Strategic Outreach

Managing Change Via Communications

Crack open a good nut graph


Beginning with a shocking statement may be the best way to get a reader’s attention, but there’s yet another story ingredient that helps ensure high readership of an announcement or article.

The statement above is called a “nut graph,” and it’s the nut graph for this blog post about nut graphs.

Given all the competition for an employee’s time and attention, they want to know right up front: “Why should I spend time reading this?”

The nut graph answers this by delivering a promise of the story’s content and message. It:

  • lets the reader know what the subject is
  • creates expectations.

A story without a nut graph is like a walk in the woods without a path: you know you’re going someplace, but you’re not sure where.

Whereas a “lead” is used to grab attention with a startling fact or provocative question, the nut graph is more than just a teaser – it should contain a kernel (the nut), previewing the essential theme or message. In a brief announcement or article, it’s great to combine the lead with the nut graph.

Here’s some examples from a recent series of articles we did at our healthcare system to highlight our new commitment to mental health services.  The theme was: Debunking mental health myths.  First the headline, then the nut graph:

Myth: Children are too young to develop mental illness

From inconsolable preschoolers to moody teenagers, how do you know if it’s just a phase or a symptom of mental illness?

Myth: You can just “snap out of it”

We wouldn’t expect a person with a broken leg or diabetes to just” snap out of it,” and in the same way we shouldn’t expect a person to think their way out of a mental illness.

We intentionally began each article with a “grabber” (something not necessarily obvious) and previewed the subject, all in the same lead – an ideal nut graph.

Final point:  beware of the senior executive who wants to load two or three whole paragraphs of preamble (about the industry and its woes, for instance) into the front-end of an announcement before giving the reader a clue about the subject or news.

February 9, 2017 Posted by | Corporate Communications, health care communications, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Length Matters

If you let your CEO send an emailed announcement to everyone with over 600 words, readership will not be optimum. But the low-readership penalty for 800 words or more is harsher. If you think that the only result will be that the employee may merely skim it or stop reading after the first few paragraphs, think again. They won’t read any of it. They skip it.  Gone.  Most figure they don’t have the time to tackle it, and you’ve just lost the chance to impart any information.

Research shows that if most readers look at a page with 8 or 9 dense paragraphs of type, their willingness to read it at all goes down significantly, compared to a communication of 5 paragraphs. This is especially true when major change is swirling around your organization and people are time-stressed.

Here’s what the experts recommend, and I can attest to this advice based on my own experience:

Target length is 400 words. This will take the average reader two minutes to read. So given the 3-second average time people spend previewing “general distribution” work emails, 100 words is even better. Some internal communicators aim for 300 words.

You simply can’t let a long communication go out to staff levels that, for example, explains a re-organization in detail and then profiles four or five new leaders and their roles. You should, instead, just summarize the re-org and the “why,” then link to their profiles in deeper content/resources on your intranet.

You’re looking at about 285 words in this blog post, so a 300 to 400 word target for your internal communication is not much longer.  My next post will look at research on optimal sentence and paragraph length.


January 20, 2017 Posted by | Change Management, Corporate Communications, health care communications, healthcare integrations, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Messaging for Internal Communications During Integration

Pay close attention to the tone and “voice” of key communications to managers and staff during integration of employees from an acquired organization. Besides being welcoming in tone If it’s authored by an executive leader from the new “parent” organization, it’s best to avoid use of “us” and “you” in the wording. It should all be “we” and “us,” especially if the acquisition is official and complete. It should convey that everyone is part of the same organization now.

Depending on the announcement, some integration communications should be authored by a known, local leader (to demonstrate that they are fully subscribed to the change that has occurred). There should be a unified voice from all leaders. No “they will be doing this to us (or for us),” implicit or implied.

Also avoid multiple “welcome” messages from various functional sponsors/teams within the integration that are sent to all employees. There should be one official welcome, not separate welcomes from each HR or IT workstream.

You’ll want to sort out the branding used in communications in terms of logos in play during integration. Transition as soon as possible to a logo aligned with the new, larger (parent) organization – but be sensitive to that “letting go” period when there’s still attachment to the outgoing name and/or logo. In some cases, existing branding is retained for external marketing needs. In my work, the old and thenew name/logo have sometimes been included in early communications, with establishment of the new corporate organization branding when appropriate. The downside is that multiple logos can cause confusion.

Lastly, please, for the sake of the sanity of all, always spell out acronyms. Not doing this is the fastest way to frustrate and alienate both leaders and employees of the acquired organization. For our latest integration, we created a short roster of key acronyms and definitions and posted them on-line for reference.

This series of blog posts explains what worked well (or didn’t) during the integration of about 2,000 clinicians, support staff and affiliated physician, at a prestigious hospital that became a part of our 33 hospital, 5-state health care system.

October 30, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Colliding Vinyl Timepieces – 60s Upbeat

This breezy little timepiece of mine hangs in my office.  Love to work those yellows and oranges with a some red vinyl accent.  The Kama Sutra Records label from the 60s was a gem.  Beatles, Dave Clark Five, Lovin’ Spoonful, and Bubble Puppy. 

July 7, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Physician engagement during major change implementations

When you change the way thousands of physicians will be working in your hospitals (i.e. implement a totally new Electronic Health Record), it’s no small task to win their hearts and minds. Nothing can substitute for face-to-face engagement: local physician champions talking to their colleagues at mixers, convenient and effective training followed by hands-on time, prior to go-live; and at-the-elbow support at go-live. Emailed information is not the name of the game.

At Providence, we created an interactive tool called Choose Your Own Journey that lets physicians try-out our build of the Epic Electronic Health Record (EHR) prior to training. These modules walk them through patient visits, orders and other tasks – with a narrator prompting them to perform each step (and helping them if they need it).

Our first inpatient go-live experiences demonstrated to us that we needed even more support for our physicians.  We subsequently added Provider Optimization Workshops, on site, to help better prepare them before go-live. We also employed tutors (med students already well-schooled on Epic) for at-the-elbow help during their first days of using the new system with actual patients, and set up Provider Engagement Centers during go-live where physicians could ask questions and get help.

Our physician champions used talking points, FAQs and other tools we prepped for them. We wrote a candid “pros and cons of Epic” piece that acknowledged what tasks would initially take them more time until they became proficient on the system.  It also discusses what they needed to sacrifice for the greater cause of achieving integrated patient records that would ultimately save everyone time, and lead to better outcomes, and higher patient safety and satisfaction.

Bottom line: you can’t have too much physician engagement.

May 1, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Give your B2B Home Page the Core Score

There’s a lot of attention given these days to the SEO and navigation aspects of B2B websites…and most marketers are aware that sites should have gobs of helpful content, news and links.  But what about the initial messaging and information presented on the home page?  It either quickly makes a connection with people who don’t know your company or what you do, or it doesn’t.

So here it is… my rating system for B2B marketing-oriented website home pages. Completely subjective and yet somehow slightly scientific.   I call it Core Score.  It’s not about the look or the navigation…it’s about value propositions and specifics.  There are 12 potential points in the basic tally.  I’m also, however, going to add bonus points and some subtractions (more on this later).

Links to home pages that demonstrate each of the six home page attributes are included below.

Three points each for:

==Home page succinctly states what the company actually does (3 points)

Examples: see TruecarFirst Solar

==Quantifies benefits in terms of cost reduction, time, ease, efficiency, and/or productivity   (3 points)

See Freight CenterRiverbed, or  Johnson Controls

==States two or more customer challenges that can be solved by product/service  (3 points)

See Telogis, CybersourceSourcefireB2B Home Page Core Score

One point each for:

==Text links to specific problem-solving ideas  (1 point)

See IxdaABB

==Links to testimonials/examples  (in addition to access from main nav bar)  (1 point)

Many examples: one is Johnson Controls

==News headline and link (1 point)

Many examples; see Autodesk

In upcoming posts, I’ll calculate total Core Scores for individual home pages for companies in the tech sector and other industries.  Your input on selections and scoring-weight are welcome.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | B2B home page, B2B messaging, Brand and Reputation, Business Storytelling, Tech Sector Thought Leadership, Uncategorized, Website content | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Will It Blend” is the Ultimate Demo

More ideas to borrow for BtoB marketing:

No one can deny the success of Blendtec’sWill it Blend?” viral-video marketing strategy.  It’s both a BtoC (home blenders) and BtoB (commercial blenders) equation. It’s proof of the power of the demo, especially when you take it to an extreme…and have some fun with it.  The no-to-low cost nature of this campaign is the biggest news.

CEO Tom Dickson hosts the hugely viral video series

There’s dozens of these goofy demonstrations on YouTube; their smiley CEO Tom Dickson blends iPhones, Transformer toys, even Bic lighters (their “don’t try this at home” disclaimer is serious).  I don’t play golf, so this one (below) certainly doesn’t disturb me one bit.

How do you apply the demo video to less-visually-dramatic BtoB products and services?   Take a close look at what time-lapse could do for you – whether it be actual video footage or graphics.

August 21, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-to-B Marketing Vocabulary, B-to-B Social Media Technology, B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, BtoB Marcomm Creative, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Was the Saturn Car Company Authentic Enough?

Some additional thoughts related to David Meerman Scott’s book The New Rules of PR and Marketing. (Also see my last post).

David opens the book by describing his frustration when going to the internet, in casual shopping mode wanting to learn about and compare car models, and finding only 0% financing come-ons and old-school advertising.  This has changed to some extent in recent years.  His anecdote was used to illustrate that Detroit’s “Big 3” (they aren’t the biggest three anymore) are clueless when it comes to offering useful content and building a relationship with the prospective buyer.

The irony is that Saturn, the one company that did indeed introduce you to the people who built the cars (in their ads), offered straight-forward no-haggle pricing, and pioneered other trust and reputation-building efforts, is now going out of business. They never really made any money.  Great cars though – I drive and enjoy a Saturn Aura XR now, and my family members have owned many.   Customer loyalty seemed to be high – the ION won the Polk Automotive Loyalty Award four years in a row (2004-2007 model years).

Loved my Saturn Aura XR, with tap shift, on a recent solo day-long drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, from the Bay area to L.A.

Lessons learned?  The auto industry is a very crowded marketplace, and it’s not hard to find a high-quality car, no matter what your price range.  Saturn also lost some of its unique positioning when it started glomming onto GM’s platform-oriented models. Perhaps the question is:  was Saturn’s “voice” perceived to be sincere, or it did it seem more like a calculated advertising scheme?

June 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

New Survey Shows that Use of Home-Grown Content Continues to Grow

A new survey confirms that B-to-B marketers are increasingly using home-grown content to build relationships with customers and prospects, while use of traditional media declines. Companies are writing their own stories (and their customer’s stories), and most importantly, the survey shows that the marketplace highly values the content and uses it as much as information from industry publications. 88% of the respondents to the Kiing Fish Media survey are involved with B-to-B marketing, 56% of them do B-to-B solely.

Colleague Sally Falkow summarized key findings of the survey nicely on her blog:

* 86% of respondents’ companies are currently creating or plan to create original content for their customers and prospects in the coming year.
* 81% believe that brands and companies can create content that is as engaging and informative as content created by media companies.
* 74% feel that original content and media are most effective for generating marketing ROI.
* 70% are spending more today to reach customers and prospects directly with branded content than they did three years ago.

Download the complete survey at King Fish Media.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | Content-Inspired Conversations, Perspective Paper Strategies, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tech Sector Thought Leadership Enhanced by a 12-Year-Old Student

You know that you have succeeded in articulating a business opportunity or trend when a 12-year-old student “gets it,” participates in the Q&A, and offers ideas about an application. Especially if it’s highly technical.

The venue? Jim Whitehurst, the plain-talking visionary CEO of enterprise Linux application leader Red Hat (Raleigh, NC), did a session on Tuesday for Fidelity Investment’s lecture series “Leadership in Technology” at a North Carolina university.

The program was geared toward graduate students, but 12-year-old Chandler Willoughby was there and suggested that both iTunes and Microsoft would become easier to use if Open Source gave users the opportunity to provide input on design and how the interface operates.

Jim Whitehurst knows that business thought leadership doesn’t mean pontificating with “high-minded language” and “lots of detail.”  In the case of Red Hat, it means articulating a value proposition. He likened the Open Source model to Wikipedia, and even American Idol. He uses terms like “power participation.”

A comment that Whitehurst directed to the investment community: “Here’s the problem. In the twenty-first century, where much, much more of the capital is information, locking up that information suboptimizes the value of that capital.”

And directed to the grad students: “Many companies are still in the physical world, with physical products. Go in and recognize these companies weren’t structured to enable and inspire the workforce. Do your best to work in the system. They’re not trying to stifle their workforce; they just haven’t thought of it.”

In terms of forward thinking and Thought Leadership, Mr. Whitehurst continues to be one to watch, and emulate.

October 1, 2009 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, Content-Inspired Conversations, Issues That Worked, Tech Sector Thought Leadership, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 2 Comments