Author Archive | Diane Thieke

Tips for Staying Creative Every Day So New Ideas Will Flow

I’m a creative person by nature. But even I − a brand journalist who is faced with the need to generate new ideas for custom content every…single…day −  even I get burned out. You can’t create custom media without fresh ideas.

I do have a few tricks to help me find my creative mojo again.

  • Golden Gate Bridge is reflected in a soap bubbleTroll the Web. OK, admittedly, this sounds like a poor idea. And really, I wouldn’t recommend it as the FIRST thing to try. Maybe not even the last. But there are some amazing things on the Web. Museum websites are great sources of creative inspiration, especially for new types of custom media. Just don’t let yourself get TOO distracted or hours will go by in a flash. Oh…and stay away from Perez Hilton.
  • Watch a TEDTalk. I don’t consider this surfing the Web because I watch these on my iPad while doing the dishes. They either have me running back to the computer with 15 new ideas − or leave me up to my elbows in soap bubbles and tears.
  • Take a shower. Without singing. (I’m banned from singing in the house after a disastrous attempt at the Happy Birthday song a few years ago.) On slow days, I’m squeaky clean.
  • Play the “I wonder if” game. You know, ‘I wonder if this story would be more interesting if told it in Q&A style.’ or ‘I wonder if things smell the same way to cats as they smell to us.’ 
  • Get outside. Take a run along the pond, walk to the local coffee shop, sit outside the local library and people watch. This often brings out the journalist in me, which often leads to new ideas.
  • Welcome the bad ideas. One thing I’ve learned over the years about the he process of generating new ideas or new ways to tell stories is that bad ideas often spark good ones. Don’t be afraid to let the dogs out.

Golden Gate Bridge is reflected in a soap bubble (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Advertising in Reverse

Journalism Notebook

Credit: planeta

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by Gretchen Peck of Editor & Publisher about marketing tactics that publishers could use to drive traffic to their websites. Publishers, I said, really needed to think about advertising in reverse. That is, syndicating editorial content to brands for use on their websites.

Some top publishers (like the Huffington Post) and aggregators (Newscred and Contently) are already doing this. Now, Fortune has added a new product for advertisers: Trusted Original Content. Already, it has signed up Capital One, for which it will be creating custom content under the Fortune brand.

We’re all familiar with the idea that “everyone is a publisher.” That’s because search engines rank websites according to how much relevant content they include about a particular topic. The goal is to send searchers to sites that are authorities on a topic. That means strategic use of specific keywords and lots of inbound links.

The problem is that most marketing teams don’t have the skills to create journalistic copy. It’s not merely about writing skills, it’s also about the ability to build editorial calendars and produce timely, newsworthy content in all forms (print, graphical, video, audio) — frequently and on deadline. Publishers are expert at this. What’s more, they’re set up to do it properly with a proven process and skilled journalists, producers, artists and editors.

I spent years working for one of the world’s top publishers and straddling the line between journalism and marketing. It makes perfect sense to me that creating or licensing journalistic quality content to brands for use in their own media channels is the next frontier.

And while I’m sure that many of my editorial friends are horrified at the idea, I’ve no doubt that this is a future business model for publishers. I expect we’ll soon see more publishers moving toward advertising in reverse.

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The End of the Age of Spin

Could it be possible? Are we entering the end of the age of spin?

Spin is the bane of every PR professional. It’s what everyone outside the profession – our colleagues, competitors, friends, family, the media – believe is our job.

But what is spin? The most generous view is that it’s telling the story the way the organization wants it told. But many people see it as nothing less than lying.

I believe that excellent PR pros don’t lie, at least not intentionally. We all know that misrepresentation has harsher consequences than telling the truth – and that we’ll almost always be caught. But honesty has many faces, and the truth is rarely cut and dry. There are often several shades, and they may all be true.

It all gets more complicated when you consider that we are well into the Brand Me economy. Social media and the Web have made us all more conscious of our personal reputations. This isn’t just limited to college students worried that their job prospects will be impacted by party pictures appearing on their Facebook profile, but also CEOs. What they say in defense of their corporations actions may follow them digitally the rest of their careers.

Which is why I found Jeff Hancock’s Ted Talk to be so interesting. His premise is that the digital trail is making us all more honest. Could it be then, that we’ll see the end of the age of spin in the near future?

Great Storytellers: Abraham Lincoln

We went to see the movie, Lincoln, last week. I think it has “Oscar” written all over it, but I’m no movie critic.

When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of Lincoln, and I read numerous books about him. I definitely enjoyed social studies more around President’s Day, when we created cutouts of Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Washington out of black construction paper.

From a communications and influencer perspective, I have an even greater respect for the man. He quite effectively used words and stories to get his way. Stories and humor helped him deal with stress and depression, interject humor when things got dark, illuminate his meaning and make a point clearer.

Good stories work because they put abstract ideas into a concrete framework, allowing the people you need to persuade to visualize outcomes and get a sense of the emotional impact. It’s not always easy to do. Most storytellers have a well from which they draw, often using the same parables again and again (we see a lot of this on the campaign trail).

This is common among storytellers. We practice and we hone, until we have precisely the right story that can have the impact that we intended. With each telling, we refine the plot, embellish the characters, become clearer about what it all means and how it relates to the issue at hand.

The movie illustrates Lincoln’s ability to sway opinion by using stories, something that Louis P. Masur described in the New York Times several months ago:

Lincoln shrewdly used stories and parables in more complex ways as well. They would disarm opponents, or offer an easily digestible truism that seemed to support whatever position he might be taking.

What I also learned from the movie was that he was a shrewd politician, willing to compromise his own values for a larger good. In doing so, he saved a nation.

Go see Lincoln. I highly recommend.

What a Jersey Girl Thinks About Sandy

Photo: Nick Harris

Simply Talk Media is a New Jersey company, so of course we were affected by Hurricane Sandy. We were rather lucky that we lost power for just a few days. Actually, it was a good excuse to clean our refrigerators, though I’m convinced that my wine fridge is now not working properly.

Thus, I’ve been able to focus on the coverage of the storm and its lasting impact. I grew up on the Jersey shore, so the devastation is very personal. I’ve been impressed with what people are doing to help out those who’ve lost their homes. There have been numerous food and clothing drives, and many have volunteered time to help clean up. In fact, I’m proud to say that my own son is giving up his Thanksgiving break from college to help with Hurricane relief.

Here are a few of my observations of the storm coverage and conversation:

The role of the public library. I wrote a guest post for the New Jersey State Library (also a client) about how social media was critical for staying informed during the storm and how public libraries became refuges.

Best digital and social practices. Over at Biznology, where I’m a regular contributor, I looked at how digital media marketing was used during the storm by governments and the utilities.

Regional dialect differences, even within the state: One internet meme included a photo with this statement overlaid: “We don’t ‘go to the beach,’ we ‘go down the shore.’ Like if you understand what we mean.” For a shore girl, this is the difference between feeding the seagulls and shooing them away. I lived at the beach, so I never went ‘down the shore.’ As a native, though, this meme spoke volumes about how much the Jersey shore means to anyone who has spent time there: Tourists love the shore and are willing to support and restore it. We can’t tell you how much we appreciate your help.

Misplaced blame. Now that immediate danger is past, as well as the presidential election, it has been fascinating to watch the rhetoric. The New Jersey governor is being vilified by his own party for excessively praising the president. While the hurricane was bad luck for Romney, effectively neutering his campaign just days before the election, the Christie-Obama lovefest didn’t cause a loss at the polls. It’s pretty simple: Romney’s campaign strategy was off throughout the entire campaign. He failed to attract large demographic groups that turned out to be pivotal to a win. That’s a messaging problem, not a NJ governor problem.

I’ve been lukewarm about Christie since he campaigned for governor. While I’ve always appreciated his passion for defending our oft-maligned state, I disagree with many of his positions, and initially I resented his attitude. I’m not sure if he’s learning how to direct that attitude more appropriately, or if I’ve simply become used to him. Either way, he doesn’t have that “bull in a china shop” appearance anymore, although where Obama is concerned, I’m sure the GOP would disagree.

What our nation needs now is bipartisanship. I get the feeling that Christie has recognized that earlier than the rest of the party.

By the way, if you haven’t seen Christie’s drive-by at SNL, it’s well worth the watch.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Evolving Brand

One of the pleasures of owning my own business is that I can infuse some of my own personality into my company’s brand. That’s what I tried to do initially when I created the Simply Talk Media name and design. Here is part of what I was thinking:

  • I like to talk, and just don’t get it when others stay silent. Most of the time, staying quiet is a poor communications strategy. So many misunderstandings could be avoided if companies reached out to the media and their stakeholders and just started talking.
  • I’ve got a water personality: Creative, adaptable, always ready to take on new challenges. Curious. Imaginative. Buoyant, yet tough. Sand in my shoes kind of girl. Plus, I just like water images – or anything to do with beaches, boats or oceans.
  • I love technology, and I’ve been in it for a lot longer than today’s Gen X or Y’ers. I’m eager to test out the latest gadget or app. Digital is in my blood.
  • I’m a people person and I genuinely like to meet new people and to help others make connections. This makes me very good at networking and influencing outcomes.

The first two attributes found their way into my brand initially. And while the name works, I came to realize that the water images just confused people. And, you see, clear communication is more important to me than an abstruse idea. What’s more, I lost a couple of tech companies as potential clients because they didn’t view me as having a technology background.

When I sat down with the Web design team at HG Media, I challenged them to create a look for my brand that articulated these personality attributes a bit more clearly. As always in this process, we went through several iterations, which I’ll share next week. Check back and I’ll tell you more.



Anatomy of a Redesign

Believe it or not, Simply Talk Media has passed the first year mark of being in business. This Web site followed on the heels of the LLC. For many reasons (some of which are listed below), we’re due for a rebranding.

Simple Talk this week: Rebranding

Within the next few days, this will all look different. In the meantime, we’re going to speed you through our journey of the last couple of months, a time where you may (or may not) have noticed that we’ve been on hiatus. Lots of work, though, has been going on behind the scenes.

Simply Talk Media is emerging as a different kind of business than what I’d originally envisioned. First of all, let me say that my vision was sort of murky. Like any new entrepreneur, this last year has been all about:

  • Finding out who I am
  • Deciding who I want to be
  • Making a lot (A LOT) of mistakes
  • Understanding who my customer is
  • Getting to know my customer
  • Defining how I can help

Initially, here’s what I thought the market for Simply Talk Media might be:

  • A social media consultancy
  • For small business
  • And perhaps nonprofits
  • Oh, and startups too
  • And yeah, corporates. I’ve done a lot of corporate work.

And what could we do for this market?

  • We’d focus on developing, but not executing, social media strategy (because everyone loves to use Facebook, right?)
  • Oh, but, if you need us to write copy – blogs for example – we can do that too.
  • And media relations. Yeah, we can do that.
  • A full blown marketing and communications strategy? No problem.
  • Sure, we can edit news (those are our roots).

So the last year has been spent in experimentation. But now, we’re ready to say what Simply Talk Media can do and for whom. Check back tomorrow soon to find out what we decided.

Augmented Reality Brings Marketing to Life

Augmented reality is the next stop on the high-speed tech train. AR embeds information into images from the world around you. Focus your phone camera on a book cover, and Amazon’s Flow app will show you a description and allow you to buy it direct from

Yes, I know, the book’s in front of you, so it seems silly, but imagine how you might use this for larger objects or photos of items for sale in the newspaper. Or perhaps that cute pair of shoes your friend is wearing.

Stella Artois’s Le Bar app allows you to point your phone down a city street and find all the bars serving its beer.

In this TED Talks video, Matt Mills of Aurasma demonstrates how his AR app can bring inanimate objects to life. He points out some compelling uses in education and customer service – for example, setting up your router, and for reading the newspaper. Point your camera at a sports photo and it instantly animates into the latest video coverage.

It’s easy to imagine AR’s utility in marketing and PR. A wealth of information can be attached to buildings, people, places, objects, images and more. That information can include one-click purchasing, product information, client testimonials, reviews and so much more.

It’s worth noting that much of this can be accomplished with QR codes, but AR will likely streamline the process (no need to create a QR code) and make the information more easily accessible. After all, your friend’s cute pair of shoes wouldn’t be as cute if they were stamped with a QR code.

Big, Fast Info Means Clever, Fast PR & Marketing

How much information is created every day? Zettabytes. At least. I’m not sure when we’ll reach yottabytes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened in my lifetime.

If it hasn’t happened already.

Every minute, 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. So in some ways, it’s not surprising that YouTube is becoming a major platform for viewing news. A new report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that citizens are responsible for posting original videos of news events – more than one-third of the most-watched videos. Remember that YouTube is the #2 search engine. Talk about an opportunity for real-time PR.

But being fast isn’t enough. You need to be clever as well. Otherwise, how will you stand out among all this data?

If you just can’t visualize what that amount of data might look like, this infographic can help. Paris, here I come.

A Day in the Internet
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Social Media is Not the Jazz Age: It’s the 60s

In June, my family and I took the ferry to Governor’s Island. We’d never visited this small island in the New York bay, and we wanted to take advantage of nice weather and bike rentals to explore it.

On the ferry, we suddenly felt transported into another decade. Dapper men with handlebar mustaches, straw hats and bow ties were escorting pearled ladies with hats and gloves. Parasols abounded. Flappers with bobbed hair and short fringed dresses pursed their darkened lips while surveying the modern-day crowd with disapproval.

And we deserved it, I think. I looked around at the rest of us, those not aware that the Jazz Age Lawn Party started at noon on the island. We looked god awful. Faded T-shirts, gym shorts, women make-up free.

It made me feel sad, and it made me miss a time that I’d never really experienced, when people actually dressed up for a weekend outing.

My grandmother was a child of the 1920s era, and she never lost a bit of decorum, insisting on dressing in her Sunday best even at casual weekend gatherings. Unfortunately, I was a child of the 70s. So as a teenager, I rebelled against the formal dress code. Dismissed it. Donned the ripped jeans and the concert T-shirt. I also thought fashion was shallow and below me. I believed in deeper things, stuff that no matter how you dressed it, it demanded respect and thoughtful consideration.

I eschewed the dress code, but I never let down my guard on good writing. Over the years, I did come to appreciate both the art of fashion and the value (and the return) of dressing well. But slipping my writing into a pair of blue jeans never held much appeal to me.

Social media is the 60s counterculture of our era. There is, I think, a deliberate disregard for the finer points of good writing, good spelling, and good grammar.

We’re all too familiar with SMS lingo: “R U @ home?” I understand that all of our text messages can’t be written with perfect grammar (although if you text me, I will reply in full sentences, with words spelled correctly and commas in all the right places). I get it, I do.

But, in all other communications, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for perfection. We need more decorum in our emails, our blog posts, even our Facebook status updates.

Because even if we think the bar is set lower and our colleagues expect imperfection in electronic communications,  a status update riddled with spelling errors (using their for there, for example) creates an insidious impression on your reader.

Whether you’re a business or an individual, people form prejudicial attitudes about you with every word you write. If you want to create a positive reputation, remember that words count. So dress them up – every day of the week.