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Beyond the piechart: Infographics’ rising popularity

good infographic

They’re everywhere lately: infographics. There are beautiful examples, and there are terrible examples. But I must say, I love a good infographic. As a designer with a passion for reading and learning, these graphics are the perfect blend of content and design, hard facts and artful interpretation. And when done well, these graphics become a handy marketing tool—one that is both educational and engaging.

We are bombarded with information every day; we are increasingly forced to digest and act on information FAST in order to keep up with the speed at which technologies are changing how we do business. Grabbing attention, then inspiring content-sharing is a must when it comes to modern marketing. A compelling infographic is highly shareable, and it also creates a virtual “keepsake” for a brand (don’t get me wrong–a branded pen is great, but a cool, inspiring graphic/message that I can print out and keep on my desk creates for me a stronger emotional tie with a given brand.) Infographics allow a business the opportunity to tell a story or share its mission, in a concise and visually attractive format.

A good infographic will present complex information clearly, allowing the reader to quickly review and digest the material. That’s where so many poorly executed examples fall flat; they’re too complex, difficult to follow, muddied by ugly typography or colors, or they fail to stay focused on the core message. But a good infographic can make even the most mundane or silly topic eye-catching, and before you know it, you’ve learned all there is to know about a winning rock-paper-scissors strategy:

How to win at Rock-Paper-Scissors, according to cha cha.com

How to win at Rock-Paper-Scissors, according to cha cha.com

Sure, it’s non-essential information. And I don’t know where they got their data. But it’s something that will likely be shared on social media, because it’s a quick, fun read about a game we’ve ALL played. And as you can see, the graphic elements can be super simple—line art and some well-balanced typography could be all you need.

So many people are visual learners. You may get true readers to download a whitepaper, but you will catch a broader swath of viewers with visuals. Visual aids have been a key element of sales pitches throughout history. Did you know that Florence Nightingale leveraged infographics to help make her case to Queen Victoria, to improve hospital conditions during the Crimean War?

Making her case. Florence Nightingale used infographics, too.

Making her case. Florence Nightingale used infographics, too.

These graphics can be incredibly elegant and detailed, even poster-worthy:

National Geographic has long been a master at infographics.

National Geographic has long been a master at infographics.

They can be ridiculously technical, and impossibly dense (I think it looks cool, but is it useful? Maybe after a long study…so I would argue it’s not the most effective):

There's a lot going on here. Technical elements look great, but this graphic requires time to dissect.

There’s a lot going on here. Technical elements look great, but this graphic requires time to dissect.

They can incorporate crazy amounts of color:

use COLOR!

use COLOR!

Or they can fully embrace the style of the artist creating them, like this beautiful hand-drawn example from chalk artist Olivia King:

good infographic

A graphic all about inks…drawn in chalk.

Now, let’s be clear: well-done infographics are not fast or cheap to create, and should be handled by a professional. A designer will create a layout that allows the content to flow correctly, and one which incorporates graphic elements that support and highlight key content pieces, as well as eye-catching typography and a color palette that leverages existing brand rules, all while pushing artistic limits where appropriate. (Please, no clip art or poorly kerned type!) But such a piece could be considered a branded investment; it will be shared, printed, referenced, and potentially utilized as a visual aid during presentations and sales pitches.

I love maps, and maybe that’s another reason infographics appeal to me. They provide a little “You are here” for the reader beginning to navigate their way through all the information you have to share. Where will they go next? You can guide potential customers straight to the [hopefully not so hidden] treasure that is your business.

(I know, I just wrote a bunch of words about visuals. So to get really meta, I’ll sign off with an infographic about infographics…)

Press Association's infographic about good infographics.

Press Association’s infographic about infographics.

PR: Family Style

PR: family

As PR professionals we’ve learned how to position, couch and direct certain messages so that they are received in the most desired manner. It’s how we interact with external influencers – media, clients and even colleagues. But what about when it’s family?

I recently had an interaction with a distant family member that I haven’t seen for several years. Family circumstances brought us together and it was eye-opening to see how badly people can behave when they just don’t care. While there, this family member asked me if I was pregnant. Considering that I am not, this didn’t exactly sit well with me. I know I’m not the skinniest person in the world, but pregnant…really? I know what I look like pregnant, and this isn’t it.

The next day I got what I thought was a sincere apology email. I responded in typical Ann-fashion – quickly dismissing any hard feelings, infusing a bit of humor and moving on to other less-sensitive topics. I thought the issue was over. Boy was I wrong. The next morning I got a second email from her, this one dismissing anything nice I had to say and going on a rant about how I could lose weight – suggesting apps, exercise programs and even some personal commentary about “being fat.” Wow.

Of course my initial response was to want to send her back a parting shot that would truly leave an impression. I said out loud what I’d like to say, told it to friends and was all but ready to let her have a piece of my mind. But then I stopped to breathe. After consulting with my own advisors (aka parents and friends), they assured me that no response would be the best response – and what would have the greatest impact. So I put on my PR hat and did what I’d tell a client to do – control the message, which in this case meant stop communicating with a person who had her own agenda and simply enjoys a fight.  If only I was always this strong.

What do you do when personal communications break down? Do you bring out your PR skills and manage the message, or do you just let it all come out?

The Future of Retail . . .

The Future of Retail

Last night I attended a Portland Design Week panel discussion on the future of retail. It wasn’t quite what I expected, as the discussion skewed more towards what retailers could do to increase value for their consumers through services and technology, rather than the more design-oriented aspect of the retail experience (space, visuals, product display, in-store communications), but it did raise some interesting food for thought. Panelists from Nordstorm Innovation Lab, REI and Ziba discussed everything from the rise of e-commerce, Amazon and dreaded OMNICHANNEL, to technological innovation, their biggest successes and inspirations and what they hope for the future.

The take-home message was that retailers, innovators and designers need to continue to think of new ways to stay competitive by adding more value to the consumer experience. Does that mean that you provide personal stylists that will consult with you via text as you put together your outfit for the evening, a la Nordstorm? Find a way to eliminate check-out lines as the REI panelist suggested, while uncovering new ways to get local influencers to hang out in your store? Do you scramble to implement the latest technology advances that will put you just ahead of the curve? Or do you hunker down, eschew the push to look like the next big thing and create a special community through a really great space, quality products and personalized, friendly service?

I don’t know. But it did make me think about the ways that all businesses, retail or not, should really be thinking about the services and value they provide, the ways that customers experience and interact with their business and how and whether they’re using technology to provide those services. With the lightning fast turnover of trends and ever-increasing technology options, I think there’s real opportunity to be deliberate about what you’re doing, choose your path with conviction, and stick to what’s most important to your business. I’m excited to see what the future of retail will look like, and for that matter, everything else.

Beacon – A New Site to Fund Writers

beacon

An interesting find I thought I would pass along – Beacon!

Beacon, the Netflix for journalism, is a site where the public can access articles by personally funding their favorite writers. For $5 a month, readers can log on to www.beaconreader.com and decide what writers and stories get published instead of advertisers. Public relations professionals may be breathing a sigh of relief.

The writers on Beacon are all professionals and have written for publications such as The New York Times, Harpers, TIME, Vice, and The New Yorker. The majority of subscription fees go directly to the writer. When funding a writer, readers get access all of them, including the new writers that come on each month.

This new site comes from tech pros Adrian Sanders and Dmitri Cherniak, along with former Times writer Dan Fletcher. The main premises of Beacon is to be an avenue where journalists are empowered to write about their passions, not the number of page views.

I am fascinated by this model – after years of deadlines with reporters who are conflicted in their stories due to publication expectations or viewership, it is refreshing to see a site that will bring our writers’ true passions to life. I am also curious to see how well the site does with a $5 a month charge. Many readers today cringe over the idea of paying $.99 for content from the Times, will they be willing to pay $5 a month for Beacon? Only time will tell!

#Hashtags: The New Communication Tool #hmmmm #skeptical #hungry

hashtag abusers

Earlier this summer New York Magazine’s Jeff Wisler wrote a piece called “The 7 Types of Hashtag Abusers” which so brilliantly put into words a deep, personal animosity for hashtags that has been growing ever stronger in my heart.  Wisler puts hashtag abusers on blast, calling out several categories of misuse, including:

  1. The Hashtag Stuffer: The most common form of hashtag abusers. The Stuffer is incapable of simply sharing a photo of his July Fourth fireworks; he festoons it with #firework #fireworks #july4th #July4 #pretty #boom! #red #white #blue #1776bitches!
  2. The Verbal Hashtagger: Someone who actually says the word “hashtag” in conversation. Exhibit A: Kasey, the Bachelorette contestant, who charms women with phrases — spoken out loud! — like “hashtag marriage material” and “hashtag let the journey begin.”
  3. The Hack-tagger: Created by a company, brand, or political organization. The classic example is McDonald’s, who used #McDStories to ask for heartwarming stories about the golden arches. The result? A gleeful backlash of tweets like “Ate a McFish and vomited 1 hour later …. #McDstories.”
  4. The Gratuitous Event Hashtagger: You no longer go to the beach, now you go to the #beach, where we’re more likely to play with our phones than play in the waves. If you’re grilling burgers and dogs? Step one is to pour the charcoal, step two is to hashtag #bbq. It’s only a matter of time before, on Sunday mornings, the pious whip out their phones while at #church.

I thought I hated hashtags; I thought they were a lazy excuse to avoid full sentences and proper punctuation (is the pound sign considered “punctuation?”), and to string together totally unassociated thoughts and concepts. But Mr. Wisler has helped me understand that it is not the hashtag itself that I despise, but the misuse of it. The hashtag as a language tool is actually quite effective in efficiently communicating emotion and context

hashtag abusers As Julia Turner of the New York Times writes, “[T]he hashtag gives the writer the opportunity to comment on his own emotional state, to sarcastically undercut his own tweet, to construct an extra layer of irony, to offer a flash of evocative imagery or to deliver metaphors with striking economy.” With minimal characters hashtags can add depth, link and build communities, and fuel movements.

So, on the heels of Tuesday’s National Punctuation Day and in honor of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake’s fabulous #Hashtag skit, I ponder how hashtag abusers might someday slip them into journalism and literature. They’ve managed to slime their way from Twitter to Facebook to text message, spurring commentary in all aspects of media. The day when hashtags are used to cull data and add color to traditional news media might not be far off. Look out parentheses and semicolons, the pound sign is moving in.

Miley Cyrus, PR Genius or Wrecking Ball?

Miley Cyrus, PR

I think most of America is in agreement that what happened on the VMA stage between Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke and a foam finger was an utter trainwreck and something we’ll be trying to erase from our memories for a long time to come.  However, now that the dust has settled (a bit) and we come further to terms with the new Miley (Hannah Montana who?), it’s been interesting to watch public opinion form and shift around her.

In the seconds, minutes and days following the performance the outrage could be heard around the world – even within the entertainment world, which isn’t an easy one to shock.  Pictures of Will Smith’s family gaping in horror from the audience were plastered in tabloids, Cher blasted the outfit, performance and singing as “all just terrible,” and even Miley’s good friend Kelly Osbourne said what we were all thinking: “Put your f–king tongue in your mouth!” But who really will get the last laugh?

This week Cher went on the TODAY Show and admitted that perhaps she was a bit harsh and should have kept her mouth quiet.  Justin Timberlake was also on the TODAY Show and when asked for his take on Miley, he chose his words very carefully but all in all offeresmithsd support by calling her “smart and talented,” and noting society’s desire to label someone every 10-15 years as the kind of person “we do or don’t want our daughters to be.”  And really – who doesn’t trust JT?  If she had to have someone offer a level-headed comment about the debacle, she couldn’t have found a better spokesperson.

The girl has already managed to go from child star to superstar; create her own successful brand apart from her very famous, mullet-wearing, Achy Breaky dad; have most of us forget about a creepy, too-close-for-comfort daddy/daughter photoshoot in Vanity Fair a few years back; and offer up some nonsense about a salvia bong. Maybe all this current chaos shouldn’t be so surprising, but instead seen as part of the Miley Cyrus, PR master plan.

What can’t be denied is that Miley’s single is at the top of the music charts and there has never been more buzz about her.  Some say “no publicity is bad publicity.”  I for one don’t buy that, but I have to wonder if in this case Miley might just prove me wrong – again.

How a Portland Company Put Instagram to Work

Poler

What’s your social media protocol at this point? The standard Facebook and Twitter with the occasional LinkedIn post? Is it productive or does it feel like it’s going out into the vacuum? With social media platforms, use and trends constantly shifting, standard doesn’t necessarily mean effective. The opportunities are endless when you’re willing to step away from the usual and try something creative. Take Poler, a Portland-based outdoor goods company, as an example.

Poler Stuff: Outdoor Gear

Started in November 2011, Poler Stuff began offering a modest collection of tents, backpacks and apparel via an e-commerce site. A departure from the super technical bend of most outdoor gear, Poler’s items are aimed at “travelers, couch surfers, regular surfers, skateboarders, snowboarders, bicyclists, parents, kids, car campers and anyone else looking for something that looks good, is a good value and is all about having fun on road trips and in the outdoors.” Eschewing ads or catalogs, they used creative photo essays to showcase their gear and more importantly, the Poler lifestyle. Grown entirely through word of mouth and social media, Poler has gone from those humble online beginnings to a flagship store in downtown Portland, a devoted following around the world, an ever-expanding line of offerings, and collaborations with companies like Stumptown and Nike that sell out in days.

Poler

A Social Media Star

Their Instagram presence is especially noteworthy. Early on, Poler established a few hashtags to promote their gear and the outdoor lifestyle. Using #campvibes (inspiring camping photos), #adventuremobile (interesting recreational vehicles), and #beneaththebrim (shots from below the brim of their signature trucker hat) to label Instagram posts, they soon created a unique situation. Not only were they sharing photos with these tags, but fans of the brand were consistently using the tags on their own photos as well. Poler began to cull and repost their favorite images from followers and were soon able to keep up a steady stream of posts featuring their gear in beautiful, exotic locations around the world. Fans are excited that their photo is selected to be shared with the Poler community at large, and the company is provided with free advertising. It’s a win-win. Currently boasting over 100,000 followers and at least 4,000 likes per post, Poler is getting consistent positive exposure and engagement without spending a dollar.

It’s a pretty inspiring model. How could you put your fans to work for you? Poler’s path may not work for everyone but it’s a good reminder that when it comes to planning your social media strategy, it can pay to think outside the box.

A 9/11 Rewind: How We Communicate 12 Years Later

9/11 flag

It was twelve years ago today, and I can still remember the exact moment the first airplane hit the World Trade Center. I spent that entire day glued to the television watching every detail of the day’s events unfold. It was like time stood still. 9/11 affects every American in one way or another, and with that, I think it’s important to reflect on what we have accomplished in the past 12 years. I’m not talking politics, military or foreign relations – for me, I like to reflect on my personal accomplishments and the professional achievements the communications industry has gained. Over the last 12 years, I have been fortunate enough to graduate high school and college, marry an amazing man and build our dream home, have a beautiful son and thrive in a career I am truly passionate about.

12 years, in leaps and bounds

While 2001 seems like it was just yesterday, the communications industry has successfully grown leaps and bounds. The days and months following 9/11, most of the information we received about recovery and rebuilding efforts came directly from media outlets. While we were fortunate enough to have 24 hour coverage, we were forced to only hear the messages the media selected. Fast forward to today, and we have blossomed into a country that thrives on information sharing via blogs, social media and citizen journalism.

In 2001, there were only a handful of blogs in existence and the term “blogging” was far from our vocabulary. Social media sites Facebook and Twitter weren’t even created until several years later. Eyewitness accounts were only offered via an interview with a reporter. With these tools now in existence, our country has the ability to streamline communication in a way that not only allows multiple outlets to share their experience, but also instantaneously.

I think back to the how crucial our country needed to find ways to communicate quickly, accurately and effectively and am grateful to see how far we’ve come. Technology has given individuals a large voice to convey their perspective to the masses. I am grateful to be a part of this generation of communication, and ultimately, have gained an incredible amount of appreciation for life and how lucky I am to live it. I’m sorry for those who had that opportunity taken away 12 years ago.

Chobani Yogurt Offers Lesson in Crisis PR

Chobani’s PR team yogurt

Chobani’s PR team offers a lesson in crisis management do’s and don’ts.

As so many things do these days, it all started on Facebook. In the last few days of August, fans of Chobani’s Facebook page began reporting “puffy lids” and a “carbonated” taste from the top-selling Greek-style yogurt maker in the U.S. The company quickly realized it had a problem.

It took baby steps to remedy, first asking stores in Oregon and elsewhere to pull containers over an unspecified “quality problem.” One week later, as its Facebook page and the media erupted with stories of “poisoned” yogurt, Chobani issued a voluntary recall through the Food and Drug Administration.

The problem, as it turns out, was fairly benign. The culprit was a species of mold called Mucor circinelloides, which is commonly found in the dairy environment and is not considered a foodborne pathogen. Yet it still causes illness. Neither the FDA nor Chobani will release the number of people reporting to have been negatively impacted, only saying “its not in the hundreds or thousands.”

Chobani’s PR team

Mold caused Chobani containers to swell. Photo credit: foodsafetynews.com

Chobani’s PR team response

As a PR case study, Chobani did many things right. They put their compassionate and endearing CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya, front and center, using his name and image to release updates and statements to customers. They were honest and educational, issuing beautiful infographics on the Mucor circinelloides mold strain and how to identify if you had yogurt impacted by the recall. The apologies were heartfelt and honest. “I’m sorry I let you down,” the statement from Ulukaya began. He signed it with his first name only, “Hamdi.”

Here’s where Chobani’s PR team missed to boat: they tried to sugar coat. Literally. On Aug. 31 they posted a note to their Facebook page acknowledging the voluntary removal and replacement of some products from store shelves. Good move, Chobani. Many companies hate to admit there is a problem before all the facts are on the table. They took the reins, and put themselves in position to own the story and to serve as a trusted resource. Then they botched it by waiting five days to make another announcement, filling the void with recipes for smoothies and Crème Brulee Cheesecake Bars. Customers weren’t happy, filling the comment boxes with demands for more information.

Here’s the lesson: In times of crisis, reconsider your regularly scheduled soft marketing campaigns. When people can’t even buy your product, and as it turns out, shouldn’t be eating what they have in their fridge, it’s poor form to tempt them with Crème Brulee Cheesecake Bars. Communicate often and communicate honestly, even if its only to tell customers you have nothing more to share but work continues to provide them with an answer. But, whatever you do, don’t let the story tell itself for you in the form of angry customer comments and speculative media reports.

How’d Chobani’s PR team do?

As the air seems to be clearing, the net-net is that Chobani’s PR team did great work. And they should have: Chobani reported in July that it had just amped up its internal marketing and communications teams, with plans to up its marketing spend to around $70 million next year, according to AdAge. But there is always room for improvement, and in this case Chobani’s initial hesitancy to update and its unnecessary filling of the void with fluff could have been a major misstep.

Selfie is Officially “Liked” by the OE

selfie

It’s come to this. “Selfie”, the term for mobile phone self-portraits generally aligned with vain teenage girls, has now entered the lexicon and joins proper words like “forsooth”, “serendipity” and “horse” in the Oxford English Dictionary, otherwise known as the OED and grandfather master of all dictionaries. The inclusion reflects an acceptance of other tech-related words no one over the age of 20 thought were actually words, various fashion trends you’ll recognize from the past few years, and a wide and somewhat bewildering array of acronyms and abbreviations generated from text-speak. “Twerk” (the dance move most recently appropriated by Miley Cyrus) was included as well, along with “unlike” (in reference to withdrawing your social media approval), “fauxhawk” (it’s not like these are going away), and “srsly” (seriously?).

cakepop

The full list:

Here’s the full list of words most recently accepted:

Apls, A/W, babymoon, balayage, bitcoin, blondie, buzzworthy, BYOD, cake pop, chandelier earring, click and collect, dappy, derp, digital detox, double denim, emoji, fauxhawk, FIL, flatform, FOMO, food baby, geek chic, girl crush, grats, guac, hackerspace, Internet of things, jorts, LDR, me time, MOOC, omnishambles, pear cider, phablet, pixie cut, selfie, space tourism, squee, srsly, street food, TL;DR, twerk, and unlike.

What do you think about the addition of selfie? Only a matter of time? A helpful reference as millennials take over the world? Or is this the destruction of the English language as we know it?