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.

My World Right Now

About a year ago, I wrote a post called Cataloging Time. It’s that time again in my world of retail marketing. Once again, I have to ask whether or not catalogs are a marketing tactic that is past its prime.

As the retail marketing person for a consumer goods company, I am responsible for making sure our product pages are prepared for any number of retailer catalogs being published for 2011. This can be master catalogs or supplements for specific categories, each one requiring a great deal of time and resource allocation to complete. I can only imagine the efforts by our retail partners who are receiving and compiling dozens and dozens of pages from product manufacturers around the world. What a task!

As a consumer and marketing professional, I receive catalogs and look through each and every one of them for ideas and creative brainstorming. I have to wonder how many other people do the same? Is the practice of reading catalogs still a common practice?

I especially ask this in today’s world of social media. Twitter accounts like Walmart direct consumers to websites for new product information on a regular basis. More and more time is spent fine-tuning and tweaking those same sites to ensure the right information is presented for consumers to make purchasing decisions. Product comparisons, search filters and so much more is made available online that cannot be easily handled in print catalogs.

While I’m spending a lot of time on those printed catalogs pages, another current project is implementing an e-commerce solution for our company where we can easily sell our products online to our BtoB customers as well as consumers. I wonder whether or not this is a better use of our time and resources?

We as a manufacturer have a gentleman’s agreement with our retail partners that we will only sell certain accessories directly to consumers. Everything else is pushed to retailers and consumers are directed to find a local store in which to make their purchase. Does this make sense in today’s business environment?

This is where my head is right now. Any thoughts?

Event ROI: To Attend or Not to Attend?

I am constantly reminded of the need for strong planning on the front end of any project. A colleague of mine calls the opposite “stream of consciousness planning”. It’s amazing to me how many times programs, campaigns and projects are put into place without a rhyme or reason as to why it’s going to be done in the first place except to increase sales. While I understand that is an important reason, the question remains, “How exactly are you going to increase sales simply by attending that trade show?”.

Nothing should ever be implemented without a clear strategy being discussed and laid out first.

From a communications perspective, I’ve learned quite a bit in the past few years about measuring return on investment against the activities in which your organization chooses to participate.

The most recent examples I’ve got in my head pertain to trade shows. Those pesky industry and association events we all feel we must attend each year. But my question is whether or not you have set up a way to measure your attendance and determine whether the show is truly valuable? I’ve had many people tell me over the years that companies should attend particular shows simply because it’s always been done, but I have a really difficult time accepting that as a valid reason to continue attending. In my view, it’s critically important to gather information, such as revenue targets, to determine whether or not the show makes financial sense. Companies should not make an assumption about the value of a show simply based on history.

While I understand there is a brand awareness being built through attendance at these shows and events, it’s still possible to develop an ROI plan around awareness. It’s our job as marketing professionals to figure out the right metrics for our organization to make the most of the dollars we’ve been given to manage.

What are your thoughts?

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?

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.

PR in Pop Culture

ss-090913-vma-tease.300wSo, you would have to live in a cave not to hear about the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) last night and appalling behavior by Kanye West. If you are unaware, check out the story here.

As most of us know, there is a school of thought that says all publicity is good. I would have to disagree with that theory. While it’s true that the world is talking about Kanye and his actions, does the message being sent really put him in the best light? My answer is no. In my opinion, the true winners in this case is Beyonce and Taylor Swift, both of whom walked away from the night with physical trophies and endless support from the music industry and fans alike.

From a PR perspective, I’ve heard the “all publicity is good” argument for years. While the point of publicity is to get your name in the news, why would someone choose to have their name associated with negative stories? I’ve yet to figure that out, and stay mystified today.

Now my PR mind says that Kanye is targeting an audience that wants to root for the “bad boy” and will support his record sales no matter what he does on stage or in front of a national audience. Perhaps his research shows that the only way he can continue to sell records is to misbehave and stir things up. If that’s the case, then the message being sent to those fans is seriously flawed. And I have to ask about the ethics of the publicists being paid by Kanye who came up with this idea. Ethics is a touchy subject, and varies by individuals.

I live by the “golden rule” — Treat others as you wish to be treated. I abide by that rule in everything I do. I treat people with respect professionally and personally. I would never dream up a PR scheme that would humiliate and embarrass another person or organization.

What do you think? What Kanye right or wrong? Is it true that all publicity is good? I am curious about your thoughts.