Surviving COVID-19: Tips for Nonprofits & Small Businesses

man writing notes on paper with laptop

Put your Continuity and Recovery Plan to Use

During times like this, it’s important to refer to your continuity and recovery plan. It’s important for all organizations to have a well-documented disaster recovery plan to help employees deal with emergency situations. In this case, it happens to be a worldwide pandemic. Don’t have a business continuity plan in place? Here is a quick-start activation process from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center to help create a plan of action for your organization.

Seek Financial Assistance, if Necessary

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber recently released information regarding Economic Injury and Disaster Loan (EIDL) options during this time. Both Ohio and Kentucky governors submitted an application to allow nonprofits and small businesses to apply for these funds to assist with economic hardships related to COVID-19. These EIDL funds are 30-year, low-interest loans of up to $2 million. Connect with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber through their Business Response Helpline at 513.579.3111 or your local chamber for additional information.

Starting April 3rd, 2020, the US government will begin accepting applications for another financial assistance program called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan. This a program signed into law to assist with payroll costs in an effort to maintain employees and compensation levels. Those qualified include nonprofits, small businesses, independent contractors, and more. Applications are now available. For more information on the PPP loan, click here.

Rethink your Fundraising Plans

While some are suggesting that this isn’t the time to be asking for money, it is still time for stewardship. Connecting with donors is going to be tricky during this unprecedented time. Exploring new marketing and communications avenues, such as social media campaigns or webinars, could help you to stay in front of your audience. If you need help implementing a stewardship plan, try connecting with a marketing agency that offers a variety of digital services. There are many local companies, like Photonics Inc., that work with nonprofit organizations on marketing strategies and deliverables to problem-solve issues just like this. We can help you communicate through social media, email, and other digital outlets. We have spent over 30 years assisting local nonprofits, like OneSource Center for Nonprofit Excellence and Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, to develop brand and marketing materials in a timely and attractive manner.

Partner on Local Initiatives

Supporting and taking care of our community through this time is of utmost importance. Partnering with tri-state organizations and local companies can help our community while also helping you to reach new audiences and build brand awareness. Connect with your fellow nonprofits or check out Cincinnati.com’s ideas for helping on a local level during the crisis for additional ideas.

Changing Our Way of Work for COVID-19

Woman working from home with coffee and laptop

Like others who are lucky enough to still be working during this unprecedented time, our entire team is now working from home. We knew for the safety of our employees and our clients, we had to make the switch to remote working for a bit. Other than client meetings, we’re pretty lucky in that most of our client work can be done digitally or online. Over the last few weeks, we’ve learned some tricks that have helped us to stay productive and remain a steady resource for our clients. Here are some things that are working for us.

CREATE A DEDICATED WORKSPACE

While not everyone has a home office, especially not those who typically spend their work hours in the office or on location, a dedicated workspace that is set specifically for work is a necessity during this time. Keeping a consistent environment just for work is going to help you stay productive and separate work space from personal space. Keeping a healthy work-life balance during this time (or any time you’re working from home) is important. This is the first thing our team worked on once we received word that we’d be working from home. Check out our spaces:

We’re keeping it real and doing our best, adjusting our spaces every day as this new way of work continues. Keeping to-do lists and schedules nearby, with tools like Google Calendar, also helps us stay productive.

MAKE USE OF DIGITAL TOOLS

Our favorite tool to stay connected while away from the office has been ZOOM. Zoom is a popular video communication tool that is perfect for team meetings. There are both free and very affordable account options that make it useful for anyone – freelancers, small businesses, large corporations. Virtual meetings, rather than constant back and forth emails, have helped our team continue on in a way that doesn’t feel too far off from our typical office experience. It allows us to connect face-to-face in a digital way during a time that can feel very isolating.

Worried about what might show up in the background during your meetings? There are plenty of background options at your use, including the option to upload your own videos and images. Block out that overflowing bookcase mail or that basket full of dirty laundry with a fitting background! Try a fun and interactive background from Canva or a perfectly decorated (and clean!) background from Behr®.

Another tool that has been especially useful in gathering files from clients (and vice versa) has been Hightail. Hightail is a user-friendly file sharing platform, perfect for large and multiple file situations. We have an upload link on our website where clients can upload their files of any size. This helps us keep their marketing projects moving along, despite file size issues and the lack of in-person meetings.

GET SOME FRESH AIR

During a time as unusual as this, while we’re stressed about the coronavirus and keeping business moving, it’s important to take care of our mental health. For most of us, working from home isn’t our usual way of work. We aren’t just working from home, we’re working from home amid a global crisis and that comes with a lot of new stress and many unknowns. We have found it very beneficial to find time in our daily schedule to get outside. Many of us are taking breaks to go for morning and lunchtime walks through our neighborhoods.

When we’re feeling stuck or antsy, it’s nice to have the ability to take our work outside for a bit. Take your laptop to the porch, patio, or even a hammock while answering emails. These are the perks of working from home and even though we’re here under uncertain circumstances, we should take advantage. Fresh air and a little sunshine are great for our mental health!

STAY INSPIRED

Being quarantined can start to feel a little like Groundhog Day, but we need to keep our brains stimulated and creativity flowing. Here are some outlets that are keeping us inspired, productive, and creative:

  • Spotify: Put in your headphones or turn up your speaker and listen to your favorite tunes or an interesting podcast. Once you create an account and start listening, Spotify will create curated “Made for You” playlists tailored to your tastes and preferences. They’ll bring you both tunes you love and some new-to-you songs to mix things up!
  • Pinterest: Quotes, organization tips, DIY projects, future travel ideas, recipes – they’ve got it all! One account we look to for inspiration is Behance, Adobe’s creative showcase platform. You’ll find plenty of things to keep you busy during downtime and inspiration for your latest design and creative projects.
  • Webinars + Classes: Everyone from music artists to corporate businesses are putting on webinars and live videos to keep us entertained. Webinars like #CMOOfficeHours and LinkedIn’s digital marketing courses are perfect for marketers trying to stay on top of current trend changes. Brit + Co, a creative media company, is offering free classes until April 9, 2020. This is the perfect opportunity to learn something new!

Are you currently working from home? We want to hear your tips and tricks for keeping spirits up and staying productive during this time. Let’s connect on Twitter and share!

If you need help to stay connected to your team and clients during quarantine, we’d love to help you find a digital solution. Contact us and we can jump on ZOOM for a brainstorm session!

Photonics Inc. Teams Up with Roboworld to Promote Local STEM Program

Ross Rambotics donation presentation from Photonics Inc and Roboworld's Pendant Armor

In October, we teamed up with one of our clients in the industrial manufacturing industry, Roboworld, creator of Pendant Armor®, to donate $1000 to Ross Rambotics, FIRST Robotics Competition Team #3201. We presented the donation to the team in person on October 17th at Ross High School in Hamilton, OH. As partners, we felt Ross Rambotics was a worthy cause for our two companies to jointly support.

The mission of Ross High School’s Rambotics team is to inspire students to build a better future by promoting leadership and STEM skills throughout the Ross community and beyond. “We want to expand our influence, we want to expand our team, and we want to expand our equipment. Our goal is to give kids of all ages the opportunity to experience STEM,” says Kyle Jones, Ross High School science teacher and director of the Rambotics team.

Our client, Roboworld, partners with global robotic equipment manufacturers, integrators, and end-users alike to provide unparalleled levels of robot protection. “Donations that empower our youth are an investment in our collective futures. A strong, educated workforce will be a boon to our economy, our standings amongst other nations, and a source of pride for every American worker,” adds Chris Tur, CEO of Roboworld and Pendant Armor.

Tom Hutchinson of Photonics presents Ross Rambotics STEM donation check

Tom Hutchinson, the Development Director here at Photonics, believes, “the STEM education helps introduce secondary students to programs that help build critical thinking skills, increase science literacy, and create the next generation of innovators, in a fun and interesting way. As marketers in the immensely growing industrial robotics and automation industries, we recognize the need for future generations to not only gain the knowledge necessary to fill predicted vacant job openings but also to develop critical thinking skills that will open up a world of new innovations within the robotics, engineering, and manufacturing industries. STEM programs support these needs.”

Photons Take on the Automate Show and Promat 2019

Automate Trade Show booths in 2019

This Spring, we attended the Automate Show and Promat 2019 to help our client with their product displays and marketing materials, assist with social media coverage, and gain insight into the ever-evolving robotics industry. Combined, the Automate Show and Promat featured over 1500 exhibits throughout the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, Illinois.

Our client had a large product display, of which we designed prior to the trade show, in the exhibition space of one of their distributors and their product was officially featured in six other booths across both shows. Our main focus during our time at the McCormick Center was Automate as it focused more on robotics and automating the manufacturing process. We knew that would be the place to connect with more potential customers and distributors.

Pendant Armor display in the KC Robotics booth at Automate 2019

And don’t think we didn’t try to fit in a little, non-business related, fun! We made a road trip pitstop at the Albanese Candy Outlet for some sweet treats, went for a long walk around the windy city, and met up with our client for a fantastic dinner at RPM Italian. Just for kicks, we snagged over twenty new lanyards throughout the two showrooms while learning about new products and the industry. We love a good inside joke around the office (#DoItForTheLanyard)!

It was a whirlwind 36 hours, no pun intended, but we are always willing to put in the extra time to get to know our client’s industry, products, and target market. Contact us if you’re on the hunt for a marketing team that understands your goals and your industry or simply need help with trade show materials.

Stacie and Samantha at Automate 2019 #DoItForTheLanyard

Photonics Inc. Celebrates 30 Years of Unassuming Resilience

staff standing inside photonics inc. marketing and design company

Tucked away among the Victorians surrounding Eden Park, you’ll find a home housing the creatives behind Photonics Inc. From the outside it seems like any other house in the neighborhood and, in most ways, it is. It’s inviting. It’s comfortable. It’s collected, full of antiques and oddities. Throughout the house there are hundreds of vintage cameras, framed and reimagined artwork from previous projects, and the same Macintosh desktops that first sparked the owner’s interest in graphic design, that helped launch Photonics Inc. Thirty years of history spread throughout the 3,658 square feet that now house a small team of seven.

Photonics Inc, originally known as Photonics Graphics, was founded by Cincinnati-native Alan Brown in 1989. The company began as a graphic design company, focused on creative and graphic design, recently evolving to offer a more extensive list of services. This year marked their 8th consecutive year as one of Cincinnati Business Courier’s Top Web Design Firms. They have worked with the heavy hitters, P&G’s Professional Oral Health and Roboworld, but also spend a lot of time working with small local companies and nonprofits, such as OneSource Center for Nonprofit Excellence and Cincinnati Youth Collaborative. Their approachability and trustworthiness have been key factors in landing and maintaining relationships with a wide range of clients, of different sizes and industries. To Brown, maintaining these client relationships seems simple. “Be nice. Do what you say you’re going to do. Deliver. Do good work. Care about your client.” And once more for emphasis, “Be nice.”

Somehow Photonics has managed to fly high yet under the radar, despite being one of the longest-running design firms in Cincinnati. Their unpretentious and unassuming nature may be part of the reason, a true reflection of their owner. Alan Brown is humble and quietly-spoken, known locally for his artistic and altruistic character, offering his time and professional services to nonprofits across the tri-state. In 2017 he received the Mesel Wieder Mensch Award from the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, acknowledging his integrity and honor. His team has taken notice. The culture at Photonics has become a direct reflection of these prominent attributes, helping to build the strong foundation that has kept the business standing for the past three decades.

“I don’t live extravagantly or act extravagantly so I’m able to control costs and I don’t give up, although there were plenty of opportunities to do so. I also think that I’ve been blessed with hard working, dedicated staff that can see the bigger picture and help work towards it,” Brown shares when discussing the highs and lows that he and the company have survived throughout the years. Multiple recessions, talent shortages, slow seasons. All businesses experience these struggles, but not all businesses survive a full 30 years of them. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, only one third of businesses even make it to their tenth year.

In 2016, Brown hired Tom Hutchinson, a fellow Cincinnati native from the design industry, as the Director of Development to help push Photonics to the next level. Over the past two years, Hutchinson has become an integral part of the company, helping Photonics evolve into a full-service marketing firm. Their services have expanded to include strategic planning, social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), media buying, and more, all in addition to their design and web development services. “I think I helped to improve the eyesight of the company as it moves into the 30th year,” says Hutchinson. “I have helped to elevate the self-confidence of some of the team, pushing them to become leaders. If Photonics is going to continue to grow and stay relevant beyond today, leadership has to come from within the staff beyond Alan and beyond me.”

Photonics Inc. is a clear reflection of its past and its owner. In 2019, Hutchinson’s hope is to continue helping to grow the company by elevating the roles of the staff, while maintaining the core values that Alan has instilled. “It’s our story. We have to live it. We have to continue the legacy that Alan has built.”

Article was originally featured in the print version of the Cincinnati Business Courier.

30th Anniversary Logo Animation Process

person working on computer animation

This year we hit a pretty big milestone as a company. We are celebrating 30 years in business! To celebrate and share our achievement, we designed a 30th-anniversary emblem to work alongside our current logo, which you may have already noticed when it made its way onto our homepage and on a few marketing materials. We wanted to make a quick animation using the new emblem to take the place of our current stagnant Facebook cover photo. Here’s a look into our animation process:

Ideation and Approach

Initially, we pursued more literal approaches, as you can see in these early draft gifs. The lightbulb filament growing out from the interior of the logo, the logo as a lightbulb screwing in and lighting up, and a shiny, effects-based idea. Ultimately, the effects-based solution made the most sense, was the most straightforward, and had the most potential mileage.

Photonics Logo Concepting
Photonics Logo Concepting
Photonics Logo Concepting

Here are the original handwritten notes for boarding the cover photo itself – taking into consideration the format and the 30th-anniversary emblem that would need to have an animated entry as well. You can see versions of this idea persisting through many of our iterations.

Design Process
Photonics Logo

After considering the starry night image we use in many of our digital materials, it seemed like a strong direction to pursue as an eye-catching backdrop. Using this technique by Augustus Hinton, it was simple to make a subtle animated star background.

The cover photo animation was done entirely in After Effects. We went with a green version of the Photonics logo to work on the darker background. There were some versions using the Photonics “P” on its own (without the box), but the logo just couldn’t compete visually with the 30 Years emblem, so the usual square version was used.

Alternate Versions

Version 1

In this version, we tried a simpler, snappier animation of the 30 Years emblem than what was used for the final. You will also notice a softer, far more subtle logo effect. The Saber plug-in from Video CoPilot was very useful in fine-tuning some of these approaches.

Version 2

A punchier version of the glow-in, because many of the effects on the logo could be mix-and-match and several combinations of flares and burn-in with subtle differences.

Version 3

We even tried multiple variations using the text-based Photonics logo and an alternate layout!

Version 4

This is the most energetic version of the animation, utilizing a technique from Avnish Parker. The effect seemed overwhelming so the particle rotation was removed for the final version. Interestingly enough, this was the first version of the logo effects and the last version of the 30 Years emblem.

Final Version

And here is the final version that went live on our Facebook page. The timing was cleaned up all around and gave us a smoother, less over-stimulating experience that still shined. We added an exit animation for both elements so that the video would loop properly. The logo and the emblem background fade out, while the text picks up its initial rotation again and moves off-screen. Most people aren’t going to watch a cover photo for that long, but it led to a more polished product. What do you think of our final choice for our Facebook cover photo animation?

Digital Marketing: 3 Key Elements of Digital Marketing in 2019

Digital Marketing and social media platforms

This month we had the opportunity to attend a local digital marketing seminar. While there was a plethora of materials to study and information to absorb, there were three points that we feel are key in helping clients map out their digital marketing strategies.

4 C’s of Digital Marketing

Every aspect of digital marketing revolves around 4 C’s: creating, curating, connecting, and culture. It begins with creating and curating compelling content that connects with your audience and potential customers. This content should tap into either your company culture or relate to current trends or events. Two of the biggest reasons for visiting the digital world are to find information on current trends, events, and products or to connect with others by way of culture or community.

It just so happens, before we had even heard anyone mention the 4 C’s of digital marketing in this manner, we had been taking a similar approach with our business as a whole. The 3 C’s of Photonics Inc., which are now featured in our new 30th anniversary logo, are creating, collaborating, and connecting. As designers, developers, and strategists, we feel very strongly that these words have contributed to our thirty years of success in the design and marketing industry.

Personalizing the Customer Journey

If you want to keep up with your competitors, your company needs to turn to technology to incorporate personalization into your marketing plan. Consumers want more out of you. Creating content and materials that are tailor-based on what you know about the user is necessary for a successful digital marketing plan.

When taking on personalization, it’s important to understand the customer’s journey within your target audience. What are their behaviors, demographics, motivations, needs? At what point in their journey might they find your company or product? Use this information to pinpoint where they live online and where to meet them on their journey.

Video is Everything

As we mentioned in the 4 C’s of digital marketing, content is important and, at the moment, video content is everything! This is something we express to our clients often and here’s why: Users are no longer seeking a wealth of information in text format. They just want a highlight reel. And while you’re at it, they’d prefer to learn all the information about your products and services through visuals. After all, the average person’s attention span is down to an average of 8 seconds! If you leave them intrigued, they will come back for more information later. Wondering where you should utilize your video content? EVERYWHERE. Social media, websites, digital marketing, and advertising, you name it!

At the end of the day, the key to digital marketing is to make sure you are utilizing each channel to its full capability. Is your website optimized and conveying a message? Are you present on the correct social media platforms for your industry? Are you putting enough thought and time into SEO and SEM? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s only natural. Sometimes it’s best to bring in partners, like Photonics Inc., who have specialized capabilities to help you with each aspect of your marketing strategy. If digital marketing is a new venture for your company, why not look outside for a full-service digital marketing team and let your employees focus on what they know best!

LinkedIn: Let’s Be Honest

connecting on social media and linkedin platform

Let’s be honest. We all use LinkedIn in hopes of finding and building new business relationships that will ultimately end up generating some sort of income. As the Business and Operational Development Director of Photonics, I know I do. Otherwise, I’d just stick to Facebook.

The numbers don’t lie. With the bulk of B2B (or People to People) marketers using it to generate leads, it’s clear that it’s the best platform for connecting with industry professionals.

Some people are a bit aggressive, or perhaps better said, impatient about sending messages soon after the connection. But, so what? I’ve met some great people on LinkedIn, some of who have ended up becoming great clients. In other cases, they’ve become awesome employees and associates, and yes, even friends.

To those who get upset when people send them messages soon after connecting, I say why wait? Life is short. Make those connections as soon as possible. Capture their attention while you can. Sure, it may seem a bit annoying at times. But if you agree to link with me, or I agree to link with you, we should both expect there to be some sort of interaction. Otherwise, why bother connecting at all? And again, I say, why wait?

I don’t automatically connect with people just because they send me a request. I look to see what they’re all about, and if there might be some mutual benefit for connecting and starting a dialog, then I connect. If they send me a note, I’m honest with them. I either have an interest in what they’re pitching, or I don’t. But I feel if you agree to connect, there should be an expectation for some sort of follow-up communication.

connecting on social media and linkedin platform

I’m all about building relationships and networking. And it all starts with a dialog. Through email, in-messaging, phone call, or even over a hot cup of coffee or a cold adult beverage, the dialog has to start somewhere. Without a dialog, why even bother with LinkedIn.

Having shared my views on that, if you’d like to start a dialog, let’s connect. Send me, Tom Hutchinson, a LinkedIn request, an in-message, or connect with me here. I’d enjoy hearing from you. I promise to respond.

If You’re Not Laughing, You’re Not Working Hard Enough

man laughing while working on computer

Thoughts on Humor in the Workplace

Business is serious stuff. There’s no time for humor. That’s for people who just don’t understand how important it is to stay focused on the bottom line.

Get to work! Work harder!! Work longer!!! Produce more!!!! What are you doing out of your seat? IF YOU’RE LAUGHING, YOU’RE NOT WORKING HARD ENOUGH!

Managers and leaders that operate with this mindset are truly out of touch with human nature. Business can be a pressure cooker. It needs a release valve to let out the steam when the pressure becomes too great.

That’s how I look at humor in the workplace. It is the release valve. It’s an essential part of producing the greatest stew, while not blowing up the kettle.

Everyone needs a release. Yes, business is serious. But so is life. Humans are strong, resilient, and dedicated…until they hit their ultimate pressure point. Then they stop! They need time to recover, to relax, to release the pressure.

Some managers recognize this but choose to work their staff hard until the pressure is strongly apparent, and the alarms go off, warning them that the kettle is about to burst. Then they take a break to release the pressure. I guess for some types of businesses, this works. But I believe in a creative environment such as Photonics, it’s best to continually release some pressure, so it never reaches the destructive point of alarm.

I believe that a daily dose of humor in the workplace is beneficial. It helps people stay fresh. It reduces stress. It helps clear minds so we can think creatively and produce great work. It’s healthier, and it creates a more balanced and enjoyable work experience for staff and managers alike.

So, as a longtime business owner and manager, I say “IF WE’RE NOT LAUGHING, WE’RE NOT WORKING HARD ENOUGH!”

Case Study: How To Build Brand Awareness with an Organic Twitter Campaign

twitter social media while drinking coffee

When one of our B2B clients came to us with the task of creating brand awareness at an international event without a physical presence, we had to get creative. We had to brainstorm quickly and on a tight budget.

This international event is one of the biggest international trade shows for the industrial automation and robotics industry. With new competitors starting to come out of the woodwork, our client wanted to make sure they had a presence without spending the bulk of their yearly marketing budget to attend in person, advertise in multiple languages, or reserve a space and build an exhibit.

After some brainstorming, our initial plan was to run a social media campaign during the week of this international trade show. During our research, we learned the event’s hashtag had already started to gain traction on Twitter and that many of the industry leaders had a large presence on the platform. Because of this, Twitter became our primary focus, followed by LinkedIn and Facebook. LinkedIn is a great platform for B2B opportunities and Facebook would help build both credibility and additional brand awareness.

One big hurdle stood in our way! The client’s social media presence had been MIA for over 6 months and their following was small and inactive. Their platforms had been used very minimally (we’re talking about a total of 15 posts across all platforms combined). How could we use social media to generate a buzz about our client and their product if there was no one listening to us?

We needed much more than a week-long social media blitz into the void. We needed to make sure our client was visible first. Our solution was to create an 8-week social media campaign leading up to the blitz during the week of the show. During those 8 weeks, we focused on building a following for our client by doing the following:

  • Crafting consistent content with a voice that fit our client’s clean and professional brand
  • Posting daily on the Twitter platform
  • Daily engagement
  • Targeting followers and attendees of the trade show
  • Building a genuine Twitter following
  • Consistent posts on other platforms with 2-3 posts per week

As soon as the campaign kicked off, we began to see immediate growth in our client’s following. Being active and engaging with potential customers and industry leaders on a daily basis helped to create a buzz and an awareness around the brand. Did you know B2B and B2C audiences need to come into contact with a brand approximately six times before engaging? This shows the importance of consistency! With a 259% organic growth rate in their following across all platforms before the event even took place, we set ourselves up for a great week of engagement and awareness throughout the show. We also saw a rise in followers and views on YouTube, a platform that wasn’t even a focus within our strategy.

Both our social media campaign and strategy for brand awareness were a success! After the international show, our client’s following has continued to grow and has become a prominent account within the industry. Consistency and engagement are key in organic social media campaigns. This proved true once again, even with a target audience on the opposite side of the globe!

Twitter social media case study infographic