Brief Lab

Tiffany Shaffery, Assertive Professionals; Joe McCormack, The Brief Lab

Moore County is evolving and growing, attracting more businesses both big and small. Situated on the periphery of the largest military installation in the country, by population, it’s no surprise that a number of these companies work closely with military interests.

Assertive Professionals is one of the area’s newest arrivals. Founder and CEO Tiffany Shaffery relocated her five-year-old business to downtown Southern Pines in late September after she and her husband moved to Moore County last year. The couple met while deployed to Afghanistan.

Assertive Professionals (AP) provides equipment or personnel holding security clearances — or a mix of the two — to businesses and government agencies in the intelligence community.

“Our primary customer is Special Operations Command, so a lot of folks we work with are in this area,” Shaffery said, noting they also heavily hire from the ranks of outgoing soldiers. “As military veterans ourselves, we understand that transition and know it is a very difficult transition to make.”

Shaffery describes working in the Washington, D.C. area as “very transactional” compared to the Sandhills. She also found it easier to reach a balance between work and home life.

“I started the company because I didn’t want to be just another defense contractor. We have a very employee-centric model. It is about what fits best for each.”

The company currently has about 40 employees — some local, some remote, some deployed — and continues to grow. The Southern Pines office is mostly an administrative hub.

“With intelligence analysis, we are the good guys trying to find the bad guys. Our analysts look at data that helps them determine where people are who would do harm to the U.S. and we find where their assets are,” said Chris Kintner, AP’s chief operating officer.

Other focus areas include business consulting and strategic business management for command groups or other government agencies involved in mission-based work.

Assertive Professionals office is located at 200 N. Bennett St., Unit 1, in Southern Pines. Find them online at

Less is More

Not far down the road in Southern Pines, marketing executive and author Joe McCormack has been putting his own stamp on military operations since 2013. He founded The Brief Lab after developing an executive communication curriculum for Special Operations Command staff.

Professionals have about an eight-second attention span, check their phones up to 150 times per day, and their email 36 times per hour, McCormack said. To communicate means you have to cut through that clutter.

“Clarity and brevity are key,” he said. “People are inundated with noise. This is kids, parents, professionals, it is the full spectrum of society. People have to communicate in that environment.”

But the biggest challenge for people is to learn to be intentional with what they have to say, whether that is verbal or written. He calls this “lean communication.”

“You can’t do everything, or many things, well at the same time. That diminishing focus is a big issue for people. You are talking to people with a shrinking attention span: their glass is nearly full. Brevity is an adaptive strategy at the end of the day,” he said.

McCormack has a field office in suburban Chicago but has made Southern Pines his home base and it is where he primarily serves his military clients.

“I’m a true outsider,” he said, recalling the first time he received a call from Joint Operations Command. “They wanted somebody who had a distinct outside perspective. In the military, their equity is briefings. I got this call out of the blue from a guy I’d met at a conference. He said, “Can you help us make our briefings brief?”

That request led McCormack to teach a few classes at Fort Bragg which, in turn, prompted him to write his first book, aptly titled “Brief.” Around this same time, he’d discovered and fallen in love with Southern Pines.

“I thought it would be a great idea to start a business and call it The Brief Lab. It was a whim because I already had a successful marketing business in Chicago. But my clients in the Special Operations community loved it.”

McCormack followed up with his second book, “Noise,” and went on to expand his Southern Pines-based office, doubling his square footage. McCormack estimates about 70 percent of his clients are military-connected, mostly from the Special Operations community.

The pandemic has been a transformational factor when it comes to the workplace dynamic and communications.

“When you have people working remotely, coming and going, seen and not seen, it is hard on large corporations to keep everyone on the same page,” he said. “It makes the time you are together really important. In our business, this is another teaching moment,” he added.

“You have to think about what you are going to write or think before you speak. If you don’t, you do it at your own peril. My analogy is that if you don’t speak concisely, it is like telling a joke out of order. It is not clear and that creates confusion and fatigue for people.”

The Brief Lab is located at 1930 N. Poplar St., Unit 19, in Southern Pines. Find them online at

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