Op-Ed: Tell Me a Tale: Storytelling in the corporate setting

Early in my career, I worked for a software company for whom one of my responsibilities was responding to requests for proposals. These documents comprised answers to dozens and dozens of feature-functionality questions, as well as information on installation, service, upgrades and pricing.

Dry as toast.

I knew from experience of the value of using a story to grab and engage an audience. So, in an effort to reel in readers to these multipage, jargon-filled documents, my opening paragraph likened the software to a symphony. I explained that the software—albeit comprising voluminous features and functions—was designed to work as one entity, much in the same way an orchestra’s varied instruments nonetheless unite under the baton of a conductor to produce glorious art.

My draft went to the CEO. Who hated it. “Just get to the feature-functionality-pricing stuff.”

I tried to make the case for my less-than-conventional approach, saying, “The document gets to that later. I just thought it was more inviting if there was a hook to pull the readers in. What good is all this if nobody reads it?”

But my melodic metaphor fell on deaf ears.

Times have, however, changed. Wrapping marketing messages around stories is now much more common (perhaps I was a little ahead of my time?). A quick scan of commercials bears this out: They have become mini dramas (or comedies or even tragedies), with the purchase pitch at the conclusion.

I maintain that any of your industries, from consumer goods to tech to healthcare to service, can and should find a narrative way to position your offerings.

All it takes is a little creativity.

And, as you brainstorm, perhaps a little music in your earbuds.

Dan Weckerly is an experienced public relations professional currently counseling a number of companies local to the Lehigh Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].

Op-Ed: In 2021, reassess, engage and commit to change

I’m guessing that very few Lehigh Valley residents will look at the passing of 2020 into 2021 with sentimental wistfulness or even a sense of melancholia. From the effects of the pandemic to a summer of racial unrest to a rancorous election season, 2020 may go down in history as one of the most difficult to navigate in recent memory.

But replacing one year’s wall calendar with the next does offer the opportunity to reassess positions, engage in a little self-examination and commit to change. And the worthiness of looking inward can apply to our professional lives as well, including how we communicate.

In the spirit of the coming New Year, then, consider breaking these habits that proved particularly vexing in 2020.

Be precise in your words: Please delete from your personal, professional and online messaging the notion that COVID-19 has subjected us to “unprecedented times.” It’s become hackneyed at this point, and it’s inaccurate. The world has sadly seen many diseases on par (or worse) than coronavirus.

While we’re cleaning up communication, let’s also commit to erasing (or at least limiting) the words “basically” and “literally,” especially in spoken word. These have become modern-day filler words with little effect and less applicable meanings.

Be precise in your actions: Communicating is not only what we say, write or post; it’s also what we do. Please use the New Year to sidestep the embarrassment of saying one thing (“Wear a mask!” “Avoid large gatherings!”) and doing another (posting pics of your large-family Christmas gathering; scheduling your 1Q21 board retreat as an in-person event at a golf resort). These gaffes undercut credibility that, once compromised, are difficult to regain.

Act, don’t just talk: Again, actions speak louder than words. 2020 has opened doors to business leadership on issues such as racial injustice, employee inclusiveness, environmental responsibility and personal authenticity. Don’t give only lip service to these societal movements; take a stance on them and act boldly as you see fit. Your colleagues and employees expect it of you as a leader, and your customers look for it when making purchase decisions.

As with all bad habits, correcting shortcomings – especially those related to how we communicate – will improve our professionalism today and as 2021 unfolds. 

I hope it is a good year for you, both at work and at home.

Dan Weckerly is an experienced public relations professional currently counseling a number of companies local to the Lehigh Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].

Your Neighbor’s House Is on Fire. Do something!

High-profile communicators are currently at a crossroads, a position born of the nationwide outrage over the police-related death of Minnesotan George Floyd. The public eye is focusing sharply on the commentary coming from government officials, celebrities and national brand spokespeople, parsing words for both their inherent and implied meanings.

Three words encapsulate this scrutiny: Black Lives Matter. They’ve become electrified, polarizing and political, three hard-to-navigate overlays for corporate and personal brands.

Standing with the Black Live Matter movement risks appearing to side with the unfortunate violence, looting and rioting that followed the Floyd protests. It also provides opportunity for the quick (but unhelpful) comeback: “Don’t all lives matter?”

Standing apart from Black Lives Matter begs the label of racist.

Staying silent on the issue comes off as uninformed, uncaring and noncommittal.


What’s required is bravery – a quality that corporate messengers aren’t always comfortable with.

It’s time for spokespeople to search their hearts; swallow the fear; deal with the consequences; and take the hand of African Americans who need it right now.

I myself wrestled with the don’t-all-lives-matter rhetoric. My personal epiphany came from an online meme. It showed a person dousing a housefire, while a neighbor – whose house was safe – asked, “Don’t all houses matter?”

As corporate communicators, we owe it to our industry to stoke that bravery. Our employers rely on us to anticipate change and to guide messaging accordingly. Occasionally (now, for instance) that means social change.

If you and your brand have sat on the fence on this one, I urge you to hop off and let your voice be heard. Consumers’ expectations of brands go far beyond price and quality and now include social activism and cause marketing. You may alienate some customers; you may cause others to rethink their individual biases and rethink their actions. That’s a payoff with far more value than sales, profits and dividends.

Dan Weckerly is an experienced public relations professional currently counseling a number of companies local to the Lehigh Valley. He can be reached at [email protected]

The Zoom Boom: Communications during the Pandemic

For Baby Boomers, Zoom was a PBS television show that featuring skits, songs, games, crafts and comedic interludes. Today, Zoom is a lifeline. Its video communication capability has become a business necessity and a pathway to familial connectedness. It’s also a stock we all wish we purchased back in December.

The post-Coronavirus future, when we get there, poses tough questions: Once workplaces open, what will they look like? How will they function? Do white-collar employees adopt the blue-collar shift model to reduce crowds at the office? Are masks part of 3Q20’s business attire?

Beyond corporate America lie more uncertainties: Is a restaurant, for example, directed to halve its capacity to allow more room between tables? Will movie theaters sell only 50% of its seats to keep patrons apart? How does social distancing affect churches? Theme parks? Airlines? The Eagles season?

Luckily, the business news has some bright spots. Work-from-home, which was still viewed by some in the C-suite as suspect, has now proven itself viable. Flex time has also become commonplace, especially for parents who balance their at-home time between PowerPoint and Play-Doh.

Sales of certain consumer goods are enthusiastically up. Yes, that’s toilet paper and hand wipes. But it’s also hair dye, baking supplies, jigsaw puzzles, exercise equipment, gardening supplies, reading material and popcorn. If Americans are forced to spend more time under their own roofs, they’re at least going to fill it productively.

New markets are sprouting up. Shelter-in-place policies have clearly been a boom for Zoom and related items like webcams and high-end mics. It has also rejuvenated home-brewing suppliers, whose sales were doused by the arrival of neighborhood microbreweries in the mid-1990s.

We are living through great change. But that’s nothing new. The U.S. economy has survived busts and booms, wars and assassinations, breakthroughs and setbacks. Yet one thing is clear: America’s entrepreneurial spirit will carry us forward. Beyond anything related to curing Covid-19, this time of incubation could yield new inventions, revised processes, trailblazing ideas and exciting breakthroughs across numerous industries.

With luck, a lot of hard work and the optimism that defines the American business environment, our economy will zoom once more.

Dan Weckerly is an experienced public relations professional currently counseling a number of companies local to the Lehigh Valley. He can be reached at [email protected]

Keep your presentations from becoming PowerPointLess

Successful media relations means a steady stream of engaging content sent out to targeted journalists.

Repurposing corporate messaging can be an effective and efficient way of feeding your press pipeline.

Maximizing a presentation, for example, not only increases its effectiveness to an audience, it can also increase its newsworthiness.

The following recommendations should not only please your meeting attendees but also your public relations staff:

– Don’t: Use your slides as a script. The info you’re projecting should be short and memorable. The majority of your talking points – even hardline financial data – should be related as a story that you’re telling, not a paper that you’re reading.
– Don’t: Skimp on the visuals. Stock photos are purchasable and downloadable at high resolutions. Make your tabular data visible at a distance and strong enough to be reproducible in the media.
– Don’t: Use showy fonts; don’t overdo the colors; use a font size of at least 30 points.
– Don’t: Remain chained to the podium. Relax. Move around. Engage.
– Don’t: Go in unrehearsed. Know your stuff. Cold.
– Don’t: Arrive in the nick of time. See the setup, check the tech, upload files and hit the bathroom before going on.
– Do: Have a tech-fail backup plan. Use your notes; soldier on; email details later.
– Do: Incorporate social media. Capture the event on video or broadcast livestream. Post pictures and talking points. The media can be pitched to the press online.
– Do: Make it easy for attending journalists. Consider their needs: power supply, thumb drive, speaker bios or access to/from a news van. Supply a branded press release (with contact info) and all supplementary information (graphs, photos, charts, tables).

Nothing beats the one-two punch of a presentation that wows the audience and gets picked up by the media. A well-executed PowerPoint can do that – far better than its forebears: the whiteboard, the flip chart, the overhead projector or even (reaching way back) the chalkboard.

Dan Weckerly is director of public relations at Lehigh Mining & Navigation, an advertising agency in Allentown. He can be reached at [email protected]

The secret sauce of public relations: creativity

Successful public relations professionals need skills that include the ability to write well, be organized, persevere, be personable and have somewhat of a thick skin.

But even with these talents, true success can still be difficult without one more edge: creativity.

Creativity in PR is not those high-profile, slightly wacky, social-media-driven stunts aimed at raising the visibility of a brand. It can be as simple as a clever email subject line to a journalist, something to make a pitch stand out in the inbox.

And innovative PR comes from having vision.

For example, a recent classical music concert by Boston’s Handel and Haydn (H+H) Society was interrupted by the voice of a small boy in the balcony. A Mozart selection finished, and a wee “wow” floated over the audience.

This could have ended badly. YouTube is full of videos of classical music performers angrily reacting to interruptions in their concerts (namely, cell phones). But this one resolved gloriously. The conductor smiled and the hall filled with applause.

Someone within the Handel and Haydn Society – someone with PR savvy – then had an inspiration: Find the owner of that small voice.

A Cinderella-style search ensued, with H+H president personally emailing every attendee, asking for anyone who may have brought a child with them that night.

The effort yielded Ronan Mattin, an autistic 9-year-old who had been brought to the concert by his grandfather. Ronan enjoys music, according to the family, but is nonverbal most of the time.

Unless Mozart is playing.

H+H’s issuance of the story was picked up by more than 450 media outlets and experienced by an audience of 250 million.

All from a story that could easily have been hushed, but that came to light because of those who creatively saw its potential.

In other words, by those who saw that the story was a “wow.”

Dan Weckerly is director of public relations at Lehigh Mining & Navigation, an advertising agency in Allentown. He can be reached at [email protected]

We could all use a dose of good news

Boy, there’s a lot of bad news out there.

At least it seems that way: The rancor in Washington, the early snippiness over Campaign 2020, the firestorm about reproductive rights, the recent rise in gasoline prices. All seem to occupy a lot of newsprint and airtime these days.

The media’s rule of thumb used to be, “If it bleeds, it leads.” But now, with virtually everything bleeding, it may be time for another catchphrase.

Maybe: “If it churns bile, let it rest awhile.”

In other words, in the name of balance, it’s appropriate for media to rally around the good news in our homes, businesses, neighborhoods, cities and even nation.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has adopted this outlook in a Sunday section called “The UpSide.” It is four pages of positive stories that celebrate unity, collaboration and selflessness. Likewise, CBS Philly airs “Brotherly Love” segments, spotlighting heartwarming stories.

Here in the valley, public relations professionals are stepping up to provide upbeat content.

Samuel Kennedy, director of corporate communications for St. Luke’s University Health Network, says that keeping an eye out for uplifting stories has been “woven into our corporate culture. The people we work with know that they’ve got to be part of the ongoing process of distinguishing St. Luke’s, especially in this competitive market.”

According to Kennedy, St. Luke’s pitches these stories routinely and also posts them on its own blog, strengthening the messages through social media.

We here at Lehigh Mining & Navigation worked to highlight the positivity of another area health care provider – Lehigh Valley Health Network. Last year, we earned a PR industry award for telling the story of LVHN’s treatment of a young father whose prolonged illness rendered him unconscious during the delivery of his second child.

I encourage colleagues in public relations and corporate communications to search for uplifting content and promote it. I look forward to sharing these stories – and their goodwill – in future columns. It may help swing the pendulum of current sentiment against the doom and gloom that seem to be everywhere.

Dan Weckerly is director of public relations at Lehigh Mining & Navigation, an advertising agency in Allentown. He can be reached at [email protected]