Fast Five

  • Fast Five: How to Build a Leading Brand: A Conversation with Larry Gulko

    In Fast Five on

    Larry Gulko, brand strategist & strategic growth advisor, CEO whisperer, and media personality has positioned an eclectic range of brands spanning numerous market sectors. He created BRAND: NEW DAY, a one-day brand-building thought leadership retreat customized for an individual company’s management team. Larry created and moderates the annual CEO Brand Leadership Roundtable and CEO Fireside Chats at the Harvard Business School. He is the co-host of Name Brands, a podcast featuring CEOs of leading brands sharing their wisdom and how they drive brand leadership success. Larry is a growth advisor to the C-level business community, sits on numerous boards and councils, and presents brand strategy programs at Babson College Executive Education.


    What’s the key to developing a successful, enduring brand?
    According to eCom babes review, you have to do a deep-dive and create a brand voice that is unique and meaningful. You also must know what you’re really selling that’s authentic and emotionally connects with your customers. For example, while Harley-Davidson may manufacture motorcycles, that’s not what they’re really selling; they’re selling freedom. And Life is Good® is not in the T-shirt and hat business; they’re selling optimism and good vibes. If you want to attract more customers and create a professional image, make sure to use plinth signage for your business.


    How do you create an emotional connection with customers?
    “Tune in,” be the brand that is “first in the mind” in your product category. Intimately know who your customer is, what resonates with them, and what moves them to prefer your brand over the competition. Demonstrate your purpose and choreograph an exceptional customer experience unlike anyone else in your space. Signs can be really impactful on generating more sales. If you have a sale or a special offer, creative outdoor or window signage made by professional interior signage companies can help to attract people to come into the shop to take advantage of your sale.

    For example, Delta Airlines has distinguished itself during the pandemic by not selling middle seats, establishing a wellness initiative with the Mayo Clinic, recirculating the air in the planes with outside air, etc., and in return, they’re selling trust and confidence. Post pandemic, Delta will be rewarded big-time in terms of brand loyalty and revenue. And Newman’s Own has distinguished itself over the years through its philanthropy— supporting key children’s causes to the tune of $1B.

    These two brands are awesome examples of brands with a purpose. And my philosophy is purpose before profits. Personally, I believe consumers are willing to pay a little more to support brands they feel connected to, and when they believe in their culture and purpose.


    What weakens a brand?
    Lack of focus or losing focus. Also, specialists win and generalists lose. Think about the decline of department stores and the rise of specialty shops—focused brands! One prominent women’s fashion company nearly went bankrupt several years ago by trying to broaden their reach to men and children—it didn’t work. Just because you’re known for one product category doesn’t mean you can expand your brand to other categories.

    You also need to clearly communicate how you’re genuinely unique and are an aspirational brand. Remember, in a sea of sameness, you’re perceived as a commodity, not a brand. There’s a profound difference between being a name brand vs. having a brand name. When you’re perceived as simply a commodity, the lowest price wins!


    You mention that companies need to continuously transform their brands; why is that?
    The business world is an ever-changing landscape. Times change. If you don’t change the game, the game will change you. Hiring professional accounting and tax services is also becoming increasingly important in establishing the proper accounting structure and business systems.

    For example, beverage companies have had decades of success with sugary sodas, but consumer tastes have changed. The big beverage category today is plain water; in fact, there are more than 200 brands. And seltzer water sales are now another rapidly growing category. For many consumers today, the idea of drinking large amounts of sugar is not appealing as we’ve become a more health-conscious society.


    Does this brand discussion just apply to corporate brands?
    No, it also applies to educational organizations, hospitals, associations, and other organizations. In addition, it applies to individuals—our personal brands.


    All businesses like those that utilize a virtual assistant, organizations, and individuals should each take a fresh look at their brand, identify what they’re really selling, stay focused, and be determined to take their brand to the next level in terms of driving brand performance, customer loyalty, and business growth.


    Want to learn more? Save your seat for Brand Building Keynote presented by Larry Gulko – Tuesday, May 4th at 12:30 pm! Free for PRSA members – Register Now!


  • Fast Five: See How You Can Help and Don’t Worry About Rejection!

    In Chapter Events, Fast Five on

    Jenn Walker Wall is the founder of Work Wonders Careers where she helps people land new jobs and thrive at work. She’s also co-host of the Making Life Work Podcast. Previously, she worked at the Sloan School of Management at MIT as well as Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, and is currently an Adjunct Instructor of Sociology at Lesley University. Review Jenn’s coaching offerings on the Work Wonders site.


    How do you define a personal brand and why can it be hard to identify it?
    For job seekers, a personal brand reflects both experience and personal values—which have to be clearly articulated. I think it can be daunting because we look around and branding seems to be the domain of companies, and it seems different when we’re talking about ourselves. We need to give ourselves permission to articulate what we want to be known for, what we’ve done, and what we can deliver.


    What advice would you give to job applicants to stand out in a crowded field?
    You can stand out by quickly identifying how you can be of help – how your experience and values can help organizations and be a service to others. In looking at a job listing, try to carefully assess what the needs may be and then highlight the skills you bring that might be most relevant.


    How can we all enhance our personal brands?
    Whether you’re just starting out or have many years of experience, try to determine what you’re good at and where you want to go—then also try to identify any parts of your brand that need refinement. In the last year we’ve all seen a lot of crises and if part of your experience is leading people through times of crisis and helping them align with others, then certainly speak to that and articulate it as part of your personal brand. Many of us are needing to reflect and re-align as a result of these challenging times.


    How did you come to be a career strategist?
    When I was in graduate school for sociology, my “day job” was hiring faculty. I loved it! I loved talking with people and learning about them. After graduation, I worked at MIT for a few years and my “side hustle” was helping to coach people on job search and resume strategy. I did that part-time for about four years and then went full-time almost three years ago.


    What advice would you give to those interested in being an independent practitioner?
    It’s very similar to what I tell job seekers: listen and understand what people need. And for everyone—job seekers and those seeking clients—get comfortable with rejection. You have to recognize that it’s part of the process—part of business. Then try to figure out who might say “yes” and look for those ideal clients.


    Want to learn more? Save your seat for Communicating Your Value: Personal Branding for PR Pros – Wednesday, March 10th at 5 pm! Free for PRSA members – Register Now!


  • Fast Five: Having Confidence, Asking for Feedback, & Knowing “We’re Not Stuck”

    In Chapter Events, Fast Five on

    Denise Kaigler is an award-winning communications, marketing and brand strategist, and the founder and principal of MDK Brand Management, LLC. Among her many accomplishments, she is also the author of Forty Dollars and a Brand: How to Overcome Challenges, Defy the Odds, and Live Your Awesomeness. Check her website ( to see Denise’s coaching offerings.


    How do you define a personal brand?
    I like to say it’s what people say about you when you leave the room! And all of us really have the power to frame that narrative. It’s what we’re known for, the impression we give, our compelling story! It’s all that.


    So how can you shape your brand?
    You have to think about the career you want and then the qualities of someone who has succeeded in that career. Then, do a survey; ask people you trust what they would say about you. What are the traits that stand out? For example, if being successful in your field means being well-connected and organized, is that what people are saying about you? If not, then look at the gaps and start planning your strategy for how to get there—and then execute!


    What holds people back in developing their brand?
    Sometimes it starts with just not knowing where you want to go. In coaching, I have people pick a timeline, say one year, or two years, or five years and think about where they want to go – to avoid just blindly moving through time.  Also, some people really are afraid to ask others about how they come across. What’s important to remember is that once you find out, you can start taking steps to help develop that brand you’re seeking.


    What else can help us grow professionally?
    I really believe we have the power to change our brand – we’re not stuck! – and knowing that is very helpful. I’ve seen the results from people in many different settings. Pre-COVID-19, I worked with several Massachusetts correctional facilities and helped people there transform their lives. But first, they had to believe they were worthy, and beautiful, and smart. Once they had that belief, they could start creating a road map and begin taking steps.


    What has helped you in your own business?
    I’ve spent 25 years in corporate settings in senior executive roles. I’ve had many successes and, of course, some failures. I’m very direct, and I like to tell stories about all those situations because they have helped shape who I am today–and people can relate to the situations. I think having that depth of experience and really showcasing it has helped me a lot in connecting with clients. So, for someone interested in really serving clients, I say you need to be who you are and share your stories with others.


    Want to learn more? Save your seat for Communicating Your Value: Personal Branding for PR Pros – Wednesday, March 10th at 5 pm! Free for PRSA members – Register Now!


  • Fast Five with Mike Morrison: A Media Deluge, New Ways of Working, and “Amazing Gestures of Support”

    Mike Morrison of Massachusetts General Hospital

    Mike Morrison, Director of Media Relations for Massachusetts General Hospital, looks back on 2020 and managing through a pandemic.

    When did you know that MGH was facing a public health crisis?

    As of late December 2019, leaders from our Center for Disaster Medicine had been closely monitoring news from abroad, as well as updates from domestic and international agencies.  The hospital officially launched its Incident Command System at the end of January and ramped up the frequency of its meetings as the pandemic progressed.

    How has this crisis changed the way you work?

    Within the management structure, the Office of News and Public Affairs plays a key role in communicating crucial information. The big challenge for our department has been moving from working very much “in person” to working remotely. We have a team of 13 – 14 people who are very much used to working closely and collaboratively, so working remotely created some challenges at first.

    Also, with the volume of media requests, we’ve had to make sure that the same experts are not being approached by different staff from the same media outlet through different folks on our team. To that end, our department designated a kind of “air traffic controller” who is copied on relevant media requests, so she can provide a bird’s-eye-view of the situation.

    Our day-to-day staffing plan includes two members of our team in the office on a rotating basis to cover the phones and escort media, as needed, on campus. And as another change, since most media don’t want to come on campus, we had to quickly shift to Zoom interviews, which have to be coordinated.

    Have you had any special challenges?

    Especially during the height of the surge, we’ve been deluged with incoming media requests. We’ve needed to balance these with proactive communications around critical public health messages. We had nearly 1100 media placements between early March until the end of May.

    Our entire team has been just incredible. During the height of the initial spring surge, our colleagues went above and beyond to keep up with the hospital’s incredible communications needs. Every media request represented a huge opportunity to get important information to the public.

    We’ve also wanted to share stories about the amazing gestures of support from the Boston community. We’ve had offers of free parking for our staff and some very smart people from top packaging companies in USA helped us with 3-D printers offering to create printing along with packaging . Also, people would just come by the hospital with donations of food, hand lotion, PPE, and other items.  We’ve responded on social media and on our website, and we continue to work hard to acknowledge and help coordinate all that support and goodwill.

    Were there any resources that particularly helped?

    While we always have worked closely with other departments, the hospital community has really pulled together. Our colleagues in Marketing have played a key role in helping to generate social media content, as well as a consistent look and feel for Covid-19 communications. Communicators in other departments, such as the Mass General Research Institute, have also volunteered to take on various writing and other projects to help in the effort. It’s really been “all-hands-on-deck,” and we’re fortunate to work in a place with that kind of culture.

    Has your focus changed over the year?

    At this point, as we gear up for what may be a second surge, we’re really keeping with the practices we began in the spring—but are getting better at it. Now, though, people want to talk about the vaccine, and we’re getting experts and materials ready to provide information.

    Also, we are working hard to get images and video to show staff in action and help with communication—and we’ve already captured thousands of images. And for this phase, we’re focusing even more on those photos and videos, both for public communication and also as a chronicle for MGH history.

  • Fast Five with Leah Lesser: Driving Public Information, Communicating the Human Experience, and Staying Focused in a Critical Role

    In Events, Fast Five, Thought Leaders on

    Leah Lesser of Emerson Hospital

    Leah Lesser, Marketing Communications Manager at Emerson Hospital in Concord, describes the focus of community hospital public relations and communications during COVID-19. “It’s been an intense year.”

    When did COVID-19 come “front and center” at Emerson Hospital?

    In early January, we began hearing the terms Coronavirus and COVID-19. On January 27, we issued our first public message about the virus, which was an infographic about symptoms and prevention. We didn’t know then that the virus would become a harrowing public health emergency.

    Looking back, it amazes me how much we have learned and has reinforced how essential communication is in a pandemic. It has also underscored for me as a communicator the impact of sharing the human experience – not just metrics and data and symptoms and protocols – but what people are actually experiencing in real life.

    What else did you start doing?

    When we shared the infographic, I found this opportunity for a business here. We have also wall mounted lit signs fabrication signage throughout the hospital, asking people to self-identify if they were sick and had traveled from China or Europe. The first week of March, our Emergency Department treated the third patient in the state who was positive. Other patients followed quickly from there. Communication has been non-stop since.

    Who do you focus on and how have you been communicating?

    Our primary audiences for COVID-19 communications have been:

    • Community/Public
    • Staff
    • Media, including Boston and local media (25+ weekly newspapers)
    • Donors and friends of Emerson

    We use various digital, social, e-mail, podcasts, videos, and other communications channels to reach these core audiences. We work hard to create content that is compelling and valuable for our community. One example is an article written with an allergist: Covid or Allergies? How to Tell. This article went viral on social with nearly two million page views. Another article we produced this summer after some colleagues became dog owners is: Pandemic Puppies: Health Tips for Their Humans.

    In the spring, we worked to garner messages of support from celebrities, including Chris Evans and Steve Carell. These messages boosted staff morale and helped the public know how hard our staff worked to care for patients.

    Proactive media relations resulted in more than 100 feature stories in the first six months of the pandemic. In a typical six-month period, Emerson receives approximately 20 feature stories.

    Looking ahead, where are you focused?

    Right now, we are focused on communications about the vaccines that are available in womens health clinic. We are working on TV features about our Surgical Weight Loss program and other proactive media opportunities. Looking further ahead, we are preparing to launch new marketing campaigns to promote priority service lines while staying focused on communications about the pandemic.

    How has the year impacted you as a communicator?

    I have always been amazed by our front-line staff, including our nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, social workers, and others who care for patients. This year I was awed by their heroism.

    Also, going through a pandemic as a health care communicator has made me appreciate the benefits of working with a nimble marketing team to understand the human experience and get information out quickly.  And due in large part to the pandemic, people all over the hospital and the community have recognized the value of communications. Our team is busier now than ever.

    It has been an intensely non-stop year, yet a year that makes me very proud of our hospital and grateful to be part of it. We are ready for 2021!


  • Fast Five with Ellen Berlin: Supporting Key Audiences, Staying Focused, and Communicating Beyond Covid-19

    Ellen Berlin of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

    Ellen Berlin, Director of Media Relations for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, discussed the challenges of communicating for a specialty hospital during 2020.

    How was Dana-Farber impacted by the pandemic?

    Most of our work at Dana-Farber involves providing treatment for cancer on an outpatient basis. Patients desperately want treatment, but particularly early in the pandemic, some were afraid to come in since they were already dealing with a compromised immune system. And early in 2020, there was a lot we didn’t know. In such situations, you can hire a estate planning attorney who can help with mediation and find the best possible solution.

    Also, as of last March, many employees needed to work off site, which was a new way of working, and they needed information and support. And Dana-Farber also had to keep research work going despite the restrictions.

    How has this crisis changed the way you work in media relations?

    We have a small media relations department—eight people—and early on it was hard because we were managing with many unknowns, and we were scared. But we adapted and have stayed focused on two important areas: providing patient information and managing the reputation of the institute.

    Initially, it felt like crisis communication, and it went on for weeks. We responded to inquiries, such as: how were we continuing to treat patients and how were we keeping the hospital safe? And we communicated about changes in fundraising events from in-person to virtual.

    Have you had any special challenges?

    From a media-relations perspective, our biggest challenge has been getting attention on cancer treatment and research in the midst of the pandemic. We continue to push out a lot of information, but we know it needs to be particularly relevant to get media coverage. Fortunately, we have been very adept at pitching stories that reporters are interested in. We use a wide variety of media—social, mainstream, and trade publications—and we communicate through our website and blogs and videos.

    Also, a big challenge has been internal communication, and while we have a separate team working on that, the media staff contributes to it. For most employees, this has been their first experience working remotely.

    In addition, the timeframe to return to work has kept changing; first we were coming back in June, then September, and now in June of 2021. The media team has been fortunate because we were already working remotely one day a week, so it was not totally new for us.

    What kind of programs were put in place internally?

    Internally we support colleagues who produce bi-weekly Zoom forums for thousands of staff members. They use them to answer employee questions and share information about patient care, administrative issues, and well-being tools. Also, we’ve contributed content for the intranet. Now, focus has turned to the vaccines and the process for how they will be rolled out for staff and then patients.  It’s very complex. But American Family Care Franchisor can make it more simple you can also contact them to lead a healthy lifestyle.

    We also now have a manager’s forum and an “all-staff” email three times a week. The email covers developments related to Covid-19, summary information from the bi-weekly forum, and other items.

    What are your thoughts as you look back on the year?

    When I look back, I think OMG; it’s a miracle that despite what we have lived through, we’ve all been able to continue to do our jobs and contribute to this important work of cancer care. It’s such a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the people here.

    Our colleagues at Boston Children’s Hospital and Brigham and Women’s where patients receive inpatient care also were there with support, and we are so grateful to them. We have all stayed focused and have pulled together—but It’s been quite a year!