How to Get Ideas for your Blog

It’s as simple as looking around you

Some days you wake up and you’re all out of ideas. Too bad, because your schedule calls for a 750-word blog post today.

My presentation at Chicago Blog Week (Nov. 9, offers some easy concepts that will stimulate your brain and help meet that deadline, based on an earlier blog post (“Jumpstart Your Car by Answering Five Simple Questions“).

Check out the slides, and if you’d like a fuller explanation one-on-one or in a workshops, just ask.

Will Stephen Colbert Pass the “Timeless” Test?

My friend Wally Podrazik, the television historian who teaches a course called “Future TV,” asked me a question that he was sure I’d turn into a commentary:

Would you say, looking at the landscape since 1992, that Johnny Carson is as timeless as ever and still stands as the best in that genre? Does Colbert have an outside shot at being a respected name in that tradition?

I have cleverly chosen the covers of Time magazine to respond to the “timeless” question.

Can Johnny Carson‘s 30-year late-night career be compared to Stephen Colbert before Colbert’s show even starts? Moreover, it’s 2015. Is Johnny Carson still timeless? If you are under 30, do you know his name?

On the other, compare Kimmel and Fallon: who is more likely to have a lasting impact? In this case, it’s a fair fight, as they are contemporaries. Carson and Colbert aren’t competitors.

In 1991, when Johnny Carson already had become “timeless,” he posed a question to David Letterman, revealing the younger comic’s own doubts about the future:

Watch the full clip and you’ll see Carson asking Letterman how he feels about NBC choosing Jay Leno to take over “The Tonight Show” instead of Letterman. The conversation is noteworthy because we now know that Carson favored Letterman.

Leno got “The Tonight Show” and Letterman lost out. But who actually won? It’s Letterman who is considered a legend, while Leno is thought of as a bland crybaby.

Will Stephen Colbert be a disapointment?

I’m already getting myself ready for disappointment with Colbert’s debut. I’ve read so many articles, all of them interesting, all of them talking about what a smart, talented host might do. And all of them speaking of Colbert as if he’s a religious figure.

Frankly, I found Colbert’s summertime teaser videos a little childish and unfunny. On CBS, I hope he continues to gives us content like this:


That interview with Stephen Sondheim is an intersection of Colbert’s knowledge, singing ability and goofiness.

Will Colbert be the next Johnny Carson?

“Does Colbert have an outside shot at being a respected name in [the] tradition [of Johnny Carson]?” Wally asks.

What tradition? Young Letterman had no chance to be respected in the Jack Paar tradition, but he ended up redefining the tradition.

Colbert will have to do his own redefining.

The traditions of the live audience, band, sidekick, desk, opening monologue, political commentary, offering snarky comments about your employer and featuring young actresses tempting the censors with their outfits — those traditions will continue.

What will Colbert do to layer something new, different and exciting on top of all that? I hope it involves at least a little Stephen Sondheim.

Content Marketing with a DIY Video Animation Tool

Which format communicates an idea better: a 90-minute presentation or a 3-minute video?

I recently attended a presentation in which the speaker took 90 minutes to explain the concept of “content marketing” and how it can draw customers to your business. At the  end of the presentation, several people in the audience — many of whom were just beginning to contemplate having a website — were a bit confused.

Actually, the phrase “content marketing” has been around for a long time. The Wikipedia page for “content marketing” was created in 2008.

Content marketing is essentially storytelling with a specific goal.

Content marketing objectives

Typical uses of content marketing include:

  • Sell something;
  • Engage an audience;
  • Provide vital safety and health information;
  • Persuade people to take an action; and
  • Share your vast knowledge with the public.

I’ve been doing content marketing most of my life, beginning in the mid 1960s when I was an editor of the school paper in sixth grade.

My consulting practice, Jonathan Lehrer Communications, manages blogs (example: Gary H. Smith, Chicago property tax attorney), produces email newsletters (example: Thornton High School Alumni Legacy Fund) and provides the voice for podcasts (example: College of American Pathologists).

Getting more attention on Facebook by using videos

If your content marketing plan includes Facebook (and why wouldn’t it?) you should know that the post will reach more eyes if it includes video. But isn’t quality video expensive to produce?

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Sorting Out the Versions of WordPress

Dear Mr. Communicator: I want to start blogging. Should I sign up for, which I understand is completely free, or create a self-hosted site? — Slightly Confused

Dear Slightly,

I work with many clients to develop WordPress sites. At the outset of a project, one of the biggest questions is whether the new site should be on or self-hosted. You’re not alone in being confused.

To better understand the pros and cons, please head over to my recent post on LinkedIn, where I provide some resources that explain how to choose  the best WordPress option.

Of course, as a content creator and builder of WordPress sites, I’d be happy to help if you need it.


Google Docs Could Change the Way You Work

I really want to believe that software including the word “doc” will cure all of my pains. In the case of Google Docs — often called Google Apps — I wouldn’t be far off.

Google Apps is a completely free offering that is a suite of several applications:

  • Google Drive (file storage, management and sharing)
  • Google Docs (similar to Microsoft Word)
  • Google Sheets (similar to MS Excel)
  • Google Slides (compare to MS PowerPoint)
  • Google Drawings (some features similar to PowerPoint)

If you notice a pattern, it’s because for many people Google Apps can just about replace Microsoft Office. Unless you need the powerful formatting features of MS Word or the sophisticated formulas of MS Excel, you might be able to avoid buying MS Office. And that would be a deal, because Google Apps are free.

(There is a paid version called Google Apps for Work that adds more useful features for $5 per user, per month. But you probably don’t need it.)

Google Docs offers quite a few features that will cure “pains”that often afflict office software users.

  • Simple interface
  • Collaboration with co-workers very easy
  • Available from any computer, any time
  • Automatic file saving to the cloud
  • Accessible and usable from your smartphone
  • Frequently updated with new features

For the entrepreneur this might just be tech nirvana.

Workplace Collaboration with Google Docs

The ability to work with others on the same document at the same time is pretty cool. Say you’re working together on a blog post or a new business proposal. You and your partner can be typing in the same document on two different computers — in the same room or across the planet — at the same time. You can even see what the other person is typing, while she is typing. (And you can annoy her by changing it while she’s typing.)

I call this “live drafting,” which I explained in detail here.

Get Started with Google Docs

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Jumpstart Your Blog by Answering Five Simple Questions

Statistics would show (if there actually was such a statistic) that a huge number of blogs on the web haven’t been updated since Al Gore invented the Internet.

(True, Gore didn’t really invent the Internet, but then why is so much technology based on an Al-Gore-ithm?)

Many executives, PR people and entrepreneurs start a  blog with all good intentions, posting weekly, then monthly, then every couple of months, then “I don’t remember the last time I posted something.” This makes your site out of date and doesn’t reflect well on your organization. You’re missing out on the benefits of content marketing.

But it’s not so easy to find something to write about, right? I have a simple procedure that will stimulate your creativity, getting you past your writer’s block and back into the grove of blogging.

Here are five creative questions. Pick one and write out your answer. Make it at least 300 words. That’s the first post on your newly resurrected blog. Then pick a second question — and that’ll be your second blog post.

1. Where did you get that idea?

You’re the head of a successful company. Tell us what inspired you to develop the product or service that made you rich.

2. What did you do yesterday at 3:30?

You could blog about your job title or description. Boring!

On the other hand, Lia Lehrer tells me that a very effective interview question focuses on a single moment. Perhaps you were on a call with a prospective client. Write about your sales pitch. Or maybe you were reviewing plans for a new product introduction. Blog about how you select new offerings. (If you were taking a nap, you could write about work-life balance.)

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The Real Brian Williams is a Talk Show Host

NBC’s Brian Williams, officially deposed from the anchor chair on NBC Nightly News, will be picking up some news-related duties on MSNBC.

I’d rather see Williams co-hosting a semi-serious late night show with now-retired David Letterman, along with regular guest appearances by Tom Hanks and Steve Martin.

Is demotion to MSNBC a suitable punishment for Williams’s Crimes Against Journalism?

My friend, the TV historian Wally Podrazik, called my attention to a Washington Post article that compares Williams’s crimes to other journalistic misdeeds.

► Why don’t more journalists face the music like NBC’s Brian Williams?

Says reporter Paul Farhi:

George Stephanopoulos, Bill O’Reilly, Fareed Zakaria, the gang at Rolling Stone magazine — all have faced Williams-like turns in the barrel. And all have emerged perhaps chastened but very much steady as they go.

Of the transgressions recounted by Farhi, I believe the Rolling Stone article is 100 times worse than all of the others. Neither Brian nor Bill told stories that screwed up the reputation of people or institutions. The Rolling Stone article was a mess and a bunch of people should have been fired because of it.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of irony in the Williams story.

First, everybody is saying Williams was “demoted” to MSNBC. The fact that people think it’s a rat hole should be much more worrisome to NBC than whatever Williams did.

Second, in the recent interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Williams says something about realizing in retrospect that while he carried the mantle of “NBC Nightly News Anchor” during the broadcast itself, when he left the studio and headed over to David Letterman’s set he was a different person, or forgot that he had the most prestigious job in America or whatever.

Who is the real Brian Williams?

So…compare Brian on Nightly News with Brian on Letterman. Who is the real Brian Williams?

I suggest that the Letterman Brian Williams is the truth, while the NBC anchor desk version of Brian Williams with his white handkerchief in the vest pocket — that was an act, and a pretty good one, too.

The proof is that while on Letterman’s show, Williams thought he could relax and say whatever he wanted to say. His performance on Nightly News was no less scripted than a lead part in a Broadway play where the actor is playing someone other than himself.

That’s what NBC strives to deliver to the public.

But how much of the public? Let’s round up all the people who have written about Williams in the past six months and ask if they actually watch the Nightly News. Do you?

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Use Your Website to Establish Your Expertise and Authority

Dear Mr. Communicator: People visit my website, but they don’t buy my service. What’s wrong with my site?  – Frustrated entrepreneur

Dear Frustrated:

You provide a fundamental service in the business-to-business market, a service so important that even a few minutes of downtime could be disastrous. Your many competitors provide exactly the same service you provide; the only differentiation is your low price and your ability to gain the customer’s confidence.

I can understand that you wanted a clean, uncluttered website, but the result is a site that doesn’t establish your authority. There is not enough information to give the customer confidence that you can deliver your service.

Essential Website Content that will Establish Expertise

About Us/Bio

List your education credentials and summarize the jobs you held prior to becoming an entrepreneur, making these descriptions relevant to the service you offer. (If you are a broker for waste-hauling services, I wouldn’t mention that your college degree is in Dance.)

Write a couple of succinct sentences that offer a value proposition — what makes you more qualified to sell this service than your competitors?

Explain how long you’ve been in this business or a related field, how many customers you have (or have worked with over the years) and how you bring value to the client.


A complete list of your services — with descriptions — is obviously a critical element. Check and double-check the terminology, ensuring that potential customers will see that you are up-to-date.

Where possible, use brand names and other terms that your clients are likely to search for.

Case Studies

You don’t need to write a 10,000-word dissertation.  Simply give us a few paragraphs that state your customer’s pain point and how you successfully addressed it.

Include at least three to five case studies, using client/company names (but be sure to get the client’s permission!).

If you have no customer experience yet, title this page “Use Cases,” and offer some hypothetical examples to show what kind of ROI (return on investment) your clients will experience.


Your ability to make new sales hugely depends on your past successes.

Slightly different from case studies, testimonials are merely a sentence says “Bill was able to cut our cleaning service costs by 50 percent in six months without sacrificing quality.”

If you’ve only been in this very specific business since yesterday, get testimonials that prove your value as a business partner: “Bill has always been there when we needed him and he understood every aspect of our operation.”

Honors, Awards and Recognition

If you are an electricity provider, it sure would be nice to show a photo of yourself accepting an energy conservation award from President Obama.

Additional Website Elements that Show Authority

  • Glossary of terms in your field
  • Frequently asked questions (and answers!)
  • Cost-saving tips and advice
  • How to select a provider (in other words, why you are the best provider)
  • Photo gallery or portfolio of successful projects and client engagements

Creating Strong Web Pages

To attract search engines and provide solid information for new customers, your pages should have at least 300-500 words and include at least one relevant photo with a caption that includes keywords relevant to the service you offer.

Need Help?

I coach small business owners and entrepreneurs in thinking through how to best present themselves. Contact me for help in making your website a more effective sales tool.

Effecting Change in Your Nonprofit is Like Rebuilding a Highway

Change management is fun, right?

As the leader of a nonprofit organization you’re well aware that failure to modernize is a major risk factor.

Managing change might seem slightly easier in the nonprofit world if you think of it in terms of building a highway. This analogy comes easily to me, as a communications consultant to nonprofits, as well as major highway projects.

Whether it’s a highway or a nonprofit organization, wouldn’t it be much easier to rebuild if you could just  send your calls to voice mail and all the traffic to an alternate route?

But you can’t really do that. It’s essential to keep providing service even as you re-examine and fix everything. Impossible?

Keep the traffic flowing

In the nonprofit environment, organizational change closely resembles a highway reconstruction project. As users of the system, we hate the traffic jams but love the smooth highway that results.

Let’s look at the elements of a huge highway reconstruction project, keeping in mind how these elements are analogous to development and implementation of your new strategic plan.

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The Day I Quit the Best PR Job in Chicago to Start My Own Company

Exactly 15 years ago — on Feb. 1, 1999 (my birthday!) — I walked away from the best PR job in Chicago.

Jonathan Lehrer,  Gov. George Ryan

Former Illinois Secretary of State George Ryan (before he was governor and before he went to the slammer) thanks me for my service on the Safe Trucking Task Force (1991).

This is still true! (Chicago Sun-Times, May 5, 1991)

This is still true! (Chicago Sun-Times, May 5, 1991)

Keeping the media and public informed about Chicago-area highway projects.

Keeping the media and public informed about Chicago-area highway projects.

This is still true! (Chicago Sun-Times, May 5, 1991)

This is also still true! (Chicago Sun-Times, May 5, 1991)

Frightening thought: More than 15 years later, I'm still wearing that hat and coat.

Frightening thought: More than 15 years later, I’m still wearing that hat and coat.

Jonathan Lehrer marks 15 years as an Internet communications consultant.

Welcome to the Internet of 1999. Using my then-new Web site to explain why I walked away from the best PR job in Chicago. (Click the image for a readable version.)

At the AAA-Chicago Motor Club I was vice president of public affairs, nearing my 18th year of service. As spokesman for the company, I was occasionally seen and heard on TV and radio offering tips on cold weather driving, gas prices and traffic safety; I was regional editor of the club’s travel magazine; and an active participant in a number of government and community committees and task forces.

It was my annual practice to bring a cake for the office on my birthday. (It was also my practice, on days that were not my birthday, to wander from department to department all around the building, foraging for other employees’ b-day goodies.)

On this particular occasion, I instructed my staff to refrain from cutting in to the cake until later.

I had been planning this day for some time.

For the previous few years, I had been doing some free-lance work for several Jewish organizations and a small business. That business was owned by my long-term friend, Joe Sameh, who sensed (before I did) that it was time for me to move on with my life. He offered me a part-time position, with a computer, an office, a phone and a health-insurance plan. Too good to pass up, right?

In pursuit of poetic justice, I targeted my birthday as Day One of my new career. It was not unusual in many companies for a resigning exec to be stripped of his company stuff and escorted to the door by security. I had no reason to think that would happen to me. But in the weeks leading up to the big day, I copied files from the computer I thought I might need and surreptitiously took home my Rolodex and other personal items. I also cleaned out the company car that was assigned to me and arranged for my wife, Estee, to pick me up at the office in case the car was taken away.

After depositing the aforementioned cake on top of a file cabinet to discourage hungry staff members from jumping the gun, I called Zoe, the executive secretary, to get me an appointment with the company’s president, Rich Bensen.

What would I tell him?

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