You are a message strategy pro, but you don’t know it

Diane Evans (left, Sue's mother) and Sue (right)

When you inform the waiter that you would like the Cobb salad with the ranch dressing on the side, minus the croutons, you are a message pro. You know what you want. And you know who needs to hear it.

Consider your mother. Mothers broadcast and signpost that a message is coming so you won’t miss it when it hits you.

Mothers are especially savvy because they are committed to achieving the result they want when they want it. These are some of my favorites:

  • “I’ll tell you one thing, the homework gets done or you’re not going.”
  • “Please don’t make me worry. Wear your seatbelt and be back by 10.”
  • “Let me tell you something: Don’t fight with your brother. He loves you.”


When we know what we want, we cut to the chase to achieve the outcome we want. Our messages are naturally short, snappy and sharp.

Effective message strategy identifies the target audience and the goal. This process ensures we choose the words that resonate. That’s why mothers have real power.

 Let’s breakdown a simple mom message for strategy.

“I’ll tell you one thing, the homework gets done or you’re not going.”

“I’ll tell you one thing” is the signpost of the message that alerts the target audience – the kid – that an important message is coming.

“The homework gets done” is the objective of the message.

“Or you’re not going” conveys the urgency and impact of the message.

In the fancy world of public relations, you would hire a consultant to focus group and test the effectiveness of this message. But moms don’t have to test their messages. These messages have been tested over generations of focus groups called grandparents. We inherit them and launch them because we know they work.

The next time your mother calls you, take the call and listen. She’s a message strategy pro who’s already on your side.

Re-Elect Gael Tarleton for Port of Seattle Commission

Gael TarletonEvery once and awhile, a political candidate comes along who gets you excited and rejuvenated about the possibilities in politics. That person for me is Gael Tarleton. She is running for re-election as Port of Seattle Commissioner.

In the interest of full disclosure, Gael is a client and Gael is a friend. But I also believe, Gael is a rising star in progressive politics. And as a veteran of Puget Sound politics, it’s a statement I don’t make often.

I met Gael in 2007, when she first ran for this office and was impressed by her background, work ethic and commitment to progressive policies to make the world a better and safer place for people in Puget Sound.

I have worked for a lot of big campaigns and candidates and political causes in the last 20 years. But I think Gael is a standout for three reasons:

  • She works like a dog
  • She is as smart as a whip
  • And she embodies the integrity and fierce passion it takes to make real change happen for people.


Candidates like Gael don’t come along very often. I know from my own personal history in journalism and politics. I began my career in Puget Sound as a newspaper reporter covering the Port of Seattle and its trail of atrocities on the communities of Des Moines, Normandy Park, Burien, White Center and West Seattle. These communities fought unfair buyouts by the Port to make way for the Third Runway for a decade. I later went to work for two state lawmakers in the 33rd District who represented these communities. We spent years fighting the Port on countless environmental violations and unfair practices against community homeowners and schools on buyouts and noise-abatement issues. Contrary to popular belief, these communities existed long before Sea-Tac Airport. I know, because my family operated the Robinson Newspaper chain. And the local papers back in those days were strong and aggressively covered the evolution of Sea-Tac Airport, long before it existed to what it is today.

It’s one of the reasons Gael Tarleton wanted me on her side. Gael is committed to transparency and accountability at the Port of Seattle and has already changed the way it has done business while protecting the environment, communities, workers and jobs.

She has ended the excessive practice of private executive sessions and has ensured all Port money that is spent, is spent in public. All Port executive sessions are now taped. All Port Commission meetings are conducted online and archived online. She has helped establish a competitive bidding process for contracts and leases, saving taxpayers millions of dollars at the airport and seaport. She has helped create more than 5,000 new jobs during our recession with capital improvement projects like the airport’s new rental car facility and container terminal. She has pushed for new clean air requirements two years ahead of schedule. She has brought her extensive security and emergency management background to make our Port and its workers safer. And finally, she has brought common sense solutions like free Wi-Fi to our airport so consumers are not bilked at the airport gates, while we wait to take off.

Gael has been endorsed by more than a dozen labor unions, King County Conservation Voters, state and local Democrats from King County, Redmond, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Kent, Seattle and West Seattle to name a few.

She is the only Port Commissioner to vote against a CEO salary increase every time it has come up for a vote.

Gael has voted to hold the line on the Port’s tax levy, which has reduced the overall property tax collected by the Port by $2.4 million between 2008 and 2011. And she has promised to do this even while the Port begins construction of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement project – a project critical to protecting freight mobility and jobs in the region.

I moved to Puget Sound in 1990. I never imagined that my career in journalism, politics and public relations would begin and end with addressing issues at the Port of Seattle. But I’m glad to know, that more than 20 years later, a candidate like Gael Tarleton is there to change that history for the better.

Gael Tarleton deserves your vote on Election Day. Visit her online at

Persuasive writing means show me, don’t tell me.

Persuasive people tell stories about other people. They don’t lecture you. They let you decide for yourself.

Consider these openings.

  1. Sally was profoundly sad.
  2. Sally cried in her car for a half an hour before blowing her nose. She looked into her rearview mirror, using the same fast-food napkin she used on her nose, she wiped away the mascara encrusted into the corner of her eyes.

Which narrative has more power?

Persuasive writers engage with the subject on a human level so that readers see what that person is feeling. Rather than clobbering readers with opinions, they rely on observation.

When we share stories of real people, we gain impact and power over the issues we care about.

So how does this tactical writing work in the real world? We respond to pictures first. More than 95 percent of all communication is done visually first. Pictures have more power than words. When you write, paint pictures.

Let’s look at my dogs. My dog Brinx is a German Shepherd rescue from working lines. My dog Mut (pronounced “moot” – it’s German for “courage”) was purchased from a breeder. Originally, I intended to show him in obedience.

Both dogs are working dogs. Both have had extensive obedience training. Each dog differs in temperament and drive. Brinx is a working dog. Mut is a family dog. Rather than say it, I’m going to show you.

BrinxBrinx is a slim, brown-sable German Shepherd with a big head and fierce eyes. I decided to keep him at 18 months after housing him as foster dog because he was so brilliant to watch in action. He is athletic with high drive and loves to swim. If I chuck a rubber ball into the whitecaps of Cannon Beach, Brinx will bound into the ocean head first to retrieve the ball at least 50 times. We’ve counted his retrieves on the beach. He gets anxious at feeding time and wolfs down his food and requires a special dish to slow down his feeding. He paces the house if he has not had at least a one-hour walk. He follows me around the house and lays where I sit or stand. He jumps off my bed and goes to his dog bed when he hears my husband’s footsteps coming toward the bedroom. He respects his place in the pack inside the house. Outside the house, he fence-fights and barks at the neighbor dog. The hair on his back is raised when he does it. He whines when the cat runs down the hall because he knows he’s forbidden to chase her when she does it. It kills him to just have to watch. He quietly lays where you are and waits to be invited onto the bed or couch. He never assumes it’s his furniture. When you take Brinx for a walk, he will be in the lead, struggling to get there faster. I’ve been told by other people that Brinx is scary looking. People have stopped me on the street to ask me if he is a wolf or wolf-hybrid. People also often ask me if he’s a police dog. Brinx is not that interested in other people and more interested in playing hard with other dogs. I don’t go to dog parks because Brinx is too rough and dominant when he plays with other dogs. The other dogs don’t like Brinx. Brinx loves the pool in the backyard and plants his front feet in the pool after a long walk or a hot day. He would spend the day fetching rubber duckies out of the backyard pool if you asked him. He never turns down a chance to retrieve a stick, a ball, a bone or a toy. He’s always ready to go.

MutMut is a beefy, black-and-tan German Shepherd. I’ve had him since he was a puppy. He has thick hair and an undercoat like a bear and a big beautiful head with dark black eyes. People stop me on the street every day to tell me how beautiful Mut is. Mut always stops to return the favor, showering strangers with equal love and admiration: “No, you’re beautiful!” he says with his licks and eyes. Mut has followed my son around the house since my son was about five. My son is now 15 and Mut still guards him like a pork chop. If my son wades into the ocean, Mut follows to retrieve him and stands in the shallows where Paul plays. If anybody in the house dares to play the piano, Mut howls along. If you’re on the couch, so is Mut. You might have to kick him off the couch to get the space. If you throw Mut the ball he will retrieve it, but he will likely grab it and tumble over onto his back with his feet in the air in the clover. He’s happy just watching Brinx retrieve. Like Ferdinand the bull, he’s happier laying in a field than running in it. If you are sitting in a chair, Mut will bury his head in your lap with the full force of his body. Mut likes to sprawl in the middle of the kitchen when we’re cooking dinner. When you take Mut for a walk, he’s always right by your side. Mut cuddles like a kitten in bed with me when I’m watching TV. Mut looks for kids to lick on our walks in the park and relishes pats on his head from strangers. Mut is possessive of his toys. Especially his giant stuffed hedgehog. He brings it to bed with him each night like a small child.

Brinx is a loyal working dog. Mut is a loyal family dog. But the bigger question is this, have I persuaded you?

Facebook less. Book more face. Go have lunch!

Facebook less and book more face and your social media marketing will flourish

Connecting with people on a personal level is direct marketing at its basic and best. And it makes your work life happier and more productive. If you have 500 connections on Linked-In, but only have lunch with targeted peers and clients twice a month, put the smart phone down and find somebody to take to lunch.

Meeting with people in person is the most powerful and effective strategy in marketing and media relations. There’s simply no substitute for your face, your laughter and your personal anecdotes over lunch. Everybody loves a story and a human being behind the story. And everybody prefers to meet with people they already know because it’s less awkward. When you genuinely know the people you connect with on social media, it also reduces tension when you have to reach out to clients, peers and allies in tough times. And you discover ways to help each other.

So in order to diminish your awkward quotient, you must meet with more people more often. If you feel intimidated by the intimacy of a one-on-one lunch, invite somebody to go with you. Lunching in threes eases the performance pressure some people feel when presented with a face-to-face meeting. Know who you are and address it head on.

And if you’re concerned about running up a big lunch bill, then meet people for coffee or a walk. Lots of people, especially in the Northwest, love the idea of going for a mid-afternoon walk to break up their sedentary time in the office. You both create a shared experience while improving your health.

I make it my business to ensure my clients, peers and professional allies know me as a human being first. This builds trust and confidence in our relationship, especially when faced with a difficult situation that may put us at odds. Building this kind of trust can turn a crisis situation into a bold opportunity.

My No. 1 recommendation for building market share, referrals, allies and friendly media is to develop a direct outreach plan for the year. And this includes meeting with allies and adversaries if you want to dominate your professional universe. Ask yourself this question: How often do I have lunch or coffee with a client or professional peer each week? If you have lunch or coffee just once a day, five days week with one targeted client or peer, you are potentially generating 20 “referral ambassadors” a month. Clearly, with whom you choose to meet can dramatically increase that referral number if you are smart about it. Meeting with people who are savvy, high-traffic networkers is key. You should make clients and prospective clients your first priority. Adversaries and problem partners are second. Vendors and business partners are third.

People who know their friends and enemies simply get more things done for their clients. They see bridges, not walls. They build a strong social media network that brings real value to their business. And they book more face.