Thursday, August 2, 2012

How To Tackle Information Overload

The following article by Vanessa Horwell, Chief Visibility Officer of ThinkInk, originally appeared on Marketing Daily.

"Distringit librorum multitudo."

To be clear, the above is not gibberish -- nor did I decide in a fit of rage to start banging my keyboard, bookending that in quotes. Although, on second thought, sometimes the idea does come up for a vote -- especially around 5:30 a.m. when before I turn to my hubby I turn on my iPad and BlackBerry to see what’s in the news, on the blogs and the dozens of emails that have come in overnight. That’s the typical start of another day in PR agencyland.

The opener is actually a Latin quote from the Ancient Roman philosopher Seneca, who in the first century AD lamented that “the abundance of books is a distraction.”

Fast-forward 2,000 years -- and if Seneca were alive today, he’d likely dunk his head in the nearest aqueduct, overwhelmed by today’s digital information onslaught. Never mind the estimated 700,000 scrolls the Royal Library of Alexandria held -- the ancient world’s most important information repository. I can get three-quarters of a million hits on a single Google search on my BlackBerry while I’m reviewing and skimming texts on three other screens in my office, all at the same time.

But this isn’t a morning rant. Information overload -- and how it affects industries like PR -- is a very serious matter. It’s become so troublesome that tech industry writer Jonathan B. Spira, author of “Overload! How Too Much Information is Hazardous to your Organization,” estimates that info inundation and the productivity inefficiencies it generates cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion in 2010. $1 trillion. There is even an Information Overload Awareness Day to help us poor sufferers. Ironically, though, I didn’t get that email.

What spurred this article was a post I read on the Council of Public Relations Firms blog, which I had hoped would offer up some concrete advice. It wasn’t a bad post per se, nor was it poorly written. It’s just that the nine-paragraph “novella” was about five paragraphs too long.

The advice boiled down to: carving out time to have in-person meetings with colleagues rather than wasting digital ink over long emails and missed communications, setting aside “free thinking” time to allow yourself a chance to properly digest the words you’ve consumed, and skim and scan material rather than dig deep. You see? I summed up the entire article in 46 words. That’s a 96% reduction.

It may be hard for us in the PR industry to admit, and it’s probably just as much of a bitter pill for our clients, but so much of what we read (and write) can be said in far less space. And if it can be said in less physical or digital space, the information those words carry takes up less brain space too. That should leave all of us with more brain juice to do our jobs better and in less time.

Newspaper editors are fond of the expression “tight and bright” to describe copy. Barring The New York Times and few other heavy hitters, most news stories come in at 500-700 words. Still too long? No problem. The inverted pyramid style of writing that is popular in journalism front-loads the most important information, so that the five Ws are answered no later than the third or fourth paragraph. Usually.

Beyond more effective skimming and an industry commitment to churning out greater substance and less fluff, some measure of tuning out might be in order. Just because today’s technology allows endless publishing and limitless word counts doesn’t mean we must feel compelled to fill that virtual space every time.

Often I find myself giving the same advice to clients, especially ones where the glut of incoming data can sometimes dim the picture rather than brighten it.

A little more Googling revealed that the latest Information Overload event was held in February 2012. Considering the scope of information inundation and its predicted growth, it’s likely the event won’t be its last. And if I manage to get caught up and….and….and…. I’ll make a point of attending the next gathering.

Besides, more information can’t hurt.

Or can it?

The following article by Vanessa Horwell, Chief Visibility Officer of ThinkInk, originally appeared on Marketing Daily.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How the Path to Financial Success Has Many Roads and Why Microfinance is Often Overlooked

Imagine a woman who founded a courier company and now has offices and employees in two counties shuttling documents for clients such as architectural and law firms. Envision another woman who turns the love of her native country into a living by selling Colombian souvenirs, crafts, food and clothing. Or dream of a man and his staff who profit from their talents by crafting creative signage and painting custom designs on cars and boats.

These are just three of hundreds of hard-working South Florida entrepreneurs who have wielded maybes and can-dos into realized storefronts and American middle class status. And they’ve done this through a unique financial channel called microlending. While microlending is well known across Latin America and in developing nations, sadly its existence, popularity and prevalence stateside remain in a nascent phase.

Unfortunately, most of the news I read and hear about microfinance in the U.S. involves providing those services abroad when in fact a vast underserved population exists right here. Don’t get me wrong, helping the disenfranchised in places like Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia is a noble thing. But I’m often left wondering why so little of the microfinance conversation involves helping out low-income entrepreneurs right here at home.

Now more than ever, microfinance can be the homegrown vehicle that turns this trend around - especially as the latest jobs report shows the same stubbornly high unemployment, lackluster job creation and consumer penny pinching across the board. The result is that hundreds of thousands of marginal-income families have slipped through the proverbial cracks and our snail-paced economic recovery continues to widen that fissure. Good credit becomes bad credit and access to traditional bank loans dries up.

People can help, and not just by giving donations or crowdfunding, the latest personal investing trend. Many of the recession’s forgotten casualties don’t want handouts; they want opportunities to work themselves out of a financial hole. Kiva Microfunds, a San Francisco-based tiny loan lender, clearly has the right approach. The company connects donors who wish to give money in as little as $25 increments and has lent out $335 million across 62 countries, boasting a 99% repayment rate. Closer to home, Our MicroLending, of Miami, has disbursed over 1,050 loans totaling $6.2 million to over 600 micro-enterprises whose owners use the funds to restock, remodel, expand and hire.

Fortunately there’s other good news as well. Microlending is also increasingly interwoven with the phenomenon of impact investing. Impact investing is the process by which investment takes into account not only direct ROI, but evaluates the social and environmental benefits of doing so. Like mircolending, social impact investing has numerous secondary and tertiary benefits. Blighted neighborhoods on the brink of collapse revitalize, crime rates fall, juvenile delinquency drops and a community or neighborhood has the chance to rebuild. And just this past spring, Morgan Stanley, inspired by its own studies on the matter, announced the launch of its Investing With Impact Platform. J.P. Morgan predicts that, by 2020, there will between $400 billion and $1 trillion invested in ways that have a positive social impact.

So it’s definitely possible to do well by doing good, no matter where funding comes from. A November 2011 report by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business put the number of microfinance institutions in the U.S. at 362. A strong start for sure. But clearly there can (and should) be more. Investing in microfinance for American entrepreneurs and making sure people out there know that this service is available, that self-employment is an option if they’ve lost their jobs, can do a lot to help ease the protracted financial suffering that has left so many of our fellow Americans penniless and without hope.

To dream is priceless. But acting on dreams comes at a price. Mircofinance and social impact investing are paving – and paying – the way forward to turn entrepreneurial dreams into reality.