The plight of the Infographic

Like others, I’ve been lured to crappy content because of the “i” word – and I’m not talking about one of the glorious inventions from Apple.

The term “infographic” has become so over-used it’s earned its place on buzz-word bingo cards across business. (In other news, synergy just fell out of circulation on those cards, so feel free to use that again without shame!)

The good news is nothing online is impervious to a snarky post, and with a little leverage maybe some communicators will hear my rant. I’ve heard they respond best to sarcasm and hyperbole so I’ll do my best. It’s more fun to write anyway – the same kind of fun I find when I turn my bar-room napkin notes into a flow-chart nightmare hoping to confuse the audience into thinking I’m smart. #WorksEveryTime

Feast of Knowledge on Board.

Plus reading normal copy is boring. If it’s not served up on an image of the Mayflower to denote that it’s serving my mind a Thanksgiving feast-full of knowledge, I’m not interested.

Face it. We’ve been overstimulated to the point that black & white verbiage is passé. Every clever idea, concept, joke, list, post or proposal is dull without a visual representation to accompany it. Hopefully with some random wording, arrows and glitter to catch my attention.

To be fair, an infographic is a great way to convey complicated models or less-than-concrete concepts in a concise, engaging manner. But the types of diagrams we’re calling “infographics” these days are ridiculous. Slapping your top-ten list on a stock-image of hedgehogs isn’t cute, it’s distracting and adds little value.

A good rule of thumb: If the content isn’t good to begin with, dressing it up with graphics doesn’t help. It’s the idea that counts.

This isn’t the case all the time, and there’s plenty of great infographics out there, but they only serve their purpose when the graphics, data and text work together to tell the message. Clarity is key; communication should drive an outcome.

In case you’re feeling the infographic itch, remember my snark and ask yourself the three questions I use –  and none of them deal with the colors, fonts or clip art I’m going to use. They speak to the basics:

1)      Who am I talking to? (audience)
2)      What’s the essence of what’s being communicate? (the simplest form)
3)      What’s the best way to communicate this? (channel)

If the answer to number three is some combination of charts and text, I’ll pursue a concept for an infographic. It’s helpful for the simplicity demanded in question 2, and can tie complex ideas together in a way that’s conducive to self-learning – something we all do constantly via the ‘net.

And in case you’re disappointed I didn’t create an (unnecessary) infographic for this post, I’ve listed a few sites below with more good examples of when to use this specific communication device:

http://www.coolinfographics.com/

http://www.good.is/infographics

http://slodive.com/design/showcase-infographic-designs/

…as well as some awful ones for all y’haters:

http://terribleinfographics.tumblr.com/

http://infosthetics.com/archives/2009/12/most_ugly_useless_infographic_the_winners.html

http://www.b2bbloggers.com/blog/6-mistakes-b2b-marketers-make-with-infographics/

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November 14, 2011 at 11:18 PM 2 comments

Weaving your networking safety net

Recently finding myself at the  onset of a job search, I’ve felt a little like I was falling. Anyone who’s been laid off or between jobs can relate to this unsupported feeling and references to “where I will land” are bountiful. Luckily for me, I’ve spent the last few years weaving a network that’s softening the fall.

The power of networking isn’t a secret. Whether it’s in person or online, connecting to professionals whose experience overlaps yours is important to professional development. No one gets ahead by working in a box by themselves.

My approach in northeast Ohio was to diversify and form lasting professional relationships based on mutual respect. Granted my last name was an asset in this region for opening doors, I made sure to branch outside former students and PR connections of my father.

I’ve listed some basic tips below. Even if you don’t expect to join the ranks of the unemployed, these pointers can help you improve at your current position and open doors for career advancement down the road.

Follow your interests. I participated in a litany of industry organizations from IABC to SM clubs, PRSA and AAF. All introduced me to interesting people I’ve stayed in contact with who work in the PR field or something closely related. Pursuing these adjacent specifications gave me an education in each as well as where PR fits into the mix.

Be politely persistent. People are busy but generally willing to meet with you. People like helping people, and in the PR field are happy to add another card to their rolodex. Reach out politely to set up an informal meeting and follow up with grace – you’ll be surprised by the warm reception.

Get uncomfortable. Remember you’re looking to weave a network and not braid a rope. Strengthening existing connections is a part of this, but too often people stay in their safe zone. Branch out. To coworkers, industry notables and strangers at networking events – you never know who can help you, or vice versa. It doesn’t take long to determine if there’s not a fit, and the anxiety of awkwardness fades quickly, I promise.

Stay connected. When you’ve made a connection that’s genuine and mutual in some fashion, don’t let it dwindle. If the last two weeks has taught me anything, it’s that I’m glad I’ve maintained my network no matter how busy I was at the office. It’s not that hard, so quit saying you don’t have time. If a lunch or happy hour doesn’t fit into your calendar, a phone call, email, tweet or LinkedIn note can keep a connection fresh and show people you care.

This list could go on for days, but I’ve just listed a few. What do you think? What did I miss?

pics: branckruptcy.wordpress, shakerworkshops.com, nzetc.org

November 2, 2011 at 9:40 AM Leave a comment

Thoughts from my Chinese Notebook – 10/20/11

I thought Steele Headed could use a regularly featured short post. This Chinese notebook Steve Ripple brought from his two-year adventure in Guang Zhou is just the ticket. Hope you enjoy what I can fit in two pages or less.

I lost my job 36 hours ago. Corporate restructuring is the formal term, but my past employer made the tough decision to eliminate my position to support their strategic objectives. I understand the decision and am looking forward to my opportunities for the future. I’m thankful for all I’ve learned in the last three years and cannot thank my managers, mentors, colleagues and friends at the company enough. I wish them the best of luck and will be eager to see their success at the end of the tunnel.

As for me, I get the prospect of new opportunities. A chance to change my career, my location, my life.

Dream seeds. I’ve planted them for the last few years and it’s time to sow.

I’ve long known I wanted to work for an agency doing public relations. My dreams are more vivid, but the general vision is what counts: working alongside other business-minded people who use strategic communication to support their clients.

I’m ready. And able. And as I heard earlier tonight, “tenacious.” Though I prefer to think of myself as enthusiastically persistent.

Thoughts From My Chinese Notebook (TFMCNB) posts are hand written on two 4x6" pages then transcribed here. Keeping it short and simple.

October 24, 2011 at 8:49 PM 3 comments

Technology: use wisely

As I take a few rare vacation days “on the grid,” I felt it appropriate to share some of my thoughts. Think of it as getting to know me – or more accurately, my perspective on technology today and how information explosion is impacting society.

It starts with why and where I’m going.

I’m on a vacation spawned by Twitter to see bands I discovered through Pandora and fell in love with because of GrooveShark.(Not to mention booking on Kayak.)

I’m visiting San Francisco – a stone’s throw from the birthplace of company’s like Apple and the stomping grounds of folks like Zucherberg.

I’m a “digital native,” embracing technology as it emerges and simplifies our life (while at times thoroughly complicating it). Folks older than I are doing the same, and it’s hard to spot a First World citizen born post-AOL that isn’t doing the same.

Information sharing will continue to proliferate at inexhaustible rates.

I love the Web 2.0 world and am excited about what it brings. But certain aspects of it scare me. As with any frontier, the opportunities to succeed while doing right by humanity  are as prevalent as the opportunities to be distrustful and damaging to society.

Knowing that our and future generations will shape how emerging technology impacts society, I feel it’s my duty to be part of the upward march. To stick up for ethical practices the way a *real* PR counselor should. To influence audiences on the ways information-sharing technology can be used for better instead of worse.

I hope I can do that in my life. In my profession. It’s a desire of mine captured slightly by a few lines at the top of my resume, but really alludes to much more than a “professional objective.”

From the written word, to Guttenberg and the World Wide Web to a social Internet we now connect to via 3-inch screens, information consumption has an irreversible impact on society. It changes the way we live. And I revel in that.

Call me an optimist, but maybe that’s just ‘cause I’m on vacation.

Update: While in SF (or apparently unrelated to the trip), my Yahoo! Mail account was hacked and a link to “boner pills” was sent to everyone in my address book. A great, albeit awkward, reason to reconnect with some folks I haven’t talked to in a while, but more evidence that  good people are needed to fight “the dark side” of the tech industry!

October 14, 2011 at 1:44 PM Leave a comment

What I’ve been up to…Fighting the good fight

I realize I’ve been absent from this blog for some time now. It’s a time commitment I’ve chosen to avoid, making my current PR position and some semblance of a social life a higher priority. I appreciate if you missed me, and hope the few posts I have up my sleeves will keep you happy for now. I wish I could promise you regular updates, but I’m not naive enough to do that — besides, I’m a big believer of under-promising and over-delivering.

In order to justify my extended hiatus from Steele Headed, I’d like to share a bit about what I’ve been up to.

Fighting the good Gen-Y PR fight.

My current role has me in a position with less support than traditional communications professionals. Budgets are tight and “arms & legs” resources are expensive, so I’m left to fend for myself as a one-man communications department.  I was hired by someone with 30+ years experience and expected to learn from him. In early 2009, the recession brought on corporate restructuring that left me without a mentor and facing a monstrous communication challenge.

To be fair, my predecessor’s role was both divided and dissolved; it didn’t fall solely on me. But the general thought of a 23-year-old graduate student handling communications activities for a 7,000+ employee, $2 billion global company was an opportunity that charged me beyond belief. Part fear, part naivety, I rapidly expanded my role (a communication intern at the time ), gaining responsibilities and a full-time job in under a year.

It’s been 3 years since then. And I’m still fighting the good fight.

Technically I’m in charge of everything from internal communications to media relations with a sprinkling of much more.

I authored our social media policy and advise our marketing teams on how to leverage it.

I work with two notable PR & advertising firms supporting our globally known brand in a myriad of industries.

I’ve created videos, iPad apps, Web sites, magazine ads, trade show PR plans, employee communication campaigns and award winning proposals.

I’ve counseled senior level executives, orchestrated global employee events, established media relationships and followed every other PR-text-book-tip to succeed. Not to mention a few other books and blog posts I had to pick up on the side.

#notsohumblebrag

I did what I had to do to keep on fighting.

My network of PR pros has been a tremendous source of support, my father being principal among them. Another post will be dedicated to thanking these individuals for their advice and encouragement as I navigate my one-man communications vessel.

My internal network of VPs, managers and colleagues who have placed stock in a 23 (now 26) year old “kid” has also been incredible. Without these folks believing in me (albeit a little unwillingly at times), I wouldn’t have made it a week.

But here I stand. Still fighting the good fight. Pressing on.

I’m not sure what else to say from here. Except that I’m excited to keep on fighting. The progress I’ve made and opportunities still ahead are exciting. I’m happy to be in a field that I love and working for a company that appreciates what PR can do for the organization.

I call it a fight, but in the end, it’s not a fight when you love what you do.

Images courtesy: Mediabiistro.com & free-extras.com

October 6, 2011 at 11:56 PM 3 comments

Gone fishin’ (or why I’ve gone rogue for 18 months)

My apologies for neglecting my blog for the better part of two years. I’d like to tell you I’ve been gone fishing this whole time, but I’m not sure my angling skills are sufficient enough to provide for that long (although it did fill our bellies for 53 days in the arctic).

My sudden and unexplained disappearance from the blogosphere has been for two main reasons and is best summarized with 5 letters:

My J-O-B
I started officially working full-time in the beginning of 2010 at my current employer. Though I was logging well over 40 hrs/week previous to this between school, internships and freelance work, being committed to one employer is something that has required substantial focus.

As an update, I love my job. At the ripe age of 25, I get to play the role of a “one-man communications band,” handling both internal and external communications responsibilities. It’s a fun gigg that I’m bound to dive into in future posts, but suffice it to say that it keeps me busy.

Finishing my M.A.
Any spare moment I find while working a full-time corporate communications gig is dedicated to finishing my Master’s degree in PR. And boy am I oh-so-close. All that is left is finishing off my MA thesis project. The project examines online brand reputation and uses one of my employer’s brands as a case study. It’s been a learning experience to say the least, but something I’ve had fun with throughout. More on this later as well.

So why the return?

Well, like most things I do, it’s a little ambitious and preemptive, but this post my first step on re-starting my blogging career. As I wind down work on my MA project and start eying all the “free time” I’ll have, I know that blogging is a great way for me to catalog my observations on the digital PR profession. More than anything else, I believe it’s a learning tool for me, and for any readers who may stumble upon my posts.

One thing I’ve found both from my J-O-B and finishing my M-A, is that not all lessons need to be learned the hard way. In both the professional and academic worlds, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and engrained good behavior post-failure. But I’ve also learned a lot from others who shared their experiences with me — be that online or in person. If I can do that for just one person, than any blog I have written will be worth it.

So there you have it. My short and not-so-sweet explanation of an 18-month leave of absence. Hope you didn’t miss me too much, but if you did, you’re obviously not following me on Twitter.

July 26, 2011 at 12:01 AM Leave a comment

I’m back! — Sorry I didn’t leave a note…

No one likes to feel neglected. So I apologize to the marginally existent Steele Headed audience for my lack of postings the last few months. But amongst a busy school semester and working, I haven’t totally ignored social media.

It’s no secret that I’m (overly) active on my Twitter page, and spend a bit of time on Facebook.  Since my last Steele Headed post, I also started up a Posterous page, played around with blip.fm, transitioned from imeem to myspace and — of course — spent countless hours enjoying music from Pandora. Other SM activities can be seen at Delicious — which accounts for about 1% of my total “listening.”

But the majority of my SM energy for the last few months has gone into a blog I co-wrote with fellow PRKent classmate, Amanda Hayes. BuddingHeadsPR focuses on issues in PR/Marketing with a special focus on SM and issues faced by young pros. The blog took a debate-style format, and I’m NOT embarrassed to say that BHPR’s very first post beat my record for most views in a day, proving that either:

1) I’m not that interesting by myself

OR

2) Everyone loves a good argument.

I encourage you to check out a few of the posts and leave a comment letting us know who’s side you would take. Though our debates generally had some overlap, we found it was a useful exercise to approach controversial topics from two distinct perspectives and try to “meet in the middle.”

As a side note, Amanda graduated cum laude from Kent State University’s honors college this month with a 3.7 GPA in the PRKent program. A two-time officer of the Kent PRSSA chapter, Amanda has nearly two years corporate PR experience, completing internships with two notable Northeast Ohio companies.

I’ve always admitted that Amanda is much smarter than I, but now that we’re both on the job market, I may be saying this a bit more quietly.

I’m only kidding about being quiet of course 😉

December 29, 2009 at 4:19 PM Leave a comment

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