Before You Hit Send

Photo courtesy of jannemei via creative commons

Email has been a truly transformational tool in the business world. Information sharing is fast and much more efficient than anything that came before it.  Some of you can think back to the days of faxing documents with hand-written changes back and forth to update materials in development.  Email is also a great too as you can select every word and know it will be delivered exactly as you want.

But, will every word be *read* and interpreted exactly as you want?  Probably not. Every recipient of an email has a unique perspective based on their role, their relationship with the author, and environmental factors including whatever else is happening in their world.  It can be a challenge to effectively use email with larger groups to deliver a message that you’d like received and understood in a singular way.

I had an interesting experience discussing this issue based on how members of a group read the same message with entirely different interpretations.  While email is a simple tool, before blasting out that next message to a large group, remember to consider a few essential elements to avoid pitfalls within your audience.

  • Timing: Be mindful of the timing of the message as one sent at a time that can be viewed as inappropriate can create significant problems.  If sending a message to a large team, the day before a deadline isn’t going to endear you to them.  If the message is in response to something that happened recently that should be done differently in the future, be aware it may be viewed as a direct correction to someone who took action and it can generate a response akin to “ooh, who did that?” or “Dave’s in big trouble for that one.”
  • Role of the author: Every organization has a different culture but there are some core similarities.  If the president/owner sends out an email, it is viewed as a big deal regardless of the topic.  Whenever leadership communicates something to team members it conveys the message that this is the official position of the company.  This can be a good thing, when it reinforces the culture and style you want to have in the organization.  When Woot CEO Matt Rutledge send his letter to employees about becoming an independent subsidiary of Amazon it was in a style that fit with the culture they’ve established.  Or it can create a storm of new fires for the company like Dan Gilbert’s letter as owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. (and I didn’t even mock the fact it was comic sans font)   So, when determining who the author should be, take some time to decide if it really needs to be from the top of the  organization or if another member of the team might be more appropriate.  You are delivering a message before readers ever get to the content.
  • Tone:  This is a given but often where everyone struggles due to the nature of email communication.  It’s never good to let someone sit down and fire off a snarky message to everyone because of frustration.  It’s not helpful and will likely just reflect negatively on the author and hurt the success of the team. When communicating with others in the company the tone must remain professional (you must remember how easily these can be forwarded), but think about what the tone should be based on the content.  Does it need to be inspiring and motivating?  It is to solicit feedback?  Policy memo and you don’t want feedback?  All have very different styles that should be used in getting the response you want.

All-in-all, email is a great tool.  However, it is not a cure-all for communicating.  Be mindful of what you’re trying to achieve and evaluate the good and bad that goes along with email to decide if it fits or if you’re better off delivering the message in another manner…maybe even (shudder) in person.

Good+Good+Good=Great

It’s fun to win. There’s no arguing the fact really that being the best at something is cool. Certainly in the United States, winning is a big part of our overall culture.  It feels good to win and to know you achieved something special. 

However, I’ve been thinking a great deal about what does “winning” really mean in the PR/communications industry. Is it about being the best at some piece of the puzzle? Is it creating the next shiny new tool or platform?  Financial success?

I think it’s more. I think about many of the truly great PR practitioners I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, and what stands out in my mind is not a singular point but the fact that they are able to walk into any situation and quickly assess an issue and provide insight.  That level of skill and value isn’t built by being the best in one area of the industry but rather a dedication to being good in every aspect of the industry. Media relations- check.  Engaging writer- check. Business acumen- check. Strong leader- check.

When looking to build your own skill set, think about how you can really provide value to your clients or employer…and make yourself indispensible.  It’s a natural desire to be the best at something but if that focus is at the expense of depth overall it’s a trade that may hold you back from being truly great.

The Miracle of Teamwork

Today, the United States Olympic hockey team will try to win its first gold medal since the legendary Miracle on Ice team of 1980.  A lot has changed in the last 30 years as this team is made up of NHL players and veterans that are far from the college team filled with kids who captivated the country, and many all over the world, decades ago.  However, the game today got me thinking about that team of kids and their accomplishment and in particular about the coach of that team, the legendary Herb Brooks.  The way he built that team is an example of outstanding leadership on so many levels.  One of the keys to their collective success was Brooks belief in teamwork.  It’s been well documented, most visibly in the motion picture Miracle by Disney, that Brooks took a unique approach to creating a team that he believed could achieve more than anyone thought possible. 

How did he do it?  There are a few specific areas that I believe are key.

  • The Right Players- One of the quotes that has always stayed with me since first hearing it was “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m lookin’ for the right ones.”  In creating a high performing team, no matter what the situation, an essential element is getting everyone to buy into the goal and to be willing to fit a role that will best support the team.  I’ve been part of some really great teams and some that probably didn’t really reach their full potential.  When you can get the “right” mix, it’s truly awe-inspiring to see how the efforts of many come together to produce more than the sum of their parts.

 

  • Egos Are Checked- Another common pitfall for teams, which ties back to understanding roles, is the interference of ego.  Let’s face it, we have them.  We all like to be recognized and viewed as good at what we do.  And, there’s nothing wrong with wanting recognition for good work; but if it becomes the source of jealousy or any member of the team focuses more on their own glory than team it can become a distraction or downright cancer to the success of the team. 

 

  • Heart- This is one of the elements that you can’t just preach or teach.  Feeling personally connected to a team has to come from each member and it has to be genuine.  For the highest performing teams, in sports or in a professional environment, you have to care about others on the team.  You won’t always be best friends, or even close with everyone, but you have to support them.  You must accept both the strengths and weaknesses of the team members and find ways to succeed together.  Brooks understood this and created a tremendously demanding environment for the team and intentionally kept them at a distance, which was unusual for him versus other coaching efforts, but it strengthened the team.  The team joined together, put differences aside, and became as it worked to reach a far greater goal.

As the United States and Canada meet today, I know that nothing will ever top the 1980 team in my eyes.  I also recognize that the reason that team was so special to me has a lot more to do with teamwork, pride, and courage than just hockey.  It’s about the miracle of teams.

Resources:

If you want to check out more about Herb Brooks and his work, you can visit http://www.herbbrooksfoundation.com

A Shared Dream

This post is simply to thank the great Martin Luther King Jr. for his vision and the courage to follow that vision.  From a communications standpoint, he was an amazing storyteller and leader.  While I’ll likely never write anything so powerful, I think we can all learn from his work. 

You can view full text of MLK’s amazing I Have a Dream Speech and his acceptance of the Nobel Prize here

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values
and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false
and the false with the true.
-Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength To Love, 1963.

PR Resolutions

It’s that time of year when we all make resolutions and promises…many of which fall by the wayside by the end of January.  However, I think as PR practitioners we need to do better.  As we enter into 2010 our profession is still not give the respect I believe it truly deserves.  Too often PR is still viewed as “spinning” bad news to make it acceptable to the masses.  There are too many outstanding communicators out there to allow this misperception to continue.

How do we kill off this old stereotype? We collectively step-up to make sure that we don’t allow our profession to be viewed as window dressing but a critical function to every company we serve. How?  Here’s a few starters.

  • Know Your Business and Your Customer
                                                                                                                                    Before you start throwing out ideas about how to obtain more coverage or the greatest new promotional idea, make sure the efforts line up well with the overall strategic plan for the company.  Take the time to think about your work from the customer perspective– ask yourself why would a customer care and how would your ideas improve their experience.  Also be sure that you’ll be able to measure how your work will have an impact.  Even if you fail, you want to learn from the effort rather than have no idea if you made a difference.     
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  • Use New Tools to Improve Your Work       
                                                                                                                                           Don’t recycle the plan your boss used when you started.  That’s a sure-fire way to maintain a very average program that becomes irrelevant…and doesn’t exactly position you as a great strategic mind.  Take advantage of the new technology out there and think critically about how social media may fit in your mix.  Look at if there is a fit in your company for Skype to cut down on some costs and encourage better collaboration. 
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  • Don’t Just Use New Tools to Improve Your Work              
                                                                                                                   
    On the flip side of that last point, please don’t chase after the new shiny toy so much that you forget about core fundamentals.  I don’t care how many followers you can get on Twitter if you can’t explain what the heck it is your company does and why anyone in their right mind would use your product or service.  Be sure to communicate all the methods you want to use in reaching your audience. Your discussions should never strictly focus on a technology but what the technology can do for you. 
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  • Deliver What Reporters Need    
                                                                                                                                                                         One of the issues that hounds our field is the “smile and dial” approach where a PR person is asked, typically by a client, to just call your reporter friends and pitch this great new product.  Here’s the problem, if you have no idea what the product does or (even worse) the product is junk and you still pitch it then it’s your reputation that takes the hit.  We need to be smart enough and strong enough to push back to our companies and clients if there is no valid news angle. 
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  • Be an advocate for communications 
                                                                                                                                                     This is especially aimed at my corporate readers more than agency but it applies to us all.  If you are being paid to be an expert communicator, you also need to help others in your organization understand the true importance of the role.  If you have a truly groundbreaking product that nobody knows about, then you have nothing.  If communications is always viewed as the least important part of a planning session then you know something is critically wrong culturally and you need to change it.  Take the time to explain (supported by examples of your results) the value of communications and be a leader in speaking up for the importance of our profession. 

So, in 2010 let’s all resolve to eliminate the missteps that plague our profession.  Let’s do a little PR work on PR this year.  What else belongs on this list?  What else can we do to improve our collective reputations?  Let’s think big this year and make some real change.