How to conduct a competitive analysis

Since we’re all working from home more these days, it’s a perfect time to work ON your business. With the perspective gained from being outside your office walls, spend some time looking objectively at your marketing communications. This process, known as a marketing communications audit, covers all your internal, external, traditional and digital communications and puts it in perspective of your market position, your market audiences and your business goals. (more…)

How to conduct a competitive analysis2020-08-27T17:14:26+00:00

The rule for a better pitch

How briefly can you tell your company story? Can you boil what you do, who you do it for, and why, into a pitch that is interesting and relevant to the listener?

In a pitching workshop I teach for the Pappajohn Venture School, I teach start-ups how to turn their value proposition and a snapshot of the company’s operational status into an exciting story they can tell in six minutes or less. (more…)

The rule for a better pitch2020-04-02T18:04:11+00:00

Twelve Tips for Video and Podcasting

There was a time when it seemed everyone needed a blog. Then they were all jumping on YouTube with video podcasts. The algorithms have changed, and neither are the in-bound content silver bullets they once were, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a good fit for you. If you’re trying to establish yourself as a subject-matter expert, build a closer connection to your target audience, or just love to teach, ’casting may be right for you.


Twelve Tips for Video and Podcasting2020-03-03T17:29:29+00:00

Four ways to keep your email subscribers happy

An email inbox is a private space. In my personal inbox right now, I have a conversation with a friend about weekend plans, an Amazon shipping notification for my daughter’s birthday present, a communication with my accountant, and a weekly update from my favorite blog. These are all valuable communications to me, and some contain sensitive details like credit card information.


Four ways to keep your email subscribers happy2020-03-03T17:31:48+00:00

What Do Your Customers Trust Most?

You might have the most honest, sincere, genuine team on the planet, rooted in family values and always willing to go the extra mile, but at the end of the day, what do your customers trust, above all else? Reviews. More and more, customers turn to consumer reviews on Amazon, Google, Facebook, or Yelp for the unfiltered story of your company.

Sadly, most customers won’t take the time to write a review unless they’ve had a terrible experience with your company. This can mean you’ll wind up with a whole slew of horror stories in your reviews – detailing the rare occasions that your team falls below the mark of exceptional service – rather than the stories of the superior product or service you provide 99% of the time.

So how can you avoid ending up with a “1 Star” rating overall, and show that these poor service experiences are not the norm? Ask for reviews from happy customers! Here’s how:

Ask Via Email: Send an email shortly after a purchase or visit so the experience is fresh in the customer’s mind. Be sure to provide a direct link to leave a review on your desired platform to make the process easy.

Encourage Check-Ins: Encourage people to check-in at your business. Facebook will automatically send them a reminder to write a review for your business. In all likelihood, only people who like your business will want to check in, so you’ll get positive reviews. Pro tip: Be sure you have free wifi to make check-ins simple!

Add Physical Signs: Post signage at your location asking for reviews or Facebook check-ins.

Work the Ask into Your Sales Process: When your sales or customer service team talks to clients, this can be a very natural time to ask for a review. The team member can explain that reviews help other customers who are researching them, and give a genuine look at their products and services.

Begin to organically work these review requests into your processes, and you’ll see your “star” ranking increase over time.

What Do Your Customers Trust Most?2018-05-21T16:05:15+00:00

Is It The Price Or The Value?

When sales are difficult I always ask my client, is it the price or the value the customer is objecting to?

Of course, it’s never one or the other. The two are intimately linked. If the value is great enough, the price feels appropriate. The higher the price, the greater the perceived value needs to be.

Perceived value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and the only way to learn that is to talk to your customer and prospects. What gives them joy and gets them excited? How can you make their lives better? How can you alleviate some of their pain? The answer is rarely as simple as offering a lower price. (Which is why the competition can sell at a higher price, and still kick your butt.)

Truly get to know your customers and prospects and look for ways to align what you offer with what they say they really need and want. The closer you come—and the better you are at communicating that—the higher the price they’ll be willing to pay.

Is It The Price Or The Value?2018-05-08T13:24:17+00:00

The Importance of Customer Feedback

I always say, “You never know what business you’re in until the customer tells you.”

I know so many companies for whom customer feedback has led to major changes in their strategic direction. Changes have included new or additional products and services, and markets or audiences served. In fact, I have seen customer insights completely turn a struggling company around.  Customer feedback can point out ways to provide deeper value and greater differentiation against the competition—both highly advantageous to revenue growth.

So if this feedback is so valuable, why don’t more companies seek it out? Many think they do. They think their post-sale surveys and customer service on Twitter are enough. But they aren’t.

Truly valuable feedback only comes from talking with your customer. Techniques such as one-on-one interviews, round table discussions, and in-home visits yield rich feedback.

At Cooper Smith & Company, we advocate the method taught in the University of Iowa’s Venture School where they require that all candidates in the program talk to 100 customers. No, that’s not accurate. What they have to do is LISTEN to the customers.

Using the techniques outlined in Talking to Humans by Giff Constable, they interview, observe and record the feedback. They can’t talk about their own business, or their product or their next big ideas. In time, patterns emerge as interviewees say things like, “what I’d really like is…,” and “if you could solve X for me, I’d buy it today.”

Insight results in products and services customers are practically leaping across the table to buy. The value proposition is clear, and the sales are easy.

If you’re not having deep conversations with your customers, get a copy of Mr. Constable’s book and set a goal to do interviews this year. I’m confident you’ll learn something interesting.

The Importance of Customer Feedback2018-03-30T15:19:54+00:00

Internal Communications Case Study

This case study was first published in the PR News Guidebook. 

Major Challenges Faced

José lives and works in Houston as a General Foreman for Wright Tree Service. His colleague David is based in Wichita, and works as a computer programmer for Terra Spectrum Technologies. Both employees work for the same parent company, Wright Service Corp., based in Des Moines. How can their employer make sure these two team members not only feel connected to each other, but also feel connected to the larger organization as a whole?

Wright Service Corp. faces this exact challenge. The parent company was founded in 1961, and has undergone decades of tremendous growth and expansion. Now a prominent national leader in the environmental services industry, they have more than 3,500 employees across six companies all over the United States. The family of companies provides integrated vegetation management, technology solutions, consulting and operations, commercial environmental products, residential and commercial landscaping, tree care, and other outdoor services. While they’re 3,500 employees strong today, their humble beginnings included one man, named John L. Wright, and his wife. The company started as a family business, and the family foundation that it was built on continues yet today.

Due to the nature of the work performed, the number one value of each company is safety. From the CEO to the entry-level tree trimmer, it is vital that each employee embrace the importance of safety training and procedures.

With so many employees all across the country, building a strong and cohesive company culture is a major hurdle. Add the fact that many of the employees require communications in Spanish, and internal communications become doubly challenging.

How can Wright Service Corp. make sure that employees who will never meet, like José in Texas and David in Kansas, still feel connected to the company and embrace its mission and roots of a family founded company?


In 2013, we helped this family of businesses develop a company-wide newsletter to address these internal communications hurdles. The publication is 40+ pages, and is distributed in the spring and fall each year. The newsletter is one of the key communication pieces for employees, and serves a variety of functions. First and foremost, they use the newsletter to gain buy-in for the mission and values of the family of companies. “Safety is our highest value, and family remains our foundation,” said Scott Packard, Chairman and CEO. “Our employee newsletter helps to reinforce these two key elements of our company culture”.

The newsletter includes results from initiatives like the Spring Safety Challenge, the Tailgate Safety Contest, and the Turkey Safety Challenge to encourage safe work practices. The company CEO awards an “ESOP Coin” to employees who exhibit company values in an exemplary manner. Coin recipients are also congratulated within the publication.

To help all employees feel valued and included, the Wright Tree Service section of the newsletter is produced in two languages. This helps foster the “family” culture that the CEO and leadership team strive for.

Finally, this internal communications piece tells the unique story of each of the six companies under the Wright Service Corp. umbrella. This is particularly important because Wright Service Corp. is an employee owned company. Giving each employee an overview of successes, company news, and updates helps build a sense of pride and ownership.


The 40-page Wright Service Corp. news-zine is a major undertaking, and has become part of the Wright marketing and communications team’s workflow throughout the year. There is a dedicated email address for employees to submit news, stories, employee kudos, and photos from events. They’ve developed an editorial calendar of important annual events to document & include, like the Annual Awards Banquet, departments that participate in summer sport leagues, employee training sessions, and employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) meetings. The marketing team acts as a historian for the company, taking photos at company events, and keeping a running list of important company news to include. The team also gathers positive customer reviews to share in the publication. Sara Harpenau is the head of the marketing team, and has oversight of all company communications. Her team is tasked with gathering content and company highlights from the executive leadership and management of each of the six companies.

“Our company newsletter is such an important part of the company culture,” said Harpenau. “We invest a lot of hours planning this newsletter and gathering and writing content. The positive feedback we get from employees across the family of companies, as well as retirees and clients when they receive it make it well worth the effort.”

The actual production of the piece usually takes about two months from start to finish. Copy, photos and graphics are submitted to our agency Cooper Smith & Company, and we lay out the publication in chunks, separated by company. This makes editing and proofing much easier, and allows each individual company to maintain its own brand look.


The low frequency of publication (twice a year), means employees look forward to this newsletter and read it carefully. Here is what the publication strives to accomplish:

  • Community Building – Photos from summer leagues and stories of employee success encourages employees to look for themselves and friends in the publication, and helps familiarize team members with one another. There is even a “Sprouts & Shouts” employee news section with photos of new babies and marriage shout outs to encourage personal connection and live out that family focused culture where the company began long ago.
  • Retain Employees – Celebrating professional growth opportunities like the General Foreman School and Leadership Academy is a reminder that the company is committed to its employees. Recognition of ESOP Coin recipients also help employees feel valued.
  • Moral Booster – Kudos from customers, recognition for national awards received, and call outs for new hires/internal promotions keep the “warm fuzzies” going.
  • Celebrate Safety – Results of safety contests and stories of safety efforts reinforce the number one value of all employees. The company also produces safety videos, which are regularly promoted.
  • Encourage Longevity – Photos from the Annual Awards Banquet are included, recognizing employees who have served the company for a milestone increment of years.

Lessons Learned

  • Let employees contribute. Photos, birth announcements, etc. are always very well received, plus contributions from employees help lighten the load of the person in charge of gathering content.
  • Don’t let a language barrier stand in the way of creating community. If a large percentage of your employees speak a language other than English, create alternate versions of the piece. Don’t want to spring for printing in multiple languages? You can have the alternate language version available digitally for download on your website or distribution via email.
  • Take advantage of this communication opportunity. Because this is one of Wright Service Corp.’s key communications throughout the year, they also include inserts about employee incentives, special programs, new benefits, etc.
  • Use a printer that you trust. This sort of publication has many moving pieces (mailing list, different stuffers for different employees, some mailed, some returned to corporate office for internal distribution), and you want to be sure it’s executed flawlessly.
  • Get the most out of your content. Repurpose past newsletter articles on your company blog or website. This will help touch your audience on multiple platforms, boosts SEO, and gives you more mileage from your investment.

Feeling inspired? 

This internal communications format works best for:

  • Large organizations with 100+ employees
  • Families of companies with multiple organizations under one umbrella
  • Organizations with multiple branches or employees working in several locations

Ready to craft your own internal communications piece? Here’s how to get started:

  • Determine the best medium: email, digital publication, print piece
  • Choose your frequency: monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, annually
  • Identify the goal & key messaging: What does your communication need to accomplish? What tone do you want to set?
  • Gather your content: Encourage all employees to submit content. Keep a running list and folder where you can throw ideas and photos throughout the year.
Internal Communications Case Study2018-05-07T21:05:19+00:00
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