Recently I attended a press conference where a large association announced a new home for its annual conference. On the dais sat several VIPs representing the local political and economic development leadership, the chief executive of the association and the head of the local convention and visitors bureau.
At the back of the room, the conference’s communications director stood and kept watch both on the press conference and on her computer. As the prepared statements were read and questions asked and answered, the communications director kept glancing back and forth from one to the other—one eye on the action in the room and another on the digital reaction to it.
As a long-time communications pro, I felt her pain. I would have been paying hyper attention to both what was happening in the room and how the news coming from the room was being shared or commented upon out in the world at large via Twitter and Facebook and Google alerts.
But watching it all happen I couldn’t help but feel a sense of longing for simpler times, when it would have been enough to simply coordinate a press event, obsess over every detail, attract enough attendance to make it all worth it, then wait for the coverage to come out the next day or at least over the next few hours.
Now? News is literally reported as it happens, and not always by reporters. With a smartphone and a social media presence, anyone, anywhere has the potential and power to report in real time, without the hassle of an editor to please or pesky follow-up questions to answer.
The “real” reporters also file quick tweets, then (we hope) more in-depth stories, then it’s on to the next thing, then the next and the next.
All the while, we communications pros scurry around, looking for morsels to feed the beast.
This is not new information I am sharing. And this is not a column about how to run events that are set up to thrive in the social media era.
Rather, I want to commiserate and share an observation about how damned hard it is to step away from the always-on environment we live in order to think deeply and strategically about how and what we communicate in the first place.
Are you reading this column right now because you planned to spend an hour or 15 minutes reading today? Was it shared on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or email or IM or text or maybe, crazily, did you pick up a magazine and read words printed on glossy pages?
However you came to be reading this article at this moment, you made a choice. There are literally millions of other things you could be doing or reading right now. You could be reading the Wikipedia entry on Bigfoot or watching that video about that kid coming home from the dentist.
But here you are and here I am, so let’s splash cold water on our faces together, shall we?
If you want to succeed in today’s ridiculously fast, ever-changing environment, you need to find times to unplug completely for extended periods of time.
Ready to brainstorm for the next big event? Turn off the email and get in front of a white board and let it fly. Don’t check Twitter, Facebook, email or whatever else blinks and beeps at you on a regular, non-stop basis.
Need to come up with a new tagline for the brand? Take a walk around the block and stare at some rocks and trees.
Here are some “unplugging” best practices that you can put into play:
• Realize that the world will be just fine without you plugged in for an hour or two or, perish the thought, an entire day.
• Make time to sit and think and act based on decisions made during those times of careful reflection.
• If you go to an event, especially one that you helped plan and create, be present at that event and make as many human, one-to-one connections as you can.
• Make time for long-term planning with your team and revisit those plans—unplugged—on at least a quarterly basis.
• Get some therapy. You work in PR in 2013 and probably need it.
Now that you have finished reading this article, please go back to your regularly scheduled, hectic lifestyle.
I hope you’ll unplug once in a while and find times to work on those things that are most important to you. PRN
Greg Abel is president and founder of Abel Communications, a boutique PR firm based in Baltimore. He is a member of Counselors Academy, a group of senior-level public relations counselors within the Public Relations Society of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.