Category Archives: Uncategorized

You Matter, Even If You’re “Wrong”

Oh my, the things we do—and have done—to fit in.

As a kid, I can remember roaming the neighborhood with boys that were older than me. Yeah, which means I discovered cigarettes as a 10-year-old, saw my first Playboy by age 11 and found my next-door neighbor’s face stuck to what I thought was a glass vase. A bong.

boy4We all want to fit in, be accepted and be with the “in crowd.” So when we’re rejected, criticized, attacked or set apart—physically, relationally or emotionally—there’s great angst and irritation. Fear. Yet fitting in often conflicts with what is right, what is good, our values, beliefs and professional standards. So therein lies the struggle. So at what price do we choose to fit in? How willing are we to stand up for what we believe is true, good, just or unjust? Can we deal with scorn, rejection, disdain? Hate?

The Burden of Conviction

Professionally, PR folks have a code of ethics. In addition, we each have a personal code of conduct. So are we operating our lives, attitudes and actions in concert with the code, or have we become ambivalent or hardened by what we see and hear every day? I’m guilty. You are too. Yet increasingly, I find myself saying no more. Not now. I can’t allow this or that. I won’t tolerate this action or that inaction. I am re-discovering my personal conviction. It is this burden of conviction that we’ve lost somewhere along the way.

5 Challenges for You & Me

  1.  Be alert. Gulliver should have never taken a nap. Don’t sleep through your life. Awaken the heart and spirit. And mind. Live to effect change.
  2. Be informed. Know your stuff. Read. Read. Read. Study what’s being said, by whom. Ask questions, ask why. Today, information is rarely objective or “simple fact.” Example, if you agree with global warming, know why. If you don’t, know why.
  3. Be active. Knowledge without action is empty air and wasted time. Act. Do. Figure out “your part” at work, at home, in your neighborhood or nonprofit. It is the silent doers in the back that make the most impact. The famous and rich? Rarely.
  4. Be outspoken. There is so much clamoring that it’s often difficult to get a word in edge-wise. Share your convictions. Share what you believe is good and right. Agree to disagree, but enter into discourse and debate.
  5. Be you. Most importantly, you must remain true to who you are, what you believe and what is required of you. You matter. Your opinions are valid, whether I agree or not.

Whether we’re talking about our role in the workplace or as a parent – or as an American citizen tuned into the issues of the nation and world—we must respond to the burden of conviction. It’s about being true to one’s self. Thinking for yourself. And acting.

The time is now.

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Do Small Businesses Need a Marketing Communications Intervention?

Among small businesses, (500 employees or less), I find it rare that they much in the way of communicating with customers, prospects, suppliers, influencers, and even employees. Why? There are three primary reasons:

  1. Marketing is perceived as mysterious, and seems complicated.
  2. Sales is familiar and seems easy (I hire a sales guy, use Salesforce and dial for dollars).
  3. I’m too busy to think about it or do it (We’re developing products, ensuring service, hiring people, keeping people happy, fighting fires and meeting payroll, etc.).

When they meet communicators, they’re usually interested in what we have to say. We’re excited and more than willing to rattle off exactly what their business needs: “Social media is critical, public relations is essential and your website, sales materials and trade show stuff must be new, fresh, and compelling. And, of course, there’s the issue of your corporate brand and how all of this fits into an overall marketing communications strategy. So, let’s get started.”

The business owner is now catatonic. Eyes are glazed over. Is he or she breathing? Their business brains have gone straight to “oh my god”  and “there’s no way I can do all this—no time, no money, no people.”  We just assassinated our prospect.

Here’s how to slow down and showcase the role of marketing communications for small businesses in 7 simple steps:

  1. Break it down. No company can do everything all the time. Through a simple yet comprehensive planning session with the sales and executive team, we discover the business goals and efforts that are already planned. We align marketing efforts with business efforts. Business goals with marketing goals.
  2. Start small. If the business owner and the team are historically sales focused vs. marketing savvy, it’s critical to start small and get them comfortable with how marketing works—vs. sales. Starting small may mean implementing something as simple as a customer letter that is written, printed and mailed every quarterly. An easy First Step is a brief yet consistent e-mail “newsletter” to customers and prospects.
  3. Budget the basics. The same principle applies here. Don’t scope the marketing program so they have to put a lien on their building. Give them some practical perspectives, share a brief strategy/goals statement, and then break out the steps and tactics with hard numbers. Be precise and specific.
  4. Stay nearby and navigate with care. I find that entrepreneurs thrive amid chaos so keeping efforts focused, synced and timely are often the most difficult parts of the project. Pre-scheduled status meetings per week serve to remind everyone “who’s on first.” Keeping everyone committed, aware and engaged is 95 percent of the success factor.
  5. Make it easy. Do everything you can to eliminate redundancy, delays and to-dos. If it gets you what you need to accomplish the task, meet your client for a drink after hours or do a phone call after they tuck in their kids for bed. Accommodate them.
  6. Show progress. Don’t go silent and not correspond with the client for a week. Tune in, communicate and let them know something’s happening. I add calendar reminders called “Quick Touch/Client A” just so I reach out—even if there’s not a lot to say. Quick and easy.
  7. Step back. In our quest to act and generate results, we may forget the most important action required with clients: to listen. They are the experts in their business. We need to leverage that so we can improve and advance their cause—and ours.

When clients and communicators combine their competencies, long term, the outcome is extraordinary. There is strength in relationships and results.

Please follow me at http://www.twitter.com/practicalpr.

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Why you should say “Hell No!” to a PR internship that pays nothing

I said “Hell no!” and that was 1985 and 1986. I still did two internships, one with the American Paint Horse Association and another with Texas Power & Light.

If I can do it prehistorically, you can too. If you’re on the hiring side of finding internships to sweat their butts off for your organization – and to do it for no pay – I say “no way” and shame on YOU.

Two of my favorite mottos:

  • “But that’s unfair…” Get over it. Nothing’s fair. Ever.
  • “Hey, look, it’s FREE.” Wrong. There is nothing FREE in this world. Nothing. Get over it.

Yeah, my kids really love me for these.

So why has the practice of hiring and NOT paying  interns for their work so prevalent in the PR, advertising and marketing agencies, from big agency to solo shops? I don’t understand the rationale from either side of the fence.

Rather than pontificate, let’s go to the folks who really know. Employers and interns.

The Best Internship (Corporate) I’ve EVER heard about: Accor North America
“We DO employ interns, and we DO pay them. Because we are a French company, most of our interns come from France – where 6-month internships are required in order to earn a university degree. We employ both Bachelor and Master degree candidates in a variety of fields … our interns enjoy a free room at Motel 6, access to a car, and are eligible for free nights at Motel 6 for every vacation day they earn. We work with our HR partners in France to select and hire interns year-round. Source: Suzanne Keen, senior director of communications, change and diversity.” Hmmm, wonder if they’d consider me an intern! Wow.

The only downside? If you don’t know French, you may be in trouble. Not so much. Keen says that Accor North America also hires American interns, but opportunities and employment parameters differ.

But what about those in the PR/Advertising/marketing Agency world?

I went straight to the colleagues I know. Blake Lewis, APR, principal and senior consultant at Lewis Public Relations in Dallas, says the firm does hire interns, and pays them approximately $10 per hour. Interns can be college freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors. He says he makes hiring decisions based on a student’s previous experience, demonstrated skill sets/abilities, attitude and appropriate activities anticipated to be in the agency at the time of the internship.” Ultimately, it’s about talent and experience, not how many years of college.

Then he stated something that jarred my thinking.

If clients are billed for their work, it’s a professional gig.

That means the law requires payment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Holy Bigshaft Batman! Duh, of course! So, now, it’s not only Total Idiocy for a college student to accept a free internship and may even be illegal for employers to even offer them.

According to a 2009 article on the MSNBC Website:

Owners who take on unpaid interns should be familiar with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which details the criteria that an internship must meet in order for the intern to not be paid. The law regards an internship as a training program.
Under the FLSA, an intern must receive training similar to that offered in a vocational school. The training must be for the benefit of the intern. The intern must not displace, or do the work of, a regular employee. The law also states that an employer must receive no immediate advantage from what an intern does. That might jeopardize the unpaid status of many internships — if an intern, say, stuffs envelopes for mailing, helps to manufacture products or performs other services that benefit an employer.

On onedayinternship.com, an article about this issue states that:

“… the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division created a test to determine whether a “trainee” or intern is considered an “employee” based on a 1947 Supreme Court decision that evaluated whether “prospective train yard brakemen were ‘employees’ within the meaning of the Fair Labor Standards Act.” The test requires that all 6 of the following statements are true about the intern’s time with the company.

1. If the training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in a vocational school;

2. If the training is for the benefit of the trainee;

3. If the trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation;

4. If the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees and, on occasion, the employer’s operations are actually impeded;

5. If the trainees are not necessarily entitled to employment at the completion of the training period;

6. If the employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

This is the law. If any one of these six statements is not true about a given internship, then the interns are considered “employees” and are subject to the monetary provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. That means that the interns are entitled to minimum wage and overtime compensation. The situation gets a bit more confusing when you start interpreting what each of the six “tests” means. This page from the Texas State government sheds some light on some of the exceptions based on interpretations of the law, but it still doesn’t answer our question.”

Clear as mud, I’d say.

Regardless, I say to students, “Hell No,” to free.

To employers and agencies, “Stop it.” Respect that every student has bills and costs, and a motivation to show up every morning and do a good job. Not just any job. YOUR clients deserve it too.

What do YOU think?

The PRactical PR Guy

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News Release Alert for CEOs, CFOs and other executives, 1 of 2 parts

Admit it, Mr. or Mrs. CEO. You’re good at a lot of things. Really good. But writing? Communicating with media? Knowing how to assemble a newsworthy release? Is that really a core competency? In most cases, that’s a No.

It’s a typical reality for PR professionals.  An executive returns a news release, “revised.”

We’re already flinching before we even look. It’s a Pavlov’s Dog thing.

We peek, then stare at the whole page. Who bled all over it? Is that spilled ketchup, blood or just red ink?

Executive revisions. *Sigh*

We flush our emotion and begin to take a serious look at the news release. The nervous tick revs back up. We weep as we see the revised:

Revised/The Headline: Includes the words “exciting” and “world leaders in ….”

Revised/Lead paragraph: What was a tightly written news assignment now shares nothing but useless adjectives, passive verbs, no nouns worth mentioning. And a lead paragraph longer than most news releases in total.

Revised/Supporting content: A cut-n-paste from the product brochure.

Revised/The executive quote: He’s “excited” again. “Enthusiastic” too.

Revised/Facts & Figures: Scratched out with a scribble: Can’t we be more vague about its purpose and price? Sure, we’ll send those out in smoke signals later on.

Revised/An objective source to be quoted: Another scribble: Hey my brother-in-law is an investor and heads up another company. Can we use him?”

Revised/An index added to the back?

Hell, where’d I put my updated resume

While I share this somewhat lightheartedly, these have all actually occurred (except the index), large businesses and small.

I start with blaming us, the PR professionals. We evidently have not adequately educated our clients about the press release, its purpose, structure and style. Then I blame the power brokers–the men and women who have top positions, top titles and responsibilities, some of which really don’t care about the rules or quirks of media relations. Or press releases. They just want it their way. For the PR agency, that’s like trying to live between hell and heaven without getting burned or singing with angels. It doesn’t work.

Get a grasp of these, and you’ll be the top go-to executive of every communicators and agency you engage.

7 Press Release Must-Knows for the Executive Team

  1. N-e-w-s. No news, no news release. A release must share news to a relevant audience and be clearly evident by the editor and reporter. The difficult, ambiguous and often-changing challenge is the nature of “what’s news?” Beyond murder, scandal and other mayhem, news is subjective, or is news to a specific subset of publications and reporters. The city reporter at a daily newspaper won’t find news about a great event in Kaufman County if he or she writes for Collin County. A great new feature story about kids raising money for a cancer victim is a story.  If these kids are in Fort Worth and you’re in Frisco, it’s not a story.

2. The No-News News Release. Companies have plenty of these (too many, in fact.)

In the day of pushing “news” and information to Twitter followers, Facebook friends and the like, there is a definite place for the No-News News Release. Write it just like any release, but instead of distributing via a wire service or to reporters, simply share internally, on the intranet, even as a posted news release  on your website’s online press room. What’s the value? It shows action, movement and progress. It furthers communications internally and externally. And it doesn’t irritate reporters who really don’t care that Sarah Bell is celebrating 45 years as the company accountant.

Where are the other 5?

Coming tomorrow, read the complete 7 Must-Knows.

If you’re desperate, Subscribe, then send me an e-mail. I’ll send them right away.

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CEO: “What the hell is that agency doing?”

You’re the client. And frankly, you’re not all that interested in what your agency did yesterday.

It’s all about today, tomorrow and how they help drive your business forward. Now.

Twenty five years of this PR gig tells us that you want an agency that walks the talk, not just talk. There’s nothing worse than the client calling up, asking, “What the hell is your agency doing for us?” Ideally, the CEO, CFO or in-house marketing director never has to make that call.

Not with PRactical PR.

We’ve got the inside story on everything you should expect from your agency.

If you need a little more perspective, see the PRactical PR Guy and our passion for small biz.

For the Here & Now, read these required deliverables.

7 Required Deliverables from Your Agency

  • Start with expectations. There’s nothing worse than a client to expect ABC while the agency delivers XYZ. Everybody is unhappy–pointing fingers, blame-gaming and sweating like pigs at a sausage factory. Sit down and listen to client expectations and what they really want. Draw out their ideal “outputs” and ways to work. Then share the realities about PR’s quirky game. Discuss, manage and agree on expectations at the very start. Write them down. Everyone will need to be reminded. About once every quarter.
  • Consistent, frequent communications.
    • E-mail is great for quick updates and queries
    • Skype is great for interaction requiring several people in different locations to discuss everything from deadline confirmations to planned activities and roles and responsibilities.
    • Face to face. There’s nothing like it to build relationships. If it’s brainstorming and a creative process, this is the best way to go. It’s also best when reviewing activities and results. Body language says a lot.
  • A written plan. Where’s the roadmap to your communications plan? Has the agency spent several hours gathering information from your corporate subject-matter experts? What about identifying business goals, sales goals, even financial baselines? Communications should complement the business direction. The plan takes these into consideration. PR and communications isn’t just a creative process, or “working the phones.” Strategy and alignment with corporate direction are crucial.
    CAUTION:
    Having no written plan guarantees that you and the agency will chase rabbit trails that lessen results and makes entire campaigns impotent. Remember, it costs just as much to be smart as it does to be dumb. Do it right.
  • Creative ideas, BIG thinking. You’re paying the agency for their brains. They think differently, see the world in a whole new way, and have the talent to think big and really wacky. Let the ideas flow, even the crazy ones. Among them all, there’s always one or two that resonant, work within budget and seems to be right on target.
  • Editorial calendars. Many magazines, even online publications will publish an editorial calendar. It shows what story topics it covers in what months (This helps their ad reps to ring you up and remind you that Topic A is perfect for an ad campaign). But for the PR agency, it’s perfect for approaching the assigned reporter to make sure the client is quoted and part of the story.
  • Reporting. Even Captain Picard needs to know what’s happening in the next frontier. Everything looks “normal” until six cloaked Klingon starships show up. Not good. An agency needs to report during the lulls and peaceful times, and when the unexpected occurs. Good information is, well, good. Consistent reporting isn’t an extra; it’s a requirement. Agency reports may be weekly, monthly or quarterly, but should always be written and specific.
    A client should expect a report to include:

    • Summary of activities and results (ideally, an agreed-upon approach to measurement)
    • List of primary activities and current status
    • List or explanation of specific reporters/publications/online media called, the story topic being pitched and current status
    • Listing of actual news hits (that are or will soon be published)
    • News clips of stories that have published in print and/or online. These are often provided digitally. But are usually provided in some format.
    • A Quick-Glance of the upcoming set of activities and direction.
  • Of course, it goes without saying (I think) that your agency (if it’s a PR agency hired to attract media attention) should be focused on media relations that align with the written communications plan.

Are you getting these 7 Deliverables from your agency?

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Have a great, practical day.

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Filed under Dallas PR agencies, PR ethics, practical pr, Public Relations, Small Business, Small business PR, SMBs PR, Uncategorized, writers in Dallas

To be or not to be … Join a professional association?

I confess. I let it get to me. Then it became a root of bitterness.

And today? I think the fog is lifting and I’m realizing that where I was and what I felt was more about me than “them.”

The story is this. I spent almost two decades actively involved in an association of professional communicators. I worked my tail off, volunteered and worked to do my best at every job I took on. I loved being part of the membership team, leading board members and taking pride in the group’s 300-member organization. It’s humbling to think of this privilege. It was, indeed, a privilege to work with so many talented people. And then somehow—in my stressed-out brain— I stopped being involved.

Today, total regret.

So what can you learn from my experience? First, don’t let stress, anxiety and busyness distort your reality. Make sure your “what is” is real” not Memorex. Also recognize that associations are full of people. That always means incredible results but also incredible differences, temperaments and intentions.

To Join Or Not?

Ready to shell out a few hundred bucks? Ready to advance your career? Ready to create relationships that can last a lifetime? Ready to face people that get on your last nerve?

The unequivocal answer is YES if:

  • You choose to participate, be active and contribute
  • Your intentions are to receive and give. Don’t join just to add to your resume or show up to win awards (There are WAY too many of those … You know who you are).
  • You desire peers who can be mentors and colleagues. These men and women are the ones who influence who hires you, or become those you hire. Active members know who is in it for themselves vs. those ready to contribute. Classic sign #1: A long-time but ever-absent member—or former member—suddenly gets friendly, shows up for every event, starts helping out. It’s obvious. They’ve been laid off and need job leads.
  • You want to grow professionally. That means education as well as connections with other professionals. Scary, but let’s do a little math (not our forte as creative types.) Example? You’re an active member of an association that meets every month. You attend every one, which means you’ve spent two hours a month at a luncheon of 50 people per luncheon. That equals the potential to meet 50 business colleagues every month. That’s 600 contacts a year. What’s more staggering?It’s much more than that! You’re really meeting 12,500 contacts every year. I’ll explain this the next bullet below.
  • If you want to commit and volunteer. More math. What if you volunteered five or six hours a month and worked with five other committee members? That’s 60 hours a year with five other smart and connected professional communicators. You’re building deep relationships. KEY POINT regarding your committee colleagues and luncheon buddies: Every person you know has his or her own sphere of influence. That sphere per person is typically about 250 people. So:
    • Five committee members with “the sphere of 250” equals 1,250 you could potentially meet and know.
    • For luncheons? Take your 50 luncheon attendees, multiply them by 12 luncheon meetings and you get 12,500. I
    • The numbers–and opportunities–are staggering. Just by attending meetings and volunteering, you have access (potentially) to 13,750 people who could hire you or work for you. Hellooooo.
    • KEY POINT  #2: This requires an association of members that understands the practice of giving. As Genie Fuller, president of CEO Partners, says, “What you give to others, you get in return, 10-fold.”

The bottom line: Join. Jump in. Or sit in the lonely garden and watch “The Shriveling Career Vine” grow. Get stale. Stay lonely.

No.

Get a step up, engage and attend those meetings. Don’t forget to volunteer.

And when people disappoint or frustrate, face it. Accept it. And forgive it. Your career depends on it. Mine too.

One last note to the men and women of that association I grumbled and mumbled about? I’m sorry. Please forgive the shortsightedness. I’m on the road. I’ll see you soon.

–The PRactical PR Guy

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Writing a magnificent lead … Hacked, whacked and whoa, what happened?

Let’s face it. Writers are temperamental. Well, not as much as graphic designers or shoppers at Neiman’s, but we do have our moments. I recall a time when I literally stormed my way from my cubicle straight to the CEO’s office. I simply needed to share with him how completely wrong he was in editing the news release I’d written. He’d ruined the lead and the quotes. At the last minute, I was intercepted. My boss headed me off at the pass. He saved my proverbial ass. In hindsight, I still get a queasy feeling. Later on, I found out the CEO had a bachelor’s in journalism. Oh…

Yes, I was twenty-something, cocky and damn sure I’d written some masterpiece intended for the Business Writing Hall of Fame. It was artistically written and carefully crafted to awaken dead readers to life. It was youthful idiocy. Yet, let’s admit, shall we? Even now, when I think about more than two decades of communications, I get a bit of a twitch — maybe an itch — when submitting a release for review by a CEO or CFO who don’t know a noun from a verb. At age 47, there are no more hallway marches, screams or fits of rage, or days of grumbling and pouting. It is what it is.

The News Release Lead Paragraph.

Paragraph #1: The Lead. It must concisely use words that share facts, glean interest and tease readers to continue on. It must apply crisp, active visuals and verbs that tell the complete story. In 40 words–not 400 words, friends–or less.  Frankly, I have no problem extending that to 50, if necessary. Accomplishing all of this is like Indy Jones finding a way out of a snake-filled tomb. In the dark. Improbable but not impossible.

Stay strong when it comes to the lead paragraph. Keep up the mantra to CEOs, CFOs, product marketing managers, secretaries who edit for their c-level bosses, engineers, scientists and others who don’t quite “get” why it has to be 40 words (They also ask why their titles can’t be title case, but that’s for another time). A good strategy: Tell them 40, they’ll write 75; compromise around 50. As long as it says something and avoids words such as “excited,” “proud,” “paradigm shifts” or “world’s leader.” Seriously.

OK, enough Writer-Centered Whining. Here are some PRactical Ways to keep your lead paragraph crisp, tight, short and focused on the news.

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