Think with a pen? Or pixels? Or a microphone?

Executive summary:  Thinking styles, communication styles, and management styles are too often at loggerheads. Understanding how your people think and communicate is the key to getting the best out of them in the least time.

Example of a storyboard

Image from Creative Commons 2.0 License


“Just give me the slides.”
“I don’t want a document, management won’t read it.”
“Don’t send sketches to design, they’ll think they are requirements.”
“Don’t waste your time recording example narration, that’s the animator’s job.”

I have heard variants of these sentences across almost every high tech company I have worked for or with. (No, not just you, G.M.) Which is a shame, because the content, idea, and message brilliance of many folks I have worked with remained hidden. Why? Because the recipient of the drafts could only parse them from one point of view or wouldn’t invest the extra 30 seconds to 1 minute to thinking about the different communication style some of their team may have. Really, it is just persona analysis. But in this case, it’s an analysis of your teams and vendors, not of your customers.

Here are a few examples of how managers need to understand the communication modalities of their teams, and how the teams need to understand the modalities of what they need to deliver. My teams have experienced these things many, many (did I say “many”) times over the years. (Current team, don’t think this is just about you. It’s about me as well.)

1. Providing vendors more than words: Working with an animator, instead of just sending them a draft script, send them (amateurish) storyboards and a draft script recorded in an audio file.  Do this to better communicate our thoughts and ideas. It takes extra time to develop, but reduces the animator’s delivery time and increases the precision of our messages.

Yet, in more than one job, I have been told by managers not to do this, as it wastes time and is the animator’s job.  Actually, it is our job to control the message and express, as best we can, those ideas to the animator (or artist, or agency) and let them reflect their creativity and expertise based on our “best foot forward” starting point. Animators and voice-over people can indeed work solely from printed words.  But if we have team member who can provide them more words, that will help, not hinder, the process.

Lesson: Be sure to understand how the vendor wants input, and to describe how (and why) you provide your input in the way that you do.

2. Some people start with the slides, others start with the document: I’ve pretty much given up trying to get people to use less PowerPoint.  But the process of developing slides is different with different people.  Some people need to write text, sometimes long text, and then convert those ideas into a crisp PowerPoint.  Others need to start with PowerPoint (really, it can act as an outlining tool) and move to longer form writing.  Still others need to draw sketches on a whiteboard or in a notebook before moving into other modalities.

As a communications leaders, we have to understand and accept that different people start in different places.  As team members, sometimes we have to realize that if our management team demands “slides” we have to provide them without the antecedent artifacts we used to create the slides.

Lesson: Be sure to understand the format the recipient wants, and if necessary, don’t share the materials you used to get there with them.

3. Confounding the language of requirement VS language of specification with user experience/user interface (UX/UI) folks  When working with seasoned UX/UI teams, it is essential that we explain the problem to them, not the solution. But how do we present the problem statement?  Some people use just words. And other use sketches.  One challenge with sketches and drawings is that they can often be interpreted as a demand for a “solution” rather than just a tool to more accurately depict one perspective of the problem.

Lesson: Be sure to be explicit, even going as far as to repeat the message on each page or deliverable, that this [document, drawing, recording] is being used to enhance the explanation of the problem, not to enforce a solution.

4. Working with ad agencies (and other creative agencies)

See #3.

Do you have any other examples of situations where you need to overcome communication format mismatches, and how to overcome them?

Best to all,






The R-Word that is perfectly OK to be called – Resilient

Sometimes marketing is hard. You can try dozens of things before something sticks. You can be fired, furloughed, or frowned at.  Or laughed at. You have to be ready to fail, multiple times.



edisonChaplin and Edison had it right on these points (although clearly not all the right answers in life): It’s OK to make a fool of yourself.  It’s OK to try thousands of things before you find the hit.

Be resilient. It’s really hard, but it’s really worth it.



(P.S. I wrote this for myself.  But feel free to feel the same way.)

3 Ways to Write a Blog Post Without Using a Listicle

Amongst the many new rules marketing writers have been forced to digest over the past few years — Write for us for free for exposure! Stuff your good writing full of SEO terms even if the article becomes bloated and less clear! Create new, ambiguous job titles and tell seasoned pros that they don’t have the experience for them! — is the seemingly ubiquitous requirement that one write an article in numbered list form.

The “listicle.”

Here are thee ways that you can write a great blog post without using a listicle.

1. Tell an authentic story
One time*, an editor told me that I should break down my compelling narrative into chunks and number them, because my readers wouldn’t be interested nor have the attention to read a 500 word narrative. Nor have the capability to understand the conclusion unless is was smashed in their face in a clear, didactic conclusion that appeared directly after the numbered list.

I countered by bringing up This American Life and Story Corps and all sorts of magazines where the stories unfolded with a natural rhythm and didn’t need the <ol><li><li><li></ol> HTML tags to help the audience make sense of things.

The editor counter-countered** with the argument that a listicle headline gets more clicks and the listicle format is shorter and creates the possibility for more ads to be presented. And that she was paying me so I should write what she told me to.

Conclusion: If you are getting paid, write what your editor tells you to.  But don’t stop trying to tell authentic stories that aren’t hacked to death with the listicle format.

2. Trust your reader and your writing to be able to break up the chunks without numbered lists
Why must we explicitly break up natural chunks of information with an ordered list?  Why can’t we use the power of language to create natural transitions between our point?  And point backward to what we said earlier and forward to what we’ll talk about next, using words, to create a powerful flow for an essay?

Conclusion: Your 7th grade English teacher taught you the five paragraph essay structure for a reason. Feel free to break the rules, but understand why you were taught them.

3. Use pictures
If you really must break up your points, why not do it with some pithy illustrations?  They are way more interesting than numbered lists.


Vintage postcardd. Photo by Wackystuff on Flickr, Creative Commons Share Alike license.

As a marketing writer, you have to be aware of the fads and styles that people expect. And if you are being paid, you also have to listen to the desires of the person signing your check. (Though I think you should bite the hand that feeds you sometimes.  Or maybe a gentle nibble if that is closer to your style.)

But every once in a while, trust the power of your writing enough so that you can banish the numbered list convention.











* I made this up.  Sort of.
** This is a synthesis of what a number of editors have told me.


Being an author is being a marketer


I’ve gotten into tons of discussion with the poetry editor / former professor of mine regarding writing versus marketing.  You know, the one where the “artiste” defines marketing as crass self-promotion where the “working writer” defines it as a necessary part of getting an audience for a work.

Here is an example of an interview with me that is really “marketing and promotion.” But I think this interview’s authenticity really speaks to what good marketing should be.

This is a 30 minute Father’s Day radio interview with Marianne Russo of The Coffee Klatch / Special Needs radio featuring yours truly, originally podcast on Father’s Day 2014. It is really an interesting interview. Thanks Marianne!

Online Parents Radio at Blog Talk Radio with The Coffee Klatch on BlogTalkRadio


This post is also a good natured poke at folks who said me taking 18 months to write a book hindered my marketing career or put it on hold.  Au contraire, this interview is one example of exercising my marketing chops in a way that is applicable to almost any vertical. Here is another example, from a business podcast.



(Originally posted June 15, 2014)

8 ways to present without PowerPoint


Inspiration to write for a few minutes on this topic – Tom Fishburne and as always, Edward Tufte

1. Use some sharpies, draw on 3 x 5 cards, videotape, speed it up, edit, and narrate (see this Youtube video).

2. Make a diorama and puppets (see this Youtube video).

3. Pay a makeup artist to make you look like a very old man and present as if you came from the future and are telling people what will be. Yes, I did this.

4. Get in front of a video camera and talk from the heart (see this Youtube video)

5. Dance.

6. Use a flipchart, don’t speak at all, and flip your way through the story. Yes, I did this in front of 75 educators, and it was one of the more interactive sessions I’ve led.

7. Sing a song. Play an instrument.

8. Give an entire talk with no slides and no props. But practice a LOT and use your voice and face and body to wow them with your topic.


P.S. Bonus # 9: Put ONE WORD or at most a short phrase on the center of each slide and talk to your audience with only that slide behind you. This one makes you have a “slide deck” so your boss or conference coordinator can actually get a file. Even though you didn’t really use PowerPoint. Sneaky, huh?

Originally published Dec 5, 2011.  Redated to float to top on May 20, 2015.

Dec 1, 2013: This post seems to be the most read one even after two years. Thanks for stopping by!  And check out my new book, completely unrelated to this post at

Seven ways to avoid treating job applicants like crap and detracting from your brand


Last year I wrote Five amazing things employers did, even though I didn’t get the job.  That piece had the positive vibe, and if you want positive, go there now.

I pointed out that being treated well during the hiring process, or even being treated better than well, is great marketing for the hiring firm — even if the firm didn’t offer you the job!  After all, it’s a small world. Who knows when you’ll be in charge of buying the product or service from the company that didn’t hire you?  Or when the hire-er will be on the other side of the desk as the hire-ee.  It’s a small world.

Here’s the flip-side of that essay; A few ways that I have experienced a hiring company not meeting minimal obligations to an interviewee and/or verging on the unethical/illegal. Actions that could lead to small (or possibly critical) impacts on a company’s brand.

1. Don’t waste hours of applicant and employer time by not sharing all job requirements early in the process

Both parties spend multiple hours on the phone, including internal recruiter and hiring manager. Travel into a nearby city (1+ hour commute) to meet multiple team members face-to-face. Then, when I was told I didn’t get the job, I was told that a major reason was that they wanted someone “local”, not a commuter.

They brought this commute issue to the forefront after the fact. I asked why they even brought me down for an interview with multiple folks at all if commute was an issue. The irony is had the mentioned this up front, I would have told them (a) I was actually looking for a room sublet to stay in the city a few nights a week so I could be closer to work and (b) I could actually work on the bus and get a lot done even if I commuted from my home.

This ‘commute’ thing was likely a smokescreen for deeper conversations about other issues. If I was passed over for other reasons, no worries, just tell me. I’m a big boy.  This brings me to:

2. Be honest, and not so damn afraid of lawsuits

If you spend hours talking to a candidate, scheduling meetings, asking them for samples, making them take intrusive tests, and contractually requesting their first born, you can at least be honest with them about why you didn’t choose them when you decide to take a pass.

Look, I get how hard it can be to tell someone you barely know why you chose not to hire them. And it opens up the possibility that the candidate will try to change your mind. But so what? You can preface your two minute follow-up phone call to the candidate with “I am not open to my mind being changed. However, as professional courtesy, I want to give you feedback that may or may not help you in your job search or even in future opportunities with our company.”

I’m not suggesting that this call happens with every person you phone screened.  But if you narrowed the field to 3 or 5 candidates and made your choice after a period of weeks of selection processes and dozens of hours of commitment by everyone involved, the least you can give the not-chosen candidates is two minutes of your time. And some form of human contact (see #7 below).

The reality is that nobody is going to sue you for telling the truth (well, if your truth is legal) and you will gain the respect of a professional person who in the future you may interact with or be connected to only by one or two degrees or even work with.

My LinkedIn connections are filled with folks who didn’t hire me, but who completely impressed me with their leadership and honesty–and then I actually referred OTHER people to them for hiring.

If you want the referral act like someone who deserves it!  Even when you don’t hire me.

If you must behind lawyers and HR policies, I feel kind of sorry for you. With that said, you wouldn’t have to hide answers if the staff you choose and train to interview candidates knows how to…

3. Mind your “-isms”: Sex-ism, age-ism, rac-ism, class-ism, etc.

As a man at the start of a certain “period of experience” in my professional life, the following things have actually occurred to me:

  • On an interview, I was asked by the interviewer (the first part is a quote, second part paraphrased): “This question is harder to ask someone of your age, but I have to ask you anyway.”  And then I was asked if I could come to work on a Saturday at a restaurant because that was where the ‘younger’ members of the team got a lot of work done.
  • At a lunch meeting, I once held the door for a woman who would be my manager.  That act led her to point out that she could hold her own door, thank you. Things could have gone much better after that. (I’ll continue to hold doors for women, thank you. And men too!)
  • I recently did an experiment where I purchased a stock photo of a man who is around my age but has a full head of hair and (in my opinion at least) is much better looking than me.  For full disclosure, I even put as the first line of my LinkedIn profile a link to the blog post about this experiment. I got a substantial bump in views of my profile (though that bump did even off after a while.)

This leads me to the famous non-response of HR “professionals”:

4. Saying “You are not a cultural match” when your team is really just plain ol’ discriminating

Look, I get it. Creating a cohesive team, especially in a startup but really in any firm requires a cultural fit at least equal in importance to the technical merits of a candidate. I too have interviewed folks for “culture.”

If there is indeed a cultural mismatch, and you can’t or won’t articulate out loud what that really means, you should probably deeply reflect what you are thinking about. You may be using “cultural match” as a codeword for “you are too old” or “you are the wrong gender” or “you are the the wrong race” or “we don’t think someone with weight issues would be able to keep up with our weekend bonding activities” or something else less sinister, but equally inappropriate. If you can’t pin down the cultural mismatch with actual thoughts you can articulate in writing, there may be a problem.  (See #3 and #1 above.)

I was once on an interview for a position where the person hired would have been in an open-style “pit” work area. When I interviewed in person, every one of the folks in the pit visually seemed to be under 30.  The folks that were in leadership roles (most of them seemed at least bit older than those in the pit) had either offices or worked on the road or at home.  I would have been an “older” person but my role would have worked “in the pit.” I interviewed with folks from the pit who were really excited about my experience and how I could coach them and get the job done and learn from them at the same time.  But, less than a day later, I was dismissed with the “the culture doesn’t fit” message with no specifics whatsoever after that sentence.

Was I discriminated against?  I can’t prove it. But there was no specific answer as to why I “wasn’t a cultural fit.”

Not to mention that building a culture with a variety of folks – inexperienced, experienced, various genders, various abilities, various world views, almost always creates a better company and product than a company where everyone is the same.

5. Assigning “homework” inappropriately or providing zero feedback to appropriate homework

This is a biggie.  Two examples, both of which have occurred to me:

a. Asked to do too large of a project: One time, I was brought in for an interview where the next step was for me to present a 7-10 slide PowerPoint to the management team about anything so that they could see my style.  No problem.

But a day later, they asked me to put together a full business plan to see how I worked and they gave me around a week.  A full business plan. First of all, I was working full time and that is a big project. Second of all, that is a really project.  And third of all, that is a REALLY BIG project to work on while I am employed full-time elsewhere. Please respect my time, I respect yours.

I told them I would be happy to spend 40 hours on it on nights and weekends, and that I’d be happy to do it at 1/2 of my “normal” pay rate.  And if they liked it, they could buy it and own it. Or they could hire me and not pay me for that time I spent.  They told me I was crazy. I told them I would withdraw from the process.

b. Work hard on a homework assignment and get ZERO response. Another time, I was asked to do a slide presentation by a hiring manager for a position.  A really appropriate assignment for the job.  I spent 2 hours researching and 4 hours putting together what I thought was a creative, kick ass visual presentation and set of speakers’ notes.

I got zero response from the hiring manager or the internal recruiter past “we’ll look at it.”  When I called a few days after the hiring manager returned from vacation (after I rushed to compete it without knowing they wouldn’t look at it for 2 weeks), the recruiter told me the manager had already chosen another candidate.

See the “big boy” comment above and #2 above.  I have zero issue if you liked another candidate better.  However, since we already had multiple recruiter conversations, and a hiring manager phone screen that ran much longer than planned, and I spent 6 hours doing homework you assigned me, could you at least bother to call or email me when you made your decision?  And provide me at least 20 seconds of written or voicemail input about my homework?  Was it my style? Was the content incorrect?  Anything?  Hello? Bueller?  Bueller?

Yes, I get it.  I know you are busy.  But I just spent 6 hours doing your bidding and I already have a full-time job!  You really should spend at least 2 minutes responding to a person YOU asked to do this kind of work.

6. Treating salary negotiations like a used car salesperson instead of with integrity and value

One time, I took a personality test, did a phone screen and had 3 in-person interviews.  Very early in the process, I told the hiring manager (the CEO of the company) what my absolute minimum salary would be.  I was willing to go low as I really liked the product and its upside.

I got the job offer!  However, inclusive of me getting 100% of my bonus (which would have made up a large portion of my annual earnings and was not guaranteed), the all-in number was at least $10K less than my clearly stated minimum requirement.  Which I had shared multiple times very early in the process and through the headhunter.

And, when I turned it down politely, not as a negotiating tactic, but because I decided that I didn’t want to work with someone with this style of negotiating, I was angrily accused of only seeking the money, only focusing on the money, and how it was a really good thing I didn’t take the job because all I was concerned about was money.  (I felt like I was at a used car dealership – even his pleasant business tone switched off as chided me.)  In fact, I was up front from day 1 about how I’d be happy to take a major salary cut to join his team and here’s how low I was willing to go. We all could have saved a lot of time on this one.

7. Not following up in situations where you yourself would demand follow-up

Lots and lots of recruiters point out how applicants need to appropriately follow up in a timely manner. Guess what?  So do employers.

Yes, employers have obligations in this process. And I am not talking about the legal minimums.  I am talking business.  And maybe even karma, if you believe in that sort of thing.

I am a realist. I have had points in my career with 75 resumes on my desk. It takes time.  A lot of work. And I am not saying every candidate requires hours of attention.  Or even minutes. Or even more than a minute, depending on the point in the process.

However, if you recently told me I was in the top 5 candidates being considered, and we did multiple phone screens and multiple in-person interviews, it is not appropriate for you to never call me back again.  Not even to tell me “thanks, but no thanks.”  That is just not cool.

And please have your HR folks or automated system at least acknowledge receipt of the application even for folks you have no intention of calling.  A “no thanks, this isn’t a match email” is perfectly OK.

Remember, total inaction reflects on you and your company. Inaction when being polite and business professional requires it just tacky.

8. Putting applicants through Applicant Tracking System (ATS) hell

Much has been written about the black hole of applicant tracking systems (ATS). Bottom line:  Have your internal teams try to apply.  See how long it takes.  See if it asks you inappropriate things.  See if it crashes.  See how crappy it works on a tablet or phone.  The usual testing you’d do with your product!

Here are two biggies:

a. Ensure that the recipient of the info is trained! One time, I applied for a job through LinkedIn and attached my resume.  (LinkedIn’s system is kind of cool.  It is short and easy.)

I received an email from the hiring manager saying he really liked my LinkedIn profile, but it was kind of weird for me not to send a resume and that that inaction on my part didn’t earn too many points for me.  Somehow, in their process they lost my resume.  I answered politely with a resume attached via email, but I could tell that I would never get a call back, as that manager pretty much came close to chastising me about how it was my fault he didn’t have my resume even though I followed their process. He never called back, even though he said he was interested in my via LinkedIn profile.  (Or was he just in a bad mood that day and wanting to dump on someone?)

a. If your ATS is customizable, choose the shortest and simplest path with as little information as possible.  Bottom line, high quality candidates are not going to waste their time filling in every field.  And check your ‘cart abandonment’ rates to find out what is really going on.

Dollars to donuts that you lost your next high quality candidate from someone who just said “screw this, why do some of the most successful companies use an application system that is one upload and one click and this one makes me spend 25 minutes filling out forms?” Many high quality candidates are already working!  Do you think they have 25 minutes to an hour of time to spend on administrivia?  You are courting them!  Make it easy.

If your ATS isn’t customizable or naturally very short, don’t use it!

When it is an employers’ market, you can get away with some bad habits.  But “getting away with” doesn’t build world-class brands. Do the right thing with your people and the people who may be your people in the future. Or who may introduce you to people who will be your people.  Or who may be your customers.  Or who know people who may be your customers.

It is hard sometimes, but there is a real impact on people, what they say about you, and how and if they and their networks will think about you–and do business with you or refer candidates to you–in the future.

It’s your brand, build it wisely!

What are some of the crappy ways you have been treated as an applicant?  What are some of the best things hiring companies did, whether or not you actually got the job?

Warm regards,



LinkedIn Lie


I have changed my LinkedIn profile picture to someone who is not me. I licensed a stock photo from iStockPhoto (iStock_000009503996Large.jpg if you must know).


Well, I have landed happily at a start up.  However, my past few months of career search have been filled with some subtle and not so subtle ageism.  Some seriously nasty stuff, and quite surprising. I want to see if I change my head shot to someone who looks younger than me what kinds of inbound communication requests I get via LinkedIn.


Not Gary. But a legally licensed photo of a guy my age who looks younger and possibly better. OK, better.

A bit of a white lie.  But men’s looks aren’t supposed to matter in business, right? A sort of random experiment with few controls, but let’s see how it goes.



P.S.  My LinkedIn profile is

Why many folks think marketers are liars (Charter cable, anyone?)


I’ve written elsewhere what I think marketing is. Here’s what marketing isn’t, and why some companies give “marketing” a bad name.

Charter Cable (and I guess other cable companies around the US) have been moving to “all digital signals.” The core reason, which makes technical sense, is that every analog cable TV channel uses enough room on the cable for the equivalent of 4 digital channels.


Liar by Alexa LaSpisa on Flickr

So, moving to “all digital” makes sense. More channels, same space, higher quality. Wins for the company and wins for the customers.

However, that is not all that Charter and others have done. They lobbied the FCC to encrypt (scramble) the digital signals—even the ones for basic local channels like NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX—so that folks who previously had no converter box on their flat screen TV would now have to do one of two things:

  1. Subscribe to an additional level of service that included an advanced set-top box (what most people do anyway, hence their “most people won’t have to do anything” message)
  2. Rent a smaller, “simpler”, “digital converter” box (really an addressable descrambler) and connect it to the flat screen TV, having to tune all stations from the converter box instead of from your TV.

What Charter et al would have you believe is that your TV is not capable of receiving the digital signal straight from the cable. In fact, all TV’s sold in almost the past decade and certainly anyone with a flat screen TV can receive the digital signals off the cable (or over the air for that matter) via the thing built into these sets called the QAM tuner. What they can’t do is descramble the digital signal that Charter et al is now sending over the cable, thanks to the FCC ruling.

Now, there are advantages to Charter et al for this new approach. There are essentially zero advantages to the consumer.

However, Charter’s constant messaging about how it is good for consumers is mailed, emailed, and shown on TV over and over and over. This is where marketing gets a bad rap. Charter is “spinning” their self-serving decision into a message that makes it look good for a customer, rather than updating products in a way that is beneficial to consumers that would make us want to spend more money.

Let’s review what is really happening:

Things that are good for everyone, and one basis for Charter’s messaging:

  1. Removing analog signals on the cable releases room so that there can be more digital HD stations and possibly serve higher Internet speeds on the same cable.
  2. Um, that’s it. And that can be accomplished WITHOUT encrypting (scrambling) basic tiers of TV stations. (I am not suggesting that they don’t scramble premium stations like HBO that you need to pay for).

Good just for Charter et al, but they don’t really want to tell you their change:

  1. Enables Charter to disable customers who haven’t subscribed to certain tiers of basic channels from seeing them on their flat screen TV via the tuner in their TV they already paid for (the QAM tuner). (OK, I understand this one. But Charter could prevent this in a slightly more expensive way by rolling a truck and disabling this at the telephone pole).
  2. Enables Charter to track what you are watching (like they can on an advanced converter box). Now they will have no customers watching their service without them being able to know, on a device-by-device basis, what you are tuned to at any time.
  3. Disables customers from using computer-based TV tuners (QAM tuner cards or devices with built-in QAM tuners) to watch TV. So, if you have a computer or DVR that can currently independently tune in digital TV signals, that now goes away.
  4. Enables Charter to have an additional revenue stream for “converter” device rental on a set-by-set basis. Yes, they offered some converters for free for a while, but that goes away.
  5. Enables Charter to “shut off” service immediately without rolling a truck. (Arguably an OK thing for non-payment, but this sort of encourages them to reduce grace periods for late payments with an immediate shut off.)
  6. Prevents secondary, non-main TV’s in your house (like a kitchen TV or workshop TV) that customers didn’t want a cable box for from being able to receive ANY signal unless they add and pay for an additional cable box.

The reality is that this effort to move to encrypted digital service is really done for the benefit of the cable companies, for the most part. And their brilliant “spin” in their marketing materials (it even sort of snowed the FCC) is exactly why many people think that “marketing” means “how can we spin a position that is really an advantage to us into a message that makes it look good for consumers?”

That’s not what marketing is. That’s what quasi-monopolies and overly-influential lobbying of regulators is.