Nobody Calls Anymore: Tips for Effective Communications

A few years 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, Zoom 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.

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 these 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 students who have terrific presence and confidence.  I 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 glamorous, 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.

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, 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 at 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.

7 Tips for Writing a Strong Press Release

Press releases are essential in any public relations strategy. They detail product launches, special events and other newsworthy activities that a company produces. Because media outlets are flooded with daily stories and pitches, it is imperative that you make yours stand out from the rest. Here are seven tips to make your press release stand out, look professional, and attract reporters to your story.

  1. Grab their attention with a strong e-mail subject. A strong subject in an email will peek the reporters’ interest and lead them to read your release. Keep a subject 5-7 words highlighting the most important takeaway from the release.
  2. Get right to the point. Assume the reader will not read more than the first paragraph. Get the message out quickly. Every point should be addressed in the headline and first paragraph with supportive information in the subsequent paragraphs.
  3. Always use quotes when possible. Including quotes from your client makes them an authority in their profession. It is important to have your information validated by a trusted source.  Quotes can also clarify any information that you have in the press release while attributing it to your client.
  4. Check your grammar, then check it again! Always proofread your press releases; any grammatical errors can turn a reporter off. It is unprofessional and sloppy for anyone who works in PR to have spelling or grammatical errors in their press releases. Remember, the only thing that we produce as a profession is words on paper: they should, therefore, inform and impress.
  5. One Page is best. As with most good writing, shorter is usually better. You should limit yourself to one page. This will force you to condense your most significant information into a more readable document, which is something that journalists always appreciate.
  6. Provide access to more information. Just because your press release is limited to one page doesn’t mean that you have to leave out information. Provide relevant links to your client’s website where prospective writers can learn more about their mission and what they’ve accomplished. Don’t make writers search on their own for more information; it is important to guide them as quickly as possible to your website, and to keep their interest in your message.
  7. Always provide your contact information. A common oversight that can render a press release ineffectual is a lack of contact information for reporters. Whether you or someone else at the company is the point of contact, don’t forget to include an email address and phone number on the release. Media people are not shy; if they have a question, they will contact you.

6 PR Tips That Help Build a Brand

Building your brand and maintaining its presence is a full-time job.  Sometimes this job can be handled internally and other times the best solution can come from an external public relations agency. 

Here are 6 PR Tips That Help Build a Brand:

  1. Public relations. As a demand-generation tool, nothing beats a well-crafted and strategically implemented public relations program.  For developing credibility and garnering brand awareness, a PR campaign can fine-tune messages, build brands, develop prospects and avert crises.  Talk to a public relations agency and learn what it has to offer.  Your brand will thank you…so will your bottom line.
  2. Social media outreach. Be careful not to discount the millennials. Like it or not, they are the newest and most passionate group to jump onto the social media bandwagon, and you can’t be late to dinner on this one. You’re public relations agency can easily develop and maintain your social media pages, but so can your internal marketing department.  Bottom line is, make sure someone is minding the store.
  3. Blogging. Again, a good public relations agency can assist you in the development of your company blog, but this is something for which you should spend some time figuring out your point-of-view.  This will make it easier for you, your PR agency or your marketing department to feel comfortable writing in your style and voice.
  4. Research. Before any outside agent can assist you with your branding you have better done your own initial research into your marketplace.  Who are your competitors? Pricing? Potential controversy, such as ingredients, pricing, sourcing? Know your audience and know it well. Consumers can be a fickle bunch.
  5. Reputation management. In the current climate, reputation matters more than some appreciate, and protecting, as well as enhancing yours is important for your bottom line. Strong sales can be the result of strong leadership and an innovative sales department. It can also be the result of a strong reputation.  Make sure you take the time to not only create your reputation, but to learn to protect it.  One bad online review that goes unanswered can lead to a potential viral disaster and an end to consumer confidence.
  6. Promotion. There is a fine line between enticing promotion and bombarding your customers with unwanted emails and promotional materials. Balance and timing is everything. Choose your targets and messages carefully. Realize that a well-positioned promotional piece or event, selectively placed and strategically developed, will do much for your brand sales and growth.

Tips for PR Pros: How to Pitch Journalists Via Social Media

Social media offers an opportunity for public relations agencies to reach out to journalists in a more intimate space. But beware—not all channels offer appropriate outcomes.  There are right and wrong ways to use social media to query reporters, because you don’t want to come across as a stalker to a reporter. Remember that the social media sphere is a very personal shared space so be careful to follow these simple do’s and don’ts:

Don’t:

  1. Don’t pitch journalists through Facebook. Facebook is a place for friends. Even though Facebook has become a place for business too, journalists consider Twitter a professional tool, not Facebook. Also, when you message someone you aren’t friends with on Facebook, it goes into their “other” folder, which often goes unchecked. Avoid posting on their wall or to pictures to get noticed– journalists want to maintain some privacy on their Facebook page.
  2. Don’t mass pitch reporters on Twitter. Remember, when your tweet can be seen by everyone. Don’t try to get noticed by a lot of reporters at once by pitching multiple accounts at once through tweeting. As soon as you pitch a journalist, they will likely click on your Twitter profile to learn more. If the reporter sees that the last several tweets are copied and pasted to different multiple people, they will lose interest quickly.
  3. Don’t contact another journalist to get his colleague’s information. It’s unprofessional to contact a reporter to get through to another one. Even though one reporter might have less followers than another, and it might be easier to see an @mention with that person, reporters are being pitched all the time—so they don’t need to be bothered with  a PR person trying to reach their colleague through them.
  4. Don’t follow up more than once. The point of pitching on social media is to keep it short and sweet. If you follow up more than once, reporters will automatically mark you as spam and you won’t be able to contact them in the future.

Do:

  1. Find out the reporter’s beat before you pitch them. It’s your job to do the research and theirs to determine your pitch’s relevance to the audience and publication. You can find this out by seeing what the reporter is tweeting or retweeting, and also by investigating their bio; it will usually say what topics they are interested in or what their beat is. You can also double check on media directories, such as Cision.
  2. Use Twitter to pitch. Twitter forces PR pros to keep their pitches short and catchy. It is okay to pitch journalists through Twitter because they treat their accounts as an extension of their reporting, so they might be more willing to chat with you on Twitter about topics relating to their beats. When pitching reporters on Twitter, @mention the company you are working for and a link to some news–if they recognize the organization they maybe more likely to respond.

Remember to follow social media etiquette and you’ll do just fine.

5 Ways to Ace a PR Presentation

OK, so you’ve gotten the call—you’re one of the public relations agencies chosen to present your recommended public relations program to the perspective client. You’re passed the written portion of the “test” and now you’re on to the in-person review.

Preparing for the presentation is probably the most important part of the “test.” Remember: It’s the presenter, not the presentation.  So everything is riding on how the presentation goes.  So, with this in mind, here are five tips on how to prepare for this vital experience.

  1. Know the client. Yes, you are going there to present your recommendations, but you are also going there to make an impression.  How knowledgeable are you of the client’s company, brands, history, etc.?  How knowledgeable are you of any issues affecting the client? Their website is where you start but they are also looking to see what kind of research and industry investigation you did. What can you bring to the table?
  2. Know your audience. Are you presenting to the CEO, president, product managers, public relations people?  If they are bringing their “big guns,” then you have to do the same. Make sure you know who the participants will be ahead of the presentation.  You don’t want to embarrass yourself by not bringing your “A” team if the CEO is present.
  3. Case the space. Try to get entry into the presentation space ahead of time.  Set up the projector and screen, arrange the collateral materials, select agency and client seating, check the lighting and air, make sure you have bottles of water on hand and remove anything from the conference table that may be distracting.
  4. Think on your feet. I always tell my staff that there’s no such thing as a wrong answer—there’s only the non-answer. I encourage them to attempt a response and if it’s incorrect it’s my job is to jump in with the proper response seamlessly.  So, if my colleague attempt the response, I may jump in with, “Well, in some cases that may be effective, but in this particular instance perhaps this would work better…..” Presenting as a team can prove extremely effective in this instance.
  5. It isn’t over till it’s over. Follow-up is key in eliciting important feedback and determining where the decision-making process stands. If there are fence-sitters, they can sometimes be swayed through after-the-fact communications.