Petco PR & Communications Team: Will You Help Me Improve Your Donation Pitch?

Guess which button I pressed (again)?

Soliciting donations is an art form—there’s no single scientifically proven method that’s best in all situations and for all causes.

Ideally, you want to hone a message that lies between these two extremes:

A) Craft a pitch too subtly, and folks won’t even realize you’re raising money.

B) Arrange words that conspire to push too hard, and you’re liable to repel your audience.

Which of those extremes, do you suppose, is illustrated by the overture to Petco customers at their point of purchase:

WILL YOU HELP SAVE A HOMELESS PET?

When I first encountered that query while purchasing kitty litter about a year ago, my first reaction was that pressing “no” comes at the risk of going on a guilt trip. But upon further reflection and with each subsequent purchase (and pressing of “No”), it has bred resentment. How annoying that, at a moment when I am patronizing this shop, it is implicitly challenging my compassion for homeless pets.

And isn’t Petco already using a portion of my money toward its efforts to help homeless pets? Rather than hearing “thank you for your business,” it feels like the company’s parting sentiment is “OK, now we see: you care only about your pet.”

One of my two cats, very much enjoying her housing, rests comfortably–oblivious to homeless felines everywhere.

I don’t have exhaustive analytics to back this up, but common sense would strongly suggest that neither guilt nor resentment serves any business very well.

Central to Petco’s donation-pitch problem is that it makes personal such a strong-armed tactic. Much better to dilute the directness by shifting to a collective “team” effort in saving homeless pets.

Simple addition or subtraction—a word or two, either way—would do wonders to improve this solicitation:

Will you help us save homeless pets?

Want to help homeless pets?

Want to help us save homeless pets?

Help us save homeless pets!

My closing words, then, are a direct (and, I daresay, neither too subtle nor too forceful) appeal to the Petco PR and Communications team:

Will you help me improve your donation pitch?

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Drop the Mic Aversion: The Simple Case for Simply Using the Microphone

The term “mic drop” is a relatively recent addition to our language. It refers to the dramatic gesture of punctuating the end of your remarks with the action of dropping your microphone—a bold statement that declares “what else is there to say?”

While the brashness of that gesture may be a turn-off to some, it doesn’t bother me so much—as long as the speaker is willing to accept the responsibility for repairing or replacing a battered microphone. On the other hand, what astounds and annoys me is a phenomenon that plays out on the other end of the mic spectrum: the aversion of an alarming percentage of speakers to pick up the microphone in the first place.

It’s self-defeating and it’s selfish.

Last week, on three successive evenings before three very different (and quite large) audiences, I observed speakers wave away perfectly functioning—and abundantly necessary—microphones that were available to them.

For anyone who feels similarly inclined to rely solely on their vocal cords, as if they can pull off some modern-day Greek Amphitheater acoustic wonder, here are some pointers issued at the HIGHEST POSSIBLE VOLUME. (You won’t see CAP LOCKS employed below, but imagine I’m shrieking, Sam Kinison-like, into my metaphorical microphone):

  1. It’s not about you, and your own comfort level with the mic! If a mic feels awkward in your hands, get a grip: you have a responsibility, and it’s to your benefit, to make it as easy as possible for your audience to receive your communication.
  2. “Audience” is defined as everybody in your audience—not just those toward the front, and not even just those you can see in that very moment. If you are being audio-recorded or video-recorded (notably simple activities in this remarkable 21st century), it’s vital to have an amplifying device. That way, someone halfway across the globe, or down the street, can hear you when they come across your presentation days, months, or years later.
  3. When testing a mic, it always helps to actually make an audible noise. While that observation may seem obvious and even a bit snarky, how often have you seen someone whisper, “Is this mic working?” as they pull it away from their face. Then: silence, as they scan the audience for an answer. “I’m just going to raise my voice,” some proceed to say, in defiance of common sense and common courtesy.

Here’s my ‘mic drop’ wrap-up: to the degree that you want to amplify your message, display your expertise, expand your brand or otherwise maximize your influence, that’s how much you should capitalize on the mic’s amplifying effect.

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Passionate Bridge-Builder: Kevin Coval, Author of “A People’s History of Chicago”

Voicing a fierce yearning for equity, justice and building bridges between those who are divided, Kevin Coval delivered a stirring presentation at the Oak Park Public Library on Wednesday evening.

He brought to life a sampling of the 77 pieces (one for each city neighborhood) in his 2017 book of poetry, “A People’s History of Chicago,” fielded questions from audience members, and provided insights about formative moments that have guided his development as a poet, spoken-word artist and community builder.

For those unfamiliar with Coval, he has had a far-reaching impact through his teaching in the classroom (among other stints, he is now a teacher of hip-hop aesthetics at the University of Illinois-Chicago) and beyond (he is the founder of Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival). That influence is affirmed by Chance the Rapper in his foreword to the book, in which the star performer showers abundant credit on Coval for playing a key role in his development.

Having read the book a few weeks ago, I was struck by the force of its conviction and the depth of its desire to lift up those who historically have been marginalized. “Regardless of who you are and regardless of where you come from,” Coval told the library audience, “we all have essential stories to tell.”

One of the book’s icing-on-the-cake bonuses—and my recent Google search history would bear this out: many of the poems provocatively pointed me to people, events and entire movements in Chicago’s history of which I had little or no knowledge. Coval ushered this reader, time and again, into nooks and crannies of Chicago’s history I had previously never come close to encountering.

The library presentation was part of a larger programming initiative that includes book discussions and a walking tour of Oak Park that dovetails with themes explored by Coval in “A People’s History of Chicago.”

The book is a most worthy addition to the library’s “One Book, One Oak Park” tradition of rallying the community to get on the same page with a book selection. Spurred on by the passionate force of Coval’s visit, which was wisely recorded on the library’s Facebook page, it may well become the most successful summer-time selection yet.

One truth I discovered Wednesday evening: my silent reading of the book on a few plane flights was a pale shadow of Coval’s oral delivery. His lyrical, emotive and often-spellbinding performance deservedly drew hearty applause from the 100-plus of us who packed the library’s Veterans Room.

For a taste, tune in to this reading of the book’s first poem, Shikaakwa, in which Coval examines the dubious history of how the city came to be called, and spelled, “Chicago.”

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Stop Talking About All Your Cool Gizmos!

“The problem with most news releases: they mimic other news releases—which fall far short of furthering organizational goals.”

That was my closing remark in an email last week to a senior executive with a company that appears to be kicking butt in business. Alas, it is struggling to communicate its rapid growth–and the reasons behind that growth–in an effective manner.

The corporation’s momentum, which includes a recent “best place to work” recognition and multiple years of “fastest-growing” status, is proof that you don’t always need to have external and media communications savvy to thrive in business.

Of course, there’s no telling how much opportunity has been lost, and will continue to go untapped, as a result of not having a robust communications strategy.

One of the points I conveyed to the exec: rather than use vague cliches like “bring more offerings and values to clients,” use layman’s language and get specific: what are those offerings, and what value does your company add to others?

In short: why should people care, and what difference does it make in end users’ / customers’ lives? Stop talking about all the cool gizmos, and turn the spotlight on the profound impact those gizmos are having on the world.

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Celebrating Heroes in our Midst: Truck Drivers

Our minds have infinite imagination. Words effectively and artfully aligned can move us powerfully as we imagine, or picture, a scenario unfolding. That’s how books have “unlimited budgets”—grander than anything Hollywood could muster. In the reader’s eye, action plays out on a boundless platform.

Still, there’s nothing quite like actually “seeing it” with our eyes to move our hearts and stir our souls. This truth was reinforced recently when I heard about the compassionate actions of a group of truckers who responded to a request from Michigan State Police.

Watch this video clip, and see if emotions don’t well up as you see a trucker fill in the final gap of an ad hoc life-saving process:

The back-story:

On April 24th, a man was considering committing suicide over the Interstate 696 overpass in Huntington Woods, Mich. That’s when police put the call out to an often-unheralded group of heroes in our midst: truck drivers.

As officers directed traffic off the freeway system, they enlisted truckers to park beneath the overpass. That maneuver reduced the distraught man’s potential fall, whether he lost his grip or decided to jump.

For three hours, 13 of those tractor trailers stood sentry beneath that overpass. Finally, negotiators talked the man into their arms and to safety.

Cumulatively, those truck drivers sacrificed 39 hours of travel and invited, at minimum, myriad forms of professional and personal inconvenience. Their generosity of spirit echoes what I have heard for years from Leslie Allison-Seei and Greg Seei, the creative forces behind Robust Promotions, one of the top promotion marketing agencies in the nation.

Robust specializes in promotions and sweepstakes, from the restaurant industry to a variety of other business sectors. One of their clients, Travel Centers of America, has retained them to manage a nomination and recognition process for its TA/Petro Citizen Driver Awards.

Since the awards’ 2014 inception, 31 men and women have been selected—with hundreds of other nominees also reflecting the compassionate selflessness embodied by those 13 drivers in Michigan.

As Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw said after the life-saving support in April:

“We’ve never been turned down by a truck driver. The trucking community is always very good to law enforcement. They report a lot of things that’s happening on the freeway to us. Every time we ask, the response is ‘absolutely.’”

Next time you see a truck driver—and chances are, it won’t be long—be sure to give them a thumbs-up for the above-and-beyond role they quietly play in our daily lives.

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