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Reflecting, Remembering and Learning

11 Sep

American Flag, September 11, 9/11, AmericaThere will be a ton of posts today talking about the impact of September 11 on our world. I’m going to go a bit off script of this blog and the communications focus today as well though I will note only that the lessons learned about belief, honor, and doing what’s right apply to everyone in whatever you do.

In 2001 we collectively saw the most horrendous moment in many of our lifetimes, especially for those of us that hadn’t lived through Vietnam or World War II. An attack on U.S. soil was something that seemed unimaginable. I, like so many others, began my morning at work before any news of the Towers came in. I heard on the radio first that a plane had crashed into the first tower. I assumed it to be a tragic accident. I went online and looked to find more but sites were overloaded and locked up. Our office turned on a television in a conference room and we began to realize the magnitude of what really happened.

In the days and weeks that followed, our world truly changed forever as we heard stories of immeasurable loss that have stayed with me for a decade now. I can’t imagine the fear of not knowing if a loved one made it out or not. The hurt of so many children who lost their parents in an instant. The feelings of those on the planes and realizing what was happening.

However, today as I look at the events of 9/11 I also see many things that we should honor and remember.

  • Sacrifice- I recall the images of amazing people from FDNY, NYPD, emergency responders and citizens moving toward the Towers while others were trying to get out. Hearing their stories and the story of those on Flight 93 including a Minnesota native, Tom Burnett Jr., who gave their lives to try to prevent that day from being even more deadly all deserve our respect.
  • Belief- There was an unwavering belief from all those noted above and involved that they could make a difference and help. Sometimes the worst and hardest moments in our lives bring out the best in us. On that day, there was no question and no hesitation from people all across our country but just a desire to do whatever they could to help others. There was also a belief that America was worth defending and fighting for.
  • Unity- In an era where politicians can’t wait to take credit for the good and blame the bad on others, Americans came together and ignored our differences and a spirit of unity and teamwork developed and we were all united. An attack on one of us was an attack on all of us and it was a great feeling to see people here in the Midwest and all over supporting our citizens on the East Coast.

After ten years and time to reflect it’s still painful to think of that day and what it meant. My daughter will never know a world without the underlying threat of terrorism and I have to explain why anyone would ever do such a thing. I think of all those who lost family and friends that awful day. I think of many friends and people I love in New York and am so thankful they’re here today but know I can never fully understand the meaning of this day in their lives.

However, I am proud that New York and the United States got back up and rebuilt and we go on. We remember, we hurt, but we also hope for a brighter future and that our children will never know another day like that Tuesday morning where our world changed.

Five Ideas to Repair the Credibility of PR

29 Sep

Photo courtesy of DoktorSpinn under Creative Commons.There’s an issue that has always been a challenge for a lot of good PR people and it rears its ugly head a few times each year.  How can PR improve its own reputation?  I had a couple of reminders on the need for this work recently from very different sources.

First off I saw an interesting post from Keith Trivitt on PR Breakfast Club titled Ethical vs. Unethical: A Lot Rides on Only 2 Letters that highlighted yet another case where PR ethics were called into question around paid toy pitches that were framed as “expert” opinion.  Of course the problem is the expert was a front.  Transparency? Nah, why bother.  Focus on the audience? Crazy.

The second time the issue of our professional credibility came up was a chat I had with the stylist cutting my hair.  She asked what I did and I explained a bit about my varied communications work. She was surprised by the variety of efforts I mentioned.  She shared that she essentially thought of PR as promoting celebrities. Ugh.  She asked more about if PR could actually drive customers to a business like hers.  I explained that it sure better or you’re wasting your money and your PR person isn’t doing their job.

The professional of public relations has been relegated to the world of used car sales credibility for too long.  What can we do to improve the reputation of our field? Here are a few starters:

  • Highlight broader knowledge: The discipline of PR isn’t just media relations, it never has been.  Working with the media is an important skill but so is understanding product positioning, recognizing the importance and value of strong corporate reputation, and how online engagement has changed the dynamics of customer interaction.  Many PR professionals are handling all this and more everyday and their credibility is undermined by the type of PR people who believe the only credentials our profession requires are a good smile and the ability to raise a martini glass.
  • Industry advocacy: Our industry needs to continue to work on its own image.  At a national level, PRSA has been working to highlight the importance of ethical behavior and has a code of ethics for its members.  However, I think the industry needs to go further to push forward on what essentially equates to a campaign for itself to fight the stereotype of PR that continues to be pushed out by idiotic representations like The Spin Crowd.
  • Greater transparency:  Many of the problems surrounding the industry stem from questions around the motives of professionals and what is happening behind the scenes.  The toy review case mentioned earlier is a great example of what happens when your strategy is “let’s hope nobody notices or finds out.”  If that concept is ever raised in a meeting you know where its going to end up.  The need for transparency is well documented and is more important now than it ever has been as we live in an era where nearly everything can be tracked digitally.  If you aren’t comfortable with your name appearing next to your work on a billboard it’s a sign that you might want to rethink the idea.
  • Training: These issues can be very muddy to discern, especially when you’ve not faced them in the past, and greater training and education would benefit the industry in the long run.  Again, greater emphasis on real-world ethical case studies via PRSA programming could go a long way to providing guidance.  As could commitments from many of the larger agencies in the field.  A high percentage of younger pros get their first shot in PR from agencies and there are certainly some agencies out there that are part of the problem but many could also have a tremendous impact on industry reputation by including ethical decision-making as a key point of ongoing training.  By investing time on employees early on, they also protect their own reputation to avoid train wrecks that hurt the business like the FTC issues for Reverb and the industry.
  • Accountability: We are all responsible for this.  If you care about your own future in this industry and want to be able to hold your head high saying you work in public relations, you need to take steps to hold yourself as well as the companies and clients you serve to higher standards.  Take time to think about these issues and question those that would push you to compromise your values.  It’s ultimately your reputation and name on the line.

What else can we do to improve the expectations within our profession?  How can we take some time to repair our own image?   Add your ideas and share them with others so we can all feel good about the amazing work being done in our field and its future.

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?

Adapting for Success

2 Jun

I’m a huge fan of nature and often times see things very differently by simply observing.  Now, let me be clear before any of you really outdoorsy types start inviting me on a major hiking, camping or exploring adventure: I like being out in nature and enjoying the beauty…then going home to high-speed Internet, air conditioning, and running water.   =)  Anyway, I believe there is a tremendous amount that can be learned by watching how the world moves without us impacting it.   Observe how all kinds of creatures fit into the world and how the ecosystem has a natural rhythm to it.

However, what I noticed last week had nothing to do with a natural setting.  I sat at a drive through bank waiting for the teller to send me a receipt via that amazing wonder of the world known as an air tube and noticed a small bird flying above me.  I watched him fly into the overhang above.  His feet hopped deliberately from the broad girder to a thin piece of metal tubing running downward for several feet to reach a platform below.   He remained there a moment, picked up some sort of twig, and returned in the same focused manner to the overhang above while chirping happily.

What was it about this that made it stand out and stick with me so clearly?  And, how in the world does this relate to communications and PR?

This little bird has adapted to the environment around it which is by no means typical or natural for him.  In the heart of downtown Minneapolis this bird has created a home surrounded by concrete and steel with a constant hum of traffic moving past it each day.

Public relations as an industry must find ways to  successfully adapt to a changing world.

  • PR practitioners must thing critically to understand the goals of the business.  We cannot depend solely on media relations to validate our existence.  The environment is changing and the barriers to traditional media are being dissolved.  Anyone with a computer and a little creativity can find ways to get information to media outlets.  Maintaining a list of contacts isn’t good enough.
  • PR pros have an ever-increasing list of tools available to us that connect with key audiences. We should take the time to expand our own skill sets to understand how social media, geolocation applications, and customer created content on Yelp or blogs impacts our organizations/clients.
  • For the good of the industry, PR must take an honest look at the traditional models of how we measure success.  Does the typical client/agency model still work?  I don’t know.  What is the value proposition for organizations like PRSA and IABC?  Access to thought-leaders is far different thanks to technology versus 10 years ago…how do we need to provide opportunities for continued learning?

I will never pretend to have all the answers but would sure enjoy hearing what others think on the issue of adaptability for our industry.  Change isn’t always easy but a little birdie showed me that it is possible.

Hubris Always Ends Badly: Will Facebook Fall?

4 May

It’s a lesson as old as the days of the great Greek civilization. Hubris.  Exaggerated pride or self-confidence clouds vision, creates a focus centered on self more than on community and others. I’ve been wondering lately if we may be seeing the signs of a pending fall for one of the giants in the social media world in Facebook. 

For the last several years Facebook has been fighting a battle around how to monetize its business while facing the ever-present rumors about adding user fees and creating backlash that comes and goes. Mark Zuckerberg and company have managed to continue to grow the base of users despite the flare-ups.  However, I’m starting to wonder if the shine is beginning to fade a bit. Facebook has become a haven of Farmville, Mafia Wars, and fan pages for everything.  (Who isn’t a fan of “eating” really??) It could just be my perception but more and more I hear from friends, colleagues, and contacts in my community that Facebook is no longer a “must visit” for them. 

The last straw for many could be the constant privacy creep that continues to erode user control of their data. Now, many users were never savvy enough to control their data in the first place which led to many of the significant “fired because of Facebook” headlines over the years. However, recent changes that limit the option for even advanced users to control aspects of their use and the Social Graph concept are pushing the boundaries of creepy big brother control.  I tend to agree with Dan Costa on his interpretation of the privacy issues around the concept of Facebook providing such detailed history of “likes” with other sites.

Where does hubris fit into this? In recent comments from Zuckerberg, it’s very clear that Facebook will not go out of its way to protect its users’ privacy. When leadership no longer cares what is important to the audience that feeds its own success, I believe you’ve lost sight of your own place in the world. You’ve crossed a line when you believe you’re untouchable. There seems to be a growing sense of invincibility coming from the Facebook folks. A belief that users should “just trust us, we know what you really want.” That is what concerns me as an outsider looking in. Hubris. 

Maybe I’m entirely wrong. Perhaps enough users will continue to love the game apps that Facebook offers regardless of privacy.  Maybe there are enough true Facebook loyalists who will never leave.  However, I wonder how the giant in social media will maintain its position. And what happens if the floodgates open and 400 million users becomes 300? If the walls start to crumble and some leave, the experience for those remaining is diminished.  If your friends aren’t on the site, your experience is less rewarding as you aren’t connecting.  What is the tipping point? Are there enough new users still coming into the funnel to replace the ones that are tiring of stale info and constant changes designed to make the site a more open data source for Zuckerberg and crew to sell? Maybe for a while but somewhere there’s a bright creative student creating the next big thing for consumers like Facebook was…four years ago.

Photo courtesy ajh1963 via Creative Commons