Design on the Haus
This month, we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to feature a few of the women in communications that we most admire. We kicked off our March series in honor of Women’s History Month with a spotlight on Tracey A. Reeves, Director of Media Relations for Johns Hopkins University.
In this post, we’re shifting our gaze to the world of journalism. Editor Linda O’Flanagan (pictured at center, above) and reporters Sarah Trefethen and Holly Dutton (pictured above, at left and right, respectively) make up 75% of the editorial staff at Real Estate Weekly, which covers news affecting the commercial, residential and industrial New York real estate markets. To read more about how these women found their way to the paper, click here.
What did you think you would be when you “grew up” — and are you doing that now?
Linda: I initially wanted to be a veterinarian, but when I discovered what that entailed, I changed my mind. I am a wimp at heart, and although I still love animals, I can’t even cut my cat’s nails — never mind perform surgery!
What has always driven me in my work is my love of the human spirit, as dramatic as that sounds. People never cease to amaze me, and telling their stories allows me to be a part of that. Whether they have designed a magnificent building, figured out the engineering, carved the stonework or even sold the apartments, the passion that people have for their work can be infectious. I aspire to transfer that passion through the written word and, hopefully, inspire and amaze other people.
Sarah: There’s a scene in Superman II where Lois Lane is climbing up an elevator shaft spelling out the words “Pulitzer Prize” to keep up her spirits. I loved that scene as a kid. I spent my teens and most of my twenties traveling and collecting experiences rather than building a career, but when I finally decided to pick something to be when I grew up, that came back to me. I am, however, yet to find myself trapped in an elevator shaft.
Holly: Growing up, I was always interested in the news and I loved to read and write. I would religiously watch evening news broadcasts and shows like 20/20 as a young child. I remember setting up my own “news” broadcast with a video camera in my father’s home office in elementary school and then self-penning a school newsletter in junior high.
When I reached high school, I took a journalism elective my freshman year. One of our first assignments was to write a hard news story about a current event. The writing felt completely natural to me and exciting, and that’s when I knew for sure I wanted to go into journalism. In my senior year of high school, I took a photography class and fell in love with it, so I ended up combining my two passions and studying photojournalism in college. Now, at 28, I’m writing and photographing for a living and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
How have you seen women evolve in your profession since you started?
Linda: There are many women working in the field today. Frankly, I am of the school that your gender shouldn’t matter, although I know that it does, particularly in an industry dominated by men. My inclination is always to simply do my best and conduct myself in a professional manner and I encourage any young woman entering the business to do the same. Fear is what will hold you back in any business, so I say embrace the challenge and nothing will hold you back.
As a communications professional, what do you feel is your most important responsibility?
Holly: I feel that my most important responsibility as a reporter is to communicate all aspects of a story as best as I can. I want someone reading one of my stories to be engaged, find the story easy to understand, and feel that I covered all the bases and didn’t leave them with any unanswered questions.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Linda: Undoubtedly it is meeting people. Whether they are amazing, inspirational, genius or downright dumb, the diversity of the world really floats my boat. I have been lucky enough to meet great business leaders, celebrities, athletes, and regular Joes, and every one of them has impacted my life.
One big secret that few people know: I still enjoy writing obituaries. You can rarely tell from just looking at someone the kind of life they have lived. I love to see beyond that and get a glimpse of what made them who they were.
In honor of Women’s History Month, for our March installment of Design on the Haus, we are shining the spotlight on women in the field of communications who inspire us. We think it’s important to share their stories, and we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!
In our first post, we’re featuring Tracey A. Reeves, the Director of Media Relations for Johns Hopkins University. Tracey was born in Syracuse, New York, and raised on Cape Cod. Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, she spent a decade at the Washington Post working as a reporter and editor. She was also a national staff writer for Knight-Ridder Newspapers and a reporter for the Providence Journal.
Tracey has been a Casey Journalism Center Fellow and a Knight Center for Specialized Journalism Fellow. In 1998, she shared in the Pulitzer Prize for public service awarded to the Grand Forks (North Dakota) Herald. Tracey is an avid reader, writer, sports fan and news junkie. She resides in Columbia, Maryland, with her husband and twin sons.
Here’s her story:
These days it can be difficult to find a job in the field that you trained for and that you love. I was one of those kids who knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer, specifically, a news writer. I decided this following a series of events that started after I read Maya Angelou’s coming-of-age autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
My career path became more clearly defined when I was in college and heard of the death of Jessica Savitch, a television news broadcaster who at the time was one of my favorite journalists. I combined my love of writing and news and embarked on a print journalism career beginning at my hometown paper in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and ending at the Washington Post, where I worked for more than a decade as a reporter and editor.
I was drawn to journalism because I’ve always believed in telling stories about truth and triumph and injustice and hope. Now, as Director of Media Relations at Johns Hopkins University, I am still doing what I love – writing and editing and communicating stories, only now the stories are about the wonders of discovery and innovation and the advancement of human knowledge.
When I first thought about a career in journalism and communications, I was hesitant. Many of the reporters and anchors I had seen on television were men. The same was true for the bylines I studied in the major newspapers. Even fewer were African American women. I pushed on, however, hoping that my writing and communications skills would take me where I wanted to go — and they did. Sure, there were bumps along the road, assignments I believe lost out on because I was a young woman (maybe even a black woman). Even now, I am mindful of the fact that as a minority woman, I am held to a higher standard than my non-female minority counterparts.
To the young women considering or just embarking on a career in communications, I would say develop your own writing voice and style and find a veteran to mentor you. Pack on the skills. Learn how to tell a multi-platform story through words, photos and video. Know your subject matter, pay attention to your own delivery of messages and polish your public speaking skills. You never know when you might be called upon to make a presentation or serve as a spokesperson in a crisis. Lastly, believe in yourself. If you don’t, they won’t.
By Steve Whitehorn
For our third post this month, we welcome Steve Whitehorn, managing principal of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., which provides architects and engineers with strategies to maximize profitability, while reducing risk and improving cash flow. Steve is a relationship expert whose firm created The A/E Empowerment Program® and is the author of the upcoming book, Empowerment by Design.
The A/E/C industry is a relationship business. Many architects have built their entire careers on strategic relationships. In fact, a recent study by the Society for Marketing Professional Services showed that regardless of the economic climate, firms had a 70% greater chance of getting a job if they had established a solid relationship with the decision maker at least seven months prior to the RFP.
Unfortunately, most architects and engineers didn’t learn how to build relationships in school. Don’t worry – great relationships aren’t born, they are bred. You can learn how to cultivate strong relationships that can help you win the projects you want.
Here are five tips to get you started:
1. “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
For me, leadership expert John C. Maxwell’s words sum up the process of building relationships. Don’t worry about trying to impress a new contact with your skills or your portfolio when you first meet. Instead, show them how much you care about him, his business, and his interests.
2. Know your target.
New York Times best-selling business author and acclaimed CEO Harvey Mackay built his $100 million envelope business around this concept. His tool, the Mackay 66, is a simple list of background information about his customers. Keeping a file on each client allowed his sales team to personalize their pitches, which drastically improved success rates. Take the same approach with your business relationships. Do your best to gather pertinent information and write it down. If you can remember some of these details in your communication, it will show how much you value the contact and the relationship.
3. Relationships are not a noun – Relationships are a verb!
In order to be of value to you, a relationship must be active, not dormant. Commit yourself to taking meaningful actions to sustain and develop your relationships on a regular basis, such as reaching out by e-mail, meeting for coffee or drinks, or sending a gift you know they’ll appreciate. Little gestures and personalized touches go a long way toward strengthening the relationship.
4. “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Oscar Wilde said it best. Authenticity is crucial when you’re networking, because people can sense when you’re not being yourself, and they’ll react poorly to it. Be confident and aware of your specific skill set when you make new connections.
5. It’s a process.
Even if you follow the steps outlined above, don’t expect to build a relationship overnight. And be careful not to focus all of your efforts on one relationship above others, no matter how valuable it is to you. Your goal is to cultivate a wide network of relationships, so that you never feel dependent on just one.
There are lots of firms out there that do what you do. How do you get ahead? Develop effective, meaningful relationships with decision makers. These relationships will give you a strategic edge over your competitors.
On February 15, couples around the world breathed a sigh of relief. Whew – another 364 days until you have to shower your partner with material displays of affection! You may be off the hook in the romance department, but when it comes to developing your professional relationships, you’re on call year-round.
We think February is a great time to re-focus your attention on and re-direct your efforts around your professional relationships. That’s why our theme for this month’s installment of Design on the Haus is Build Relationships, Build Influence. Your network of professional relationships is a pipeline that brings you new business, new partnership opportunities, and recognition in your field. Overall, it enhances your credibility, and can make your job a bit more pleasant, to boot!
In 2014, building relationships involves more than just facetime and power lunches. If you harness the power of social media, you can truly make your relationships work for you.
Relationships that bridge both the online and offline worlds are the most valuable assets in today’s social landscape. In order to create these relationships in real life, start from the first point of contact. For example, whenever you meet someone in person at an event, follow up online the next day. Connect on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, like their company’s page on Facebook, and follow them on Pinterest.
Then, take it a step further by actively engaging. You can retweet, favorite, or respond to their tweets, comment on their LinkedIn updates, or repin their pins on Pinterest. Be creative! These little touches take only a few moments of your time, but they’ll remind your new contact that you are thinking of him or her. As we mentioned in our first post on relationships, it takes three to five touch points, on average, to build a strong relationship. Social media engagement is an efficient way to hit some of those touch points.
But social media is not enough to solidify the relationship. As you probably know, just because you’re Facebook friends, doesn’t mean you’re friends in real life. By the same token, connecting to someone on LinkedIn doesn’t mean that you have a viable professional relationship with that contact.
In order to do that, we recommend you meet any new contact in person. If you’re in the neighborhood, suggest a coffee date or offer to drop by his/her office. If he or she is too busy to meet that day, follow up a few weeks later with another invitation. If you’re attending a conference together in a different city, set up a time to catch up over dinner or breakfast. Setting aside the time for a face-to-face meeting shows that you are serious about developing the relationship. The best connections are memorable ones, and people are far more memorable than screennames!
This month, commit to getting outside your comfort zone as you develop your relationships, whether that means engaging in person, or online. We think you’ll find that when online and offline intersect, the result is a relationship that’s twice as strong.
Posted by Beth Connolly
In February, you may be thinking of the important relationships in your life – and planning to give them some extra attention. By all means, treat your sweetie right on February 14. During the other 27 days of the month, we suggest you dedicate yourself to strengthening your professional relationships. Whether you are looking for new clients, increased exposure, a fruitful partnership, or additional hands at your firm, proactive and strategic networking can get you there.
How do you create valuable new connections and maximize the potential of your existing relationships? Professional organizations are a great place to start. Here are our top five suggestions to get you off on the right foot:
1. Check out your options.
Start by doing your research on a variety of relevant organizations. Consider which will benefit you most. Look for opportunities to be in front of potential clients, or to meet those who can provide referrals. Be realistic, and take into account the location and expense of the organization’s events, as well as the size of its local chapter.
We suggest that you attend events at a handful of organizations to get a feel for which are the best fit with you, your goals, and your personality. Once you determine that, you can focus your energy on one or two.
2. Gather your motivation.
After working all day, you may not feel motivated to attend an event. Let’s face it: showing up is half the battle. Just remember, if you don’t show up, you’ll never know what you missed!
3. Start talking.
When you arrive at the event, approach one person or a small group and strike up a conversation. If you feel nervous, remember that everyone else in the room shares your purpose – to meet new people. Need some conversation-starters? Here are a few tips from Fast Company.
As you mingle, be sure to keep your conversation light and positive. Don’t dive straight into business topics – even when you’re networking, your conversation should be about life (90%) and business (only 10%). Beware of sharing any details that are too personal. Overall, be memorable! If you came to the event with a friend or coworker, be sure to break apart and mingle separately for part of the evening – you’re more likely to create a meaningful connection and make new acquaintances if you’re on your own.
4. Follow up.
After the event, stay in touch with your new contacts. Send an e-mail to follow up on something you discussed, connect with them on LinkedIn, or share an article you think will be useful. Remember, it takes three to five touch points, on average, to form a relationship.
5. Take it to the next level!
In order to get the most out of your participation in any professional organization, we suggest you join a committee. This gives you the opportunity to truly engage with others in the organization. If you can, try to participate in a panel or speaking event, as well.
Invest now in your business relationships, and you’ll see the benefits bloom with the spring flowers!
Posted by Beth Connolly
It’s the end of January, which means you’ve already lost your holiday weight (and more) by sticking to your New Years’ resolution, right?
Don’t worry if you’ve fallen off the wagon – we won’t judge you. But we WILL judge you by your writing! In particular, because this month we have given you the resources you need to #WriteBetter.
We’ve outlined our top five writing pet peeves and our top five style secrets. In our third and final post this month, we have some tips on how you can write well for different formats.
Today, we are equipped with more communications channels than ever before. It can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be! Just lift your head out from under that snowstorm of tweets, texts, e-mails, blog posts, short articles, long articles, slideshows, photo captions, and status updates, and use these tips as a guide.
1. Tweets: A lot of people are nervous about getting started on Twitter, because they aren’t sure how it works. Just like eating an apple, we suggest you start by tweeting once a day, every day, and go from there.
A good tweet has four components: a link to an interesting news article or website; a short intro to the article that gives it context and intrigues your followers to click; a mention of another user related to the article (often the writer or the publication); a hashtag (#) that expresses something about the article or connects it to a larger trend.
We’re sticklers when it comes to correct grammar in traditional formats. On Twitter, though, because of space limitations, we think it’s acceptable to abbreviate words that are less important. We still suggest you avoid abbreviations when tweeting, unless absolutely necessary.
2. Status updates: Updating Facebook or LinkedIn to share company news? Complete sentences and correct grammar are a must. We suggest you include a link to make an update more interactive. Come up with two to five sentences about the topic and end with a question that will encourage dialogue.
3. E-mails: Read them over before you press send! Make sure that what you’ve written can’t be misinterpreted by your recipient. Be clear, polite, and to the point.
4. Blog posts: Blog posts shouldn’t exceed 300 to 400 words. They are meant to be digested in a single sitting, like a snack. Your tone should be engaging and conversational.
5. Articles: If you’re writing an article for an outside publication, whether print or online, get editorial guidelines from the publication before you start writing. Let these govern the article’s style and parameters. Each publication is different, and you’ll want to make sure you’ve tailored your piece to its audience and its needs.
Have a great 2014, and write on!
Posted by Beth Connolly
It’s a new year, so it’s time to kick your bad habits to the curb. We suggest you free yourself from your unhealthy dependence on poor writing and resolve to #WriteBetter in 2014! We’re here to help you out with our top five style secrets. (Click here for a list of our top five writing pet peeves.)
Read on to get 2014 off to the “write” start!
1. Shorter is sweeter.
Wordy writing is hard to understand. Keep your sentences clean, crisp, and clear. If a sentence takes up three lines of text, break it in half. Likewise, paragraphs longer than six sentences can be intimidating. Break them up, but maintain a logical structure. Remove any information that isn’t directly related to the focus of your paragraph or article. If you can get your point across in 300 words, don’t say it in 600.
2. “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”
Henry David Thoreau said it best in his treatise on living with purpose, Walden. Avoid the temptation to puff up your writing with unnecessarily complicated words or complex sentences. If your reader has to re-read each sentence two to three times, you are not doing your job right! Be prepared to revise your draft several times in order to create simple writing that isn’t simplistic.
3. Subdivide and conquer.
You don’t need to rely on fancy words to give your work pizzazz. Especially in a longer piece, divide your text into sections and open each with a relevant, eye-catching heading. This piques your reader’s interest and helps her identify your key points.
4. Take a stand.
Why say that something “seems to be” when you really think it “is”? Why say something “may have been” when you believe it “was”? Make statements with conviction, and back them up with evidence. Your writing will benefit. If you’re not convinced, take a look at this video:
5. “Precision is next to godliness.”
So said playwright Samuel Beckett, who understood the relationship between meaning and absurdity. It takes extra effort to be specific in your writing, rather than rely on vague generalities and buzzwords. But if you fail to be specific, your written work won’t contribute anything of value. In this social media age, we live in an echo chamber, where “writers” throw euphemisms and empty catchphrases back and forth at each other, accomplishing exactly nothing. Push yourself to say what you really mean, and your work will be memorable.
Implement these five secrets in your next piece of writing and let us know if they help you #WriteBetter!
Posted by Beth Connolly
Forget improving your diet. Forget going to the gym. This year, we suggest that you resolve to #WriteBetter! Poor writing is a bad habit that’s so 2013. In this month’s edition of Design on the Haus, we’ll help you keep this resolution by providing some tips.
Here, we’ve offered you a list of our top five writing pet peeves. Eliminate these bad habits from your writing diet and you’ll kick-start your plan to make your communication much healthier!
1. Pitiful punctuation
Have you read Eats, Shoots & Leaves? It’s one of my favorite books about grammar. If a panda “eats shoots and leaves,” we know what his diet is. If he “eats, shoots and leaves,” he’s a fierce bandit who kills his waiter before he departs. See what a difference a misplaced comma can make? Keep that in mind when you’re writing. Precision in punctuation counts. If you still don’t believe me, see below:
2. Frivolous filler
In school, most writing assignments had a length requirement. As a result, many of us learned to pad our writing with unnecessary words. If you picked up this bad habit in school, now is the time to drop it. No one wants to read diluted writing – especially not in this age of information overload. Get to the point quickly. Reread your piece after you’ve finished and strike everything that isn’t absolutely essential.
3. Just too much jargon
The words you use to speak with your colleagues are not the words you should use in an article, even if it’s about your work. Unless you are writing for a trade publication like Civil Engineering or Architectural Record, your readers will be put off by words they don’t understand. If you need to use terminology that your Aunt Carol wouldn’t understand, introduce it first with a brief explanation. This is especially true for acronyms.
4. Abandoning your audience
Similarly, your piece should have an angle that’s relevant to your audience. Every publication has a different set of readers. Take this into consideration when you write. If you don’t, you won’t get published or have any readers!
5. Using no-no words
Aspire/inspire, beacon, composition, connection/connectivity, contextual/context, dynamic, green, improve, innovate, metaphor, nimble, one (as a pronoun), seek, unique
If you only take one thing away from this blog post, let it be this: stop using the above no-no words in your writing! Push yourself to replace these words and find a more specific, descriptive way to express your meaning. For an extended list of overused words from the New York Times, click here – and see the suggestions in the comments below the article.
What bothers you most when you read bad writing? Let us know by tweeting your pet peeves to @HausmanLLC with the hashtag #WriteBetter!
Posted by Beth Connolly