Creativity, Featured, social media

Yes, Stefan, They ARE Storytellers

“My philosophy has always been that I believe that art is not an elitist gift for a few select people. Art is for everyone.” — Richard Attenborough

Recently, Juxtapoz featured a video by Stefan Sagmeister in which he proudly proclaimed, “No fuckhead, you are not a storyteller” to, well essentially anyone who isn’t a novel writer or a feature film director.

(The tl:dr version of this post? “Yes, Stefan. People are storytellers. And despite making some good points, you’re an idiot.”)

Stefan (can I call you Stefan? I mean, after watching your video and tearing it apart so many times, I feel there’s a certain kinship here) makes some interesting points, some of which even make sense. I understand the need to say outrageous things. After all, if you don’t then how will you convince people to show up to your next TED talk, or get picked up by Juxtapoz?

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CEO Chat, Featured, Leadership

Why Do You Need a “Chief of Staff?”

“I’ve gotta keep the knucklehead stuff off of his desk, and this is worse. This is actual hot-button knucklehead. This could be a thing.”
John Spencer as Leo McGarry
“The West Wing”

Sometimes starting out at a new leadership position can feel like this!
(Image courtesy U.S. Government archives)

Congratulations! You’re now a CEO. The leader of an organization. (Large or small, nonprofit or for profit. It doesn’t matter)

But your time seems to be taken up with decisions that aren’t worth your time. Your calendar is full of meeting with department heads, other executives, maybe the media, and community leaders, but by 9:30 or 10 a.m. it’s been blown to hell with “crises” and problems that other C-Suite or director level positions can’t handle, or people who demand to speak to you “right now.”  It’s the classic argument of what’s “important” to you as a leader, and what’s “urgent,” jumping up and down demanding attention.
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CEO Chat, Community Relations, Featured, public relations, Strategy

Making Your Community Relations Play

Community relations needs to be a large part of any overall communication campaign, whether you’re working in politics, corporate PR, nonprofit or association communications.

If you’re going to be serious about community relations, you have to be involved in your community (online or offline) long before you actually need them. You’re working to build up community capital that you can cash in later when you need your community to back your proposal. If you’re a local civic leader, you can even beat back the threat of being fired with enough community support.

But like anything worth doing it takes time and hard work.

Community relations isn’t like a spigot – you can’t just turn it on and have goodwill come flooding out. It takes time – venturing out to meet with members of your community, and not just your immediate community, but across a geographical and demographic layer beyond your comfort zone. You have to go to their local summer BBQ’s, shaking hands and kissing babies, much like the best politicians.

You have to be involved in local governmental affairs. You can’t imagine the importance of good relations with local officials when you are trying to work on your university’s master plan, or building support for a Bond Campaign.

If you work at a school, college or university, your job is supposed to be easier. You should have departments dedicated to building bridges to communities. Parent Associations. Alumni Departments. PTAs for K-12. School Spirit Organizations. They are out there. You have to give them reasons to support you. Involving yourself with them matters.

How do you do this?

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Crisis Management, Featured, From the Archives, public relations

Organizational Evangelism

(Or, “Darwin’s Bulldog 2.0”)

Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog”

Recently I’ve been talking with my friends about an idea that business guru Guy Kawasaki has been at the forefront of for many years, the idea of “product evangelism” or utilizing your biggest supporters to positively promote a product or organization (i.e. Apple’s iCabal).

Following up on this thought, you should look at how to develop your company’s/industry’s supporters into a cohesive “pack” (for lack of a better word) that is willing to support and defend your company.  Non-profit coalitions have been doing this for quite a while, and businesses can learn quite a bit from these organizations.  Many non-profits, if not almost all of them, have spent decades doing more with less when it comes to communications and coalition-building.  What these groups lacked in financial strength, they made up for in passion, perseverance, strategy and volunteerism.

What social media tools then did was lower the bar for strong content creation by these groups.  Once the bar was lowered these groups were able to produce their message cheaper and for a potentially larger audience.  This content creation then works hand-in-hand with social networking to build a larger base of volunteers, or as they tend to be called in a business setting, “evangelists.”

I call this idea “Darwin’s Bulldog 2.0″. (but I didn’t create this idea, it’s been out there for a while, but I wanted to look at how to use evangelists to passionately support and bolster your organization.)  A quick history lesson for y’all:

Thomas Huxley was a 19th century biologist from England.  He was a fierce proponent of this burgeoning scientific theory called “evolution” at a time when evolution was still being derided by many intellectual elites in England.  It was because of this devotion to his cause that he became known as “Darwin’s Bulldog.”

Huxley was groomed by Darwin and for a time became the face of public debate in favor of evolution.  He was known for his spirited debate about evolution with Samuel Wilberforce in 1860.  After this debate he served notice to the forces of traditional orthodoxy that evolution would not be easily pushed aside.  He stood in the face of this adversity for much of his career after the Wilberforce debate, giving as good as he got.

What does this have to do with public relations in the Web 2.0 world?  Quite a bit actually, especially when you advocate for your position or organization.

You can see much of the same kind of fervor online today, usually in political partisans (see Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin, Daily Kos, Eschaton, etc.)  since blogging entered the political realm back in the wee early 2000s.

While not all organizations or industries would need someone to vigorously defend them, as your organization moves into the social media realm, or develops a social network of allies (on Facebook or Ning, which I recommend) you can start to “feel out” if there are any of your online evangelists that could/would serve as your fervent supporters or defenders.

Trying to put together a “viral” social media campaign will not be successful without some level of separate, independent evangelism from your supporters.  (see “Walmarting Across America” or the definition of “greenwashing.”) This is where working with Ning, Awareness Inc., a site like My Barack Obama, or Facebook can help with creating a community for your supporters.  Giving them a chance to interact with each other, sharing and improving on ideas for your organization or product.

Suffice it to say, you will need to monitor and nurture this potentially burgeoning community.  As your community grows, you’ll get opponents signing on to keep track of what your organization is doing, and potentially flaming your community and sabotaging your efforts in growing the community.  You need to have a member of your social media team, probably one of your bloggers (if you have the luxury of hiring more than one person to take care of your social media creation needs) also oversee the community and interact with your evangelists in it.  Check out Dell’s IdeaStorm site for ideas to build on.

It’s important that these people be organically independent of your business.  You don’t want to be caught in the position of “paying” for support,” and the following blogstorm that will ensue. (see “Walmarting Across America” for an example of what not to do)

If your evangelists do work for your organization, they have to be up front about it – and then go the extra steps to prove that they mean what they advocate, and aren’t just cashing a paycheck. As long as they own up to working for the company, they aren’t disqualified for representing their company with passion.

To my PR readers out there, what do you think?  Should your organization have a “bulldog,” someone who is out there passionately defending your brand?  What do you think the downside is?  Can they be seen as a “loose cannon” who can do more damage to your brand?  Should you let one of your internal defenders speak out for you, or do you think that will cause more damage to your organization’s brand?

Featured, Game Changers, public relations, Strategy

Using the Message Matrix in Communications – An Overview

Political season is well upon us in the United States (for my International readers, both of you, you might find this interesting as well) and one of the tried-and-true keys to developing a message in a political/issues campaign quickly is to use a message matrix.

A message matrix lets you set up a grid and take a look at your situation and helps you answer the following questions:

1. What can your opponents/activists/competition say about your organization/product/etc?

2. What can your opponents/activists/competition say about themselves?

3. What can your organization say about itself/product/etc.?

4. What can your organization say about your opponents/activists/competition?

A basic message matrix

 

When you take the time to sit down and look at your matrix, this is the time you need to take a critical look at your organization and your competition. Be honest with your organization’s strengths and weakness, and develop your potential messages accordingly. As a part of the message box, you might want to conduct a SWOT and/or PESTLE analysis, depending on your time.

If you look at your competition or activist groups in advance, a message matrix can help you organize your thoughts as you prepare questions, responses and talking points before you need them. It’s always good to show the executive leadership you’re prepared in advance for any media problems they might run into. It can also help you determine those messages, talking points, and possible responses on the fly if you need to.

This is just an overview of the message box, we’ll get into closer detail soon enough. But keep in mind, these messages will probably need to be vetted by your legal department, executive leadership, etc.

Featured, public relations

Where Does PR Go From Here?

“The Road goes ever on and on…”
J.R.R. Tolkien

(We’re taking a break from our usual lovable business advice column to bring you the following message)

Public Relations has a PR problem.

I know, a lot of people have heard that very lead over the years. But we really have a problem, and it’s getting worse, not better. In the past few years we’ve seen things from prominent PR firms astroturfing online campaigns to loosely-termed “PR Reality TV” shows provide an unrealistic view of public relations, an ABC show that portrays us all with a fine veneer of “we’ll do anything to save our clients” BS, and some of our worst representatives getting the most attention from the press. (Lizzie Grubman ring any bells?)

And what do we in PR do about it?

Not enough.

I remember when I finally received my degree in PR and advertising. Not more than thirty minutes after commencement I was talking with my dad, who congratulated me on finally getting the degree and then dropped a verbal pipe bomb of his own on me.

“Congratulations. You’re now a professional bullshit artist.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have to step up and take back what it is public relations professionals do for a living. We have allowed this to happen. Years of not pointing out the weak actions of public relations professionals have allowed the media, and those activists who love to attack us as corporate liars, to frame us as unethical, lying bastards.

But these same people never want to be held up to the same standard of professionalism. The irony in this is that the same members of the media and activists (right or left, anti-corporate or not) who decry public relations as craven “spin masters” and liars who are busy “telling people what to think” use many of the same tactics created by public relations practitioners throughout the years on their own supporters. If we’re going to hold PR people up to a predisposed view, then these detractors need to be held to the same standard.

(It’s called the “Agenda Setting Theory” and we’ll get into a soon enough. But let me say with the increase in digital media, PR people have many new means to hold the media up to our own standards.)

It is because of public relations’ poor image that those professionals whose work is exemplary, people who should be held up as examples of ethical practitioners with a strong work ethic are immediately under suspicion of being “just another flack.” It’s true that there are poor PR professionals, those who haven’t been trained in PR (yes, a successful PR pro is trained beyond just the regular view of “I’m a writer” or “I’m a people person”), just like there are unethical journalists, or bad teachers, or misleading activist groups.

“If we’re not running offense, we’re running defense. And if we’re not playing defense… there’s some clever sports analogy that explains what happens then.”
Allison Janney as “C.J. Cregg”
“The West Wing”

Our default view as communications professionals appears to be one of “we’re writers. We communicate. We’re ‘people’ people.” What we don’t promote enough, or study enough, is the importance of strategy in communications and in business. (which involves quite a bit of research (which you’ll learn when you start to study for your APR or a business degree)

We are rarely brought into the upper echelon decision making, because we’re not only seen as, but want to promote ourselves as, just “writers.” According to a 1999 white paper by crisis management expert Jim Lukaszewski, a management consultant explained to public relations professionals why they would rarely be able to address the concerns of the C-Suite. And it was a shock to many of the PR professionals in the audience. For all of our talk about the importance of communicating and writing in public relations, few professionals are able to show the C-Suite the impact that we have on those numbers that are important to them. Finances, sales, increase in profits.

(And don’t give me the “advertising equivalent” argument – that’s the biggest load of BS that public relations has ever come up with)

I give PRSA some credit for trying to improve the professionalism of practitioners around the country, with the APR program and now the organization’s new MBA initiative, tying public relations closer to business schools (where it needs to be). This is only the start of the necessary push to improve public relations’ image. It took us a long time to dig into this hole, it’s going to take us a long time to get out of it.

Why should PR professionals stick up for what we do? I’ll let Ron Silver’s character from “The West Wing” respond for me. (please ignore the politics if it’s not your thing, but the underlying sentiment is solid.)

Featured, public relations, social media, Strategy

Is this a Post-Blog Era?

An interesting question to ask, but it’s something that I’ve been pondering for a while. Ev Bogue brought this back to the front of my mind recently with his Google+ post stating his belief that we are in a post-blogging era.

I thought about it – I haven’t posted on here in a few months, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been creating content. In fact, between my Facebook page, Twitter account, InstagramTumblr (which currently is where I’m sorting through Instagram) and even Google+, I’m creating a lot more content and engaging with a lot of people, even if my blog doesn’t reflect that. (And this doesn’t even count my top secret new project or the Rugby SuperSite)

Is this really a blog-free era? And if so, what does this mean for companies (if GM is to be believed, buying Facebook ads doesn’t help with sales) or personal brands/regular people who are interesting in elevating their profile? These are some of the ideas I’ll be tackling in the near future here.  I’m curious about what your thoughts on the issue are.

– BH

Featured, social media, Strategy

Playing the Numbers Game

It’s easy to be lured into playing the numbers game in social media, or any kind of communications activity – basing your success on how many Facebook fans you have or how many people follow you on Twitter. These numbers tend to be arbitrary. Many times an organization will see a level of success with how they run their social media program and use those numbers to validate a need to not examine, tweak, or improve an organization’s program – often to their detriment.

This kind of strategy is a double-edged sword, because invariably other companies in your industry have larger follower numbers and those numbers can easily be used to detract from your accomplishments.

One of the best ways to avoid falling into this trap is to properly prepare your social media strategy, complete with an audit of your organization’s needs and how you are meeting those goals and objectives.

But you have to have a plan first. What do you want your social media campaign to accomplish? Very few organizations have the leisure to engage in social media without having a clear and measurable goal with a return on your investment in social media. It requires that your organization start off by asking some questions.

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Featured, social media

Everything I know about social media I learned in Powerlifting

I want to share a secret with you – many years, and about 65 pounds ago, I had been a devotee of something with a much greater pull than even social media and its allure.

That’s right, I had been a quasi-athlete (not a great one, but just one), well I was a rugby player – define that as you will. As part of being an athlete, I really got into powerlifting, it was a better way to get into shape – not as monotonous as running or cycling. (I wasn’t great at powerlifting either, just ask my workout partners 😉 )

I had flirted with the idea of being a strength coach, because I enjoyed working out and studying exercise physiology, but as my instructor used to say, he couldn’t advise that we complete four years of college in order to earn $25,000 a year as a strength coach.  So I ended up in PR, where a four-year degree earned me just a little more per year. 😉

And recently, while two torn up knees and a bum ankle are keeping me off of the rugby pitch, I’ve been getting back into powerlifting more and more.  So as I’ve jumped back into powerlifting I’ve noticed a lot of parallels between this sport and social media. I quickly grabbed the laptop and started jotting down as many notes as I could keep trapped in my mind. I’ve included a list of this baker’s dozen below.

  1. Practice, practice, practice!
    1. It’s not only how you get to Carnegie Hall, or hit that new record bench press, it’s how you hone your social media chops – and learn what works for you (whether it’s video, audio, blogging, etc.)
  2. Form is important.
    1. As everyone who hits the weights knows, you have to perform each exercise correctly. If you don’t learn how to do each exercise correctly then you run the risk of injuring yourself later.
    2. In social media, you have to look at this as focusing on the narrative you want to tell, the stories about your organization that are important.
  3. You won’t hit every lift, it’s OK.
    1. Whether you are working out or at a powerlifting meet, you’re not going to perform every lift perfectly, sometimes you will fail to get the weight back up – it was called “bottoming out” when I lifted – and that’s OK.
    2. In social media, every post isn’t going to be perfect, or totally make sense to your target audience, or tell the story you want it to tell. No worries, you’ll get it next time. And maybe you can learn something from what you might consider a “failing post” that you can use in a few weeks.
  4. Build your posts to an “event”
    1. In strength training, there’s a philosophy called “periodization” – where you prepare a workout schedule that fluctuates from light workouts to hard workouts and back to medium – which turns into the new “light workout.” As you progress along this program, you will gain more strength, step by step. Usually you plan your workouts back from a scheduled event (the start of a sports season or a powerlifting meet).
    2. Why not do the same thing for social media? Plan on having a meetup/tweetup, or another social event or giveaway several months down the line and start creating a schedule of posts, videos, etc that you want to use to build up to this event.
  5. Start easy at first – don’t overstress yourself.
    1. Until you feel comfortable with your “social media workout,” don’t push yourself to do too much – too quickly. In powerlifting and social media it can lead to burnout and abandonment of your new plan. Remember, follow your schedule, and don’t frontload it with too much work until you are prepared for it.
  6. Mix up your “workout”
    1. Doing the same kind of workout, or creating the same kind of content, over and over starts to get stale.
    2. In strength training, this leads to boredom and your workout gains start to stall.
    3. In social media, this can lead to boring posts, losing readership, and eventually you might give up on creating new content.
    4. Just mix things up, don’t always do the same kinds of posts, or create the same content in your social media plan – some days do a podcast, or a quick video, or take a little time off (see below)
  7. More is not always better
    1. In strength training, as in social media, your first inclination might be to jump in with both feet and overdo everything.
    2. If you need to take a little time off, do it. While social media, and powerlifting, are very cool and a lot of fun, it can start to wear on you. But don’t take too much time off, or you might not return again – it’s the difference between a quick break and quitting for good. In strength training it means you’re going to get out of shape again, in social media it means giving up on your content, when you might be on the cusp of a breakthrough piece.
    3. If you’re at a company, see if you can find a couple of people to stand in for you for a while to continue building your audience.
  8. Don’t neglect your “core training”
    1. In strength training, you have to develop your foundation, your core muscles (the abdominals, lower back, upper back, shoulder girdle and legs) in order to get stronger.
    2. In business and social media communications training, you have to look at your organization’s core competencies and ask “what are our communications goals?”
    3. How are you going to achieve those goals? How will your narratives, the stories you share about your organization, help you reach your goals?
  9. Speaking of goals, set realistic goals.
    1. If you’re starting out in powerlifting, you’re probably not going to hit a 400 pound bench press overnight, or for quite a while. But you can add 20-30 pounds in a few months.
    2. If you’re creating social media content, blogging and videocasting, you’re not going to reach Bob LutzGeoff Livingston and Chris Brogan reader numbers overnight – and that’s OK. Keep your measurements realistic, if you impact a handful of people that’s still wonderful, in fact they might even get back to you and let you know about that impact.
  10. Everyone is unique – in strength training and content creation.
    1. Not everyone will feel comfortable sitting in front of a video camera, or audio podcasting. They might be better at connecting with people via social networking tools (which are different from social media).
    2. Go with what works for you – and include this in your social media “periodization plan”
  11. Have the right equipment for your needs.
    1. And know how to use it. In strength training, doing deadlifts wearing sandals might leave you injured – trust me I know.
    2. In social media, you need to have the proper equipment – it doesn’t have to be too expensive, but instead of getting a flip camera (which seems to be the rage among communicators) look at something that allows you to get decent audio (a much overlooked piece of the YouTube puzzle) as well as audio.
    3. Use this equipment in your practice sessions, knowing how to use your equipment ahead of time makes your life much easier, whether it’s in powerlifting or social media.
  12. Get a trainer
    1. When you start working out, it pays to invest a little bit of money in working with a personal trainer. They help start you down the path to a healthier life, or a stronger body. They give you the tools to move on, only needing to check in with them periodically when you need something new to add to your workout.
    2. It’s the same thing in social media. If you are new to this, you can start off by reading a few books and trying to get some “book learnin’” and try to piece this together. This isn’t a bad idea, but you can avoid some of the “bad form” you might learn from reading various tomes if you hire a social media communicator to help train you, to show you what might or might not work for you and then let you loose on the InterWebs to see how this works. Then you can bring them back from time to time to teach you something new or change your routine a little bit.
  13. Finally, and more importantly, at the end of the day you have to do this yourself.
    1. No one can work out for you. You can’t have someone from outside your body lift the weights for you. You have to sit down at the bench and start pressing the weights on your own.
    2. When you are creating content for your social media outlet, you can hire someone to come into your company and write for you, or you can have an employee do it on behalf of the company, but leaving this in the hands of an agency instead of learning how to do it yourself can be dangerous – because it leaves your communications goals vulnerable to an outside organization that only has your best interests at heart as long as the checks don’t bounce.
    3. You need to take the lessons learned from all of the above points, and what your social media trainer has taught you and either do it yourself or bring someone in to your organization who can “lift the weight” for your organization.
CEO Chat, Featured

CEO Chat – Corporate Mindfulness, and not Letting the Past Rule You

Don’t repeat the past, the past is there to guide the present into the future. Too many organizations are mired in “how things used to be run” and how to reexamine bringing the past back into the present. The past is in the past for a reason, to be learned from to help you achieve a tomorrow that is better than today, not for you to bring it back from the dead.

The past is in the past for a reason.  Leave it there and learn from it. We try to focus on the past for so much because we want to, for lack of a better term, “hoard” time.

Too many of us want to “turn back the clock” and go to the “good old days.” In personal lives we want to regain our lost youth, and in business we want to return to a day when there was “more” to go around (jobs, wealth, financial security, etc).

While in our society we enjoy poking fun at people who are called “hoarders,” considering ourselves to be above them – but it does not dawn on us that too often in the business world we end up “hoarding” many other things: money, power, desire, contacts, etc. Much like the person who has too much physical clutter in their homes, businesses run the risk of running into too much corporate clutter which warps our mental state as much as any physical junk pile.

Being mindful of not just your corporate needs, but the impact your corporate decisions will have on your community,  can help alleviate some of this, if you are aware of when this clutter begins to show up in your mind.  It’s hard because in order to avoid this “corporate hoarding” you might have to act in ways that are good for the “spirit” but not always the best for the shareholders’ pocketbook (in the short-term, I believe when you look at the long-term it will be better for your organization/city/neighbors/etc)