s creepy,” she told the other secretary.  “Don’t you think that’s creepy?  I just think that’s really creepy.”

I crept out, wrapping my head around a silo of sanity, keeping my eyeballs straight ahead and my butt far away from any nearby seats.


Please send in your candidates for instant death.

Timeless PR Advice From Media Guru Dick Jones

Note:  Dick Jones is one of the most experienced experts in the higher ed communication world.  He’s also a friend and colleague who’s helped Mansfield University land stories and features in everything from The Chronicle of Higher Ed, The New York Times and USA Today to numerous AP stories and a couple prime spots on NPR. So when he sends a missive to his clients, I pay attention.  I also asked him if I could use his letter as a guest blog post.

Here it is.

It’s time to oversimplify; to be glib and shallow. Why, after all, should I be different from anyone else? In national media relations for colleges there are five over-simplistic formulae that guide our work. These are:

Results: good.

Process: bad.

Advice: good.

Qualitative judgments: bad.

Events: maybe, but probably not.

The news media like stories with results. A study published in a journal qualifies. So does a new book, if you discuss the substance of the book and not just the fact that there is a new book. Numbers help. Admission applications are up by X. Deposits are up by Y.

The news media usually yawn at process. The faculty is debating a new core curriculum? Wake me when it’s over. A task force has been appointed? Call me when they have a report. We’ve received an NSF grant. Remind me about it when you’ve completed the research.

The news media like advice from experts. And all faculty and staff are experts in their fields. If they aren’t, why do you allow them to teach and serve students who are paying for the privilege? Take every opportunity to make your institution advice giver to the world.

The news media aren’t interested in qualitative judgments. Your college has a better freshman year experience than your competitors? Maybe so, but your competitors claim otherwise. And the news media have neither the time nor the inclination to dig deeply enough to settle the question. Now if you are the biggest, the smallest, the oldest, the newest—something that can be quantified—that’s different. (Tip: use advice stories to advance qualitative claims. “Here are four things students and parents should look for in a good freshman experience program, says Dean of Students Joe Blow.”)

The news media are less interested in covering or publicizing events than you think. This was always true. Now that there are fewer people in newsrooms it is even truer. Getting coverage for (positive) news events is no slam dunk even if the president and the deans think otherwise. Under exceptions see “football teams—undefeated.”

Armed with these concepts you are now ready to go into any meeting with faculty and administrators and quickly make yourself persona non grata when you spout them. I’m just kidding. Sort of.

Postscript: Social media is maturing quickly and these rules apply to these media as well.