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Thursday, April 3, 2014

VTLO Celebrates Change

When you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I’ve always found that adage to be true of my experience. What began as a solo practice out of my home has grown to a powerhouse team of communications professionals serving a client base of leading global companies. Today we celebrate that change by introducing a new logo and a completely redesigned website.

In 1990, I decided to pursue my passion to become a freelance writer. Building on my career in corporate communications on Wall Street, I began by writing articles for company publications, speeches for executives, and columns for Computerworld. As my experience expanded and clients increased, so did my interest in entrepreneurship.

In 2006, I formed a limited liability company named Vitiello Communications Group and created the abbreviated name – VTLO – a phonetic form of Vitiello. In 2009, VTLO became certified as a woman-owned business by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and by the State of New Jersey.

Since then, we’ve grown to an incredibly talented team of 20, filling our North Brunswick office to capacity and fanning out in major markets across the country. To keep the dispersed team connected, VTLO implemented Chatter, an enterprise social network. This year, we adopted an agency model to serve our clients even more creatively.

Now in our third decade of growth and change, VTLO is uniquely equipped to partner with leaders to engage, inspire and achieve. VTLO is the go-to expert for employee engagement, leadership and change communications. How can we help you celebrate change? Trust me – it’ll be fun.

Follow VTLO's new blog, Dialog, here, and visit our redesigned website.

Friday, March 28, 2014

GM Manages Crisis, Puts Employee Communications First

Mary Barra, who made headlines when she was named CEO of General Motors in December, is back in the news. This time, however, it's for the wrong reason. General Motors issued a recall of 1.4 million vehicles due to a faulty ignition switch that could cause the engine and electrical system to shut off, and disable the air bag. The recalled part is implicated in the deaths of more than 300 people and is likely to cost GM more than $300 million in repairs this year.

Pundits are wondering just how much Barra knew of the situation and have criticized her for not initially being transparent with stakeholders. Despite the fact that Barra did not speak to the media when the story first broke, she did follow a golden rule of crisis management. She communicated with employees.

In times of trouble, business leaders need to make sure that they don't underestimate the importance of communicating honestly with employees. It's imperative that employees hear bad news from you first. Hearing the news from a third party, such as the media, serves to alienate them, may give them false information, and can even hinder your organization's response. By taking an upfront approach and engaging employees in an open dialogue, you will build support among this influential audience. You might even take it a step further. Empowering employees to become ambassadors during a crisis can play a vital role in your organization's comeback.

In her letter to employees on March 4, Barra wrote, "Our company's reputation won't be determined by the recall itself, but how we address the problem going forward." Employee communication needs to be a part of that. Just look at Carnival Cruise Line's mishandling of the engine fire on the Carnival Triumph for proof. In the three days immediately following the incident, CEO Gerry Cahill remained silent, leaving stranded crew members, plus 4,200 passengers, literally in the dark. The lack of communication with employees and passengers gave the media an opportunity to paint a negative narrative that the company is still working to change.

While business leaders want to plan for the best, they must be prepared to talk about the worst -- especially with their employees. Like Barra, you can write a straightforward letter. Or, you can appoint a senior-level executive to take to social media for quick updates while you manage the crisis. Keeping your crisis communications team at your left hand and your internal communications team at your right can help ensure that you deliver a unified message directly to your most important audiences.

Do you have a plan to communicate with employees when the news is not so good? Leave a comment to let us know.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Business Needs Poets

Orange and pink twilight washed the spring sky as my dad and I drove north up the New Jersey Turnpike. With the sun setting behind them, the oil tanks and steel towers of the vast refinery stood like Stonehenge monoliths along the highway. We were both thinking the same thing; I said it first: “Graduation is two months away, and I don’t have a job.”

“I don’t see any jobs for poets advertised in the Bergen Record,” Dad said.

I remembered that car conversation earlier this year when iPad’s brilliant TV ad debuted during the NFL playoffs and continued through the Olympics. The voiceover is Robin Williams as Professor John Keating in The Dead Poets’ Society. He says:

“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer: that you are here; that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

My dad was right. There never was and there never will be an ad that reads, “Wanted: Poet.” So why study poetry?

Because business needs poets. To write speeches, produce videos that captivate customers, draft the annual report for investors. To imagine a workplace where people are engaged, and then to set that dream in motion through text, images, stories. To assemble thoughts and words in such a way that they inspire people to noble action. To make phrases so memorable, so sticky, that they reverberate in your brain like the lyrics of your favorite song.

From jingles that sell soda to sound bites that galvanize public opinion, the work of people who trained as poets shapes our culture and influences our conversation.

Today is World Poetry Day. What will your verse be?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bridging the Leadership Gap

Sheryl Sandberg, author and chief operating officer of Facebook, strategically used the 106th annual International Women's Day as a springboard to launch her Ban Bossy campaign. Through her nonprofit organization, LeanIn.org, Sandberg is partnering with the Girl Scouts of USA to encourage girls to lead by raising their hands at work -- or at school -- and demanding recognition for their accomplishments. She says that when women act decisively or assertively (two traits needed to be a good leader), they are often called bossy. This word carries a stigma and keeps women from taking the next step in their careers.

Like anything Sandberg does, the #banbossy campaign quickly went viral on Twitter, and the site received more than one million hits in just its first day. It has also stirred up a controversy, with some saying that the word "bossy" is not the problem.

One thing is certain. There is definitely a deficit when it comes to women in leadership positions. Women account for 50 percent of the population; yet, a recent Grant Thornton International Business report finds that they comprise only 24 percent of senior management in corporations around the world. Add to that the fact that women make up 19 percent of Congress and just 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, and it's clear that there is a need to encourage women to seek out opportunities.

So, what can business leaders can do to support the growth of women in leadership roles within their organization? Here are a few tips:
  • Training. Education is the foundation of any successful career. Invest in the future of your company by providing professional development opportunities to all of your employees. And, if it is relevant to your industry, go out into your community to promote the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among young girls.
  • Mentoring. Build a mentoring relationship with the women in your organization to help them transform leadership traits into opportunities for advancement. Your role as mentor can be an informal exchange or part of a formalized corporate effort like the CitiWomen program. CitiWomen offers two core programs aimed at advancing women across the company's businesses, building a global network and encouraging clients to engage in the effort.
  • Social Media. Engage and celebrate the women in your organization by using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to recognize their outstanding achievements.
What are you doing to bridge the leadership gap in your organization? Leave a comment to let us know.

Monday, March 3, 2014

And the Winner Is...

From Pharrell’s dance with front-row celebrities to Jared Leto’s touching time at the mike after his best supporting actor win, the 86th Academy Awards were packed with lighthearted fun and some of the most endearing speeches in recent Oscar history. The show was also brimming with lessons that could help make business leaders winners when dealing with their organizations and employees. Here is a sampling of stars who taught us something last night:

Ellen DeGeneres - After hosting the Academy Awards in 2007, DeGeneres returned to the stage to demonstrate that less really is more. She set the tone for the show with her breezy demeanor and edgy, yet appropriate jokes. To many, her simple approach was a refreshing change from previous Oscar shows that overdid it by trying to wow audiences. She also shared the secret to social media engagement: star-studded selfies. DeGeneres’ tweet, which temporarily crashed Twitter and went on to break the record for most retweets with more than 2 million by the end of the show, was a brilliant and low-cost cross-promotion for Samsung.

Cate Blanchett - Blanchett underscored the importance of the popular saying “Keep calm and carry on.” After her Oscar victory for the leading role in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, she said that being pegged the favorite to win was “an intense, unbearable pressure, which I'm so glad is over.'' Despite the stress she felt, Blanchett kept her cool leading up to the awards and during her graceful and gracious acceptance speech.

Matthew McConaughey - McConaughey’s journey from his breakout role in Dazed and Confused to his first Academy Award win for Dallas Buyers Club shows a stunning career transformation. The McConaissance, as the change is being called, began when McConaughey challenged himself to take on different roles. It serves as a reminder to business leaders that being able to adapt is crucial to career growth and success.

Jennifer Lawrence - Though she didn’t win an Oscar this time around, Jennifer Lawrence was caught falling at the Academy Awards for the second year in a row. Host Ellen DeGeneres made a joke about the tumble during her opening monologue, and Lawrence was seen playfully laughing along. Lawrence showed that even on the biggest night of your career, sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

John Travolta - Travolta’s part in the Academy Awards was a small but memorable one. When introducing Idina Menzel for her performance of the Oscar-winning song “Let It Go,” he mispronounced the singer’s name. Travolta’s flop reiterates how essential it is to prepare and practice, no matter how big or small your role.

Which lessons from the Oscars resonate most with you? Let us know what you learned from this star-studded event and how you plan to incorporate it into award-winning practices for your organization.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lessons from Sochi

When the Olympic flame was extinguished in Sochi, Russia, it didn't put an end to the lessons that can be learned from the Winter Games. Athletes and coaches will examine tapes of the competition to determine what they did right and how they can improve. Television executives and advertisers will crunch numbers to evaluate the return on their investments. And, after 16 days of competition, business leaders can transform Olympic headlines into lessons that will help their organizations succeed. Here are just a few:

Expect the unexpected. From the unseasonably warm weather and Bob Costas' eye infection, to the failure of the U.S. speed skating team to win any medals, these games reminded us that nothing goes according to plan. For that reason, back-up plans are essential. Team organizers changed start times for events, NBC brought in Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira to host the prime-time show, and speed skaters ditched their new high-tech suits in favor of an older model, all in an effort to make necessary course corrections.

Embrace new technology. Producers of the opening ceremony gambled on technology to engage the audience, and they succeeded. Hi-tech projectors, which turned the enormous arena floor into an IMAX movie screen, and elaborate sets, which rolled along tracks in the roof, dazzled an estimated 3 billion viewers worldwide. Even a malfunctioning electronic snowflake, which failed to turn into the fifth Olympic ring, couldn't detract from the night's memorable pageantry. In fact, producers poked fun at the glitch during the closing ceremony, proving that they have a sense of humor too.

Diversify. Olympic veterans Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams, who previously competed in track and field events at the Summer Games, brought their speed to the U.S. women's bobsledding team. They are now part of an elite group of 128 athletes who have competed in both winter and summer games. Finding a new outlet for her talent even paid off in the form of a silver medal for Williams.

Do more with less. While Russia may have won the medal count with a total of 33 medals, some might consider the Netherlands to be the real winner of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The country won a total of 24 medals with a delegation of just 41 athletes. That's 1.7 athletes per medal compared to 7 athletes per medal for Russia and 8.2 athletes per medal for the United States.

Show appreciation for your team. When U.S. skeleton racer Michelle Pikus-Pace won a medal, she propelled herself over a guard rail and climbed high into the stands to share the moment with her family. Considered to be the "Comeback Queen" after being hit by a runaway bobsled before the Torino games and missing the medal podium by 0.1 seconds in Vancouver, Pikus-Pace said that it was important for her to share the moment with her team of supporters. Despite the fact that this an individual event, she told reporters, "We did it!"

There are many other Olympic milestones that business leaders can model for workplace success. Let us know which ones you will use to create gold medal moments for your organization.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Heeeeeeere's Jimmy!

When most people see Jimmy Fallon, they don't think about him being a role model for business leaders. However, if you were one of the 11.3 million people who watched Fallon take over the hosting duties of The Tonight Show from Jay Leno on Monday night, you witnessed a smooth transition that can serve as an example for bringing about change in your organization. So, what did he do right?
  • Planning. Every moment of Fallon's premier episode was carefully planned. The comedic bit about paying him $100 for a bet that said he would never be the host of The Tonight Show brought the star power of more than a dozen A-list celebrities to the stage. The dance video with Will Smith parodied the viral "Evolution of Mom Dancing" video, which he performed with Michelle Obama. Finally, U2's sunset performance on the top of the 30 Rock building appealed to a slightly older demographic than Fallon's typical audience, which is good for ratings.
  • Social media. In the days leading up to the premier, #FallonTonight dominated the Twittersphere. In fact, once Leno said his final farewell, Fallon's social media activity outnumbered activity from competitor Jimmy Kimmel at a rate of more than two to one. There is even a Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon app. Clearly, engaging his audience beyond the broadcast is a tactical move key to Fallon's success.
  • Be yourself. Fallon is known for his affable schoolboy charm. And, being at the helm of television’s longest-running late night talk show did not change that. Humble about his role in The Tonight Show lineage, Fallon made the show his own by filling 60 minutes with the jokes, skits and familiar faces from his Late Night roots.
Only time will tell if Fallon has found the secret to winning the late night ratings war. His smooth transition into the 11:30 time slot does, however, prove that he knows something about engaging his audience during a period of major change. And, that is sound advice that business leaders should heed.

Whether you stayed up late to watch Fallon or not, leave a comment to tell us how you engage employees during periods of change.