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The Value of Information

16 May

Social media has certainly changed the role of PR pros in a myriad of ways. Clients or employers no longer expect just a book of media clips to show the value of public relations. More and more, communicators are being asked to extend their roles to encompass what might have been described as marketing, sales, and customer relations.

Aside from the titles and tools though, has the real value proposition changed?

In 1987 one of my favorite film characters ever, Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, hit on a very real business truth. “The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”

Information sharing is at the core of social media. At a time in the PR industry when access to members of the media is just a mouse click away for almost anyone and a well done blog post can generate as much visibility as a hit on the six o’clock news, PR pros can play a vital role in organizational success based on this concept.

  • Assess the information coming into the organization

Begin by listening to what’s being said. What are the messages resonating about your company? Are they positive, negative, or (perhaps even worse) unclear?

Provide your clients/company with strategic counsel at this stage on what the marketplace is really saying about the brand. The speed with which problems can go from minor to a major issue is significantly faster with social media than in the past. Continually listen honestly to understand where you fit in market in the eyes of the public and communicate that with the leadership team.

  • Understand the benefits and limitations of distribution channels

Next step, take some time to think critically about old habits and if there is a need to change your approach. As an example, if a controversy were to flare up online, PR pros need to make the call on how to respond. A traditional news conference likely isn’t the fit. Get rid of any habits that are wasted effort.

Facebook fan page complaint may well be best addressed in a discussion right on the page. But what if the comment is on a third-party blog? Spend time *now* before there is an issue to get up to speed on social channels and how information moves uniquely in each one. Social media communities are not interchangeable and cannot be treated as such.

  • Create information to fill a need

This is where the preparation comes together. Once you understand the market perception of your organization and the channels available to you, it comes down to providing the audience with the information they need and can’t get anywhere else.

Rather than pushing out material *at* people, this is the point where PR practitioners can demonstrate their own value by creating unique content that addresses gaps for the customer. Consistently hearing that your company isn’t providing clear guidance on a service? Then try a YouTube video shared socially to walk through those challenges in a simple manner with some personality. Or maybe it’s a well-written post on a major industry blog to address the concerns. The key outcome is solving a problem that exists for the market and in doing so; you will enhance the value of a particular brand.

Gordon Gekko had it right 24 years ago; the most valuable commodity is information. Now go out and share some information that will be helpful as well as advance your goals.

Don’t Fear the Financials

31 Mar

finance, financial PR, annual reports, PR mathOne of the great misconceptions about the communications industry is that it is just a creative industry. Only right-brain people need apply and it’s all about being a “people person” and connecting.  Those are fine traits but communications professionals must be balanced and there remains an inherent fear in a lot of PR or communications people to tackle math and financials.

The truth is that it isn’t that hard to pick up a decent level of financial understanding and I have great faith in my communications colleagues. It’s just a matter of practice and taking the time to work through a few examples. Being able to read an annual report effectively is an important start so you can understand the current state of your company, clients, or competitors. By just walking through a few tutorials, you can understand all the basics needed to find important information about a company in those seemingly confusing sections. As a starting point, check out this How to Read an Annual Report post which provides a nice step-by-step process and examples.

From there, communications pros that are a bit shy about annual reports, 10k filings, and regulatory documents might be pleasantly surprised what intelligence and research is already out there about companies that will help improve their own work. After getting a few of those basics down, try checking out a site like Investopedia to work through the next steps like economic indicators, analyzing earnings (earnings calls are another great source of information for communicators by the way), and mergers and acquisitions. Or check out a book like Finance and Accounting for Nonfinancial Managers by William Droms and work through it at your own pace.

This isn’t to say you need to be a CPA to be an outstanding communicator but it also doesn’t hurt, especially when working with business leadership who are responsible for every number reported in that annual report. As with anything else, adding another strength to your creative communications toolbox is a good thing and these tools and resources can be helpful for anyone starting out learning more about finance.

What has your experience been working with finance departments or leadership? Is the relationship challenging or have you found tips to bring together the creative and concrete parts of your organization?

Kids Teaching the Workplace: Three Tips to Getting Along

7 Sep

It’s that time of year again where students of all ages head back to school.  From kindergarten to grad school, brilliant minds are being molded and shaped. So why are office dynamics still so challenging? Why is it that seemingly grown adults still get caught in “I don’t like so and so from marketing, they just have it out for me.”

I wish I had the one solution…I’d be an instant “business guru” making $50k a day on the corporate speaking circuit. (*Note here- I may not be a guru but if you like this post, I’m significantly cheaper that the $50k crowd. Call me.)  Thus, like any good communications professional, I went to my best source.  I asked my wonderful, brilliant daughter to share how people should work to get along.  Her points are brilliantly simple and truly do remind me of the principle of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  Really, after years of study we should all know this but here goes.

1) We get along because we’re one class.  We’re a team.

An honest point and realistic understanding that, unless you’re the CEO, you aren’t going to have the ability to build your team *exactly* as you might like.  Fact is you’re always going to have different personalities, styles, and talents on any team.  It’s not always fun to work with, or for, people who you may not love but the sooner you can accept that life isn’t always a bed of roses the better.  You’ve got your team, the key is to best fit in and make the team better in any way you can.

2) If we disagree, we still get along.

Really? Kids at five and six get this, why don’t we?  Disagreement happens and in the grown-up world it can actually be a good thing.  In my experience, if you never disagree it means that you’re probably not trying hard enough and thinking about ideas that will really make a difference.

There are ways to disagree professionally.  It shouldn’t be a personal issue when someone questions an idea or a particular effort.  Give feedback that will move you toward the ultimate good of the company and accept feedback or questions that do the same.

3)  If we have problems, we talk to the person first.  Then you go to a teacher after you try to work it out.

Seriously, if everyone did this there’d be so much less drama at the office.  It is so much more effective to go to “Bob” in accounting if you’re having an issue than complaining to your boss about Bob. Nobody (CEO’s, Presidents, Exec Directors) likes a crybaby.  If you haven’t even made an effort to professionally resolve a potential issue with a colleague before raising the issue with your boss and making it a high corporate priority you very much risk damaging your own reputation as much or more than that of the person you’re discussing.  Obviously there will be times in your career when higher-level intervention is needed and there are cases when a co-worker is seriously inappropriate and in need of an attitude adjustment.  Just be sure you’ve done all you can reasonably can do to solve the issue directly first before pointing fingers.

I had a blast hearing how simple this all seems to a child.  What else have you learned and what other tips do you have to avoid needless office headaches?

That Sucks…Kidding, Haha. No, Actually That Idea Does Suck.

19 Aug

You’ve probably been there too.  Maybe in a meeting, maybe at an awkward social gathering where an idea is raised then gets rolling and all you can think is “how did this catch on?” “Am I crazy? Is this brilliance that I just can’t see?”

You may not want to be the naysayer in the bunch and be perceived as negative but you really don’t want to get stuck with a lousy idea either. We in Minnesota especially struggle with this issue as we’re taught to be Minnesota Nice. Ok, now I’m obviously just having a little fun here as no matter where you’re from it can be a sensitive subject in shooting down someone but in an attempt to help, here are a few ways to actually try to get at the age-old issue of delivering feedback in a work setting.

Blunt Honesty Approach

Pros: Should be clearly understood, To the point with minimal wasted time filled with less than sincere positioning.

Cons: Can leave bad feelings on part of recipient, You can wind up looking like quite a jerk.

Some can pull off blunt honesty and be just fine with the approach.  Heck, some are actually praised for their “straight shooter” nature.  Doesn’t work in practicality for many people though.  If you need practice in this method, perhaps turn to where most of life’s answers are found, Office Space.

The “Help me Understand” Method

Pros: Allows you to be “nice” but still hoping to poke a hole in the idea, Can provide actual constructive feedback in some cases.

Cons: Still may put you in a position to just need to go with blunt honesty if your hinting doesn’t get it done.

This one is a regional favorite here in the Midwest. You can ask questions to make it seem like you’re confused and asking because you care….however, most that use this method are actually going with this as a defense to avoid the direct route. Ask relevant questions to help you understand where they are coming from and maybe see if there is some good thinking going on that you’re missing. It can also help them start to see some possible failings if they haven’t thought of some of the pitfalls you’re seeing.  You know you’re losing the positive vibe and need to switch approaches when you hit phrases like “huh, that’s one way to look at it” or “that’s a different idea” and maybe even the granddaddy of them all “well, that’s unique” (accompanied by slightly rolled eyes for style points).

Idea Building and Constructive Feedback

Pros: Can really lead to better ideas moving forward, Doesn’t shoot down a person that really does feel good about an idea.

Cons: Still may not wind up with an idea you entirely believe in but you can collaboratively determine that based on this style.

Idea building is a way to begin with sucky idea number one and help add some thinking to it in order to help move it to a more palatable concept.  In finding a piece of the idea that has merit, you may be able to support a concept if not the exact model that someone brought forward for execution initially. You’re actually working to engage in a good discussion and brainstorm at this point which can keep you in a positive mode and helping someone improve their own thinking. This really is the best option in giving feedback though it can be challenging and while it can be hard to tell anyone that their ideas just don’t work for you, it’s going to be the best option most of the time.

Or just try to distract them so you can run out the back door….kidding, haha….mostly.



The Building Blocks of Success- Entrepreneurship as Growth

17 Aug

I’ve always been interested in a variety of industries and just generally in how businesses are built successfully.  So, after hearing some positive things about a local company here in Minneapolis and its team, I set out to sit down with Mike Rynchek and get to know him a bit better.  In chatting with him, it became extremely apparent to me that he’s one of those people that was really predisposed from birth to create and seek to build.

When I sat down with the July/August edition of Inc. Magazine I couldn’t help but catch the cover featuring a bold headline of “Bring on the Entrepreneurs” and it got me thinking again of the need to create and build successful, creative business models in the communications and marketing industries.  The traditional agency model, if not broken, is certainly in need of some good maintenance work as fewer companies are seeking single agencies to handle all their needs.  There is so much specialization needed that selling a one-size fits all model doesn’t make sense.   I again thought of my conversations with Mike and asked him to share a little more about his background and thoughts on building a business that is conducive to ongoing growth.

Q: What attracted you to the concept of starting and running your own business?

A: Two words, flexibility and opportunity. Since childhood, I’ve always wanted to be a CEO and I truly enjoy the power of marketing. Put them together and I found my passion.

Q: What can marketers/communicators learn from entrepreneurs in other industries that should be applied to this industry?

A: Marketers, much like entrepreneurs in other industries, should always be looking for inspiration. Now, with the advancement of technology, both entrepreneurs and marketers have the freedom to be creative and innovative in ways never thought possible.

Q: When you think about the creative process, what stands out you and what do you try to do at Spyder Trap to create an environment that is unique for your clients?

A: Consistency is key in any creative process, while forward thinking is crucial in defining our objectives. In combination, these elements help to capture the core needs of our clients. Additionally, our clients provide an external viewpoint for inspiration.

Q: How would you describe the business community in the Twin Cities? What have you found helpful, and what has been challenging?

A: The business community is lively in the Twin Cities offering an abundance of social engagements and community events to engage in. From simple coffee shops to extravagant galas, there is always something social happening in the Twin Cities business community. Social networking helps to establish, to connect, and to build upon professional relationships. One challenge I encounter is time; there is never enough time in a day. I often find myself needing to be in two places at once, if only I had a clone!

Q: A lot of entrepreneurs mention a constant nagging feeling of wondering what’s next. Do you experience that and how do you channel those thoughts into a productive model or path for new experiences?

A: “What’s next?” is a common question among entrepreneurs. This is a question I ask myself everyday! I have found that the best entrepreneurs are perpetually striving to find the pulse for what’s next in all areas of their business and environment. In my experience, the question of, “what’s next” has had a positive impact in aiding my growth as an entrepreneur. I am confident this question drives the growth and innovation necessary to remain successful in marketing. Larry Page and Sergey Brin had to be thinking, “what’s next?” before they launched Google in 1998.

Q: Who has served as an inspiration/mentor for you as you looked to build a successful business?

A: I am fortunate to have numerous mentors in my life who inspire me daily. As long as I can remember, I have found it important to gain insight from people in all areas of my life ranging from high-level executives to family and friends.

Recently, I have been incredibly inspired by philanthropic events that I am involved with, as I have learned that giving back is truly humbling.

I appreciate Mike’s help on this post and sharing some of his thoughts. I’d also like to hear more from the community on taking on an entrepreneurial mindset and what you believe is critical in creating companies that raise the level of quality in a creative manner. How do we collectively break into a new level of achievement that benefits clients and the organizations we serve?