A Handy Flowchart for Exclamation Point Overuse

In written communication, particularly emails, one of the hardest challenges can be conveying your tone of voice. How many times have you read an email wondering if the sender is angry, annoyed, snappish or maybe just being brief?

I know in many cases, I overcompensate for this by using an exclamation point to show how really exciting something is – whether sending an email to client about upcoming media coverage or writing newsletter copy about a new event.

But when I have used an exclamation point in three sentences in a row, I know I have gone too far. And then signing off with a big Thanks! just seals it.

I recently saw this flowchart created by HubSpot that outlines when it is appropriate to use an exclamation point. The answer: rarely. Beth Dunn points out that if you are depending an exclamation point to convey how exciting and important something is, you are not using the right words.

Dunn writes, “But we as writers tend to get into trouble when we try to make punctuation do the job that words are supposed to do. Words are what we should use to get our readers excited about our content, not punctuation. That’s what language is for, after all. It’s an amazing tool for communicating ideas, conveying emotion, and yes, even stoking the fires of excitement in others.”

Here is the flowchart and click here to see it larger on the Hubspot blog.

Exclamation point chart


How about you – are you as guilty as I am about using too many exclamation points?

6 ‘House of Cards’ Quotes That Apply to PR

Because House of Cards debuts next week, and because I was up way too late watching my DVR’d Oscars last night, I would like to take this moment to share this incredible collection of PR best practices from Frank Underwood and the rest of the House of Cards crew compiled by Kina Leclair at Ragan’s PR Daily.

Please read these all aloud in your best President Underwood impersonation. I know I did.

1. “These days, when you’re talking to one person, you’re talking to a thousand.”

– Zoe Barnes in season one, episode four

In the digital age, everything should be considered on the record. Camera phones, social media mistakes and hackings are all too real, and have been the catalysts for many scandals that have surfaced in the past few years.

Be courteous to everyone. Don’t gossip. Think before you speak. Apologize if you make a mistake.

2. “Pay attention to the fine print.”

– Frank Underwood in season two, episode three

The devil is in the details. Read, re-read and read between the lines when you prep for media interviews, announcements or agreements. There is no such thing as a standard interview or a standard contract.

3. “I don’t mind that you improvise. I just wish you’d done it better.”

– Claire Underwood in season one, episode six

Fans with a passion for PR and “House of Cards” vividly remember Frank Underwood’s nationally televised, cringe-worthy interview about his education bill. It was scattered, unprepared, and needlessly pompous. Frank even started naming vowels from the alphabet to prove a point: “U think I O U A apology?” He blurts out the word “defecation.” The interview was a D for disaster and, let’s admit, an E for entertaining.

If you’re going to improvise, always have one fallback, key message. Find a way to go back to it, no matter how much you ramble on.

4. “I never make such big decisions so long after sunset and so far from dawn.”

– Frank Underwood in season one, episode one

Picture this: It’s late and you’re drafting a speech, a strategy or key messages for an interview. Before you hit the “send” button, make sure you get some shuteye and that proofread what you wrote with a clear head and a fresh cup of coffee.

5. “If you don’t like the way the table is set, then turn the table over.”

– Frank Underwood in season two, Episode two

If you don’t like the way something is going, change it.

The best thing to do when you don’t like the way a strategy or announcement is headed is to call for a brainstorm with trusted colleagues. Consider ideas you haven’t, even those that seem outrageous. Remove yourself from your current path and go back to the drawing board. It will force you to see what is working and what needs to go.

6. “If we never did anything we shouldn’t do, we would never feel good about the things that we should.”

– Frank Underwood in season two, episode four

As PR pros, we will make mistakes. We’re required to think on our feet so often and make quick decisions that sometimes our intuition and experience will fail us. When you make a mistake, it stays with you. You reflect on them, you evaluate how they could have been different, and you learn from them. But when you make a decision that was right on the money, you feel damn good about it.


Frank Underwood is more spin pro than PR professional. Thankfully, he’s also fictional. Image source: Ragan’s PR Daily

‘Office Housework’ – Addressing Gender Stereotypes Within the Workplace

Women at office holiday party, 1962

In a recent op-ed essay in The New York Times, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant, address the issue of “office housework.” This piece is the third within a four-part series about women in the workplace. In it, Sandberg and Grant state that regardless of their role within an organization, women are likely to “help more but benefit less” than their male counterparts.

Sandberg and Grant reference a study conducted by Madeline Heilman, where men were more likely to benefit than women for equal help. “Office housework” tasks can comprise of mentoring junior colleagues, taking notes during meetings, planning an office party, etc. Grant and Sandberg summarize the findings by saying, “after giving identical help, a man was significantly more likely to be recommended for promotions, important projects, raises and bonuses. A woman had to help just to get the same rating as a man who didn’t help.” So, are women feeling compelled to take on these tasks in order to advance their careers?

secretary coffee

Photo credit: Stockbyte via Getty Images

Additionally, Sandberg and Grant point out that while women are more likely to complete “office housework” behind the scenes, men are likely to make their contributions known publically. Whether helping others behind the scenes or publically, women are more likely than men to burn out over time. Sandberg and Grant cite research saying, “For every 1,000 people at work, 80 more women than men burn out — in large part because they fail to secure their own oxygen masks before assisting others.”

How best to move forward? While there are no simple answers, Sandberg and Grant suggest a change in individual mindset – for women this means prioritizing their own needs before assisting others, for men it means acknowledging women’s efforts and assuming more responsibility for “housework” tasks.

What do you think? Have you experienced this in your career?

You can read the previous installments within this series here and here.

How PR Can Save Us from the Anti-vaccination Movement


Thanks to a measles outbreak at the happiest place on earth, our news feeds have all been filled with what we already know: vaccines work and are safe, but some people — primarily between 2000 and 2011 — opted to not vaccinate their children, and now we’re paying the price. The “why” has been examined to no end. But we’ve heard little about the “how” — how did so many parents come to follow the anti-vaccination movement? What I know anecdotally is that it was one of the most powerful word-of-mouth PR campaigns of my lifetime. And now we need an equally powerful PR campaign to fix it.

The rise of the anti-vaccination movement

The anti-vaccine movement, which generally spiked between 2000 and 2011, rode the coattails of the internet and social media boom. We were new to this whole Facebook thing, perhaps even naïve. The word-of-mouth category of publicity was born, and it gave relatively underground movements, like anti-vaccination, a rapt platform among concerned parents. No medical degree, no scientific research required to be an expert.

It also came at a time when trust in corporations hit a record low. Enron, the collapse of the real estate market, the emergence of awareness over the quality (or lack thereof) of food on supermarket shelves. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in pharmaceutical companies has been especially low, hovering between 53% and 59% between 2009 and 2014, and ranking only slightly higher than media and banks. And vaccines became the scapegoat for this lack of trust.

Does PR hold the answer?

PR often gets a bad rap. But PR can do so much good. And I think PR could be the first important step towards saving lives by rebuilding our trust in vaccines.

First, we need trusted spokespeople.

But we’re not looking for another Jenny McCarthy. Chiropractors, naturopaths, religious leaders, healthy/natural living icons. These are the types of trusted sources that can turn the tide.

Second, we need a widespread, multi-media information campaign.

We need to demystify vaccine ingredients (a key function of the anti-vax campaign was to confuse by breaking down the complicated vaccine ingredients) and personify these horrible diseases vaccines prevent. We are so lucky in that most of us have never seen polio or diphtheria. It’s so easy to write them off as “not that bad.” Profiles of disease victims, in print, online and broadcast media, would help. A compelling ad campaign would, too.

Third, we may not be able to separate vaccines from their pharmaceutical parent companies.

So Big Pharma needs its own separate trust-building campaign. Form a coalition, pull back the curtain, and let a national team of PR professionals change the public’s perception of Big Pharma. There are so many stories, I can only imagine, to be told about the amazing things pharmaceutical products and people are doing in the world. Share those stories, turn the tide. It’d be the greatest underdog story, at least in terms of corporate public perception, in recent history.

Fourth, social media was huge in creating the anti-vaccination movement, and could be equally huge in shutting it down.

Already, just due to a shift in public attitudes over social media toward the anti-vax movement — from apathetic (“do whatever you want with your own children”) to “wait, my baby got whopping cough because we’ve lost herd immunity, and I’m pissed!” — we’ve seen under-vaccination rates go down. For the first time in 12 years, the number of California parents who cite personal beliefs in refusing to vaccinate their kindergarteners dropped in 2014. Enlisting celebrities and thought leaders to share their vaccination stories or battles with preventable diseases would encourage the same among everyday parents. Hey Beyoncé, is Blue vaccinated? I’d bet she’s got 99 problems, but measles won’t be one.

PR has done many wonderful things in the name of public health. PR was enlisted to cut meth use in California. PR has been used to boost body image and improve the mental health of women. And now I’d love to see PR turn around a dangerous trend and improve our public health.

At print time, 88 people in California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington, Utah, Colorado and Arizona have been infected with measles, stemming from an outbreak at Disneyland. (Photo credit: CNN)

At print time, 88 people in California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington, Utah, Colorado and Arizona have been infected with measles, stemming from an outbreak at Disneyland. (Photo credit: CNN)

New McDonalds Ad Tugs at Heartstrings but Receives Criticism

Did see you see McDonalds’ new heartwarming commercial while watching the Golden Globes or NFL playoffs earlier this week?

I admit that I liked it. The heartfelt ad showed a photo montage of messages posted on various McDonald’s signboards by some of the fast food restaurant’s franchises, including “Thank you Veterans”, “We Remember 9/11”, “Boston Strong” or community-based messages like birth announcements and anniversary and birthday celebrations. Some of the images showed the golden arches standing strong amongst national disasters, like floods or hurricane damage. And the ad was set to a children’s choir singing the song “Carry On” by Fun. The perfect mix to get to your emotions.

However, of course, the ad is receiving a lot of backlash, criticizing McDonald’s for using national tragedies to sell burgers, or pointing out that the fast-food giant still serves unhealthy food and doesn’t pay its workers a decent wage.

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Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 1.41.01 PM

Others think, that despite the ad’s controversy (or perhaps due to it) the ad might actually work. The Huffington Post reports, “Despite the skeptics, the emotional advertising may actually be the Golden Arches’ best hope to draw people in. With chains like Five Guys, Shake Shack and even Chipotle offering quick, fresh and relatively cheap alternatives to McDonald’s, the most salient reasons for many to order a Big Mac are nostalgia and familiarity.”

What do you think of the commercial? I guess we just have a few more weeks to see what commercial McDonald’s has planned for the coveted Super Bowl spot.

Campaign Ads of 2014

Campaign Ads of 2014

November 4th has arrived and after today you no longer have to listen to the campaign advertisements, at least for awhile. Although these advertisements address some of the issues with each campaign candidate or proposition measure, they can be overbearing, aggressive, and sometimes pushing the truth.

NPR’s Alisa Chang, recently reported on the “2014 Campaign Ads That You Just Can’t Stop Replaying.” Here’s her take:


This year, an estimated $4 billion was spent on midterm elections and a good deal of that money helped pay for campaign advertisements. Was it worth it?

On Jimmy Kimmel’s show, he mocked the campaign ads of 2014 with his own satirical ad.

Happy to say this year of ads are over for now! If you haven’t voted, you have until 8pm tonight. Find a ballot dropbox location here. For results check out Oregonlive.

Design & Happiness

Design Week Portland 2014 was great fun, and I felt lucky to attend the sold-out talk by Stefan Sagmeister on Design & Happiness. The Austrian-born designer has been a design “rockstar” for decades, but when he’s not working for clients of Sagmeister & Walsh, he’s studying how we attain happiness. His ultimate goal is a full documentary on the topic, but he’s the first to admit that his documentary production skills do not level with his vision, which has made for a rather painful project process (somewhat ironic, given the subject). However, his explorations for the documentary have resulted in some beautiful standalone projects along the way. I would love to see the museum exhibit, “The Happy Show,” where scientific research and psychological observations are made visual in a series of engaging, clever, artistic reflections on happiness.

I really wish I could share some of the mesmerizing artistic video projects he shared during his presentation, but they’re not public domain (yet). But a few of his points can be heard in an older TED talk on this subject he’s been exploring for over a decade:

Perhaps most intriguing is how he manages to accomplish all this happiness research and exploration while running a bustling design firm in New York. First, the firm is restricted to seven team members–despite great successes and huge clients, the firm does not grow in personnel, on purpose. This allows them to carefully choose clients, only saying ‘yes’ to projects they really want to work on, which ultimately results in more creative freedom and reasonably managed project schedules. Second, one word: sabbatical. Every seven years, the entire firm goes on sabbatical—business doors are closed and locked for an entire year. And during their year in Bali (most recently) or wherever the team lands, they rest, explore, and produce incredible, creative, because-they-want-to projects, completely refreshing their creative outlook. It’s worked well for business too; evidently, initial fears of lost revenue have been allayed, as existing clients have remained faithful and appreciate the unique perspective these sabbaticals lend the firm’s work, while new clients wait in the wings, eager to get a piece of Sagmeister & Walsh’s one-of-a-kind creative approach.

What a bold business model. It’s one that requires a huge leap of faith…but that’s usually how we find the kind of happiness we didn’t even know we were missing.

Monica Lewinsky’s Back in the Media

Many know the name Monica Lewinsky. Over 16 years ago in 1998, the details of her affair with President Bill Clinton became public knowledge and she has since then lived in the public eye. Her name has even been mentioned in rap lyrics by Beyonce, Eminem, Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne among others. At the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia this week, Lewinsky attended to guest speak about cyber bullying and its effects on her life after the affair.

The Huffington Post describes the outcome of her speech best, “Many not only missed the point, but in a cruel twist of irony used the story to engage in the very acts she spoke against by shamefully renewing their pointlessly vitriolic commentary against the former White House intern.”

Here’s Lewinsky’s speech.

During her speech, Lewinsky advocated for those who have been bullied and humiliated on the internet and vowed to continue to speak out for those individuals. She said in an essay published in Vanity Fair this summer, “I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past.”

The Huffington Post article tries to prove a point, “Like the drug addict who nobly turns his or her life around and becomes a rehab counselor, Lewinsky has expressed regret and accepted responsibility for some poor decisions from her youth and turned them into something positive. It’s too bad, then, that on her first day on the job, so many of us felt inclined to try to silence, demean, humiliate and shut her down through the very same tactics that inspired her to speak up in the first place.”

Should Monica Lewinsky be back in the spotlight speaking about her experience? Many people online argue that she shouldn’t.

Why not let someone like Monica Lewinsky, who’s experienced cyber bullying first-hand, speak up for the overwhelming number of others who have been bullied in a similar way? She has something to say and it’s worth hearing.

To read the full Huffington post article, click here.

Your Website in 2015

Do you have any big site redesign plans? As 2015 approaches, many organizations are refreshing their look and functionality. Web design trends are constantly evolving, and web functionality changes are near-impossible to keep up with. But that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate a handful of the newest features into your site to keep it current.

Elegant Themes is just one of hundreds of website theme marketplaces, and their recent blog post about 2015 web design trends to watch for has a number of great possibilities to consider. (Not all of them are new, but 2015 may be the year where embracing these approaches is non-negotiable, if you want your website to get noticed).

A few highlights that I’m most excited about include:

#3 – Bigger Emphasis on Typography

As most of you know, we’re no longer stuck with Arial or Times New Roman when it comes to web fonts. Between Google fonts and a handful of other robust and affordable web type kits out there, it is possible to make your website a beautiful showcase of custom-selected typography, which is a great way to ensure your site redesign is uniquely branded. As a type lover, I have been so excited to experiment with typography in web design over the past couple years, and look forward to continued flexibility and opportunity.

#4 – Large, Beautiful Background Images & Videos

Good content is essential, but it doesn’t all have to be words. With large monitors and improved screen resolution, high-quality imagery is such an important part of impactful storytelling online. Stock image libraries are (slowly) improving in quality and subject matter, but today’s image- and video-friendly web environment is a perfect place to showcase custom company photography you’ve been waiting to invest in. Personalize it, make it local, make it authentic. And then make it big.

#5 – Scrolling Over Clicking

No need to fear scrolling. With mobile technology’s impact on user interaction habits, scrolling is a completely natural way for people to navigate a website now. If you’re afraid to abandon clicking completely, there are still great ways to incorporate both into your site redesign. But don’t feel boxed in to the “page-by-page” structure. The navigation possibilities are endless, and are finally allowing us to use the web as more of a, well, web, rather than trying to force it into a paged book structure. Which leads to another great point–

#9 – Interactive Storytelling

All of these pieces together mean that your website is now able to better tell a story and create an immersive experience with your brand. Between beautiful type, large imagery, and fluid navigation, your website is less of a corporate brochure, and more of a brand story. This creates an emotional connection for your site visitors, which is exactly what you want as you build brand awareness.

The number one on the list goes without saying at this point: your site needs to be responsive. (Most of us are still catching up on this, so don’t feel too bad. But make a plan–users are on their mobile devices looking at your site right now. It is time.)

Read the full list here, and start dreaming big.