6 Things To Do Now So January Is Smooth(er)

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Ah, the holiday season. It’s either a time of scrambling to complete projects before the end of the year or it’s completely dead. Not dead-dead. Just quiet and filled with emails and messages that deliver the (hoped-for?) message “let’s hold off until January.”

But is this something to wish for? Come January 2, your to-do list could be a mile longer than usual. Besides projects to complete and the renewed energy a new year brings, landing new business is often at the top of the list. Below are things to do in December to make your January less crazy.

  1. Have coffee or lunch with new vendors, partner organizations and other key stakeholders. The environment is generally more relaxed and you’re giving these new potential partners time to think about how they might help you before you need them. This ensures when you do need them, they can be better prepared.
  2. Clean your office. Everyone has something that is sitting around on their desk (or under it), in the corner or tucked in a closet that either should be filed, sent to someone else or be pitched. See how clean you can get your desk top. Then revel in the extra space you never knew you had.
  3. Empty your email inbox. Are you laughing? Of course, you are. Try it anyway. It may take an entire day, but file or delete anything that you can. At least get that inbox down to one screen. If you can’t, perhaps some delegating is in order? If you can, imagine the relief an empty email inbox can bring. (I do this once a month at minimum.) If you haven’t already done so, set up rules for certain emails so they file themselves in folders.
  4. Write down your goals for 2017 — both for your career and your work. With December’s more relaxed business environment, your brain now has a chance to stew and simmer on these ideas. Don’t do anything on them–unless you really, really want to. Just identify them. When January rolls around, you may find you’ve had a few subconscious brainstorms that will make tackling these goals easier.
  5. Celebrate your successes in 2016. Given the pace of life, letting your victories go by unnoticed is common. Think of all the things that went well in the last year. Pat yourself on the back and throw a little party, even if it is just internally. In fact, do this several times in December. You deserve it, and acknowledging what went well will provide a little extra bit of energy needed to tackle a new year.
  6. Take the time to thank someone who contributed to your success. ‘Tis the season of gratitude after all. Remember the simplest of compliments can pack a wallop. Send a handwritten note, email or text with a simple sentiment, such as “Before the year ends, I want you to know your work on XYZ made all the difference.”

These are simple activities and can help you ease into January. You don’t have to do them all. But definitely clean out your email inbox. Trust me on that one.

Part Six of the Modern Communications Plan: What Will You Actually DO?

A well thought out communications plan has a set action plan. That’s not to say this section doesn’t allow for change. But having a baseline of activities tied to a communications strategy will give meaning to what your team does on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

This tactics section should include all the things you’re going to actually do.

 

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If media relations is part of your strategy mix, how are you going to go about executing that program? Pitch story ideas, make announcements (and what kind and how often?) via press releases, attempt editorial coverage in trade media or the business press or other? Will you need an internal editorial calendar to motivate internal staff to contribute?

But, beware. Whenever you feel your communications plan is “all over the place,” look to see if your team is stuck in just staying busy.

Instead of making decisions on the fly to hold a contest on Facebook, how will this activity move your branding, communications goals and strategy forward? Thinking about developing a PSA series? Why? Is your audience particularly visually focused and enjoys videos? (See the target audience section.) And, how will you ensure they actually see them? (See communications channel section.) Is your team working on providing stakeholders with tool kits to help spread the word? Again, why? Have your stakeholders requested this? And how will that further the reach of your messages to the right people?

The tactical section also informs the resources needed and timeline you must employ. Get as detailed as you believe you need to, depending on the size and characteristics of your communications execution team. Some people need a detailed road map, while others do not. Regardless, put at least the highest level tactics into a master calendar.

Know some strategies are not easily predicted, such as media relations and social media efforts. They are iterative in nature and require your ability to be agile and act on unforeseen results. For instance, you may issue some news and find 12 target media outlets interested in the story. You may have to drop everything to handle the interest. Or, you may find you’ll have to push your stories and messages harder than first anticipated. Build in some room in your timeline to manage the level of success (or failure) that is reached.

Next up? The “we won’t” list..

Read the entire modern communications template here.

How to Lose Your Reputation in One Day

A positive reputation can take years to build. That same reputation can be lost in one day.

For thirty years, I’ve advised business leaders and organizations that no amount of my public relations services can overcome bad customer service. Sadly, that advice became more real to me over the last week.

An Internet services company I have loved and referred dozens of organizations to, has been put on my “never use again” list. It took exactly one day to go from hero to zero with me and my client that they screwed.

Below is the story with names and some details removed. Why do this anonymously? I’m in the business of helping companies, not hurting them. Perhaps this company will turn itself around or make this situation right. I am not holding my breath for either. But I won’t add to the damage. As a business leader, just use this case study to be better.

Here’s the story. Three years ago, my largest client needed an Internet hosting company to host a blog for a major program. This program has grown so exponentially, it’s presence is now on CBS television. Their blog grew alongside them — until last week. The blog site just . . . disappeared. We called the hosting company, which announced it had decommissioned the server it’d been hosted on, and the blog failed to get moved to the new server. Here’s the kicker: they had no backup. You read that right. This company had no back-up of a site it hosted for three years. The site was gone. For forever.

Know what else? This blog, which was hosted elsewhere prior to moving it to this-company-that-shall-not-be-named, had years of history. All told, six years of blog posts, images and more have been lost.

Know how they responded to our angst over this? “We’re sorry. There’s nothing we can do. Here’s your several hundred dollar hosting fee you spent over the years. Goodbye.”

Our repeated requests to talk to managers and to get a better explanation than ‘oh well’ went unanswered. My client, which has an international presence and is associated with major, household brands, is now in the position of recreating the blogsite. Do you think this company will pay for the time and effort to make this happen? Nope. Not one cent has been offered, even when we asked. In fact, they refuse to talk to us. Pure radio silence.

So, there you have it. One mistake, a failure to manage your business well (what hosting company doesn’t have backups?), and a pitiful customer service response put this company not just in the doghouse but in the “worst experience ever” category.

Don’t let this be you. No public relations in the world can turn around blatant disregard and care of clients and their assets.

(Oh, and ensure back ups. You’d think that lesson would have been learned long ago.)

How To Be An Ideal PR Client

You want the best public relations and communications support you can get. As a communications firm, we also want to provide the best service and results as possible. Communications is a partnership business. To ensure your investment is put to good use, below are five ways to make sure your communications or PR firm is set up for success on your behalf.

  1. Be available. You don’t hire a PR firm and then walk away. Expect to hear from them a lot, especially in the first few months of the relationship. We need to know your unique stories, background, objectives, people, and culture in order to portray you in the best light. By communicating to us often, we are able to better communicate YOU to the external world.
  2. Ask us questions. If you don’t understand what we are doing or why, please let us know. Some of us have been in the business of reputation and image management a long time. We often instinctively take action given our experience. This means we are being efficient, but we also want you to be comfortable with our work.
  3. Share with us as much as you can. This means telling us about your business, your wins and successes, and, yes, even your failures. We can’t help you, if we don’t know what’s going on. I have yet to hear a PR person say a client gave them too much information. We are insatiable information consumers.
  4. Tell us how we are doing. We can’t fix problems if we don’t know they exist. Not getting along with a team member? Not happy with the way something is worded? Unclear as to why something happened the way it happened? Let us know and we can fix it. We’re problem solvers.
  5. Share your ideas. You know your business better than anyone. Have an idea that you think would positively impact your reputation, image or story? Let us know. We come loaded with ideas, but we want to do what works no matter where it comes from.

When You Should Avoid Hiring a PR Firm

I know it sounds odd for a PR person to write that there may be a time with hiring PR counsel is a bad idea. But, having been in the business for 27 years has shown me that there are situations where public relations will not help you but rather just frustrate you. Below are some of those scenarios:

  • Your staff doesn’t care. I don’t mean they aren’t on the same page or have their own ideas about the correct business strategy.  I mean, they don’t believe in your organization or your products and services. You’ve already  lost the battle here. Work on them first.
  • You are in a leadership transition. Your key staff people have left and you are in a significant hiring mode. This doesn’t mean you don’t continue to communicate with your publics. In fact, you need to increase the level of communication to your stakeholders, customers and others during this time. But, hiring a new firm should wait until you have key people in place.
  • The CEO or executive team doesn’t believe in public relations. If you don’t think we can help you, why hire us? Having your PR firm spend endless hours “justifying” their existence is a waste of your investment dollars. Unfortunately, I have been in those meetings where it comes up, spent hours on reports to just “prove a point,” and talked my team “off the ledge” after being told again and again that what they do “doesn’t matter.” It is a fruitless activity for both of us. Either your reputation matters to the C Suite, or it doesn’t.
  • You have no spokesperson and aren’t interested in having one. Public relations is a partnership, where we tell your story on your behalf. But, this does not exclude you from telling it, either.  When the Wall Street Journal or NBC Nightly News calls, someone from your company has to be able to face the microphone. They should be articulate, well steeped in the messaging, sound human, and be passionate about the company and what it does. It helps if they have the “right” title for the messaging, too. (More on that later.)
  • Your issue is asking a lot of society, and you want to rely on a PR firm to make it happen. This last one is tough. I almost didn’t write it. But, it has to be put on the table. PR people won’t ever be able to adopt the level of passion you  have for your work. We get pretty enthusiastic. But, if you believe passionately that the public is wrong about its perception or ideas or something needs to change at a society level, you need to lead the troops. PR people aren’t mercenaries (as much as we’ve been called that).I realize the women’s suffrage movement, Planned Parenthood, The Civil Rights movement – they were all pushing rocks up hills, right? Yes. And, they won because the people who took those ideas on were the people who had the most at stake. If your issue is that charged – be willing to take it on, directly, and not have a PR firm be your front line. Use us as support.

I expect to get push back on this last one. Feel free. I would love to hear what you have to say in the comments section.

 

The E-Mail I Hate Getting the Most From Clients

Just fix it. I hear this statement a few times a year. It usually comes after a message isn’t carried correctly in a news report or the CEO’s name was misspelled. (Yes, that still happens. Even in the age of Google.)

Every once in a while, though, I get this little line e-mailed to me after a client cut us out of the loop on a media interview. We don’t expect to be on the phone with clients for every single interview. But, if you have a PR firm, it would be wise to:

a) let them know someone from the press contacted you

b) talk out some key messaging before the interview, and

c) let us follow up with the reporter or blogger to make sure they have images, your bio, other background, and got the right ideas and messages from you. (You’d be surprised how many will recap the interview with us, giving us a good chance to correct any misperceptions.)

But, unfortunately, too often this doesn’t happen. The head of sales or the engineer or anyone else in the company thinks it’s not big deal to just give an interview. (Sorry to pick on sales and the techies, but this is where it happens the most.) Then the story comes out and someone higher up starts e-mailing like mad to find out “what happened.” (Naturally, we are “cc-ed” because it must be our fault.)

Right about then, we get the “fix it” e-mail. All in a day’s work, or would you rather have your PR dollars spent on getting opportunities rather than sweeping up later?

What Does a PR Person Do All Day?

The PR person’s job is probably one of the most misunderstood jobs of all. No, we don’t go to parties every night, we don’t “spin” tall tales to reporters, and we don’t slap backs at fundraisers and festivals to appear part of the “in” crowd (though we aren’t above shaking hands and introducing ourselves to anyone we feel needs to hear our clients’ stories). The other day I decided to log a day-in-the-life of a PR person, namely my day. Here is what it looked like:

In one day, between reading, sorting and replying to no less than 75 e-mails and receiving several phone calls, I:

  • Started a PR plan for a client’s new communications program.
  • Wrote a script for a workshop I was to co-deliver with a client on the new messaging we helped them craft.
  • Held 2 one-hour conference calls with 2 separate clients – one to strategize on an upcoming event and the other as part of our monthly check-in how things are going.
  • Had coffee with someone wanting to get into PR.
  • Took a quick, 30 minute peek at Twitter-Facebook-Pinterest-RSS feeds.
  • Wrote a press release, including having 2 phone calls with the client to “get it just right.”
  • Talked with 3 reporters, requesting one correction and setting up two interviews.
  • Counseled  one of my consultants about a media strategy that wasn’t going well.
  • Developed a report for a client’s upcoming Board of Director’s meeting.
  • Completed a message “audit” of one (out of 6) competitors for a client in preparation of an upcoming messaging session.

In essence, I wrote, researched and talked all day with a focus on preparing and getting out client’s stories to the right people, with a little bit of smoothing wrinkled brows when things didn’t go as planned. Not exactly a party, but rather what it takes to make progress in the game of influencing.

 

UVA and Bad Public Relations From Someone Who Lives Here

As a long-time public relations counselor, it is painful to watch the PR debacle around the ousting of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan by its Board of Visitors. As a long-time “C-villian,” it is agonizing.

When blunders are obvious to the man on the street (poorly worded public statements, the media reports around hiring of a PR firm to “burnish” an image, secret meetings and seemingly blatant truth hiding), you know you’ve got trouble. And, the PR gaffes seem to continue. The damage done to the reputation of UVA will take years to overcome.

But, something else pains me about this whole PR nightmare. The impact it is having on Charlottesville, overall.

I am not a UVA graduate. I have not worked for the University. But, I am member of this community. I grew up just 25 miles outside of Charlottesville, and returned in 1999 to make this town my home. I remember the days when UVA was “just a school” and not considered a top school to attend, as it is now. I remember the days when Charlottesville would never have landed on the lists of  “best places to live in the United States” as it so often does now. I remember the days when the Charlottesville downtown mall — lauded as one of the most successful walking malls in the country — was crime-ridden and lined with abandoned store fronts. Today it is now a thriving destination for the arts, dining and shopping. In fact, I am often told by UVA graduates — my stepson included — once they get to Charlottesville, they never want to leave. I understand.

But, the utter lack of transparency and authenticity displayed bu UVA’s Board, and the disrespect shown to the larger community by an institution, which calls itself a cornerstone of our economy, history and population, boggles the mind. Why can’t they just tell their community what is really happening? And, why continue to keep the doors closed?  It would do well for the Board of Visitors and Rector Dragas to remember what Thomas Jefferson, founder of UVA, said: “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

How To Know It Is Time For Public Relations

I often hear from colleagues that they believe public relations (though they don’t always call it that) is as important as managing a business’ finances. Yet, when it comes time to actually launch a formal communications effort, suddenly PR is a “nice to have, but not necessary” activity. I have been a professional communicator for more than 25 years. To save you lost time, if you have any of the symptoms below you need to run, not walk, to the nearest PR firm. You are missing or losing business every day.

  • You can’t remember or seem to focus your message. Or worse, it changes every few weeks.
  • You see or read about your competition more often than you read or see your own company’s news.
  • You repeatedly hear surprise from potential customers that you exist or that you offer what you offer.
  • You hear things out of your employees mouths on the phone, in trade show booths, in the media, and in sales calls that make you wonder who they work for (because it can’t be your company).
  • Your Web site hasn’t gone uder a message and content refresh in more than 5 years.
  • People are talking about you, publicly, and you feel it isn’t too bad so why get into it?
  • You think social media is for the birds and just a fad.
  • You have no communications staff, haven’t hired any communications help, and trust that everyone is just “doing their best at telling our story” and that “good enough is enough.”

But, this wouldn’t apply to you, would it?

The Modern Strategic Communications Plan

If you google “how to write a communications plan” you will receive thousands of hits containing templates, advice and guidance on how to take your reach, influence and visibility to new heights. But, if those suggested formats were written before 2009, they aren’t complete. Here’s why.

Smart organizations develop a communications plan that will help steer you and your colleagues to greater reach and influence. But, today’s communication plans must include strategies and timelines that a few years ago were not even possible. The new communications game of visibility demands a new way of thinking.

Just a few trends coloring today’s communication landscape include the democratization of information and influence by social media, the introduction of tiny messages (140 characters or less), the rise of the visual medium and entertainment (games), a reduction in objective journalism, and content going mobile. Add a whole new generation of workers who don’t communicate or consume information anything like previous generations along with a coming mass exodus of the baby boomers into retirement and one could say it’s not just a whole new ballgame. It’s a whole new sport.

Are you ready?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll break down each part of the planning process for a communications effort that fits modern times. Yes, that means social media will be addressed. But, we also will discuss the rise of storytelling over messaging, the breakdown of the communications heirarchy, having a content management strategy, having a “we won’t” list, and more.

What is perplexing you about today’s communications landscape? I’ll try to address it in this series.