Create a Culture of Open Communication

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

Businesses, small and large, struggle with creating a culture that allows for open communication between employees. Too often management sits in meetings and discuss project after project but then don’t share the needed information with team members who handle the day-to-day activities. Or companies create an environment of mistrust by misleading or misinforming employees about business decisions such as layoffs, management changes, etc.

It’s critical for employee morale, productivity and internal relationships for companies to foster an environment of open communication. This means passing on information needed to do jobs, but also recognize that employees need to know what is going on with their employers to feel comfortable in their jobs. Not all news can be shared, but hiding the bad from employees will backfire.

First step in developing a culture of open communication is to carefully evaluate your current channels and honestly determine what is working and what doesn’t. This includes electronic or written avenues as well as verbal. What internal communication tools are used? Do you have an employee newsletter? Do you email business updates regularly? Does your CEO appear to have an “open door” policy for employees? What about your verbal channels? Is your evaluation process effective? Do you provide a 360 degree outlet for employees to provide feedback about management and vice versa?

Companies need to review departmental communication channels. Are there silos that have been created that prevent intra-departmental openness? Some silos naturally occur, but many are manmade or created by corporate procedures and need to be removed to improve productivity. In my experience, supervisors and managers often create silos by protecting their territories, so to speak. However, if the walls are removed, then the openness that evolves will provide clearer ideas as to which departments are responsible for what, cutting down on duplication of effort, increasing productivity and decreasing the amount territory grabbing that takes place.

Open communication is about trust — trust with management, employees and the company as a whole. When the communication channels are not open, then the trust isn’t there. Developing a culture of openness will improve those trust levels and eventually have significant impact on the company’s bottom line.

Any thoughts or additions?

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Strategic Job Searches

careerdevelopmentHow many people know of someone who has worked the same job for 20, 30, 40 years before moving on to the next phase of their life? My grandfather is an example of this — he worked for the United States Postal Service his entire life before retiring in his 50s. My parents are also examples — both of them have been in their current jobs for more than 20 years and plan to remain there until their own retirements in the next 10 years or so. My career has been a bit different.

Gen Xers tend to stay in jobs for three to five years before moving on to greener pastures. Generation Y is even shorter. In my career spanning more than a dozen years, I’ve held four positions and currently am working my fifth. At first glance, it appears that I’ve averaged two and a half years in each job. But if you dig a bit deeper, my career has been a bit more strategic.

Entry Level Education

My first few jobs out of college were truly educational experiences for me. Between being an editorial coordinator for a small publishing company and an account manager at PR firm, I learned a great deal about printing, vendor management, writing and editing, media relations, event planning, client relations, and so much more. All great foundational information for me to use as I continued my career. These jobs were very tactical in nature. I spent a great deal of time handling the details of our projects versus being strategic.

Mid-Level Movement

At this point, I’m about five years into my career and I realized that I needed more understanding of the client-side of the business world. I moved from the agency to the corporate side of things. Over the next seven years,  I learned a great deal about how the business world works. I took the skills I learned in the agency and expanded on them significantly. In this current phase of my career, I have learned how to manage communication with diverse audiences. This has been a fantastic opportunity for me to hone my strategic mind and look at how communications and marketing is done from a client’s perspective. This phase of my career has been about in-depth business and marketing training with a paycheck. Best training ground for me to have.

From here, the sky’s the limit …

Career Advice

The point of me writing this post is offer a bit of career advice.

1) Make career moves strategically. Don’t change jobs out of boredom. Whether it’s a promotion, an opportunity to learn new skills or new industry, choose wisely.

2) Consider more than money. While that paycheck is important, there’s more than money that can make a job worthwhile. Look at who you’ll be working with or benefits outside of salary that might be more valuable to you than you initially realize. I’ve taken pay cuts in order to accept a job where I felt I would learn a great deal about the business. Don’t be afraid to do the same.

3) Leverage relationships. There’s a lot written about mentoring and networking, but take advantage of the relationships you build in your career. Ask questions and learn from everyone around you, whether that is the long-time employee at your company, a client or your boss. Each step of the way there are people and projects that will teach you a great deal about yourself, your chosen career and more.

What would you add? What advice do you have for both new professionals and more seasoned?

What Should All PR Pros Know?

crayons_Education_72ppiLast week,  I wrote a quick post about what’s wrong with PR and it triggered additional thoughts on what PR pros need to learn to be better at their jobs. Over the course of my career, I’ve learned a great deal about the career I’ve chosen as well as business in general. While my degree in journalism played a small part in my knowledge, the mentors and professional relationships I’ve developed over the years have played a bigger role in my growth as a communications professional.

*** Note: we should always be learning. If we stop, then we grow stagnant as professionals and people.

Following are three things I believe all PR professionals should learn.

1) Learn how to read a financial report. While most of us have worked on an annual report or two, how many PR pros actually can understand what one says from a financial perspective? I believe it’s a critical skill that should not be overlooked. I realize that most communication pros entered this business because math and numbers are not our strong suit — I’m one of them. However, if communications departments expect to gain respect from senior management, the first step is in figuring out profits, losses and all that is associated with the financial side of the business. It will also make the budgeting process easier if you understand the company’s financial situation.

2) Learn your business. Whether you work for an agency or internally, take the time to get to know your business (or your client’s business). I think I’ve mentioned before that I had a boss who encouraged me to shadow other departments in the company to learn about their daily activities, challenges and successes. The experience better prepared me for questions from media, others in the company, external customers and industry partners who I worked with on a regular basis. Combining what I learned internally with what I heard from the outside, I was far better prepared to advocate for programs and projects that would strengthen our company’s market presence.

3) Share information. A key to building strong relationships with your internal and external customers, media, industry partners and more is to share information. As PR pros, we often find ourselves in positions where we cannot share information due to confidentiality agreements or clients who are not ready for information to be spread externally. However, this is more geared toward being a good team member. Many people believe that information is power so they hold on to important tidbits and dole them out only as necessary. This does not translate into a good team member. Managers and supervisors should take time to keep their departments up to date with internal news to ensure that they feel as if they are part of the company as well as better able to communicate with their customers, whether that’s internal or external. It builds trust between team members. If you are more entry level, be sure you share information with your superiors for a couple reasons. First, they need to be aware of issues that arise with a client or fellow employee to assist with combating problems. Second, sharing lets managers know about your successes that may not be immediately visible in a busy, fast-paced environment. (I’ve talked about this before | See this post on leadership.)

These are just three of many things to learn. What others would you add as top priorities?

The Importance of Listening

listening earIn this social media world, the importance of listening has come to the forefront. Platforms such as Twitter allow easy monitoring of what is being said about a person, a brand or an issue. If a person or company isn’t “listening”, then the point of social media is lost on them. It’s easy to monitor on Twitter with hashtags, Twitter search and third party tools such as TweetDeck for searching keywords. However, I don’t know that the importance of listening translates as well to the real world. A challenge we all have as communicators is figuring out the right way to get our message across and through the noise the bombards us all each day.

I’m sure we can all count the number of times we’ve said something to our spouse, friends or colleagues only to discover that the message was never received. Or do you remember playing “Telephone” as a child? The game where a message starts at one end of the line and by the time it reaches the other end, everyone gets a kick out of how it changed. While we enjoyed this as a game, the real world isn’t quite the desired setting for mixed messages. This typically leads to repeating yourself and getting frustrated with the non-listener.

As a communications professional, I’ve studied numerous theories that highlight all the ways in which a message can be misinterpreted or ignored by the recipient, depending on the noise elements that come into play. Every time I put a plan together, I think through ways in which the message may get lost. I look at past program details and I ask myself simple questions such as — Are emails opened or ignored? — Would a direct mail piece have more impact than an electronic piece? — Is there something going on to physically distract from the message? (i.e. activity at a trade show)

Besides the challenge of whether or not a message is reaching the intended audience, another challenge we face is whether or not there is comprehension. Someone may acknowledge receipt of the message with a nod or response but did the message actually click. Did the recipient actually understand what was being said and will it have the expected impact?

The social media world intrigues me because it does make listening easier in ways, but it also makes it more difficult. It’s yet another channel that we must understand and become well-versed in explaining to non-users. It’s the latest trend, and everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. But how many are actually listening to what is being said? And, with social media tools such as Twitter having 140 characters limits, how many people are truly understanding what is being said?

Customer Service 101

customer-serviceSorry if I appear snarky in this post. I’m a bit irritated and need to vent my frustrations.

Customer service is a critical component to any good marketing program. It’s not just a department elsewhere in the company where hourly employees answer the phone and respond to complaints or questions all day. Customer service is an attitude that must become a mainstay in a company’s culture.

This is so basic, I’m at a loss as to why people don’t understand what good customer service takes. It’s simple. Return phone calls. If you don’t know the answer, find out and return the call. Answer emails. It doesn’t have to be within seconds of the message being sent, but it certainly should be within 24 hours. The return message can be as easy as “Thanks for your email. Traveling right now and will get with you on Friday.” Then use the handy flag feature in Outlook to set a reminder to do just that on Friday.

It’s not rocket science.

OK, I’m done. What do you think about customer service.

Farewell, Guiding Light

guiding-light-cancelledI watched the long-running soap opera Guiding Light today for the first time in a very long time. A friend’s daughter was cast in today’s episode so I set the DVR. I’ve been a bit out of the loop and didn’t know until recently that Guiding Light was calling it quits, going dark. Apparently production costs have gotten to the point that it’s not profitable anymore. That makes me sad on several levels.

First is personal: I used to watch GL with my grandmother as a young girl. It was one of her “stories” that she couldn’t miss. It was our ritual in the summers — I would visit for a few weeks, and the two of us would take a break each day to watch the serial.

The second reason is more historical: GL is the longest running scripted show on TV at 72 years. The show started in 1937 as a 15 minute show on the radio and transitioned to television in 1952. In 1968, GL expanded to 30 minutes and on to its’ full hour in 1977. The show has been a mainstay in daytime drama and played a role in quite a few women’s lives. Story lines have ranged from serious issues affecting families to more humorous, but every one meaningful. The last episode will air on Friday, September 18.

Farewell, Guiding Light.

What’s Wrong with PR?

questionmark2I started reading Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, the new book by Brian Solis and Deirdre Breckinridge. I’m not too far into it yet, but they pose a good question early on: What’s wrong with PR? Of course, when you ask what’s wrong, it makes sense that you then offer solutions. While the book suggests several options — some from the agency perspective, some from the corporate side — I started thinking about what I perceive as being wrong with our industry.

1. PR pros spend too much time telling people what we’re not, instead of focusing on what we are. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard PR pros tell people that we are not advertising, marketing, or that PR is more than publicity. Rather than take that approach, why don’t we spend more time educating companies and individuals about what PR is and how we can help businesses succeed. This is absolutely critical for getting a seat at the proverbial table. Defining our role in an organization requires us to look at our profession creatively. When someone asks what we do, don’t respond with a long list of generalizations or tactics. We strive to ensure our audiences know our messaging so why don’t we all spend a little time thinking about our own elevator speech. And make it good. Then you are prepared when someone asks “what is PR?”.

2. PR pros have limited business knowledge. Business owners, no matter what size, want to see financial return on their PR investment. I’ve been in meetings over the years where PR professionals tell CEOs that it’s difficult to measure PR’s success outside of number of media clips. That’s not true, and it’s not what CEOs want to hear. Despite our protests, PR must have an impact on sales for business owners and management to see a value in what we do, especially if we don’t do a good job with our explanations in point #1 above.  In my career, I have seen very few PR pros who have solid business knowledge. PR represents the entire business, and that means we need to understand it inside and out. We need to know the competition. We need to be well-versed on the business plan and how our communication efforts translate into that comprehensive plan. This also means we must focus more attention on research and evaluation. Take the time to learn. Ask questions of everyone. It makes our jobs easier, I promise.

2. PR pros focus on tactics rather than strategy. Too many PR pros start the conversation with potential clients or management teams with a laundry list of tactics that need to be done. That’s the wrong approach. We must understand the business objectives for why something is being done, and that means we have to build the right strategy to make our chosen tactics work. The laundry list is dependent on the strategies. If every single tactic doesn’t translate to a strategy, then we need to go back to the drawing board. This also goes along with point #2 above — understanding the business means we are able to drive strategy on the PR/communication side. Conducting the necessary research beforehand and then following everything we do with evaluation to determine our success is extremely important.

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I’m pretty sure we can all agree that PR is not just the art of schmoozing, but that may be how a number of outsiders perceive us. It’s time to change that perception.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts.