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Never Forget September 11: Seeing is Believing

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were shocking and incomprehensible for most of us. Suddenly our world had changed, and we didn’t see it coming. U.S intelligence officials had been tracking Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations for years, and there had been significant attacks carried out overseas. Most of the American public took little notice at the time.

Then on September 11, we looked at our TV screens and saw those jets crashing into the twin towers. We could now see for ourselves that there exists an enemy bent on our total destruction.

Like many, I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when the first plane struck the twin towers. I was running the newsroom at a Boston television station, planning and executing local news assignments. After work I would join my family to celebrate my wife’s birthday. I never made it to the birthday celebration that night. My wife’s birthday would never be the same. No one in this country would ever be the same. Our world had changed.

As Americans we immediately showed our resolve, banding together in patriotic spirit, realizing there was nothing more important than defeating our enemies who say they will never rest until we are eliminated.

We never thought we were this vulnerable. Then we saw with our own eyes that we were. Our world had changed.

During the course of 13 years, with heightened security and awareness of terrorist threats, it seems natural to relax a bit. But then Americans were once again subjected to visual images that shocked our nation into action: American journalists being beheaded by ISIS terrorists.

It was back in March, 2013 that ISIS seized the Syrian city of Raqqa. In February, 2014, Al Qaeda renounced ISIS as too brutal and impatient. But despite the critically important events taking place in Syria, ISIS was barely ever mentioned in the media by our leaders. Instead, our focus was still on removing our troops from Iraq. Even though ISIS had been making considerable noise since 2011, most of us had never heard of the group. Then we saw an American murdered on video. And then another.

Our world that changed so much on September 11, 2001 has not changed much since. Our enemies are still there, threats to our freedoms and very existence are quite real.

We all realize it now, because we saw it again, with our own eyes.

Though I now work to enhance media relations for a variety of top clients, I still view the September 11 attacks and aftermath though a journalist’s eye. I can only hope these eyes never have to see anything resembling the horrible scenes witnessed 13 years ago.

It’s a small world?

Last week, CBRpr tweeted how a Ukrainian government adviser used Facebook to communicate about the plane tragedy. It got me thinking about how pundits predicted that social media would unite the world. That it would bring people together. That it would bring peace.

As a member of IPREX, an international consortium of top PR firms, we’ve seen firsthand how regular contact with our fellow worldwide members can bring understanding, empathy, compassion – and synergy! — to serve our clients. Back in 2001, a US Navy crew and plane were detained for 11 days on mainland China. I reached out to our IPREX partner in Beijing via email. He responded in kind. We were new acquaintances suddenly put on opposite sides of a fence we thought had diminished.

That September, IPREX partners reached out via email to our Manhattan-based partner to offer support, housing, blood, whatever we could provide to alleviate the pain of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Fast forward to 2013, when government officials in Syria shut down social media during their recent crisis – virtually controlling external communications.

In 2014, the Malaysian government used Twitter to notify families of the missing passengers. That struck me as callous and distant.

A few months later, a Ukrainian official used a Facebook post to communicate about the shot-down aircraft.

Today, the scared little girl who obediently knelt and covered her head in the school hallway during the Cold War bombing drills, wonders why social media has not brought the peace and understanding we thought for sure it would. The grownup in me still believes in that important one word: “…yet.”

Lori C. Booker, APR, is founder and CEO of CBR Strategic Communications and is a respected news media commentator.

Navajo Windtalkers- the end of an era

“The end of an era.” How many times have we heard that and shrugged? What could that possibly mean to me? An article in today’s Orlando Sentinel caught my attention for both business and personal reasons. Many of you know that I am the (too) proud mom of teenage twins, adopted at birth, both (of course) with a very strong Native American heritage.

Today’s announcement that the last of the 29 Navajo Code Talkers has died (and the story written by reporter Joseph Kolb) hit several chords.  As a linguist I am fascinated by secret and dying languages.  As a mother of twins, I’ve seen firsthand the magical language they developed as mere babies, communicating in a tongue no one else was privy to.  I once tried to mimic what they called one another when they stopped and stared at me with a look that said in volumes, “Did we give you permission to talk in our language? We don’t think so.”  I never did it again.  But I did grab the video camera to capture it before they inevitably switched to my native tongue.

Back during World War II, Navajo Nation members were recruited to communicate in their native language to outsmart the enemy.  Despite their best efforts, the Japanese were unable to crack the “code”.  They are credited with saving thousands of lives and even shortening the war.  One language, understood by only 30 people in the world, saved thousands of lives.

Now try and tell me that knowing a dying language isn’t important.

With this blog, CBR salutes the “Windtalkers” who were also awarded Congressional Medals of Honor.  For your bravery, skills, responsiveness and results, we, too, salute you.  You were called “communications specialists” by the military.

How ironic on this very same day, CBR is shuffling through resumes to hire for a position we naively call “communication specialist”, not knowing the originations of that important position in our history of freedom fighters.  These young people will communicate in yet a newer language, social media-speak.

The world of languages and communication continues to fascinate us at CBR.  And today – especially so.  Thank you, Windtalkers.

Lori C. Booker, APR, is founder and CEO of CBR Strategic Communications and is a respected news media commentator.

Skip the Skype Hype: Zimmerman trial fiasco offers lesson in adopting new technology

Ah, the downsides of technology. Just ask Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson. She was not amused when popups multiplied on the Skype screen in her courtroom, interrupting serious testimony in Central Florida’s summer blockbuster, the George Zimmerman trial.

Technology in the courtroom has long been a contentious issue. The judicial system historically has been slow to adopt any new technology that might be potentially intrusive. That reasoning is sound. Anything that can affect the outcome of a trial —  and therefore a defendant’s constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial — must be thoroughly vetted before being allowed into the courtroom.

Unfortunately, the rapid advent of communications technology in the 21st century coupled with the appeal of celebrity trials has accelerated acceptance of new and ever-more-intrusive technology into the courtroom.

That potential  bugaboo reared its ugly head last week when an attempt to have a witness testify via Skype turned the stately decorum Nelson’s courtroom into an unexpected and comical onscreen circus, in direct conflict with the tenor of the moment.

For anyone who missed it, just as prosecutors began questioning the witness, a pop up window from an outside caller filled part of the screen. No sooner had the witness cut off the call and clear the screen when another popped up. Soon the screen had two callers, then three, then four. Suffice it to say, the witness’ testimony and how it was viewed by jurors must have been impacted by the technology. 

Public relations professionals often are early adapters of new communications tools. We constantly are looking for new and creative ways to get our clients’ messages across to our target audiences. But we should take a lesson from the state’s Skype disaster in the Zimmerman trial. Before we get worked up about the next new Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, let’s vet the technology, counsel our clients on the potential down sides and think it through from every possible angle.

 Robert Perez is vice president at CBR.

Headlines speak volumes

Headlines speak volumes — and none so loudly as the nomenclature of the ongoing trial of George Zimmerman taking place near our Seminole County, Florida office.  At first the news media characterized it as a self-defense trial of Mr. Zimmerman.  Soon others worked to re-characterize the trial to focus on the deceased participant in the encounter, Trayvon Martin.  As a result, the headlines quickly changed to “the Trayvon Martin trial.”  Zimmerman’s defense has not appeared to have commented on this continual shift in the wording.  If nothing else, the shifting in headlines could reflect bias on behalf of the headline writers.  Surely naming a trial after the alleged victim could serve as a subliminal influence of a verdict.  Now the headlines are shifting again, back to the accused.  Welcome to the George Zimmerman nee Trayvon Martin nee George Zimmerman trial.  Such are the life and times in Central Florida this summer of ’13.  It’s a fascinating place in which to run a media relations firm.

June 21st – Summer Solstice – is a big day in the hallowed halls of CBR.  It’s our 29th anniversary as Florida’s leading independent strategic communications firm.  Happy Anniversary to the world’s greatest media strategists from your humble founder and CEO.

Lori Booker, APR

Optimize LinkedIn accounts to enhance SEO and networking potential

Every second, two new people join the more than 161 million LinkedIn users in the world’s largest online professional network, reports LinkedIn. Communicating and networking are imperative for a successful career, and LinkedIn’s options for personal and business profiles, not to mention millions of potential partners, clients and even new employers, provide numerous opportunities to develop valuable and profitable connections.

How to best use this convenient and powerful tool? Some of it is common sense: Be specific, concise, honest and professional. These rules apply to job descriptions, personal characteristics and experiences, profile photos and status updates. But there are several lesser-known strategies that can enhance a profile’s or business page’s SEO and optimize online networking capabilities.

Here are several tips to boost your LinkedIn profile’s effectiveness:

Optimize profile keywords. What specific skill or service do you want to market to potential employers or clients? Whether it’s “media relations” or “family law attorney,” use keywords at every relevant opportunity on your page. Doing so can dramatically increase a page’s SEO, while helping to focus a profile on specific practice specializations. The city or state of your business also can help potential clients and partners find your page more easily.

Develop your presence. Just like Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn is a social-media site that offers the opportunity to post content and commentary. Update your status often to expand your reach and create discussions. Let others know what your company is doing, ask questions and post links to insightful articles that show you are aware of trends and issues relevant to your industry. Commenting on others’ posts also is an easy way to show that you’re engaged and eager to build connections.

Link your other sites to your company profile. Do you have a website, blog or Twitter account? Link them to your personal LinkedIn profile to enhance your content. For instance, set up your LinkedIn account to automatically post alerts and links to new blog posts (a LinkedIn app such as Blog Link may be necessary), instantly sharing relevant content with your connections and giving your profile greater reach and more substance. While these features are no longer available as auto feeds on company pages, blog posts can be shared through the status update feature of LinkedIn, and Twitter and Facebook profiles can be shared in the company overview.

Ask for recommendations. This is a sensitive topic and must be handled professionally, but it’s definitely worth it. Most people are aware they can get a personal recommendation, but businesses can ask clients for testimonials, as well. A good recommendation is among the top ways to showcase that you or your business is best for the job. Everything else on your page is self-generated; recommendations show others that you’re really as great as you say you are and add credibility.

Take advantage of LinkedIn Groups.  Joining groups helps develop new connections. However, be strategic to avoid over-committing or missing opportunities. Try to join a variety of groups, some focused on your industry and others loosely related but still viable to create a more diverse network for your page. Once you’ve joined a group, stay involved. Post, comment, promote and share content with others to generate interest in your skills and your business. Take this a step further by creating and managing a new LinkedIn group for your business to engage potential and current clients through stimulating discussions.

Make your company profile detailed and focused.  Remember, LinkedIn is a networking site – most people want something more than a boilerplate description or web address for your company. To optimize LinkedIn, use this profile to post open positions, announce management-level or other key hires and provide insight into the products or services your business offers. Highlighting employees, events and awards also gives connections a deeper look into your company culture. This information can be easily organized by using the tabs feature on the profile.

Optimizing LinkedIn accounts – personal or business – not only increases SEO, drives website traffic and enhances your online presence, but it provides endless opportunities for networking and ­new business. Take the time to build and maintain a profile – the connections you make will be well worth it.

Note: In June, LinkedIn acknowledged that passwords had been compromised in a major security breach. If you haven’t done so, change your account password immediately and, for continued security, change it about every six months.

Sources: LinkedIn, iStrategy Blog and Careerealism.

Evily Giannopoulos is an intern at CBR and a public relations major at the University of Florida.

Additional Sources

5 Tips for Writing about Your Business

Widgets Company, a top performer in the widget-making industry space, recently was pleased to announce that widget sales have risen as more consumers show a desire for new widgets as they become cautiously optimistic about the economic recovery.

Did that sentence make your eyes glaze over? Sadly, such writing is all too common in business. Many professionals (though well-intentioned) become verbose, assuming that using 10-cent words and long sentences convey sophistication. The truth is, the best business writing has a dose of simplicity.

Here are five best practices to make your writing shine, whether you’re drafting a new-business proposal or announcing your company’s latest management hire.

  1. Know for whom and why you’re writing. This seems like a “no duh,” but taking a minute to consider for whom you’re writing and the purpose of the piece will help set the tone. What is your audience’s base knowledge? What do you need them to know? Determining the who and why will provide a roadmap for how to best communicate your information or news.
  2. Avoid jargon and clichés. Jargon and overused, nonsensical phrases are story killers. They convolute a piece quicker than you can think “outside the box,” and create confusion. Instead of a “leading provider of profit-and-loss margin services,” say “accounting firm”; don’t insist you can “take it to the next level,” but “increase sales”; summarize your position now rather than offer a point “at the end of the day.”
  3. Use simple language for clear meaning. Your audience has limited time for your piece, and placing language barriers in their way can discourage their attention. Why describe a dress as “cerulean ocean blue with soft round white dots” when “deep blue with polka dots” will suffice? Clarity, however, doesn’t have to crush creativity. Let your creativity shine with attention-grabbing headlines, storytelling and even interesting visuals to accompany the piece.
  4. Strong verbs move writing. Your high school English teacher was right: action verbs propel your writing and engage the reader. Passive verbs (will be arriving, has been achieved) weaken your point and can infuse an unintentional sense of uncertainty. Whenever possible, push forward with active phrases: We mailed the package; Widget Co. produced its first prototype; government officials toured the new factory.
  5. When in doubt, cut it out. Review your writing and let go of the dead weight. Be ruthless. Just say no to 50-word sentences and five-sentence paragraphs. Consumers – your audience – have become conditioned to 15-secondsound bites and 140-character messages. Long-winded prose is more likely to turn off a time-stretched customer than impress.

Martha A. Gaston, APR, is an account executive with CBR.