Today, Next-Mark president and founder, Joseph Grano presented via Zoom to the Florida Public Relations Association’s Tampa Bay Chapter, discussing the steps required to build and sustain a successful thought leadership program.
The presentation was predicated on the assumption that no matter where a person is in their career or a business is in its evolution, there is a wealth of experience, passion and knowledge that probably isn’t being promoted to its full potential. When it is, those elements can combine to create an environment in which an individual or organization becomes a recognized authority and source of valuable information. This, in turn, creates an affinity for the personal or business brand, creating conversations and relationships.

About Thought Leaders

Thought leadership is a serious pursuit. However, that doesn’t mean that the voices behind it are grandstanders, self-appointed gurus or pontificators. Rather, they are trusted, informed, go-to sources in their fields of expertise. Moreover, they are influencers who are both inspirational and aspirational, while providing credible, notable and sustainable content – both their own and that curated from others. Their goal is to provide their audiences with the best answers to their questions.

Benefits of Thought Leadership

Good thought leadership (1) creates an affinity for a brand; introduces that brand as part of the conversation early in the consumer journey; creates a new level of intimacy with targeted audiences; is extremely cost efficient.

A Journey of 10 Steps

1. Build Your Thought Leadership Platform; Create/Curate Content that Drives Results:

  • Identify topics that align with the brand
  • Identify opportunities to gain share of mind.
  • Identify questions customers are asking and answer them in multiple formats.
  • Create value in the process, that is, provide something valuable to receive something else that’s more valuable to you.

2. Create a “Sphere of Influence” With Three Simple Questions:

  • Whom do you want to reach?
  • What will resonate with the audience?
  • How will you do it?

3. Make it Personal:

  • Your message is inseparable from who you are.
  • Your transparency will translate into an authentic and sustainable message.
  • Your unique story must resonate.

4. Map the Leadership Conversation:

  • Tell your story.
  • Align your leadership message to your brand.
  • Be consistent.
  • Be ethical.

5. Build an Arsenal of Thought Leadership Assets:

  • Information from trusted sources, including media and influencers
  • Social network posts
  • Blogs
  • Case studies
  • Infographics
  • White papers
  • Executive briefs
  • Videos

6. Stand Out in the Crowd:

  • Create and curate thought leadership content that drives results.
  • Take measured chances, don’t be afraid to surprise the audience.
  • Add value to existing content that is memorable, shareable and sustainable.

7. Select the Optimal Channels, Platforms and Outlets; Go Where YOUR Audiences Are:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Digg
  • YouTube
  • Etcetera and so on

Visionary Marshall McLuhan once famously said, “the medium is the message,” interpreted to mean that the way we send and receive information is more important than the information itself. He was talking about television and radio. But think of it in today’s digital world: Where we once were consumers of information, we now also are producers, creating our own information, as well. That’s a lot of opportunity – and responsibility.

8. Always Be Strategic:

Work toward goals and plan well. Thought leadership is more than throwing all you know at an audience, depending on the laws of probability that something might stick.

9. Measure Results Through Routine Audits:

  • Online metrics
  • Response rates
  • Monitoring formal and informal conversations about your brand

10. And Always Communicate Your Success:

And all along the way, seek to showcase excellence through engaging, thought-provoking content; be authentic, concise and fact-based; and enjoy the journey to becoming an acknowledged thought leader.

If we can collaborate with your thought leadership initiatives or provide any other marketing communications solutions, please contact us directly at 941.544.2765.

In these times of resource conservation for many businesses, some marketing tools may have fallen off the radar. If one of those is video, that’s neither good nor necessary.

Even if your marketing budget is challenged at the moment, it’s important to remember that videos are what consumers prefer, and some versions don’t cost a lot – or much of anything – to create.

Video has been climbing the charts of effective consumer outreach for a number of years. In a recent article for the American Marketing Association of Chicago, award-winning producer Tony Gnau noted some of the HubSpot statistics that have propelled video to its current ranking among marketing tools:
– Video marketers get 66% more qualified leads yearly than those who don’t focus on video.
– Video marketers see a 54% increase in brand awareness with their content among audience members.
– Product videos can increase purchases by 144%.

He then laid out three types of video that he believes businesses can – and should – produce during these unprecedented times.

First was the company value proposition video. Short and to the point, it involves simply telling customers and prospects your brand story and how you’re conducting business at this time. We love this idea, as it is humanizing and honest and, we believe, could create personal bonds at a time they’re in short supply. We caution you, however, to make the video your own, with personal touches that set you apart and reflect your authenticity. This can easily be accomplished with tools like Zoom for recording content along with added branding including transitional graphics and video bumpers.

This can be reinforced by the second suggested production: animated content videos which tell your story with animated motion graphics along with voiceover. These do not require camera crews or studios and can be disseminated via direct marketing, social media or other promotional tools or platforms.

Finally, we come to testimonials, which are a double-edged means of strengthening existing relationships and creating new ones. That said, these should be testimonials with a twist, that is, with the focus on the customer, how they are doing and, where appropriate, how you’re helping. Again, they don’t have to be fancy. They do, however, have to be heartfelt.

As noted recently in Forbes, studies show that 80% of consumers have ingested more content since the coronavirus outbreak than they did before, and video is their preferred type of getting that content. By 2022, in fact, it is estimated that 82% of all content creation will be video.

Putting it all together, companies need to revisit their marketing plan to assure misgivings didn’t lead to miscalculations in the cost and value of tactical tools, among which are videos, which can help them through the pandemic and keep them on track for an increasingly digital future.

If we can help, give us a call at 941.544.2765 or email us directly at

Congratulations to our president and founder Joseph S. Grano, Jr., MBA for being awarded the 2020 Ginnie Duffy Troyer Award of Professionalism. Named in honor of former Central West Coast Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association (CWC-FPRA) and Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA) president, Ginnie Duffey Troyer, APR, CPRC, this award is presented to a member who displays the highest level of professionalism in the public relations field.”

What’s your favorite brand? Maybe the latest technology has always peaked your interest.  Perhaps styles or fresh design keep you coming back to your favorite clothing outlet.  What gets you excited to shop online, browse through a store or follow a brand on social media? There must be something that triggers your brain to actually bother to check up on the latest news or products from your favorite brand, right? You bet. This is called brand connection – what you want to achieve with your own brand ecosystem. 

These terms refer to the experience you create for your customers, how people view your products as potential buyers and how you track customers and prospects across all channels of communication. Messaging, social media presence, website usability and image are all key components. Brand connection is what makes someone refer your product, follow you on social media or continue to make the same or different purchase over and over again. But how does this happen? 

All successful brands understand that in order to build a lasting connection with customers, they need to connect with them on an emotional level. We are all human beings. Emotion is in our DNA, whether we like it or not. This gives a company multiple opportunities to engage with the natural, unfiltered side of humanity and make lasting connections with potential buyers. 

That’s why many brands seek partnerships and ways they can promote their brand alongside organizations or events that seek to make a difference and/or speak to a population.  Sponsorships also give a business the chance to not only gain important exposure, but voice their company beliefs or values. Have you ever seen companies partner with sports or teams?  Of course. Do brands donate parts of their profits to charity involving nature or disease research? Sure they do. This activity plays to our own likes and/or tugs at our heartstrings to foster respect for these brands. This, in turn, motivates us to spread the word or follow them in the news. We become an advocate for them.  Now that’s brand connection.

The brand ecosystem involves all the important decisions a business makes behind the scenes and designs for our customers. Today, most of this comes down to digital marketing. The goal is to create organic leads that drive to meet a customers’ needs.  Create an experience that is so interconnected that they’ll never want to leave.

Once you identify your target audience and test your customer experience process, you’re ready to launch. But it doesn’t stop there. Next, you need to track the results. Are there any gaps in the online experience you missed? Are your sales increasing or decreasing? Does your experience generate organic interaction and real leads? Keep testing and analyzing data and soon enough, your brand ecosystem will be thriving.

Brand connection truly comes down to having a healthy brand ecosystem. They go hand in hand. Connecting with your target demographic and honing your online experience will keep potential customers coming back time and time again.  It’s not a ‘one-time stop.’  It’s called an ‘experience’ for a reason.  A stronger experience leads to a stronger connection, which leads to a stronger brand.

There’s something to be learned from every experience, and the current pandemic has taught us a lot about ourselves and others, testing us in ways we could not have imagined just a couple of months ago.

Lately, we’ve been hearing about a “new now” that likely will challenge us even further as we step into an altered landscape. Let’s face it, we all harbor concerns about what’s ahead. But that’s to be expected. What could be unexpected is that we look deep into our hearts and minds as we make decisions in this new world and realize that, if we stick together, we are limitless.

This applies to business communications, as well as interpersonal interactions. There’s nothing new in the formula except the amplitude. It’s a matter of taking what’s good about us and making it even better. In that vein, here are few thoughts we’d like to share on working together – in any world.

Being positive. It’s a luxury for those of us who can see the light and not just the tunnel. It’s also something that costs us nothing to share. Positivity and persistence reflect optimism and dedication to getting the job done and hope for a better future.

Being compassionate. From American businesses who have stepped up to the plate to every essential worker and volunteer to everyone doing their part, we have shown that we care about each other and are willing to do what has to be done to get us through as a people. In the current situation, when one person’s inconvenience could be another person’s tragedy, we’ve seen what separates us and unites us. As companies and individuals, we must realize that others always need our help and understanding and let it show in everything we do and communicate.

Being flexible. Some things may never be the same, but people and businesses must strive to evolve and progress no matter the circumstances. This involves a new look at corporate and life strategies, operations and goals and articulating that in a way that says who we are now and what that means to others.

Being authentic. We’ve seen the effects of not knowing whom to trust. Transparency, always important, has increased in value in the past months. In the corporate world, transparency builds trust both among the public and employees and provides the foundation for the creation of reachable goals.

Being responsible. Never in recent history have we had such an opportunity to help protect others with simple actions. It’s something worth remembering going forward: not being tone deaf to others’ needs as we recover and doing nothing that puts our families, friends, colleagues and others at risk.

Being proactive. It’s easy to feel deflated, but there is still the future to be considered. Thinking about the next strategy, the next plan, the next stage of life and commerce will serve you well, helping you be prepared and ahead of what’s being thrown at you.

Being open minded. The words “we’ve always done it this way” have flown the coop never to return. If we know anything at this point, it’s that a lot of things can be done differently – and well. Consider that when someone comes up with an idea you’d normally quickly quash. Take a breath and let it breathe.

Being a friend. Yes, we all need friends right now, and just knowing they’re out there can make the day better. Going forward, we can draw on that to reach out, really listen and be a friend to others. We also can make a greater effort to look at things from another’s perspective, as we all deal with challenges in different – not necessarily incorrect – ways.

Being persistent.  Things may not run smoothly at first, so we’ll have to hang in there, adapting to change and making it work. We’ve proven we can do it. We just have to keep on doing it. How we cope and how we move forward will define us for years to come.

We at Next-Mark hope all is well, and will continue to be, for you and yours. We also are here should you need help in assessing, restructuring or enhancing your marketing communications as your business or organization moves ahead. To paraphrase the song, we’re in this world together. And, working together, we can make it better.

Among their other devastating ramifications, COVID-19 and its precautions have created an extraordinary level of uncertainty that can be felt in every business and every market on the planet. Few things make such a widespread impact, but when one hits, it really gets us thinking.

As businesses and organizations work to adapt to this new and fluid environment, a primary goal is staying in touch with their audiences, adjusting their messaging to resonate in the current climate and showing their concern and compassion.

They also have to rethink their messaging delivery channels, putting emphasis on what makes the most sense now and creating a foundation for business as usual once the pandemic ends. That pursuit, we believe, will require a strong emphasis on digital outreach.

1. Stay Relevant

When a situation presents itself, analyze it. Make sure you have a good understanding of what’s going on, how it affects your business and how it affects your audience.  How will your social media presence showcase your interpretation of this event? How do you stay relevant?  In the COVID-19 situation, healthcare is in the spotlight.  To show your respect and appreciation for its front-line forces, create more content that addresses this industry. Stay up-to-date with events, such as Doctor’s Day, World Health Day and International Nurses Day. Frequently post shout-outs to healthcare workers, share inspiring stories or relevant news updates in your area.  People seek clarity during times of confusion, so it’s important to stay authentic without adding to the irrelevant noise of poorly planned social campaigns.

2. Rev Up Your Video Content

Video should already be a big part of your social strategy. Once a content marketing trend, now it’s the norm. Social media platforms are investing in improving their video capabilities because video content means higher engagement and better customer retention. Today 81 percent of businesses use video as a marketing tool – some doing it better than others.  To attract a larger audience and hold their attention, create live event videos, presentations, product demos, how-to videos, vlogs or webinars. 

3. Be a Tactful and Reliable Source

It’s always like this when it comes to sensitive issues. Especially as a business, it can be difficult to find the sweet spot when talking about touchy topics. Always refrain from exaggerating or minimizing the situation. This is trouble waiting to happen. When it comes to COVID-19, only post reliable statistics and information and cite sources. And, of course, do nothing that can be seen as take advantage of the situation. Those companies who treat people the most fairly during a crisis will be their go-tos afterward.

4. Don’t be Afraid to Entertain

Now is a great time to think of creative ways to engage with your shut-in audience. Consider providing relief to their boredom and worry with content such as shoppable posts, quizzes or polls that your audience will want to repost and share, increasing brand awareness and keeping your product or service top of mind.

Working to be strategic during times such as these can prove a useful exercise with lasting benefits.  It requires a deep look into processes and messaging, which, in good times, can become outdated or stale.

So, when planning, think of it as an opportunity for a fresh start once the worst is behind us. We’re all in this together, and we stand ready to help you however we can.

As professional communicators and marketers, we are working hard to understand what the current situation means to our clients, and how it affects their marketing and communications needs. Whether it’s for us or our clients, it’s clear that one focus must stay constant: maintaining responsible marketing and communications.

These times we’re all experiencing together offer us an opportunity to proactively manage our marketing and communications in a responsible way as well as to prepare for the positive bounce-back that we’re all looking forward to. With this in mind, we hope the following tips will help you make the most of the current marketing environment.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

In new and threatening situations, the natural reaction tends to be reactive. Covering up. But it’s dangerous to be too reactive. First, reactions focus on the specific threat, creating instant tunnel vision. If you’re keeping your eyes open for opportunities, the last thing you want to do is hyper-focus on the one thing that you see as the problem.

Being reactive also causes stress. Instead, taking control of your destiny creates a positive stance, ready and eager for what’s next.

Familiar Territory

So much of marketing today is virtual that, on the surface, it seems like one of the least affected industries. This is partially true, but subtle changes have already happened. While it sounds counterintuitive, some industries might see more competition than before for online attention. This is especially true for email campaigns. Also, some businesses that are traditionally in-person, bricks-and-mortar only, have managed to be nimble enough to shift workers to online jobs or offer virtual versions of their traditional services. So, digital marketing and communications will continue to thrive and morph at the same time, embracing some activities and marketing needs that were once almost totally offline.

All Systems Go

The increase in virtual contact drives communication levels up, so you’ll want to remain responsive without doing everything as one-offs. That’s when your existing systems such as CRM and email marketing (hopefully connected to your CRM) play an important role. Good marketing demands engagement on your customers’ terms, so make sure to use every tool at your disposal to respond and serve as needed.

Tools of the New Trade

If you haven’t utilized webinars or podcasts before, this is a good time to start. It has always been an effective way to share your insights or demonstrate the value of your product or service with minimal commitment—and substantial opportunity for engagement—from your audience. To a certain extent, the same holds true for short videos, blogs, or the tools of public relations including media releases, by-lined articles and networking with the writers and editors.

Along with the latest business communications tools, do not overlook your social media. This is a new era of engagement that calls for the highest standard of messaging and content. 


Whether it’s texting, calling, video chatting, or via any other means, reaching out to your customers and clients has become more necessary than ever. You’ll realize at least two big benefits from increasing your one-on-ones: communicating what actions you’re taking these days and gaining insights and other perspectives from others. If it isn’t already part of your daily business life, being proactive in your one-on-one communications should become an essential part of it now.

We are Not Alone

If your inbox has already filled with more emails than usual from companies you’ve done business with, keep that in mind when you plan to send one of yours. Not only will it need to pass the usual gauntlet of spam filters and subject-line relevance to earn an open, the message inside will need to be different from all the others in order to resonate in a meaningful way. The correct approach is actually the same as it ever was: offer something of unique value, including the experience of doing business with you.

Take on High Road

Now is the time to be a proactive partner with your customers, clients, vendors, and others. While it’s important that you show your confidence in every interaction, there is no excuse for overreaching to the point of becoming opportunistic. If you have a product or service that you can offer for free, for instance, do it as a positive gesture and acknowledge that it’s because we’re all in this together. Your responsibility, as always, is to serve the needs of your customers or clients.

Stay Strategic

Even when business was business as usual, putting out fires was much easier than stopping long enough to focus on strategy. Try not to get sidetracked by the immediate situation. Whether it’s your messaging strategy, marketing strategy, or business strategy itself, focusing on the big picture will likely pay big dividends going forward.

Stay on Message

Your business should already have a solid messaging strategy in place, so everyone knows what to say to support your brand and its mission. There is no reason to diverge from this because of the current environment. Instead, take this opportunity to augment your messaging platform with those messages that are newly important. Everything still needs to work as a comprehensive system and stay fully aligned with your strategy.

Stay Social

Just as important as staying strategic and on message: keeping your brand active socially. Use the tools of public relations and social media to widen and deepen engagement with your audience. The media and publishers are hungrier than ever for content that can enlighten and entertain. Seek out opportunities to appear as a guest on radio and podcasts as well. As for social media, make an extra effort to engage more often and more directly with followers. Now, more than ever, going beyond posts to pursue actual dialog with your audience will increase the sense of connection—so important to any brand.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

We’ve started to notice one positive indication that life beyond the curve is going to happen. The news outlets are letting the “normal” stories inch back into the news cycle. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We just don’t know exactly how long the tunnel is.

As for us at Next-Mark, each of our clients has adjusted differently to the changes. While some are clearly focusing on their internal actions, others have actually accelerated their communications and marketing outreach. And, we’re happy to share, with have welcomed new clients who see as an important partner in developing strategic communications and marketing programs in this new era of business. If this is what the new normal looks like, then we’re feeling good about the future.

As always, we encourage you to reach out anytime. Whether you need a sounding board or you want to share some your own insights, we are here for you. 

Although a lot has changed in our past 15 years in business, some things have remained constant. Among them is our belief in the importance of core messaging. That’s why whenever we start working with a new client, we strongly encourage them to let us help create a core messaging platform before they start any other marketing initiatives. Messaging is that important, and here’s why:

The Voice
Why do we insist (or at least try to insist) on developing a core messaging platform? Because every brand, every company, every organization needs a clear voice. With an established core messaging structure, this voice is fine-tuned to help the client’s customers and prospects quickly understand the value of its products and services. Actually, the benefit is not limited to sales; staff, executives, and potential hires also win when the messaging house is put in order.

Fast Forward
Establishing core messaging virtually eliminates the tendency to return to square one on every project, wondering what to say and how to say it. Anyone in the organization can refer to the messaging guide for keywords, talking points, a positioning statement, the brand promise, and more. Target markets come into focus, and buying personas within the markets become more lifelike and easier to address.

Time and Money
And did we mention that this saves clients time and money? Every marketing project started after the messaging platform has been created will run more efficiently, whether it’s done in house or by an agency. That’s because people can cut to the chase in meetings, because they’re not getting sidetracked by confusion over messaging. Plus, marketing budgets are no longer hijacked by guesswork, because the core messaging helps spotlight the differences between good spending and bad.

Messaging Power
While the process of developing a core messaging platform requires a substantial amount of work, it is well worth the effort. In fact, we enjoy this type of project and think clients should look forward to the experience as well. They always find the process to be empowering, because it helps them see how far they’ve come, understand where they are now, and articulate where they want to go in the future.

The Takeaway
So, now you know why we grabbed Marshall McLuhan’s classic “the medium is the message” and gave it a new twist: “The Messaging is the Message.” McLuhan never meant that the message wasn’t important; he wanted us to appreciate how important the context of the message is. A core messaging platform provides both the context and the messages that spring from it—and that’s very good for any business.

Next-Mark earned two 2020 Silver ADDY Awards at AdFed of the American Advertising Federation. AdFed Suncoast is the Sarasota region’s club . These awards are especially rewarding, because they span multiple categories that directly impact our clients’ business success.


One of our many projects for Elsevier won in the Sales & Marketing category for a Product or Service Sales Promotion Campaign entitled “‘Summer of 79’” is Memorable Again.” The colorful design and themed messaging combined to deliver on the client’s project needs, and we’re happy that it also stood out for the judges.

Our other win, also for a 2020 Silver ADDY, was in the Cross Platform category for an Integrated Branded Content Campaign for another major client: Medecision. This complex campaign including videos, cube design, signage and collateral, and it was called “Innovative Targeting of Personas” Liberation.

We’d like to thank these and all of our other clients for their constant support and creative collaboration on every project we work on together.

By the way, the venue for the awards, CinéBistro in Sarasota, added another level of satisfaction for us, as Next-Mark provided the marketing and PR that launched CinéBistro when it opened. Today, it’s the top location in the company’s entire upscale dinner/movie cinema portfolio.


It seems not so long ago that I was at home launching a business while my kids played in another room. Now those children are young men with wives-to-be, and that business is 15 years old and a full-service operation based in Florida, serving clients locally and globally.
As those years flew by, I learned a lot about myself and this business. Thus, on this 15th anniversary of Next-Mark, I’d like to share some of those insights with you:
1. Always be grateful for what you have and share it whenever you can.
2. Failure is not an option; there is no Plan B when others have put their trust in you.
3. Kindness is key in all relationships.
4. Positivity is contagious. There is always an upside no matter what the situation.
5. Loyalty is a precious commodity that needs to be recognized and valued.
6. Communication is core to success in any business.
7. It’s all about having the right team. I have had the privilege of working with some of the best, and I will continue to grow our team with new people with fresh ideas and talents.
8. Every business relationship has a beginning, a middle and an end, and a true professional knows the difference.
9. Creativity goes far beyond color choice and design. It’s an intuitive process that is intrinsic to all we do.
10. Love your competition, as they can help you learn and grow.
11. Patience is more than a virtue, it’s an imperative in life and work.
12. Value innovation. Never stop looking for a better idea or better way.
13. Celebrate your failures! They always possess more information than your successes. Make them right and then grow from them.
14. Treat everyone with the respect they deserve.
15. Embrace humor. A smile is a powerful motivator. (And, some days, you just have to laugh.)
Above all is how much I appreciate the team we have assembled and the clients we serve, have and will gain. It’s been a wonderful ride, and I look forward to the road ahead.
Thank you for your friendship, support and kindness.