Tom Keefe

Spirited Communication

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I’m Taking the NaNoWriMo Challenge

The time seems right for me to make a big push to begin the novel that I have been s-l-o-w-l-y developing over the years.

Starting tomorrow, I’m committed to the NaNoWriMo challenge of putting at least 2,000 words per day in my laptop until I reach the 50,000 word mark—or my novel first rough draft comes to a comfortable end.

To make time, social media and TV are going to be scaled WAY back. Expect long delays in any response to a message.

Wish me good writing!

I’ll occasionally update you on my progress.

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Movie Quotes Ring True After the Florida School Shooting

Maybe it was weird for me to choose last night of all nights to finally watch the award-winning, but extremely violent movie, “Hacksaw Ridge.” But in the wake of the news of yet another tragic school shooting in Florida, two quotes from the movie almost shouted at me as I heard them.

In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons. — Company B Soldier: [Quoting the Greek historian Herodotus]

No one who hears of the shooting rampage yesterday by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz should brush off the assertion that we are, indeed, at war. We are at war against violence, untreated mental illness and the weapons that make it so easy to exact carnage on dozens of innocent lives.

The Associated Press reported that Cruz, an “orphaned 19-year-old with a troubled past and his own AR-15 rifle was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday morning following the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in five years.”

I’m not anti-gun ownership by licensed, trained and responsible citizens. At least I support ownership of handguns and hunting rifles. But I do not support the sale and availability of semi-automatic rifles. To anyone who wants to state that criminals will continue to find ways to purchase semi-automatic weapons, I can only point out that Cruz reportedly purchased his AR-15 rifle legally. It HAS to be harder than that!

Violence is the evil that we must fight. Yes, “Hacksaw Ridge” included graphic violence that was difficult to watch and hear. It wasn’t easier this morning to hear the stories of two high school children who witnessed the Florida school shootings up-close and personal.

Student Samantha Grady choked up on “The Today Show” when she was asked how her classmate, who was shot as they hid in a school classroom, was doing. “She didn’t make it,” Grady blurted out between tears. A boy interviewed on the local news described walking along a school hallway and seeing two girls on the ground, dead, holding hands.

In “Hacksaw Ridge,” the main character, Desmond Doss, is a conscientious objector who saved 75 men in Okinawa, during the bloodiest battle of World War II, without firing a single shot. Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist, believed that the war was just but killing was wrong. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon. He became the only conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions during WWII.

Doss was misunderstood and harassed by his military leaders and fellow soldiers. But when it was time to act to save lives, Doss acted with more courage than anyone could ever expect.

I believe that his statement, made during a military trial launched as a result of his refusal to bear arms, is especially poignant for us today.

With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together.— Desmond Doss

When Humor Helped Spread Serious Information About the Flu

Americans are suffering through the worst flu outbreak in a decade, and the deaths associated with flu are no laughing matter. But can communication professionals use humor to encourage people to take positive actions to stay healthy and limit the flu’s impact?

That’s exactly what I did during a different challenging flu outbreak: the 2009 H1N1 (Swine Flu) pandemic. This is an example of how to bring “Spirited Communication” to an organization. “Spirited” is defined as “full of energy, animation, or courage.” It takes courage to share potentially unnerving information with employees or customers, but creativity and humor can make the information easier to consider—and more memorable.

The 2009 Swine Flu pandemic was particularly alarming because, in addition to the very young and very old who more typically have critical reactions to influenza, Swine Flu strongly affected even previously healthy young adults. It was akin to a previous H1N1 influenza virus that in 1918-19 infected 500 million people worldwide and killed tens of millions of them.

Companies like VW Credit, Inc., where I worked as a communications specialist, considered how to inform employees about the steps to take to lessen the spread of H1N1. I met with the company’s business continuity manager to strategize a communication plan for sharing information about H1N1 without striking fear in healthy employees.

As I reviewed material from government and private health organizations, my creative energy sparked. H1N1 was nicknamed “Swine Flu” because the virus strain originated when a previous combination of bird, swine and human flu viruses further combined with a Eurasian pig flu virus.

My idea was to create a series of emails from “famous swine,” who joined forces to battle Swine Flu through dissemination of tips and information related to prevention and treatment. The information in the emails would then be used in a contest at the end of the campaign. By reading and keeping the emails, employees would continue to review and absorb the information, while enjoying the messages sent by “famous swine” including:

  • Wilbur, the pig from the novel, “Charlotte’s Web,”
  • Arnold, the pig from the 1960s television show, “Green Acres,”
  • Jasper, one of the Three Little Pigs, and
  • Miss Piggy from The Muppet Show.

Click image to read the .PDF version

The emails contained links to practical information regarding how to prevent and treat flu. I also posted basic health information such as the importance of washing hands to prevent the spread of infection in common areas.

It became clear from employee feedback that they found the campaign to be highly entertaining and informative.

More than 12% of employees participated in the final contest to answer a 10-question quiz on Swine Flu prevention and treatment.

Click image to read the .PDF version.

I was gratified to hear from several employees who said the campaign’s humorous approach made them more aware of the importance of preventing the spread of H1N1, while lessoning their fear. The campaign brought home the bacon!

How could this approach be used on the current flu outbreak? Think of a series of superheroes who fly to companies, schools or other groups to share tips for preventing the spread of influenza. They could promote flu shots and preventive treatments with a phrase such as, “We flew in to knock out the flu.”

Remembering 9/11 and My Job Search Then and Now

Sixteen years ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop with about 10 members of a newly formed job search support group. It was the third week since I was terminated from a marketing communications position at Wonderlic, Inc. I was another casualty of the nation’s slowing economy and the company’s belt-tightening.

“Someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center towers,” one of the group said, having listened to the news report on the radio playing in the coffee shop. I remember my response vividly: “That is truly sad, and I hope that not too many people died. But we have to focus on getting jobs!”

I soon realized that I had missed both the scope of the tragedy in New York and how our world was about to be rocked. The terrorist attacks there, at the Pentagon, and the hijacked Flight 93 that crashed into a Pennsylvania field, led to a shutdown of air traffic and further weakened the nation’s economy.

Hiring dried up, then slowly resumed over the ensuing months. For me, 9/11 marked the beginning of a three-year period of under- and unemployment, the worst period of my professional career. That ended in March 2004 when I was hired by VW Credit, Inc.

Today, as the nation again honors the brave first-responders and remembers the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 9/11 attacks, I feel a small sense of uncomfortable familiarity. Due to a reorganization, my position was eliminated in March at VW Credit, and I am about six months into my search for my next communication position. While I’m grateful that the economy is in better shape than it was 16 years ago, and my professional networking efforts continue to uncover promising leads, I find myself once again with an uncertain immediate future.

I continue to hone my speaking skills and build a speaking career, but I am not at the point where that can sustain my family by itself.

But it occurred to me recently that the strength, commitment and perseverance that I and the nation showed 16 years ago will lead to positive outcomes today. In other words, faith and effort are stronger than fear and doubt.

It was important for me to remember that today, and I hope it helps someone else who reads this.

Another Take on Parental Expectations

While participating in the creation of videos as a corporate communications professional, I learned how to write and deliver polished lead-ins. It was one of many skills that I wanted to help my children to develop, and I looked for opportunities to share my knowledge “for their good.”

When an opportunity presented itself during a family vacation to San Diego, I learned a valuable lesson regarding the potential pitfalls of parental expectations. It’s a fitting topic to share on Father’s Day—and is even more poignant for me because my wife and daughter were the ones who recently shared their perspective of the experience with me.

During that week-long trip, my 12-year-old son, Kevin, and 10-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, showed a great deal of interest in using the family’s new Sony Handycam digital video camera to record portions of the vacation from their perspectives. Other than when I cautioned them not to dangle the video camera outside of whatever vehicle we were sitting in while they shot video segments, I thought I gave them great freedom to enjoy the experience of videotaping our vacation moments.

That was until I reviewed their first recordings. Their rapid camera movement during shots of the San Diego Zoo made me more nauseous than any live carnival ride I had ever taken. Their stopping and starting recordings of people mid-sentence and thought caused flashbacks of my past drunken revelry and long-forgotten, very forgettable and regrettable, barroom conversations.

“They can do better than this,” I thought. “All it will take is a little coaching.”

Then I had an amazing idea. Why not turn this haphazard video recording into a family vacation video project? That would bring much-needed focus to our recording efforts—and give me the chance to showcase my talent as a communication coach and video “expert.” Oh yeah, and the kids will love it!

Surprisingly, Kim and the kids were much less excited about the family video project than I expected. Well, all I needed to do was to get one of the kids involved, and the rest of the dominoes would fall quickly into place, right?

My immediate choice was to work with Caitlyn on what would be the video intro. Caitlyn was a natural who enjoyed being videotaped and had a good, natural presence on camera. She was her communication daddy’s little girl!

Well, she was no “one-take wonder,” and I was a less-than-encouraging coach. She started pretty well on her first take: “Welcome to SeaWorld. I’m going to take you…I’m going to take you on a tour today.”

‘OK, a slight flub,” I thought. “We could take it out in post-production, but why not have her get it right now?” I kept the camera recording as I said, “Ok start again and say, ‘Hi I’m Caitlyn Keefe’ and then say what you said just now. Look right at the camera.”

Appearing slightly annoyed, but still game, Caitlyn started Take Two: “Hi, I’m Caitlyn Keefe and we’re at SeaWorld, and I’m going to be your tourist.” “CUT!” I nearly yelled, but instead said, “Tour guide, Caitlyn. Two words.”

My voice tried to hide my frustration, as I said, “Do it again now, real good, all together now. Look at the camera while you’re doing it. With a smile!”“Hi, I’m Caitlyn Keefe and I’m going to be your tour guide, and we are in California, San Diego, and I’m going to show you around SeaWorld.” I panned away to show the entrance, then back to Caitlyn. I fed her the next line: “So let’s get started.”
“So, let’s get started,” Caitlyn said with a smile while she spread her arms wide at her side. It either was a pose of excitement or resignation—I still can’t be sure.

Caitlyn, Kim and I recently watched this video. Caitlyn’s comment afterward: “Well, now I guess we know why I never became an actress—I thought I wasn’t good enough!” Although she was half-joking, Caitlyn and her mom have continued to bring up the “coaching session”; so I know it did bother them.

That is the lesson that I want to share on this Father’s Day. We have such a short window of time to be the primary teachers of our children. Our ability to help guide them and support them quickly becomes contingent on our relationship with them.

The Christian bible states, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.” It is wise advice that can keep the all-important parent-child relationship open. We cannot communicate to loved ones if they close their ears to us.

In recent years, I’ve made efforts to hold my tongue so that one of my children can share something with me. When I do that well, I gain important insights into their world, their struggles, and their concerns.

That hasn’t always been easy for me and my controlling personality. On this Father’s Day, I’m glad that I can call “Cut!” on myself and give myself another take in the action adventure that I call, life.

What You Missed at CorpComm Expo

Attendees of the Nov. 15-16 CorpComm Expo (CCE) at Navy Pier in Chicago  heard communication tips and updates from communication pros, and saw the latest software and hardware for interactive content solutions.

CCE is the world’s first and only conference and trade show exclusively dedicated to showcasing digital communications technology and education that specifically serve the needs of corporate professionals.

Two educational sessions that I attended were a case study on an internal branding campaign at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and a panel discussion regarding best practices for internal marketing and growth of an internal media department. I’ll highlight a third conference presentation in a separate post.

Kelly Hipchen, a communication officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, shared a case study on an internal branding initiative during the CorpComm Expo.

Kelly Hipchen, a communication officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, shared a case study on an internal branding ambassadorship (advocacy) initiative during the CorpComm Expo.

The case study was presented by former IABC Chicago Board Member Kelly Hipchen, who now serves as a Communications Officer at the Gates Foundation. Hipchen provided background and detail of a brand ambassadorship (advocacy) initiative that her team launched at the foundation.

The foundation leadership saw a need to redefine and refocus its “story” so that its 1,400 employees and “foundation alumni” across the globe could better share its core mission and accomplishments.

One learning from the branding initiative that Hipchen pointed out was that leadership had to work with employees to let the meaning of “keeping humble” evolve. The leadership team believed early on that the foundation’s work wasn’t supposed to bring glory to the foundation, she said. But she and other communication professionals were able to explain that “being humble doesn’t necessarily mean being silent” about accomplishments made from the grants originating from the Gates Foundation.

Jeff Boarini, consultant and former director at McDonald's Creative Services team, speaks during a panel discussion at CorpComm Expo.

Jeff Boarini, consultant and former director at McDonald’s Creative Services team, speaks during a panel discussion at CorpComm Expo.

The best practices panel included Jeff Boarini, former creative director at McDonald’s Creative Services; Chris Barry, senior director/Group creative director at Best Buy’s Yellow Tag Productions department; and David Leonard, WorldBank division manager of printing and multimedia services.

Boarini was part of a downsizing at McDonald’s, in which he ended up training people from the outside company that McDonald’s hired.

In light of a Forbes article I read titled, “No—I won’t Train the Intern to Replace Me,” I asked what benefit he found in staying there and training his replacements. Boarini said, he has maintained professional bridges with former associates, and he recommended that anyone in a similar situation consider the value of maintaining good relations with employers during layoffs.

Barry then discussed his role managing an internal creative unit within Best Buy. He shared two videos that his team created for internal audiences, including one parody of “Hamilton,” that included professional dancers and actors performing a Best Buy-related song meant to motivate Best Buy employees at holiday time. Barry said his team has earned trust by continuing to provide efficient and effective work that gives internal clients “what they need, not always what they want at first.” He said communication professionals need to “push back when necessary” to ensure that their internal customers understand why a certain approach or content would be most effective in meeting their needs.

One tip that he shared with conference attendees is to add subtitles to videos that might be seen on kiosks or computer screens within work areas with the sound turned off. That way, employees understand the message even when viewing the video in an environment where the sound cannot be played.

Chuck Gose, BroadSign corporate communications practice leader and sales director, shows the company's popular "Periodic Table of Internal Communication."

Chuck Gose, BroadSign corporate communications practice leader and sales director, shows the company’s popular “Periodic Table of Internal Communication.”

During the CCE, I also spoke with Chuck Gose, BroadSign corporate communication practice leader and sales director. Gose, whose company developed a popular “Periodic Table of Internal Communication,” shared the news that he is currently working on an updated version of the Periodic Table that will include new content provided by communication professionals who have used the Periodic Table in their work.

The Periodic Table of Internal Communication groups common elements of smart internal communication. “Like the original Periodic Table, our table was developed with the knowledge that additional “elements” would be discovered, and the table updated to reflect them,” Gose said.

Facing Fear and Fire Through Firewalking

[podcast src=”” height=”360″ width=”450″]

Download Episode!
In June 2016, several participants in a firewalking exercise at a Tony Robbins motivational seminar, were taken to local hospitals after suffering burns.

Why would anyone walk across fire, and how do so many thousands of participants at events like Robbins’ avoid injury?

Stephanie Kurokawa

Stephanie Kurokawa

Listen to this 14-minute with Stephanie Kurokawa, a speaker, trainer and volunteer for Tony Robbins. She has successfully firewalked three times at Robbins’ events, and shares her thoughts on the benefits of the exercise.

Real Freedom

Independence From AddictionI’m not like many of you.

Today, millions of people in the United States will celebrate the anniversary of the date when our founding fathers in the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.

That “Independence Day” often is marked by parades, picnics and parties that include barbecued foods, fireworks and the consumption of beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages. Millions of Americans 12 years of age and older also smoke marijuana, according to surveys including the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It goes without saying that people will be getting high in many ways today.

But not me and millions of other recovering alcoholics and addicts.

For us, real freedom today comes from avoiding substances that, while pleasurable in smaller doses and infrequent use, led to physical, emotional and spiritual bondage.

Unlike prohibitionists, I don’t support laws that ban alcohol and other drugs. That isn’t freedom either.

Not everyone who will overindulge today is an alcoholic or drug addict. Some are just naïve or foolish about the effects of alcohol and other drugs. However, as someone who has experienced the compulsion to drink and drug, I know that I am not one of the people who can take a few sips of a drink, put it down and forget it.

I’ve had to make adjustments in the 30+ years since my last drink and drug. I’ve regained a spiritual foundation for my life, and have worked to clear the wreckage of my past caused by my addictions.

I speak to groups and individuals regarding my experiences before, during and after addiction. The main point of my talks is that real freedom is something that we have to work for, and at times fight to maintain. The benefits are more wonderful than someone can imagine when under bondage, but those benefits do come true when we work for them.

Happy Independence Day!

Loving Memories of my Dad, Ed Keefe on Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to anyone reading this who has had the privilege, joy and challenges of being a father.

The day is bringing out more emotion than usual from me, because this is the first Father’s Day since my dad, Ed Keefe, died.

This is my dad, Ed, and my mom, Donamarie, early in their relationship.

This is my dad, Ed, and my mom, Donamarie, early in their relationship.

I’ve heard it said that we have to go through so much training to drive a car, but someone can become a father without any training or preparation.

I’ll agree that someone can become a biological father without any training, but no one truly succeeds at parenting without a lot of effort, education and personal growth.

Any successes that I’ve had as the father of my son, Kevin, and my daughter, Caitlyn, stem from lessons that I learned from my dad. Just as most of us learn more from our mistakes than our successes, I’ve learned more about parenting by examining what my dad did, and deciding whether I would model his approaches, or choose a different way. I can think of many times when I did or said something the way that I thought dad would have—and quite a few times when I said or did something the opposite of how I had experienced dad’s approach when I was growing up.

I’m the fifth of six children, all but my oldest brother being born at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago. My brother Bob was born at Great Lakes Naval Base because my dad was serving in the Army at that time. We had many struggles, including years of meager living in Peoria, where my dad was in sales. Decades later, one of the most difficult times for my family came when my sister was diagnosed with cancer.

Mom and Dad pose with their six children,  back row from left: Bob, Scott, Mike and Steve. Front row: me and Annette, who died of cancer at the age of 26.

Mom and Dad pose with their six children, back row from left: Bob, Scott, Mike and Steve. Front row: me and Annette.

Annette, a young mother, endured an 18-month battle before she died, leaving behind a young son, her husband, and her parents and brothers. Nothing could prepare us for that battle, but I learned many valuable lessons from dad and mom about commitment, compassion, and how to release a child into the care of a loving God.

I always felt that my dad was an awkward father, not being a good communicator and somewhat of an authoritarian. But that was the general parenting style of his generation. But he was a dynamite grandfather, taking time to attend the many events that his grandchildren were into. Dad loved to laugh and amuse the kids, and they all responded to him with joy.

A little more than one year ago, Dad found out that he had cancer, and soon realized that some of it was inoperable. In late summer 2015, dad went into hospice at home, and passed into glory on Nov. 17, 2015.

My brother Steve and I plan to take mom to the cemetery on Father’s Day, to honor dad’s memory. Wherever you are, if you are able to tell someone that they are doing great as a father, do it! It’s never easy, but always deeply appreciated.

A recent family photo. Back row: Bob's spouse, Allen; Bob; Dad; Mike's son, Marcos; Scott floating above the crowd (this is a family joke), Mike. Front row: My son, Kevin, me floating above the crowd; my wife, Kim; my daughter, Caitlyn; and Mike's wife, Alejandra.

A recent family photo. Back row: Bob’s spouse, Allen; Bob; Dad; Mike’s son, Marcos; Scott floating above the crowd (this is a family joke), Mike. Front row: My son, Kevin, me floating above the crowd; my wife, Kim; my daughter, Caitlyn; and Mike’s wife, Alejandra.

Making Comic Books More Inclusive

FreeComicBDay16%2015yrs_logoToday is “Free Comic Book Day” in North America, but how meaningful are comics in today’s world?

The industry remains healthy, with 2015 sales in North America of $579 million (up 7.17% year-over-year), according to Diamond Comic Distributors. Demographics of comic book readers is difficult to find. I came across this “back of the envelope” estimate of how many Millenials regularly read comic books. (Hint: not many)

So who is buying the comic books that launched media powerhouses like The Walking Dead cable show and The Avengers movies?

We do see attempts to draw a more diverse customer, as more women identify as comic book fans.

Comic book writers, artists and publishers also are adding characters that they hope will appeal to a wide range of ethnic and other demographics.

Although the following National Public Radio (NPR) report is a year old, it discusses that trend.

The Free Comic Book Day site provides a link to more information about comic books.

Here are a couple of well-known actors hawking Free Comic Book Day and their individual projects:

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