Whose Truth Is It, Anyway?

I had an interesting interchange with a colleague, Karen Swim, President of Words for Hire in Detroit, on social media recently. The thing that prompted our discussion was her posting of this article from Forbes about a new analytics program called Protagonist which is claimed to help “better manage communications strategies.”

That sounds good, and if it does what it says it does it could be very meaningful, but I have my concerns for one simple reason. Computer programs are only as objective and (ironically) as analytical as the programmers who create them. If the creators have a very specific worldview, that worldview becomes the benchmark against what all other data will be analyzed and judged.

While I have not used the program in question, my point to Karen was that the red flag for me was that the program was described as being “free from bias.”

Karen’s thoughtful reply: “The issue is not in having biases, we all do, but acknowledging them and allowing for differing perspectives and opinions.”

Yes!!!

In recent weeks, I’ve seen countless articles on what were the big stories of 2017 and what were people’s predictions for 2018. I’ve learned not to try to predict, but there are some trends worth watching. One of them will be the continued evolution of technologies that are designed to replace human analytical thinking.

Consider artificial intelligence and machine learning. From self-driving cars to robots that can enter hazardous environments, sparing human lives. These all show great promise.

But before we surrender too much of our thinking to our digital minders, I’d offer this. When we start to dive deep into the development of communications strategies, when we have to identify biases, issues and concerns, in the end, we have to confront our own biases, our own worldviews and factor them into our own analysis of the data that’s before us.

This all starts with the acceptance of the notion that no one has exclusive claim to the truth. A respect for other points of view can be very situational, and very much based on emotion, morals and ethics in ways a software program cannot adequately take into account.

From there we can create context, the kind of context our clients and organizations need to make informed decisions. Not just factually informed decisions based on algorithms and what attitudes seem to be trending online. Rather, the best communications decisions are ones that are informed by offline factors such as emotion, experience, common sense, empathy and an understanding of human nature that all still rely on skilled and experienced professionals to interpret and manage.

A PR Clinic in the Snow: Christmas Lessons at 6th and Grant

I’m not sure when school let out right before Christmas break, but I do remember a few times on the last school day before Christmas I was able to rush home and then with my mom take the trolley to Downtown before my dad finished work.

For me and just about every other kid, Downtown was the place to be around the holidays. There were three major department stores – Gimbel’s, Joseph Horne’s, and Kaufmann’s – and usually depending on which one was closest to your trolley or bus stop, that was your family’s go-to place. Ours was Gimbel’s.

As you approached the store in the dark and the cold, you’d be greeted by those well-lit and colorful Christmas dioramas in the windows. You’d start to feel the warmth even before you spun through those heavy brass revolving doors.

Bright lights, and garland of red and green, gold and silver, blue and purple, all glittering and sparkling everywhere you looked, and shiny new things that my mom said not to even think about wanting. The 11th floor at the top of the escalator was my destination, even long after the reality of Santa Claus had set in. That was where they had the good stuff.

After that, we’d hit the lunch counter at a nearby restaurant which had the best hamburger, chocolate milk and French fries you could want.

But before all of this Christmas sensory overload, we’d stop by the corner of Pittsburgh’s Sixth Avenue and Grant Street, right in front of the William Penn Hotel. That’s where I’d watch my dad work for a few minutes before he’d visit with us. He was a traffic cop who seemed more like the host of a constantly unfolding social event, rather than just someone who pointed cars and trucks in the right direction.

There always seemed to be someone else standing on one of the four corners of the intersection wanting his attention, wanting to talk to him about something. I’d watch him get traffic moving and then make his way over to whomever seemed to have a need.

That mom and her kids across from me wanted him to give them directions. Another man asked my dad if he knew a good place for shoe repair. A college student wanted to know where to get a good fish sandwich. A young man in a Marine uniform asked my dad if the Pittsburgh Police Department would be hiring new officers soon. These were the little things, and they were non-stop.

Sometimes he’d tell me about other things people approached him about. He once told me about a woman who had passed by his corner for years with nothing more than a smile and a pleasant “Hello.” But one day, she stopped to talk. She told him that her adult son had gotten into some trouble and she didn’t know where to turn. He gave her the names of some people he thought could help. Not coincidentally, these, too, were people he had met and gotten to know on this very corner.

Doctors and lawyers, executives and CEOs, bus and delivery drivers. As their routine took them through the intersection of Sixth and Grant, sooner or later many got to know my dad and all were the better for it. He was a visitor’s bureau with a badge, who every now and then had to keep the peace along with direct traffic, and he loved just about every minute of it. Anyone who knew him would tell you that.

At Christmas, people who walked by his corner seemed to have the holiday spirit and the mood was always upbeat.  There is something about seeing your dad do his thing out in the world when you’re a young boy. As I watched my dad in action, he seemed larger than life. I was proud of him.

He was in his element. Almost no one got away from him without a handshake or a pat on the shoulder.

So, what does this all mean to PR?

My dad gave me a lot of good advice over the years, but it was probably his example that taught me the most. This was most predictably evident when I watched him do his job.

To him it wasn’t about directing traffic. It was about people. It was about being a goodwill ambassador. It was about helping. Clearly when I think about it, he understood as much as anyone the value in helping people connect with each other in meaningful ways. He created community.

That’s the life lesson I learned without a word in the falling snow on the corner of Sixth and Grant during the Christmas season.

Why Emotional Language is More Powerful than Facts

In more and more situations of late, I have found myself counseling clients that the facts can’t speak for themselves, and that we need to frame facts in the proper context with a little help from emotion. It would seem that in today’s communications environment, one person’s fact is another person’s opinion.

What does seem to break through is anger, fear, joy, surprise, sadness and trust, though some emotions seem to dominate more than others.

ESPN’s Emotional Decision Leads to Overwhelmingly Emotional Reaction

Consider the recent decision ESPN made not to have Asian-American broadcaster Robert Lee call an upcoming University of Virginia football game in September. At the center of the decision was the fact  that Robert Lee, the announcer, shares a name with the late Confederate General Robert E. Lee. That would seem to be all that they have in common.

An ESPN spokesperson told SI.com the rationale was based on what SI.com described as the possibility of “potential mockery that could come from doing the game.”

In a statement, ESPN said, “We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name. In that moment it felt right to all parties. It’s a shame that this is even a topic of conversation and we regret that who calls play-by-play for a football game has become an issue.”

Needless to say, the social media backlash was immediate, viral and quite emotional.

Don’t Make Decisions Based on Emotion

Notice that in explaining its decision, ESPN said “in that moment it felt right.” That’s hardly a justification for any decision. In fact, just about every mistake we make as imperfect human beings can be traced back to such a statement.

“In that moment it felt right.”

What this reinforces is that when making decisions, leaders and managers must do so devoid of emotion while maintaining a sense of the emotional impact of those decisions.

Use Emotions to Influence

The ESPN case illustrates how an emotional narrative drove the network to make an ill-advised decision that in the end brought on the network the very thing it was trying to avoid.

If you want to influence somebody, use emotion. Sellers do this every day. Cars are not sold on the basis that they run better than other cars. They are sold because of the emotional statement they make about you. You are successful. You care about the environment. You are fun. The car you choose makes a statement about you.

The same can be said for the kind of beer you buy, the clothes you wear, the vacation destinations you choose. Each decision you make is based at least in part on how that decision makes you feel. Your emotions.

With this in mind, the language you choose to convince others should consider the facts for the sake of credibility (something ESPN should have done), and then communicate in emotional terms. Here are some examples:

Ultimately, both emotions and facts have their place in the decision-making and communications process. The key is to know when and where to rely on facts, and when messages must be delivered at an emotional level to truly connect.

O’Brien Communications conducts research and programs to help clients find the right balance between emotions and facts in the messaging and language they feature in their communications and marketing programs.

This May Make You Think Twice Next Time Someone Tells You that You’re Over-qualified

You may have been wondering about this for a while. But if you’ve been told you’re over-qualified for a particular position, here is what certain hiring managers may really be telling you.

They think you’re too old.

Yes, the EEOC has regulations against age discrimination, but it still happens on occasion. One way this happens is when an untrustworthy hiring manager tells you that you’re over-qualified, increasing the likelihood that the job goes to someone younger.

They don’t trust that you’ll adapt to new ways, new technologies.

All too often, this concern is valid, but it’s a faulty generalization on the employer’s part. If you’re in the business of communications and you haven’t kept up with the latest communications tech, you reinforce their concerns. If you want to stay relevant, then stay abreast of changing operating processes, systems and communications technologies.

The manager feels threatened by you.

Not many managers like to be upstaged or second-guessed by a subordinate, even those who pride themselves on surrounding themselves with the best people. Some managers don’t like to hire potential rivals who could serve as natural leaders within the work group, and possibly serve as an easy replacement should the manager not perform.

You’re perceived as too expensive.

Even if you’re willing to take a pay cut in order to get the job, as a veteran professional there is a good chance your health benefits and other non-monetary forms of compensation will be important to you. And there is an increased likelihood that you will use those benefits which younger staffers often ignore. In the end, when you take into consideration these sorts of hidden costs, seasoned employees can tend to be more expensive than younger ones.

You may not buy what they are selling.

So, you’ve been through a couple of reorganizations already. You’ve experienced change, and maybe you’ve even led a change-management program or two. Your experience has taught you what works and what doesn’t. Now you’re talking to a potential employer that prides itself on a “new approach” to doing things. It’s not that you won’t take it where it needs to go. You may even be able and willing to perfect it in your own role. But if you’re in the least bit skeptical and it shows, don’t expect to get the job.

Chemistry with younger coworkers could be an issue.

Even if you are willing to come to work every day with an open mind and a complete commitment to finding common ground with your younger coworkers, there is a chance they may not feel the same way. Some may want their coworkers to be friends away from work, too, since work is as much a social experience as a professional one. They may want to work with people who are like them, in the same life stages, have the same questions they have, and have the same worldview. Unfortunate as it is, even some of the most inclusive workplaces still have a way to go in creating cohesive work environments that cross generations.

Usually when someone tells you that you are over-qualified for a particular position, they will explain that their fear is that once something more to your level of qualifications comes a long you’ll bolt for greener pastures. While there are cases where this is true, given the relatively large talent pool of “over-qualified” candidates on the market at the moment, there’s a good chance their concern is not warranted or genuine.

If you happen to be someone who has been told you are over-qualified, perhaps one of the best strategies to consider is niching yourself as someone seeking to scale back in your career and focus on your core strengths and duties you’ve grown to love over the years. And then make sure that in this context, you have a preemptive message on each of the six possible concerns cited in this post.

As a consultant, I rarely encounter the issue of “over-qualification” directly, but I see how it affects others almost every day in my work.

You may also find some good resources on CareerBuilder.com, Indeed.com, Monster.com,  and GlassDoor.com.

So, what are your “over-qualification” stories? I’d love to hear

This is One Reason Why I Don’t Respond to Every RFP I Get

I respectfully declined to participate in a couple Request-for-Proposals (RFPs) recently, telling them I wasn’t the best fit. This was true but perhaps I was being diplomatic as well. If I were brutally honest, I probably would have told them that the reason I didn’t respond was that even if I did win the work, I didn’t trust them or the process.

Let me be clear. I do selectively respond to RFPs, and I have participated in many professionally managed RFP processes. But all too often, the playing field feels a bit tilted.

It would be easy for me to get into my rationale, but maybe a better way is to take a composite dubious RFP and give it the “in other words” treatment. Here goes:

Overview:

The Acme Organization is seeking to engage a communications agency to create and implement a communications plan that will generate sales leads and corresponding market share to become the #1 player in the marketplace in the coming year.

In other words, we haven’t found a way to raise awareness, generate sales leads and increase market share to this point, so now we are ready to try PR. With that in mind, if PR doesn’t solve our problems, and if our past patterns of poor organizational performance continue we can now blame PR.

About Acme Organization:

Acme is a privately held firm located in the hometown of its founder somewhere in the Midwest, far away from any major media centers. The company was founded over 100 years ago and has primarily grown on the good reputation of its work.

In other words, we have insulated ourselves from the national business and trade media and other stakeholders for decades. PR would represent a complete philosophical and cultural shift for us. Change is never easy.

Scope of Work:

Proposals should include the following items:

Background/Experience:

A statement of your firm’s background and experience that will include biographies of key personnel assigned to the project; the organizational structure, including in-house staff and external consultants or resources to be used.

In other words, we want to know you will not delegate this program to junior staff. And, since anyone on the team could be a potential liability we don’t want to be blindsided. At the same time, we know that your sharing of the inner workings of your firm will also give us the added benefit to micromanage when the situation calls for it.

Case Studies:

Three-four examples that demonstrate your success in planning a similar communications program. Your case study should include sample creative work. It should also include, problem, strategy, solution, action steps, and budget.

In other words, show us similar work you have done in the past so we know you aren’t lying about your experience, but also so that we have some good reference material for ourselves and our team going forward.

Solution:

Describe how you will approach development of a communications plan for Acme, the systems and tools you will use, and your timeline for developing and implementing the plan.

In other words, while we are asking you to propose development of a communications program as part of your paid assignment, we really want you to do the bulk of that now, customized for free with no assurances that you will be compensated for any of your original thinking.

Budget:

Detail the number of hours and hourly rate for team members assigned to the project over its duration, and any related out-of-pocket costs. Identify any subcontractors and the kinds of service to be provided. Detail design and development costs for any print, television or digital media.

In other words, we know you can’t give us the budget numbers in the specificity we have detailed without creating a comprehensive communications approach in blind faith on your part. This budget and the accompanying program provided on spec will serve as a good reference for us and the firm we select.

Criteria for Selection:

Our decision will be based on the qualifications and experience of your firm, the program design and/or solution you offer, and cost.

In other words, we may already have someone in mind who has the qualifications and experience we desire at the cost we want, but this RFP process could be an exercise just to make it look fair. Or, we really may be doing our best to be fair, but at the end of the day, we’re asking you to spend countless hours away from your paying clients to impress us. For our part, we will make no assurances that we will select you, compensate you, or not “borrow” some of the original thinking (the kind clients normally pay fair value for) included in your proposal.

What Can a Traffic Cop Teach You About Business and Communications?

My dad’s birthday was always around or on Father’s Day, so the annual flurry of sentimental social media posts I see from others often spurs me to reflect on my own dad. So, when it all came around this year, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the lessons he taught me about business and communications, even though he spent the majority of his own working life as a police officer.

Outside of starting his career after World War II in the steel mill for a couple years, for the most part his career involved donning a City of Pittsburgh Police uniform every day. He started as a beat cop and eventually, he was assigned a corner (Grant & 6th) and that was his domain, directing traffic and keeping the peace for roughly 20 years or so.

So, when I contemplated a career in business and communications, what could a guy like that glean from his work and life experience to serve as my most important mentor? Quite a bit, actually, but I’ll narrow it to four things.

Reading People

One of the things he was best at was sizing someone up from first glance to handshake, which all could have transpired in a matter of seconds or minutes. While he wasn’t one to make snap judgements, he had learned how to quickly detect whether someone was real or not, well-intentioned or not, hiding something or not. This usually involved an instinctive trust of his own read of nonverbal communications, such as eye contact, body language, etc. This came in handy on the job, but it also carried over into his daily life. If he sensed someone was “faking it,” it took quite a while for that person to shed his suspicion.

The Importance of Genuineness

As much as he valued genuineness in other people, he strived to be the real thing in his own dealings with others. He was positive, open and friendly, which made him very popular around the Downtown area. Sometimes I used to stop by his corner while he was working, and you’d have thought he was running for mayor when he wasn’t out in the middle of the intersection keeping traffic flowing. He was liked because he genuinely liked other people and it was obvious.

Respect for the Individual

As I grew up and began my own career, my dad was at once my father, my friend and all too often my sounding board. Whenever I ran into something or someone I didn’t understand, I’d get frustrated and often air out my frustrations in talks with my father. He was a good listener, and even though he didn’t always have the perfect life experience for the situations I may have faced, he was always able to bring it back to people. More to the point, if I could sum a typical “counseling session” with my dad, it would go like this. I’d ramble about somebody who was making my life difficult at the time, for whatever reasons, and he’d come back with, “It takes all kind of people to make the world go ‘round.” This was his constant way of reminding me to come back to center. To remember that not everyone sees things the way I do, and to be open to that.

Doing the Right Thing

Being a police officer then and now has its moments. If something happened in Downtown Pittsburgh that required a police response, there was a good chance he was called in, along with so many other fellow officers. He didn’t often talk in detail about every call or every situation he faced, but he didn’t shy away from it, either. As his son, what I most often remember was that whatever the situation, the moral of the story for me, which he always made clear was, “You have to do the right thing.”

This meant doing what was expected of you by your superiors, by society, and in the end by your own moral compass. What honor is there in doing the right thing only when other people are looking, he would say. You have to do the right thing all the time.

Those are some of the lessons I received at the University of Dad, though they never show up on my LinkedIn profile.

I’m sure you learned some valuable life and career lessons from your own dad. Feel free to share in the comments section below.

When Reporters Ask, “What’s new in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade this year?”

St. Patrick’s Day is this Friday, but for most Pittsburghers, like those in a few other cities, parade day this past Saturday was the big day. We always have our parade on the Saturday before or on the 17th.  This year’s parade was as early in March as it gets. Next year’s parade will be on St. Patrick’s Day, the 17th.

In handling communications and public relations for the annual event, I’ve learned to anticipate a handful of questions from editors and reporters every year.  One of the most common ones is, “What’s new in the parade this year?”

On the surface, the answer may center on a celebrity who will make a guest appearance one year. Maybe another year we’ll have a set of new bands, entertainers or Irish acts.  Always new is the Grand Marshal or Miss Smiling Irish Eyes, each of whom usually has a very impressive and very Irish story to tell.

Each of these stories can be news in their own right, but with all due respect, the focus on a particular parade participant can sometimes overlook what really draws upwards of 350,000 to Downtown on a seasonably warm March day.  To be sure, this past Saturday was anything but seasonably warm.

If I said it’s all about family and tradition, that may wash over you.  You hear that all the time about other things.  So, I’ll attempt to explain what appears to make every parade a new one for those who take part.  Here is what was new this year.

  • This year, little Katie and Sean are another year older, and they came to the parade with their mom and dad, who have come to the parade with their parents for decades.  That was new.
  • They looked for their aunts who marched with an LAOH Division, alongside their own aunts and cousins in their smart Irish sweaters and sashes.
  • The kids danced more this year because they love music, and after the parade, they went to a party with their grandpap.  Katie told her pap she wants to be Miss Smiling Irish Eyes someday and ride in a horse-drawn carriage. That was new.
  • This year, another family spent a lot of time remembering someone who was their mother, grandmother, sister respectively, who they lost this past year.  She never missed a parade, so they celebrated her memory on this parade day.
  • On Saturday, a young couple searched and found a spot on the Boulevard of the Allies where she used to perch on her dad’s shoulder as a little girl with her own family. This is their first parade as a married couple, so they started a new Pittsburgh St. Patrick’s Day Parade tradition.
  • A Pittsburgh firefighter marched alongside his 12-year old daughter.  He and she sang Irish songs, and his feet never touched the ground.
  • A bagpiper tested out his new hip for the 1.4 mile walk on Grant Street to the Boulevard of the Allies.  He used a vision of this very parade as a focal point throughout his physical therapy journey.
  • A radio reporter/producer who’s always been in the habit of covering the parade marched in the parade this year as a Civil War re-enactor.

Now, multiply these everyday stories by the thousands. That’s what was new in the parade this year.  Sure, this isn’t the stuff of viral social media stories and hashtags.  You won’t find any of it trending on Twitter, but it is what brings people by the hundreds of thousands to Downtown Pittsburgh each March. 

Family.  Community. Tradition. 

These are the things that bind Pittsburghers and why this parade rivals those in cities much larger in size. 

In fairness, how can a news organization hook a story on that?

Perhaps it’s the parade’s grand brevity fueled by these values.

Pardon the Scottish reference, but think of the stage musical production Brigadoon.  That’s a story of a charming little village that rises out of the mists every 100 years but only for a day.

In Pittsburgh, this time every year, we leave our houses after a long and cold winter, wearing our green.  On this one day, Pittsburgh becomes that village that rises out of the mists once a year to usher back outdoor life in the city we love.

We do it in the name of celebrating our region’s Irish heritage.  It is that and much more.  Those of Irish descent and many who just want to be Irish for the day are ready to celebrate.  And while that may not be “new” it never gets old.

You Don’t Have to be On Stage to Make Your Technical Content Sing

It doesn’t matter whether you have a presentation to deliver, an article to write, or a blog post to prepare, you have some pretty complex or technical information to convey and you’re just not sure how you’re going to connect.

It could be anything. A new medical device.  A legal or financial strategy. A component that enables your smart phone to work better.  A chemical coating that protects your car’s paint from sun damage.

To be sure, each one of these topics can be a cure for insomnia…if you let it.

So, you must ask yourself, “How do I clearly, thoroughly and accurately present information of a highly technical or complex nature and not lose my audience?”

The simple answer is to tell a story.  Tell an interesting story.  Make it about people not data, or components or acronyms.  Put the information in the context of how it helps the reader, the viewer, the site visitor – real people – at all times.

Numbers Can Talk

One of my most memorable examples of this was when I was working for a tech company and we conducted a series of investor road shows.

The first couple of times we did it, I watched the analysts nearly fall to sleep as senior management led off with a detailed tutorial on how the company’s technology worked and where it fit within the network.

But when the CFO stood up to speak, delivering a set of dry but highly respectable numbers, the analysts perked up, some even sitting on the edge of their seats.  The order of things seemed to be the problem.

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So, counterintuitively, I suggested we change things up.  Let’s lead with the numbers and then explain what they mean, rather than the more common approach which was to give background before showing the numbers.

It worked.  The management team would talk about impressive sales figures, earnings per share, and the kind of cash reserves that allowed for potential growth through mergers and acquisitions.

In doing this, both the CFO and CEO grabbed the attention of the audience and planted the right questions in the minds of the attendees.  Can the company keep this performance up? What will they do with their cash reserves?  Will they try to grow organically or through M&A?

The rest of the presentation was the story – the context – of how the company could deliver results, what its strategy for the future would be, and above all, what it all meant to shareholders.

In the end, the company’s story was not really about the company at all, but about what the company’s performance meant to people.

Starting Points

If you have some technical information to relate and you don’t know where to start, begin with the people behind the new development or advancements. Who are they? Why did they see a problem?  What inspired them? What made their journey to a solution so innovative or interesting?

Find out more about the people to be impacted by the innovation or new technology. Who are they?  Why will they benefit?  How will they benefit? Will this change their lives in any way?

The answers to these questions can help turn technical information into understanding.  It can help your targeted audiences relate.

Your challenge is to put it all into an order that provide a cohesive narrative, one that takes the story from its beginning to its end, starting with the problem or challenge as it manifests itself in human terms. Then describe the process towards the solution.  This is the story that will open your audience’s eyes to the possibilities.

It’s Thanksgiving! Time (again) to tell your family what you do in public relations

take-pr-off-the-menu

It’s that time of year when you get together with your family and catch up. You can smell the turkey cooking in the oven, the fireplace is roaring, and the football games are on the television.

Everyone’s doing their best to avoid those taboo dinner table topics (some more successful than others), and somewhere between that second helping of green bean casserole and the pumpkin pie, someone asks you once again, “So, tell me, what do you actually do in PR?”

We’ve all been there. Our families often hear us use words like “public relations,” “marketing,” “communications,” or other terms like “social media,” “digital,” and “integrated.”  They want to show an interest.  Maybe more accurately, they want to be interested.  Your mother may even produce the business card you gave her two employers ago to show you she’s always thinking of you.

Now it’s your turn. What do you say this time? How can you make it clear once and for all what you actually do for a living?

If such a question causes frustration for you, let’s take a step back and consider the questions that are really being asked. When a dear loved one asks you what you do, they don’t usually want to know what you really do in terms of tasks.  Here’s what they are really asking:

  • Are you happy in your work? Is it rewarding?
  • Is the stress of work having an effect on you?
  • Do you have time to enjoy life?
  • Is there a future at your current employer or in your field?
  • Is there a chance you could be laid off?

Then, of course, there may be a small bit of curiosity about how public relations people “get away” with making large sums for “typing on a computer.”

So here’s my recommendation.

So, when you get the inevitable question, don’t plunge into a description of tasks you do at work. Don’t use jargon like “digital content” or “market share.”  Don’t drop the names of famous people or well-known brands and companies you may cross paths with through your work.  All of that is a big turnoff and likely to get people to turn the sound down in their minds when your lips are moving.

Instead, try to package your response to answer the questions they are really asking. Let me offer a hypothetical example for your Thanksgiving “elevator speech” that (I’d like to think is true) may address the questions behind the Thanksgiving question, “What do you do in PR?”

“I love my work. Every day I’m always doing something new and meeting new people.  I like the people I work with.  I work with the media, and develop my skills with technology and writing talents.  It’s very rewarding.

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I work hard but have great friends and coworkers. We do things away from work together. I’m taking an art class just for fun, and I joined a gym to stay healthy and fresh.  I feel really great and have learned how to balance work and life.

My field is very exciting. Whether it’s with my current employer or somewhere else, I hear about opportunities all of the time.  Of course, you get out of it what you put into it, but I’m seeing progress.”

OK, I know. Some or all of that may not be true for you. But the point here is at the very least to know the questions behind the question and to answer those questions honestly and sincerely.

Also, I realize that this still does not get at how the field of PR works. Trust me.  I’m a veteran of many Thanksgivings.

Unless you want to clear the dinner table so you can conduct an impromptu Powerpoint presentation on the history of PR, starting with Edward Bernays, I’ve got another idea. When someone asks you, “What is PR?,” just say, “Pass the stuffing, please.”  Works every time.

As always, if you’d like to talk PR with someone who knows how it works, please let me know. I’d be happy to talk turkey.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

When that PR Guru Says You Need a Wakeup Call

wakeup-callThe next time you hear a guru tell the communications industry or public relations field to answer his wakeup call, hit the snooze button.

Let me explain.  Consider this story from my relatively short Boy Scout career.  In that time, I went on many campouts.  Without fail, there was always that kid who woke up before everyone else.  Because he couldn’t sleep, he decided it was everyone else’s time to wake up.

He’d go from tent to tent, nudging us all until we had climbed out of our warm, comfortable sleeping bags, long before we needed to be, just to keep him company in the cold, damp morning air. What he didn’t realize was that he was a unifying force for the entire troop in a mutinous sort of way. His habit of waking us up too early sometimes led to discussions over the morning campfire on how exactly we were going to throw this kid into the lake with his clothes on.newsletter-button

That brings me to the current trend of some self-proclaimed communications visionaries telling the rest of us we need to wake up to the market forces that are changing our operating climate.

Here is how that usually goes.

The speaker delivers what is billed as a “wakeup call” to a communications industry group. Typically, the speech is characterized by “hard truths” the guru believes the industry has not yet demonstrated a willingness to embrace.  Then he tells us his own story, full of examples where he achieved things early in his career that to the best of his knowledge no one has ever before achieved.  He tells us how he challenged the status quo, turned conventional wisdom upside down and became this person who stands before us that we should all aspire to be.

Then he tells us the bad news. We’re focused on the wrong things.  If he’s a digital pro, he’ll tell us we’re too focused on traditional media.  If he’s trying to earn his stripes as a full service pro, he’ll tell us we’re too captivated with digital.  If he just wants attention, he’ll tell us to stop doing something (anything) a certain way, that everything we’re doing is wrong and we need to be smarter about it.

Of course, he may drop in a few vulgarities to shock us and make sure we know he represents a new way of thinking. Often, he’ll remind us that geography no longer matters, and somewhere near the end of the speech, he’ll talk about what’s most important in life beyond business.

Rest Up

Here’s my advice. Rest up.  Or more to the point, do not be alarmed by yet another professional Chicken Little trying to create an iconoclastic personal brand for himself.

The fact is the public relations industry changes and evolves every day. We aren’t doing things the way we did them five, ten or 20 years ago. That’s baked into the profession.  The industry has changed without the need for wakeup calls, and it will continue to evolve.  In other words, change and evolution is what we do.

So the next time some guru stands in front of you and tells you everything you’re doing is wrong and you need a wakeup call, just imagine we’re sitting around a campfire together, on a cool mountain morning, contemplating ways to throw this guy into the lake with his clothes on. I guarantee that you’ll feel much better.

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