Your 3 Step Plan to Healthy Communication


Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

A recent Kaiser survey asked Americans how they thought the Affordable Care Act would impact them. 57% said they didn’t know enough about the law to say.

In an poll of small businesses with less than fifty employees, 56 percent believe they are required to provide insurance for employees under the Affordable Care Act beginning in January of 2014. Yet these businesses are exempt from the new healthcare program.

Reaching and influencing individuals across the country is certainly a challenge. On the other hand, the story is so big that an array of mediums exist to tell it and we are ready to talk about it.

Small businesses are one of the key target markets of the Affordable Care Act’s communication efforts. Yet it appears many small business owners do not understand how the act impacts their companies.

This blog post isn’t really about the Affordable Care Act. It’s about the importance of strategic messaging and planning for healthy communication.

Whether you need to reach millions, thousands, hundreds or just your own family members, you can improve your communication with this 3 Step Plan:

  1. Plan, plan and then plan. Spend as much time planning for the communication of the idea, event, product or service as you do in planning to create, develop or produce it.
  2. Accept that how you think it should be isn’t how it really is. Just telling someone something a few times doesn’t work. Using only a couple of mediums—“We have it on our website and we tweeted it” or “We sent a press release and some emails plus bought some TV ads”—doesn’t cut it. Repeat your message in multiple mediums.
  3. Pick your favorite cliche and live by it. Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). Less is More. Make It About Them. Unfortunately, people often don’t adhere to these principles. Some say they do but then can’t help themselves. Clarity. Brevity. Focus on your audience and what they can take away, not on your jargon or corporate speak.

Follow your 3 Step Plan for Healthy Communication. Be disciplined. Start now.

6 Things To Do With Emails

This is the first in a series of three posts based on content from presentations made to college seniors.

While preparing a speech for a group of college seniors, I focused on the importance of a lifelong thirst for knowledge and achieving positive, incremental change. The end result was a presentation with three key themes:

  •  Success, like beauty, should be in the eye of the beholder. You decide what you want to do, how you want to live and what you want to achieve.
  • Potential employers need to know what you are capable of and how you think. Use the Seinfeld PR Approach and tell your story. What you think is nothing can be interesting to others.
  • People will want you on their team if you are organized, efficient and get things done.


For this post, here are some tips to improve your organizational skills.

6 Things To Do with Emails:

  1. Act–Act on it immediately.  If something can be done in less than 15 minutes, act on the task immediately and complete it.  Then, it’s done and off your ‘to do’ list.
  2. Tickle–If a task requires action within two weeks, place it in your ‘Tickle’ folder along with a due date. Your ‘Tickle’ folder should be reviewed two or three times each week with actions taken based on priority.
  3. To Do–If the item needs acted on within the next week and you can’t work on it immediately, put it in your ‘To Do’ folder.  This folder will contain multiple items  and  must be reviewed every day to stay on top of your main priority items.
  4. Delegate–Delegate or forward the email to someone. Provide specific timelines and action items for the person assigned the responsibility. Follow up as necessary on the progress.
  5. File–If it is important but not actionable immediately, create a folder and file it as soon as possible.  If you can’t file things quickly, at least file multiple items once a week.
  6. Delete–You need to get rid of emails if they are not relevant now or won’t be within six months.  Enjoy deleting. It should be a liberating experience.

The key is to touch the email once and then have a plan for it. Use these 6 Things To Do with Emails to become more productive and gain peace of mind.

Quit Achin’ to Be and Make Something Happen

MAS_SocialNet_Logo_500x500Sounds of Marketing
Achin’ to Be—The Replacements

Public speaking ranks as one of our biggest fears. People also dread writing and “putting ideas to paper” or to computer/tablet screen. Creative solutions are put off because of the crisis of the day.

Why do we spend more time worrying about how others will respond to an idea than on the idea itself?

Well she’s kind of like an artist
Sittin’ on the floor
Never finishes, she abandons
Never shows a soul

When we finally begin working on something unique, we are afraid of what others might think. The little voice inside our head convinces us that we’ll bomb. No one will like it. The idea will get shot down. People will laugh.

Well she’s kind of like an artist
Who uses paints no more
You never show me what you’re doing
Never show a soul 

But we should consider the consequences of not offering our ideas, not taking a chance. Keeping quiet and playing it safe might seem better in the short term but in the long run?

She closes her mouth to speak
And closes her eyes to see

The promotion went to someone else. The salary isn’t what it should be.  Every day it’s the same old, same old. Frustration mounts and begins to show. Facial expressions paint you in a negative light. Comments are misinterpreted as complaints.

She opens her mouth to speak and 
What comes out’s a mystery

You were hired or promoted for a reason. Someone thought you were the right pick. Now they wonder what might have been. Unrealized potential. Missed opportunities.

Thought about, not understood

Sadly, the downward spiral leads to even lower self esteem.

She’s achin’ to be

You know what you know so put your ideas out there. Be creative and tell your story. Listen to what others say and watch how they respond. Take what makes sense and tweak your ideas. Ignore the rest, believe in yourself and wait. Someone will get it.

Or not.

Either way, taking the chance is better off than just achin’ to be.

Achin’ to Be Video






But What If It Doesn’t Work?

When we have an idea, one of the first things we ask ourselves is “But what if it doesn’t work?”

How many times does this prevent us from trying something new? How often do we accept the status quo even though we think there has to be a better way?

It’s OK to consider what might happen if an idea doesn’t work as long as we ask two other important questions:

“What if it does work?”

“What do we stand to lose by sticking with the current way of doing things?”

We subconsciously fight change. Our self-doubt and negative inner thoughts prevent us from proposing or implementing new ideas. We avoid or ignore problems and make irrational rationalizations like “That’s not my responsibility.”

Whether you are a team member, middle manager or senior leader, you owe it to yourself and your organization to focus on creative solutions that improve your customer experience, operational processes and overall bottom line.

You have to do your part to foster an environment of creativity and innovation. Challenge assumptions. Offer solutions rather than just pointing out problems. Ask questions of peers, bosses, subordinates and customers. Actively listen and think about what you hear.

Try following the 5 W’s Technique used by journalists, police officers and market researchers.  Ask and answer: Who? What? Where? When? Why?

*Who do you want to reach and influence? Clearly define your target markets. Learn how they think. What makes them tick? Why do they say both “yes” and “no?”

*What are you selling? Not just the mission statement or website copy points. What are you really selling?

*Where do we have a competitive advantage? What makes us different? Why do they want and need us?

*When can we maximize our opportunities? When do they (your target audiences) want and need the solution?

*Why aren’t we making it happen?

Instead of convincing yourself a new idea might not work, ask the 5 W’s. The answers will lead to creative solutions that enhance your customer experience.

Who “Owns” Drew Barrymore?

We  relate to certain athletes and entertainers as being “ours” because they came of age at the same time we did.

Drew Barrymore, who is celebrating her 38th birthday today, is one of those celebrities that multiple age groups call their own. People in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and even 50’s can all make a case that she is “theirs” or maybe that she’s not, depending on perceptions.

It led me to take 10 minutes I didn’t have to Google her.

Barrymore’s first big time role was in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial way back in 1981 when she was only 6. After a rough patch in the late 80’s and early 90’s, she went on a bit of a run starring in movies like The Wedding Singer, Riding in Cars with Boys and Charlie’s Angels from 1995 through 2000.

During this century’s first decade, she became one of the highest paid actresses commanding $10 million per film for box office hits like 50 First Dates (referenced in my How to Avoid Information Overload and Do More with Less presentation) and showed off her marketing skills as co-creative director for Proctor & Gamble’s Cover Girl.

Recently the actress, producer and director launched her own makeup and beauty brand called Flower, with 181 products including eye shadows and nail polishes priced from $5 to $14 sold exclusively at Walmart.

“We wanted something special. We were not interested in a trend, a celebrity brand that wouldn’t last.” Said Carmen Bauza, vice president of beauty and personal care for Walmart US. “We want this to be here and be here for a long time.”

Walmart needed a celebrity partner with a long lasting image. The Drew Barrymore name and brand are recognized by multiple generations.  The retailer also wanted someone who understands how to create memorable messages and promotions. Barrymore has the track record there too.

Whether she’s “theirs” or “yours,” it’s safe to say Drew Barrymore has built a powerful brand during her 30+ years of celebrity. And she shows no signs of slowing down just yet.

What’s your favorite Drew Barrymore moment? Her  Letterman appearance on his birthday  might make my list…

Happy Birthday Drew.



Better Listening Leads to Better Results

It seems like an organization exists for just about everything. My company belongs to the Society for Healthcare Strategy and the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. I’m part of the National Speakers Association. You can probably rattle off a few that are specific to your industry or area of expertise as well.

So I guess it makes sense there’s an International Listening Association. Their mission is to advance the practice, teaching and research of listening throughout the world.

I hear that.

But I just enjoy their statistics, gleaned from years of studying the good, the bad and the ugly of listening. Here are a few nuggets:


  • 85% of what we know we have learned by listening.
  • 75% of the time we are distracted, preoccupied or forgetful.
  • We only recall about 50% of what was said immediately after we listen to someone talk.
  • In total, just 20% of what we hear will be remembered.
  • Less than 2% of us have had formal education about listening.
  • People listen through one of four primary styles: people, time, action or content oriented. Females are more likely to be people-oriented and males are more likely to be time or action oriented.

Say what?

I’m thinking it means listening is vital to leading, managing, marketing and selling. Your personal productivity and your company’s success will be enhanced via betterlistening. With that in mind, here are…drum roll please…

10 Ways to Improve Your Listening

1.     Let the speaker finish their thoughts, don’t interrupt

2.     Keep an open mind, don’t judge

3.     Listen without planning what you are going to say next

4.     Give feedback

5.     Pay attention to the speakers posture and body

6.     Stay focused

7.     Show respect

8.     Take notes

9.     Make eye contact to keep the speaker at ease

10.   Put as much effort into listening as the speaker puts into talking

Better listening leads to better results. And you don’t even need to join an organization to improve…

Just listen.

“Enjoy The Silence” – Sounds of Marketing

Single(1990) by Depeche Mode

Listen and Watch While you Read

For many managers, now is the time to cram in all those performance evaluations they’ve been putting off. Instead of having conversations on a regular basis about professional development, goals and action plans, the performance appraisal ends up being the major formal discussion of the year.

Words like violence
Break the silence

The goal is to increase the employee’s effectiveness, not to punish him. But apart from the minority of employees who receive the highest ratings, performance reviews are often deflating and do more harm than good.

Painful to me
Pierce right through me

The performance appraisal becomes a one way conversation rather than a true dialogue. The boss seemingly has all the power and sees himself as evaluator while the subordinate becomes the spin doctor saying what he thinks the boss wants to hear.

Feelings are intense
Words are trivial

Since managers tend to avoid talking about problem areas throughout the year, this often carries over to the formal evaluation as well. Direct discussion about weaknesses is replaced with vague generalities and praise is watered down and ambiguous.

Words are meaningless
And forgettable

The company line is that pay is tied to performance. But most jobs have a pay range already in place before someone is hired. Raises are often determined by the boss based on market conditions and departmental budgets more than on the results of the performance evaluation.

Vows are spoken
To be broken

Instead of the year end ‘top down’ performance appraisal, managers should involve employees in decisions that affect them throughout the year. Seek input and feedback from subordinates. Engaging your employees is more meaningful than talking at them during a performance appraisal.

Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm

Bosses also need to put some skin in the game with dialogue that holds both parties accountable. Boost bottom-up communication, tap into employee knowledge and increase worker productivity. Listen more and talk less. You might be surprised when employees aren’t complaining as much to each other about your performance evaluation process.

Enjoy the silence

If you have a song suggestion for Sounds of Marketing, please let us know by emailing

Assertive Not Aggressive

Sometimes people are misperceived as aggressive or pushy when they confront others about an issue. Potential solutions and fresh ideas are ignored because the message was personalized and viewed negatively.

In other instances, the message is lost because tone and content move from assertive to personal. Emotions get in the way and prevent a healthy dialogue. Instead of solving the problem, we add to it by forcing our point of view on others.

Assertiveness involves striving for a win-win outcome by clearly communicating your needs, wants and thoughts, while acknowledging the needs of others.

If you perceive someone as aggressive, make sure it is not actually assertive behavior featuring a message you don’t want to hear. We often point out flaws in ‘style’ or ‘delivery’ when people confront difficult issues. It could simply be misreading of the situation or a move into self preservation mode. Either way, productivity and personal growth are tied to our ability to understand when others are offering solutions in an assertive manner instead of misperceiving it as aggressive behavior.

How do we avoid becoming aggressive ourselves?

Most people prefer to be assertive but unintentionally become aggressive due to a combination of lack of preparation and an inability to keep emotions in check.

Before confronting someone, think through or even write down what you are going to say. This enables you to clearly assess the nature of the problem, how it affects you, how you feel about it and what you want to change. Preparation also increases our understanding of where the other person is coming from and reduces our instinct to make it about them rather than the issue.

Listen to other perspectives and be direct and concise when explaining how you see the situation. Offer creative solutions and show a willingness to explore other options.

Being assertive can help you convey who you are and what you are about. It doesn’t always result in getting exactly what you want. But it does show you realize that other opinions matter and that you are interested in improving the situation.

David M. Mastovich, MBA, is the president of Massolutions, a Pittsburgh based Integrated Marketing firm that focuses on improving the bottom line for client companies through creative marketing, selling, messaging and customer experience enhancement.

Light Reading Archives 

Get Where You Want To Go!

Avoidance Is Not The Answer

Which of the following applies to your company?

  1. An employee repeatedly misses deadlines or makes mistakes but doesn’t hear about it from the boss.
  2. A co-worker has ‘protected status’ and can pretty much do things how and when they want.
  3. A manager is blatantly incompetent but somehow survives again and again.
  4. All of the above.

Unfortunately, many people will probably answer ‘All of the above.’


The avoidance approach to problem solving has become an accepted practice.

Workplace conflicts and problems are inevitable and often result from some combination of unclear expectations, poor communication, lack of clear authority and differing attitudes and skill sets of workers.

Subscribing to the ‘If I ignore it, maybe it will go away’ philosophy doesn’t solve anything and can actually lead to more problems. 

As painful as it might seem, addressing an issue or conflict directly will reduce stress for you and others.

You could start by clearly defining the problem (and making sure you are not part of it). Try to understand the ‘whys’ behind the problem and the people involved. Develop some creative potential solutions other than everyone else being fired except you. Then, discuss the situation and your ideas openly without making any personal attacks or assailing anyone’s character.

If your boss is part of the problem or allowing it to occur, you still need to take the time to assess the situation. Ask your boss for some time to discuss an idea you have that you think can help the team. Present your ideas and potential solutions and ask for feedback to learn what he or she thinks.

At the least, you put the subject out there and make sure poor communication is no longer the issue. If you can start an open dialogue about the problem, you and others can begin working towards a solution. You might not totally agree with the end result.

But, one thing is for sure, avoidance is not the answer.

David M. Mastovich, MBA, is the president of Massolutions, a Pittsburgh based Integrated Marketing firm that focuses on improving the bottom line for client companies through creative marketing, selling, messaging and customer experience enhancement.

Light Reading Archives

Get Where You Want To Go!

Spend Less, Get More-5 Steps to Integrated Marketing

Spend Less, Get More-5 Steps to Integrated Marketing

Light Reading is a series of communications from MASSolutions that sheds light on common business challenges and provides solutions to strengthen your bottom line.

What do senior leaders typically think when asked to commit more resources to messaging and selling? Decision makers tend to lump Marketing, PR, Communications and Advertising together and ask:

Do we really need that?

How much does it cost?

How will we know if it is working?

Isn’t (insert name of person or department) responsible for that?

Focus on Marketing ROI Needed

Marketing and messaging professionals passionately explain their ideas but often fail to convey the Return on Investment (ROI) in terms CEO’s, CFO’s and entrepreneurs are accustomed to hearing. The end result is a lack of buy-in.

Senior leaders also tend to lose patience with multiple departments or vendors (PR, Marketing, Corporate Communications, etc.) that rarely communicate with each other as well as they should. Each function or area sees things in their own biased way.

Sales or Business Development thinks they’re king because they bring in the business, others find them arrogant and demanding. Advertising thinks they’re cool and full of big ideas, others see them as full of something else. PR talks about framing the message, other departments wonder what they really do. The end result? Senior leaders think these areas are inefficient cost centers with overlapping, duplicative efforts.

Organizations talk about getting these departments to work together but become frustrated with mixed results attributed to the type of work and workers involved. Phrases like “You know those creative people,” or “That’s marketing. They’re different,” are used to explain it away.

How can your organization overcome this cycle of frustration?

Five Steps to Integration

Champion the idea of creating a true integrated marketing and PR program by focusing on these five strategic initiatives:

  1. Develop mutually agreed upon target markets that messaging and selling efforts will focus on and make sure each department knows and agrees on the target markets. For example, Sales often overlooks the importance of employees as a key target market while Corporate Communications sees this group as vital. Advertising sometimes focuses too much on the creative message and neglects key target markets. Communicating the specifics about each market segment is the first step toward successful integration.
  2. Find out what each target market wants by asking them, through multiple channels. While engaging a market research firm is the most formal research method, don’t overlook other ways to learn about target markets. Your Sales team can ask customers and prospects what they think and track results. Corporate Communications should be able to easily survey employees. Your methodology doesn’t have to be perfect. The key takeaway is ask your customers, internal and external, what they think and act accordingly.
  3. Develop a consistent message and require each department to live by it. Be vigilant about message consistency but also be flexible. For example, your sales team isn’t going to use the advertising slogan all the time. Tweak the message accordingly for each target market but ensure the overall theme is still conveyed. Consider secret shopping so you can learn what your customers are really seeing and hearing.
  4. Work with each department or vendor on clearly defining their goals and the market forces that impact their ability to achieve those goals. Develop a summary of each department or vendor’s specific roles and strengths. Convey these key points to everyone involved. The goal is to increase the level of understanding and respect across functions.
  5. Instill a Corporate-Wide Marketing ROI focus. Challenge your marketing and messaging professionals to provide rationale in terms of Marketing ROI Success Metrics. Ask them to work in conjunction with Finance to build the metrics. Report the success metrics to leaders and managers throughout the organization. The more they know about your marketing, selling and messaging strategy, the better.


Developing a true Integrated Marketing, PR and Selling program doesn’t just happen. But once you invest the time and effort, you will reap the benefits of a positive Marketing ROI.

David M. Mastovich, MBA, is the president of Massolutions, a Pittsburgh based Integrated Marketing firm that focuses on improving the bottom line for client companies through creative marketing, selling, messaging and customer experience enhancement.