Monthly Archives: September 2013

Inbound Marketing: A Philosophy and a Technology

As a nonprofit communication guy, my primary concern is to ensure that people know who we are, care about what we do, and are inspired to “get involved” in some way, shape, or form.

In days of yore (by which I mean 18 months ago), we would attract potential supporters/advocates/customers/donors/etc with mainly traditional “marketing” methods. We’d mail them something (a letter, a brochure), show them a PSA, email them something, or the like. This worked sometimes, but it was expensive and not precise at all, and was becoming more and more obsolete at a time when technology was starting to allow people to shut out the “noise” in their lives (commercials, junk email, etc) and only focus on what they want to see, when they want to see it.

So, we had to make a change in how we engaged people; that change has come in the form of inbound marketing.

So, what is “inbound marketing”?

Here is an explanation from Hubspot, a leader in this field: “Instead of the old outbound marketing methods of buying ads, buying email lists, and praying for leads, inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be. By aligning the content you publish with your customer’s interests, you naturally attract inbound traffic that you can then convert, close, and delight over time.” (from

As you can imagine, we’ve undergone this transformation by focusing primarily on creating excellent content that our various “customer” groups want and need. For example, we sell fatherhood skill-building materials and training programs to other community-based organizations (CBOs) around the country. These are often small CBOs with relatively small staffs and budgets who are looking not only for a curriculum to offer to dads, but guidance on how to be effective in serving fathers. So, we have created loads of content that has little to do with “making a sale” on our curricula, but everything to do with helping these organizations learn how to successfully start and run a fatherhood program.

The philosophy is (and this is the heart of inbound marketing) that these potential customers will be searching for advice on how to start a fatherhood program, they will find the free, downloadable how-to guide we published on the topic, and eventually (hopefully) come back to us on how to implement the next steps, since they now trust us as experts in this area. The key is that we did not start with the hard sell – “buy our curriculum!” We started with, “here is some free, helpful information to get you going.”

We have done the same thing with individual dads. In the past, we may have sent them a fundraising letter if we wanted them to become donors. Now, we focus on getting them into our “funnel” where we can give them free fathering advice, pass inspirational stories and videos onto them, give them free online tools they can use to improve their fathering skills, etc. We get them into the funnel by making all of this helpful information easy to find for anyone who is doing a Google search on fatherhood. The philosophy again is that once we’ve given them lots of helpful information, they will then be more likely to want to either donate, volunteer, advocate, etc on our behalf.

Now that you have a sense of the “philosophy” behind inbound marketing, I will give you an example of how Hubspot provides incredible technology that allows you to put these principles into practice. (I will put all of the Hubspot terms in quotes below so you can tell when I am referring to a specific tool)

We know that lots of people come to our website looking for research on the causes and consequences of father absence. We used to provide this information for free, so people would be able to come to us, copy or download the research, and leave our site without us ever knowing who they were. That was kind of stupid, right? But here is how it works now with Hubspot (you can actually do this yourself at home!). You Google search “fatherhood statistics” and find our website. On this page there is a blue “call to action” button that invites you to see “detailed data on the effects of father absence.” You click that “CTA” and are taken to a page that provides one free data point on various categories of the effects of father absence. But in order to get more than just that one data point, you can click on another “CTA” that says “Access Additional, Free Research on <Fill in the Blank>.” When you click there, you are taken to a “Landing Page” that contains a “Form” you have to fill out in order to get to the research that we, frankly, spent a lot of time and effort gathering and organizing.

Once you fill out the “Form” you are taken to a page that contains pages and pages of free research! You got exactly what you wanted, but now we at least know who you are. The “Form” also asked you if you want to sign up for our free, weekly Dad Email, which is another way we can give you even more of what you want.

Next, now that this person has filled out a “Form” and is in our funnel, they become part of a “Workflow,” which is a series of automated (but personalized) emails that go out to a contact based on his/her specific interests. So, for example, if you downloaded the above mentioned research and indicated that you are a student, you will start to receive emails from me inquiring about what you are studying, telling you about other research we have available, and even offering to publish your research project on when it is completed.

In the longer term, we now have an enormous list of people in our database who we can “single out” as people who learned about NFI via our research download page. We can track what they did after their initial visit – Did they open the follow-up email? Did they download more research? Based on those behaviors, we can further customize our approach to them.

I hope you can appreciate the profundity of this to any communication geek! This is just one example – we have dozens of processes like this set up across our website, helping us learn why people come to us, what they want, and how we can move them from website visitor to customer or donor, etc. See the picture of the funnel below for how you get  people from not knowing who you are to loving you.

In terms of my “day in the life” experience with inbound marketing, I spend time every day tweaking things in Hubspot, tracking key user behaviors and web traffic, and much more. I was even fortunate enough to speak at their conference in Boston last month on a nonprofit panel (more on public speaking later!).

The reason I have gone into so much detail on this is because inbound marketing is truly a transformational philosophy and technology that I am confident will become the primary way in which nonprofits and for-profits alike engage with audiences. So, I urge you to start learning as much as you can about it as you prepare to enter the communication workforce!  

(by: Vincent DiCaro, Vice President, Development and Communication, National Fatherhood Initiative)Image




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Communicating for Social Change

Greetings! I’m Vincent DiCaro, and this is my first blog post here on the JHU Communication Career Blog!

I hope over the next few weeks, I can share some insight about communication in general, and specifically about my experience working in the nonprofit world.

ImageAs you can guess from the title of this blog post, my job is really about “communicating for social change.” I work for the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), a national nonprofit based in Germantown, MD. At the end of the day, I am trying to get people to change their minds and, hopefully, their behavior. As you can guess, we are working to help men be better dads, and educate and inspire the public as a whole about why it is important for children to have good fathers in their lives. It is not an easy job, but it is important work, and that is why I have been at NFI for over 11 years now. 

I started my career at NFI answering phones, and now I am a vice president. I hope to share on this blog how that all went down, and what I have done in those 11 years to “communicate for social change.”

I will write about some of speeches I’ve given, and why you shouldn’t be afraid of public speaking. I will write about some of the cool technology I use every day to help me do my job. I’ll write about some of the things I’ve picked up about leadership and how I think you can become a better leader.

So, rather than diving into those topics right away, I want to ask some questions; I want your suggestions on some of the things you want to hear from out here in the hinterlands of Montgomery County 🙂 

So, what would you like to know about working in the nonprofit sector? Do you have any questions about the tools of the trade I use to do my job? Is there anything you want to know about leadership and growing as a leader? Any other questions are welcome, too!

I look forward to communicating with you!


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5 Tips to Working with Clients

I recently watched an excellent documentary called Tokyo Waka. During the film, there was an observation about the rhythm and metabolism of cities. Having just moved to a new city, I loved this way of looking at an urban setting. Each city has its pace, its beat, its metabolism.

This holds true of many jobs, industries and careers as well. Communications is fast, complex, always moving, has short and long term effects and microcosms within its vast landscape.

In my communications career, I have almost solely worked in client service. The rhythm of client service is different than working within communications at an organization. I alluded to this in a previous post.

What are some considerations to remember when working with clients to create a healthy relationship?

This list is not exhaustive, but it’s a start. Many of this also applies to what organizations should consider when selecting a communications firm.

1. Trust your gut

Working with clients is much like dating. Upon your first meeting, trust your gut. It knows if the relationship is going to be positive after the first meeting.  This gut feeling goes both ways. In the interview, get to know each other. If you can, meet in person. We do a lot over the phone at Visceral, but it’s harder to dissect chemistry unless you are in person. Can’t meet in person? Try Google hangout. Ask yourself, can you spend months working with these people

2. Be partners

Your clients are your partners. As a client, your firm is your partner. People will disagree with me here but, the relationship is not hierarchical. Establishing the roles and responsibilities early on helps with this. You are experts for the reasons the client hired you. The client is an expert in their organization and likely much more. Feed off of each other. Respect that the client is paying you but don’t start bowing at their feet at every request.

3. Challenge each other

As a firm, your job is to encourage your clients to try new things and view things from a different perspective. Your job is not always to say yes at every request. It is also not to always say no. Challenge your clients and always have a reason for doing so. At Visceral, we believe that often the simplest solution is the best. This does not mean the easiest. It may not be the first solution that comes about, and it may not be the one the client wants immediately. For every recommendation we have, we have the information to back it up. Know when to push. Know when to step back.

4. Listen & Don’t take it personally

Sometimes your recommendation will go forward. Sometimes it won’t. When it doesn’t, you might feel defeated. Let yourself feel that way but don’t take it personally and try not to view your client as a competitor. Partners, remember? Know that you did your job, and it didn’t align with their desires. Make it known to them that their decision to go against your recommendation may have consequences and impact on the viability of the program or product. Then move on and smile.

5. Talk to each other 

We are communicators so make sure you talk to your clients and that as a client, you talk to your firm. Is something not working out? Are you not quite getting the information you need to make the project as effective as it could be? Are you displeased with the design that you are seeing? Bring it up. Again, dating/relationship nourishment. If you expect the other half to interpret your discontent, you are going to get into trouble. You won’t get what you want, resentment will build, money will be burned and the relationship will tarnish. Pick up the phone, meet for a coffee. Talk it out. After all, it’s your job to communicate clearly.

Oh, and… Have fun! (Maybe there are 6 tips then!)

You get to work with different groups of people. You get to feed off of each other’s intelligence and creativity. Enjoy the process. If you enter the relationship with any contention, it won’t be fun. Be excited about the group and project that you get to work with.

What do you find makes for a good client – firm relationship? Are their specific things that you look for in a firm? Teamwork, involvement of senior staff?


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Digital Communications & the PR Agency – Learn to be a Unicorn

I hope that one day, we will no longer be distinguishing between communications and digital communications because we are far beyond the point where there is a distinction to make.

There is no PR and digital PR. What makes all communications digital is that people consume information in print, on TV, online via all kinds of devices. Brands, organizations and corporations are now telling their stories through all these channels. The big challenge is how to do so effectively, efficiently and cohesively.

So what does this mean from the perspective of the PR agency?

During my time in a PR agency, I was part of a digital communications group. Unlike other groups in the agency that were focused on health care or public affairs or specific disciplines, our work crossed all those areas. If there was a client served from the public affairs group, they might have a “digital need” like a website or an online press release. When that need came up, the public affairs group would call us in and ask us our advice. The conversation usually went something like this:

 “We are developing a campaign with so and so. We need an online press release with PRWeb, a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter channel. Can you build that for the launch next week?”

“Hmmm. Well, can you back up for a moment and give us a background on the client, the goals and objectives of the campaign?”

This happened over and over again. Things have since changed where I was, but you get it. Digital was an after thought. This prevailed throughout not just our agency, but the industry.

There was a constant tug o’ war between digital and the rest of the agency. In my opinion, both sides were at fault. The rest of the agency for not understanding that it was a different realm, one that didn’t have the same timelines (you can’t always build a website in a day the same way you can write a press release), was ever-changing and was different to measure than what had existed to date AND digital for being reticent to teach the PR world about the new technologies. We, and I was at fault of this too, were very proprietary about our Facebook or blogging knowledge when these technologies were new. As if it was a secret that only the cool kids could know. Enough of the Mean Girls back and forth. It was killing our business one tweet at a time. A blog is a blog is a blog. A professional can learn what it is and understand with  proper training around its benefits and risks.

Can digital work in a PR agency?

Cultural & Business

Yes, it can but only when digital is not considered separate from everything else. I saw things begin to change once education initiatives were put into place across the agency to teach employees about the new technologies (Facebook, Twitter etc.). Did everyone become a digital expert? No. But they began to learn enough to start to bring in the right people earlier on in the process.

Examining this from the business perspective presents a different answer to the question though. In the agency model  services are billed by the hour. Depending on how your agency does it, your rate will defer by your role. So, what do you do as an agency now that roles are changing?

For example, what is one going to do with a technical developer who writes code all day long or a junior professional who monitors online communities all day. They aren’t really an account executive or an account manager. And yet, in my experience, those were the titles they were forcibly given and the rates that they were billed at. However, coding for 9 hours a day at said rate was often not logical. It’s not that their work was any more or less valuable than other agency professionals, but the time distribution for them was different.

My evaluation of this – and I am not a business expert – is that if agencies want to have resources with very technical skills, you need to set up a different fee structure. Not doing so will eventually cause you to price yourself out of that specific piece of the market (in this particular example). While they are at it, they should get rid of the stodgy titles too. They don’t fit the current landscape and job descriptions.

As an agency, you can either change your fee structure,  hope that your clients don’t care that you are billing them at 3 times the rate they could get some where else for the same work (hint: they will figure it out) or you can choose to not have those resources in house and  create some valuable partnerships with external vendors.

It’s the choice of the agency. One that seems quite obvious from an external perspective, but one that I have seen a lot of agencies fail at figuring out because they are too set in their ways and fees to be flexible.

How does the agency professional succeed in this environment?

Be nimble. It’s a word I use a lot, but one that is important. Communications will never stop evolving. If you are a professional or agency that is stuck in its ways, you are already behind. This can cost you a lot more than a few lost hits. It can cost you your entire business.

At Visceral we have a saying that we all need to be Unicorns.

It means that while it is good to be an expert in one thing and know it well, it’s important to have a strong understanding of a lot of areas – the full rainbow. Unicorns are known as symbols of strength and agility. It’s the interdisciplinary approach that is taken in academics and applying it across your career in any industry is essential. It allows you to be resourceful in the way you approach your projects and also in the way that you answer that question when you know you don’t know.

As a communications professional, you should be well versed in all areas of communications. This means having multi-disciplinary skill sets that allow you to understand public relations, advertising, multi-media (video, radio). Know these elements and how they can help solve your clients business problems, not just their communications problems. I can tell you, that while I have minimal experience with the most traditional of PR, I have written a press release (a handful of times and probably only because of JHU) and pitched media (thanks to my internship at FH). Do I like it? No. Have I done it? Yes. BE A UNICORN.

I’d be curious to hear of your experiences with digital and PR or other communications areas? What are some of your challenges, successes, failures?

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What to bring to an agency?

As a former mid-size agency employee, I’ll give you my take – via the next few posts –  on what it is like to work at an agency. You need to know that every agency will have its own culture and structure so these learnings come from just one perspective.

I can share that while I never one bit felt like I was in Mad Men, agency life is not dull. You’ll get exposed to a lot and if you aren’t sure what industry you are looking for or where you want to go with your communications career, it is an excellent place to start to determine where your interests and strengths are. Here are just some characteristics that are useful in an agency environment:

Creative Demand. There is never a “typical” day. You may be brainstorming campaign slogans one day for a food industry client and social media strategy another day for a government organization. This keeps things interesting and also encourages a constant flow of creativity.

Flexibility. Many agencies have different practice areas (health care, government relations, consumer brands etc.) and employees are part of one area but serve multiple clients at one time. One day you may have to be up to your ears in health care policy while the next day you may be involved in developing ideas for how to market a robot vacuum. This requires you to be nimble and transition from one subject matter to the next with ease. You need to be able to display knowledge in the respective subject matter like you have studied it for weeks. Except you had 20 minutes before the meeting with the client. It’s fun but it’s challenging.

Loads of Initiative. Your job is to make stuff happen. Show initiative internally and to your clients. You are providing services to your clients. This means you need to develop a constant flow of ideas that form themselves into strategies that you get to sell and eventually execute for your client to make them look amazing. You need to be one step ahead of your client and their thinking so that they remember that they need you do help them do their work well.

Know how to say you don’t know. At some point, you’ll have a client ask you something and you won’t have a clue as to what the answer is. That’s okay but be prepared for how to answer this well. Don’t pretend you know. Don’t lie. Don’t make something up. Say that you’ll consult with your team and get back to them with the information. Say that you’ll do research to determine the best solution. Say that your dog ate the answer. Don’t over promise. You’ll come back strong and armed with the right and true information and everyone will be better off.

Hours + more hours. Settle in because you are in for some serious hours. As an intern, I was not allowed to work more than a set number of hours per week (pure bliss) but the moment I became full time, I was in for the long haul. It was hard, but it’s also when I learned the most. Dive right in and soak it all up. You’ll learn a ton.

Agency life can be rewarding. It is often challenging and it is never dull. It was the best place for me to launch my career because of the exposure to so many different types of projects.

If you are considering work at an agency, speaking to friends who have worked at agencies (everyone’s experience will be a bit different) and getting an informational interview is always a good start!


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The path is never straight & that’s a good thing

Recently I was thinking about when I started my communications career. Officially, I can pin point it with my start at JHU and Fleishman Hillard in Washington, DC. Unofficially, I think it began even before I started to speak as a child… when I was trying to interpret and speak to our old talking car which would always uninterruptedly get stuck saying “Door is open”. And the door was NOT always open. Those were my first words: door is open-a. Maybe it wasn’t a career at that point, but it certainly felt like some fun work.

And for you in your career in communications, the doors will always be opening. Whether it’s into the next project at your job, or the next leap into another job, it is a field that is full off opportunity and that one that is changing day-by-day.

My crooked path 

I transplanted from New England to DC in 2006. In 2007, I decided to conclude my short government consulting career with the Big Blue and pursue an internship with Fleishman Hillard’s growing digital communications group. I also, in true 20-something DC go-getter style, applied and began with JHU’s AAP program.

Yes, I left a full time, well paid position at a great, huge, best of the best company, to get paid an hourly rate that may not lead to a full time position at a PR agency. I had never taken a communication course in my life (I was a psychology major at a liberal arts school where communications courses don’t exist) and I barely knew what a blog was.

My interest in FH had come back in college when I had met a woman who worked in the Boston office who had inspired me to purse it as a career option. It seemed like a neat option given my interest in Psychology and things that I was good at: writing, organization, creative marketing, talking to people. I really had no idea what I was doing or getting into. The interest in JHU came after many conversations with a friend who was in the process and loving her pursuit for a Masters in Government and Business from JHU. She suggested that I apply and see if I could augment my internship with the program. I will always thank her for this as I know it put me forward in many ways.

The Marriage of School & Work

Going to school and working in parallel was hard. Most of you reading this probably know that. If you don’ t know it, I don’t say it to discourage you. I say it so to manage your expectations – just showering you with my client service as a friend! You’ll have 9 hour (maybe +) work days, followed by 2 hour classes followed by homework on the weekends.

You may need to temporarily kiss your social life goodbye, ask your significant others to be patient, and learn how to live on very little sleep. It’s all about balance. Just like most things. However, you will learn a lot by doing work and school in parallel.

The lessons that I took from work to JHU and back were practical, eye opening and unique and I don’t think I would have wanted to do it any other way. Except for all the times that I said I wanted to do it every other way!

It was 3 years (with FH & JHU) and 1.5 of FH after JHU of extremely difficult, satisfying, stressful, fun experiences full of lots of learning and lots of “I can’t do this anymore” to “Is this really my job?” – in a good way – to “Is this really by job” – in a bad way –  to “What’s the point of a Masters?” to “I’m really glad I took that class” and more. And never a thought of looking back on my decisions.

With this background in place, I’ll be posting about a few specific experiences I had working within an agency environment – the ups, the middles, the downs – and how it allowed me to learn, grow and led me to where I am now.

Trust me when I say, the doors are always going to be opening-a!

A presto!

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Allegra Takeover

Hello JHU AAP Communication students, alumni, applicants, random individuals who may come across this post!

I’m excited to be doing a #takeover of the blog over the next 2 weeks. Here are the topics that I will be blogging about over this period of time:

  1. I’ll give you the briefest of the brief version of my story – my path – from JHU AAP Communications program to where I am now. This will give you one view to help answer the question: What can I do with an MA in Communication? Hint: the answer is A WHOLE LOT!
  2. I’ll dive into the glorious and possibly less glorious elements of working in client services. This will help answer the question: What is it like to work in Communication? And Specifically, digital communications within the agency environment?
  3. Sprinkled throughout this, I’ll be doing a series on the latest social media frenzies to sprinkle in some less serious, but equally helpful and important information for your communication studies, careers, continuing education.

Thanks for letting me take over and please let me know if you are interested in a specific topic or have any questions and thoughts in the COMMENTS!

You can read my bio here and find me at LinkedInVisceral and newly at FashionableGenes (personal project) and Sips Snacks Sweat.

A presto!


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