A Big Idea Can Come from an Odd Place

The pressure is on. The client is coming in from out of town. You need to be able to present some new ideas, new strategy and new thinking. But, for the moment your mind is dried up. How often have you found yourself in this impossible position? Well, I for one suggest that the best thing you can do is leave your desk, take a break, go out to grab lunch or just take a walk around the block to help unblock your creative mind.

Here are some of the most unremarkable creative venues in which I have come up with some great Big Ideas.

  1. A Bathroom Break. Never go to the bathroom without a pen tucked in your ear. And the white toilet paper or paper towels can afford a great impromptu place to write up a brainstorm. Or take your cellphone and jot your ideas on the Notebook app.
  2. Coffee Shop. A warm caffeinated drink on a cold day can not only warm your body, by rev up your mind too.
  3. Dog Walk. Take your dog for a long walk and enjoy nature, even if it’s in mid-town Manhattan or in the rural Vermont mountains. Relaxation will lead to freedom of body and mind.
  4. Home chores. Yup, that mindless buzz of the vacuum will help you focus on one thing, the noise. And that’s great, because the less you focus on the more you open up your mind to new ideas. They don’t say “whistle while you work” for nothing.
  5. The Shower. Have that cellphone or that pen and paper on hand. The soothing moisture and warm environment are a breeding space for great ideas.
  6. Close your eyes and picture yourself in your perfect environment. A holiday retreat. A walk on the beach. Swinging in a hammock. Take yourself temporarily out of your current environment and let the creative juices begin to flow.
  7. Take a power nap. Limit your naps to a maximum of 30 minutes. This well help to refresh and refocus you without interfering with your usual nightly routine or causing you to struggle to nod off come bedtime
  8. Play with toys. You gotta have office toys. There are some standard office toys including a slinky, a kaleidoscope, ball and jacks, fidget spinner. Take a break and play with your toys.
  9. Shake up your surroundings. If your office is near a park, like Central Park in New York, put on your coat and take a power walk through the meadows and trees. A walk in the woods is always great for clearing the mind.
  10. Sleep on it. And, if all else fails, go home and sleep on it. Everything seems better in the morning.

Life is a journey, and big ideas often lie along its path.

How to Protect Your PR Image

I remember when I was a kid my mother telling me, “Don’t sign your name to anything that you wouldn’t be afraid of appearing one day on the front page of the New York Times.” How true these words of wisdom were.

Today, with the advent of the internet, it seems that everyone is obsessed with themselves—and others—from constant social media updates, including those ubiquitous snaps of what they’re eating—to selfies.  But heed the warning of my mother and beware of the following:

  • Photos–The next time you go to post photos of your awkward encounters, including drinking, carousing and canoodling, think about what mother said—and don’t do it.  It can come to haunt you in the future.  Today, employers often ask not only to view your social media sites, but also ask for passwords so they can take a closer look.  Don’t risk it.
  • Social sites—The same warning goes for sites like Facebook and Twitter where people often vent their hostilities towards people, places and things.  Mom would tell you to Inhale, breathe slowly and take a minute to rethink posting hostile posts.  Like those irreverent photos, they too have a life of their own.  And in the corporate world, where you may go to seek future employment, well, this just may be a hindrance. But, on the other hand, a little reverence may go a long way by posting comments/opinions/complaints on company social sites, such as their Facebook or Twitter, and often will engender a rapid response.
  • Emails—Need I say more than these two words: Hillary Clinton. Be aware that emails too have a life of their own and a strange way of never disappearing—they are like that stray piece of dog hair that sticks to your clothing and try as you may, never gets pulled off.  That’s what happens to emails. After you write them, again, think about taking that extra breathe, inhale and then fully contemplate the possible ramifications of the contents of your email appearing on the front page of the New York Times.   And, another point of interest: Be aware of that reply to all button, and try NOT to hit it, especially when replying on personal matters.  Everyone remembers at least once occasion when that button got us in trouble.

As a leading New York public relations agency, T.J. Sacks & Associates tries to counsel our clients to heed these warnings before it’s too late.

Nobody Calls Anymore: Tips for Effective Communications

A few months ago, I had a meeting with a potential new client from China.  It went well enough that halfway through he asked me, “So how do you communicate with your clients?” To which I responded, “Telephone, text, Skype, FaceTime or email.” He queried. “What about WhatsApp?” And right there, in my Park Avenue office conference room we stopped our meeting in order to connect via WhatsApp.

I think it’s an extraordinary thing that we now have so many tools with which to communicate to potential clients, friends and family…yet, somehow the art of communication has fallen to the wayside.

Here are a few of some valuable tips on how to make the most out of the art of communicating:

  • Come prepared. Prepare a list of points that need to be covered in the conversation.
  • Listen before you speak. Make sure you have not only talking points prepared, but also listening points. Don’t be in such a hurry to get your opinion or thoughts across and therefore miss the important nuances that are coming from your client.
  • Avoid relying on visual aids. Steve Jobs instituted a rule at Apple that banned all PowerPoint presentation. Be prepared to use works, compelling storytelling and nonverbal cues to communicate your points.
  • Non-verbal cues. One study found that nonverbal communication accounted for 55 percent of how an audience perceived a presenter. That means that the majority of what you say is communicated not through words, but through physical cues. Fill up the space you are given, maintain eye contact and if appropriate, move around the space.
  • Don’t interrupt. It is very rude to interrupt a person while they are speaking. Nobody likes to be interrupted because it hampers the thought process and it is disrespectful.
  • Don’t be defensive. Be neutral and transparent so that you can understand what is being discussed. Always maintain the balance in the conversation so that everyone involved in the discussion has a fair part in it.
  • Don’t deviate. Stay focused on the agenda at hand. Always maintain the balance in the conversation so that everyone involved in the discussion has a fair part in it.
  • Be confident. If you’ve been invited to the table, then assume that you are expected to be part of the conversation.  Don’t look for validation or an invitation to join the conversation from your superior.
  • Be open to new ideas. New ideas can come unexpectedly, so if a younger, less experienced member of the team comes up with a great new idea, or helps open your eyes to a new direction, be open and receptive.
  • Explore new communications methods. Just like when my Chinese client suggested opening a line of commutations via WhatsApp, be open to some of the newer technology that may make communication easier, faster and more effective.
  • Master the art of timing. Great communicators, like all great comedians, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.

Do Your Parents Understand Public Relations?

Do you parents know what you do for a living in the PR field?

So I had been working in public relations so about a year when my parents asked me, “What exactly is public relations? Is it like advertising?”  If your parents or spouse don’t understand the difference, don’t be surprised. A recent survey of 1000 PR pros found 72% of them say their parents don’t understand what PR is, and another 41% say their spouses don’t know either.

So, in an effort to try to educate my parents I drove down to Philadelphia and gave a full two-hour public relations presentation to both my parents and an uncle.  The case history revolved around a current client at the time, Mannington floorcovering.  I brought down sample pitch letters and media lists, explained the difference between earned media and paid-for media, and even went so far as to show them final media placements for the client in both magazines and newspapers.

Although I wasn’t surprised when they asked why my by-line didn’t appear in these content-driven articles that had been basically lifted from my press release, I felt confident as I drove back to New York that my family definitely had a much clearer understanding of the difference between earned content and paid-for advertising.

And then, about two weeks later, I got a letter from my dad.  The contents of the envelope contained a full-page, four-color ad of Mannington floorcovering appearing in the recent issue of Better Homes & Gardens magazine. Penned proudly at the top of the advertisement was a hand-written note from my dad proudly saying, “Great job! Love the work you did for your client.”  That night I called to thank him for his continued interest in my success. What more could I say?

Know When to Go: Exiting a PR Firm

There comes a time in every public relations staffer when all of the stars line up and it’s very obviously time to start the job search—while you are currently employed.  There are lots of reasons for taking that next step; these are just a few.

  1. Stay for a year. Unless the job is excruciating, the rule of thumb is to remain at a position for a full year.  Why?  It gives your time there validity. It shows that you decided to leave on your own terms instead of being asked to leave after a few months.
  2. Exception to the one year rule. If the position absolutely is intolerable, or worse yet, you just made the wrong public relations agency decision, get out of there sooner than later.  Why? Because a mistake of a few weeks/months can easily be erased from your resume—which means, not included at all.
  3. Your boss is a terror. The interesting thing that I have witnessed about newly minted bosses is that in most cases the company has put little if any effort into creating an environment whereby junior people are shown how to be a manager/boss.  In most cases, employees learn from example—they see how other managers manage and hopefully they extract the most outstanding leadership qualities.  But, that’s assuming that their bosses have great qualities that can be emulated. I’m all for leadership and managerial training.  If your company doesn’t provide training, look into courses at such institutions as Dale Carnegie.
  4. You’re not learning anything new. Yup, there may come a time when you feel like you are just running around in a hamster cage—doing the same tasks every day with seemingly no opportunities to learn new skills.  That may be a time to first talk to your supervisor and explain your situation.  If your request for growth opportunities is ignored, well, then that is definitely a sign to start updating your resume and posting it on
  5. You weren’t promoted. So you think the time has come for you to get a promotion—and it didn’t happen.  And even worse, someone who you think is your equal got the promotion.  What to do?
    1. Make a plan with your boss. A former employee of mine did just this.  She desperately wanted to be promoted to Account Supervisor. So, she made an appointment to meet with me to get me engaged in a plan to help her gain that promotion. We laid out a six-month plan and low and behold, she kind of had me between a rock and a hard place because at the end of the six months she had accomplished all that we laid out—and she received the promotion.
    2. You can just look elsewhere. But this is often a hard one because other public relations agencies usually require new hires to already be doing the work of that position.  There’s the conundrum.
  6. You made a big mistake. Now, how do I sensitively approach this one?  OK, first is that I need to explain what may be defined as a big mistake.
    1. An office affair. In most instances and in most agencies, this is a big no no, especially if your affair is with your boss.
    2. You’ve been dishonest. This is another big no no.  This can include anything from taking money from the company by turning in falsified expense reports to searching for a new job on company time. For greater insight here’s an article from Small Business Chron.

Marketing + Public Relations Newspeak

It’s been more than 15 years since I opened my own marketing/public relations agency and during that time I have come to realize that an entire new lexicon has developed while I was sleeping, so to speak. I’m a pretty simple gal, so when I come across a new word I immediately Google it.  And lately, more often than not, I find myself rolling eyes, shaking my head and then just going back to reading.

The reason I resort to the eye-rolling is that marketing people now, more than ever, feel compelled to invent new words for us to learn and to replace the older, less exciting words. When I hear the younger generation of marketers uttering the newspeak, that’s when I once again find my eyes rolling.

Really? Do we really need a new lexicon to define what we’ve been doing all along?  For your ease, and to enable your own eye rolling, is a list of newspeak:

  1. Analytics—We used to call these reports.
  2. Content—We used to call this writing.
  3. Curating—We used to call this organizing.
  4. Earned media—We used to call this public relations.
  5. Evidence-based—We used to call this research.
  6. Engage—We used to call this commenting, sharing, listening, viewing.
  7. Infographics—We used to call this pictographs.
  8. Layering—We used to call this researching.
  9. Metrics—We used to say measurements.
  10. Monetize—We used to call this value.
  11. Multiplatform—We used to call this entertainment.
  12. Narrative—We used to call this the story.
  13. Optimize—We used to call this improve.
  14. Organic—We used to call this connecting, referring.
  15. Owned media—We used to call this promotion.
  16. Paid media—We used to call this advertising.
  17. Resonate—We used to call this shared emotion.
  18. Traffic—We used to call this circulation or viewership.
  19. Transparency—We used to call this what everybody knows.
  20. Value proposition—We used to call this core values.
  21. Verbiage—We used to call these words.

What Makes a Good PR Intern

I always said that I could tell a good PR person within minutes of meeting him/her. And the more that I have worked in the business, the more I see that it is not necessarily age and experience that are the best qualities, but often it is their native ability.

Last year, I attended a recruiting fair at a local college and received numerous dropped off resumes from students as young as freshmen to as old as grad students.  Since I manned a desk at the event, I was able to chat briefly with many of them, and I could tell the difference between those would fit in at my agency and those who might not. There are “tells,” subtle indications of a person’s true nature, that are revealed in a matter of seconds. Let me some of the “tells” that encourage me to pursue a candidate.

  1. The elevator pitch. The candidates have to recognize that they only have a minute to inform and impress their potential employer. They should rehearse, rehearse, rehearse how they are going to sell themselves in less than a minute. Practice the handshake, the eye contact, and the smile in a mirror so that you see what your employer sees.
  2. Confidence. They say that confidence comes with experience. I disagree.  I have met with young college student who have terrific presence and confidence.  I actually had one critique a client’s packaging colors in a manner that actually impressed me so much that I hired her on the spot.
  3. Enthusiasm. I can’t overstate that genuine enthusiasm seems to come from within. Although it may be hard to learn to be enthusiastic about something that you aren’t, if you can master this, then you are on the road to a successful internship. Not all public relations agency clients are glitzy and glamourous, so if you can be enthusiastic about, let’s say a product that prevents diarrhea, then you just may have the qualities to be a good PR intern.
  4. Looking the part. If you are meeting with a prospective employer of a successful PR agency, dress like you are already working there.  Yes, I know that some firms allow for jeans and t-shirts, but please don’t come to my office wearing that dress code even though others are.  You are applying for a professional position, look the part.
  5. Perseverance. So you are lucky enough to land the interview, make sure to follow up with the employer with a brief and personal thank you email (no phone, please) restating why you believe working for her agency might be a benefit to both of you.  Then, wait it out. Sometimes it may take longer than you think for the company to make its final hiring decision.

How to Read a PR Client’s Mind

How many times have you wished that you could indeed read your client’s mind? Or even better, read the mind of the prospective client?  I remember pitching a cruise ship line several years ago.  They had called me because I had the relevant experience just recently having launched a new ship.

After the preliminary niceties, it was decided that I would fly out to Seattle to meet with them to present our initial public relations program.  But first, I asked if they had a budget.  Their response was the dreaded “zero-based budget” which quite frankly means that although they probably do in fact have a budget, they don’t want to tell us because they have the misbelief that we possibly will bring the budget in for less, and then they will have “saved money.” How foolish.

So, to remove the suspense, I didn’t get the piece of business. Why? Because when the client went to the back page budget and saw the total, he screamed, “On my goodness, this is much higher than our budget.”  Now, if the potential client had only told me his budget number I would have been able to create the best public relations program at that budget number. But because I couldn’t read his mind, I came in too high and could never salvage the business.

So, what has this taught me? Here is some insight into what potential clients are thinking:

  1. Can I trust her? Remember, it’s the presenter, not the presentation that gets you hired. They want you to look them in the eye and make them believe that if they give you their business, that you can truly help to solve their problems, make them richer, sell more product, whatever.
  2. Will she be there when I need her? Back in the day, I remember a noted PR firm having mandated that their staff wear pagers even when they went to the bathroom.  Today, with everyone’s mania about not going anywhere without their cellphones, the need for a mandate has been eliminated.  Clients want to know that they can reach you anytime and anywhere.  Yup, I know, that can mean nights and weekends, but if your client has a sudden crises, like a cruise ship fire off the coast of Alaska, they want to make sure that their team is there for them.
  3. Will she be the monitor of my money? OK, so you developed a suggested budget but things happen during the implementation of a public relations program whereby you may need to spend additional monies. Don’t be an idiot and spend big money without getting client buy-in. I have never had a client tell me “no” I can’t spend that unanticipated money. I have only seen clients go ballistic when huge, unanticipated expenses come through.
  4. Will she make me look like a hero to my boss? Everyone has a boss, even the CEO who just may happen to report to his shareholders.  So, when you are hired it is your job to make him look good; to make his superiors believe that hiring a PR firm was a good and meaningful corporate spend.

5 PR Tips for Managing Your Online Reputation

Here’s a great “geek joke:” Where do you hide a dead body? Answer: On the third page of Google results.

I always tell young employees to be careful of what they post on social networks cause it may come back to bite them in the ass.  Whether it’s partying at a frat house with beer bottle in hand or romping topless at a summer share, posting these shots on your social networks can lead to job declines and worse.  The best protection is not to post ‘em.  Next best is to become proficient at creating your own content and optimized profiles, to push offending content down to that proverbial third page in Google search results.

  1. Search yourself. Do a Google search on yourself including Google Images. Heavens forbid you see that photo of you holding that beer bottle, or worse.  If you do, then you know you have your work cut out for you.
  2. Keep private things private. Put privacy settings on all content you want to share only with a select group of friends and family. Remember that social networks are always changing their privacy settings and friends and family can easily forward embarrassing photo without your consent.
  3. Buy your domain name. Yup, for a few bucks you too can have your own website. You don’t have to be a famous author like Stephen King in order to get your own personal domain name.  This is the place to start building your personal reputation:  Place your bio, photos, blog posts and articles from sources you respect.
  4. Join social networks. Here’s where you get the opportunity to tout yourself and your accomplishments.  Post your personal information on sites like Facebook LinkedIn, Twitter and even Google+.  And if you’ve got some good graphic illustrations try posting on YouTube, Tumblr and Pinterest. Then, if you want to be more active, try joining groups on sites like LinkedIn and posting new content.
  5. Optimize your social presence. Fill out your information as completely as possibly including, of course, your URL and all social network links. Most websites give you the option of linking to other social media sites—do this—it will make your online presence stronger.

5 Key Skills for PR Professionals

“Why do you want to go into public relations?” I queried.

“Because I’m good with people,” she responded.

I have lost count on the number of times I have heard this response from the uninformed person who acknowledges that she/he wants to pursue a career in public relations. In order to succeed in the public relations industry, there are several basic skills that must be either honed or acquired. Here is a list of my top five:

  1. Strong writing. It always surprises me when a newbie is unaware of the need for good writing skills.  In fact, that’s probably the most important skill of all.  Employees have to be able to write to the media (via pitches and queries), write to the clients (status reports and updates) as well as their boss (weekly reports).  A well written media query will garner the attention that clients deserve.
  2. Think like a reporter. I was fortunate to have gotten my first job as a news reporter, but most of those in public relations don’t have that opportunity. It is a must to not only query the right media, but to read what they write so that you know how to approach them on relevant topics.  If the reporter covers the area of technology, you will surely be embarrassed if you contact her on behalf of your interior designer client.
  3. Confident public speaking. I can’t emphasize enough the need for students in marketing and public relations to take public speaking courses while in college.  This will prove to be invaluable the first time attending a new business meeting or facing down a client across a conference room.
  4. Know your client’s industry. I always tell my clients that “We work with you, not for you.” The important differential here is that we know his business as well as if we were actually on staff working for him.  Learn to research the industry whether it’s consumer products, finance or pharmaceuticals…and become an expert in that field.
  5. The ability to just figure it out. A new project, like learning how to upload a client’s blog to Facebook Instant Article, may seem daunting at first, but once done, will provide a new skill that can be brought on to other tasks.  Take the time to figure it out.  Remember, it’s not brain surgery, and no one will die if done incorrectly.  But if done right, a new skill is added to the resume.