Friday, July 3, 2015

3 Lessons Learned from a Painful Public Speaker

1. Match the speaker to the occasion. A rat-a-tat military man may not be the right choice for a roomful of benign trustees at the annual meeting of a co-operative organization.
2. If the bad match is a fait accompli, build a bridge. The speaker made no effort to localize, customize, or otherwise bridge his (supposedly) motivational presentation. No corporate storytelling. No mention of the org's 100+ years of company history and community support. I suspect this fellow didn't make even the most basic inquiries. 
3. Never, ever phone it in. Public speakers are actors, performers, professionals. When we step to the podium, it's show time, every time. A loud voice and speed do not equal energy. If we don't project true energy and interest, we shouldn't be speaking. Barreling through a PowerPoint doesn't cut it.

I won't name names because the evening was presented in good faith. But I felt pain as I watched fellow audience members wincing, feigning interest, or snoozing. Best I can say is that Mr. X provided a wake-up call for my next presentation and, I hope, for yours.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Yiddish Book Center: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

In 1980 Aaron Lansky, a 24-year-old grad student in Yiddish literature, realized that thousands of books in Yiddish were being destroyed by Jews who could not read the language of their parents and grandparents. He set out to rescue these works, to disseminate them, and to promote wider understanding of their content and their place in history. Today, after recovering more than a million volumes, the Yiddish Book Center (based in Amherst, Massachusetts) is a leading Jewish cultural organization, primarily responsible for the current revival of Yiddish studies. The main About Us page is Who We Are.


Products/Services: A
Bravo to the Yiddish Book Center for an About Us page that begins with a pithy summary of the organization’s mission: “The Yiddish Book Center is a non-profit organization working to tell the whole Jewish story by rescuing, translating, and disseminating Yiddish books and presenting innovative educational programs that broaden understanding of modern Jewish identity.” Then come specifics of the organization’s activities (fellowships, translations, oral histories) and a summary of its status (“one of the world’s largest, liveliest, and most original Jewish organizations”). For those who want more, the page ends with a link to Our Story. A lovely photo shows the Center in its rural setting. A sidebar offers information from the founder and ways to join the Center’s mailing list or follow it on social media. All this is elegantly laid out to fit into less than 2 screens on a laptop. (The goat silhouette, which recurs throughout the site, is a nice light-hearted touch.)

Our Story is also top-notch. It focuses on the founder: the problem he saw (Yiddish books being destroyed) and his solution (send out volunteers to collect them). Then the narrative segues to the Center’s current activities and its plans for the future. The sidebar on this page links to the founder’s memoirs: an excellent choice, given that those who have read so far are clearly interested in the Center’s history.

We commend what may seem a minor detail of the layout: the caption beneath the video. It tells us what the video contains and that it’s award-winning, which helps us to decide whether to invest 13 minutes to watch it.

Given that Our Story  is a good narrative, we don’t miss headings and photos as much as we often do when confronted with a page of dense text. Still, images of some of the more spectacular of the Center’s “rescue efforts” would make great illustrations - and might even benefit the center by teaching people who are completely ignorant of Yiddish to recognize it.

Personality: A
Kudos to the Yiddish Book Center for keeping founder and president Aaron Lansky front and center. On the Staff page, he’s hauling a box of books. Images are crucial in setting a mood on any web page, and this image makes it immediately obvious that the Center is a down-to-earth organization run by a guy who’s willing to lend a hand to get things done.

Visually, the extra space given to his bio makes it obvious that he’s the Center’s directing force. Oddly, many corporate leadership pages are severely egalitarian: you wouldn’t know who the head honcho was from the space given on the page layout.

Our Commandment 4 of About Us pages is, “Don’t take your own name in vain.” Lansky’s bio mentions coverage of the Center by the New York Times, Time, and Smithsonian, as well as “numerous awards and recognitions.” Why not link to the articles and list the awards? That would reinforce the fact that the Center is doing a superlative job at fulfilling its mission.

We hoped to find links to such information on the News page, but found only a list of the Center’s blog entries – interesting and well laid out, but not the sort of affirmation that comes from outside recognition.

Accessibility: A
High points to the Center also for its Contact page, accessible via the footer and the top navigation bar. This page offers an impressive choice of 12 email addresses. Incidentally, the vintage typewriter is cute, but we’d still prefer to see some photos of the books the Center has rescued.

Especially if your founder is still in charge, use his passion to set the tone for your About Us pages and to help explain your company’s mission.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.

Monday, June 15, 2015 book wins top-tier APEX Award

Superior Linen Service at 60: Stories of Teamwork, Technology, and Trust, written and published by, won a 2015 APEX Grand Award in the Special Publications category. This is the eighth consecutive year that our business history books and history websites have won APEX Awards. Only 82 of this year's 1,900 entrants earned top-tier Grand Awards honors. Kudos to author Bernie Libster and book designer Ashley Tosh, Superior Linen’s marketing director and resident art maven.

We wrote Superior Linen’s history as a series of stories rather than a straight chronological narrative for a few reasons. First and foremost, it let us meet the client’s tight deadline. The format also showcases Superior Linen’s family-oriented culture, as well as the tech innovations that have twice placed it on Inc. Magazine's list of Top 5000 fastest growing privately held companies. We’re especially proud that our client agreed to run two spreads  both in English and Spanish, the first language of many of Superior’s employees. APEX regarded that as an good example of corporate storytelling for the 21st century.

Sponsored by Communications Concepts in Springfield, VA, the APEX Awards is a program designed to recognize excellence in publishing by communications professionals. The APEX Awards for Excellence are given in various categories based on outstanding quality in both graphic design and editorial content of print and online publications. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Books-a-Million: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

In Florence, Alabama, in 1917, Clyde W. Anderson set up a newsstand. With the profits from it, he bought a bookstore. His sons built more stores, incorporating them under the name “Bookland” in 1964. Bookland survives as a subsidiary of Books-a-Million, which since 1988 has become a chain of over 200 superstores, mostly in the southeastern United States. The company went public in 1992. It is the second largest book retailer in the country. The closest thing to an About Us page is Corporate Profile.


Products/Services: D
The Corporate Profile page provides a good summary of the current size and scope of Books-a-Million, along with its operating divisions. But the page consists entirely of small type and a few headers. Our Commandment 6 of About Us pages is, “Honor thy visuals.” Archival photos of early locations, early signage, or previous logos would liven up this page. More importantly, the page seems to be aimed at possible investors rather than customers. It conveys no sense of excitement about the products and services the company provides, nor its essential business history. Book people, especially, have an obligation to be corporate storytellers.

Personality: E
Completely missing from the Corporate Profile page is the story of the company’s century-long development. Who founded it? What was their driving purpose? What did they do right, and where and when, that helped make the company last so long?

At the foot of the page is a list of directors and corporate officers. Each is listed with name, title, and nothing else: no capsule bios, no contact info, no hint of their goals for Books-a-Million. According to Wikipedia, the company was founded by Clyde W. Anderson. On the Corporate Profile page, the first two names under Board of Directors are Clyde B. Anderson and Terry C. Anderson. Hey, bet there’s a family connection there! Why not tell us about it?

Accessibility: B
The contact page is available via a link on the top navigation bar. It offers a list of mailing addresses, emails, and (sometimes) telephone numbers for questions about retail stores, the website, the company, complaints, employment, and media relations.

Your corporate history is a powerful tool for setting your company apart from the crowd. Use it!

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Kaye Scholer LLP: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

The law firm founded by Benjamin Kay and Jacob Scholer in New York City in 1917 now has more than 450 attorneys in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Washington, D.C., West Palm Beach, Frankfurt, London, and Shanghai. With an international reputation as a litigation firm, it specializes in product liability, antitrust, and intellectual property. The About Us page is here.


Products/Services: B
Kaye Scholer’s main About Us page is packed with information, beginning with a summary of the company history (100 years in 2017) and moving on to cover which industries it works with extensively, how it functions as a strategic business partner, and why it is uniquely qualified to deal with complex issues in a cost-effective way. As a testimonial, the page mentions that 83 clients have been working with Kaye Scholer for more than 20 years.

Additional links within the text would be helpful. For example, when mentioning in-depth knowledge of core industries, why not link to the Practice Groups page? When mentioning introductions between the firm’s clients, why not link to a page that gives examples?

Although the About Us page looks dense, the material is broken into four separate headings and numerous paragraphs, so it’s easy to get through. Still, it’s great to see a prominent link to the Breakthroughs brochure (a PDF), which highlights recent victories by the firm in a variety of industries and includes excellent summaries, illustrations, and testimonials.

Kaye Scholer is frequently mentioned in the media. Bravo for having a Newsroom page that gathers links to such stories. Logos of the publications quoted would add visual interest to the page.

Personality & Accessibility: B
Our Commandment 8 of About Us pages is, “Remember to make yourself and your organization easily accessible.” Kaye Scholer does that for both offices and personnel. The page listing Kaye Scholer offices worldwide offers the address and phone of each office, with a Google map of the location. (We actually prefer the arrangement as it stood a  month or so ago, which used a columnar format to show an iconic photo of the city, a phone and address, and a link to Google maps for the location.) Clicking on any city leads to a page with a blurb about the specialties of that office, the name of the managing partner, and related press releases.

Kaye Scholer personnel can be searched by name, position, practice area, office, or school attended. For each person there’s a page with a bio, photo, email, phone, and notes on his specialties and education, plus the option to download a vCard for easy importation into one’s email contacts. Well done.

In the big-picture, long-term view: why is there no information about the founders of the firm? Its 100-year organizational history is mentioned several times, but without any reference to the lawyers who started it. Business anniversary tip: Use the story of your founders to convey the continuation of core values. 

Approaching any milestone – a decade, a quarter century, a century – gives you bragging rights. Take advantage of your corporate history to show clients where you’ve come from and what to expect in the future.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.