Learn the Biz

business planI have been fortunate to work with some amazing professionals in my career, and one thing I’ve learned is for PR people to be respected and appreciated, the focus has to be on more than tactical execution. There has to be a business reason for doing everything. If you are unable to show how your PR program or marketing campaign will directly impact the business’ bottom line, then your senior management team will likely not listen to your thoughts going forward.

In order to prove the value of your programs, you need to put on a business hat. If you don’t have a business background, get one. Either take business classes at the local community college, pursue your MBA or find someone who will teach you.

I had one boss who suggested shadowing others in your business so you get a new appreciation for what they do as well as a better understanding of your company. Spend a day with your accounting team. Sit with your customer service department and listen to calls. Participate in product management team meetings. Schedule a meeting with your CEO or president and listen to what he or she says about your business. Ask about objectives. Take copious notes, and don’t isolate yourself in your office or cubicle. Get out and find ways to learn about your company and the way it does business. I guarantee your perspective will change, and you will be better equipped to speak the language that is needed to convey your point to your CEO and other senior management.

Take what you learn and incorporate it into your plan … remember, I said my mantra is “have a plan, work the plan“. Planning is critically important to the success of a PR or marketing department. Your plan needs to be business-centric, not tactics-centric. Everything you do should be measurable and directly relate back to those business objectives your CEO or president shared.

Let me know what I’m missing.

How I Use Social Media

As a public relations professional, it is expected that I will be up-to-speed on the latest technologies that relate to our business and will better serve organizations with which I work. I first joined LinkedIn more than three years ago as a professional networking site where I can connect with people I know in real life or contacts I have made throughout my career.

From there, I moved on to Facebook. I initially found that it was a great way for me to reconnect with high school and college friends who I haven’t seen since our respective graduations. But my Facebook time has evolved to include far more professional colleagues than I expected and I use those connections to promote activities and events with which I am involved outside of my day-to-day job as well as share brief conversations with personal and professional friends.

After some initial trepidation and confusion about Twitter, I have been active with conversations there for about five months. My Twitter usage is designed to connect me with PR and marketing professionals around the country as well as Oklahoma. Some of my Twitter relationships have moved to real-life connections that have provided me with friendships, professional networking and challenges to my way of thinking. My Twitter profile is my personality through and through. Therefore, it represents my life outside of being a PR and marketing professional. Sometimes those conversations evolve into discussions about personal activities that take place.

While I agree that there are people who share too much information or carry on conversations that are unprofessional, I believe that being open in your dialogue is the epitome of social media. I posted a few weeks ago about my irritation with social media users who focus on building their follower count. To me, it’s not about followers but it’s about conversations and making connections that work well online and off. Whether or not the personal discussions arise, I don’t want to limit the opportunity to connect with someone through one of these channels simply because there is a perceived line between personal and business.

What do you think?

What’s the Plan?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on Why Research is Important. Marketing strategists understand the need for research, whether or not there is a budget for comprehensive, formal methodology. If you are a student of public relations, then you will know that research is the foundation on which all strategy is built.

Photo from Google Images

Photo from Google Images

In PR, there is a four step process which professionals are trained to integrate into their every day activities. Those steps are 1) Research, 2) Planning, 3) Implementation, and 4) Evaluation. My personal favorite is planning. Since the early days of my career, I have truly enjoyed the planning process for clients and organizations. It’s a challenge for me to take the research that has been done and apply it to a program specifically designed for a single organization, defining the measurable objectives and goals, developing the strategies, and determining which tactics will be most effective.

How many times have you sat in brainstorming meetings where the focus tends to center on tactics that others in the room think should be done? Ideas are tossed around, but there is never any discussion of the overriding strategy behind those tactics. That’s been a pet peeve of mine for as long as I can remember. Why don’t more people ask questions about the business goals? What are the sales targets? Who are we really targeting? When does this program have to begin? How long do we have to accomplish our goals? And those are just basic questions that need to be asked …

Without a solid plan in place that answers as many questions as possible, it’s impossible to determine whether or not the program worked. Whether or not a press release is written or the Twitter hashtag is created doesn’t matter if there isn’t a rhyme or a reason as to why that’s being done.

In my nearly 15 years of corporate, agency and non-profit marketing and PR experience, I’ve seen too many programs and campaigns fail miserably because the organization doesn’t want to take the time to put forethought into the process. But the proof is in the pudding — time and time again, the companies that spend a few days early on asking questions and finding the answers will be more successful than those which impatiently focus on execution.

#okieSMart Summary

I attended #okieSMart, a social media conference held in Tulsa last week. It’s taken me a week to put this post together. The full transcript from the conference can be found here.

Peter Shankman was keynote speaker for the event and focused his attention on four key rules of social-media-peoplesocial media plus a bonus. I’ll get to those in a moment. Peter started out by saying that social media doesn’t exist. Instead, we simply have the opportunity to make errors on a much larger scale to a much larger audience. Social media is a mesh of tools that make listening to ongoing conversations easy. Listening is critical for social media to work for an organization. The biggest mistake a company can make is monitoring and listening to conversations on social media platforms yet not acting or responding to those statements made by disgruntled — and satisfied — customers.

The rules, as outlined by Peter, are simple.

1) Transparency — At this point in society, everything we do centers around our brands, whether they are personal or professional. The key with those brands is that everyone associated with them must be as open and honest as possible. Social media tools are requiring that organizations and individuals be more transparent in their thinking and sharing of information. That doesn’t mean everything has to be shared but it does mean that honesty should be the priority. Don’t mislead people by saying one thing and then having another be the reality. Also extremely important to remember, transparency means that if you make a mistake, admit it openly and your audience will likely forgive you and become a fan. If you don’t admit it freely, then you risk losing customers to competitors who are more open.

2) Relevance — Social media tools allow organizations and individuals to listen more carefully to target audiences. By listening, PR professionals can determine the most relevant content and channels through which that information should be shared. The worst thing an organization can do is monitor social media tools but not listen to what is being said. If you expect your message to be heard, then you have to find a way to become more relevant to your audience. If you can’t or won’t, then your customer base will find someone who will give them exactly what they want, when they want it. Take a look at Mandy Vavrinak’s post on for the Journal Record on Relevance to get another perspective.

3) Brevity — Be concise. Kind of a “duh” moment, but the point here is to think in sound bites or Twitter’s 140 characters. Our society is trained to hear bits and pieces of information in three to five seconds. This also means that you need to learn to write well. The day after #okieSMart, I wrote this post for the Journal Record. Get to the point as quickly as you can in a manner that makes sense to your audience. If you can’t, then you’ll lose out again and your audience will move on to someone else who can give them what they want.

4) Top of Mind — Find a way to connect with your audience and you’ll be their source for information continuously. You’ll be the first to come to mind. As Peter said, we only connect with about 3 percent of our network on a regular basis. That leaves 97 percent open and available for others to snatch. If you take the time to touch base with your network, they will be more willing to listen to what you have to say.

And the bonus … Self-promotion — Self-promotion will save the world, according to Peter. Self promotion is relevancy and customer service, and this  will get your customers promoting for you. By choosing the content that is most relevant to your audience and monitoring what is being said about you, your organization will stand above the fray. You won’t have to promote yourself or organization. Others will do it for you because the service you provide is absolutely the best.

Probably nothing new here, but I’m curious about your rules for using social media. Any additions or changes?

Is All PR Good for Business?

trust1

Photo from Google Images

PR stunts are common. For generations, publicists for all types of companies have brainstormed “brilliant” events and tricks to garner attention for their product or service. PT Barnum is one of the more famous individuals in the stunt world, and PR Week published this list of PR stunts that would make Barnum proud.

It recently came to my attention that a car dealership in a northeastern Oklahoma town chose to promote itself by dropping a pickup off the side of a 19-story landmark building. Thousands of people attended this street party and publicity opportunity only to discover that there was no truck but instead the car dealership lowered a banner over the side of the building promoting a cash incentive on said truck. Here is the car dealership’s version; here is a take on the situation as written by a colleague of mine. Watch the video on YouTube here.

While PR stunts like this have been common for many, many years, I’m hesitant to encourage companies to attempt this sort of publicity because it rarely works — more often than not, it completely backfires. While this car dealership may not lose business in its’ small town, one has to wonder whether, in this age of transparency and openness, if the use of traditional tactics as well as as social media to promote an event where the end result focused on generating sales for the dealership is the right move.

I’m a proponent for being upfront, honest and above board with customers, employees and other stakeholders. It’s a matter of integrity for me. I don’t want anyone to question whether or not my business will treat them right or fairly. By choosing to launch a PR stunt like the one described above, it calls into question how the organization will respond in the future.

What do you think? Am I overreacting?

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Fourth Grade

For years, there has been a poster floating around that highlights all the great things we learned as kindergarten students. There are a lot of great things on this poster (“Play fair. Don’t hit people.”) but I have to say that my most profound school year was fourth grade.

My grandmother with me as a baby

My grandmother with me as a baby

My first major lesson came early in the school year. For the first time in my life I faced the reality of death. My grandmother, who I adored, was diagnosed with cancer and gradually faded to skin and bones. The treatment was no longer fighting the cancer and her body was shutting down. Over Labor Day weekend, my family decided it was necessary to gather the clan at the Minnesota homestead. Within hours of us arriving, we had all had the chance to say our goodbyes and my grandmother passed away. For the first time in my life, I was faced with losing someone close to me. For the first time, I saw my dad — my rock — crying. It was an eye-opening experience for me, but at the time I didn’t realize how much I would learn. It was during this long weekend with the family that I found out how important my extended group of relatives are to my life. No matter how much time or distance separates the clan, we are always there for each other. It’s the unconditional love of family that has helped me traverse the maze of life. For that I am eternally grateful.

During fourth grade is also when I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. One assignment we were given was to write a report about a career that interested us. We were to interview someone in that chosen profession as well as research what it would take for us to do that for a living. I chose to talk with my neighbor about his job as PR director for the state’s vocational education program. During our chat, he told me about his daily activities and I was fascinated. I then went on to the library and found out about degree programs and various other paths that would get me into a PR career. From fourth grade on, I took every opportunity to write, participate in school activities that would lead me into a journalism degree program and eventually into PR. In 2001, I had the chance, while working at a PR firm, to participate in an RFP process for my former mentor. While my firm was not selected, it did allow me to tell him “thank you” for his involvement in my career.

Fourth grade may have been just another year for most people, but it was a life-changing year for me. What about you? What year had the biggest impact on your life?

No Egos Allowed

Earlier this week, I attended the first OkieSMart social media conference hosted by PRSA Tulsa, IABC Tulsa and the Tulsa Press Club. The keynote speaker was Peter Shankman, CEO of the Geek Factory and founder of Help a Reporter Out (HARO). I’ve heard Peter speak a few times now, and find him to be entertaining and educational. One thing I find interesting about him is that he is not one to tout his expertise in social media but rather allows others to do that for him. That’s not the case with everyone I’ve run across in the world of Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks.

Several blog posts in recent weeks and months have called into question whether social media experts really exist, and if they do what is important for them to share with you. Check out a few of the ones I came across here, here, and here.

I still wonder what makes one a social media expert. Is it his participation on Twitter? Does it amount to the number of followers she has but not the quality of information she shares? To Peter Shankman, social media is about the quality not the quantity and I have to agree. My fear is that too many people take advantage of the uneducated or uninitiated people who simply hear that social media is the next “big thing” and need to jump on board.

I have run across a number of people who I find to be simply egotistical. To me, ego should not play a role in being a strategic partner for an organization. In my opinion, true counselors leave their own promotion at the door and instead focus on the needs of the organization with which he or she is working. When egos are involved, it’s far too easy to overlook the true objectives of the business and think only how the “social media expert” might benefit from the relationship being developed.

I’m intrigued by a new book coming out this fall called Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Relationships and Earn Trust. Building trust is difficult and requires a lot of effort on the part of the counselor. It’s baby steps that allow the understanding and shared mutual goals to strengthen a relationship enough for trust to be a part of it. It takes sacrifice on the part of the counselor to recognize when he or she needs to step back and listen versus speaking out too vocally.

What do you think? Am I on track with this thinking or am I off base?

Photo from Flickr.com: Denise Lamby