The Three Neal Winners in Best Article Exude Flair, Tell Stories and Diversify Sources

“There’s a phrase for the uneasiness many of us feel when confronted with humanlike machines—the Uncanny Valley. Coined in the 1970s by Tokyo robotics professor Masahiro Mori, the phrase describes how as machines appear more humanlike, they become more appealing to humans—but only up to a point. After that, as they appear more humanlike but not quite, they inspire revulsion in the observer. ¶ In the accounting profession, there is a similar uneasiness when dealing with the idea of AI, though it has nothing to do with how the software looks…”

Thus begins Ranica Arrowsmith’s 2022 Neal Award-winning, exceptional story for Best Single Article, titled AI, Applied: Opening the Black Box in Arizent’s Accounting Today. She goes on to provide ways that AI can assist people in accounts receivable, accounts payable, audits and other transactions. And that lo and behold, AI is not that scary and not after people’s jobs.

The other winners in this category, based on company revenues, were:

Alexia Smokler of REALTOR Magazine for her story, Repairers of the Breach—which looked at “America’s history of racist housing policies and how realtors “are playing a vital role in community efforts to acknowledge and repair the harm.”

Holly Barker of Bloomberg Law for her hard-hitting article titled ‘A Preventable Mess’: How Dementia Takes Toll on Aging Lawyers.

Let’s look at some of the right stuff that these three women did so well in crafting these award-winning stories.

Diversify your sources. A key source for Arrowsmith (pictured) is Samantha Bowling, who lists herself on LinkedIn as an: “AI Innovator, Mentor, Business Owner, Auditing Standards Board Member, Speaker and I LOVE what I do.” She also quotes the co-founders of an AI-driven accounts receivable platform, and Youngseung Kuk who manages business outsourcing services for Top 100 Firm Armanino in Boise, Idaho.

Smokler interviews Shakeima Chatman, broker-associate with Carolina Elite Real Estate and owner of the Chatman Realty Group in Charleston, S.C. She has worked with buyers and sellers to confront heirs’ property problems. In the first part of her story, Barker interviews someone who counsels clients on legal ethics, a forensic psychologist, the executive director of the Illinois Lawyers’ Assistance Program, and the chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs.

Tell stories. I wrote about the importance of this yesterday. Barker has an engaging style of starting each section with a person: “Frederick Emery Jr., an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Maine, was within a year of retirement when his colleagues started to notice something wrong.” “Robert Fritzshall had to be pushing 80, Bethany McLean thought, so she was a little surprised to hear him talk about expanding his law practice.” It quickly grabs us. Smokler tells the story of Evanston, Ill., which in 2019 became the first city in the U.S. to commit public funds to reparations for Black citizens. “It’s not by accident that Martin Luther King Jr. came here three times to address housing issues,” says Morris ‘Dino’ Robinson, founder of the Shorefront Legacy Center, which documents the African American experience in Chicago’s North Shore suburbs.

Use charts and photos. Barker’s story begins with a large, penetrating photo of McLean, who is now an assistant public defender in Kane County, Ill. Charts that follow include the ages of American lawyers and the prevalence of Alzheimer’s by age. The REALTOR Magazine story starts with a chart of the 17 states that have adopted a law to address heirs’ property problems. Then there’s a black and white photo of a 1964 civil rights march in Evanston.

Add audio to your story and a podcast around it. Barker also reads her article, giving Bloomberg Law’s audience another way to interact with them. In addition, they started a new podcast titled On the Merits with David Schultz talking with Barker about the story. Recent subjects for the podcast include gun violence, the gender gap in law firms, and Tesla’s legal problems. Most of the episodes are around 10-14 minutes, though the one on the gender gap is a “special episode” and 30 minutes long. Schultz shared hosting duties for that episode with a younger colleague Ayanna Alexander. She was great, and I expect we’ll hear more from her.

Add the author’s bio and picture. I like what REALTOR Magazine does at the end of its story, running a nice bio and photo of Smokler—she’s actually NAR’s senior policy representative for fair housing. Amazing that she won a Neal Award for the article and is not even a main content person—quite impressive! They also start the article with “Key Takeaways”; it’s an effective way of getting readers the gist of the story early.

Congratulations to these three deserving winners! Arrowsmith has since moved on to a short stint as a technical writer for the National Football League and now the lead external relations manager for the American Institute of CPAs. I hope she’s still writing!

new membership

‘What Can I Enable My Audience to Do?’; Three Experts Offer New Rules of Engagement

“We realized very quickly that translating live events to digital events is not a one-to-one translation,” Haley Berling, senior manager, digital programs and events, GovExec, told us. “When I look back… and compare them to what we do now, I think that was so cute. We had to say, ‘What do people want?’ They’re lonely, they want to connect with each other, they want to access content. They want something different.”

The pandemic may be over, but the idea that people want to connect is not. A great many are still home and not meeting with colleagues on a daily basis.

“Forget the word webinar; a webinar is an experience,” ON24’s Mark Bornstein told us in one of our editorial training sessions earlier this year. “We tend to think of webinars as that thing you do every month to just get leads and that’s it, but now webinars are taking on all kinds of [roles]. They’re more like programs that you would see on TV.”

Sure enough, in an ON24 email invite I received this morning, there is no sign of the word “webinar.” The subject line says, “Your data has something to say…” Open the email, and the title appears: How to Use Engagement Data: To Excite Audiences With Binge-Worthy Experiences. There’s a date, some copy and a blue Register Now button.

“There are news style formats, where you’re just becoming the thought leader in your particular area,” Bornstein added. “And we see movement from presentations to conversations—a lot of modern webinars have no slides at all. They’re just people talking to other people about things that matter to the people that are on the webinar.” He mentioned Thomson Reuters doing a cocktail-making class for their customers. “I recently participated in a game show webinar. My first big takeaway today is stop thinking about it through the lens of what we used to do in the past.”

And, of course, panelists are more diverse now—mostly gone are the “manels”—which was long overdue. Here are more suggestions from Berling, Bornstein and Regina Harris, program director, Webvent:

Select a top-notch moderator. “You would not imagine how effective it is to have a moderator who is experienced in that particular topic that we’re talking about,” said Harris. “Moderators can help connect the audience with the takeaway by preparing for a successful experience… A good moderator allows the speakers to pay attention to our presentations and do a great job and give our attendees what they need.”

Practice makes perfect. “There are now 300 million experts, and I say that because, as a producer and as a host, I have so many people who come on as presenters and consider themselves an expert,” said Harris. “But it feels really, really good to do a practice session with every presenter that you have, regardless of the fact that they may say, ‘Hey I already know what I’m doing.’ Make sure that they’re familiar with the platform and where everything is. And also that they understand the flow of the presentation, who’s going to open it up, who’s going to speak when, and who is going to end it. Do you want the questions to be filtered throughout the presentation?” Practice is especially important as you get more global, she added.

Build a customer experience. “We created a new virtual experience,” Berling said. “We incorporated things like virtual and customer sponsor resource pages with interactive chat features in downloadable assets for our clients. We created a virtual press room and editorial resource library for our editorial staff. And then we built a simple theater digitally where users can easily consume the content within very intuitive, easy login experience and [more] chat… As a living resource hub of content of all types, and then a place where our VIP community could come and interact with us and each other, it was more of a digital experience.”

Target a specific audience. “We see people creating executive-only webinars where maybe they’re inviting an analyst to come and speak for a few moments, and then bringing everybody into a breakout room—where it’s a much smaller audience or a more targeted audience, or maybe it’s by specific industry type,” Bornstein said. “We see more discussion-based webinars where you get a little bit of presentation and then maybe everybody comes on camera and does a conversation for a smaller group of people.”

Include a handout. We think of handouts more for in–person events, but Harris encourages giving attendees “a one-pager, a fact sheet—something to take away. Each time I review my survey results, the number one [piece of] feedback is, ‘I would have liked some type of handout so that I can write notes for each slide that you go through,’” Harris said. “So think about that as you put together [your webinar]. The handout would be in addition to a PDF of the slides. Because we are in this virtual world, they kind of walk away empty handed if you don’t give them something outside of having them go back to view the recording and do [the] fast forward [thing trying to get to the content that they’re trying to get to…”

Use more video. “We give people lots to do in the experience and that’s how you need to think about it,” Bornstein said. “What can I enable my audience to do, besides just watch my presentation?” GovExec thought this way as well and started focusing on how and where they can produce high-level video content. “We constantly in our production were drawing on examples of TV network and news networks saying, ‘Oh, what if we could do stuff like that,’” Berling said. “…We’ve also been working on producing different types of video content like teaser videos, quick-hit commercials and explainer videos that are all short snack content.”


‘It Makes It Approachable and Engaging’; Stories Remain a Powerful Selling and Marketing Tool

The late, great novelist Pat Conroy—author of The Prince of Tides and The Water Is Wide (made into the excellent film Conrack with Jon Voight)—said that “the most powerful words in English are, ‘Tell me a story.'”

At our AMPLIFY Content & Marketing Summit in June, storytelling consultant Randy Ford and Alexis Redmond, senior director of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association for ASHA, presented a session on storytelling and its much-welcomed place in our B2B and association world.

Ford talked about the Rule of Threes in storytelling—“For many centuries we have been wired to take things in with a beginning, middle and end,” he said. “We are all looking for that end when we are looking at stories. And that is very often that Call to Action if you’re doing B2B or association writing.”

Everyone has a different lived experience, he said. “The best you can do is to try to understand what you can about them, which is why data is so important in the publishing we do because we need to know who we’re communicating with and the kind of experiences they’re bringing. And you change your message based on who that is.”

Here are some tips on storytelling from Redmond, Ford and others:

Get members/subscribers to tell their stories. Redmond talked about the previous work she had done at ASHA managing their Career Portal, hosting Instagram Live Stories with members. “When it came to the lived experience of our members and work settings, us saying certain things didn’t have the same weight as members talking to members. I had to make sure I understood my audience and also knew when to pass them the mic to get the point across.”

Look at social media as a vehicle. “The one magical thing about stories—and especially from the horse’s mouth—is that it makes it approachable and engaging, and that it’s not an insurmountable task where only the perfect can have access to these,” Redmond said. “With the [Instagram Live] series, we were able to show the various aspects of the lived experience in different work settings. Story allows you a lot of dimensions and multi-facets.” She posted an example of their 90-second videos of How I Got the Job. “These said, ‘I understand what you’re going through; I know how hard it is—here’s how you do it. Here’s how you expand what story can do’—not just here’s the evidence, here’s the data point, but a person you can point to. ‘I know her, I know her story’; now you can remember that.”

Be careful with humor. “Humor can be unifying or divisive,” Redmond said. “If that’s you, it’s fine. It’s not my husband. If you’re failing [in using] it, it’s awkward.” Added Ford: “It comes back to listening to your audience—if that’s what they want or need.” Someone in the audience offered a remembrance. “My first boss used to pledge ‘sincerity’ to me. ‘It’s all about that,’ he said. ‘Put it on the mirror when you’re shaving. Sincerity. Once you can fake that you have it made.’”

Celebrate. Three years ago, Mario Garcia, a Columbia professor and author of the book, The Story, closed his well-received BIMS keynote by saying: “The takeaway is if you have a good story, people will stay with you… I don’t sit here and lament what was. I celebrate what is. These are the best times to be a storyteller, but you have to explore all that is there.” I’ve also often heard managers say that it’s important to celebrate successes—probably even more so in these remote times.

Develop a plan for measurement. From a whitepaper titled What You Need to Know About Storytelling in Marketing from the Atlanta chapter of the American Marketing Association: “Be prepared to isolate the data that matters to your storytelling efforts. Then analyze what messages had an impact, which ones didn’t and where there is room for optimization. Also, leverage this data to get a better picture of your customer and where there are opportunities to extend the relationship to create stronger, even lifelong, connections.”

Build a framework. Also from that whitepaper: “Stay true to your brand story by creating a framework or a charter that your internal and external teams can use when acting as the voice of the brand. This will ensure that your narrative stays authentic and consistent across your brand’s entire marketing ecosystem.”

You can purchase videos of the Ford/Redmond session and all the other great AMPLIFY Content & Marketing Summit sessions on demand here.


‘Leadership, Not Location, Accelerates Belonging’; Refining Today’s Workplace

A new MIT study says that “hybrid work is reshaping the Great Resignation into a Great Renegotiation. People want more choice about where they work, as opposed to increased compensation or additional perks.” While the AIA remodels its workplace the next two years, others focus more on making remote the best it can be. Should we do both?

While the necessity—and overall success—of remote work has changed all media companies, leaders still struggle with how our interaction should take place. In an article he wrote for ASBPE, Industry Dive editor-in-chief Davide Savenije listed a digital watercooler app, stay interviews and staff-led, brainstorming, brown-bag sessions in his list of things they’re trying.

“Leaders and organizations that adapt—quickly and purposefully—can position themselves to thrive,” he wrote. “This includes leaning into flexibility where possible, being agile and willing to change, and openness and transparency with staff. Prioritizing work-life balance, taking meaningful steps to advance [DEI], and leading with empathy are quickly becoming table stakes.”

As you might expect, the American Institute of Architects is remodeling their headquarters “into a state-of-the-art, eco-friendly facility where employees want to come to do their best work,” Rasheeda Childress wrote in an Associations Now interview with AIA CEO Lakisha Woods. (One of the renderings is pictured here.)

The renovation “is something we must do, but also we’re in a changing work environment,” said Woods, who became CEO earlier this year. “In this design process, we are thinking about the future of work and how we could revolutionize our workspace. We are looking at several elements, especially climate, equity, and collaboration.”

Woods says that their employees are okay with coming in occasionally as long as it’s “to engage… brainstorming, for recreation or adaptation of programs and services, and then also just to team-build.” She added gaming. “When you’re going to brainstorm, instead of talking around the watercooler, you play some AIA-branded cornhole while you’re debating what we need to do. There’s creativity that comes from gaming, and it allows people to think a little more innovatively. That’s what we want to incorporate into the space.”

Woods (pictured) also brought up a new term for me—“hoteling, a practice where employees reserve desk space for when they’re in the office—and more space for collaboration and ideating.” The next day I read in Digiday that Vox Media allows its employees to work at “hotel desks” from any Vox Media office.

But now there’s debate on just how much our fascination with watercooler conversations really matters. (For the record, I don’t think anyone ever drank from those watercoolers anymore.)

“Assumptions about corporate culture relying on employees physically working together aren’t borne out,” concluded a new study by MIT SMR Connections titled The New World of Work Is Transforming the Old Social Contracts. “In fact, remote work improves corporate culture in some cases. A vast majority of survey respondents say camaraderie, closeness to the organization, and feelings of inclusion and diversity have improved, or at least stayed the same, since the pandemic began. This includes both those who worked remotely full-time and in offices full-time prior to the pandemic.”

Another of the MIT study’s conclusions speaks, as Savenije did, to leadership. “Company leaders have been intentional about corporate culture issues related to successful remote and hybrid work environments. These include modeling empathy, worklife balance, and encouraging candid discussions. Significant majorities of respondents rate performance on these behaviors very highly. In other words: Leadership, not location, accelerates belonging.

In an article from the MIT Sloan School of Management titled 3 Reminders for Managers in a Hybrid Work Environment, Meredith Somers writes that “more than 80% of executives say they are worried about their remote employees’ ability to collaborate fully on team efforts and build relationships with their colleagues.”

She offers three bits of advice:

Encourage team autonomy but give new employees extra support. Don’t establish one overarching hybrid work rule for an entire organization. Most firms are made up of different groups with different functions that require different onsite and remote expectations, said Robert Pozen, author of Remote, Inc.

Set expectations for hybrid interactions and make them meaningful. While the actual work is important, it’s also important leaders encourage team bonding—such as facilitating a virtual group activity like wine tasting or playing a game—while ensuring each employee feels included.

Ensure all voices are heard. In every group or individual meeting, try to ensure someone is monitoring, listening, and intervening on behalf of the voices not being heard, said Thomas Kochan, an expert in employment policies and labor-management relations.


Cusromer receiving automated marketing message, tiny people. Marketing automation system, automated advertise message, marketing dashboard concept. Bright vibrant violet vector isolated illustration

The Words, ‘We’ll Join/Renew,’ Should Be a Call to Action, Not a Time to Relax

In looking through Marketing General’s 14th annual Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, lack of engagement remains the top reason that executives believe members do not renew their membership (52%, up from 50% in 2021). That engagement does not happen without a concerted effort, from the beginning, to reach out and connect.

These days we know so much about our members/subscribers but then often fail to use it. For instance, living in Washington, D.C., I belong to the Museum of Modern Art—it seemed to pay for itself for the 3-4 times I get to NYC each year. But the majority of their emails to me stress the mid-week, in-person events they have and not virtual offerings, weekend events, or even Amtrak and bus specials.

More positive, the National Museum of African American History and Culture sends out many member invitations, the latest being a Member Morning on Sept. 24. “We have an exciting event planned, including the opportunity to meet Andrew W. Mellon Director Kevin Young… And, as an added bonus, all Members and their guests will receive a special 20% discount on all purchases in our award-winning Sweet Home Café, as well as the Museum Store.” They also hold many virtual events for members like the one pictured.

Here are 5 onboarding successes I’ve come across where members and subscribers feel the love:

Show and tell. In the personalized onboarding webinars that Lia Zegeye, senior director of membership at the American Bus Association, conducts, she “shows a short promotional video from ABA’s tradeshow, providing a testimonial about the value of the event. Zegeye said she often gets thank-you notes from those attendees who say, “Wow, I had no idea you guys did all of these things!” “It’s a great way for me to connect with our members,” she added. The webinars put a face with a name, making it easy for members to reach out with questions.

Monitor early. “If a subscriber doesn’t have at least 10 page views a month, we run campaigns to engage with them, send them letters from the editor and the CEO, try to understand what they are looking for, and make relevant changes,” said Vaibhav Khanna, product head, BloombergQuint, a multiplatform, Indian business and financial news company. In a retention study last year from the American Press Institute, the biggest gap between what publishers deem valuable and what they aren’t doing well is in identifying at-risk subscribers—83.5% to 19%. The next two are using metrics to evaluate churn—82.6% to 28%.—and track what subscribers read—75.7% think it’s important but only 30% believe they are good at it.

Perfect your welcome letters. When it comes to onboarding, welcome emails are by far most effective at 77%. The more value you can throw into a welcome letter, the better. And the more people you can get involved from a member/subscriber organization will also help you come renewal time. Almost everyone (90%) encourages new subscribers to sign up for their newsletters. However, only some publishers send educational information about how to use their products (46%) or send personal notes from a person in the newsroom (43%).

Dedicate specific space on your site. The Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA) created a new member guide and a special page on their website with practical tips for new members. During the pandemic, HIDA went away from sending out physical packets but then heard from members who preferred receiving something tangible in the mail. Perhaps you could get a sponsor for that.

Provide the breadth of what you do. Especially during the pandemic, customers/subscribers/members may have come to you for one special thing, be that COVID coverage, ways to move forward or how others are dealing with this crisis. So it’s important that you expose them to everything else that you do. “If you are one of the almost a million people who subscribed to our COVID-19 email newsletter, what are the other newsletters that may be valuable to you?” asked Jeremy Gilbert, then of The Washington Post, now of Medill, early on in the pandemic. “What kinds of coverage did you click through from the email newsletter and how can we use those interactions with our site or native apps to get you to stay?”