Best of the best insights on PR, marketing to date

Since starting this blog in February, I’ve interviewed nearly 20 PR and marketing pros on, well, communication.  I figured back then I would have interviewed far more than that by now, but turns out, you all are a lot of work!  But you’re worth it because of the insight you provide to those who read PRPBI. (That’s the first time I’ve ever used that acronym, and I don’t think I ever will again. Man, that’s ugly!)

As the name implies, I started this blog to bring forward the people behind the profession, many of whom bring themselves forward on their own very well.  But alas, I chose to do so as a way to give back to them and help bring forward information and perspective that otherwise may have never been available online.

Unsurprisingly, those I’ve interviewed have been more than forthcoming and speared the intent of PRPBI (yeah, still hate it) through the heart.

Here are some of the best bits of PR perspective shared here to date.

Jeff Esposito responding about a blog post asserting social media is dying while social marketing is on the rise

“Social marketing is just another buzz word for social media. Much like other avenues social media is a tool for business that will either make your company money or save it money.  Listening will never be dead as the nature of the medium is social, so brands and marketers need to dig into their human self to put out content that speaks to other humans and can help convert leads to sales.”

Rick Liebling on where social media is headed

“I think we’ve reached an inflection point. Brands no longer can derive value from the first mover advantage of being on Facebook before their competitors. I think we’re going to see companies need to adopt a “social business” strategy that connects several areas of their brand to their customers, clients and the public. Marketing or sales or customer service isn’t enough. R&D, the man on the assembly line, everyone who is part of the process will be connected.”

Recent grad, Boston Blake, giving advice to PR students

“The thing I would recommend most for students to do to prepare for ‘real life’ would be to go out and find opportunities to put into practice the things they are learning in the classroom. Find volunteer, job or internship opportunities. Don’t wait until you are a junior or senior, start immediately. If there aren’t any available, MAKE your own opportunities. People are happy to let you do PR work for them for free. And don’t be afraid to do free work, at least at the beginning. After you spend time doing that, you have quality resume items that will help you get greater opportunities later. These opportunities will help you stand out from other students, especially those who try to enter the work force with only a degree. Everyone has a degree. Make yourself different.”

Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Vician on serving the country as a Public Affairs officer

“Serving means putting others first.  I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Freedom isn’t free.”  I don’t like that saying because for many people it is free.  They have never sacrificed or served others.  I’ve been blessed many times over by serving others, and have served alongside others who have sacrificed so much more than I have.”

Beth Tallent on giving advice to CEOs

“Be honest and direct. It’s not helping anyone if you withhold information. Your CEO hired you for your expertise so give it. If you work in an environment where your CEO consistently doesn’t listen or doesn’t value your advice you might want to look for another position. Dave and I don’t always agree, but I know he’s listening and he values my input.”

Ruth Streder on what she could have done better as a student.

“Be more confident – I attended networking and industry events whenever I was invited to them, but what I was afraid to request informational interviews with agencies or professionals that interested me. I should have just reached out to them, commented on blog posts etc. But back then I thought they would not be interested in talking to a PR newbie – big mistake! If you have an opinion, are interested in discussing industry trends and just keen on learning more about PR, go out and meet people. You have to reach out to them (agencies, companies, professionals) to make them aware of you – they are not going to come and look for you. Take initiative!”

Chuck Hemann on helping clients blend math, science and art together

“This is kind of the secret sauce, right? What’s the appropriate blend of all elements? The answer, like most things in life is “it depends.” I do know this… The abundance of data available to us via social media (or any other form of digital communications for that matter) has almost made qualitative analysis even more important. There has to be a human on the other end of the computer who can collect, segment and analyze for the ultimate use of developing brand-specific insights. Without someone adding the human touch, data is just data. Useful, but only to a certain degree.”

Tanya Montgomery on how the U.S. Air Force can improve its use of social media

“I’d also like to see more people create products with their social media lenses on. I see many traditional AF news stories that inspire my social media senses. I think to myself, it would be great to have pictures of X to put on Facebook and what about a blog post from an Airman quoted in such and such story. It would be great for people to consider social media as well. There are so many possibilities for it.”

Kellye Crane on her vision for Solo PR Pro

“My mission is to raise the visibility and esteem for those working as independent PR consultants, and to help those pursuing this path surpass their goals – it’s something I enjoy and take very seriously.”

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If you know someone, student or pro, who should be featured here, let me know!

The pitfall of assuming the worst about others

Assuming the worst about people is one of the most counter productive things we do to undercut progress.  From my experience, the assumptions are often wrong, and once we realize it, embarrassing.

It’s often done when we lack understanding of the other person.  Simply put, the more we know, the more we understand.  Be it another political party, the person who is “just out to get me,” or your neighbor, the more we understand of their perspective, motives and beliefs, the more patient we are with them and more positive we think about them.

As a result, solutions are reached more quickly for everyone involved.

Once I realized this, my perspective of people overall became more positive, which is saying something since I’m a pretty optimistic guy, and my ability to lead improved dramatically.  And most importantly, my wife and I have successfully avoided arguments rooted in misunderstanding of one another.  The benefits are truly endless I believe.

So, my challenge to you is to watch out for this in yourself and others.  If you’re often guilty of this, make it a point to work on it for one week.  I guarantee your stress will reduce, your attitude will improve and you will accomplish more.

Three ways PR pros fail the boss

No matter where you serve in an organization or who your clients are, your work is not the most important thing going on unless you’re the boss.  Staff people, such as PR pros like me, often fall into the trap of only considering their world when advising the boss.  Bosses and clients want experts in their craft.  They want results and to see passion.  What they don’t want is narrow thinking.  Here are 3 ways you may be failing your boss.

1. By not asking them what they want to accomplish. So many PR pros fall into the trap of only thinking about communications.  If you’ve ever said, “Communications is always the most important thing,” you’re not serving your boss well. Find out their goals and what they consider to be the most crucial parts of the operation.  Those will become your top goals and focus areas.

2. Openly bashing a decision in front of your team. We’ve all had bosses who have made bad calls, at least from where we were sitting.  I’m sure you’ve made bad calls, too.  The worst thing you can do in this situation is bash the boss’ decision in front of your team, no matter if the decision was counter to what you may have recommended.  Nothing will deteriorate a team and deteriorate an organization faster than this type of behavior.  When you do this, you’re not only being disloyal to the boss, but to your team as well.  You’re their leader.  They watch you. They mimic your behavior.  And they feed off your attitude.  When you bash, they think it’s okay to bash.  When you’re negative, they’ll be negative. Stop it because you’re being destructive.

3. You jump the chain. Bosses want well-thought out ideas and perspectives that move the organization forward.  The best ideas are usually those that have been chewed on by lots of smart people.  Have you ever presented an idea to a boss or client only to have them ask you if you’ve talked with anyone else about it?  It’s not that they didn’t like your idea (okay maybe they didn’t because it was stupid), they simply wanted to know other smart people they trust have weighed in on it to ensure it’s the best idea possible. Staff people usually can’t see the entire playing field, so before taking big ideas to the boss, bounce them off others, especially those with equities.

What other behavior doesn’t serve the boss well?

Indie PR pros you’re not alone

What services should I offer?  How much should I charge? How do I deal with a problem client?

Solo PR Pro

For the last two years, I’ve been working toward starting my own PR business, which I’m proud to say is up and running.  Having never worked in an agency, where so many independents begin, these questions and many more tripped me up big time along the way.  Truthfully I still have questions about certain things, and I suspect I always will.  Enter Solo PR Pro.

Kellye Crane

My friend Gayle Falkenthal introduced me to the Solo PR Pro Linkedin Group not long after we met at a PRSA conference in San Diego a few years ago.  Since meeting, she has been my go-to person for insight and answers.  Gayle is just spectacular and exemplary of so many of the professionals you can interact with in the group.  She has the heart of a teacher and above all, she’s honest.

After several months on the group, I got curious about who was behind it.  If you don’t know, indie PR pro Kellye Crane is the one pulling the levers.  As you’ll read below, Kellye voluntarily took the lead and created the Solo PR Pro blog for one reason – to help others.  You gotta love it.

Here’s my e-chat with Kellye about how’s it changed over the years, how’s it helped independent pros and her vision for it.

1. What compelled you to start Solo PR Pro?

I’ve been an independent PR consultant since 1995, so colleagues have always asked me for advice about starting a PR business, and how to stay successful long-term once you’ve “taken the leap.” When friends kept asking for blog recommendations to read on this topic – and there really weren’t any – I realized it was time for me to start Solo PR Pro

2. How has it changed since it began?

Since the blog was launched in 2008, a true community has developed across social networks, including the weekly #solopr Twitter chats (held each Wednesday, 1-2pm ET), a Facebook page, and a thriving LinkedIn Group. This free-flowing exchange of ideas is an important part of the success, since all solo PR professionals have different experiences and something to add to the conversation.

It’s all about offering your content on multiple platforms, so participants can access and interact with it in the ways that are the most convenient to them.

3. Has it turned into the community you envisioned or something else?

I always encouraged a community atmosphere, but the reality is even better than I imagined. For that reason, though I founded the blog independently, I’ve never considered the Solo PR Pro community “mine.” I may be the leader/instigator, but the participants provide so much of the value.

4. Do you have a vision for it or do you prefer it to grow and change naturally?

Moving forward, I plan to offer some paid options, such as ebooks and coaching, which will provide me with the resources and time to do more for the community. But the quality of the free info will never change, and I’ll always be receptive to the suggestions and requests of those who participate. My mission is to raise the visibility and esteem for those working as independent PR consultants, and to help those pursuing this path surpass their goals – it’s something I enjoy and take very seriously.

5. Is there anything about Solo PR Pro that you believe is undervalued or underutilized?

Good question! I think some people have had bad experiences with LinkedIn Groups, and hesitate to join another one. But the Solo PR Pros group on LinkedIn is an amazing treasure trove of information.

6. Are there any Solo PR Pro “success stories” you can share involving someone applying a tip or leveraging a relationship?

I’m happy to say that we have hundreds of success stories! In one specific example, someone recently direct messaged me to say that our constant drumbeat of “charge what you’re worth” made a huge difference to her. She raised her rates 50%, and her next two new business proposals were accepted within 24 hours! Not bad, huh?

7. Where’s your favorite vacation spot and why?

I love anywhere beachy – we usually change up the actual location, but it almost always involves sand and surf. To truly relax, I have to sit and do absolutely nothing. So, there’s nothing better than the sound of the waves to make the chill out process complete!

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Have you taken advantage of Solo PR Pro? Did it help?  Do you have a Solo PR Pro success story? Share below!

I also encourage you to subscribe to the blog on the upper right side of the page. Thanks!

Behind Leadership: Alice Pearson Chapman

I have to say if Alice ever has the dinner of her dreams, I want to be there!  By the time it will have ended, I’ll be inspired beyond belief, intimidated from the secret service agent staring at me for hours and in pain from laughing so much.  You’ll understand when you’re done reading.

Any ways, Alice is a vice president at McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations in Nashville, Tenn., where she’s worked since 1995.  I don’t have any stats in front of me, but I have a feeling that type of longevity at a firm is rare.  I learned of Alice from Erin Mercer, a colleague of her’s at MP&F, who stumbled upon my blog.  (Thank you Google Reader.)

Erin recommended Alice as someone to possibly feature here.  By the time I was done reading, I was convinced she had to be the focus of the next Behind Leadership post.  And here we are today.  Enjoy!

What is the hardest part about being a leader?

Alice Pearson Chapman

I think it’s hard to make the transition to leader. It is true that some people are born to take on leadership roles, but most of us have to learn how to lead. It can be quite a shock to realize that you ARE a leader and that people are looking up to you and learning from your example.

What is the best part?

In my opinion, there is no better reward than watching those you lead become leaders.

Who leads you and how did they become a leader in your life?

MP&F’s senior partner, Mark McNeely, is a great leader (as are all of our partners). But Mark, in particular, started the company from scratch and has seen it grow to be the largest independent public relations firm in the state and one of the top 30 in the country. I’ve worked here for 16 years and am lucky to work with Mark on a number of projects. He and the other partners have taught me a great deal about how to lead.

What is your advice for those who want to lead?

First, find a good mentor. Everyone, no matter his or her level of experience, needs someone he or she can go to for advice or encouragement. Second, don’t wait for leadership opportunities to come to you. Seek them out. If this isn’t possible in an office setting, then volunteer with a community organization.

What books, websites or blogs on leadership do you recommend?

I like nonfiction and enjoy biographies. My favorites are “Personal History” by Katherine Graham, “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy” by Robert Dallek and “The Children” by David Halberstam (a must-read for my fellow Nashvillians). 

If you had to choose between no longer being able to lead or losing those leaders you follow, which would you choose and why?

Life is full of disappointment and loss. Good leaders are flexible and can deal with the unexpected, be that losing a valued member of a team, or having to relinquish a leadership post. In short, play the hand you are dealt and move on.

If you could only invite 3 people over for dinner, who would you choose and why?

Martin Luther King, Jr. – He inspired a generation to make the world a better place.

Bill Clinton – Love him, or hate him he’s led a fascinating life.

Tina Fey – We’re both moms who work outside the home. I think we’d have a lot to talk about.

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What books on leadership do you recommend?  Who would you invite over for dinner?

Chapman joined MP&F in 1995 as a staff associate and has since worked for a variety of clients at the local, regional and national levels. Her specialties include grassroots campaigns, media relations and event planning. From 2002 to 2005 she managed Metro Nashville’s recycling education campaign, which garnered MP&F the Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America. Chapman is actively involved in the Nashville community, having served as a board member of the women’s networking organization CABLE in 2005 and 2006. She received the Civic Outreach Award from that group in 2006. Chapman is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications.

Social media and the U.S. Air Force (part 2)

Here is part 2 of my chat with Capt. Chris Sukach and Tanya Montgomery of U.S. Air Force Public Affairs on how the service uses social media.  In case you missed part 1 and hate reading the ending first, click here.

5. What is the AF doing well with SM and what not so well? 

Chris: I think our communications in general tend to be more reactive than proactive.  Both perspectives are needed, but the key is in balancing the two, and I don’t think as an organization we’re quite there yet.

A B-1B Lancer moves into position to be refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker Feb 26, 2011, above Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)

Tanya: It would be nice to see more AF senior leaders using social media to communicate. It’s a personal touch that shows they want to stay connected with stakeholders despite their busy schedules. They have perspectives that need to be shared.

The fact that there are many AF social media sites is a great thing. They’re willing to open themselves to the world and share their stories. They’re not afraid to take risks.

6. The military has a reputation for being a conservative, slow-to-change organization. With regard to SM, has that been a challenge? 

Chris: At times it has been, but at other times it seems the organization has moved quite quickly, as with the creation of DTM 09-026.

Tanya: There haven’t been many challenges to implementing social media in the AF. For the most part people understand the importance of social media, and they’re eager to use it.

I think that people are slow to accept that social media is not exactly like traditional public affairs. They forget to think about users and their needs. Not everything that goes on an organization’s website is interesting enough for social media, and what they think is important is not always a home-run on say, Facebook.

I’d also like to see more people create products with their social media lenses on. I see many traditional AF news stories that inspire my social media senses. I think to myself, it would be great to have pictures of X to put on Facebook and what about a blog post from an Airman quoted in such and such story. It would be great for people to consider social media as well. There are so many possibilities for it.

7.  Who do you follow (people, blogs, etc.) outside the AF to learn about SM trends and such?

Chris: I like ReadWriteWeb, Mashable and TechCrunch.  I also dig NakedSecurity.

Tanya: I follow Mashable, PR Daily, Social Media Today, The Next Web, TechCrunch, AllFacebook, AllTwitter, Brian Solis, and Peter Shankman.

8. Give me an example of when using SM really paid off for the AF?

Chris: There are multiple examples, but we’ve engaged via social media to quell rumors, answer questions and share first-hand experiences of the relief and assistance our Airmen were providing in Haiti after the Jan 2010 earthquake.

Tanya: Social media has been helpful in crises. CNN once reported that there was a C-17 crash near Olney, Texas. The social media team investigated it and couldn’t find anything to back up the claim. They verified with the FAA that there was no crash and corrected the record via Twitter. CNN later ran a story with the correct information.

9. Between Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, who would be a better social media strategist and why? 

Chris: Beaker.  He’s definitely the back-channel providing commentary to Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s monologues.

Tanya: Kermit the Frog would be a better social media strategist because he’s practical and thoughtful. He would take a common sense approach to social media, and he’d be careful about what he posted. However, he might be too careful, and it might be hard for him to let loose when necessary. Miss Piggy, on the other hand, is an extrovert and wouldn’t have a problem interacting with people on social media. However, she might blab too much and say things she shouldn’t say. Kermit could be trained to be social on social media, but Miss Piggy would be a hopeless case.

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So which Muppet do you think would make a great social media manager?  Did you read anything here you can use at your organization?  Comment below.

Social media and the U.S. Air Force (part 1)

The U.S. Air Force has approximately 280 Facebook pages, 50 YouTube channels, 115 Twitter feeds, 30 Flickr pages, and 12 blogs.  You may be thinking, “Wow! I never expected that.”  You also may be wondering why so many?  After all it’s just one organization, right?

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds

Wrong.  The USAF has bases all over the world.  And bases typically host several units all of which do different things, and every one of theses bases and units communicates with different audiences. For instance, Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio has a base Facebook page, which is followed by current and former base employees, family members of employees and members of the community.

The base medical unit decided to create its own Facebook page to interact with a more targeted audience.  The base also hosts a headquarters that oversees about 10 USAF bases, including WPAFB, and that headquarters has a Facebook page to reach their audience.  We’re not done.  The base also hosts an Air Force Reserve flying unit.  It of course has a Facebook page, too, to reach its workers, community members and USAF reservists, aka military part-timers. Confused yet?

At this point, you may be thinking there has to be a better way.  Perhaps there is.  Regardless, the advantage of allowing 280 Facebook pages is tailored engagement with audiences who opt-in.

And there’s no larger audience than that which follows the main USAF social platforms.  For starters, the USAF on Facebook has more than 503,000 Likes.  Air Force Blue Tube has more than 5,500 subscribers and has logged more than 2,390,000 upload views.  And @USAirforce has more than 25,000 followers.  As an Air Force Public Affairs guy who has managed base-level social media, I wanted to know more about what’s it like to manage “big” Air Force social platforms.  Here’s part 1 of my chat with Capt. Chris Sukach and Tanya Montgomery.

1. Did you immediately see the potential of social media for the AF or did it take a while?

Chris Sukach

Chris: I think any PR professional who’s participated via Twitter recognizes the immediacy of the medium and understands how it could be a valuable communication tool, especially in a crisis.  I think we also understand the importance of being part of a community (or communities) and tools like Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube provide avenues for listening to and sharing with those communities.

Tanya: I joined the USAF social media team a little over a year ago, which was long after the Air Force Public Affairs Agency started using social media. As the leader of the social media team, I naturally believe in the potential of social media for the Air Force, and any organization, for that matter. What’s not to love about direct access to stakeholders?

2. Why is it important for the AF to embrace social media?

Chris: First I think it’s important that we understand the basics of social media.  It’s a tool in our communication tool kit, but like many tools one has to understand its purpose in order to use it effectively.  A saw can be used to pound in a nail, but a hammer might be a better choice for the job.  The same is true of our communication tools.  The key is in defining the communication effect we wish to achieve so we can choose the proper tool(s) for the task.

Tanya: The AF has embraced social media for two main reasons. First, it’s important to dissolve the notion that the AF is a faceless monolith. It’s comprised of many different people and activities. Each person has a unique, important experience to share about his or her time with the AF, and they can tell the stories better than any public affairs pro. Overall, we want to connect with the public to show them that we’re people too and that there’s more to us than just powerful aircraft.

Second, it’s important for us to share the Air Force story before someone else, such as the enemy, tells it for us. We want people to see us as the trusted source for all things Air Force.

Tanya Montgomery

3. When you arrived at your former job handling AF social media, how did you advance it?

Chris: Our social media team worked with our counterparts across the Dept. of Defense to help create the framework for what became Directive-Type Memorandum 09-026, which established guidance for social media usage across the services.

Tanya: The first thing I did was create some order and processes. I don’t like micro-managing things, but to a certain extent, processes need to be in place, even for something as organic as social media. It’s important for team members to know their responsibilities, and for the first time since social media started with the Air Force Public Affairs Agency, we’ve had more than just a couple of people. I’m the only civilian employee on the social media team, so knowledge management is a priority in a sea of blue.

I also wanted to avoid a “sophomore slump,” so we needed to think strategically. A social media program that has been around awhile needs to be somewhat sophisticated. One thing I started was tracking measurement and doing analysis. It’s extra work, but it really helps us make decisions. Now I know which of our activities work and don’t work, which obviously means that we can spend more time creating effective posts. We also know our audience a bit more, so we can do a better job of giving them what they crave.

4. Where do you see the AF’s use of SM going?

Chris: I think that all depends on where social media goes.  I think most would agree that the social media tools we’re currently using aren’t yet finished evolving, so our usage of them should remain flexible enough to incorporate changes as they occur.

Tanya: In the future, I think AF organizations will fully embrace social media for the right reasons. As they gain more experience and learn more about social media, they will see that it’s not about pushing information; it’s all about the user and building connections.

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Don’t miss part 2 of my chat with Chris and Tanya tomorrow as they dish more on Air Force social media and which Muppet would make the best social media manager.  In the meantime, check out this highly detailed Air Force Social Media Guide, which explains how and why the service uses social media.  It’s a great template for any large organization that engages heavily online.

Are you a trusted advisor or just an advisor?

Are you a trusted advisor to your boss or clients or just an advisor?  It’s not easy becoming a “trusted” advisor, especially to CEOs, military generals and the like.  Sure, you may occupy the position of a trusted advisor, but it absolutely does not mean you are one.

Early in my PR career, I regularly heard ranking PR pros say the following:

“The boss just doesn’t get it.” “If the boss would have done what I said, this wouldn’t have happened.” “I don’t understand why I’m not brought in early on important issues.”

If you serve in an advisory position and ever say these things or anything similar, you most likely are not a trusted advisor, at least according to one long-time PR icon.

I’m re-reading one of my most recommended books written by Jim Lukaszewski – Why Should the Boss Listen to You: The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor (Amazon affiliate link). It’s a must-read for anyone who has a staff job like PR or HR.

I first read it during my last job as a Public Affairs director for an Air Force base commander.  I thought I was doing fairly well in my job as a trusted advisor, but after reading this book, I realized I had a long ways to go.  I remember like it was yesterday cracking open the book before bed one night.  Well, I will just say this.  If you have a personality like mine that when faults or knowledge gaps are brought to your attention you obsess on them and stress out, I do NOT recommend this book be your pre-sleep reading material!

Increased body temperature and a racing heart do not lead to relaxation and good sleep.  Needless to say, this book became a daytime read.

That said, the seven blood-pressure-raising disciplines, as summarized in the book, are:

1. Being trustworthy. Earn the respect and confidence of those you advise.

2. Becoming a verbal visionary. Recognize that giving advice is an art and a skill that primarily depends on your verbal accomplishment.

3. Developing a management perspective. Look at the world through the manager’s or leader’s eyes.

4. Thinking strategically. This is perhaps the most valued quality of senior advisors – looking for methods and models to achieve different, novel, often unique solutions.

5. Understanding the power of patterns. Examine similar events to extract lessons for the future; the ability to understand patterns is sometimes referred to as the source of wisdom about what is going to happen.

6. Advising constructively. Provide advice using a structure, format, and context that can easily be both absorbed and acted on by those you advise.

7. Showing the boss how to use your advice. Showing the manager or boss how to put your advice into practice is essential. Most bosses learn how to work with advisors through trial and error. The best advisors always help their clients understand how to use the advice they receive from many different quarters.

Is your skin heating up yet?

Upon reading about these for the first time, I committed myself to internalizing and implementing them immediately because I could see the benefits.  To make a long story short, enacting these disciplines made a noticeable difference.  For starters, they helped me understand why people say things like, “I should have a seat at the table. I don’t understand why I’m not invited to these meetings.” Looking back, it’s now clear. The questioner was why.  You will not catch words to this effect ever leaving my mouth. It’s non-productive and whiny.  Those are definitely not the traits of trusted advisors.

Next, they gave me a plan. As time goes by, I’m getting better at these, but I’m re-reading the book to re-familiarize myself with it.  I’ve only made it through the preface and five sticky notes are clinging to the pages already.  Thoughts and ideas are jumping out at me that didn’t the first time through the book.  I suspect this pattern will continue.

Lastly, they give me perspective.  At the end of the day, a PR pro’s main job is to provide the best advice and counsel possible to the boss or client.  It’s not social media strategy, media relations or even strategic communication planning, it’s advice and counsel.

In my experience to date and after reading this book, I believe this is PR pro’s greatest struggle.  As a profession, we’re limiting our success by not, as Jim points out, closing the gap between the way we think and CEOs think.

Based on the list of disciplines above, are you doing well? Where can you improve?

Digital analytics and argyle sweaters: Chuck Hemann has the digits

I first learned of Chuck Hemann on Twitter.  I don’t recall exactly how and when and it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is his perspective when it comes to data or metrics or if we’re being a bit cool about it, digital analytics(BTW, WordPress doesn’t recognize analytics as a word.  It’s that cutting-edge.)

Chuck Hemann

My first impression of him was he’s smart and a bit grumpy.  Interestingly, he must have received some feedback about this (grumpy) because somewhere along the line I recall him acknowledging it on his blog, “Analytics is King,” to which I recommend you subscribe.  While you’re at it, follow him on Twitter, too, but his blog is where it’s at.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him in person to confirm whether he truly is a little grumpy, but I have a suspicion he’s not so much that but rather passionate about his craft and confident in his abilities.  As a result, he’s not so tolerant of ill-conceived ideas and remarks concerning PR, marketing and social media. And I’m with him, but that’s for another post.

Another reason I think he’s more the latter than the former is because as someone known to don an occasional argyle sweater myself, it’s impossible to be grumpy when you’ve engulfed yourself in diamonds about which people consistently compliment and secretly wish they could pull off, too.  My advice – start with argyle dress socks.  Whenever possible, sit along the wall in large meetings and cross one leg over the other so as to humbly present your ankle diamonds.  As compliments are tallied and sideways glances from admirers are captured, your confidence will increase, and before you know it, you too will find yourself strutting about your place of work with a diamond-protected torso.

Fashion isn’t the only thing Chuck and I have in common though.  I, too, share a strong interest in data and gaining insights from it.  That said, he’s way smarter than I am (Again, subscribe to this blog for info treasure.), and for quite some time I’ve wanted to pick his brain.  Fast forward to today and voila! I present to you Chuck, who-is-so-smart-he-should-go-by-Charles, Hemann, VP of Digital Analytics at Edelman Digital in Chicago.

1. You’ve branded yourself well as an “analytics guy.” Where does the passion for data come from?

The passion for data is actually kind of strange. When I was in graduate school I was a graduate assistant for the Center for Policy Studies at the University of Akron. In that capacity, I was responsible for a lot of data collection and analysis. Before that I was your typical social sciences hack just trying to avoid “math.” Now? I absolutely love the process of collecting data, segmenting it, analyzing it and then developing insights.

2. There are so many web platforms out there. What’s your advice to those trying to navigate the digital world to achieve something?

You’re absolutely right. There are a ton of different platforms out there for companies and people to choose from. The only advice I can realistically give is don’t build up a predisposition to use one tool over another. I think this horse has been beaten to death over the last three to four years, but go where the research tells you to go. If your research tells you to go to Google+, then go there. Don’t listen to the so-called “experts.”

3. Sound communication decision-making involves many variables to include hard data. How do you help clients blend math, science and art together?

This is kind of the secret sauce, right? What’s the appropriate blend of all elements? The answer, like most things in life is “it depends.” I do know this… The abundance of data available to us via social media (or any other form of digital communications for that matter) has almost made qualitative analysis even more important. There has to be a human on the other end of the computer who can collect, segment and analyze for the ultimate use of developing brand-specific insights. Without someone adding the human touch, data is just data. Useful, but only to a certain degree.

4. For small business owners out there who want to make more data-driven marketing decisions but are short on time and money, what should they do?

I actually don’t think the size of the business should be a concern. The number of free tools available to you is staggering. Heck, you can learn a lot just by doing Google searches. Now, granted there are plenty of additional advantages offered by paid tools but it can be pieced together for free. What’s interesting, though, is that piecing together through a lot of free tools takes time. Is that time worth more than the paid tool? If so, why not invest?

5. In your view, what are the top 3 things all brands should be doing online right now to market and why?

Wow. These are tough questions! Three things every brand should be doing online to market themselves right now? I actually think the question is more fundamental than that. Most brand’s don’t have the infrastructure to support social the way it needs to be supported. That’s changing, but slowly. If I were to narrow it to three infrastructure-related items I’d say: 1. Developing a listening approach that builds an insights library for your company; 2. Setup the appropriate measurement process involving true business objectives and performance metrics; and 3. Make sure you have a strong response protocol in place when/if a crisis arises online for your brand.

6. As PR becomes more data-driven and the lines between PR and Marketing blur, what do you see the future of PR and Marketing looking like?

To be totally honest, one of the debates I really think serves absolutely no purpose is that of PR versus marketing. Does one belong under the other? Where does social belong? Talk about two questions that gets us nowhere. It’s hard to tell where the two disciplines are going. In my ideal world I’d say that they will be working in perfect harmony toward building maximum brand value. In the real world I’d say that the lines will continue to blur between the two functions causing “fights” over budgets, resources (people) and attention within the organization. Hopefully it’s somewhere in the middle.

7. Do you think Texas Instruments calculators should be part of every professional communicators’ toolkit? If so, which TI model do you recommend, or will a smartphone calculator do the trick?

HA! Awesome last question. Actually, the one item that should be in every PR pro’s toolkit is the ability to use Microsoft Excel. It’s not a hard tool to use, and you’d be able to track and measure your programs more effectively. (DISCLOSURE: Microsoft is a client of Edelman).

So there you have it.  Do you disagree with anything Chuck said?  Something to add?  Interested in what he’s wearing?  Comment below!

How to use opinion research, sell it to leaders

One of my new favorite bloggers, Margie Clayman, published a post yesterday called “You Can’t Judge A Person By The Numbers.”  As a PR dude who works with opinion research data on a daily basis, this post struck a chord.

Margie’s primary point was we have to look beyond measuring ourselves with just numbers because we miss so much if we don’t. She’s dead right.  As I said in my comment to her post, data must be used in context because, alone, it does not tell the whole story.  I’ll add here it must also be presented with an audience in mind.

For the past 6 months at work in the popular five-sided building in D.C., my colleagues and I have been “iterating” on how best to present a boat load of opinion research survey data.  Well, why’s that so hard?  We should just report the findings, right? I wish it was that easy.

At least in my line of work where it’s our job to meet Air Force senior leader communication needs, data alone is not enough, especially these data. (Yes, it’s “these,” not “this.”  I learned that recently.  Am I the only one who didn’t know that?  Gulp.) Well, today is the inaugural presentation of data for this opinion research project to a room full of leaders who all have a vested interest, are crazy busy, and are used to data presented in a particular way.  Oh, by the way, they’re really smart people.

That said and much left unsaid, my team has scrutinized every last detail, including appearance of data tables and figures, colors, word choices, length of text, length of presentation and more.  Notice I didn’t even address the straight findings or the communication implications thereof.  That’s because what I just outlined had nothing to do with the findings and everything to do with the sell of the data.

In a way, the sell is more important for this inaugural report than the data itself.  Why?  Because people tend to be skeptical of numbers. They question what they don’t understand, such as statistics, factor analysis, standard deviation, margin of error and other worthless terms to those whom with you’re trying to build trust.  In a word, that is what we’ve spent the last half a year doing – working to build leadership’s trust upon contact with the findings.

While the team is tired and ready to move forward, we’re confident in the work we’ve done.  And we better be because if we’re wrong, the risk is project termination.

Do you deal with data, be it survey findings, lead generation, web site analytics or other types?  Do you factor in the “sell” at all?  What presentation methods work for you?