Vibrant Content by Manufacturers Will Elevate Manufacturing Perception

“It’s been a long journey since the recent depression, but if you are not moving forward, you are falling behind,” said Donald Dardis, president of Dukane Precast.

That was the most poignant line I heard at the recent Valley Industrial Association’s Spark Awards, which honored Fox Valley area manufacturers. It was poignant because Mr. Dardis spoke from the heart. He spoke about the pain Dukane Precast faced during the challenging years 2008-2010. He spoke about the vulnerability that every business  experienced – doing everything to keep the doors open and the lights on.


Manufacturers, like Dukane, have clawed their way through challenging times, and today experience record production.

If manufacturing were a brand, it would bear scars. In a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, eight in 10 Americans believe that manufacturing is important to maintain America’s standard of living. However, one-third would not encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.

The good news (finally): The gap appears to be lessening. Misperception is changing. A growing number of people are understanding that the makers of our day are high tech global competitors. Educative, informative content gives manufacturers an open opportunity to rebuild industry integrity and set the record straight that making products is really cool.

When manufacturing companies share vibrant content, they too have an opportunity to change the tenor of industry perception. For people to understand something, they must see it.

Here are a few examples of vibrant content manufacturers can create:

•   Blogs about products solving critical problems from a human perspective

•   Best practices guides

•   Q&A with high school and college students attending plant tours

•   Articles and blogs authored by a diverse cross-section of a company

•   Inclusive job descriptions

•   Stories about living company values, social responsibility, community involvement, philanthropy and environmental impact

•   Podcasts around industry growth and the role of manufacturing

•   Books talking about manufacturing careers and education

•   Online journal (yes, actually on your website) detailing collaboration with community leaders and other manufacturers in your industry

•   Supply chain video series to educate youth about the big picture behind manufacturing

Manufacturing by the Numbers

From the National Association of Manufacturer’s Q1 2019 Outlook Survey, respondents remain optimistic about manufacturing in 2019. Here are some of the results from 466 manufacturers around the country:

·         89.5 percent feel either somewhat or very positive about their own company’s outlook (up from 88.7 percent in Q4 2018)

·         4.4 percent expected growth rate for sales for the next 12 months

·         2.1 percent expected growth rate in full-time employment for the next 12 months

·         2.8 percent expected growth rate in capital investments

·         2.4 percent expected growth rate in product prices

How Are Your Stories Being Told?

In a fun, light-hearted way, @Jim Carr and @Jason Zenger founded the Making Chips podcast where they tell stories of success, talk about challenges. Associations, like the VIA, Technology & Manufacturing Association and Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center are sharing member stories through award ceremonies, workshops, seminars, email campaigns, member spotlights and more.

The bottom line: the content that manufacturers distribute is extremely important because it elevates the perception of manufacturing.

So how are you telling your stories? Don’t forget – it’s OK to be like Mr. Dardis and reveal your vulnerability and how you overcame it.

Oftentimes, those are the most vibrant stories of all.

Roderick Kelly is co-founder of K+L Storytellers, a brand storytelling and vibrant content writing company that works with middle market and funded start-up companies that are hungry to scale.

This Spring Break, Ask Your Children to Tell You a Story

As a corporate storyteller and copywriter, words are my playground. I would flip through our 30,000-pound, hard-covered dictionary as a child, my finger landing on random words. This is how I learned the word "philoprogenitiveness" (it means a love for one's offspring) at age seven. (My offspring, by the way, cringe when I share this quirky childhood indulgence😂.)

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Values fuel our lives. They are our uniques — for us as individuals and as companies. Our flags, planted firmly in the ground, show red with vibrant love for others, pure white for honesty in all matters, green for our respect of the earth, and rough hewn browns for the value of being approachable and down-to-earth.

What are your colors and how are you changing the world of your customers and work-mates with them? Let’s explore together.

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Hiding in Plain Sight a True Art Form


What if we had only three ways to communicate with each other?

·         Writing a letter and sending it via the United States Postal Service to a business or residence

·         In-person visit at home or at work

·         Calling a business or residence on a land line telephone

In the first three decades of my life, these were the only methods of “getting a hold” of someone. And they were effective because each method nearly always elicited a response.

Today, we can reach someone instantly. Multiple applications provide a direct pipeline to your mobile device, tablet or personal computer. Besides email and texting, we’ve got Uber Conferencing (they have a great hold song if you haven't heard it), Facetime, Skype, Slack, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, and LinkedIn. Leaving a voicemail is almost shocking to the system (it requires a lot of energy and time to hit “play”). An article in Psychology Today cites that inboxes are one of the most common triggers to social anxiety and productivity-related anxiety.

It’s easy to see why we all want to run from the mayhem.

Hiding in Plain Sight

There’s no place to hide, so we’ve become creative to avoid being reached. We hide in plain sight.

Phone numbers and physical addresses of business are disappearing from websites and business cards. Instead, we leave a note and send it off into the web abyss and cross our fingers that it will reach the right person AND they will be kind enough to respond.

When a phone number we don't recognize pops up, we watch our phones do the dance. We need “approval” from someone to connect on LinkedIn and other social platforms and, oftentimes, contact information is buried or nonexistent on profiles.

But the No. 1 way we hide is by ignoring the call, text, letter, email, IM, social request, etc. altogether. We simply do not respond. That fact has nothing to do with technology. That fact has to do with people making a choice.

While we haven't done a formal survey on this, we sure have heard people talk about this phenomenon that, with all the ways in which we can communicate, it is getting harder and harder to elicit a response. Is that the story a company wants to convey? How is responsiveness a reflection of a company’s brand?

What are some of your experiences with unresponsive responses?

Impact Brands: 3 Stories to Snack On

By Roderick Kelly

Co-founder, K+L Storytellers

I recently walked the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago, trying the many varieties of beef jerky, hot pickles and health bars. Yes, health bars. I could hear my wife Michele whisper in my ear from 40 miles away: “Pass on the beef jerky and eat healthier.” And so I did. Well, kind of. LOL.

As I sauntered the aisles and talked to people, I came across three companies that really impressed me because of their impact brand stories.

Story #1: Kiwa

This Ecuadorian-based manufacturer of premium vegetable chips has a great story about working directly with regional farmers to provide them with an improved way of life.

Kiwa sales manager Maria Jose Guillen.

Kiwa sales manager Maria Jose Guillen.

Through its direct trade with farmers, Kiwa provides self-sustaining economic success to small, impoverished farmers, many of whom farm unique vegetables that are only native to South America. “We work with development organizations to help farmers get out of poverty,” said Maria Jose Guillen, sales manager for Kiwa, whose chips can be found in more than 30 countries. In the Chicago area, the many variety of chips many varieties of chips include plantain, beetroot, cassava and native potatoes share shelf space with more recognizably-named chips at Mariano’s and Pete’s Fresh Markets.

“Think about the many men and women working in remote fields and villages, left behind and oftentimes forgotten by a world that continues to move faster and faster. We proudly connect small farmers in Ecuador and Peru with world markets. Every time someone enjoys a Kiwa product, the collective heart of humanity beats a little louder,” says Kiwa co-founder Martin Acosta. That’s impressive, and the chips are delicious. Never thought I’d eat a beetroot chip. (Full disclosure: Kiwa is a client of K+L Storytellers).

 Story #2: This Bar Saves Lives

Emily Baker, social media and retail marketing specialist.

Emily Baker, social media and retail marketing specialist.

If this company name doesn’t scream: “Listen to my story,” I’m not sure what does. And listen I did. With each bar sold, this Los Angeles-based company provides a portion of the proceeds to nutrient packets, which are delivered to malnourished children around the world.

“Every time you buy a bar, we give life-saving nutrition to a child in need. We eat together,” is the company’s mantra said Emily Baker, social media and retail marketing specialist for the company. This Bar Saves Lives has provided millions of nutrient packets saving thousands of children around the globe, she said.

That’s a feel good for everyone.

Story #3: Fresh Toys

At first glance, I thought Fresh Toys was like a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Inside each box of gummy candies, there is a miniature toy from one of eight collection themes: fairies, pirates, ponies, kitties, puppies, warships, ivy schools and homes. The packages and toys are all designed by 20 young moms and dads whose intent it is to “make kids smile, and give a boost to their imagination, good heartedness and happiness,” according to co-founder Alex Polanski.


Being a creative myself, I marveled at how the company’s goal is to have children use these toys to create stories and to fantasize, much like our generation did by playing with green plastic US Army men or doll houses with miniature rooms and furniture. “Our ultimate mission is to provide affordable, safe, and fun novelty toys. And that’s what we do," according to Polanski.

Even the company’s title focuses on the toys rather than the candy. Founded in Europe, the company has only recently distributed in the United States, although to find them in stores, you will have to travel to Pennsylvania or Wyoming until distribution ramps up.

 Great stories, cool products and impactful brands. Now, where did I put my stash of beef jerky?

These Five Young Authors Wrote A Book. What Can You Give Away?


5 young authors. 3 stories. 1 published book. THEY DID IT!!!!



What do you know that you can give away? How can you change young people for life? What is your legacy, that leave-behind to the world? 

Two years ago, I started a program called Your Extraordinary Story to teach middles-schoolers how to write a short story in teams.

This past year, I was invited to bring YES to an after-school program at Washington Middle School in Aurora, Ill. What an honor!!!

We published an anthology of short stories called 3 Lessons. When you write a short story, you get creative confidence - not just about writing, but about creativity and about your ideas.

THANK YOU to Dr. Burton, WMS principal, the My Genius Now grant leaders Pat Swanson and Ann McBride, and the Dunham Foundation for believing that the arts transform all of us, especially our youth. And thank you to these young authors who, with a pencil, a spiral notebook and their imaginations created beautiful, unforgettable stories.

What do you have in your wheelhouse to give away? What knowledge, tools, advice, mentorship, passion can others benefit from? 

A Salute to Our Youth

By Roderick Kelly

Co-founder, K+L Storytellers

One hundred seven young men donned identical tuxedos. Their dates wore beautiful white debutante gowns with matching gloves that extended beyond the elbow. These young adults were experiencing their first “grown up” event where they were treated as equals. The setting was the Drury Lane Oak Brook ballroom, bulging with more than 800 attendees. The event was Marmion Academy’s “Salute to Youth” gala.

It sounds like a cliché, but these are our future trailblazers.

For the first hour of mingling and eating of appetizers, many of the seniors approached me with their right hand outstretched, a smile on their face and a “hello Mr. Kelly” on their lips. They introduced their dates and we engaged in small talk. I saw our son doing the same with other parents.

I have known these young men for four years, some of them longer. I’ve watched them grow from boys to men.

And the tone was set for the rest of the evening. The speeches were predictably genuine and heartfelt, and with each, the students could get a glimpse into their future – as independent-thinking adults, as future parents and as groundbreakers.

And then the spotlight shone on them. The 107 senior students and their dates beamed with nervous pride as each couple walked up on stage for their introductions. Each man graciously deferred to his date as she curtsied to the attendees. Each smiled and visibly exhaled as they left the stage, arm in arm.

“Salute to Youth” is their reward for four years of hard work. It’s their swansong before graduation.

Regardless of the path each takes, I know their future is bright, and they will make this world better. In fact, they already have.

Salute to our youth.

Our son Peter and his date Sophie.

Our son Peter and his date Sophie.