Effective email communication in times of crisis

Wednesday, June 24, 2020
“Times of crisis” pretty much describes this era for all of us, all the time, these days.

Ironically, as I mulled the Publicity Club of Chicago’s request that I speak on “Effective Email Communication in Times of Crisis,” I realized that that challenge isn’t all that different now from times of non-crisis.

Job One remains the same: Not taking the attention of your audience—any audience—for granted.


Presented here by popular demand (well, a couple of people asked): Slides and video from my virtual appearance before the Publicity Club, June 17, 2020.

Here’s the video.


And here are the slides.

I was tested for COVID-19. Here's what happened.

Thursday, May 28, 2020
Tuesday night after dinner, I felt a little chill. As we’ve probably all been conditioned to do in the pandemic, I went to the bathroom to grab a thermometer. It registered a fever of 101ยบ.

I called my longtime doctor. He recommended I get myself to one of Illinois’ free COVID-19 drive-through testing stations the next morning. Which—after a night in which my wife and I kept our distance under the doctor’s strong advice—I did.

The testing station I visited, at 6959 Forest Preserve Dr. in Chicago, used to be one of the state auto emissions testing centers until—for reasons that still frustrate and enrage me—then-Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration allowed closure of the last of the city’s stations, forcing many Chicagoans to drive more than an hour round-trip to get vehicles tested.

That said, the Forest Preserve Drive station is well suited for a drive-through medical test site. Here’s how it went:

Wednesday

6:55 a.m. I arrive five minutes before the station’s supposed to open. Driving southwest on Forest Preserve, I’m pleasantly surprised to see no cars lined up to enter … until I’m unpleasantly surprised to realize cars are lined up to enter from the other direction—and they’re backed up around the corner, and around the corner after that. Dozens and dozens of cars ahead of me. A flashing sign warns people will be turned away when the center’s met its testing capacity for the day. I put on my mask, roll down the window and ask a cop if they’re close to full yet. He assures me they’re not.

7 a.m. I find my way around the block to the end of the line and settle in for a long wait. (Note to future test-takers: Fill up the tank before you go.)

7:45 a.m. A woman asks me to place my driver’s license and health insurance card—if I have one; she stresses that the test is free, regardless, and not to worry if I don’t have one—on the dashboard where they can be read. She also gives me a detailed sheet explaining the guidelines for getting tested and what and when to expect the results. (My doctor said the results could come that evening or the next morning; the official word—on the info sheet—is 4-7 days.)

7:53 a.m. An Illinois National Guardsman walks up, asks me how many tests I’ll need—“One,” I explain, “since there’s just me in the car, right?”—and asks for my phone number. Because I’m a little nervous and light on sleep, I give him the wrong one, but I catch myself in time to get it right. He writes both numbers—1 and my phone number—on sticky notes I place on my windshield as he’s directed.

8:10 a.m. My car has crept along enough that I can see the testing station—and a big sign banning photography. This saddens me, because I’d hoped to record the test itself, which is mysterious to and therefore frightening for many.

8:17 a.m. My time is at hand. I ease my car into place—just as I used to do when they were about to stick a probe up its tailpipe; the similarities are funny. I roll down my window as directed and ask the person about to administer my test—someone dressed head-to-toe in hazmat gear—whether I, a journalist, can video record my own test. He asks his superior to come over and hear my plea. The superior says no. I don’t have much time to be sad, though, because the swabber then politely inserts a long stick up my nose, to boldly go where none of my fingers have gone before, scraping it around a bit in there before removing it. The maneuver takes less than 15 seconds—really not that big a deal, although, as I write this, a day-and-a-half later, I can still kindasorta feel where he swabbed—like, as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Stephanie Zimmermann wrote in April, “how it felt if you’ve gotten chlorinated water up your nose in a swimming pool.”

8:20 a.m. After thanking my swabber—who agrees it’s not that bad but shares that many patients are terrified when they roll up—I drive off.

Thursday

6 a.m. My fever’s subsided to a rock-steady 98.6. I consider mentioning my adventure to Bob Sirott while we chat over the airwaves on my former employer, WGN Radio, but opt to stay mum while the results are still out.

11 a.m. I send out my free daily email news briefing, Chicago Public Square.

11 a.m.-2 p.m. Three hours of various Zoom meetings for work.

2:30 p.m. I watch Gov. Pritzker’s daily coronavirus pandemic briefing. He takes my remotely submitted question about the safety of water supplies in office buildings that have been largely idle for months but misses the point: What guidance do you have for building managers—and for people who’ll be returning to work in those buildings? (52:56 in this video).*

4:15 p.m. The doc has recommended plenty of rest, so I set out to take a nap. I don’t get far.

4:25 p.m. My phone rings from a number that it labels “unknown” but that I recognize as the number from which the state said my results would come. It’s hard to understand the recorded message that plays and I miss the part about what number to press to get results, but I do hear the part that encourages me to call back to talk to an agent.

4:26 p.m. Keeping a safe distance away, I enter my wife’s makeshift home office, so she can listen on the speakerphone as I call for the verdict. A polite man asks me for my phone number and my name so he can look up my results. He tells me my test is negative. I thank him for the good news, and I encourage him to pass on the advice that someone should re-record that automated callback message. For the first time in almost 48 hours, my wife and I hug.

4:29 p.m. I begin sharing the word with the few friends and relatives I’d told about the fever and the test—and some I hadn’t.

Need a free test? Here’s the state’s evolving list of community-based testing sites and whom it recommends be tested.

* Turns out the University of Illinois Sustainable Technology Center was already on the case. (Hat-tip to prof Gretchen Winter.)

Tips for appearing on TV via computer

Saturday, March 21, 2020
Are you a reporter or an interviewee planning a remote appearance on TV in the era of the coronavirus? Or are you a producer counseling a reporter or interviewee? Or are you just hangin’ remotely with friends, coworkers or family? With the help of video whiz Jim Parks, here are a few tips for making the best TV you can:

Look at the camera. If you have more than one screen, avoid looking like you’re staring off into the distance—at an extra screen. Make sure the window connecting you to the anchor is positioned as close as possible to the camera on your computer—not on an auxiliary screen. For most laptops, that means dragging the Google Hangouts / Skype / FaceTime window to the top of your computer screen. (Consider shrinking it to a size that forces you to stare at it right under the camera.)

Make sure your camera’s level with your eyes. Unless you think viewers enjoy looking up your nostrils, prop up your laptop (or whatever) on a dictionary or two so you’re looking at it levelly—not up or down.

Position yourself for the best lighting available. Avoid sitting with a bright window at your back. Better: Locate yourself so you’re illuminated by the window. If you’re in a room with no daylight, position yourself so the available light is on you and not behind you. Move lamps as necessary so your face isn't in shadow.

Sound as good as you can. Ideally, connect your computer to a high-quality microphone or headset; that becomes necessary to avoid feedback if you and another person are on separate devices in the same room. Try to use a room that has carpeting or rugs to suppress echoes. If you have no time to run tests before you go live, at least do what you can to position your mouth as close as practical to your computer’s onboard microphone. The further away you are, the more echoey and thin you’ll sound.

Have other suggestions? Share them in the comments below or email me (as Jim Parks did): Charlie@MeyersonStrategy.com.

P.S. Or you can just do what my friend and colleague Stuart Hughes has done.

Meyerson, recommended

Thursday, January 2, 2020
A career devoted to creating content that keeps and builds an audience—from award-winning radio news that kept music-loving audiences from punching the button ... to what became Tribune Co.’s highest-clickthrough-rated editorial email product, Daywatch ... to creation of the innovative “Tinder for radio news” app, Rivet … and the critically acclaimed Chicago Public Square local news platform: Content strategist, podcast and radio engagement expert, email and social media pioneer—linking great work with growing audiences online, on-air, in print.

How can Meyerson Strategy help you? Email Charlie@MeyersonStrategy.com.

A sampling of recommendations. Many more posted to LinkedIn:

Clients

Jason Sherman, president, SHERMAN communications & marketing:I hired Charlie … to conduct spokesperson training with me for a billion-dollar, global healthcare client of mine. We co-trained six senior executives from all over the world during a half-day session. Charlie was brilliant, funny, thoughtful, and very effective. He helped to both put the participants at ease and raise and help them manage tough sample questions. His perspective as a journalist and professional interviewer was invaluable. Charlie’s years of experience … make him a terrific asset and partner.”

Sheryl Beck, broadcast representative at SAG-AFTRA:Charlie is exceptional! He created and led a social media training for our broadcast members that was so dynamic and informative, people just couldn’t get enough. He shared his vast wisdom, tips and insight and, at the same time, pulled virtually everyone into the discussion with participants sharing their best wisdom, tips and insight. The only problem was the training was just not long enough! At two hours, no one was ready to leave.”

David Weindling, executive director, Farther Foundation: “Charlie provided sage and practical guidance in honing our communication strategy. We saw immediate improvement in open rates, click rates and overall audience engagement.”

Aurora Aguilar, editor in chief, Modern Healthcare: “We had Charlie present at our annual editorial retreat. He gave us great insight into our distribution of content and offered some good advice on how to more successfully engage our readers through better headlines and concise writing. I would recommend Charlie for any editorial strategy consultancy.”

Molly McDonough, former editor and publisher, ABA Journal: “Charlie was a positive, energizing force for me and my co-workers. I appreciated the time he spent learning about our operation, then pointing out ways he thought we could improve, and most importantly, showing us how. I especially liked that he rolled up his sleeves and spent one-on-one time with staff answering questions, editing and coaching. His observations and suggestions led us to make immediate changes that proved good for us and our readers.”

Sarah Rand, partner engagement and communications consultant, American Institutes for Research. Charlie was great to work with on our podcast. He helped with the podcast at every step of the way from conceptualization to editing. Our team constantly kept Charlie’s mantra in mind as we created the piece: Don’t be boring! And the podcast turned out great!”

Stephen Anzaldi, internal communications manager, Northwestern University. “When I brought him in to share lessons with my colleagues in the Northwestern University news office, he took it to the next level. Charlie is incredibly effective in clarifying, helping to cut through the noise that has become online communication. Our email news alert is more crisp and sharp as a result. ... I’m tempted to go back to j-school to sit in on more of his lessons.”

Dan Haley, publisher, Wednesday Journal Inc. “Several years ago our weekly community newspapers were trying to figure out how to drive traffic to the updated news coverage we were posting to our then new website. We had breaking news on the site but people were still perceiving us as a weekly news product. Charlie ... directly laid out the solution. We had to build an e-mail list of our readers so that we could push out our news updates to them. That solution is probably the most central element of our success digitally. Now, multiple times a week, we send e-mail updates to many thousands of our readers. Today that seems obvious. Eight or 10 years ago it was a fantastic insight from Charlie. He is clear-eyed, problem-solving, direct-talking.”

Bob Rowley, director of media relations, Northwestern University. “Charlie ... presented a fascinating and informative lecture and Q&A for my media relations team at Northwestern University on maximizing our audience and sharpening our Web content. He’s a pro, a wise man and a great colleague. He knows the Web and the news business and would bring great insight and value to any non-profit organization, public institution or private enterprise.”

Linda Lenz, then-publisher, Catalyst Chicago. “Charlie examined the audience data for our weekly news e-blast and our Feedburner feed, finding patterns that prompted us to make changes—mainly in layout and headlines. Almost immediately, our Feedburner ‘reach’ rose 50%, and our e-blast click-throughs are trending up. Charlie presented his critique in a manner that made them easy for all of us to swallow. It was time very well spent.”

Sophia Madana, then-digital/social media specialist, VanderCook College of Music. “I attended a lecture Charlie presented on email marketing. ... After implementing his tips, the open rate of my email campaign is nearing 20 percent and the click-through rate has increased significantly. I happily recommend Mr. Meyerson as a consultant to any company or organization looking to amp up its digital presence without feeling too overwhelmed.”


Colleagues

Steve Scott, news anchor, WCBS Newsradio, New York City:Charlie’s not just ahead of the curve; he’s often the guy drawing the curve for others to follow.”

Alison Scholly, former chief operating officer, Chicago Public Media: “Charlie Meyerson is ... creative, well spoken, pays attention to detail, challenges conventional wisdom and has an affable relationship with all colleagues, whether they work in the news department or not. I worked with Charlie for many years at Chicago Tribune Interactive, and his leadership was frequently sought out by others because he was insightful, witty, respectful of others and worked tirelessly to collect and share audience insights with his team. I would hire Charlie into many leadership positions, but especially into roles that require consistent high effort, thoughtful decision-making, strong relationship-building skills and the ability to glean audience insights and take well-reasoned risks.”

Lou Carlozo, investment staff writer, U.S. News & World Report: “Charlie is, plain and simple, a visionary of news and radio content. He was the first person I ever met to grasp what ‘search engine optimization’ meant, in the mid-2000s. He was years ahead of his time. The same reporters who groaned at his wise counsel regarding SEO were scrambling to catch up years later. Charlie is wise, smart as a whip, and hands down one of the best news and radio pros I’ve ever worked with. I’m grateful for all he taught me, as it allowed me to go to AOL and achieve fabulous results in a short time. He also has a way of promoting loyalty and team play like few others I’ve met. He’s the best, period.”

Walter Sabo, former CEO, Merlin Media; and former vice president, ABC Radio Networks. Charlie is a great professional ... extremely collaborative and smart. He knows Chicago and understands the needs of the listener and the media community. I would work with him any time, anywhere.”

Boris Geisler, UX & UI design, innovation and production consultant—and architect of the Rivet Radio app: “Charlie is phenomenal! He combines a level of comprehension, professionalism, and joy that I’ve not seen in a newsman and story-teller. His attention to detail and sense of righteousness is what makes him a top-notch leader and strategist. He led Rivet Radio to journalistic excellence and a long list of awards. Plus, if it wasn’t for Charlie, I wouldn’t have the primary news source I enjoy every day! If you’re up to something big, hire Charlie! He knows!”

Former students and interns

Adam Langer, acclaimed novelist, critic and Forward culture editor. “One of the great pleasures of my college years was the time I spent as an intern at WXRT-FM. What, in part, made it such a wonderful and fulfilling experience was the presence of Charlie Meyerson. Always professional, informative, dedicated, and exceedingly well-prepared, Charlie helped me to learn the crafts of editing and writing, particularly under tight deadlines. He was both an excellent teacher and a terrific colleague.”

Scott Kitun, CEO at Technori, management consultant, and Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism graduate. Of all of the many instructors at Medill, ... Charlie ... provided me with the most value, post-graduation! I still rely on Charlie for guidance and mentorship years after having him as my instructor. His vision and understanding of the ever-changing media landscape is invaluable, as is his professional experience.”

Lauren Victory, reporter, WBBM-TV (CBS), Chicago. Charlie Meyerson mentored me since my beginning days as a journalist. When I was in my junior year at Northwestern University, ... Charlie focused on both the old and new of our industry—delving into ethics and the digital future .... Years after my internship, he remains a sounding board for me and a connection to several important journalists in the Chicago area.”

Giacomo Luca, reporter, KXTV-TV (ABC), Sacramento. “Professor, mentor, news director, friend: If you’re looking for the best of these, it’s Charlie Meyerson. He is one of the most influential teachers in my life and I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without him. His News Reporting class was spot-on what it is like to work in a daily newsroom. He brings passion, years of experience and independent attention. He helped instill the skills I needed to go on to become a professional journalist.”

Kim Strickland, author, blogger and airline pilot. “I interned under Charlie at WXRT Radio in Chicago during the summer of 1984. ... He made me feel comfortable at ’XRT, like part of the team, even though I was just a kid, and he found a way to critique my writing in such a supportive and instructive way, I still carry what he taught with me to this day.... On days when I just don’t feel like sitting in the chair, I hear Charlie’s words in my ear, “Have fun and do well.” Do well. And so I try. Because I do not want to let this man down.”



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