One Man's PR Nightmare...

As Jason Linkins over at the Huffington Post almost gleefully points out, there's been a lot of rubbernecking on the web in the last few days about the tense exchange between Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center spokesperson Marc Slavin and Bay Area ABC News reporter Dan Noyes. In case you haven't seen the video, it's below.

I received a link to the video from friends and colleagues in PR via 3 different sources yesterday: it was shared on Facebook, discussed in a LinkedIn group I belong to and emailed to me and many of my PR colleagues in a group email.

I should give full disclosure that I have worked with Mr. Slavin in the past as part of a communications task force for Laguna Honda's soon to be open new hospital building; I always found him to be extremely respectful and professional. Was Mr. Noyes aggressive? Undoubtably. Was Laguna Honda administrator Ms. Hirose flustered and unprepared? Yes. Could Mr. Slavin have handled this situation with Mr. Noyes differently? I'm sure. In fact I'd bet that he has probably replayed this incident over and over again (if not in his head, on his computer screen) wishing for a different outcome.

We all have days or situations that are better than others and that we wish we could do over or forget about completely. (I'll leave specific commentary about what Mr. Slavin did, and the debate on how he could have handled such a situation differently, to the millions of people who are discussing, commenting and dissing on what Gawker called the best local news video this year.) Point being, when we have these types of situations, we have to deal with the consequences. Unfortunately for Mr. Slavin, his bad day quickly became that much more public thanks to social media sharing tools such as Youtube, Digg, Twitter and Facebook, (to name a few), that spread this video across the web like wildfire, only amplifying those consequences.

The Huffington Post, like many other news outlets, helpfully displayed some other places on the web, including twitter that this story was getting play.

and provided the requisite social media tools to share the video.

Note that there were 536 comments on the video on the Huffington Post website alone. 321 people tweeted about it, their followers retweeted and so on, ad infinitum. (Guy Kawasaki, who has almost a quarter of a million followers, tweeted this story. Imagine his reach!) A quick google search for it produced more than 37,000 results–many in languages I couldn't understand.

Painfully, Mr. Slavin can not only replay the video but spend countless hours scouring the web to see comments people have made– about him personally, his professional demeanour and the organization he was representing. He is now an integral part of the new story and as a result has spent many hours I'm sure he didn't account for answering inquiries from all fronts about the incident. This video is a great example of how quickly content can go viral and create bad PR for an individual or organization.

So what's the takeaway here? Being on the front lines, sometimes in tense situations, is nothing new for PR professionals. We know this and develop thicker skins the further we advance in our careers. What is a fairly new development is how social media adds yet one more layer (or many, depending on how you look at it) to managing an organization's public image and can make our jobs (and us) even more visibly and inextricably linked to that image. Is this being talked about when we train up and coming PR professionals? How about when we do speaker training and crisis communications? Prior to the advent of web 2.0, this video would have aired on TV in the original newscast and been posted on the ABC 7 website. Some people would have emailed it to their friends but it most likely would not have gained enough strength to become the tsunami it did in such a short time.

The fact that our words and actions can infect the web like this, doing damage to companys we represent and to our own reputations is something we should all be acutely aware of.

Is Rush Limbaugh Helping The Sierra Club? A Marketing Case Study

Last Monday, Rush Limbaugh was discussing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and asked his listeners "When do we ask the Sierra Club to pick up the tab for this leak?", blaming what he called "the greeniacs" for driving oil drilling offshore. I wasn't there, but I'm betting that when they got wind of what Mr. Limbaugh said, there were some pretty happy marketing communications strategists at The Sierra Club.

Agree with his positions or not, no-one would argue that when Mr. Limbaugh speaks on a topic he draws lots of attention to it. The Sierra Club's marketing communications team has attempted to turn what could have been a piece of negative publicity strategically to their advantage and used it to raise awareness of the organization's efforts to promote clean energy solutions and put an end to offshore drilling. The fundraising campaign they've created is slightly wicked: give $10 to the Sierra Club in Mr. Limbaugh's name and get the opportunity to send him the finger, um, a personal message, with the donation. And the hook? Help Rush become the Sierra Club's top fundraiser. Nicely played.

Or is it?

Here's what the Sierra Club marketing communications did to bring the strategy to life:

1. Cut through the inbox clutter.
The subject line: "Why Rush Limbaugh Deserves a Free Backpack" is a great way to get a Sierra Club constituent to open an e-mail. This was permission-based e-mail marketing so recipients had already given a vote of confidence that this e-mail content was valuable to them. On top of that, it's fair to assume that Sierra Club supporters disagree with Mr. Limbaugh's position and perhaps even that they don't like him very much. What could he have possibly done? they ask. By lampooning Mr. Limbaugh with this subject line the copywriter entices them to open the e-mail.

2.  Engage with good copywriting and a strong call to action.
Once they open the e-mail they then learn that Rush has been so good at helping to raise money for the Sierra Club that he deserves a free backpack. This engaging copy ties in beautifully to the call to action. (I wonder if they'll stuff the backpack with all the messages from donors?) The ask is a realizable target - for anyone who feels so inclined, ten bucks, or the price of a movie ticket to stick it to Rush Limbaugh is easily manageable.

4. Socialize it.
Each little blurb in the newsletter allows for socialization and integration of the message through other outposts such as Facebook and Twitter. The convergence of e-mail marketing with social media marketing is opening up exciting new opportunities. Social media complements other tactics such as e-mail and The Sierra Club team is empowering its constituents to reach out to their tribes to connect the Sierra Club with new fans and followers. It's a smart way to use e-mail marketing to complement other tactics and turn those casual connections into meaningful customer relationships.

5. Make it easy to give money.
When you click through from the newsletter, you arrive at this landing page:

It's clean and well laid out and the embedded video of Mr. Limbaugh is the perfect touch.

6. Make the ask everywhere.
The home page of the Sierra Club. Enough said.

7. Make the ask more than once.
Then, two days later, a follow-up e-mail from the Sierra Club Executive Director, Michael Brune.

Remember, The Sierra Club isn't trying to convince people who agree with Rush Limbaugh that he's wrong. They're talking to the people who've already bought in that he's wrong. On paper, it's a fundamentally sound strategy and the marketing tools are being used effectively and judiciously to implement that strategy. So what could possibly go awry? Here's a few things I noticed:

1. Consistent and clear messaging is key.
I saw a big disconnect between the copywriting on the Sierra Club Facebook page and everywhere else. The info blurb, (it's on the left hand side of the page) usually gives some information about an organization. Instead it says: "On May 17, Rush Limbaugh asked his listeners "When do we ask the Sierra Club to pick up the tab for this leak?" That seems appropriate, so help us raise the money to foot the bill."

This makes it sound like the Sierra Club not only agrees with Rush Limbaugh but is trying to raise money to pay to clean up the oil spill. If you click through from this, the copy clearly states: "You and Rush will have the satisfaction of knowing your contribution will support Sierra Club's efforts to promote clean energy solutions and put an end to offshore drilling." Unfortunately, the copy as it's written will prevent some people from clicking on that link as they are put-off right away by the idea of paying for the spill.

Similarly, on the wall post about this topic it says: "Rush Limbaugh wants the Sierra Club to pay for BP's negligence, help us raise the money!" and "Donate $10 today and we'll send a card to Rush Limbaugh telling him that your donation was made in his honor!" Again, this sends the message that the Sierra Club is raising money to pay for the oil spill and that all donations will somehow be credited to Mr. Limbaugh.


2. Using reverse psychology is risky - it can backfire.
Some people dislike Mr. Limbaugh so much they wont give money to anything that has his name attached to it, even if it is to advance a cause they believe in. There has been much debate in liberal circles about whether democrats are giving Mr. Limbaugh more power by talking about him and should just ignore him instead. 

3. Social Media is about listening.
There were more than 110 comments on the above wall post and by my quick count, more of them were negative or neutral in regards to this campaign than supportive. It wasn't a terribly large sampling size, although some would argue that any post that incites more than 100 people to write something is worth paying attention to.

As marketers we must never forget that negative perceptions can be stickier than positive perceptions. Remember the old adage, when people love something, they tell 1 person, when they hate something, they tell 10? Hate something on Facebook and the whole world is listening.

Noticeably absent is a response, new comment or wall post from someone at the Sierra Club. Is it because more than 150 people have clicked on the "like" button already? It's important to think of Facebook as a strategic listening outpost and as such it's a garden that needs daily tending. From a customer service perspective, it would be helpful to respond to the naysayers and to provide clarification for those who, gasp! don't get, what the Sierra Club's intentions are.

Facebook is also wonderful in that it's a place where you can run tests to see what works and doesn't work. Given the subject matter, his post would have been a perfect opportunity for the Sierra Club team to set up A/B experiments to test the efficacy of various post content (photo of Mr. Limbaugh versus no photo of Mr. Limbaugh, for example) and with a combination of quantitative metrics culled from Facebook's metrics tool Insights, and what people are saying on the page, to glean some deep insights.

As a result of all of this effort (and my hat goes off to the team for being so nimble and proactive in the last week or so) the Sierra Club has reported a spike in website visitations and giving to the tune of more than $50,000 already. How much of this is marketing spin or a direct result of the Rush Limbaugh campaign is anyone's guess. I'll be tracking their efforts with interest and will try to obtain some Sierra Club statistics on giving and visitations to their website and various social media outposts in the coming weeks.

In any event, many non-profit organizations would do well to take a page from the Sierra Club's playbook and be half as coordinated in the execution of their marketing communications strategies.

What Can Your Older Members Do To Support You In Addition To Donating Money?

One of the questions I am often asked by non-profits when we're discussing membership engagement beyond donating money is how to reach out to members (typically older) who they think are not using tools like Facebook and Twitter. Since the Facebook 55+ audience grew a whopping 922.7% in 2009 (source: 2010 istrategylabs report), I answer that it's becoming more and more likely that older members will have a Facebook account. Twitter? Maybe not so much. Why and how non-profits should gather accurate data on their constituents and not rely on anecdotal evidence is a whole separate conversation (and a different blog post).

For the sake of this discussion, let's assume your members don't have a Facebook account. Three-quarters of the United States population is using the internet and, according to this AARP article, a recent survey indicates that senior citizens in the U.S. regularly go online for a variety of reasons, including using email, and reading news. So it's fairly safe to assume they are surfing the web at some point during their day or week. Encourage them to use some of this time to spread the word about your work. It's a way to make change that doesn’t cost any money at all. Here's two ways to do it that are quick, easy and free, yet cumulatively can make a big impact.

1. Comment on newspaper stories
Even if Twitter and Facebook is lost on them, many of your members get their news on the web from online newspapers, websites and blogs. The internet was born as an interactive medium and has facilitated chats, discussion groups and blogs for years. Recently, the largest newspaper sites have enabled readers to comment directly on their stories.

Whenever they read a mission-related article in any of the major local, regional or national newspapers online, your members can take some time to comment on the article in the "comments section" (usually found below the article). Depending on the publication, they may have to create an account to do so. While commenting, they should always paste in your organization's website address as part of the comments and let people know why they should be aware of, and support your organization.

How It Helps
  • It lets the publisher/writer know real people, like your members, read the story and that the issue is an important one.
  • It adds dimension to the story and creates further discussion.
  • It drives traffic to your organization's website and eventually other media outposts to produce more page views and ultimately more members.
  • It shows the world that your organization's membership is active and engaged in the issues.

Be sure to warn your members, comments are not always pretty. In fact, for many stories about politically charged issues, it can sometimes get downright ugly. But it can also be constructive and energize your most passionate members to enjoy a level of engagement with the issues and others who hold opposing views they may never have had before.

Once they’ve commented, it's important that they check back on the story for additional comments from others. As in any conversation, once they’ve stated their point, someone may respond to their comment and they might feel the need to reply.

2. Pass it on.
Encourage your members to send URLs of articles they're reading and commenting on to their friends and colleagues so that they can add their comments to the article too. 

Here's a few tips for the best way for them to do this: 
  1. They should send the email to themselves only and blindcopy their friends so they're not giving out friends’ email addresses without their consent.
  2. Send only URLs – no attachments– so people don't feel they are being spammed. Plus, it’s easier to read an email and click on a link from a smart phone than open an attachment.
How It Helps
  • It creates a groundswell of opinion and support. Elected officials and large corporations typically invest a lot of time and money in their “spin machines” and have the lobbying power and access to the halls of power that a small non-profit will never be able to match. Encouraging members to voice their opinion lets those who are monitoring the stories (such as elected officials’ staffers who like to take the citizenry's pulse on many issues, and the PR professionals on corporations payrolls)know the public is aware of and cares about the issues.
  • It improves SEO for your organization as comments that show up in search engine results.
It's good practice to encourage all of your members, regardless of their level of internet savvy to engage in this kind of viral activity.

Image Source

Guidelines For Writing Non-Profit Board Of Director Bios

Written well, bios make a targeted, persuasive argument about what to think about someone without being unsupported self-praise or too salesy. Sometimes I write bios from scratch for people. When that's the case, I keep the finished bio to one page or less and write the biography in the third person. Mostly though I have to take disparate bios and rework them to create consistency in length, tone and voice.

In either case, I always ask people to make sure their bios contain these essential elements:

Description of their business in brief.
Not only do website visitors want to know what people do, they also want to know who people have worked with. I ask them to include a sentence or two about their business niche (or niches) as well as the types of clients they serve. Sometimes a modified version of their 30-second elevator pitch works perfectly.

A list of any awards they have received.

Names of the organizations, clubs, or associations to which they belong.

Any professional certifications and designations they hold.
I have them make sure they write out their names in full, rather than use abbreviations. Not everyone might know what an acronym stands for and in a different discipline, it might represent something else. If they no longer hold a particular designation, but it has played a major role in who they are and what they do, I make a reference to it. I don't include abbreviations of college degrees, like MBAs as it looks unprofessional. The only exception to this would be for a Ph.D. designation.

Places they've been published.
Self-published or not, their works add to their level of professionalism and credibility. If they've written any articles, books, e-courses or e-books I showcase them.

Media mentions.
Have they been a guest on talk radio or television? Were they or their business featured or even mentioned in a newspaper article? If so, I include it. Again, these types of "mentions" add to their credibility and presence.

A sentence or two at the end about their personal passions and their relationship to the organization.
This may or not make it into the final bio, depending on the organization, but it's always useful to have on hand.

Two headshots.
One professional, and one casual (which should still be a headshot and be a good picture). I ask them to make sure the headshots are as hi-res as possible.

Am I missing anything?

Printing Press Check Part 4

This post is the final installment of a story. Read the previous installment or start at the beginning.

The question I’m always asked when I tell the story about outsourcing a print job to Seoul is “would you use those guys again?” Depends on the project. Someone would have to go there and physically stand around to make sure they printed to my standards. Keeping them on track would require someone’s presence as a physical reminder. And I’d want Captain as my onsite project manager and the brilliant night shift man, whose name I found out was Mr. An, to be running the printing machine. (They saved the book in my mind and restored my faith that printing there wasn’t such a disastrous idea.) Even with all of that, given the language barrier and cultural differences, it would still be a struggle.

On paper, the cost saving was unbeatable. The book would have been expensive to produce in the US - $50,000 more expensive. It cost less than $5000 to send me there – a negligible cost, given the overall savings. Time lost from the office doing what I needed to do, and the time it took me to recover from the trip was a mitigating factor though. It's difficult to know if that pricing would bear out in subsequent projects. Young was gracious and accommodating regarding everything extra I made them do but he had to buy more paper because they used up what they had earmarked for the book and took a hit for that. Taking into account that new clients typically impact margins at first he may still have charged me more if he had known how exacting I was going to be about everything.

Day shift man came back on the next to final morning. By then I was beyond tired and had little patience for his attitude. He was a nice enough guy, but he just wasn’t used to doing that level of quality and it wasn’t sitting well with him that I was pushing him. Try as I might, I couldn’t get him to push the color the way I knew it could be. Fortunately, he worked slower than night shift guy and serendipitously, his assistant didn’t show up to work so he was left cleaning the rollers and making new plates. This grunt work killed the project schedule, but it saved the quality of my book.

At 7:30 PM Mr. An was safely back in the helm with trusty Captain at his side. Just twelve or so more hours and the book would be completely printed. By 8:45AM on day three the book was almost done. We were printing the cover and one of the bearings broke so we had to stop the presses. Mr. An went home and I was stuck with dayshift man again. (Never did get his name.) Thankfully, Mr. An had mostly color matched the cover before he left so I thought we were in good shape. But I felt some tension returning to my shoulders because the cover was in someone’s hands that I didn’t trust and it was the first thing that everyone would see.

Twenty minutes into the shift day shift man was up to his old tricks again, saying he couldn’t get the cover right. From the looks of the hand signals, he was feeding the same old excuses to Captain about why it wouldn’t work and by then I was just mad and tired of being there. If someone gives me a deliverable and it's not that great but I truly get that they’ve done as much as they absolutely can given their skills, or the time and/or budget constraints of the project then I’m fine with it. It is what it is. But I have little patience for getting something from someone that they know could be better and they are just hoping I’ll accept it or not notice.

Day shift man and Young, who had just shown up, were waiting me out to see what my next move was. Captain just stared at the proofs intently. I could understand that Young was motivated by his bottom line but I held firm. We were printing the covers ‘two-up’ on a sheet and couldn’t keep the color consistent through both, so they decided to remake the plates and print it ‘one-up.’ It dawned on me that this had to be a lack of skill thing on day shift man’s part because it would take twice as much paper and new plates to print this way. Cha-ching. Young must have been really happy with me. Or wishing Mr. An wasn’t sleeping peacefully at home.

After five minutes and much discussion later, Young told me they would just print the covers “two-up” as planned, but print twice as many and use the darker version. Apparently, we were getting kicked off-press as there were other jobs stacked up behind us. Times up. Game over. Fine, but how would I know they’d be using the right version of the cover? I might have to stand there and mark up every sheet (6500 times!) to choose the one they should use.

One hour later, we were into the lunch break, which for hardworking Koreans is a sacred time not to be messed with. Day shift man still hadn’t nailed the color on the cover. Captain actually pulled me outside and told me in his broken English that for every problem he told day shift man to solve, another one cropped up. We burned through 2,000 or so sheets of paper trying to get it right. Captain told me that we should leave now and let day shift man eat his lunch, which I didn’t argue with because I had an uncomfortable feeling that I’d outstayed my welcome. I wasn’t sure what would happen next but he told me he’d come get me and we’d do the cover again tomorrow. Sigh. I was afraid this would happen. At least Captain wasn’t making me settle for something that he knew wasn’t right. He and Mr. An were consummate professionals to the end. Once the printing was done, and I didn’t have to stand vigil at the press, the plan was to come back to the shop periodically to see the coating, binding and stamping process. Unfortunately that never happened due to scheduling constraints. When I received the first sample box of bound books about one week later, I'm happy to report that they looked beautiful. It took another six weeks or so to get the rest.

Would I travel overseas and go through long hours and tough conditions again to get a cost-effective, quality product at the end of it if a client wanted me to? Definitely. With those guys? I've learned over the years never to say never. But a relationship with any printer is trust-based. Good printers will get to know your profile and what you are looking for. Conversely, you’ll know their print style and how they approach their work. It takes time, doing several projects together to build up that trust. If it was a high stakes project, the client and I would have to weigh carefully whether it might produce a better outcome to go with a trusted American printer that I already have relationships with.

Printing Press Check Part 3

As a marketing professional, I've worked with lots of vendors, most of whom I can happily say have been outstanding. But occasionally there have been some bad ones; I've heard some pretty outrageous excuses for poor quality deliverables over the years. Which, if you read this post, you'll learn I have little patience for.

Several hours into my first day on press in Seoul with “day shift man” I was asking myself how this project was going to get done. (Read how it all works out in the end.) This guy couldn’t or wouldn’t get the plates to register, which meant that all of the four colors of dots that mix together on the paper to produce the final color weren’t aligning, making for fuzzy edges and weird colors. I think he could have done it - but he just didn’t seem to want to bother to try. I kept telling him the plates were off and he and the translator would wait me out to see if I would change my mind or acquiesce. But I would just wait them out. It was an interesting game to say the least, since time was money.

Registration is so fundamental and crucial to printing that he shouldn’t have asked me to take a look until it was aligned. He had lots of excuses as to why he couldn’t do what I was asking. All of which was communicated to me by my congenial translator and host, Mr. Young:

 “If you push the magenta any further it will smudge the ink and it wont dry properly.”

“This is not possible to do in CMYK, it could work in five colors though.”

“The registration is off because we replaced the film for some pages, we may have to remake the plates.”

Then, finally:

“We didn’t understand the level of quality you wanted.”

Needless to say, that first day went excruciatingly slowly. We were averaging 1 signature every 2 hours. There were a total of 46 for the book, plus the cover so at the rate we were going, it would have taken over 90 hours to get the book printed. Time neither I or the print shop had. We had to get moving or we’d get kicked off the press or I’d lose my patience. Maybe both. It was quite distressing. I made judgement calls and let go of some things in order to keep the job moving so we could stay on schedule. What else to do when someone tells you, in hand signals, that they can’t do what you are asking them? (If you're asking yourself whether I would outsource a print job again, click here for the answer.)

At one point, vexed by day shift man, I wandered into the next printing room to look at the other projects being printed. Most of the stuff I looked at coming off the presses didn’t need to be very high quality like my hardbound book. It was mostly catalogs and mass mailers. If this was the type of projects that this shop was typically producing it made sense that I was getting pushback. The printers were doing the quality of work that was expected and I couldn’t fault them for that. And Mr. Young wanted to give me the quality of work that I paid for and I couldn't fault him for that either. Perhaps it wasn't really fair of me to expect the same quality of work that we would get from an American printer at outsourced prices.Despite the rocky start, the book was actually looking really good. I was processing all of this and the fact that I had flew all the way there and made the decision to continue to push them to go farther than they would have done if I hadn’t been there.

At 8pm Captain Yim and "night shift man" arrived on the scene to relieve day shift man. Young was long gone so I was without a translator. It was 8pm, I’d been on-press for eleven hours and we hadn’t gotten too much done. After a few minutes with him and his terrible broken English, things finally started to look up. He had a fantastic work ethic and clearly cared about putting out a quality product. And night shift man was really talented at his job and made no excuses about why things couldn’t be done. He had experience working with “export” projects. Read, demanding Americans like me. Great. I was all over it. Let’s get to work.

Night shift man and Captain got the project back on track, and restored my faith in their capabilities which, after many, many hours on press with little food and rest was exactly the pick me up I needed. At one point during the day shift when I’d reached my limit on mediocrity, I issued an ultimatum to the man through Young: “Don’t even bother showing me something that’s not registered and acting like it’s ready for me to review the color, because I wont look at it.” No such ultimatum needed last night. Night shift man nailed it every time and anticipated what I was looking for with his keen eye for color. More times than not, after I dragged myself out of the chair to look at a signature, all I had to say was “looks great.”

It was a big relief after a trying day.

This story continues in a series of posts. Read the next installment.

Printing Press Check Part 2

Print shops are grimy places from the paper dust, the oil and chemicals. And not good dirty, like camping or gardening. They are the kind of places where you don’t want to put your fingers anywhere even close to your mouth. Everything is usually caked with layers of grime and dirt and human grease that looks like it’s been around forever.

As I mentioned in my previous post this book was a complex and challenging project for several reasons:

1. The project had tons of images that I had to evaluate and try to get to work together without any thing to compare them to. Translation: I didn’t know what any of those images were supposed to look like printed because none of the photographers provided printed proofs of the images. I wasn’t involved in the pre-production phase of the book so I didn’t know if they were asked to provide them. My guess is that this step was overlooked because of time and/or budget constraints, but it's a critical part of the process that ideally, should not be omitted. As a result, it was my eye and the printer’s eyes that determined the look of this book, which meant that I needed to be around to approve every signature.

2. Since this was a short run by printing standards (each signature being run 3000 times zips through the massive printing machines pretty quickly, approx 20-30 minutes) I couldn’t leave between signature printings. Sadly, the client lounge was three flights of stairs away from the printing floor, and it wasn't practical for me to use it so I set up camp in a rickety chair in the corner under a humidifier. I got rained on then alternately showered with dust from the walls and pipes every time paper got moved around. Added to that it was very, very loud and I was breathing solvents constantly.

3. Perhaps, most importantly, the language barrier was brutal. Not being able to understand each other slowed things down and was tiring for both me and the shift man and our intermediary translator. It was very hard to communicate the subtleties that color correcting requires and there was a lot of pointing, head shaking and gesticulation involved. I was convinced that those guys thought I was nuts. (At times, I agreed with them…who comes to Korea for a press check anyway?)

Ultimately I didn’t care too much though. I wasn’t there to make new friends but to get this job done efficiently and deliver a quality work product.

This story continues in a series of posts. Read the next installment.

Printing Press Check Part 1

I traveled to Seoul for a press check and spent 72 straight hours on the job aside for a few hours here and there to get some sleep, get some food and take a shower. Those few days were the ultimate cure for jet lag.

Press checks for large print runs are arduous, even without international travel thrown in, because printing presses, unlike humans, don’t need to sleep. They usually run 24 hours a day with two shift changes at sunset and sunrise. When the day shift man (I’ll stick with man, because they invariably are men) goes home to a warm meal and a soft bed after his twelve hours of labor, the client–if the file being printed is of any importance–has to stay put and work with the night shift man to check, adjust and approve regardless of how tired or hungry or cranky they are until the job is done.

Some press checks are longer than others, depending on the amount of pages being printed. This particular print run went so long because the book I was there to get printed was a 300+ page hardback cover with more than 300 annotated project photos in full color. It was printed in signatures of 8 flat pages which are set up so that as the page is folded in half, then in half again, those pages will nest together, to be easily “stitched” and then trimmed. Because a signature must run flat on a press, there are always at least two pages running “in line” with each other. A book is never run where there is no color compromise because of the multiple-page press sheet of the signature format. If the color is perfect on the lower page but off on the upper page, for example, the printer will have to compromise the color on the lower one to correct the upper page. 

Actually being on press with the printers requires skills above and beyond just knowing whether colors are balanced or not. Printers that work the machines don’t really want clients around. First off, there is the perceived danger of the print shop floor. But mostly, they just want to put ink on paper and keep the machines going. They have great rhythm, and often move as if they are part of the machines, which in a sense they are. Clients like me tend to break that rhythm.

Don't get me wrong, the good ones care about putting out a quality product and will accommodate clients and strive for perfection. If you’re lucky, the excellent ones will even impart their considerable knowledge and there is a lot that can be learned from them. But bottom line, they are there to work, not stop the presses every five minutes to make changes. As the client one needs to be available (and alert), polite and assertive, but not intrusive. Knowing when to push and when to say something is good enough is key.

So, on press, it's important to know what you are talking about or the printer may look at you like you are wasting their time. Acquiring this knowledge takes years of practice combined with a naturally good eye for color. I know when an image is not color balanced, but I am always learning what to do with the inks to fix it. That’s where the printer comes in. The good ones get what you want, make a few quick adjustments and take things where they need be as if by magic. They can also help keep the whole book balanced in their minds so that each form closely color matches the forms that make up the other pages that it will appear next to in the bound book.

While printing has become very much a science then, there is still an incredible amount of artistry involved. At the end of the day, it's a human being telling a machine what to do. You either have the ability to nuance color or you don’t. One can learn to operate a printing machine, but color and tone and value can’t be learned rote, it almost has to be felt.

The American printers that I’ve done press checks at have client lounges where you can rest up, work and catch a few winks between checking a particular signature. What usually happens is that you’ll approve the color of a signature and then it will be run through the press. Depending on how long it takes (size of the run, speed of the press) you might get anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours to watch TV, grab a bite to eat, or take a nap. Talk to the printers. Have a few jokes. Build camaraderie, you get the idea.

Not so much the case with this press check.

This story continues in a series of posts. Read the next installment. 

Natalie Zensius is a marketing communications strategist with experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Learn more about Natalie at

Branding Is About People

I came across this article in the Korea Times, which states that "it is now widely recognized that Korean tourism needs some serious upgrading and a thorough re-branding in order to contribute to the national reputation and economy on the scale that it could and should."

The author, David Mason, is an American who has lived in south Korea for a long time. In his article he focuses on leveraging the country's incredible history and heritage to attract religious, spiritual and pilgrimage tourism. While I don't disagree that Korea has much to offer the visitor in search of this, and that these cultural attractions should be promoted, part of the rebranding effort has to focus at a more fundamental level – on the customer (aka visitor) experience. When I was there on business, it was sometimes hard to accomplish some simple things. Here's two things the Korea Tourist Board should be thinking about now:

1. Front line employees can positively impact the customer experience.
One night during my trip I was out walking and looking for something to do that didn’t involve shopping or being out in the bone chilling February cold any longer. Business travel can be stressful and I needed something to iron out the kinks so I decided to seek out a bathhouse and get a scrub massage, something I'd been told by friends was a not to be missed kind of experience. Unfortunately for me, the woman who staffed the information center that I stopped into barely spoke English and wasn't able to be terribly helpful about the bath house or any other tourist possibilities I could have availed myself of.

I managed to get a name on a piece of paper and some directions which seemed easy enough but I was tired and cold and soon forgot where she had said to go. So, I was stuck - I couldn’t pronounce the name on my piece of paper and none of the signs on the buildings matched up with the characters written on the paper. What a missed opportunity, at minimum, to alleviate stress, which studies show can be causal in changes in brand preferences. It's statistically likely that many visiting tourists will have some knowledge of the english language so why not then make information centers easy to find and staff them with people who speak English well. This could have been an opportunity to inform and delight.

2. Invest in brand ambassadors. (And think outside of the box abut who they are.)
Once I was lost, my interest in figuring out what to do next diminished rapidly and a soak in my bathtub back at the hotel sounded just fine all of a sudden. I was tired and cold so I decided to jump a cab home, since I really had no idea how far it was from where I happened to be standing at that moment. When I showed the business card of the hotel where I was staying to the cab driver, he said a lot of things to me that I didn’t understand, then ejected me from his cab!

Understand, like the department of tourism in Belize, that cab drivers are an important touchpoint for your brand and position them as such.

Natalie Zensius is a marketing communications strategist with experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Learn more about Natalie at

Why I Love Business Travel

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.
-Bill Bryson

When I went to Seoul for business it felt like I was learning to read all over again, trying to glean meaning from the logographic cues around me. It was fascinating, but also quite unnerving, that I was unable to decipher much of anything written there. In high school, I took 5 and 7 years of French and German respectively and my understanding of those languages swung back and forth between complete incomprehension and such fluidity I sometimes stopped thinking in English. During that week in Seoul I felt as helpless as a four year old, dependent on signs of westernization and the kindness of strangers who wanted to practice their English on me. It was a lot of work to scan symbols and try to find meaning before I could process things and move on. Being on the incomprehension side of not knowing a new language (not to mention jet lagged) was tough. But it was good for me. Tired as I was, I was also exhilarated and, stimulated.

For their research on the link between time abroad and creativity, William Maddux and Adam Galinsky, PhD, from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, conducted studies to test the idea that living abroad and creativity are linked. According to the authors, "gaining experience in foreign cultures has long been a classic prescription for artists interested in stimulating their imaginations or honing their crafts."

Indeed. For the artist in me, that trip was just what the doctor ordered.

Natalie Zensius is a marketing communications strategist with experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Learn more about Natalie at

3 Tips For Avoiding Jet Lag From Business Travel

International business travel is not a regular part of my life, but when it happens the number one issue I have to deal with is jet lag. Unlike international travel for pleasure, professionals traveling overseas for work have to hit the ground running with their brains being mush during normal waking hours. And all while still being effective and getting the job done.

Some of the world's most economical printing and publishing options are inconveniently located on the opposite side of the ocean, so on one trip I crossed the date line to work in Seoul for a week doing a press check.

What worked for me was taking the following precautions:

1. Stay well-hydrated and active during the flight.
The inside of a flight cabin is very dry and set at a higher altitude than sea level. Before and during the flight I drank as much water as I could. I also got up and walked the cabin and did stretches outside the bathrooms at least once an hour.

2. Stay awake for as long as possible the first day.
As tempting as it was, I didn't go lie down and take a nap after I checked-in to the hotel. I immediately jumped into the shower then got outside in the daylight and went for a walk. My goal was to try and stay up until 9 pm. It was hard, but it was worth it as I then got a good shot at sleeping through the night.

3. Have an alcoholic drink with dinner.
I love the hectic pace of travel, but the unfamiliar surroundings and culture shock all worked to make my head spin. I was amped up for hours after I arrived so I unwound with a beer. The key was I didn't overdo it and made sure to top off with water before going to bed.

For the record, I was still exhausted and out of sorts for the first several days I was there and I'm not sure I buy into the idea of avoiding jet lag completely. Like altitude sickness, which I've experienced in varying degrees and at equally varying elevations, I've found that sometimes it doesn't matter what you do or how you prepare. If you're gonna get it, you're gonna get it. But I do think I would have suffered more if I hadn't followed those three steps. With massive time differences and the often intense nature of international business trips it's unrealistic to expect to be firing on all cylinders at all times, but it's important to be as functioning as possible, which is the best one can hope for.

Natalie Zensius is a marketing communications strategist with experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Learn more about Natalie at