Practitioner Profile: Liz Payne, Communications Director, U.S. House of Representatives

liz-payneLiz Payne is the Communications Director in the Office of U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton, who represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. 

CSIC: Thanks for sitting down to talk to us, Liz. First – please describe your career path and your current position.

LP: After graduating Gettysburg College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and a minor in Writing, I received a Master’s degree from American University’s School of Communication in Public Communication. From 2012-2014, I worked as an Assistant Account Executive on Waggener Edstrom’s Public Affairs and Social Innovation teams. I left the private sector and began work on Capitol Hill as a Staff/Press Assistant for Congressman Markwayne Mullin (OK-02) in April 2014. I had the opportunity to transition to policy work in December 2014. As a Legislative Assistant, I took on a policy portfolio that included education, housing, social security, and health care policy, and I staffed Congressman Mullin on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. In April 2015, I took over as Communications Director for Congressman Mullin, and retained the dual role of Legislative Assistant and Communications Director until I accepted the position of Communications Director in Congressman Scott Tipton’s (CO-03) office in June 2016. I now direct all external communications for Mr. Tipton.

CSIC: Our students are all at the graduate level, working on master’s degrees in communications, marketing and journalism. What is your best piece of career advice for them?

LP: Be open to opportunities that may not precisely align with the career plan you have set for yourself. And, don’t be afraid to change course. It’s never too late to try something new.

 CSIC: Great tip! What career accomplishment are you most proud of and why?

LP: Social media was a big priority for Congressman Mullin, and when I took over as Communications Director, my goal was to grow his social media following by at least 15 percent over the next four months. Using the knowledge I had gained working for clients in the private sector, I developed and implemented a combined paid and organic growth strategy and grew the Congressman’s social media following by 50 percent in the first four months and nearly 100 percent over the entire year. I am still very proud of that accomplishment.

CSIC: That’s an incredible success. What can someone do early in his/her social impact career to secure a position similar to yours?

LP: Follow federal policy, build your network on Capitol Hill, and take any opportunity that comes your way. Getting your foot in the door on Capitol Hill is really difficult. Sometimes it requires starting at the bottom – that’s what I did. I worked hard, showed my boss what I was capable of, and then I was able to move up quickly.

CSIC: What skills are necessary to work in communications on the Hill?

LP: First and foremost, attention to detail. Also, the capacity to understand complex policies and boil them down into concise talking points, the capability to write content on very tight deadlines, good judgement when talking to reporters, and the ability to remove yourself from Washington, DC, and focus on the issues that are important to constituents in your boss’s district.

CSIC: What is your go to source to learn about communication trends?

LP: These days I pay close attention to Congressional offices that are doing a good job of communicating with constituents through traditional and social media and other outreach efforts. I use the communicators in these offices as resources to find out how we may be underutilizing a communications channel or how we could do outreach differently. Right now, I’m also finding that LinkedIn provides a good platform for keeping up with communications trends. Most of my connections are in the communications field and will regularly share helpful articles.

CSIC: Do you have any tips for our students about getting a job on the Hill?

LP: Find out if there is anyone you know who works on the Hill. Ask them if they have time to grab coffee during a week when Congress is on recess, and take them up on any offer to connect you with other Hill staffers. Build your network and make it known that you are looking for a job. Most of the time, offices try to hire through referrals before posting job openings publicly. Maintain your relationships with people who have helped you in the past.

CSIC: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us! 

3 Simple Steps for Bringing a CSR Program to the U.S. Hispanic Audience

by Vincent Cuellar

Around October and November, lots of communications professionals get excited about the new initiatives their team is launching for the following year. Sometimes it’s a new website or product, or a fundraising campaign. Then there is that one voice in the room that brings up “the Hispanic market” as a possibility. She’s read a recent news story about their population of 55 million in the US, or their $1.3 trillion in spending power, which both in turn, receive a few head nods. But those head nods frequently don’t translate into budget and resources, which eventually becomes a missed opportunity for progress. Results can be attained much more simply than you thought. Do you have educational resources, like a blog or e-book, for free on your website? Translate it. Are you planning a survey to create some awareness around your next event? Include a Hispanic oversample. As Pew Research has pointed out, in 2016 the largest minority group is plateauing from a media renaissance after “the circulation of Hispanic newspapers and magazine almost tripled from 2005 to 2013,” and for good reason – this population generally consumes local and neighborhood news at a higher rate than the general population. Here are steps you can take to begin the Latino media outreach initiative for your CSR program:

  1. Translate your Content
    • While Google has undoubtedly revolutionized the ability for one person to problem-solve many of life’s challenges, translation is not among them. Even Google’s brainy algorithms have yet to fully reach the pace of human linguistic comprehension. That’s why translation is best left to professionals, and when necessary, a professional who is specialized in your subject area. After spending resources in developing your organization’s content, it’s a 1-yard line fumble of the ball when a translation was made by a computer and left unchecked by a bilingual professional. That’s off-putting for a Spanish-dominant person to read something in their language with little effort in quality assurance. Spend the time and money to get the work translated, and focus your effort on getting the word to your target audience.
  2. Train a Spokesperson
    • Watch Univison or Telemundo as you ponder bringing this idea to life with your team. You’ll notice interviews go a little differently. The reporter will spend more time on the meet & greet. Interviews go less arguably and focus more on sharing useful information. They’re more amenable to a branded message. These subtle nuances make for a very different news experience than we’re accustomed to in the general market. Preparation with these facts in mind ahead of time is key to an authentic connection with the audience. Just make sure your spokesperson is not only fluent, but fluent enough to be comfortable with the media.
  3. Make it Educational
    • Figure out how your brand can educate Hispanics and their families. An educational angle from your brand’s core message will speak to the Hispanic media tendency to publish stories that help their community make progress towards their goals. Think along the lines of messages that inspire, empower, and educate, then pull in the media timing that brings about a reason for your news to answer the question ‘why now?’ News timeliness and a keen sense of uplifting educational news will give your organization that extra ounce of opportunity that can win you some well-placed ink.

My team at the Jelena Group has had the privilege of launching Fortune 100 foundations, we’ve created award-winning multicultural CSR campaigns and translated thousands of pages of educational government text for U.S. Hispanics. However, these accomplishments are only made possible when the desire to reach a new audience is made a reality. And more often than not, that progress hinges on a simple response to the Hispanic question, “Where do we start?”

For many, you already have what you need, you only need to take the first step.

Practitioner Profile: Megan Fleming Hytjan, Founder, Heartwood Communications

Headshot 2Megan Fleming Hytjan is the Founder of Heartwood Communications. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.

Center for Social Impact Communication: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today about your work at Heartwood Communications. Can you start by describing your career path and telling us a bit more about Heartwood?

Megan Fleming Hytjan: I always thought I would work in the non-profit sector, but I tend to find myself working alongside nonprofits instead of in them. I started my career working for a social media marketing startup in Seattle that launched in the Wild-Wild-West days of “brands on social media.” It was an exciting time in uncharted waters and I had the pleasure of working with some local/national nonprofits, along with a variety of other clients. But after a couple of years, I decided I wanted to work exclusively with social impact accounts. Ultimately, I took a job in the Social Innovation sector of WE Communications. For the next ~4 years, I was able to expand my communication skillset (beyond just social media) and worked with cross-sector clients that were all focused on social/environmental impact.

And then I got the entrepreneurial itch… I’m doing very similar work, but now work for myself. It was a bit terrifying, but I was confident in my skills, the network of relationships I had built and the financial stability I had created to take the risk.

CSIC: Our students are working on master’s degrees in communications, marketing and journalism. What is your best piece of career advice for them?

MFH: The social impact space is continually shifting as the lines between private, social and public sectors blur. Be flexible and embrace the opportunity that comes with an ever-changing landscape.

Be creative, get scrappy and think outside the box.

CSIC: Great advice! What career accomplishment are you most proud of and why?

MFH: Looking back on my agency days, I’m still in awe of the caliber and variety of clients I’ve had the privilege to work with (PATH, The Jane Goodall Institute, CARE, The Civil Rights Museum, L’Oreal Paris, McKinsey Social Initiative, the Global Philanthropy Forum). But starting Heartwood Communications is what I’m most proud of today because it took a lot of guts and planning to actually make it happen.

CSIC: What can someone do early in his/her social impact career to move into a consulting position?

MFH:

  • Agencies are a great place to start. I know I’m not the first to say it, but my time at two agencies gave me a large range of experiences on a variety of accounts, allowed me to polish my skills, and introduced me to an invaluable network of colleagues, influencers and clients.
  • Identify mentors, leverage their time wisely and maintain those relationships – year after year, job after job.
  • It all boils down to people skills. We are in the business of relationships. Be friendly, humble and authentic.

CSIC: What skills are necessary to launch your own communications consultancy?

MFH: I am grateful that my experience covers the full spectrum of communications – from PR and messaging to social media and SEO. That gives me the flexibility to take on a range of projects. I’m also looking into some graphic design classes to further diversify and compliment my portfolio.

Outside of the actual communication skills needed, there is a lot of project and account management that goes into running your own business, so it’s necessary to be organized and self-directed. And it’s imperative that you are confident in your work and feel comfortable putting yourself out there.

CSIC: It’s great that you’re always searching for new skills; what are some of your go to sources to learn about cause communications trends?

There are so many great resources out there, but some of my favorite outlets are: Fast Company Co.Exist, Selfish Giving and Stanford Social Innovation Review. I also love Medium, which suggests stories based on people you follow and the stories they interact with.

I also like following brands, business leaders and influencers in the social impact space via email and social media. A few of my top picks: Patagonia, Nicholas Kristof, New Belgium Brewing, Devin Thorpe, REI, Howard Schultz.

CSIC: Finally, do you have any tips for our students about launching your own consultancy?

It can be overwhelming when you think about going your own way, but don’t let fear get in the way. Your idea doesn’t need to manifest overnight – like most big projects or life events, I recommend biting off small pieces and learning as you go. For example, it took me over eight months to go from verbalizing what I wanted and making a plan, to actually quitting my day job and embracing my own business full time. There is a great article by Jeff Goins I recommend reading that talks a bit more about making small steps instead of big leaps.

Writing Help For Non-Profits: How To Create A Perfect Blog For Your Organization

by Gloria Kopp

If you want to get noticed, you need a top notch online presence. In the case of nonprofit organizations, it’s vital you catch people’s attention online to spread awareness of your cause. Want to start blogging? Here are some tips to help you get started writing quality blogs for your site.

Decide on what your blog should do

First things first: What does your blog need to do? Will you be writing about the people that your organization helps? Will it be raising awareness of your cause? Will you be calling out for volunteers and donations? Once you’ve decided on what your blog will be used for, stick to those themes to make it more cohesive.

Who’s your audience?

Next, you need to decide what your audience is. As you’ve already decided on the point of your blog, this shouldn’t be too difficult. For non profits, it’s likely that your audience will be a) people who are interested in furthering your cause, b) people who may want to volunteer with you, or c) people who will want to donate. When you write your blogs, always keep them in mind.

Try online writing tools

Writing on your own can be difficult. Luckily, there are plenty of tools online that you can put to use:

E.ggtimer

This app allows you to manage your time effectively. Set the timer to a doable amount of time, such as 30 minutes, and spend that entire time writing. When the timer goes off, take a break. Keep going in that pattern and you’ll be amazed how much you can get done.

Boom Essays service

Another great editing tool, the writers at this site can offer to pass their trained eye over your work. Send them your drafts for editing, and get straight onto writing the next one.

Canva

All blogs need visuals, but if you’re not a natural artist though, it may feel a bit intimidating to try and make artwork for your site. Canva is a great tool for making professional looking graphics with minimal skills needed. You can either use their images, or upload your own, and you’ll have a great image to use within minutes.

PhotoPin

When you need additional images, PhotoPin is a fantastic resource. They search thousands of Creative Commons images for you, letting you pick out the perfect image for whatever you need.

Essayroo

Based in Australia, this writing service can help you put together quality, engaging blog posts. They can proofread, edit and rewrite posts for you, so you know your content will draw in readers from all over the web.

HootSuite

HootSuite lets you control all of your social media accounts from one app, making promotion simple. It also gives you reports on the reach of all your posts, and allows you to schedule posts for the future.

BuzzSumo

This tool is a great way to analyze just how your posts are doing. Just paste in your domain name, and you can see who’s sharing your posts and where. With this info, you’ll know exactly where to make tweaks.

Readability Score

This tool allows you to paste in your work, and get an instant score of just how easy it is to access. It’ll also give you the average reading age that the work is aimed at. It’s a great way of checking that you’re pitching your writing at the right audience.

X-Essays

Outsourcing can be a great way to maintain good output without running yourself ragged. This site has many qualified writers who can create amazing blogs for you, freeing you up.

Blog Topic Generator

Stuck for what to write? Try this tool! Simply input the topics you want to talk about, and it’ll give you several blog title ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Hemingway App

This editing tool can be a lifesaver. Paste your blog into this app, and it’ll highlight all of the areas that need attention, such as spelling errors and overused words.

Portent’s Content Title Generator

Need a catchy title? Put the topics of your blog into this tool and it’ll give you a sample title, as well as some suggested topics and quotes to use in the blog itself.

Use SEO techniques

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a technique that ensures that you bring the right audience to your blog. The use of the correct keywords in your blog will mean that people searching for those words in search engines will come across your site. For example, if you’re writing about a pet adoption centre, you may use the words ‘dog adoption’ or cat adoption service’ throughout the piece.

With these tips, you’ll now be able to create engaging, interesting blogs that will further the cause of your non profit. Get blogging, and see just how much it can help your organization!

Communication Breakdown: When Poor Practices Hinder Local Social Change

By H. E. James, MBA

Fostering social change is why many people volunteer with local grassroots nonprofit organizations and movements.  We see a need or we have been touched by a crisis, and we are moved to invest our time, and often our money, to committees and events we feel will do the most good.

As fund raisers and events near, production is undertaken by the diehards.  Social change efforts have missed their mark because of a host of issues that all come down to one problem: communication breakdown among the group.

Managing Strong Personalities

Volunteer groups attract a host of people with varied life experiences.  One volunteer may be working with a grassroots in order to fulfill an education requirement.  Another has suffered a personal crisis related to the event and is compelled to offer her time.  Along with this diversity comes strong personalities.

Applying principles of workplace group dynamics is a great way to manage the score of styles and experiences.  First and foremost, a group needs strong leadership.  This doesn’t mean nonprofit managers should dictate every move a committee or board of volunteers makes.

Instead, they should empower their volunteers to lead themselves through a variety of tools.  One of those tools, writes nonprofit communications specialist Deborah Zanke, is a volunteer manual.  This should communicate to volunteers exactly what is expected of their particular roles.

For volunteers who choose or are chosen for leadership roles, managing the strong personalities becomes their responsibility.  It’s only natural for people to disagree, even butt heads.  When this happens, leadership can communicate clearly what was and is still expected of volunteers, and even remove trouble makers if necessary.

Managing Expectations

At the same time, if expectations are neither set nor communicated, it becomes difficult for volunteers to remain engaged.  While recognition and non-monetary compensation are nonprofit management 101 for motivating volunteers, the most successful social change managers know that what motivates volunteers is being involved in the process.

Volunteers don’t always automatically know what needs to get done.  Certainly, the veterans know how to solicit donations or raise funds.  Even the veterans, however, need to know the simple things, like when and where.  Why do these details get lost?

They get lost because leadership has not defined communication expectations among volunteers and volunteer groups.  Too often, the communications strategy becomes less about strategy and more about letting volunteers communicate however they wish, with each other and with the public.

Instead, the organization and volunteer leadership need to set the communication rules for the group at large.  Coordinators may argue that because volunteers are just that they cannot be expected to use a communications technology with which they are unfamiliar.  However, volunteers are often professionals and are indeed the unpaid workers of a nonprofit.  Treat them as such.  If they are unfamiliar with Gmail, train them.  If the new social media manager is great at Twitter but has never used HootSuite, show him how.

Managing Impact

Social change and nonprofit work is all about having an impact.  As Mohan Sivaloganathan described for Fast Company in 2015, nonprofits that manage themselves like for-profits impact communities through purpose, talent, and innovation.

This impact cannot happen without clear, coordinated communication from leadership down through the ranks of volunteers.  No one clear communication model will fit each group, but letting it go undefined will only result in chaos, and in the end, this chaos hinders the overall goal of social change.