How to say goodbye, officially

Recently, I’ve been writing a lot of departure announcements, about executives and managers being let go as a result of the recession. Most are leaving through no fault of their own.

They want, and deserve, to maintain their dignity and respect. Their many loyal friends and protégés need to know that senior management understands their sadness and worry.

Often, someone whose core competence is not writing tries to compose a formal memo full of capitalized jargon and false cheer. But what they should do, with the help of professional communicator, is prepare a brief announcement that thanks the departing for their contribution and provides direction to others about what lies ahead.

If this sad task falls to you, here are some tips:

Get to the point

Don’t fling clichés about new paradigms or start with a rambling treatise about the economy. Everyone knows it sucks.

Be honest

Everyone also knows that “pursuing new opportunities” almost always means the leave is involuntary or prompted by a golden carrot. Simply say that declining revenues have forced senior management to make some cuts. Don’t dress it up with big words. Explain why the cuts had to be made to that area.

Be nice

Even if the people being let go are considered dead wood or have made some enemies, they don’t deserve to be used as a scapegoat or humiliated. So devote a few sentences to describing each person’s legacy. Use specific, concrete examples and anecdotes.

Demonstrate empathy

Express regret or sadness. Once employees realize you share their bad feelings, they can start to see you’re all on the same side.

Outline the immediate future

Explain who will be replacing the departing executives and why they are qualified to do so. If it’s temporary, tell people when the new plan is expected. Congratulate people on promotions and thank those who are taking on heavier responsibilities.

End on a positive note

Again, thank the departed ones for their contribution. Ask everyone to join you in wishing them well. And if there truly is a silver lining to this cloud, now’s the time to sing about it.

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No email, go snail mail for holiday cards

Despite my affection for online communication, I have to insist that snail mail is best for the holiday season.

After all, an electronic card just tells the recipient that you know how to click on send or forward. Little thought has gone into it. And it will likely end up in the delete bin.

Snail mail, on the other hand, demonstrates more effort, especially if you add a hand-written note.

What’s more, the card will sit on your friend’s desk or become part of the holiday decor in their home.

Paper cards are also an opportunity to connect with business prospects. A word of caution here: if they are overtly sales-oriented to people who don’t remember you, they are a waste of tree. Think of how unimpressed you are by full-logo cards from the stranger who has mistakenly identified you as a candidate for wealth management services.

But it’s fine to send cards to people you don’t know that well. Some executives I like, but wouldn’t normally send personal email to, are on my card list. In addition, I’ll be sending them to many casual acquaintances. Most will simply be flattered to know I remembered them well enough to think of a card.

For me, the most important people on my list are the many people I don’t know well enough to invite over for turkey but have enjoyed working with or talking to throughout the year. I don’t get enough chances to acknowledge them.

However, these people won’t feel the love if I disrespect their religious beliefs. So I make sure any Jesus cards go only to people who will appreciate them. But I do include Muslim, Jewish and friends of all spiritual persuasions on my mailing list. They too enjoy feeling part of the good will of the holiday season.

Another way to share the holiday spirit is to buy cards from charities or companies that are donating a portion of the proceeds to a good cause. Better still, make a donation to causes your important people support.

Of course, no one wants to waste paper, so make sure the cards are printed on recycled stock.

One last point: hand-write your envelopes. It guarantees people will open them instead of aiming for the recycle bin, which sits close to the mail slot on most front porches and desks. It’s also a good way to practice those rusty penmanship skills. And again, it shows you have taken the time.

I’m not going Emily Postal here. I just think it’s important to make technology choices wisely. I love opening, reading and displaying my Christmas cards. And I’m sure most other people do too.

Recession: gloom or boom for knowledge workers?

I have to confess I’ve been a little smug when reading about the thousands of auto workers laid off recently. Their union leaders’ insistence on top dollar for relatively low-skilled work made it inevitable that the struggling multinationals would move to lower-cost countries.

 

Of course, I feel compassion for anyone who has lost a job. But I figured I was safe because I’m an independent corporate writer who bought into the long-standing advice of educators and business gurus: that the information economy values knowledge workers who spend years at university, then continue to learn on and off the job.

 

Right? Maybe not.

 

Thanks to the auction psychology spawned by the Internet, we North American communication professionals are facing competition from sites that auction off writing and other services to the lowest bidder, often from India. I am starting to feel like an auto worker.

 

Trying to stay smug, or at least calm, I pondered the unique qualities that I, and most experienced corporate communicators, bring to the table.

 

  • We are well-versed in the rules that help people understand what they’re reading, such as the difference between it’s (contraction for it is) and its (possessive).
  • We know when and how to break the rules to make our writing more compelling and easier to understand.
  • We have a firm grasp of North American idiom.
  • We understand how to use communication to serve clients’ strategic objectives and produce results.
  • We are masters at saying much in few words, increasing in value with Google ADWORDS, Twitter and other mini, text-based communication.

 

However, I know that if I don’t deliver on these promises, I could perish in the Internet auction pit.

 

Knowledge workers in different professions I’ve spoken to report that work continues to flow. But many are looking behind them to see what could be sneaking up.

 

Smart clients know they get what they pay for. Cheapest is rarely best. But if you’re a Macy’s or a Bay, more Walmarts are always a worry.

 

So I’m looking on the bright side. During a recession, the reasonable rates of independents often win business over the higher-priced agencies.

 

And maybe Lou Dobbs will champion our cause. Or we can ask the government for a bail-out package. How many billion?

 

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Email newsletter open rates: 2 ways to increase them

At Stickemail, we excel at open rates. We always beat the current business-to-business benchmark of 25 per cent. Sometimes we more than double it.

How do we do it?

  1. We provide valued information to a very targeted, well-maintained list of people.
  2. We make sure the preview pane, the first thing potential readers see, gives a good reason for opening.

Some e-mail marketers argue that open rates, which are declining, are not that significant. Sure, they don’t capture the Outlook people who read your newsletter without the images clicked on or the growing number using text-only hand-held devices.

What’s more, they can over-report opens, when people forward through their e-mail program or open your newsletter more than once. But let’s not quibble. These actions are even better than opens.

It’s also important to remember that open rates are only one of many measurements. Every newsletter publisher should be setting objectives and measuring the success of their newsletter by how well it serves them.

But opening the newsletter is the first step toward realizing their goals. And, imperfect though they may be, open rates remain the best way of determining what is working with your newsletters.