Transitioning a Board’s Mentality

I had a conversation recently with a friend and fellow board member for a local organization. We were talking about board culture and the difference between a “working” board and a “governing” one. We’ve been struggling with transitioning a “working” board to one that is more governing minded. Our big concern is that as we move away from one where board members traditionally did a lot of work to the opposite, that we’ll lose the board’s engagement and passion.

Currently, most of the board members lead committees of one so they end up doing all of the work themselves while the PR committee, which I lead has many members and traditionally holds several sub meetings between board meetings. The workload is split among committee members as well as myself. I take information from the sub meetings and report at monthly board meetings on key points of which everyone should be aware.

We’ve been trying to figure out why it is difficult for the other board members to not put together committees and minimize their work load while maintaining their engagement level. Could it be because PR professionals typically find themselves on my boards, committees and planning teams and learn quickly the value of spreading the workload around? I’m just curious if anyone has ideas or thoughts that we should look at as we help this board transition into the next phase.

Are Professional Organizations an Antiquated Notion?

I’ve seen posts and heard discussions for a while now about the value of professional memberships. I find it interesting that this is such a debate, but it also made me think about my own memberships. Throughout my career, I’ve been a member of various communication organizations, and I remain an active member of the Public Relations Society of America.

I’ve been a strong proponent of professional memberships for a very long time, but I’m also someone who will tell you that your membership is what you make of it. Whether or not the company you work for pays your annual dues and local membership fees shouldn’t matter. What should matter is whether or not you find value in the professional relationships you build through the organization? Are you finding leadership opportunities that will help hone your skills and make you a better communications professional?

When I hear people question the validity of professional organizations in this age of social media, I get a little irritated. Yes, there are plenty of wonderful networking opportunities online and via social sites such as Twitter, Facebook and others. However, nothing equates to the face-to-face relationships I’ve built through PRSA, IABC and other organizations. Our online presence should not trump our offline relationships.

Now, back to the question about whether there is value in professional organizations. I strongly believe there is value. However, that value comes from your involvement. You cannot expect to attend meetings and periodically participate in professional development programs and receive 100 percent return on your investment. You must get involved by volunteering your time and talents to committees, chapter leadership, national projects and more. When calls for volunteers are made — and I guarantee this occurs more than once in a year — step up. Get involved. Find something you’re passionate about and help your local or national organization improve the experience for all members. If you’re sitting back waiting for someone to ask your opinion, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

My involvement in professional organizations has led me to great friends, amazing mentors, career opportunities, leadership development, and so much more. My network of professional colleagues has expanded with online social channels but there is nothing that compares to the relationships I’ve built through professional organizations.

What are your thoughts?

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?

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?

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.

The Case of the Misunderstood APR

*** Disclaimer: I am an APR as well as co-chair of the PRSA Tulsa accreditation committee.

I’ve posted about the Accredited in Public Relations process before. I earned my APR in 2004 after initial support from a former boss and then my personal decision that this was an important step for me professionally. It joins earning my MBA on the list of growth and education actions to complete.

There always seems to be discussion about the value of earning your APR and what it means professionally. I’m not going to rehash what I said in my earlier post. My reasons for earning my APR can be found there, but I did want to take a moment to share where I think the industry as a whole is falling short.

I am an active member of PRSA, serving in leadership roles at both the local and district levels. PRSA touts earning an APR as a valuable step in professional growth, but I’m not sure the association has done a good job of truly proving its’ worth. An argument I hear over and over for why people choose to not pursue this certification is that the letters mean absolutely nothing outside of the PR business and, in some cases, have very little meaning within PR circles.

If we expect the accreditation to mean something, then PRSA, the UAB and other organizations must work harder at proving the ROI. Take a long look at the process and identify ways to  justify the expense and time it takes as well as exhibit the benefits for the business. Business leaders expect bottomline results, and it shouldn’t be hard to compare the PR results of someone with an APR and one without. The process forces individuals to think strategically and more in line with what the business needs to succeed.

To me, it makes sense for an accreditation process that brings the need for research and measurement to the forefront to apply the same steps to its’ own promotion and build a plan according to what it means for those outside the industry as well as PR pros. What do you think?