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Ira Koretsky
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Sustainability marketing is fast becoming a business best practice.

With its focus on social justice, economic prosperity and environmental protection, sustainability is really all about addressing the needs of people, profits and planet. Sustainability marketing, when done right, is a holistic marketing strategy that enables a brand to do good things for people in the community, make a profit, save people money and reduce environmental footprints.

Yet some brands pursue sustainability strategies with a singular focus on the environment. Their marketing strategy is built around products that are green, a premium pricing strategy for green products, promotional events that bring people together in support of the environment and distribution channels that meet green certifications and standards equivalent to the brand's.

Green marketing is a niche strategy. Its appeal is limited to a targeted segment of the population consisting of active environmental stewards. Sustainability marketing is a broader strategy. With a more holistic focus on people, profits and planet, it is more likely to appeal to a wider, larger group. Millenials, as an example, will have enough buying power to become the largest U.S. consumer group by 2017. The millennial generation understands and values lifestyle choices that enable them to help others, save money and reduce their environmental footprint.

Brands that recognize the big picture and pursue a sustainability marketing strategy are likely to see larger growth opportunities than those that limit themselves to a smaller niche.

For more insights on sustainability marketing, please see:
• Sustainability Marketing: Driving Change with the Right Message
• How Doing One Good Thing Is Making a Difference
• Beyond Green: The Transformative Nature of Sustainability

While doing some searching on the Internet, I came across an article on public speaking. The speaker said early in every presentation, he tells people

“This presentation is for you. So don’t hesitate to interrupt me and ask questions. In fact I encourage you to argue with me.  I’m here for you. In fact, I challenge you to throw me off.  That’s what makes this fun.”

While his intent is positive, how I could not DISAGREE more with most of what he said. Sentence by sentence, here are my comments and suggestions:
a) This presentation is for you
> I like it

b) “So” don’t hesitate to interrupt me and ask questions.
> “So” is a filler word. It is one thing to say it and another to write it. Don’t include it in your writing. One thing to note, “so” is one of my filler words and I continue to work on removing it from my speaking

c) “don’t hesitate to interrupt me and ask questions”
> “interrupt” is a negative word, 1,000%. It means to stop someone from doing what they were doing. No one likes to be interrupted.
> instead, say something like, “don’t hesitate to ask questions” or make it more positive by saying, “please ask questions at any time.”

d) In fact I encourage you to argue with me.
> Really, you want people to argue with you? In public? In front of everyone else in the room? In front of your superiors, colleagues, friends?
> I find this statement illogical. Can you think of any time in your personal or professional life you wanted to be sitting next to or standing next to two people arguing? People run from conflict…it’s human nature.
> Part of his audience are global professionals. There is a huge disconnect here as global audience members never ever, never ever, challenge the speaker.
> Make people feel good about interacting with you, the speaker. Perhaps something like, “if you have experiences different than what I am talking about, please share them. Different perspectives are helpful to everyone.”

e) I’m here for you
> It’s okay

f) In fact, I challenge you to throw me off.
> see comments under (d)

Here’s my suggestion for a revised introduction.

“This presentation is for you. Please ask questions at any time…don’t hesitate. If you have experiences different than what I am talking about, please share them. Different perspectives are helpful to everyone. Hearing from you is what makes this fun.”

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year 2014

Everyone at The Chief Storyteller® wishes you a warm, safe, and relaxing holiday season. Here's a little humor we shared years ago with our first holiday greeting card.


A good friend of mine recently told me about an executive in his company who would nary utter a holiday greeting before leaving the office for the holiday break.  She would simply slip out the door when the time came to leave. No good bye. No holiday greeting. Not one word. This went on for three consecutive years before he started to realize perhaps she knew not what to say.

After all, he thought, the holidays mean different things to different people. Surely, in this age of political correctness, she did not wish to offend anyone. Fortunately, there is a holiday greeting that is as timeless as the ages and as universal as the world in which we live. Like most holiday greetings, it consists of two simple words: 

So before you leave the office for the holidays this year, be sure to spread some holiday cheer. Take a moment to say “thank you” to each and every one of your employees, your business partners, your vendors and your customers. Let them know how much you appreciate them…for their hard work, for their role in your success and for their loyalty. Your holiday greeting could be the two most meaningful words they’ve heard from you all year long.

Thank you.

I happened to catch a performance of "A Christmas Carol" the other night at The Little Theater of Alexandria.

While this year marks the 170th anniversary of the publication of Charles Dickens' famous novella, I was struck by the profoundness of these words from Director Rebecca Patton regarding the evening's performance: "The more things change, the more they stay the same!"

The play began with people from Ebeneezer Scrooge's community milling about on a London street during the early Victorian era. They were talking about Mr. Scrooge, his cold and selfish ways, and his counting business. As the next scene unfolded in the office of Scrooge and Marley, it was apparent Mr. Scrooge was unaware of or could care less about what people were saying. What they were talking about, however, undoubtedly had an obvious impact on the reputation of Mr. Scrooge and his brand.

If this story were to unfold today, people would still be talking about these same things. What would change are the media over which these conversations are taking place. Sure, people would be talking in the streets. They would also be talking over social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs and online review sites. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

When people talk on social media, their conversations are amplified. They have greater reach. And what they are saying has greater influence on brand reputations and purchase decisions than anything a brand might say on its own.

Yet there are brands who, like Mr. Scrooge, are seemingly unaware of or could care less about what people are saying about them on social media. They hold steadfast to the outdated maxims of traditional marketing (where communications are one-way and initiated by the brand) and are reticient to embrace the power of social media marketing (where conversations are two-way, interactive and engaging).

As we saw in "A Christmas Carol," it was not too late for Mr. Scrooge to change his ways. Perhaps this year, some of these brands will have an epiphany like Mr. Scrooge's – maybe from the 'ghosts of marketing past, present and future' – and will discover the power of social media marketing. It's not too late for them to change, either.

For more insights on marketing and leadership lessons we can draw from the holiday classics, please see:
•  Reputation Management: Six Things Brands Can Learn from George Bailey
•  What Ebeneezer Scrooge Would Like Us to Know About Organizational Culture


I just returned from my Thanksgiving holiday with family. It was an enjoyable weekend filled with warmth, lively and engaging conversation and a chance for us to reconnect.

To help pass the travel time, I brought along the December issue of  'Washingtonian' magazine. Among the articles that caught my attention was the one entitled, "50 Great Places to Work." What struck me about the article was the role "warmth" of the office plays in creating and sustaining job satisfaction (i.e., "Does it feel like a place you want to go to? Do you get along with the people you work with?").

As I read the article, it wasn't hard to see the value of family relationships in the workplace. When employees feel like they are part of a family, they feel trusted, valued and appreciated. There is a palpable sense of warmth in the office. People like coming to work and engaging one another.  Employees are invested in the success of the company and are passionate about promoting the brand to friends, family and customers. For them, work is more than just a place to earn a paycheck; it is a great place to be.

How warm are the relationships among the people who work at your company? Do the people you work with treat each other in a way that makes them feel like family? Is your company among the 50 great places to work and, if so, why?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Leadership and Lifelong Learning

President John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

Take a moment and think about the leaders you know. Leaders of industry, thought, government, sports and your community…the people who inspire us to give our very best are the ones who do not assume they know everything. They know they will make mistakes from time to time.  And they trust the people they lead to help them when they ask for answers to some of their toughest challenges.

Leaders who are lifelong learners are approachable. They ask questions and they encourage open and honest feedback. They foster a culture where team members tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.  They encourage others to take risks and they embrace each failure as an opportunity to learn.

A commitment to lifelong learning. Few attributes define the character of a leader more than this one.

When it comes to business planning and strategy, I’ve noticed there are two types of people – those who believe they can and those who believe they cannot. The folks in the first group will generate a slew of ideas for making dreams come true, while those in the second group will offer only excuses for why the possible is really impossible.

One of the lessons I learned as a scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America is that the key to personal and organizational growth is empowerment. Empowering others gives them the freedom to try new things, to take risks and to learn (and grow) from their mistakes. Empowerment is allowing others to bring a “can-do” attitude to the challenges and opportunities they encounter. It is a sharing of decision-making authority and it drives accountability at all levels of an organization. And it encourages creative thinking and innovation, both prerequisites for growth.

This “can-do” attitude is one of the attributes I see consistently in entrepreneurs. Many of them start with a dream and an idea. One idea becomes several and as they implement their ideas, they take some risks. Not every idea is a home run and they learn from their mistakes. And this is how they grow their businesses and realize what, for many of them, has been a lifelong dream. As an example, I recently wrote about the story of Knockaround™ sunglasses and the role founder Adam “Ace” Moyer’s “can-do” attitude played in the growth of his business.

Which do your business planning and strategy discussions include more of: ideas for making dreams come true or excuses for why the possible is impossible?


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One Team, One Goal

I was at the gym the other day when I saw a t-shirt with this quote on it: “One team, one goal.” While it apparently was the motto that had been adopted by a group of employees at a local business, it could (and should) be the motto that guides almost any team or group.

“One team, one goal” speaks to the culture of an organization. It’s an attitude and it starts at the top. Without exception, every successful organization I have ever been a part of has embraced this attitude. Team members rally around each other and maintain a laser focus on a singular goal. If one member succeeds, they all do. Leaders reward and recognize efforts that encourage sharing, create a sense of community, resolve conflict and foster other collaborative behaviors that create a unified and energized culture. And results follow.

How would you characterize your organization? Are your team members unified around a single goal? Or is everyone out for themselves? What are your results telling you?

The Latino Hotel and Restaurant Association, LHRA, is on of the preeminent organizations representing the business interests of Latino hotel owners, operators and developers. Internationally, members own and operate hotels representing more than 20,000 rooms, employing over 15,000 individuals, and whose assets are valued at more than $2 billion.

Over 300 people from the US, Mexico, Central and South America will be attend. Members are influential, decision-making executives.

If you are in the hotel or restaurant industry, join me and hundreds of professionals from around the world.  I will be delivering Thursday morning's keynote, "Get Funded: Design and Deliver the Perfect Investor Pitch."

Top 5 Reasons to Attend

1. Forecasting. We cannot predict the weather in Florida, but our expert speakers and panelists can make educated predictions on how they think hotels and restaurants will preform in 2014!

2. Education. Two action packed days of presentations and panels focusing on industry trends that will help attendees boost their performance.

3. Networking with colleagues. Mix with other successful hospitality business professionals at our unique receptions and breaks.Last year we had a chefs competition to close the event...this year savory dishes will kick it off!

4. Legacy Building. Join LHRA as they hosts this year's Battle of the Brands - High Stakes Golf Tournament to support Latino students seeking careers in the hospitality industry! Compete in this stimulating golf tournament and help us raise money for student scholarships!!!

5. Industry Recognition. Meet owners, operators, developers and industry suppliers who have proven themselves worthy of LHRA recognition at this year's Estrella Awards!


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

It’s Time to Innovate

Are you starting a new business? Building a brand? Seeking to turn around a declining brand? Then innovate.


Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Innovation is what makes you, your culture, your value proposition, your products and services, your customer experience and everything else about your brand unique. It’s what makes you memorable. It’s your source of competitive advantage.

Instead of following someone else’s best practices, take the lead. Create the future. Write your own best practices. Take some risks. Innovate.

For more on the impact of innovation on your branding strategy, please see:
• How Innovation Drives Sustained Growth for Your Brand
• What Makes Your Company Different?
• Accelerate Growth and Innovation - Encourage a Culture of Risk-Taking

Article Summary:  With today’s communications so fast and furious, do you have the time to really process the multitude of messages demanding your attention? Of course you don’t. As a leader who has to communicate your own vision, how then do you ensure your messages resonate and generate the right actions? By surrounding them with compelling personal stories. Together, they make a business story. With our easy global access to diverse cultures and experiences, your words and stories matter to those around you more than ever before.  So Mr./Ms. Leader, what personal stories are you telling to inspire action? Do your audiences respond the way you intended?  [Note, this article was originally written for The Latino Hotel and Restaurant Association (LHRA)


Great Leaders are Great Storytellers:  Five Tips to Improve Your Leadership Effectiveness
Copyright © The Chief Storyteller® LLC. All rights reserved.
Ira J. Koretsky
July 2013, Published with The Latino Hotel and Restaurant Association (LHRA)

With today’s communications so fast and furious, do you have the time to really process the multitude of messages demanding your attention? Of course you don’t. You pick and choose based on what resonates.

So as a leader who has to communicate your own vision, how then do you ensure your messages resonate and generate the right actions? By surrounding them with compelling personal stories. Together, they make a business story.

If you were to look back over your career at the leaders that inspired you, I would bet part of what makes you smile when you think of them was their ability to connect to both your heart and your mind. Truly, only through business stories can you accomplish both.

During my career, two leaders have really stood out. When I think of Mike C. and Colonel M., I smile and remember fondly my time working with each of them. They stand out because of how each treated me—they were great listeners, they were great advisors, and they were great supporters. Over 26 years later, I am still friends with Mike C. Unfortunately, I lost track of Colonel M. when I left the US Army.

Why did Mike and the Colonel make such powerful and indelible impressions? Our shared experiences. Experiences define us. And it’s the stories we share about these experiences that help shape the world around us. We live through each other’s stories. The best stories have several key characteristics. They are simple; are easily understood; have immediate resonance; are delivered passionately; and have a positive outcome or learning experience.

Great leaders are great storytellers.

Whether you are speaking at a small, informal meeting; in front of investors; or before thousands at a shareholder’s meeting, use these five tips to improve your own business storytelling.

Identify the One Thing You Want them to Remember
Ensure your business story has only one key message. In the absence of a clear message, audience members will either forget what you said or create their own interpretation. Think of your message as a headline—about seven words in length. To see the potential power of a headline, try this: Type a phrase into your favorite search engine. You will be greeted with hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of pithy, short phrases all vying for your “click me” action. Which one will you click?

“Texture” Your Story
Use a variety of language styles. Imagine you were in an audience listening to some of our greatest contemporary storytellers. They use a variety of techniques and styles such as metaphors, alliteration, and repetition. Be deliberate in your word choices. Be deliberate in using character dialogue. Be deliberate with your rhetorical devices (by way of example, starting several consecutive sentences with the same words is a repetition figure of speech called “anaphora”).

Make the Journey Relevant
Make your story pass the “so what” test. Invite your audience into your experience by sharing the WIIFM?What’s In It For Me. Well-told stories create a shared experience, which enables your listeners to understand your business message on a personal level. Your words should crystallize common values and experiences. Be sure to answer the audience’s question of “Why is this important to me?”

Only Share the Good Parts
Edit ruthlessly. You have at most, three minutes to share your business story. Don’t think the whole story has to be shared. It doesn’t. And it shouldn’t. Instead, rethink how you tell your story in a business setting. Typical personal stories told at parties involve boring parts. Lots of boring parts, with the good parts interspersed. The good parts make your story interesting. If you need a little help identifying the good parts, ask your friends and colleagues for feedback. Or next time you tell a favorite story, listen for questions and look for favorable body language. Now edit or omit everything else. Then texture your words around the good parts.

It’s All About Them
Once you have identified your stories, think carefully about the words you are using. Words conjure feelings and emotions. The words you use and the stories you tell can elicit positive and negative feelings equally well. Words and stories have context and perspective. Many words have multiple meanings, and tone and delivery can be understood?or misunderstood?in a variety of ways. For example, the expression “You’re crazy,” can be playful, argumentative, or even condescending.

Leaders are constantly looked to for guidance and advice. Remember it’s all about them? It’s all about your audience. So Mr./Ms. Leader, what personal stories are you telling to inspire action? Do your audiences respond the way you intended?

With our easy global access to diverse cultures and experiences, your words and stories matter to those around you more than ever before. Be deliberate with the stories you tell and the messages you share. Follow the advice of famous novelist Joseph Conrad: “I have no use for engines. Give me the right word...and I will move the world.”


Ira Koretsky is the president of The Chief Storyteller®, a boutique marketing and sales consulting firm. He has delighted audiences around the world helping them achieve better business outcomes and accelerate their revenue with highly effective written, spoken, and social media communications. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after global speaker, columnist, consultant, and executive coach. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn®, and YouTube.


The phrase, fun and work, doesn’t have to be an oxymoron.

Just ask any of the employees who work for the area companies recently named among the Washington Business Journal’s Best Places to Work for 2013. For the ninth year in a row, the Washington Business Journal has compiled its list of the best DC area companies among small, medium and large companies.

Designed to honor the area’s leading employers, organizations that wish to be considered are evaluated through an employee survey that measures performance in areas like: team effectiveness, employee alignment with company goals, trust with co-workers, trust in senior leaders, feeling valued, work engagement and people practices.

This year’s honorees include companies like Ntiva, Ackerman Brown, McEnearney Associates of Alexandria, Cvent, Opower, LMI and AOL. Water balloon fights, Flip-Flop Fridays, team-building events, Caps games, picnics, paintball tournaments, catered lunches, a jogging trail, and scooters to use in the office are among the fun perks these companies offer to their employees.

Sure, you may have seen these perks elsewhere and may be wondering what makes the companies on this year’s list stand apart from others who aren’t on the list. In a word, it’s culture. For this year’s honorees, making work fun is more than just leaving a plate full of snacks in the kitchen. It’s a commitment to working together, trusting in one another, valuing the contributions of each and every employee, adhering to the Golden Rule and having fun.

Are your employees having fun at work? If not, what changes are needed in your organizational culture to make work fun? Why not set as a goal the inclusion of your organization in next year's list of best places to work?

This week, for the second year in a row, I am volunteering as a contractor and will be joining several hundred youth and adults from my faith-based community to perform home improvement work in the homes of needy people living in an economically depressed area. The 140 or so projects we will complete include painting, roofing repairs, deck and wheelchair ramp construction, window replacement, kitchen and bathroom enhancements and even the construction of a new home (in partnership with Habitat for Humanity).

This program, which is called WorkCamp, brings people together from many different walks of life. Participants are assigned to crews of 5-7, with each participant responsible for a specific role regarding the crew’s assigned project. One of the amazing things about work camp is seeing how people who have never met can come together to accomplish the extraordinary within a few short days.

As a contractor, my role is to manage our project to completion. While the goal is to finish on-time and within budget, equal if not more attention is given to the experience our youth and adult leaders will encounter during WorkCamp. This is, after all, a hands-on experience where everyone has an opportunity to learn about social justice, teamwork and home improvement. It’s a chance for all of us to touch the lives of the people we serve.

It’s also an opportunity for me to hone my leadership skills in areas like planning, project management, delegation and collaboration. And, in the spirit of entrepreneurship, it’s an opportunity for me to take some risks by moving outside my comfort zone and taking on projects that challenge me.

Together, my crew and I will share our time and talents to make a difference and, in the eyes of the people we serve, we will accomplish the extraordinary.       

For more on servant leadership and how it can improve your ability to accomplish the extraordinary, please see:
• Reputation Management: Six Things Brands Can Learn from George Bailey
• Your Brand and the Community It Serves
• What the Boy Scouts Can Teach Your Business About Serving Others

My oldest son graduated from Oakton High School in Vienna, Virginia the other day. For many of his classmates, it was an occasion marked by feelings of intense pride, quiet anticipation and hope. So it was fitting to mark the end of their high school years and the beginning of the rest of their young lives with a commencement address by Class of 2000 Oakton High School alumnus and entrepreneur Adam “Ace” Moyer, Founder and CEO of Knockaround™.

Ace’s message to the graduates was simple. If you have an idea, follow your dreams. No experience is necessary. With the support and encouragement of family and friends, you’ll figure it out.  Sure, the good will come with the bad and there may be times when difficult decisions have to be made. In the end, he told the graduating class of 2013, don’t be afraid to take risks. It will be worth it.

For Ace, his company started in 2005 with the idea of providing customers with classically styled sunglasses in many colors at an affordable price. Knockaround™ sunglasses were designed to take abuse and, as the thinking went, the people who owned them wouldn't mind abusing them because they didn’t cost much in the first place. That idea has since grown to include new models and color choices, limited edition and custom-designed sunglasses, apparel and accessories.

So follow your dreams and, as they say at Knockaround™, “keep looking at the bright side.” 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day

Today is the third year people can say to me, "Happy Father's Day." As an older parent, having children makes you (I believe) more acutely aware of your personal and family life. For me, it also makes me think of how grateful I am for my good friends, trusted colleagues, and loyal clients.

What positive things does it make you think of?

If the measure of one’s commitment to protecting the environment is the number of cars taken off the road as a direct result of an action, this year’s record-breaking turnout of participants in the Washington, D.C. region’s Bike to Work Day is tangible proof of the region’s growing concern for the environment. On a recent Spring day in mid-May, over 14,500 registered riders made a difference by taking their cars off the road for at least one day.

Of course, like so many other causes, events like this would not be possible were it not for the generous support of like-minded corporate and not-for-profit sponsors like Whole Foods Market, Marriott, ICF International, AAA, Commuter Connections and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA).

Working together with their local communities, these organizations are leading the way by telling a story we can believe in. It’s an authentic story about sustainability and how individuals can come together to make a difference. It’s also a story about a healthy and safe alternative to driving alone in your car…and about learning to enjoy the ride, as I and thousands of others did. One bike at a time, their participation in this year's Bike to Work Day provides us with a glimpse of the causes they and the people in their communities care most about -- sustainability, health and fitness, fun, etc.

How are you and your organization making a difference in your community? Are the stories being told reflective of your personal and organizational values? 

I am a huge fan of audio books. On the plane, in the car, and on the subway I am catching up on my favorite business books and for pleasure books. A colleague introduced me to John Scalzi, who is primarily a sci-fi writer. As I do every time with new authors, I read reviews on Amazon, biographies on Wikipedia and Amazon, and ask the referrering person more about style and substance.

Reading John's bio on Amazon really piqued my interest. Reading the bio shows me he's a bit wry, funny, well-liked (he's won several awards), and has an interesting call-to-action at the end.

John Scalzi writes books, which, considering where you're reading this, makes perfect sense. He's best known for writing science fiction, for which he won the John W. Campbell Award (2006) and has been nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel (2006, 2008, 2009). He also writes non-fiction, on subjects ranging from personal finance to astronomy to film, and was the Creative Consultant for the Stargate: Universe television series. He enjoys pie, as should all right thinking people. You can get to his blog by typing the word "Whatever" into Google. No, seriously, try it.

I indeed typed "Whatever" into Google and John's blog came up first. I'm convinced. Now I have to figure out which book to read first.

Moral of the story:  If you have a personal bio on your website, LinkedIn profile, speaker one sheet, etc., have you considered, seriously considered changing it? Most bios are factual and chronological splashed at the end with the "Ira's married to the love of his life, has a wonderful daughter, and enjoys photography in his spare time." When I thought conservative was better, I didn't stand out. Today, my bio helps me more memorable and more engaging. My bio gives people reasons and opportunities to talk with me more about my background.

Try changing your bio....even if it is just a little.

Postscript 1:  I just looked at his LinkedIn page and this is his first sentence in his Summary:  "I write. I edit. I get paid. I fight crime! I lied about that last one."

Postscript 2:  Some people asked that I include my bio. The bio is available as a PDF on The Chief Storyteller website, is included with my speaking engagements, has a variation on social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, is included in proposals, and the list goes on. People always ask me about something in the bio.

“Think deliberately.” The mantra of a person who has made improving communications his life’s work.

It all began some 30 years ago, at a high school science fair. Ira had presented his computer program on the heart and the circulatory system. One by one, the prizes were announced...third...second...first place. After nearly 100 hours of programming evenings and weekends, he slumped his shoulders and thought to himself, “I lost.” Then...Ira heard the chairwoman announce, “We are awarding the grand prize to a young man who could sell me my own pair of shoes!” And his name was called.

For more than 26 years nationally and internationally, Ira has been building his communication skills into a well-honed set of precision instruments. Within minutes, he will fundamentally change the way you communicate.

His most pivotal experience was serving as a public affairs officer in the United States Army Medical Service Corps. Trained in giving and preparing presentations for military and civilian executives, he gained invaluable insights into messaging, communications, and storytelling.

Living on both coasts, Ira has held various leadership roles in marketing and product management. After earning his MBA from the University of Maryland in 2000, Ira entered into the world of leading edge technology. It was while working in San Francisco and Silicon Valley he began to adapt his skills for use with the new, technology-driven tools today’s professionals have come to rely on.

And like all good communicators, Ira loves the stage. He performed improvisational humor professionally with ComedySportz in a career spanning 12 years and more than 1,000 shows. While performing, Ira had this epiphany: “improv mirrors life.” Life experiences stem from random and planned connections with people, and it is these experiences that help us to bond quickly with audiences.

Ira is an active blogger and writer, was a guest columnist for the Washington Business Journal, and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland. He helped the a US government contracting firm win a $94 million multi-year project; Altum develop a proposal that had a 100% success rate in going to the final decision round; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) secure funding for the National Youth Fitness Survey.

LinkedIn looks to be launching a major game changer in social media. I have not used it nor seen a demo. My opinion is based on the press coverage, release announcement, and screen shots. Google was very successful in creating hyper buzz with limited gmail email accounts. LinkedIn seem to be doing the same with a waitlist (see the bottom). We will see...

Here is the information from the blog post announcing the new, LinkedIn Contacts.


Have you ever wished for a personal assistant who reminds you when your colleagues are celebrating new jobs or birthdays? Or have you wanted to quickly pull up the last conversations you had with people before you head out to meet them?

Today we’re proud to announce the launch of LinkedIn Contacts, a smarter way to stay in touch with your most important relationships. With this new product, we bring all your contacts from your address books, email accounts, and calendars together with the power of your LinkedIn network. Contacts is available both on as well as a brand new app for iPhone. Over the coming weeks, we’ll start sending invitations to try LinkedIn Contacts to a limited number of members in the United States.

With the new LinkedIn Contacts experience, we’ve introduced features in three areas:

Bring all your contacts to one place

LinkedIn Contacts brings together all your address books, emails, and calendars, and keeps them up to date in one place. From these sources, we’ll automatically pull in the details of your past conversations and meetings, and bring these details directly onto your contact’s profile.

Never miss an opportunity to say hello

Get alerted on job changes and birthdays in your network, a perfect opportunity to stay in touch. Also, you can set reminders and add notes about the important people in your life.

Take it on your mobile device

Stay connected on the go. LinkedIn Contacts is available as a standalone app for iPhone, so you can stay in touch with your contacts wherever you work.

If you’d like to learn more or be one of the first to check out this new experience, visit to join our waitlist.

I have been a mentor and traveler with CRDF Global for many years. CRDF/Department of State have brought together (and continue to do so) some of the brightest minds from around the world in global innovation and entrepreneurship. If you are near the DC area, the event is on the GW Campus. Otherwise, enjoy the live streaming webinar. Register here.

Here are the details and links.

The Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Initiative, a partnership led by CRDF Global and the U.S. Department of State, invites you to join us for a lunchtime panel discussion on global innovation and technology entrepreneurship. This luncheon will provide an opportunity to celebrate successes achieved by entrepreneurs from emerging economies and hear from speakers who work to enhance entrepreneurial communities around the globe. Participants will learn about innovation and entrepreneurship and how diaspora groups can take these tools to help bridge communities and create new opportunities. Register here.

Event Agenda

12:30-1:00pm       Registration and lunch

1:00-2:00pm         GIST panel discussion

2:00-3:00pm         DC-based live Q&A period and networking

How to get involved?

Join our 159K+ Facebook Community:


Shari Loessberg, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan. LinkedIn
Shari is a seasoned entrepreneur in the US and emerging markets. She has lived five years in Moscow building leading Russian equity house. Shari has been at MIT Sloan for ten years, teaching about US venture capital investment and emerging market entrepreneurship. She also  consults on domestic and international startup issues. Her specialties are in emerging market entrepreneurship and investment, US venture capital investment, strategy and negotiation in funding US high-tech startups, domestic and international corporate governance and Russian capital markets.





Catherine Cook, Founder of Meet Me. LinkedIn
Catherine Cook graduated from Georgetown University (B’11), where she majored in OPIM and marketing. Catherine has been reported on extensively by CNBC, MTV, ABC News, Fox News, CosmoGIRL, BusinessWeek, the San Francisco Chronicle and CBS. She has spoken at a number of high profile conferences, including the Foursquare conference, and spoken at events at Princeton University, Boston College, and Georgetown University.





Wissam "Will" Yafi, Founder & CEO of TidWit Inc. LinkedIn
Wissam "Will" Yafi is the founder of TidWiT Inc. For the past 10 years, together with his team he has been responsible for launching worldwide e-learning and ICT initiatives to non-profits, high tech firms, and government organizations. With more than 20 years in the industry, Wissam often shares his experiences through workshops and planning sessions all over North America, Europe, LATAM, Asia, and Africa. Wissam and his team have successfully delivered hundreds of online courses using TidWiT's recognized Social Learning platform. Wissam balances work with community orientated activities such as training youth on entrepreneurship and technology and helping developing countries on incubation and ICT initiatives. His volunteer work earned Wissam recognition with VEGA in the US. Wissam is a published author of two books and is a regular contributor to several global media outlets.


GIST Moderator:

Ovidiu (Ovi) Bujorean, Sr. Manager of GIST Initiative.
Ovidiu Bujorean manages and directs the GIST Initiative. Mr. Bujorean is a professional speaker on topics such as professional networking, innovation and entrepreneurship and partnerships building. Previously, Mr. Bujorean was the Senior Associate at Rudyard Partners, a private equity firm focused on investing in consumer technologies. Mr. Bujorean serves as Chairman of the Board of Advisors of AIESEC DC and Vice-Chairman of MIT  Enterprise Forum of Washington DC. He founded LEADERS, an organization that impacted the lives of approximately 10000 young leaders and entrepreneurs in Romania and Southern-Eastern Europe and is a graduate of the MIT Sloan School of Management (MBA) and Harvard’s Kennedy School (MPA).




Register here.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Branding Lessons from Social Media

I celebrated a personal milestone this week when I reached the 3,000 follower mark on Twitter. Later that day, a friend and I were having lunch when he asked me to tell him about my success. Without hesitation, I gave him this simple explanation. It's all about branding. 

My experience with social media has provided me with some powerful insights. One of those insights is that developing an engaging presence on social media is a lot like building a brand. I started by defining my brand, a promise and an audience. The next step was to deliver on it. Consistently and regularly.



Let me share with you ten branding lessons I've gained from my experience with social media over the last four years:
1. Be yourself.
       Your friends and followers will like you for the person you are, not the person who you think they want you to be.
2. Always be true to yourself.
       Actions speak louder than words. Your followers will see through actions that are inconsistent with your identity.
3. Make it about them.
       Share content your followers will find helpful, valuable or meaningful.
4. Engage them.
       Embrace the notion that you are managing relationships with people, not selling something to them.
5. Be present where they are.
       Establish a consistent presence across multiple social networking sites (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, weekly blog, etc.).
6. Avoid unexplained absences for extended periods of time.
       Stay active and let your friends and followers know when you decide to take a break (or pre-schedule your posts).
7. Listen to your followers.
       Your followers are smart. Listen and learn from them. Share their content. Exchange ideas with them.
8. Know that real engagement is more than just the number of followers you have.
       Large numbers aren't everything. It's how you well you engage that matters. Kred (shown above) and Klout provide some measure of engagement in areas like reach, amplification, network and influence. 
9. Never buy friends and followers.
       Followers who are bought tend to be less engaged and are far less likely to stick around.
10. Respect and value your friends.
       When it comes right down to it, they are the reason for your presence (and success) on social media.


For more insights on brand building and social media, please see:
• Brand Building Through Social Media
• How Social Media Is Making an Impact on Marketing
• Why Social Media Should Be Part of Your Marketing Communications
• 5 Insights on Marketing Your Brand on Social Media
• Social Media Is About Building Relationships

Earth Day is Monday, April 22.

Since it was first celebrated here in the U.S. in 1970, it has become an international movement for promoting the planet and a sustainable future. It is now observed in 192 countries across colleges and universities, secondary schools, local communities and a growing number of brands.

If you’re a marketer like me and believe sustainability is about more than simply promoting green products and behaviors, you’ll appreciate brands whose approaches to sustainability marketing include calls to action that champion economic prosperity, social justice and environmental protection.

A brand that is making a difference in these three areas is One, whose tag line is “do one good thing™.” The story of One began in the U.K. with an awareness of a single need – that something needed to be done about the one billion people in the world who lacked access to safe drinking water – and an idea – to create a brand of bottled water where all the profits were given to charity.

While it may seem counterintuitive that a brand concerned with world water issues is selling bottled water, the explanation One provides on its website is what makes its sustainability marketing effort so innovative and unique: “We are not saying buy our water INSTEAD of using tap water; we are saying IF you are going to buy bottled water, buy One and make a difference at the same time.”

The story of One is still being written. Since May 2005, One has raised over $7.8 million for clean water supply projects in countries where the need is greatest (i.e., where over 40% of the population lives in extreme poverty). Thanks to the efforts of One, over 1.5 million people now have access to clean drinking water and, instead of walking great distances to get water, children are now going to school. One bottles are made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), use less plastic than the typical water bottle and are 50% lighter than the average soda bottle.

So the next time you reach for bottled water, think of One and the difference it is making in the global economy, the lives of people in some of the poorest countries in the world and the environment we call home. 

Last week I had the honor of being a semi-finalist judge for the The George Wasington University Business Plan Competition. About 35 judges discussed the merits and potential of some 30 business plans. Our focus was to select the eight lucky finalists. These finalists would then pitch on April 19, competing for over $60,000 in cash prizes.  We had some passionate discussions, laughed a bit, and in the end, chose some really interesting ideas. I am really looking forward to the presentations next week. If you are interested in attending, the link is at the bottom.

Brief Background
The GW Business Plan Competition, founded five years ago by Florida Governor Rick Scott and First Lady Annette Scott, awards over $60,000 in cash prizes to teams of GW students, faculty and alumni who have innovative ideas for new products and/or services. The Scotts' daughter, Allison Scott Guimard, is an alumna of GW's School of Business, class of 2005.

With 109 submissions from 12 schools at GW, participation has increased significantly over the years. From those initial submissions, 35 student-based teams were invited to write full business plans, and from them, eight teams made it to the GW Business Plan Competition Finals. These eight finalists will present their business plans and ideas to a panel of distinguished entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists and GW alumni.

Eight student-led teams will present their winning business ideas and compete for over $60,000 in cash prizes during the GW Business Plan Competition. The GW Business Plan Competition Finals are the culmination of a year-long series of educational workshops and active mentorship on new venture creation. Finalists will present their business plans and ideas to a panel of distinguished entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists and GW alumni. In addition, winners from previous years will be present to talk about where they have taken their businesses since securing funding in a previous GW Business Plan Competition. Registration and a full schedule are available here.

Final presentations and awards will take place from 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 19. The event is open to GW students, alumni, faculty, staff and members of the general public.

The George Washington University
School of Business
Duques Hall, 6th Floor
2201 G Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C.

Schedule for the day and to register, click here.

If you are planning to attend let me know, we can meet up there for some coffee.

If I were to ask who your biggest competitor is, who would you say? Now think about your changing competitive landscape and where you would like your business to be in five years. Who will be your next big competitor? How will you compete?

The world is changing. Your customers are changing. The competitive advantage that made your business successful in the past may not be an effective source of differentiation tomorrow. Businesses that thrive over the long term understand their current competitors and how customers respond to them. They also seek to identify emerging competitors before they become a threat. Early identification of emerging competitors provides companies with an opportunity to modify their existing marketing strategies in ways that allow them to acquire and maintain a sustainable competitive advantage.

Astute marketers are always on the lookout for the next big competitor. What are you seeing when you look across the horizon? Are there any relative "unknowns" who might be threatening to disrupt your industry with powerful innovations? If so, how will you prepare to meet this challenge? Will you be ready?

Your customers interact with your brand in a variety of ways. These interactions may include some or all of the following business processes: pre-sales, sales, support, billing, and customer service. The customer experience you provide at each and every one of these phases in the customer lifecycle forms an indelible impression of your brand and what it means to do business with you.

Now, suppose your customer feedback reveals dissatisfaction with the customer experience that occurs during a number of these business processes. How would you improve your brand’s overall customer experience? Where would you start?

Best practices suggest starting with the big picture. The big picture includes a vision of what success will look like if the business process improvement efforts achieve their desired results. It also includes the new skills and other tools your employees will need to succeed, as well as a clear and consistent communication of goals and milestone targets. Finally, it includes rewards – bonuses and other forms of recognition – for members of the business process improvement team when goals are met and exceeded.

Business process improvements that result in a great customer experience can be a source of competitive advantage for your brand. Brands that provide a positive customer experience enjoy increased customer loyalty, lower price sensitivity and higher profit margins than their competitors.

Visit us next week for ideas on how to identify the process improvements that are likely to have the greatest impact on your brand's customer experience.

Follow my logic to really appreciate why practice is an absolute to being successful. Let's use driving a car as our example.

For comparison, let's use the Automobile Manufacturer's average of 12,000. Think of the warranty offered as three years or 36,000 miles.

Thus, we can create an annual number of miles driven chart since age 25.

Age    # of Miles
25             60,000
30            120,000
35            180,000
40            240,000
45            300,000
50            360,000
55            420,000
60            480,000

If I were to ask anyone based on these numbers, "Are you an excellent driver," he/she would surely respond Yes. How about asking someone in their forties? Absolutely Yes.

Now, if I asked a 45 year old driver if he/she could beat an Indy 500 race car driver, the answer would be an unequivical "No." How come? The person drove three hunnnndreddd thousssanddd miles.

The reason is clear. Practice.

All too often people spend too little time practicing... practing a presentation, sharing a personal story for business impact, writing powerfully, responding to questions during an investor meeting, conducting an important board meeting, and so forth.

Next time, spend at least a little bit of time practicing. You'll never regret the time spent.

Everyone likes a success story.

I picked up a recent issue of Fortune magazine and found one hundred of them, under the story line, “100 Best Companies to Work For.” These stories were compiled on the basis of feedback obtained from what Fortune calls “the most extensive employee survey in corporate America.” The survey asks employees for their feedback on management credibility, job satisfaction and organizational culture.

Not surprisingly, each of the companies chosen for this honor has a unique story of what makes it a great place to work. The stories they tell evoke images of employee wellness, creativity, innovation, shared wealth, trust and respect, community service, passion, transparency and appreciation. Some of my favorites included stories about Wegmans, Recreational Equipment (REI), Men’s Wearhouse and Marriott International – all brands I frequent and ones I have highlighted in previous blogs.

Do you have a favorite success story from this list?

Click here to see the full list of this year’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Are You a Manager or a Leader?

I stumbled upon a great read the other day, "Tribes", by international best-selling author Seth Godin. The book is a compendium of short articles on leadership. The basic premise is that anyone with a passion for something can create a movement. All it takes is a deliberate choice. A choice to lead.


With experience as both a manager and a leader in a variety of not-for-profit and corporate organizations, I found this book fascinating. It spoke to the not so subtle differences between a manager and a leader.  As described in the book, managers are process-oriented, reactive, defenders of the status quo, predictable, focused on employees and their assignments, and often stuck "playing today's game by yesterday's rules." Leaders are visionary, proactive, agents of change, inspiring, skilled in attracting  followers, trusting, forward-looking and passionate. 

My experience tells me that organizations that grow and thrive (i.e., as measured by sustained growth in members, member engagement, revenues or profitability) are led by leaders.  Leaders use their passion and ideas to build communities of followers, or tribes. They recognize the world is changing and they respond with innovation. They lead with fresh ideas and they empower others to take risks and make good decisions. By trusting and respecting others, they accomplish the extraordinary and they move you forward. 

What do you think? Are you a manager or a leader? The choice to lead is yours.

For more on leadership and its impact on an organization, please see:
• What Story Is Your Organizational Culture Telling?
• What Makes Your Company a “Best Place to Work?”
• Accelerate Growth and Innovation – Encourage a Culture of Risk-Taking


For the past two years (2011 and 2012), I shared my top 50 business storytelling and communications mantras. As I plan for 2013, I always look to my list to light a small fire of inspiration.

As you look through this list, see what applies to your life or what you want to apply. Write your own list of mantras. Whatever you do, make a list (short or long) of your goals and aspirations. Every so often read, revise, and contemplate...

Here are the mantras at The Chief Storyteller. Think about this list and how it can help prompt new and fresh approaches to making your personal and organizational communications unforgettable. We would love to hear your mantras...please leave them in the comments.

Personal Storytelling & Communications
01.    People are at the heart of every great story.
02.    Stories are how people remember you.
03.    Use humor if you want to.
04.    Write in your authentic voice.
05.    Write and speak conversationally.
06.    Write emails as if they will be read on a smart phone.
07.    Tell more personal stories with relevant business messages

Brand/Organizational Storytelling
08.    Promise a better tomorrow.
09.    Know your elevator speech / elevator pitch / mission statement (core business story).
10.    Ensure your core business story is unified throughout all communication materials.
11.    Your brand story is everything.
12.    Success stories are key to differentiation.
13.    Social communities are built on personal and business stories.
14.    Deliver on the expected experience.

15.    It’s all about them.
16.    Relationships matter.
17.    Business stories are the engine of relationships and relationships are the engine of continued success.
18.    Credibility is more important than expertise in the beginning of relationships.
19.    Send hand-written thank you notes, especially job hunters.
20.    Active listening is key to building great relationships.
21.    Treat everyone like a CEO.
22.    Stop listening to your Mother. Talk to strangers at networking events.
23.    It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
24.    Treat every client like your best client.
25.    Be a deliberate networker.
26.    Be a people bridge and make referrals.
27.    Be a mentor.
28.    People crave connection.
29.    First Impressions Make Lasting Impressions:  offer a warm smile, firm handshake, and good eye contact.

30.    Write to the 10th grade level.
31    Content is king.
32.    (Good) blog and article content matters the most.
33.    Strive for “interest” questions. Avoid “understanding” questions.
34.    Content first. Design second.
35.    Always have a second person read your content before publishing.
36.    Design your website for your target audiences (not your staff).
37.    Inspire Action:  facts do not persuade and inspire, people do.
38.    Audiences are hungry for original thought-provoking content.
39.    Get yourself known (e.g., LinkedIn questions and answers, post to SlideShare, and Tweet good information).
40.    Speak in headlines.
41.    Maintain a detailed Ideal Target Profile for your key target audiences.

Personal Development
42.    But is the worst word in the English language (and many other languages).
43.    Words really, really matter.
44.    Have positive self-talk conversations.
45.    Change is a choice.
46.    Create your own success momentum.
47.    Be a student everyday.
48.    Be a whole body communicator.
49.    Avoid fillers (um, ah, like, you know)
50.   Be a deliberate communicator

In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the story opens on a dark and bleak Christmas Eve, at the counting office of Scrooge and his deceased partner, Jacob Marley. Ebenezer Scrooge is introduced as a lonely and miserly old man who lacks kindness, generosity and compassion for others. He balks at giving his overworked employee, Bob Cratchit, paid time off for Christmas Day. While it’s easy for the reader to see how unhealthy this culture might be to an organization, it is not readily apparent to Mr. Scrooge.

As the story unfolds, Scrooge receives visits from four ghosts – Jacob Marley, Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future – who accompany him to various scenes from his life. In each scene, he is allowed to step back and observe his actions and the impact they have on others. Only after glimpsing a preview of his own woeful legacy and dark fate does Scrooge decide to transform his life, embracing kindness, generosity and compassion.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of delivering your brand promise to non-customers. In many ways, I was speaking about the relationship between your brand promise and your organizational culture. Organizations, for example, who claim to value and appreciate their customers must first value and appreciate their employees.  As Ebenezer Scrooge discovered, for those who may have lost sight of this reality, it’s never too late to change.  We simply need to step back and take a look at how our actions are impacting those around us. We then need to ask if they are consistent with the way in which we want others to perceive us.

Now take a step back. Think about your organization and its culture. How would you describe it? More importantly, how would your employees describe it? Is it consistent with your brand promise? If not, what actions can you take to change it in the new year?

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