Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

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I ‘m looking forward to attending a couple of daylong conferences this spring.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend tons of conferences during my life, going back to the International Radio and Television Society gathering in New York City when I was a callow, wide-eyed sophomore at the University of Alabama. Several Country Radio Seminars in Nashville during my radio days provided good information and insights, along with many memorable musical performances.

More recently, I have attended numerous PR/marketing/digital/social media conferences in St. Louis arranged by a variety of organizations over the last eight years. At this point, let me offer thanks to all who worked to set up these events. And thanks to all who have presented. (This includes me. I presented at CSPRC’s Spectrum event in 2009 about media pitching and in 2013 about Facebook best practices.)

Here’s what I want from these events:

  1. Information and ideas I can use today in my career and my business.
  2. New ideas/concepts that should be on my radar for future consideration.
  3. Different, creative ways to approach issues I deal with on a frequent basis.
  4. Disruptive input, which may or may not be valid, but provides good fodder for discussion and consideration.
  5. Solid A/V work.
  6. Connectivity.
  7. Decent coffee.

Things I don’t want from these events:

  1. Presentations that are really just infomercials for an individual and his/her organization.
  2. Big picture concepts that are too vague. Give me precise details.
  3. Panels discussions dominated by one panelist, when all panelists have good input to share.
  4. Declarations I’ve heard at these events for years, such as: Mobile is big! Video keeps growing! LinkedIn is good! (Etc.) I know that!
  5. PowerPoints, Keynotes or Prezis with text and images so small the content on the screen can’t be discerned beyond the first row.
  6. Bad planning that puts a high-demand session in a smaller meeting room.
  7. Stick-on name tags that don’t adhere well to clothing.

If you see me at a conference this spring, say hello. Let’s hope we’re able to get several actionable takeaways when we attend these events!

(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/92987904@N00/4297743712, via http://photopin.com, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0)

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What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Have you ever had a client praise you for your good works and outcomes and then, within weeks or months, decide to end your working agreement? Have you ever brought in positive measurable results in a job only to have, shortly thereafter, your employment terminated?

Circumstances change. Budgets get reassessed. Ownerships/partnerships are revised. Measurable results can go south. Clients/employers find candidates they think can do the job better. Or cheaper.

In 2016, more than at any point in my lifetime, it is a “what have you done for me lately?” world in business. A college basketball coach takes leads a team to two straight conference titles. He wins awards! Heaping accolades roll in! Then he has two losing seasons. Goodbye, coach!

I have lost jobs when I was performing at my best and delivering strong measurable results, but my superiors thought someone else could do the job better. (OR just as well, for much less money.)

It happens. Unless your parents own the company or you have an ownership stake, you can be bounced from any gig. Even if, just recently, you were golden. How should you deal with this uncertainty?

  1. Perform at a high level always. Don’t coast.
  2. Make sure the person or persons you report to are aware of all the good outcomes you deliver. Don’t assume they know.
  3. Note that even if you do good work, consultants, corporate types and fellow managers can suggest to your boss/client that your talents may not be as valuable as earlier believed.
  4. Celebrate your wins as they occur. Next time the outcomes may not be so rosy.
  5. Always be thinking about your next work situation. When someone extends a feeler, don’t brush it off. Listen and ask questions. There may be something better out there for you now.
  6. Keep your resume, portfolio and LinkedIn profile updated. You may be, as Sinatra sings, “ridin’ high in April, shot down in May.”
  7. Negotiate employment contracts carefully. Many are one-sided, favoring the employer/client. Make sure there are protections for you in the deal, just in case.
  8. If you are an “HCE” (highly compensated employee), be aware that you may be particularly vulnerable when budgets are slashed.
  9. Don’t get overly attached emotionally to any job. Things change.
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Perception Is Reality

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It’s true. If a person perceives a brand, a product, a service, a retailer, a restaurant, etc. to possess certain qualities, it colors all of that person’s interactions with that entity. Even when hard evidence shows the perceived belief is not true.

Certain brands have buzz and are perceived by many to be cool, superior, innovative, etc. The list includes Starbucks, Apple, Uber, IKEA—I’m sure you can name a few more. Even when those cool brands fail or when they “borrow” ideas from others, they are often given a pass because of positive customer perceptions.

The current TV series The People Versus O.J. Simpson reveals incorrect appraisals of potential jurors by both prosecutor Marcia Clark and defense attorney Johnnie Cochran. Each perceived African-American female jurors to be sympathetic to the prosecution’s case. Both were wrong. The scene showing Marcia Clark behind the glass monitoring a focus group as they offer comments about her is powerful and enlightening.

During my radio career, I was reminded many times that perception is reality. If a listener perceives that station A plays more music than station B, it doesn’t matter which station actually plays more music. If a listener thinks a personality is snarky and insensitive, that personality can perform tons of good deeds and still be perceived to be a jerk. A listener’s perception is that listener’s reality.

Because perceptions matter—whether they are based on facts, gossip, online chatter, peer pressure or subtle factors—it is important to work to mold perceptions. Public relations, marketing and social media all play a vital role in creating and reinforcing positive consumer perceptions of a product, a service, a radio station, an idea or a presidential candidate.

It is dangerous to presume that we know how customers or prospects perceive the goods, services and messages we offer. How do we find out what they think? We observe how they act. We monitor their online comments. We ask them. What is their perception? It’s their reality.

 

 

 

 

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16 Things To Know For ’16

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  1. It’s great to have lots of Twitter followers, Facebook friends and LinkedIn endorsers. But a good credit rating beats all three.
  2. Despite Southwest Airlines’ longtime claim that “your miles never expire,” mine expired last year.
  3. Never ever drive through (or even around) Atlanta if you can avoid it. Ever.
  4. Best media advice I’ve heard lately came from radio meetings in Nashville: “Infuse everything you do with FOMO.” (Fear Of Missing Out.)
  5. An organization that delivers hilariously entertaining TV spots may engage in sleazy business practices. (Sorry for being necessarily vague on this one.)
  6. My number one news source is Twitter.
  7. Using the term “startup” in reference to your business generally gets you attention, even if your business is selling life insurance.
  8. Some people think it’s okay to end a 7-year business relationship via text message.
  9. The adverb is not your friend. (Writing tip from Stephen King.)
  10. A Discover Card ad offering double rewards for new cardholders contained the line “no limits and no catches” but the tag at the end of the spot said, “limitations apply.” So… which is it?
  11. “Inspired by true events” does not make a movie better than one that’s total fiction.
  12. A St. Louis area business that advertised regularly in local print media for three decades ran NO print ads in 2015… and their revenues increased.
  13. A black and white photo often has stronger impact than a color pic.
  14. Whole Foods does not take checks.
  15. Sometimes I’d prefer to READ your story in an online article instead of watching a video about it.
  16. Your strict adherence to political correctness may cause you to shake your head at times, but it beats having to apologize for a communications boner. Um, mistake.

 

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Your Reputation Is Viral

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A news story about a virus currently “spreading explosively” throughout our hemisphere caused me to recall an episode from a few years back.

In 2009, a friend mentioned me to a woman whose surname was exactly the same as the virus. She owned a franchised home health care staffing agency and she had a big problem. Some of the people who had worked for her had posted negative comments about the woman, accusing her of numerous bad practices including racism.

The woman emailed me and we set up a meeting. Before we met, I entered her name on Google. I saw the negative comments from the staffers. I also saw court records of a judgment against her and her husband regarding a dispute over money owed to a country club. My search also revealed a record of her divorce from that husband.

At our meeting, I offered the woman a few suggestions. I told her I could help get the ugly accusations off her Google first page and work with her on addressing the issues that were affecting her business. She did not choose to hire me.

Upon hearing and seeing her name over and over in stories about this virus, I was curious and went to Google again this past weekend. When I entered her name, the first item that came up was a forum post calling her “racist and emotionally abusive” and accusing her of being a drug abuser. Ouch.

The second item that came up was her LinkedIn profile. Third was a personal website which was set up some time after I met with her. (It referred to her agency by a different name.)

I was shocked to see the fourth entry was her obituary. She passed away last September. And still, several months after her death, the first thing one sees after searching her name is the “racist” post.

While I am saddened to learn of her passing at age 50, I find it unfortunate that the damage to her reputation lives on. The lesson: reputation management begins early. Following good business practices from day one and addressing issues as they arise is easier than trying to repair reputation problems after they become critical. Rest in peace.

Gym Etiquette and Fitness

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This space is for thoughts about marketing, communication and good business practices. Being healthy and fit makes you perform better for employers and clients. So fitness should be part of your overall personal marketing plan. And January is a month when we renew and reset.

Therefore, if you are planning to get back to the gym this month or are joining for the first time, here is a bit of guidance from a longtime gym patron.

  1. Don’t talk on your phone when you’re on a cardio machine. It’s rude. It might be okay to answer one quick question, but if the conversation is going to last more than 30 seconds, step out into the hallway.
  2. Wipe off the machine when you’re done. Even if you didn’t sweat that much.
  3. If there’s a time limit on cardio machines, obey the rules. Don’t be a jerk.
  4. Say hello, or at least nod, to the older and heavier folks at the gym. They may be uncomfortable among the younger, more svelte patrons.
  5. This may be the most important tip: If you have a new combination lock for the locker room, be sure you have memorized the combination before you use it! (Write it inside a shoe if necessary.)
  6. No matter how provocatively your gym mates are dressed, it is NOT okay to ogle.
  7. If you don’t want to be ogled in the gym, don’t dress provocatively. Also, if you need a sports bra, get one.
  8. You don’t have to wear makeup to the gym.
  9. Don’t drop the free weights. If there’s an audible clang, it’s obnoxious. Grunting is also a no-no.
  10. Unless you’re running long distances, eating less is generally a more efficient way to lose weight than burning calories on a treadmill.
  11. Don’t expect to lose 50 pounds in 6 weeks. Unless you plan to stop eating. You may be able to drop that much excess weight in a year.
  12. A personal trainer is a splurge, but often a worthy splurge. If you’re new to a particular gym, at least have an employee walk you through the various machines and stations.
  13. Spinning, Zumba, Bootcamp, etc. classes are good for many reasons. The main one: If you’ve paid in advance, you’re less likely to blow it off.
  14. If you hit the gym after work, remember where you park. It’s tough walking out after dark, into the cold, with wet hair, into a parking lot with dozens of monochromatic cars.
  15. If your gym doesn’t furnish sweat towels or wipes, bring your own.
  16. Enjoy your workout. I see many people in my gym who look less than happy. Try to ride the wave when the endorphins kick in!
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What’s The Story, Morning Glory?

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A mass shooting occurred in California. The hard facts—the casualty numbers—were widely shared. But Americans wanted to know… Who? Why? What’s the story?

The U.S. banking industry had a meltdown in 2008. Houses were lost, jobs were lost, money was lost. What’s the story? A movie opening this month called The Big Short attempts to explain what happened. It’s a complex tale, but it presents those events through the personal stories of those who were close to the action.

A chef appears on TV showing off a special dish. It looks good. The host asks the chef, “What’s the story?” How did he come up with the dish? He tells his story about a trip to Tuscany and a restaurant owner named Antonio who invited him into his kitchen where he shared family secrets.

A reporter interviews a hospice owner who shares the basic facts about this specialized type of care. The reporter asks, “What’s the story?” Why did you start this organization? Her story reveals that her dad’s hospice care years before had been sub par and she thought she could do better.

What’s the story on… chicken jugs? In his obit in yesterday’s New York Times, Williams Sonoma founder Chuck Williams is quoted as saying, “I’ve always been attracted to items that have an interesting story to them.” That’s why he stocked jugs shaped like chickens!

When sharing information, a story gives life to simple statements of fact. Having an interesting story is a good. Telling that story in a manner that compels an audience to listen (or watch or read) closely is even better.

(Next post January 11. Have a nice holiday season!)

 

 

 

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Oh, Crap! Another Meeting!

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A few weeks ago I found myself seated around a conference table with six other people for a meeting at my local high school. The meeting began at 1:00 p.m. It was a good meeting with all parties offering input and asking questions.

Around 2:30 p.m., I closed my notebook and started putting my pen and my phone in my pocket. My wife, who was also at the meeting, gave me a questioning look. She later told me she wondered what I was doing.

It was an instinctive move. I learned years ago that I my time limit for meetings is about 90 minutes. Of course, I have been in meetings that ran much longer than that, but my engagement level takes a huge plunge right around the 90-minute mark.

During my time working for corporations and as a board member for several non-profits, I applauded those meeting leaders who would come with a clear agenda and stick to it. When digressions from agenda topics would occur, the best meeting leaders would guide the discussion back on track.

Occasionally, as a meeting was winding down and about to be adjourned, a question would be raised that would lead to a lengthy conversation with several parties offering thoughts. For those of us with things to do and places to be, this could be frustrating.

My meetings with clients these days are quick and efficient, mainly because I come prepared and my clients and I have many other things to accomplish on a given day. When I meet with a person who is trying to sell something to me, I expect the person to be organized and ready to state his or her pitch and to answer my questions.

Here are a few tips for meetings:

  1. Ask yourself if the meeting is actually necessary. Could the exchange of ideas happen just as easily via phone or email?
  2. Make a list of agenda topics and stay on course.
  3. Impose a time limit on your meetings. If your meeting is set to last several hours, take frequent breaks.
  4. Limit small talk during meetings. Do that before or after.
  5. If a question is raised that cannot be answered immediately, save it for the next meeting.
  6. If you have a guest on the agenda, make sure the guest knows to be succinct.
  7. Take notes. It will help you recall what was discussed.
  8. If your input has been considered and rejected, move on. As they say, don’t beat a dead horse.
  9. If the meeting’s subject matter is dry and arcane, help others understand significant points.
  10. Silence your phone and turn it face down.

 

(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124348109@N01/8744236353, http://photopin.com, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Big Bad Words

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Recently I have had the urge to use a few big words in my writing. Words I do not normally use like pantheon, peripatetic, truculent, paucity, exacerbate, etc. Words I would never use in normal conversation. I am sure this desire is because of what I have been reading lately online and in newspapers and magazines. When you see others using these words, you begin to think it’s okay for you to use them.

I have resisted. Because I have also been sent to the dictionary several times recently to look up words I encountered whose meanings I did not know! (By “dictionary” I mean Google.) I do not want someone who reads my writing to have to do that. (By “my writing” I mean media releases, pitches, marketing emails, social media posts, blog posts, movie reviews, etc.)

How can I know who will read what I have written? How well educated are the people on my clients’ email lists? Will my clients’ followers be impressed or confused by a multisyllabic adjective in a Facebook post (especially when a simpler term would have almost the same meaning)? Will the news producer or editor (or intern) who opens newsroom emails know what peripatetic means?

Do you remember sportscaster Howard Cosell? As a lawyer turned broadcaster, Cosell attempted to impress viewers with his vocabulary. Often, his word choices were spot on. Other times, he came off as a pompous ass. Occasionally, after Cosell had pontificated employing his would-be literary style, a broadcast partner such as Don Meredith would put Cosell’s flowery prose into simple-to-understand language. It was entertaining stuff.

There are appropriate times and places for these big words. But in most cases, the simpler, more common word will do just as well. I am hoping my urge will not be exacerbated.

Think Before You Think

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There’s plenty to opine about. But are your opinions automatic? Is your mind open to the other side of an issue? Do you think before you think?

Have you ever made a complete 180-degree revision of your thoughts on a topic? Did it feel good? Did it make you challenge other things you believe?

Do you often consider “what’s the popular conservative/liberal position?” on an issue before you form your own opinion? Does it concern you when your thinking is not what you might have expected it to be?

Have you ever heard a person you generally disagree with (a politician, a co-worker, a family member, a media commentator) say something that sounds downright enlightened? Does it make you wonder if some of that person’s previous ideas may have more merit that you earlier believed?

Conversely, how do you react when someone whose opinions generally jibe with your own delivers thoughts that make you cringe?

Are you able to read between the lines of media reporting on an issue? Do you consider the leanings of the media outlet and the writer/broadcaster? Do you seek out particular sources to compare their versions of an item versus those of others?

Can you filter through the thoughts and opinions on your Facebook and Twitter feeds, sorting out informed comments from lunatic ravings? Do you unfriend those whose opinions are different from yours? Or are you willing to hear/read what they have to say, even if you disagree completely?

Do you allow your own opinions to coalesce gradually or do you form them quickly? Have you ever had an “aha!” moment where clarity swoops in and suddenly gives you the reasoning you need to form an opinion?

Have you ever taken a contrarian position on a topic simply to generate conversation or feedback? (That’s a popular tactic of certain newspaper columnists and talk show hosts.) Often those contrarian positions turn out to have positives you may not have initially considered.

Whether your opinion is about a serious issue or something less important, make sure that your opinion is your own. Don’t merely parrot the ideas of others. Think before you think.