Thursday, March 27, 2014

PCG and IAEA Fellow Visit Energy & Environmental Resource Center

From left to right: Frank Clement, Brian Meeley, Marjorie Rochon, Jackie Carpenter, Christina Walrond, Phoebe Nkaabu and Sarah Dirndorfer. Photo by Theresa Widger.
PCG had the immense honor of hosting Phoebe Nkaabu, an IAEA Fellow from Nairobi, Kenya, during her two week visit to the United States. Phoebe works for the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board’s communications team and develops messaging and outreach in preparation for Kenya’s new nuclear energy program, anticipated to go online in 2022.

Phoebe and her team experience many of the same challenges our clients face in teaching the public about the benefits and safety of nuclear energy. We wanted to help Phoebe find some inspiration, so Vice President Brian Meeley arranged a trip to the Energy & Environmental Resource Center (EERC) in Salem, New Jersey.

EERC is an initiative of the Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) to educate community members about energy. It sits about ten miles from the Salem Nuclear Generating Station on the Delaware River and features museum-worthy exhibits explaining energy generation, usage and safety.

Many of the exhibits were furnished by the Nuclear Energy Institute and give children and adults hands-on experience with simulated reactor cores, radioactive waste storage systems and utility distribution controls.

PSEG uses the EERC to function as a deeply involved community member. School children visit regularly, boy scouts frequently come to earn their Nuclear Science merit badge, and PSEG even invites nearby organizations to use the center’s large meeting space free of charge.

Our visitors’ center trip was just one part of the two weeks we had with Phoebe to share experiences about effective communication. We are thrilled to have learned more about the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board and look forward to hearing about the country’s continued exploration of nuclear energy options for their future.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

PCG's Holiday Book Donation

Over the past three years, we’ve had the great privilege to provide pro bono communications support to Bread for the City, a local non-profit that provides D.C. residents food, clothing, medical care, and legal and social services. We’ve developed newspaper, building banner and bus shelter advertisements to support their annual fundraising campaign. 

Another important aspect to our charitable work at PCG involves collecting children’s books from staff members and guests at our annual holiday party in memory of our founding partner Ellen Lepper. For years, PCG has collected and donated hundreds of books to children’s shelters and schools in the District. 

Over the last three years, we’ve donated more than 200 books to the waiting rooms at Bread for the City medical clinics and look forward to providing continued support.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

How to Communicate a Brand

Contractor’s Compass, the magazine of the American Subcontractors Association (ASA), published an article by PCG’s own Nathan Petrillo in its February issue devoted to marketing strategies. Nathan discusses how businesses in the building industry can evaluate, improve and communicate their brands. “One of the most challenging things for many companies is how to communicate about a brand. The first step is to think about the main things – or messages – you want people to know about your company. These messages should be concise, clear and compelling,” said Nathan. You can find a copy of the article on pp.14-15 in an e-copy of the magazine: Nathan is very familiar with marketing and communications for this sector. He is a member of the Construction Writers Association, and beginning in mid-2015, he will serve a one-year term as the organization’s president.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

PCG's milestone year of 2013

It seems that this is the time of the year for compiling Top 10 lists of the year just ended. So here’s my list of PCG’s biggest milestones of 2013. There may not be 10, but they add up to one of the most momentous years in our 33-year history.

#1: New Managing Partner. For the first time since PCG was founded in 1981, we had a change of leadership – Mimi Limbach (pictured) became Managing Partner. I had the honor of heading the company since Ellen Lepper and I formed it, in the same month that Ronald Reagan was first sworn in. Over the past few years we have been transitioning to a new team of Partners: Mimi, Leonard Greenberger, Andy Hallmark, Nora Howe (running the business side) and myself. That transition culminated in Mimi becoming Managing Partner in early 2013. No one could have a better set of experience, skills and understanding of PCG and our clients than Mimi. For over a decade she was a major client herself, in her role as communications executive at Westinghouse and then Navigant Consulting. In the 15 years that she has been with us, she has led much of our energy practice and grown our general corporate practice. We are lucky, and proud, to have her at the wheel.
#2: New Partner. In the past year we also elevated another key staffer to the level of Partner, Laura Hermann. She joined us eight years ago after crafting public service campaigns and volunteer development programs for non-profit organizations. She gained her appreciation for the intersection of the public and private sectors while handling disaster preparedness communications for the American Red Cross.  She personifies one of our most important roles, combining communications expertise with a deep interest in, and understanding of, science and technology. She has managed our communications support for many of our most complex and sensitive technical clients, including the American Geophysical Union, American Physical Society, Intellectual Ventures, National Academy of Engineering and TerraPower.
#3: A New Book. Our Partner Leonard Greenberger pulled together his insights and experience from over 20 years of communications consulting into a new book: What To Say When Things Get Tough: Business Communications Strategies for Winning People Over When They’re Angry, Worried, and Suspicious of Everything You Say (McGraw Hill, New York). It’s an invaluable primer for anyone who has to face a skeptical or even hostile audience. And it has the courage to show how PowerPoint is a risky way to communicate anything very important.

#4: Growth in the Office. We had a breakthrough year last year in terms of the diversity of our clients (including a growing number in other countries), continuation and expansion of our work for clients (a key metric, since it indicates successful performance in the eyes of the client), and our overall client billing. By the end of the year we were experiencing another breakthrough: workmen were literally breaking through our walls to expand our offices into new space, to accommodate our growth. As we speak, we are interviewing for two new staff positions.
#5: Growth at Home. It was a milestone year for the PCG family at home as well. We had two new babies to celebrate: Kelly Cousineau, a Senior Program Director, gave birth to Damien, her second child; and Jackie Priestly, Vice President, gave birth to Hampton, also her second. Then just before the holidays our newest employee, Senior Project Coordinator Frank Clement, added a bride to our extended family, when he married Nhi Khoan. Finally, writer extraordinaire Peter Bernstein celebrated his 30th year with PCG.
So, a year to remember. Congratulations all!



Friday, August 16, 2013

Can the Way We Communicate Affect Our Physical Environment?

All of us in communications see every day how the digital world has reshaped our jobs and our personal lives. But I think the impact of texts, tweets and email may be going far beyond how we communicate with each other and could actually be shifting our preferences for the physical environment around us. The best example may be transportation and the way we commute.

This spring, public transit use reached the second highest level in the United States since 1957. The group that issued the report pointed to higher gas prices and an improved job market as the main reasons why more Americans are boarding subways, buses and trolleys.

Researchers and public transportation advocates often point to the seemingly endless expenses associated with car ownership – monthly payments, insurance, gas, repairs, parking – as a reason why many turn to public transit, particularly young adults. They also suggest that public transit users are concerned about the effect of cars on the environment. Pardon the pun, but I think there could be another, overlooked driver behind our shift to mass transit: our desire to stay connected.

You drive, I’ll text
These days, we all want to take advantage of every opportunity to communicate, but it’s not easy to like something on Facebook on your mobile device while you’re driving, and it certainly isn’t safe. And not surprisingly, it’s illegal to text while driving in most states. Even using a speech-to-text function on a hands-free device reduces your concentration on the road.

So, if we want to stay connected while we’re commuting, we shouldn’t be behind the wheel. Perhaps Greyhound’s old tagline, “Go Greyhound – and leave the driving to us,” which traces its roots to a 1956 ad campaign, may have been decades ahead of its time. (Public transit marketers and communicators, take note.)

The Millennial generation particularly is attracted to public transit. As a specialist in generational behavior commented about commuting, Millennials “want to spend as little time as possible doing it unless they can simultaneously do things they value, like texting, exercising or socializing.”

An anecdote or something more?
If the way we communicate today affects our commuting preferences, is it merely an interesting anecdote, something public transit insiders or generational scholars debate at happy hour? I think it could have broader, real-world ramifications. Email, texting and social media are often blamed for making our interactions feel less personal these days, but in fact, they may be literally bringing us closer together.

Successful public transit requires people to live closer together to provide a critical mass of users. They won’t be thrown into direct contact with neighbors just on buses or trains, they’ll also be living in more walkable communities built around mass-transit stops. Leaving our cars at home to focus on our mobile devices may be one of the factors causing demand for these types of neighborhoods—the norm in pre-WWII America—that can provide more opportunities for face-to-face interaction with our neighbors.

Of course, we’ll need to look up from our smart phones while we walk.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Our Client Gets a Sneak Peak at a Solar Decathlon House

Recently, I had the pleasure to accompany a client on a tour of a solar-powered house. Under construction on the campus of Catholic University, the house is bound for this year’s 2013 Solar Decathlon in Irvine, California. A number of PCGers, including me, are fans of this competition, in which college students design and build net-zero-energy houses. While we’re a little disappointed that the competition won’t be taking place in Washington, DC, as in years past, it’s still exciting to see a hometown team entering the contest and preparing to transport an 850-square-foot house across the continent.

2011 Solar Decathlon
Credit: Stefano Paltera/U.S. DOE Solar Decathlon
We arranged the tour for the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC), a public-interest organization that rates the energy performance of windows, doors and skylights, which helps consumers and others compare products. We’ve been proud to help this client communicate about its important work for more than 15 years.

The house featured NFRC-certified windows, and following the visit, NFRC posted an article on its blog: It was exciting to see first-hand how NFRC’s energy ratings helped a Solar Decathlon team select windows for its projects.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What’s the best #strategy for using #hashtags?

BBC uses a hashtag to interact with viewers. Photo by dan taylor.

After many months of rumors, Facebook began enabling hashtags last month, a move that seemed inevitable after purchasing the already hashtag-heavy photo sharing app Instagram. If you’re not already using them, now is the time to get familiar.

“Hashtags” are the content “tags” used in social media, denoted by a hash mark (#) at the front end of a word, or series of words. Much like the content tags you see in the right column, or at the bottom of this post, they can be used on social media services like Twitter and Instagram to filter content by subject or to make your own content more searchable.

How do I select a hashtag?
There’s no process for registering a hashtag, but there are two things to keep in mind when selecting a one: brevity and uniqueness. No one wants to type out 25 extraneous characters. Keep it short and sweet. And always check to make sure the tag you want isn’t already being used, or your audience will have a harder time reaching your content exclusively. There’s nothing to prevent someone else from using the same tag, so use yours early and often.

One of the best ways companies and associations can utilize hashtags is in conjunction with conferences or other events. The first time I saw one used widely was at the Society for Environmental Journalists annual conference in late 2008. I attended a panel on using Twitter to engage with journalists, and I noticed when checking my Twitter feed from my laptop (in the days before my phone could connect to the Internet), that journalists were using #SEJ08 to denote tweets about the sessions they were attending. I could search for #SEJ08 and see a bevy of content being generated about panels and speakers all over the conference, and it led me to discover new sessions to attend that week.

Now, virtually every event has a hashtag, even if it’s just to corral guests’ candid wedding photos on Instagram. If you want your industry event to be successful, whether it’s a multi-day conference or an awards dinner, carefully selecting a branded tag that allows attendees to quickly find content related to the event is a critical component of your event’s marketing strategy. They are even useful for aggregating content you want to review later: a few years ago, PCG staff used a special tag when tweeting thoughts about sessions during an offsite business meeting, and tagged tweets were broadcast on a screen in the room. This allowed staff to see - in real time - ideas and reactions about presentations without interrupting presenters, and helped extend the dialogue about lessons learned beyond the conference room.

#Content and #Branding
Hashtags are primarily used for denoting the subject matter of social media content. There are two strategies:
  •       Filtering content: making your content easier to find for potential clients/customers/audience members. For example: a tweet about this post by PCG might include: #advice, #pr, #branding, etc. This makes your content more searchable by people looking for branding advice.
  •            Grouping content: branding your content by grouping it together with a unique hashtag. In this case, you may have a team of employees with personal Twitter accounts who want to tweet thoughts about their work. They would all use a single hashtag like #PCGstrategy to aggregate their thoughts quickly and easily.

In the first instance, you want to use hashtags that are specific, but common. Say you are posting about a service that your company provides. In PCG’s case, that might include media training. If we Tweeted about the work we do with the U.S. Coast Guard, we might include: #media, #training, #mediatraining, #coastguard, and #USCG. That way, anyone searching for information on media training could find us more easily, and someone searching for tweets about the US Coast Guard would see that PCG works with them.

For branding your content, you want to use fewer hashtags, specifically one or two that are unique to your company or project. Nike has an extensive social media presence, with separate accounts for its different sports divisions, and sponsored athletes who post engaging, inspirational content daily. Besides tagging things with the obvious #Nike, the company often uses its tagline #noexcuses when talking about a legendary player, or even a buzz-worthy play. Short, memorable taglines like “No Excuses” make for great hashtags, letting anyone know right away that your content is your own.

Other #ProTips
There are few other things to keep in mind when creating or selecting a hashtag:
  •          Keep it short: It should be noted that while Twitter now allows for “expanded tweets” over 140 characters, brevity is still best. For an event, the acronym for your event plus numbers for the year, or a succinct motto are an excellent starting point.
  •          Make it memorable: For those of you who enjoy a good pun or a bit of alliteration now is your time to shine! Even simple portmanteaus are a popular and effective method for creating a hashtag.
  •          Pay attention: What tags are your clients or members using? What about potential clients, or audiences you want to reach? Use TweetDeck or other free, simple social media management tools to keep tabs on what tags are popular with the people you want to connect with: then use them.
  •          Make them public: Keep in mind that your social media content is only as searchable as it is public. Using a hashtag on your personal Facebook page won’t make a post automatically public – your content is still only as available as your security settings allow. But if you want to reach people you haven’t met yet, go public: and let the world find you.
Have any questions about using hashtags? Post them in the comments below, and we'll answer them. Or, tweet them to us: @PCGPR.