This Week’s Latest Tech Gadgets – Oct. 21, 2014

By Gregg Ellman
@greggellman@greggellman

Reviews of the Rachio Iro sprinkler system, Epson’s new luster metallic inkjet photo paper and VisionTek’s USB 7-port charging hub.

Rachio Iro Sprinkler System

I was emailed an offer to try out the Rachio Iro sprinkler system, described as easy to set up and use. “As for the sprinkler, you plug it in where your old controller was and then it helps create a customized watering schedule with you home WiFi network. You then can change, update it from your phone anywhere you have a signal.”

Sure enough, it was pretty much that easy.

Rachio Iro sprinkler system Read The Rest

If You Think Your Audience Is an Algorithm, You’re Doing it Wrong

PR Tips

One of the first things I learned in journalism school, and later honed in my PR career, was the concept of knowing one’s audience. For example, when writing for the general “newspaper-reading” public, you need to make sure your text is crafted at no more than an eleventh-grade reading level. And while writing an article in a journalism class, if you throw in a bunch of heavy-duty words, you’ll get crucified by the professor. In the business world, if you don’t understand your audience, you can develop marketing material that goes over your audience’s collective head, or worse, insults them. Remember, your audience comprises people who you want to educate, connect with, and persuade.

Yet as communicators, in recent years, we have drifted. Our emphasis has shifted away from people and instead focused on the computer algorithms created by search engines. We write website copy overburdened with search terms, and we worry more about keyword density than meaning and message. We write copy of a length and depth that we think pleases Google, rather than what our readers want. And we endure seemingly endless meetings trying to divine what terms prospects will plug-in to search boxes, in addition to spending millions of dollars trying to drive people to our sites. This has evolved into a problem.

Believe me, we are all in the same boat. I still cringe, thinking about the keyword dense copy I had on my site until fairly recently. “As a Miami public relations firm meeting the needs of Miami businesses with a Miami public relations solution…” Gag me! What the hell was I thinking? Well, I wasn’t writing for people; I was writing for an algorithm at the behest of an SEO expert. (In retrospect, it’s even worse, because I consider myself a professional communicator. That copy was crap.)

As I have said many times, the folks at Google are way smarter than us, and the Google mission is to direct people to the information they are seeking. They have figured out that people want what they want and do not want to be driven somewhere else.

From a communications and marketing standpoint, this means it’s time to move on. We need to give up trying to outsmart Google and start writing and presenting meaningful content to our audience, which, remember, is made up of people, not computers. Meaningful content will get found, be appreciated, and ultimately further your business mission.

Google knows this too and is leading the charge. Fairly recent updates to its search process have sent many companies scrambling to replace web traffic. The old tricks aren’t working, and all roads are pointing to brand building and authentic communications. A recent article in Entrepreneur explains it better than I can.

Now, I’m not saying that publishing good content eliminates the need for search engine optimization. That craft still exists, and you still need SEO-friendly content. All those meta tags and descriptions are not for naught, but they are less important than you thought. And for companies that have a mass-market audience, I highly recommend consulting with experts who are regularly analyzing the ins and outs of search, the Google algorithm updates, and the finer points of SEO.

But if you are in a small, niche business, then you’d better be thinking about authentic, interesting, and worthwhile content, and forget about teaching to the algorithm test.

It’s important to note that I’m not just talking about SEO and being found online. Storytelling and compelling visuals, as well as attention-getting video, all need to be considered as we weave our marketing tales. We can never forget that our audience is made up of people—sometimes smart, oftentimes fallible, and frequently unpredictable, but people, nonetheless. They are the ones who click, who make stories go viral, and who ultimately reach into their wallets and make purchases. An algorithm will never be your customer, so don’t make it your audience.

This article was originally published on DavidPRblog.com and has been republished with permission. 

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John P. David of David PR GroupJohn P. David is founder and president of Miami-based media relations firm David PR Group, and represents law firms, financial institutions, insurance companies and technology start-ups. He has more than 20 years of experience in the public relations industry serving South Florida-based and national clients. David frequently blogs about public relations and marketing at www.DavidPRblog.com and his posts are regularly published by the Huffington Post. He also serves as a partner with online reputation management firm WebFactCheck.com, a website that enables businesses to effectively respond to negative Internet posts.

Last Chance to Enter 2014 MarCom Awards

Enter the 2014 MarCom Awards TODAY

The FINAL 2014 MarCom Awards deadline is upon us, but there’s still time to enter!

Submitting your work is an easy process that only takes minutes. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown:

  1. Register
  2. Select category, add title of entry and fill in URL if applicable.
  3. Add additional entries.
  4. Proceed to check out and select either pay by Check or Credit Card. If pay by check, then mail it in.
  5. Upload files after checkout or send in your entries.

Visit marcomawards.com now to enter and get the recognition you deserve!

2014 MarCom Awards Spotlight: Vision Internet

While the winners for the 2014 MarCom Awards won’t be announced for a while, we’re showcasing select entries that stand out. Keep checking back to see if your work will be highlighted.

MarCom Awards Organization: Vision Internet
Location: Santa Monica, California
Title of Entry: “City of Reno, NV Website”
Category: 178. Government

Vision InternetWhat’s front and center on most municipal websites? Most would not answer with “a search bar,” but that’s exactly what Vision Internet incorporated into the web design for the City of Reno in Nevada.

Why such an unusual setup? Reno was looking to increase engagement and put the citizen first in the redesign of the website. With this goal, Vision Internet created an intuitive, stress-free site with a search bar as the feature item on the homepage. Taking this function even further, the company added a sampling of “Hot Searches” just under the search bar to help visitors discover other information of interest.

With accessibility and engagement as the driving forces in this project, Vision Internet leverages responsive design so all visitors can get the information they need, whether on phone, tablet or desktop.
City of Reno Website By Vision Internet

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2014 MarCom Awards Spotlight: Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau

While the winners for the 2014 MarCom Awards won’t be announced for a while, we’re showcasing select entries that stand out. Keep checking back to see if your work will be highlighted.

MarCom Awards Organization: Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau
Location: Asheville, North Carolina
Title of Entry: “THE SCIENCE BEHIND FALL COLOR: Travel destination immersion through digital storytelling”
Category: 129. Brand Journalism

Explore Asheville, NC | Asheville, NC's Official Tourism Web SiteStorytelling is an essential element in any medium, whether newspaper, magazine, television, radio, movies, or web. But in recent years, all these mediums have been converging. Today’s outstanding storyteller utilizes the best parts of each and creates an interactive template on the web. A breakthrough in this new art form first came to people’s attention in The New York Times.  The content was called “Snow Fall” and describes the harrowing experience of skiers caught in an avalanche. It was an immediate sensation in newsrooms around the country and among visitors to The New York Times website.

The Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau wanted to create a similar stir for a different purpose. The Asheville area in the Smoky Mountains hosts one of the most magnificent fall displays in the country. The bureau wanted to herald its uniquely long and colorful fall foliage season through a new brand of journalism. The resulting web presentation mixes video, Google Earth, pictures, time lapse photography, text and autumn folklore with science to create an immersive experience.

Asheville: Science Behind the Color*****

2014 MarCom Awards Spotlight: La Salle University

While the winners for the 2014 MarCom Awards won’t be announced for a while, we’re showcasing select entries that stand out. Keep checking back to see if your work will be highlighted.

MarCom Awards Organization: La Salle University
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Title of Entry: “Lasallian Day of Giving Microsite”
Category: 189. Microsite

La Salle UniversityMicrosites are handy for communicators if you want to keep the audience focused on the task at hand. In this case, La Salle University leveraged a microsite to support their first Lasallian Day of Giving, a 24-hour fundraising campaign that celebrates the founding of the university on March 20, 1863.

To create an engaging experience that makes visitors feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, La Salle incorporated a hashtag for the event and included a social stream and real-time donor list on the microsite, so people could publicly show their support and encourage others to get involved.

The web development team was also aware of the prevalence of mobile devices, leveraging responsive design to make sure the site was functional on all devices.

The strategy, content and microsite structure delivered results – La Salle passed their initial goal of 320 donors, set a new one of 640, and by the end of the day, the school had more than 869 donors contribute on the first Lasallian Day of Giving, raising more than $84,000.

Lasallian Day of Giving

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2014 MarCom Awards Spotlight: Transamerica Retirement Solutions

While the winners for the 2014 MarCom Awards won’t be announced for a while, we’re showcasing select entries that stand out. Keep checking back to see if your work will be highlighted.

MarCom Awards Organization: Transamerica Retirement Solutions
Location: Harrison, New York
Client: Red Bull North America, Inc.
Title of Entry: “Chad Saverson Scores a Perfect 10!”
Category: 221. YouTube Video

Transamerica Retirement SolutionsTransamerica Retirement Solutions is in the business of helping people retire. It works with companies around the country, offering a full service of retirement products, and has more than 3 million participants.

Retirement savings is a hard sell to 20-somethings, but with help from ARG! Cartoon Animation, Transamerica found a unique message and visual to draw them in. The YouTube video, targeting employees at Red Bull, combines white board techniques with animation wrapped around a skateboard competition. It’s an enjoyable film that makes the finer points of retirement savings without a hard pitch.

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Communitas Awards Spotlight: Genesis Health System

Communitas Awards Individual: Genesis Health System
Title: “Meeting Community Health Needs”
Location: Davenport, Iowa
Category: 3. Leadership in Skills-Based Community Service

Genesis Health SystemsGood health should not be taken for granted when trying to create a strong, prosperous community, according to the team at Genesis Health System based in Davenport, Iowa.

Leveraging their expertise and resources to enrich the lives of people in the Quad Cities and surrounding areas, the Genesis team has more than a handful of programs that addresses the specific needs of the community from aiming to make the area flu-free to helping residents navigate the new programs available through the Affordable Care Act.

To learn how the company is supporting its community and how it decides which initiatives to pursue, we chatted with Kenneth Croken, vice president of corporate communications & advocacy for Genesis Health System.

Your company partnered with the Quad Cities Health Initiative to identify critical health needs for the Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois. How did that come about, and what did Genesis do with the findings? 

It’s rather unique and indeed was recognized by American Hospital Association with a Nova Award a few years back, which doesn’t happen all that often. The two competing health systems in the area got together with other community health leaders about 15 years ago and formed the Quad Cities Health Initiative (QCHI) to address community health needs in a collaborative and cooperative fashion.

Every three to five years, we take the community health needs assessment from QCHI and studies we do (because we also operate outside of Quad Cities area) and develop an implementation plan. We then carry it to board to get approval before executing it.

To communicate what we plan to do, we keep an online yearbook, an abbreviated version of the plan and what we’re doing about it to answer the goals. A plan is lovely but it’s execution that matters.

Tell me more about the Genesis Flu-Free Quad Cities initiative. What started as a pilot program that vaccinated 400 students in 2007 is now helping close to 10,000 children per year. Why did the company decide to expand the effort and how was it able to do so?

Flu-Free-Quad-Cities-Genesis-HealthIt’s a successful program because it makes flu shots available in schools, which is a wonderful thing for all families. Even those that can afford it or would be inclined to take their child to a doctor, this makes it more convenient.

Sometimes convenience goes beyond traditional convenience. The accessibility provided by a school-based program is convenient for some families. For those with limited resources, it’s the difference between getting and not getting a flu shot.

From a health perspective, it’s critically important to a community to strive for herd immunity from flu. When flu comes to your community, it generally lives in your schools. Kids will carry it home to grandpa or baby sister for whom it could be a life-threatening event.

Flue-Free QC has resulted in great success in terms of our incidences of flu. It’s also important to the students because the flu will be two really bad weeks of poor health but it can also have lasting consequences. Missing two weeks of school can make it hard for students to catch up. Plus, there’s the economic impact on the whole community when adults miss work because they have the flu themselves or someone at home with the flu needs a caregiver.

We studied our impact for several years. Not that there was all that much debate, but we did see significant increase in school attendance rates in schools participating in Flu-Free QC. Then we also tracked the incidence of emergency room visits for flu community-wide. We’ve had mild flu seasons recently in our region and would attribute at least a portion of that trend to the Flu-Free program. 

The Affordable Care Act has changed the healthcare landscape. What has Genesis Health done to ease the transition for the public?

As an organization, I believe Genesis has been a national leader in embracing the population health dictates of the ACA. We have accelerated our deployment of our ACA prescribed medical homes using health coaches and system navigators.

We’re also working to address the primary and chronic care of this community in a way that minimizes residents’ need for the more expensive emergency and acute care that has historically been the focal point of the health care system.

One of Genesis’ latest community contributions is the $50,000 primary sponsorship of the Quad Cities Food Hub Veggie Mobile that debuted this summer. Tell me more about it and its mission.

That’s a brand new initiative. As you can imagine, Iowa offers a wide variety of nutritious affordable locally produced food, so we are indeed blessed. While there are many local and comprehensive farmers markets, what we don’t offer is available public transportation. Much of urban Iowa has only limited public transportation. For many people, getting to local famers market or even grocery store can be challenging and expensive.

So what we’ve done, working with Food Hub and the Wellmark Foundation, is established an extension of the food market that transport locally grown, highly nutritious vegetables to neighborhoods that are underserved.

Quad-Cities-Veggie-Mobile

What’s your favorite community initiative and why?

I have to love Flu-Free QC because it was my baby; it’s one of my children. I’m also very proud the way the community has embraced it. Our local minor league baseball team, the River Bandits, has programs set up to donate a percentage of sales to Flu-Free QC and other children’s initiatives. We also have the support of the local hockey team.

Beyond that, every year we get checks in the mail that say, “Please make sure every third grader at my old elementary school gets flu shoots this year.” It’s not just me who loves the program.

2014 MarCom Awards Spotlight: Gere Donovan Creative

While the winners for the 2014 MarCom Awards won’t be announced for a while, we’re showcasing select entries that stand out. Keep checking back to see if your work will be highlighted.

MarCom Awards Organization: Gere Donovan Creative
Location: Portland, Oregon
Client: Ravn Alaska
Title of Entry: “Ravn Alaska”
Category: 236. Website Redesign

Gere Donovan Creative

Ravn Alaska may be the largest regional airline in Alaska, but they’re still known for providing a personal touch to customer service. So, when more and more customers began to look for that service online, the challenge was: design a clean, simple and relevant site that reflects the companies’ deep roots across the extremely diverse state of Alaska, and make it accessible and functional across all phone, tablet and desktop devices.

With this is mind, Gere Donovan Creative focused on creating an intuitive architecture—the literal underpinning for good digital design. Popular pages are highlighted through colored tabs; navigation and subheads are limited to no more than three words per instance; and fonts are on-brand but easy to read.

Then to balance what would normally be a text-heavy site, Gere Donovan Creative used colorful, local photography that is representative of the various key customer segments across the state of Alaska—the business traveler, the vacation traveler, and the rural traveler. Instead of focusing on the planes themselves in the imagery, which is typical in airline website design, they focused on the real reason for their business—the customers.

Ravn Alaska Website Redesign by Gere Donovan Creative

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2014 MarCom Awards Entry Spotlight: California Institute of Technology

While the winners for the 2014 MarCom Awards won’t be announced for a while, we’re showcasing select entries that stand out. Keep checking back to see if your work will be highlighted.

MarCom Awards Organization: California Institute of Technology
Location: Pasadena, California
Title of Entry: “Caltech E&S Spring 2013”
Category: 105. Magazine Cover

California Institute of Technology is a world renowned university located in Pasadena, California, specializing in science and engineering research. With a little more than 2,000 students, it’s one of the few schools in the country to have more students in graduate programs than undergraduate.

Caltech publishes quarterly quality magazines for its students, faculty and staff highlighting the institution’s people and their latest achievements. The spring addition is most notable for its cover. A cover sells the magazine to readers, and this one is an award winner.  Titled “Incubating the Future,” the cover cleverly plays off a nest theme weaving together technology and innovation in a colorful frame.

Caltech E&S Magazine Cover*****

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