Don’t Parrot. Interpret.

Mother breastfeeding child.Here’s how NBC Washington identified one new Virginia law that takes effect today:

“Breastfeeding: Women can breastfeed anywhere the mother is lawfully present.”

Anywhere the mother is legally present? Where is a mother illegally present, other than in jail?

So I checked the Washington Post story:

“And a new Virginia measure gives mothers the right to breast-feed in public places, expanding current law that allows breast-feeding on state property.”

Ah. Much clearer.

A journalist’s job is to interpret and put in plain English laws, regulations, and other government speak. Score one fail for NBC Washington and one win for the Washington Post.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Anemic economy may be new normal – and that may be OK

Stock photo of paper money to illustrate Anemic economy may be new normal

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / LumaxArt2D

“The economy is moving ahead, but at an uninspiring pace.”

Those words by National Federation of Independent Businesses Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg and broadcast on the big screen summed up the messages from presenters at the Thomas Jefferson Institute‘s Business Leaders Roundtable on Virginia’s Economic Future at George Mason University on Monday.

Anemic economic growth holds true for the nation as a whole, but particularly in Northern Virginia. Despite the stilted improvement, it’s still improvement and the seven speakers did their best to put a positive spin on what all agreed is the new normal. Finding new normals in each economic sector to fit the overall new normal constituted the bulk of their presentations.

Northern Virginia is a company town and the company – the federal government – is not doing too well right now, Terry Clower, director of GMU’s Center for Regional Analysis, told the estimated 150 people in attendance. That accounts for much of Virginia’s flimsy post-recession growth compared with the rest of the country. If Northern Virginia does not diversify its economy, conditions will worsen.

“Our future looks pretty bright if we can change our contractors from B2G to B2B (Business-to-Government to Business-to-Business),” Clower said.

Brett Vassey, president of the Virginia Manufacturers Association, noted that Virginia ranks 49 out of the 50 states in job growth. Much of the manufacturing industry in Northern Virginia is defense manufacturing, and between federal budget cuts and sequestration that sector has been severely impacted.

“We need to find a new normal,” he said.

Tech jobs are equally impacted, said Josh Levi, vice president for policy for the Northern Virginia Technology Council. Virginia is shedding tech jobs as 38 of our sister states increase tech employment through incentive programs. In fact, Levi said, Virginia is dead last in tech job creation, having lost 3.1 percent of its tech jobs in 2013-2014.

Despite those losses, in 2014 Virginia still ranked:

  • First in concentration of IT jobs in non-IT industries
  • Second in concentration of high-tech employees
  • Second in concentration of scientists and engineers

IT also is diversified in Northern Virginia, as is manufacturing despite its overdependence on defense contracting. While Virginia earned mostly C’s and D’s in the 2015 Manufacturing & Logistics Report Card, the state earned an A in Sector Diversity and a B in Productivity and Innovation, Vassey noted. Equally important is Virginia’s educational rankings in science and math. Of 16 Southern states surveyed, Virginia ranked first in eighth-grade science proficiency and tied for first with Maryland and Texas in eighth-grade math proficiency.

Stephan Cassaday, president and CEO of Cassaday and Company, was perhaps the most upbeat of the presenters. Two and a half percent growth may well be the new normal, he said, but if it’s steady growth that’s better than a 3 or 4 percent growth rate followed by a 3 or 4 percent drop.

The other presenters and their presentations:

Follow your passion, but act like an entrepreneur

Heads up, freelance writer. You’re an entrepreneur and to succeed you must think and act like one.

That was the takeaway from the 2015 NPC-SPJ Spring Freelance Workshop at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on May 8. Woman reading a newspaper in a newspaper library.

Peter Smith, a business development coach and founder of Smith Impact, drove that point home with his three keys for success:

  • Follow your passion.
  • Get really good at what you do.
  • Learn how to market and sell what you do.

Smith was one of eight panelists composing two panels who discussed the pros and cons and ups and downs of freelance writing. The workshop attracted seasoned professionals, students, and the curious.

But while Smith was blunt in his freelancers-as-entrepreneurs approach, other panelists touched on successful entrepreneurial techniques as well. Networking, managing your client base, and managing your finances are roles all successful entrepreneurs must master.

Katherine Reynolds Lewis, a full-time freelance writer for the past seven years, was one of several panelists who discussed networking as a key ingredient for success. Why is networking important? Because clients hire people they know and trust. In the entrepreneurial world, that’s as true for selling words as it is for selling shoes. Freelance writers must network where editors gather, such as conventions, Lewis urged. But editors are one part of the mix. She surprised many in the audience when she said “networking with other freelancers is the most productive networking that I do. … I’ve learned that networking with other freelancers and developing really trusted relationships with people who may have complimentary but not exactly the same interests I do is very helpful.”

Networking lands you clients – perhaps even an anchor client. An anchor client is one who gives you steady work over a long period, sometimes years. Anchor clients come with a warning, however. It’s very easy to get comfortable with a steady income. Perhaps so comfortable and so busy that you curtail your networking. That’s a mistake for any entrepreneur. Clients don’t last forever. And if you lose your anchor client, you lose your income. Tam Harbert, who moderated the first panel, is chair of the NPC Freelance Committee and a 10-year, full-time freelancer. Experience has taught her that no one client should comprise more than 20 percent of her income.

So, never stop networking. Keep growing your client base. Next, manage your finances.

The first step in managing your finances is to compute how much you need to earn an hour to make a decent living. Include not only business expenses, but your mortgage, utilities – and vacations and retirement, Lewis said. Then track the time you work on every story or project. That will help you determine which clients pay the most per hour, Harbert said. Can you secure more work from them? Conversely, which clients pay the least? Should you replace them with higher-paying clients?

Many freelancers – and other entrepreneurs – nail the first two points Smith made – follow your passion and get really good at what you do. Successful entrepreneurs also nail point number three – learn to market and sell what you do. And, that includes networking, managing your client base, and managing your finances.

See you on the other side of the notebook.

(Tam Harbert on the entrepreneurial personality.)


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Clear and concise writing: It’s all very civilized

An example of cuneiform, the earliest known  writing systems of Mesopotamia, Persia, and Ugarit.

An example of cuneiform, the earliest known writing systems of Mesopotamia, Persia, and Ugarit. (© Can Stock Photo Inc. /swisshippo)

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a caption gives it context.

Videos are all the rage. But if the script is ineffective, so is the message.

Public speakers do it without notes. But the speech is written first.

To be a terrific tweeter, you must write engaging and effective headlines in 140 characters or less.

Why? Because the foundation for all effective communication is clear and concise writing.

It is also the foundation for civilization itself. So says the Metropolitan Museum of Art in its online essay “The Origins of Writing.” The essay notes that the population of southern Mesopotamia exploded in the 4th century BC. That includes Uruk, (oo-rook) which grew into the world’s first city. It is also here that we find the first examples of a written language. As the ability to communicate in written form spread, so did civilization.

As your writing becomes clearer and more concise, your message will explode too. It’s all very civilized.


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Don’t Let the Trolls Win

Caution road sign against a background of puffy white clouds in an otherwise blue sky. Sign reads: Do not feed the trolls.When I read the Washington Post headline “Fairfax County supervisor race heats up over ‘troll’ remark on Twitter,” I thought to myself, “Another political operative who forgot to count to 10 before hitting ‘send.’”

The troll characterization was lobbed at Democrat Janet Oleszek by the Fairfax County (Virginia) Republican Party Committee. Oleszek is campaigning against incumbent county Supervisor John Cook, a Republican.

In its defense, the committee accused Oleszek of ignorance.

“Anybody who knows anything about social media and the Internet knows what a troll is,” Matt Ames, chair of the Fairfax County Republican Party Committee, told the Post.

I’m a social media junkie, but I hadn’t heard the term used before in a social media context, which the Post wrote “can be interpreted” as “someone who is critical without supporting facts.” Granted, I’m a Boomer who still believes social media posts should be grammatically correct and free of spelling errors. I also tend to ignore stupid social media posts and stupid people who post on social media. I have better things to do with my life.

Curiosity grabbed me by my Don King hair, however, and I Googled “social media slang.” Apparently troll is not among the “9 Millennial Slang Words That Improve Your Social Media Voice.” Nor did troll make the “Big-A List of Twitter Slang and Definitions.” Ditto with a post simply titled “Social Media Slang.” (Though I did learn that “Whoa” is an “expression of surprise.” Whoa! I’ve been using “whoa” for five or more decades! How cool am I?)

I then Googled “social media troll” and found this definition on Techopedia:

“A troll is a member of an Internet community who posts offensive, divisive, and controversial comments.

“Often, a troll will make obvious and inflammatory statements that are meant to bait new users (newbies) into reacting. This is sometimes called trolling. Despite multiple attempts at limiting trolling on the Internet, it is still widespread in social networks, comment sections, and anywhere else where users can post in relative anonymity.”

I am now better informed. But having not found the definition on two comprehensive and one must-know social media slang lists, I have to caution Mr. Ames not to assume everyone knows Internet slang. The old rules of communication still apply: Count to 10 before hitting send and if in doubt, don’t. Otherwise, the trolls win.


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You’ve got mail still rings a bell

Young woman checking email on her phoneLast month, we talked about direct mail enjoying a renaissance. It remains the best medium for cold-call outreach. Email, however, is the most effective way to keep in touch with those whom you have already developed a relationship. Make sure, however, that your emails are mobile-friendly.

Here are some stats that should persuade you of the power of email marketing. The were compiled by Francisco Rosales, founder of SocialMouths, and Niti Shah, head of Email Marketing and Lead Nurturing at HubSpot.

  • 95 percent of online consumers have an email account. 91 percent of consumers check their email daily.
  • 22 percent of emails will not reach the inbox. Compare that with the 74 percent of your Facebook fans who will not even know you posted something.
  • 75 percent of the reach of a Facebook post happens in less than two hours, but an email needs to be actively deleted before its reach terminates.
  • For every $1 spent, the average return on email marketing investment is $44.25. Put another way, email marketing has an ROI of 4,300 percent.
  • 77 percent prefer email to receive promotional content, while only 4 percent prefer Facebook.
  • 66 percent of consumers have made a purchase online as a result of an email marketing message.

But if you’re using an email marketing campaign, make sure it’s optimized for mobile. Shah provided these statistics from 2013:

  • 48 percent of emails are opened on mobile devices.
  • Only 11 percent of emails are optimized for mobile.
  • 69 percent of mobile users delete emails that aren’t optimized for mobile.

Let’s revisit those last three statistics, because they are extremely important. In 2013, 48 percent of emails were opened on mobile devices (that number is likely much higher now). Yet only 11 percent of emails were optimized for mobile. If your emails are not optimized for mobile, 7 out of 10 recipients will delete them – a 70 percent unnecessary failure rate.

Mail programs such as MailChimp and Constant Contact can help make your emails readable on small devices.

Email remains the most effective way to keep in touch with those whom you have already developed a relationship. Email has a high open rate and a high ROI–as long as it’s mobile friendly. Do not use email to attempt to reach those you do not have a relationship with. That’s called spam. For cold-calling, direct mail still is your Number 1 medium.

Any questions? Contact us.

(Photo credit: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Fisher Photostudio)


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English Tips: The principled Klingon cow

Communicate for Success—English Tips, Vol. 7

Klingons and cows are not known to be uniquely principled, whether or not their days are numbered. Those are the concepts we explore in this edition of English Tips.

Communicate for Success word cloud taken from Consistent Voice Communication's web home page and created with tagxedo.comThe principled principal—A principle is a fundamental law, truth, rule, or other abstract ideal. Principal means first or foremost, and refers to a person, place, or thing. If you remember that a pal is solid, you’ll use principal for the solids and principle for the abstracts.

Criterion is one in Klingon—Actually, it’s the singular of criteria. One can never have one criteria, as criteria is defined as two or more. A Klingon and Romulan walk into a bar. That’s a criterion for war.

Amount’s days aren’t numbered—Use “number” or its derivatives when the items in question can be counted. Use “amount” when the number is unknowable.

She’s unusually unique—To be unique is to be one-of-a-kind. To be unusual is to be rare. Few things are unique, so its use should be unusual. Alas, it’s not.

It’s the first annual cow-tipping competition, but another won’t pop up until the cows come home—An event is not annual until it repeats at least once the following year. Otherwise, it’s the inaugural event. Moo on that one.

More to come. Be sure to follow my blog so you don’t miss any. Or click on the archive link below. Have a question about the English language? Ask it in the comments section.


English tips archive


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See you on the other side of the dictionary.

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