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
Maybe 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.
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.
English has 1.1 million words, more words than any other language, according to the Global Language Monitor and other sources. That’s double the next most prolific language. And English adds about 15 words per day, or one every 98 minutes.
So 400 years after the greatest English wordsmith of them all, William Shakespeare, the language remains a living, changing, vital form of communication, something PR folks use every day. And they work hard at it. It’s said PR is, at its core, storytelling. But if that’s true, then storytelling, at its core, is about words.
It stands to reason, then, that as words get added, other words become obsolete. Who uses “groovy” anymore? And as technology transforms our lives, the lifecycle of some words speeds up. In that spirit, we offer a list of words we came across as 2014 dawned that should be banned, starting now.
Words to be Banned, Generic Edition
(Courtesy of Lake Superior State University, and selected by them for the sins of misuse, overuse and general uselessness)
• Mr. Mom
• _____ on Steroids
A related list, from USA Today, gets at a few more words and phrases that have become persona non grata.
• Combined celebrity couple names
• “Abbrevs,” like “ridic,” “totes,” “obv,” “cray,” and lots more.
Phrases and Words to be Banned, Work Edition
(Courtesy of USA Today)
• Noncommittal language
• Describing things as “surreal”
• Saying “quote-unquote”
• Starting all sentences with “So,” and ending them with “right?”
Phrases and Words to be Banned, PR Edition
(Courtesy of Yahoo Tech’s David Pogue)
You’ll never catch me using terms like “price point” when I mean “price,” or “form factor” when I mean “size.” I’ll never say “content” when I mean video, “solution” when I mean product, “DRM” when I mean copy protection, or “functionality” when I mean “feature.” Also, I will never refer to you as “the user.” (If you think about it, only two industries refer to their customers as users.)
So there you have it. What do you think? So when I was compiling this list, it seemed like a valuable study in the use of language, right?
The good thing about New Year’s resolutions is that no one is really listening closely to what you are resolving to do. But resolutions do crystallize our goals and make the month of January, at least, a little more interesting. For communicators the world over, you should expect 2014 to bring the following:
> Crises, smoldering or quick
> Reputations under fire or on fire
> Media coverage, for better or worse
> Employee morale issues
> Financial ups and downs
> Product and company launches
> Product and company failures
> A new social media craze
These are just a few of the sure things in PR as we herald in the new year and perhaps a new approach to PR. In my nearly two decades covering Public Relations, I have never seen a bigger opportunity than now for PR practitioners to be the dominant force in brand leadership, message management and tying intangibles and tangibles to the bottom line.
There are many ways to not screw up this trajectory and to possibly make 2014 the most exciting year for you in PR. To do that, however, will take some commitment to the core tenets and practices of the best PR practitioners. Here at PR News we benchmark outstanding communication leadership across all areas of the market. From our Platinum PR to our PR People Awards, from Corporate Social Responsibility to the Digital PR Awards, we see a pattern in excellence that underscores why resolutions are worth keeping. Like many New Year’s Resolutions, the following list may sound familiar but I submit that the best ideas are worth repeating:
* Find the interesting story behind your message – and tell it
* Measure your PR and be bold enough to make adjustments
* Listen to your stakeholders: your customers, investors, employees are your keys to success
* Learn to work across silos – marketing, HR, IT, Finance, Legal
* Become a better goal-keeper: of your goals, your department’s and your organization’s
* Collaborate internally and externally – 1+1=3
* Hone your writing skills: you reach more people when you can spell, turn a phrase and use your words correctly
* Foster diversity: in thought and experience
* Don’t fear missing out: resist the urge to be on every social media platform
* Be transparent: people are smart enough to see through the BS anyway
* Advocate for PR: become a voice for Public Relations inside your organization and in the marketplace of ideas.
What are some of your PR resolutions for 2014? Please share with your fellow PR News blog readers.
Best of luck to you and your team for a meaningful and memorable 2014.
– Diane Schwartz
PS – Check out more of my blog posts from the past few months:
There are certain people who even when they’re smiling warmly have a certain gravitas. They have a certain air that suggests intelligence, calculation, control, even as they engage the people around them. Bill Clinton has that. So does Denzel Washington. Oprah Winfrey. Colin Powell does, and Ronald Reagan did too. One thing that struck me about the photos and the movies of the late actor Paul Walker was that he had that quality as well.
Last week, at our annual PR People Awards presentation, our featured speaker was John Neffinger, co-author of the book, “Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential.” Neffinger’s talk was filled with specific, compelling points, all based around a simple premise: People judge other people based on two things, strength and warmth. Strength is the root of respect, and warmth is the root of affection. If you plotted both qualities out on an X axis and a Y axis, the ideal location would be the upper right quadrant, where strength and warmth are maximized. Any of the other three quadrants means a bad mix—either too much of one and not enough of the other, or too little of both.
Neffinger’s whole point was that this is the essential way all humans size each other up. And that only relatively few people ever master the ability to project both qualities at the same time.
And it seems to me that for communicators, especially those who spend a lot of time in public, representing the company—or interacting with employees, for that matter—that Neffinger’s counsel is important. Here are some highlights from his talk that are relevant to communicators looking to sync verbal messaging with non-verbal cues to convey both strength and warmth.
• Try to develop the knowing smile that the people mentioned above have. Neffinger describes is as “feeling the bottom eyelid.”
• Stand up straight. Posture is extremely important, but not used enough.
• Use poised but open gestures. Holding the hands up, Neffinger says, conveys warmth and openness. Holding them down conveys the opposite. Similarly, the chopping gesture with the hands conveys strength, as does holding an imaginary ball in hour hands while speaking.
• Replace all the “ums,” and “uhhhs” in your communications with silence. It’s more powerful.
What are the tools you use to project strength and warmth?
It’s said that we speak an average of 16,000 words each day. That’s a lot of talking. As communicators, we appreciate fine words and clever turns of phrases. But on this day after a long holiday, still recovering from a turkey and pumpkin pie stupor and constant conversation with distant relatives, I challenge you to insert into your dialogue or work- day imagination at least two of the quotes below from the blockbuster movie The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
On the surface, there’s little we can find in common between the roles of Katniss, Peeta, President Snow and Haymitch Abernathy and our role as communicators. But scratch just a little beneath that surface and you may find that the lines below could be very helpful as you get your week off to a fiery start:
“No waving and smiling this time. I want you to look straight ahead as if the audience and this whole event are beneath you.” (possible scene: you are at a meeting with new competitors)
“Remember who the real enemy is.” (scene: at the meeting above you realize your competitors are not really your enemies)
“You’ve given them an opportunity. They just have to be brave enough to take it.” (scene: you give your team a challenging project to take on)
“Chins up, smiles on!” (scene: instead of ending your meeting with “OK, that’s all” you decide to shock the attendees with this uplifting, inspirational decree)
“From now on, your job is to be a distraction so people forget what the real problems are.” (scene: you’re moved from PR to HR)
“So far I’m not overwhelmed by our choices.” (scene: you’re at a business lunch at a restaurant with limited, unappealing menu choices)
“I wish I could freeze this moment, right here, right now, and live in it forever.” (scene: the media loves your story idea and you are inundated with interview requests)
“This is no place for a Girl on fire.” (scene: Katniss or someone similar to her shows up to your afternoon meeting)
“Convince me.” (scene: the response from your boss after asking for a bigger PR budget in 2014)
You might be thinking your job is not scripted nor are you an actor in a major motion picture. But after testing these quotes on your unsuspecting colleagues and peers you’ll realize that the Hunger Games isn’t as fantastical as originally thought.
– Diane Schwartz
(Join me on Twitter)
“Anything bothering you?”
That was the question posed by my physician during a recent annual check-up. As he peered at my chart which was looking pretty boring in a good way, I wondered whether I should share something small, like “I get headaches every now and then.” Or should I tell him I’m feeling great, so I can take off the paper robe, get dressed and carry on with my day?
“I’m feeling great,” I declared. And that was my annual exam.
If only our personal career check-ups went so easily. I’m not referring to an annual review but to the regular self-assessment of how we’re feeling about what we’re doing every day.
With winter approaching and conference season in full force, there’s no time like the present to conduct an annual self-exam. Many of us have attended conferences at which we hear lots of great ideas, brush up on skills and meet new people. At the same time, we’re trolling social media and fear we’re missing out on other meetings, parties and opportunities. Instead of feeling empowered, the learning, networking and hyper-interactions can make some people feel bad about themselves. (These are the people not doing the regular self-exams, by the way.) I was at a conference a week ago where I saw an attendee eating a brown bag lunch in the ladies restroom. Aside from the sanitary aspects of such a decision, I wondered if she was pushing herself too hard. She clearly needed to put on the metaphorical paper robe and conduct a self-exam, asking:
- Do I like going to work every day?
- Am I appreciated by my manager and my peers?
- Did I help someone in some way in the past 48 hours?
- Do I understand what I’m doing at my job? If not, where do I get help?
- Are the goals achievable?
- Is this job too easy for me?
- Are my stakeholders benefiting from my contributions?
- If this a job or a career?
- Can I make a real impact?
In the case of the woman-with-the-brown-bag-lunch and for those who are workaholics, another question might be: Do I eat alone (at my desk) more than twice a week?
These are just suggested questions and some can be painful to answer. But necessary. It goes without saying — but I’ll say it anyway — if you answered “No” to most of the questions above then it’s time to make a change in mindset, action or venue.
- Diane Schwartz
Take off your paper robe and join me on Twitter @dianeschwartz
What is it about CEOs? How can so many of them be so smart and so accomplished, and yet still say so many bad or dumb things?
It’s enough to keep a communications team up at night—and if they get to sleep, they have anxiety-driven nightmares.
Just this week, Guido Barilla, the CEO of one of the leading pasta makers in the world, brought a boycott down on his company for remarks that were viewed as homophobic. Within a few hours of the news, according to the guardian.com, the hashtag “boicotta-barilla” was trending on Twitter.
“For us, the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company,” Barilla said in a radio interview when asked whether he’d use gay people in advertising. “I would not do it, but not out of a lack of respect for homosexuals who have the right to do what they want without bothering others. I don’t see things like they do and I think the family that we speak to is a classic family.”
This all comes just months after Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy renewed an old controversy he created in 2012 by tweeting his dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.
Also this year, Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries brought negative attention on himself and his company when older comments surfaced where he said he only wants good looking people to buy his clothes.
And American Apparel CEO Dov Charney seems to be just minutes away at any given time from another lawsuit.
I think CEOs are smart, for sure—but they’re also human. And once people get to the top of their profession, they’re a) accustomed to thinking they’re always right, and b) used to subordinates telling them they’re always right. That leads very quickly to hubris and arrogance for most people, excepting only those who are really disciplined and have a very solid sense of self.
What’s a communicator to do? Here are a few options:
• Engage the executives in your company in media training. Not in sporadic episodes, but sustained programs. Don’t do it yourself. Bring in experts.
• Challenge the boss. Oftentimes, you’ll be putting your job at risk, but heck, it can’t be good for you or your company if you merely go along and get along.
• Know your executives. Know what their personal perspectives are. Respect those views, but help them understand that those views and the company’s marketing messaging are two different things.
• Offer yourself as a sounding board to flippant top executives—have them bounce their public statements off you first. And if they reject that idea, then it might be time to think about your own reputation and find an environment that is more receptive to good PR counsel.
I picked up a sound piece of advice the other night, during a college admissions event my daughter and I attended. Among the questions the prospective students asked of the alumni panel was whether the class sizes are so big that you can’t see, hear and learn in them. The very articulate Class of 2010 alumnus responded with a great piece of advice that was applicable to me — and you, I imagine. She said: “Just sit in the front of the room.” (Ah, if only it were that easy. Especially in college, when you really aren’t sure if you’ll be staying for the whole class, and what about your friends who wouldn’t dare sit in the front row?)
The high school senior who asked the question nodded affirmatively, but you could see that the sound advice flowed right over her head. I believe she was hoping for a literal answer, such as “Yes, it sucks, but you deal with it.”
The takeaway for me was an affirmation that just changing where you sit changes your perspective, improves your visibility, eliminates distractions, and gets you noticed. To take the advice further, instead of sitting in the back of the room (or being anonymous in your organization, or among your customers), move yourself to get closer, to be seen, and to hear things more clearly. By sitting (or getting closer), you’ll pick up on details that could make a big difference in your viewpoint. Our marketplaces are bigger than any college classroom; if you’re in the way, way back then you’re missing out on the conversation.
I didn’t expect to learn much from this college event – it was really for my daughter, not me. Which shows you can learn some life lessons from unexpected places and times. Just sit closer, and listen.