Monday, March 24, 2014

Provident Bank Leverages Its 175th Anniversary

Provident Bank is among a handful of New Jersey companies that have a continuous, 100-plus-year history with essentially the same name. This august group includes Annin Flagmakers (we're proud to have written and published their corporate history), Campbell Soup, Congoleum, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Prudential, and PSEG (I'm proud to have written their centennial book as well). Provident has leveraged its 175th anniversary in several thoughtful ways, using it to:
  • Create a new logo (evolved from 175 years of beehives--the gold one is the latest)
  • Celebrate good corporate citizenship (the bank's Foundation has donated over $18 million to NJ nonprofits since 2003--a great accomplishment, but alas, there's a typo in Provident's web copy announcing it) 
  • Post a timeline (only 12 items for 175 years? C'mon, guys!)
  • Develop a few videos (I applaud the mention of history in the 30-second TV ad, but I like this longer one better; it features CEO Chris Martin against a changing backdrop of history images; however, it's located under "Our New Look" instead of the history section of the website, a serious mistake)
All in all, Jersey City-based Provident has mined its long history in service of corporate storytelling, showcasing a good balance of Then and Now. Kudos!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Newell Rubbermaid: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

The Newell Manufacturing Company, founded in 1903 in Ogdensburg, N.Y., originally produced curtain rods of superior quality. Newell went public in 1972, and in 1999 acquired Rubbermaid and changed to its present name. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, the company (headquartered in Atlanta) offers a wide range of high-quality consumer and commercial products such Rubbermaid, Sharpie, Calphalon, Levelor, Paper Mate, Waterman, Aprica, Graco, and Goody. The main About Us page (“Our Company”) is here.


Products/Services: D
Where are the products? The “Our Company” section of the Newell-Rubbermaid site has 6 sub-pages. The company’s products are mentioned in a one-sentence list on the main page (“a strong portfolio of leading brands, including Rubbermaid®, Sharpie®, Graco®, Calphalon®, Irwin®, Lenox®, Levolor®, Paper Mate®, Dymo®, Waterman®, Parker®, Goody®, Rubbermaid Commercial Products® and Aprica®”) ... and nowhere else in the About Us pages except in the timeline, Our History. Even on that page, one has to scroll down to 2008 to find a product mentioned.

From Awards (buried under Press Room), it’s clear that Newell Rubbermaid products are industry leaders. Why aren’t these mentioned on other pages, with photos? Even a background to the page showing the logos of Newell Rubbermaid properties would remind us why we care about this company.

In the News is nicely designed, with the article’s title (linked to the online article), publication, date, a brief summary, with space for an image at the left.

A brief rant: our First Commandment of About Us pages is “Know thy audience.” That star graphic on Our Purpose and Values incorporates a central purpose, five values, and an overarching vision. Our Growth Game Plan (the next page on the submenu after Our Purpose and Values) has a different diagram with 5 sections, the last of which has 5 subheads. Who are these for? We doubt even MBAs would appreciate such abstract, complex diagrams.

Personality: B
Rubbermaid’s bios of management (Our Leadership) offer more than the usual resume-without-paragraph-breaks content. For example, “Michael Polk [President and CEO] is building Newell Rubbermaid into a larger, faster growing, more global and more profitable company.” Well done. We would have given an “A” here if there had also been links to speeches or articles by the CEO and others.

Accessibility: D
The lengthy second paragraph on the Contact page, in italics, is a dire warning to those who want to submit inventions. For legal reasons it’s obviously important to include that information - but why not segregate it below and to the right, in a box, under the heading “To Inventors”?

Below the warning paragraph, the Contact page offers only an address and phone number for each division (Levelor/Kirsch, Aprica, etc.) On the pop-up menu at the right (“Product Contact Information”), at least one of the links is broken. Others require loading two or three separate pages in order to actually contact the division. If you want to hear from your customers, make it easy. It costs nothing extra to put a direct link to further contact information on the Newell-Rubbermaid page.

In printed works, duplicating information is costly and usually unnecessary. On the web, repeating information across a site (particularly contact information) is a good thing, if it allows visitors to accomplish what they want with less frustration.

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. We do buy and use pens made by Sharpie and Paper Mate.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Get Joan Detz in your corner

Joan Detz's "How to Write & Give a Speech" has been in print for 30 years, a miracle in the world of publishing. The new Third Edition, just issued by St. Martin's Press, is better than ever. Detz now addresses social media, of course, but the three sections I found most useful touch on old-fashioned communication problems that never go away:

How to Prepare the Room: Because A/V stands for Always Vexing! My favorite tip within this checklist: "Can you be heard without a microphone? If so, don't use one." 

How to Structure the Content of Your Talk: Chronological isn't the only choice, by far. How about cause-and-effect? Numerical order? Problem-solution? Geographical order? Psychological order (what matters most to your audience)? Even alphabetical? ("Why not? This certainly is easy for the audience to follow.") All are great twists on the usual approach to corporate storytelling. 

How to Handle Q&A Sessions: Among the 10 priceless tips is "Listen carefully ... don't nod your head enthusiastically to show you understand the question. The audience may think you automatically agree with the questioner."

I've had the privilege of studying speechwriting and presentation techniques with Joan Detz, and I've been delighted to appear on conference panels with her. When St. Martin's Press asked me to provide a recommendation for the book's opening page, I was happy to comply. Here's the nugget: "Joan Detz's guidance goes far beyond speechwriting. The practical wisdom in these pages will help you communicate your best in every business situation." 

Monday, March 3, 2014

CSX Transportation: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

In 1980, the Chessie System and Seaboard Coast Line Industries merged to form CSX Transportation, a railroad network now headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. CSX controls about 21,000 miles of rail, mostly east of the Mississippi River. Incidentally, they have one of the cleverest typography-based logos we have ever seen: check it out at the upper left of the screen capture below. The main About Us page (“About CSX”) is here.


Products/Services: B
The main About Us page offers an overview with a well-chosen set of four topics, each briefly explained and provided with a link to further information. The Company Overview page is also concise and well-focused, with the short paragraphs and headings that are so vital when dealing with the short attention span of readers on the web.

Our Commandment 6 of About Us pages is “Honor thy visuals.” CSX has some great photos of trains, but other types of images would be a useful supplement. For example, on the Company Overview page, why not bolster the statistics on railroad mileage, port access, etc., with map showing CSX routes (a consolidated version of the state-by-state maps such as the one on this page), plus graphs of products shipped and fuel consumption per ton for rail vs. road freight?

As noted in Our Evolution and History, CSX dates its beginnings to the founding of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1827. The Interactive Timeline, covering nearly two centuries on ten separate pages, is disappointingly focused on consolidations and mergers, offering no overview of the company’s role in the national and local economy. A little more corporate storytelling, please: such a long, rich history should be used to enhance the company’s reputation for growth and reliability. 

The impressive list on the Awards and Recognition page would be more likely to be read if it were broken up with illustrations, such as the logos of the organizations that gave the awards. We could find no page for press and media mentions of CSX: an odd omission.

Personality: C
The CSX Leadership page offers brief bios of management and the board of directors. These don’t give a strong sense of who’s driving the train and where it’s heading. On the other hand, there are options for downloading a CSX screensaver, ringtone, or calendar. Offering this rather than better bios is an odd choice of priorities.

Accessibility: B
The Contact page starts with emergency contact information and spells out what is considered a railroad emergency: well done. Under TellCSX are a wide variety of options with online forms for each.

If you’re counting your company history in centuries, make your history work for you by using it to show (in text and visuals) what your company has accomplished and where it’s heading.

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.