‘Meet the Team,’ Ferguson and PR’s Diversity Problem

Take a look at your “Meet the Team” and “About Us” pages on your web site. Do these pages reflect a multifaceted workforce? Do the photos of your team and their bios underscore an understanding of your many stakeholders? In other words, can visitors relate to you? You might not think these questions are worth asking until a reporter clicks on Meet the Team and asks just that.

That’s what happened late last month when Common Ground Public Relations was hired by the City of Ferguson, MO, to handle calls from the media following the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in the St Louis suburb. As if the media didn’t have enough angles with which to cover the Ferguson story, it was handed one on a white porcelain platter. The PR firm that was hired to take all media calls following the crisis, as Talking Points Media noted, “appears to be staffed entirely by white people.” Noted Daily Kos in its headline about the firm’s hiring: “City of Ferguson PR Firm Has Something In Common with Its Police Force.”

Ouch.

The PR industry has been slowly working on its diversity problem, recognizing that less than 15% of PR professionals in the US are of African-American, Asian or Hispanic/Latino descent (per the Bureau of Labor Statistics). It is a real problem that needs a more aggressive push by our industry associations, PR leaders and hiring managers in communications departments and at PR firms. PRSA’s Diversity Tool Kit is a nice-to-have resource, along with its Diversity Committee, but is it enough?  Ironically, the press hasn’t mentioned that Common Ground’s team supposedly includes just one male among the seven pictured.  Diversity comes in all colors, races and genders.

I agree with Denise Bentele, president and CEO of Common Ground Public Relations, when she told Odwyer’s  that “the color of our skin reflected nothing of our concern to help our broader community respond to the watchful world.” It appears the firm is doing a decent job helping the City of Ferguson communicate not only to its residents but to a world that’s watching the investigation and public unrest.

There was nothing Common Ground could have done in the time that it was solicited by the City of Ferguson and the hours that it took for the media to click on Meet the Team and see a sea of white faces. To have quickly added some diversity to that page would surely have been snuffed out and would have positioned the firm as disingenuous. (That doesn’t stop Common Ground, however, from exploring diversity in its hiring practices.)

The knock on the City of Ferguson for hiring an “all white” firm amid a race-infused crisis is fair, and such obvious bait for reporters that it’s already a non-story.  For the PR industry, the bigger problem is why more people with diverse backgrounds do not want to make PR their career.  Here’s to a future where Meet the Team is not met with scrutiny.

-       Diane Schwartz

Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

 

 

 

 

6 Business-Meeting Do’s, and 6 Absolute Don’ts

dos_dontsSo you have a major meeting this week. Let’s say it’s a really important client meeting. You just landed a big account, and now you’re working out the details of who’s going to manage what. Or maybe the corporate communications department is tasked with implementing a social media and earned media campaign for a new branding initiative. It could even simply be an important cross-department meeting on employee relations.

The details differ, but the stakes are always the same. This is strategically important. It always strikes me as odd, then, that behavior in meetings is like the Wild West. It’s remarkable how norms for meeting etiquette vary so much. It depends on the company culture, and even on senior person present. I’ve seen people on their computers and phones for extended periods when they’re in meetings with the CEO. Or with a client. Wait, who—or what—is more important than that? I’ve seen people leave sales calls and return 10 minutes later—to me that’s absolutely unacceptable.

I’ve seen senior managers ignore or forgive favored folks for that kind of behavior while getting upset at others. A lot of the cues come from the managers, and too often, the managers are too busy with other things, or other agendas, to enforce decorum.

So here’s my list. Basically, as a communications pro, you should always behave in a meeting as you would if you were on the agency side and meeting with a prospective client or, if you’re in-house, with your C-suite.

Here are the do’s:
• Come prepared with ideas.
• Pay attention at all times.
• Do more listening than talking. You learn more, and people who withhold comment until they have something really important to say only enhance the importance of what they’re saying, because they’re perceived as deliberate and wise.
• Don’t interrupt. (There are at least two exceptions: When you’re the boss and someone is droning incessantly. When you’re a participant and the speaker is factually incorrect and droning incessantly.)
• Sit up straight.
• Take notes, but don’t take them on your computer because you look like you’re on e-mail.

And here are some don’ts:
• Don’t open your computer and give the screen more attention than the meeting.
• Don’t engage with your phone for e-mail or anything else.
• Don’t conduct side conversations.
• Don’t leave the room unless absolutely necessary.
• On conference calls, don’t mute the phone and do other tasks.
• Manage conflict well. If you’re debating, always offer a solution.

What other important items of business-meeting etiquette are there? What rules can you share?

—Tony Silber
@tonysilber

7 Ways to Shake Up Your Routine This Week

Yoga2At a yoga class the other day, the instructor excitedly and in a heavy whisper told us she was going to shake things up a bit. “We’re not going to do the same moves you’re used to.” I peered down the hall at the Spinning class and contemplated rolling up my yoga mat and making my way there. I am glad I stuck with yoga that day because it not only stretched my limbs, it challenged my mind in new ways beyond the 60-minute class.

The instructor was nervous about these changes and kept apologizing: “Sorry, but no Downward Dog today!” It was all about Child’s Pose. “Be a Warrior,” she declared, as she implored us to just forget about Mountain Pose today. The Seated Twist was totally new to this class, and you could hear the grunts over the soothing music. “I hope you’ll forgive me for requiring a different path today. I only wish it gets you thinking about what routine you may change in your life this week.”

It was a Sunday and I decided to take her literally. From Yoga I went grocery shopping and started my excursion in reverse – Aisle 18 (milk and eggs) rather than my typical starting point of fruits and vegetables, Aisle 1.

I had a spare half hour for a manicure. Instead I got a pedicure and selected a nail color that my 10-year-old niece would have chosen for herself.  My yoga instructor would either be proud or appalled.

Later that night, I made my to-do list for the coming week. I put family things first on this list, then work items, and within the work to-do’s I listed only 2 things (rather than 10) for each day. I handed the sticky note to my husband to check it out. “Why are you showing me this?” he asked. I said, “Because I never show you my to-do list.” It was not exactly a romantic moment, but it was different.

At work, there are a lot of ways to shake up your routine. I’m not referring to barging into your boss’s office and asking for a raise, throwing your old computer on the floor demanding a new one, or launching a new product for a new audience. I’m talking about the little things you can do to rejuveniate, to challenge your muscle memory and to think of your day’s work in different and possibly more creative ways. This week, consider these changeups:

1. Walk down a different hallway to your office or cubicle: you’ll run into colleagues you normally don’t interact with and see areas of your work environment you never pay attention to.

2. Discard one item for every year you’ve worked at your company – pieces of paper you know you’re never going to read or need, items gathering dust, old plasticware. (Crumbs don’t count.)

3. Go to a competitor’s Web site, find something great there, and share it with your team in a positive, non-defensive way.

4.  Favor a different social media platform: if you spend the bulk of your social media time on Twitter, for this week spend more time on Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ or LinkedIn. Post, respond, join a conversation.

5. Ask a colleague if you could shadow him or her for a few hours. Assuming this will be kosher with the highers-up, consider spending 120 minutes with your IT guy or 120 in Accounting; or a few hours with Marketing.

6. Go to lunch with a colleague you don’t know well.  It might not sound appetizing, but chances are you’ll find common interests and learn something new about her and your company.

7. Write with pen and paper: Send a thank you note to 3 people: one person you work with, one customer or client, and someone who’s influenced you in your career. Don’t forget to mail it.

Just as my yoga instructor got me thinking in new ways, I hope this list will inspire you to shake up your routine and start to see new things in your environment and different ways of approaching work.

And with that, Namaste.

– Diane Schwartz

Find your way to my Twitter @dianeschwartz

 

Business Conversations That Make Me Lose Sleep

Which workplace exchanges do you find to be most difficult? For most people, they’re centered on two things: Personnel and performance. Both of these things straddle the worlds of internal communications and HR, and both are also general managerial challenges.

I recently read an interesting column in Business Insider about the toughest conversations you can have at work. They were:

1. The Emotional Dismissal Conversation
2. The Awkward Personality Conversation
3. The Underperformance Conversation

All these are tough, but they are typically part of the same progression, and the progression usually starts with number three above, and ends with number one. Here are the toughest workplace conversations, from my perspective, and how I proceed.

Personnel
These kinds of issues run the gamut—from people who are squabbling, to turf wars, to folks who simply don’t work well together. Sometimes goals don’t sync up. Other times, actual performance doesn’t fit the needs of the job, and that’s typically when the three-conversation pattern that Business Insider described kicks in. To my mind, all of these things are a huge challenge and all of them divert from the common business goal.

I’ve learned over the years that a sustained, tight focus on performance is the way to go. There should be no politics, no gossiping, just set a tone for the group that all you care about is results. Results require collaboration. Keeping everyone focused on that creates a sense of confidence that relaxes a group and empowers them to experiment and achieve.

Business Relationships
This is another difficult area, but for communicators, it’s critical. Everyone from entry-level account managers to CEOs deals with either external clients, or with the public. Think of how frequent it is that a lower-level employee embarrasses a brand on social media, either when representing the company, or through some personal post that goes viral.

Of course, we’re talking about conversations—whether with a subordinate or a colleague, or with an external customer. I’ve learned you can’t wing it when it comes to customer conversations. Too much is at stake. Policies that everyone knows about and understands are critical, and these have to come from the top. I’ve had many conversations with customers in my career, and when business is on the line, they can be really tense. For me, the way to ensure that you preserve the business—if that’s the goal, sometimes it isn’t—the relationship has to come first. (This is a bit counter-intuitive, because I just stressed the importance of policies.) If your customers trust that you have their interests at heart, and you have thought through their challenges and understand their objectives—you’ll keep the business. If they feel like you’re officious, and policy-bound, you won’t. Never use the word “unfortunately.” That conveys a focus on your internal policy, not on customer-service. It is also condescending. Never use the phrase, “We’re not set up to do that” for the same reasons. Always be ready with a solution or two.

Business Performance
For a lot of professionals, in PR and elsewhere, this is always a stress-inducing conversation, especially if you’ve fallen short of your goals. But it doesn’t have to be. Putting aside the possibility of the fundamental lack of skills to do a job, most business-performance shortfalls relate to external factors in the market, not to your execution. So it really is an opportunity to shape a conversation about missing goals into the cool ways you’re going to pivot to adjust to changes in the market.

What are the business conversations you struggle with the most, and what advice can you offer?

—Tony Silber
@tonysilber

The One Thing Every PR Person Needs to Do

“PR is losing its leadership position in Social.”  That’s what the founder of a new company that provides social media measurement/monitoring tools to brands told me the other day when I asked about his target audience. He continued to note that “PR got too comfortable” and now Marketing, Advertising and automated services are taking over Social.

Let’s say we had a friendly disagreement over his claim, as I defended PR’s role in Social and shared stories gleaned from the PR News front lines of communicators’ role in driving social media. But perception can be reality, as we know.

If there’s a sector of the marketplace that is devaluing PR’s role in any medium, then every PR professional needs to do a better job of tying Social and other activities to the metrics that matter to their organization. Just as importantly, we need to make sure we’re communicating our success stories – effectively and regularly. That is one thing every PR person needs to do to help advance the communications profession.

Take a lesson from the trope about the cobbler’s children having no shoes. As communicators, you’re busy doing PR. Your days are filled speaking with stakeholders, writing, listening, measuring and implementing. Do you sometimes forget to tend to your PR success stories? It’s the last mile of your efforts: to communicate your successes not only to your superiors but to your superiors’ superiors, to the media, to your counterparts in Marketing, Finance, HR, IR, IT and Sales. I’d like to think the cobbler eventually noticed that he forgot to provide shoes for his own kids. PR needs to take care of its own, as well.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

 

Path to the Corner Office for Women Is a Shared One

corner-officeWalk into any gathering of communications professionals and the first thing you’ll notice is the large percentage of women—many of them brilliant, accomplished and primed for leadership in corporate America.

Then consider sobering reality: Women hold 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 4.8% of Fortune 1000 CEO positions. Within PR itself, at the agency and in-house level, men tend to occupy the corner office.

If there was one dominant theme shared by the honorees at last month’s Matrix Awards luncheon presented by New York Women in Communications, it is that meaningful social change moves at a glacier’s pace, and only happens through deliberate actions taken by people who see beyond their own immediate self-interest and create a community with shared goals.

Merely deserving or earning corporate leadership and pay equity won’t get women there in large numbers. It has to be taken through shared actions. Successful women in communications can further their own cause by connecting with other women like themselves to share ideas and inspiration.

Liz Kaplow, president of New York Women in Communications, and president and CEO of PR agency Kaplow, has focused much of her energy this past year on the advancement of women at all stages of their careers in communications. “We need to break out of our day to day and connect with others to help us navigate what that next step in our career is going to be,” Kaplow says. “Especially with women in mid-career who are facing obstacles. They need confidence—they need to be mentored. Women in top leadership roles are willing to be mentors, but we need to get women in mid-career to tell their stories, too.”

Mentoring takes time, but it doesn’t have to spring from an established mentoring program in a company or from one developed by a professional organization. Rather, it should be a  state of mind, and the heart of it, according to Kaplow, is storytelling and conversation.

“In terms of changing the cultural Zeitgeist we have to start mentoring each other,” she says. “We really have to keep talking about it. We’re communicators. Whether it’s Joanna Coles’ Cosmo luncheon of the 100 most powerful women or the Matrix Awards, in order to make change there has to be a conversation. And we have to get corporate America behind it so they see it’s a win-win and that they see that they don’t want to lose that incredible talent.”

And if you question your own ability to be a mentor, all you need to do is follow these two simple mentoring guidelines, laid out by Kaplow:

1. Share information easily.

2. Take time to listen and ask questions.

That’s all there is to it. Now get out there and be a mentor.

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI

 

 

Is There a Game of Thrones Character on Your Team?

I am writing this blog post because I know you either watch Game of Thrones or have to listen to people who watch it. Not that I’m trying to game the system, but let’s face it: you need a break from your cerebral workday to think or water-cooler-talk about your favorite TV show, be it Mad Men, Dora the Explorer, The Voice or Game of Thrones.

Just as you can’t imagine yourself as an explorer with a talking map or a talented singer whose voice would cause people to turn their chairs, you can’t imagine working with someone whose manners and actions smell and feel like a Game of Thrones character. Or can you?

To wit, herewith I present four characters from the May 4 episode “First of His Name” — let me know if any of these folks are akin to people you work with, for or against? Or perhaps one of these characters is a reflection of yourself.

Cersei: she senses that she is not only getting older, but that being a woman may prevent her from running the kingdom. Would her father Tywin even consider his daughter to be his heir? She’s a strong woman (deeply flawed and sleeping with her brother – I must add) but are the male leaders even noticing her?

Petyr: he’s been pulling all the strings. A savvy, cunning politician whose investment in brothels has resulted in both unparalleled financial acumen and insider knowledge that keeps on giving, Petyr is also known as Littlefinger. Here’s the ultimate manipulator who has a nickname that is the antithesis of his true power.

Sansa: always the victim. She goes from one bad situation to another. Now stuck in the house of her aunt Lysa Arryn, she feels helpless and foolish. We’re rooting for her to figure out a way to break out and be an independent woman. It is best that she finds her way back home, to Winterfell, and stay put.

Podrick: the loyal one. Formerly the squire to Tyrion Lannister, Pod is asked to testify against Tyrion and refuses. For his safety, he is sent away to be the squire of the very capable Brienne, who discovers that Pod is not a good horseman or cook. But he is loyal and interested in learning new skills. And that is worth something.

For those of you who are diehard Game of Thrones fans, there’s no doubt I am insulting you with my perfunctory description of beloved or hated characters. But if we can better understand those around us and improve our communication with characters of all natures, then it will have been worth it.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

14 Pieces of PR Advice to Read and Heed

Dispensing advice is a centuries-old activity and it never gets old. When the PR News team decided to produce a Best PR Advice Book, it looked to the smartest people in the room to write it: the speakers and attendees of our PR News conferences. Over the past two years, we’ve disseminated the little black Advice Book to our conference attendees, asking them to write one piece of advice that has helped them get ahead in their career.  With smiles on their faces, our friends of PR News would stare up at the ceiling for a second until they had their Eureka moment, and with pen to paper (most but not all legibly), they’d share an interesting piece of wisdom.  Key themes emerged – among them the need to be empathetic, to constantly hone writing skills, to humanize PR efforts, and to not be afraid of failure. The Advice Book is validation and a reminder that the best communications efforts require the best communicators.

I had the honor of editing this first volume of The Best PR Advice Book and enjoyed the contributions from PR professionals from all walks of life and organizations, including Southwest Airlines, Clorox, Easter Seals, IKEA, Raytheon, Weber Shandwick, Ogilvy, AARP, NASCAR, sole practitioners and small businesses.  We all know how easy it is to give advice; it’s the heeding that’s the challenge.  The book is divided into chapters based on the themes shared by our community: Social Media, Crisis Management, Leadership, Employee Communications, Media Relations, Agency/Client Relations. Below are some of the highlights. I’d say they are my favorites, but as my mother told me when my second child was born: “Remember, never play favorites.”

Check out these words to the wise from your peers who contributed to the Advice Book:

“Empathize before you strategize.”

“Don’t bury the bad.”

“Give social media platforms a face, not a logo.”

“Communication is not what you say, it is what the other person hears.”

“If you come with a problem, come with two solutions.”

“The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

“If there is a smile on your face, then there is a smile in your voice.”

“Do the job you want before you get it.”

“Talk to strangers.”

Choose your boss carefully.”

“Get on the good side of your IT department.”

“Flawless execution of a bad strategy is still a bad strategy.”

“You cannot improve what you don’t measure.”

“Give your people the resources to do their work, then get out of the way.”

…Please feel free to add your favorite piece of advice to this blog post, and we’ll consider it for the next volume of the PR Advice Book.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

What We’ve Got Here Is Failure to Communicate—With Millennials

cool-hand-luke-martinMaybe you recall Strother Martin’s pained, twisted line of dialogue spoken to Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, delivered after Martin has struck chain-gang prisoner Newman with a blackjack: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

I thought of this line after seeing the story making the rounds yesterday that British millennials check their mobile devices every nine minutes and 50 seconds. This kind of data and story promotes the concept that millennials are an entirely different species of human, and insinuates that they’re unfocused, difficult to manage, flighty and much more addicted to technology than the rest of us.

The failure to communicate with millennials—from both the brand and personal perspectives—stems not from what makes them different from the rest of the population, but from assumptions based on anecdotal evidence, bite-size statistics and generational resentment. It’s the old saw: “These kids today, they want everything handed to them on a silver platter—we never had it so good.”

First, about the stats making the rounds yesterday: They sprang from a U.K. Daily Mail story that quoted a study conducted by a “customer service solutions” company called KANA, which has certainly succeeded in getting its name out there. Are its findings telling? Perhaps, but it’s too easy to take its showcase stat about 18-to-24-year-olds out of context. I know this is anecdotal on my part, but it seems to me that we’re all hopelessly addicted to our mobile devices.

“Millennials are people, not ‘a people,’” says Jake Katz, VP, audience insights & strategy for music-focused TV network Revolt. “Behaviorally, they are more similar than different to other generations,” says Katz, who will be keynoting PR News’ Digital PR Summit in San Francisco on Feb. 5, and who was formerly general manager of Ypulse, a youth market research firm.

For brands, the first step to communicating with millennials, according to Katz, is to discard the popular myth that they are massively different from everybody else, and pivot from thinking about what they are to how to communicate with the many different geographical and age ranges within the millennial demographic.

It’s time to lay the proverbial generational blackjack to rest and begin the real work of learning about the people around you—on a business and personal level.

—Steve Goldstein
@SGoldsteinAI

 

 

Why Smart Communicators Use the Phone

You can feel yourself age when you use such antiquated words like “telephone” in front of your 12-year-old son. “Mom, who says ‘telephone’ anymore?” He has a point.

Every now and then “telephone” creeps into my language, as do other throwbacks like Rolodex and VCR.  Just as we don’t say “telephone” very often, we also don’t use the device as much as we should in the communications business.  We’re so used to emailing, texting, posting, pinning, sharing and liking that we often put phone communications on the back burner. That phone taking up space on your desk is a bit lonely.

In the past week how many times have you engaged in a business conversation via the phone versus email or LinkedIn or even texting? How many times have you thought, “I should have just called her”? Or, “I wonder what he meant in that email when he said ‘let’s discuss’”? Perhaps it means we should actually talk.

Phone communication for business is not yet an antiquated activity but it’s getting there. Let’s not contribute to its demise.  Communicators who pick up the phone – either to make a call or receive a call – will (and do) have the edge with stakeholders. Social media cannot replace phone calls. Emailing cannot replace a one-on-one conversation.  An interview with a reporter that’s done by email is inferior to one that’s either in-person or by phone. A customer-service related issue is usually more efficient via email but if you really want to ‘wow’ a customer, check in by phone.  A press release does not replace verbal communication with key stakeholders.

As we embark on a new year for communications excellence, let’s make the call to take the call or make a call.

- Diane Schwartz  @dianeschwartz

Call me with topics you’d like to see covered in this blog: 212-621-4964.

 

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