Time to Think

24 Feb

It’s hard to do when competing in a truly 24/7 world that depends on constant motion to stay ahead of the curve and ahead of your competition. However, there is an essential element to growth and success that requires leaders to make a conscious, and seemingly backward, choice. Stop. Think.

Instead of pushing for faster and more efficient there are times when you need to look for slower and more thoughtful. In just the PR world, if you search on Google for PR Consultant List you’ll get over 3.2 million results on how to be a good consultant, who are the best consultants and much more. The point of all this? There are thousands of other professionals in any field that are tactically able to execute to some level in the same general way.

Finding creative solutions is not a new problem, every great advance in human history is brought on by the need to solve a challenge that required a different type of thought. The industrial revolution for example was a shift focused on economic development that increased the growth of major cities and moved countries away from a predominantly agricultural model. In 2011, as we collectively look at a landscape of economic challenges, significant global turmoil, and rapidly changing technological advances; it’s time to think again. People in every industry are seeking and desperately wanting to find creative ideas. That desire for truly smart thinking is why TED Talks are so engaging and popular. Smart thinking is not a commodity business, churning out tactics is.

Find ways that work for you to think and evaluate what’s next. A few ideas to consider might include:

Blocking time on your calendar – Literally carve out time on the Outlook or Google calendar that pushes you from meeting to meeting. Close the door for an hour to read, think about a challenge in front of you from a different perspective, or write out a few free-flowing ideas (maybe crazy ones) to spark your thinking.

Talk with others – Go out, get away from your typical environment. If you’re a social thinker you’ll be well-served by gaining energy from the process of gathering input and feedback.

Shut it down – If your goal is to push a 2,000 pound boulder up a hill, just pushing harder isn’t going to cut it. Same thing happens when we try to solve problems by just pushing. Go entirely away from the situation, find a place where you’re relaxed and can find new perspective. Maybe you’ll find that there’s actually a good boulder on the other side of the hill and you don’t need to push the first one at all.

The communications profession is not just a collection of tactics. It relies on smart thinking, problem solving, and understanding human dynamics which cannot simply be found on a checklist.

There is no right answer and everyone will find their place and style but having a place to think and create is critical. It’s what separates you from the 3.2 million other options out there for your clients and employers. What do you do to think and find focus? What has worked for you?

Where Are You Going? Three Benefits of Setting Goals.

6 Nov

As fall begins to settle in here in the great state of Minnesota, it gets cooler and the leaves fall. We collectively drag out some warmer clothes and bitterly put away those summer shorts and wonder why we do live here year after year. Fall also reminds me of looking forward and sorting out what’s next. You see, despite Outlook for both the office and my phone, Google calendars, a calendar on the fridge, a calendar in my office (you’re getting the idea) I still keep a planner too. It’s nice for me to make notes or change appointments on the go and it’s always with me. As I get ready to order the 2011 planner, I looked back and flipped through the pages of the last year. It’s amazing to see the journey you take in a year. There are reminders of successes, failures, and moments to remember both personally and professionally.

I also set goals in the back of said planner. Some are for the next year and some are significantly longer-term. I recently hit one that I’d set out more than 10 years ago when speaking with the president of the first company I worked for out of school. He’d asked “how will you know if you’re successful in your career? My response was, when my peers and those I respect come to me for thoughts, assistance, or to chat when they hit challenges in their careers. It was an answer rooted in what I saw in my dad growing up as he worked hard but gave freely of his time to try to help others and his profession. It was a surprising moment for me and one that probably wouldn’t have meant much if I hadn’t set out some goals about what I want to achieve and how to do so.

So, as we enter 2011, consider the benefits of goal setting in your career.

1) They provide focus: The process of goal setting is one where you need to stop and think. These goals aren’t just the tactical elements that need to be covered for you team/boss next year but think about where you really want to be in three years. What are the steps you need to take to make that possible? It’s difficult to take time to stop and slow down but it provides clarity to what you truly want to achieve.

2) You have accountability: The simple act of writing out goals provides you with a measurable timeline. You’ve laid out your goal, perhaps some building block goals along the way, and you have a path to guide you. You’re far more likely to meet your goals when they are written out than just saying “someday I want to…”

3) Goals serve as a reminder: When times get tough, which they will, looking at your written goals can provide you inspiration to keep moving forward. The challenges remain but when aiming for a larger goal, you can ride out the ups and downs along the way.

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?

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.