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Archive for the ‘public relations’ Category

Many of my peer-to-peer communication discussions ultimately turn to that age-old question: “What would you do if you had the top communication post – VP of Communications or Chief Comms Officer?” Seems the actions reserved for that first 100 days can make or break anyone, no matter how much experience they have traveling through the bloodstream.

So those first 100 days boils down to a few critical components. PR firm Weber Shandwick published an e-book on this topic a couple of years ago and the info really hit the mark. I’ve summarized some of that content, below, and have included my own thoughts as well as comments from my friends who practice PR and communication every day. I hope this creates more discussion on the topic – so feel free to comment and share your ideas.

The First 100 Days In The Life of a New CCO

  1. Get aligned with the organization’s culture as well as the CEO’s vision, strategy and objectives. How does the CEO communicate? What are his/her expectations? What behaviors are most valued by the executive team? What’s the political landscape?
  2. Get to know your communications team. You’re inheriting a team that has its own expectations, strengths, weaknesses and past successes. You must prepare to adjust your perspectives to fit in with the group, not vice versa. Listen carefully during one-on-ones with each communications staffer and take time to get to know the team as individuals. You can gain their respect by involving them in your planning and learning process. And don’t forget to acknowledge the great work they’re doing.
  3. Get to know the business. Spend time with each business leader. Attend their team meetings and meet individually with each of them. And yes, go to them. Use your interviewing skills to identify their challenges, desires and perceptions about how communication can help their business. These sessions will help you build support for communication across the company. Take copious notes as you have these meetings. You’ll use many of their ideas to create your comms plan.
  4. Talk to key stakeholders and get their opinions on the organization’s reputation. Ask similar questions of reporters, customers, strategic partners, and vendors. What has the company done well? What could we do better? Understanding the nuances from various stakeholders will help you craft a plan that nets results.
  5. Create the foundation of your plan by Day 100. Be proactive with goals, objectives and tactics that you and your team can drive. Don’t wait and let others come to you. There will be plenty of that along the way. Apply what you’ve learned listening to your team, the business leaders and the C-suite. Take the communication wheel or con or rudder, align PR plans with business strategy and your research steer your efforts. (And don’t forget to involve your team in the development of this plan!)
  6. Measure something. Media impressions, interactions with stakeholders, or issues and crisis situations avoided because of proactive engagement. You’ll know the C-level expectations when it comes to metrics and analytics. Include the measurement component in the comms strategy and create an executive summary or dashboard that focuses on results – at a minimum this should roll up once a quarter.

There are many more pieces to this puzzle, but these six steps are the crux of what will help you have a great experience as the chief communications person.  No matter what level you’re at in your career, think about how you would approach the role. Do you and your comms team currently work from a plan that is tied to business strategy? If not, perhaps it’s time to ask why.

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We recently set up several appointments with local companies to get estimates for a home project. Long story short, we have a couple outdated bathrooms that need to be gutted and brought into the new millennium.

After deciding exactly what jobs we wanted the contractors to complete, we met with two companies last weekend. And buddy let me tell you, it became crystal clear that first impressions make the difference — no matter what you do in life.

Estimator/contractor No. 1 arrived 15 minutes late. She was friendly, but a disheveled mess. What’s worse, she refused (or couldn’t) stay on track with our project, continually explaining projects her firm routinely does that were totally unrelated to ours. After repeatedly explaining exactly what we wanted, she took a few measurements then sat us down for a one-hour discussion about materials. While the products she offered were in line with what we wanted, the rabbit holes she kept running into were frustrating to us. At the end of two hours we had to cut her off and asked her to email or mail us a bid on the project, which she refused to do.

Estimator/contractor No. 2 arrived on time wearing a clean jacket with his company logo. He spent 10 minutes asking questions about what we wanted to accomplish and took measurements. Andy was friendly, knowledgeable about the capabilities and services his company provides and he listened to our needs. He worked up cost estimates and walked us through the project costs, pricing and time frames needed to complete the work.

Guess who gets the job?

The lesson in this story for anyone working with people/providing a service is to focus on the consumer and represent your business as if your livelihood depends on it. After all, when you make the wrong impression, you’re taking yourself out of consideration.

And business owners: Pay attention to the people you send out to meet with customers. Know them. Set expectations. Train them well. Above all, never allow someone represent your business who you wouldn’t “buy” from yourself.

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I sat through a lunch and learn meeting on social media yesterday. A co-worker launching a new social networking site – one of the first this company has ever considered – partnered up with a social media expert from another Fortune 500 company across town that leads the market in a number of food categories. This expert gets a six-month sabbatical from his organization to go uncover how other companies are approaching this new world of marketing/social networking (and I want that job!).

At first glance, the average outsider looking in might wonder what food has to do with medical technology. Answer: In the world of social media, it’s all frighteningly similar.

Our discussion during lunch wandered around from individual backgrounds and experience (e-marketing, corporate PR, engineering) to the rapid pace of change happening to the Internet, which has since its inception been traveling at the speed of carreraour CEO’s Porsche. Roughly six months in our everyday life equates to two full years on the Internet. And there is no speed limit on the information superhighway.

Just how do large, staid companies differentiate from those organizations in the world nimble to the ways of the ‘Net?  We cower in fear…at least at the onset.  The corporate board rooms filled with 50-something, graying men and women look quizzically at their marketing VPs talking about Twitter feeds and branded YouTube channels. They scoff at CEO blogs that actually INVITE customer feedback and potential criticism to the newly launched widget.

That is until their very own board members – other corporate leaders who are vying to stay relevant in the land of social media/networking start asking questions at the conference table.  This level of CEO-to-CXO peer pressure starts to drive the inevitable change big, fat, slow-moving companies must make. It’s not up for discussion and it’s not an if/then choice. It’s a “when” choice and the “when” was yesterday. Mr. or Ms. CEO, if you missed the boat, you’re going to do more than get your feet wet if you hope to catch up. There is no room for another mistake.

Given the macro-economic state of the world, a fever pitch now resides with all things social media/networking. Nothing is more “mission critical.” To message to customers – to actually sell product and generate revenue, compete and be legitimate – companies simply must open the door on this next phase of marketing.

And really, it’s just the sands of business paradigms shifting yet again – like they  always do. The landscape might feel new, but the level of risk and reward is the same as past transitions.

The ride, however, is vastly more interesting than anything I’ve ridden to date.

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Hillary Rodham Clinton apparently lives in a fantasy world – one in which she can make up the facts to suit her needs.

The most recent case is her recollection of a little plane ride into Tuzla, Bosnia 12 short years ago. As HRC recollects that visit abroad, she states on more than one occasion, that she dodged bullets and ran for cover with her head down when the plane landed.  Truth is, she was greeted on the tarmac by Bosnian leadership, U.S. military commanders and an eight-year-old girl who read a poem and gave Hillary a hug.  No sniper bullets zinging by her helmet-less head.

The New York Times covered the story and chain of events in details here.

Her campaign spokespeople are now back peddling on the story, explaining that as the plane was preparing to land everyone was “advised” that they would be landing in a dangerous area that might be prone to sniper fire. Hillary just mis-stated the order of events. Oh pul-eeze!

Are we so f-ing gullible that the Hillary campaign really thinks we’ll swallow this line of s*it? Does the Clinton campaign really think we believe that back in ’96 a plane full of U.S. dignitaries, including the first lady, would land in a hot zone and be at risk to sniper fire?

Sinbad and Sheryl Crow were at the party that day in 1996. Sinbad says his biggest fear was not knowing where his next meal was coming from while he was entertaining U.S. soldiers stationed in Bosnia.

I’m sure in Clinton’s head, she ate her share of MREs throughout the entire trip.

Yeah. Really.

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A Day Like That

Most weekday mornings begin the same way. Alarm chimes from my mobile phone – followed by 10 to 20 minutes of snoozing. It’s harder to get out of bed this time of year – pulling the blanket and comforter back always results in goosebumps.

There’s not many better sounds than that of coffee percolating. I make just two large cup fulls. Freshly showered, shaved, dressed, and (partially) caffeinated and awake, I commute to work. Garage to parking ramp is 20 minutes.

My job is the type of job my dad would have hated – and not understood. I spend most of the day at a desk in front of a computer. Part of my role in PR is monitoring news for the company about the health care industry, including competitors and general local business and economic news. The other aspect of my role is talking to news journalists about various aspects of the medical device business and the role my company plays in the trillion dollar health care industry.

Today included two unusual events. First, a quarterly briefing from the CEO. With 38,000 employees worldwide, keeping everyone up to speed on the company’s successes and challenges is a challenge in itself. A live webcast reaches everyone’s desktop and is available for replay for those sleeping in Japan, China and Australia.  The main message today: It’s been a difficult quarter, but the company managed the adversity better than anyone expected. There’s still reason to feel optimistic for the rest of the fiscal year and several good initiatives in place that will enable the company to achieve its financial goals.

After a few phone calls, lunch, and a couple hours tweaking on a report I’ve been putting together for the past two weeks, I meet with my vice president – another irregular event, but welcomed. The VP who runs the comms department is a driven, 30-something, sharp-as-a-tack professional who knows how to get things done. She also values good people on her team and I’m fortunate to be one of those good people (there are many – in fact the halls of this company are filled with Rhodes Scholars, medical specialists and Ph.D-ed people, making me often wonder what I’m doing among these people with maximum brain power full on all the time).  Twenty minutes later I’m back at my desk. It’s now too late in the day to start anything new, so I fire off answers to a few e-mails and do one last check on breaking news sites to see if a certain Wall Street Journal opinion piece is posted online just yet. It’s not.

My role includes not just tracking news but helping journalists frame their stories and tell them – at the very least objectively. When lucky, we obtain a few quotes that convey the right messages we want to leave with the general public. It’s all about the message. The form of delivery and the way it’s received. On a good day, all questions are answered (there’s no such thing as “no comment” anymore), the positive stories outweigh the negative and there are no bad surprises.  Good surprises are always welcomed.

Time to go home.

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Work should never feel like work.

To pay my way through college, I labored long summer hours for a moving company owned by my next door neighbor. It was the dirtiest, hottest, most physically challenging work I’ve ever done (far more difficult than completing a sprint triathlon). For $6.25 an hour I worked 70 hour weeks during my summer breaks hauling pianos and boxes filled with books and sofa sleepers and, my favorite, the family deep freezer up basement stairs and into a moving van. That, my friends, is labor. I would wake up hating my work. Understandably.

Flash forward 20 years and my life’s work is quite the opposite. After obtaining that degree in corporate communications from Buena Vista University located in toney Storm Lake, Iowa, I have been practicing my first choice in a career field, public relations, ever sense. I love my work. But more than practicing a craft that I was well-educated and trained to do, I’ve found the place to do it where I really make a difference. Don’t jump to conclusions, I’m not changing how PR is done, because like most career options, there are very few original PR strategies. But I’m practicing a craft that I love for a company that, at the end of the day, does amazing things. The work I do ultimately impacts the lives of millions of people and that makes work not seem like work at all.

It’s cause to whistle…not while I’m working, but out of amazement to my fortune.

One’s life work can be filled with despair or boredom or a lack of direction. For me, though, I found my strengths early, honed those skills carefully and the result is in working for a company where what I do matters.

I don’t work. I don’t toil. I don’t labor.

I just do…happily.

Have a great Labor Day everyone!

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Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s approval rating has skyrocketed recently. Why? In the aftermath of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis that killed 13 people, his face, name and voice have saturated the media. The Republican, now twice elected as governor, has stepped up, admitting some of his own short-sighted thinking about passing legislation that would have increased the gas tax a year ago. These funds naturally go toward funding for roads, highways and bridges – something the entire U.S. has discovered gets sorely under-funded.

But the PR machine for the Pawlenty camp has done an admirable job since the bridge fell down. The Governor has drawn favorable reviews following appearances on the national morning news programs, local radio and newspapers. And even though partisan politicking egos continue to exist in Minnesota, it’s tough to blast a governor for doing his best in bad circumstances.

Unlike the Bush situation in which the general public is not only sick and tired of hearing his excuses but have, at last, peeled back the rose-colored glasses when it comes to Iraq and our country’s foreign policy.

These serve as case studies, proving that any leader has only a short time to carry out effective leadership directives. Getting a major interestate highway bridge built in 18 months sounds accetable to the average Jane or Joe. I think we all would have been amazed if we could have liberated Iraq, established some peace initiatives and gotten the hell outta there in three years time. We may have applauded Bush for that accomplishment. But six years?

Not saying a bridge and war are good comparisons, but it does highlight the style differences between Bush and Pawlenty. On one hand, the President knows how to wear out his welcome versus the Governor who simply wants to get something done right in a timely fashion.

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I’m moving forward.  Don’t hate me. Even though I’m a resident of “The City Where the Bridge Collapsed,” it’s time to get life back to normal. As normal as is possible without getting all weird.  So here’s a thought to contemplate:

“The secret of the demagogue is to make himself appear as stupid as his audience so that they’ll believe they’re as smart as he is.”

— Karl Kraus

In my role as a public relations “counselor,” I wonder if I tell my CEO this, he’ll buy it or if he’ll look at me and stare, thinking, “And you are…???”

Did Kraus really mean one should appear as stupid as his audience? Or does he essentially believe that a great speaker who speaks to the common ground of his or her audience will garner the best results?  Perhaps Hillary Clinton could learn something from this.

Perhaps we all could focus a bit more and consider our audience before our mouths start flapping.

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Our current president may have an all-time low approval rating, and rest assured he won’t be serving a third term, but the Democrats own in-fighting among the top three candidates to receive the Democratic nomination bodes well for Republicans today.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards seemingly refuse to play nice as they glad hand potential voters months before primaries and caucuses begin.

After the Clinton/Obama dust up last week during the CNN/YouTube debate continues to serve as the mechanism that will likely drag these candidates into real-life fist-a-cuffs until a clear winner is announced. Ms. Clinton may have an argument when it comes to Obama’s weaknesses when it comes to national security. In her memo following the digital debate, Clinton expressed that:

Senator Obama has committed to presidential-level meetings with some of the world’s worst dictators without preconditions during his first year in office. 

She’s in this race to win it and her campaign needs every bit of help it can muster. 

Obama countered that Clinton’s view is old-guard. About his own nationaly security platform, he said:

This is exactly the kind of change and new thinking that excites voters about an Obama presidency.

Meanwhile, John Edwards is trying to remain relevant. In doing so, he’s taking the high road (nice move), but jabbing his two opponents for their own lack of immediate response to the Iraq War.  Edwards, apparently, was in favor of liberating Iraq from the start, and says today that the U.S. needs to finish what it started.

While we can’t expect the Dem front runners not to get in the occassional knife fight with each other, it would be mighty convenient if they would fight as a team against the conservatives who are trying to extend this Iraq War conflict indefinitely. If Obama, Clinton and Edwards continue punching each others’ throats for the next six months, the only clear leader in the end will be the Republican who gets that party’s nomination.

Let’s hope whoever is left standing has some fight left in him/her next summer after the conventions.

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Every now and then my work group lets its collective hairs down for fun. Thursday afternoon was one of those days. The lot of us found ourselves in downtown Minneapolis at Brits Pub – one of the coolest, most happening places in the city. We were there for a buffet of food and an afternoon of lawn bowling.

Imagine walking out of the second floor of a downtown bar on a beautiful July afternoon. The temperature hovers around 80 degrees. The Stella Artois, bootleggers or Long Island ice teas quench all thirsts. Out on the patio we sit next to a field of closely clipped green grass. There must be an acre of it. Jealous employees working at Target’s corporate headquarters look down on the bar patrons from their bright red painted cubicles wishing it was Friday at 5, but it’s not. Too bad for them.

I’ve never lawn bowled before, but I have played bocce ball. Lawn bowling is kinda like that, butBrits with different scoring rules. Participants divide into teams of two or four and square off by first throwing a small billiards-sized cue ball looking ball, the “jack,” out onto the grass. The goal then is to get all four of your team’s larger, weighted balls closest to the jack. One point is awarded if you have one ball closer than your competitors. Two points if you have two of your four balls closer to the jack than your opponent, and so on. Hitting your opponent’s balls out of play is encouraged and considered strategic. At least this is how we were instructed to play and score our single-elimination tournament.

Lawn bowlers who are communicators by profession tend to get a little catty after a beer or two. Trash talk ensues. “Im’ma boot your ass clear to Stillwater with this toss!” Cheating happens. A measureing tape becomes necessity to determine who’s balls are closer in to the jack because our obviously blurred keen eyes can no longer discern distance.

The first teams out of the tournament, including my own, won the benefit of sitting in the shade and drinking even more. But over the course of two hours, a winner was decided in the great Medtronic Lawn Bowling Festival hosted by Brits Pub. Of course the winners did so by hook and by crook. What else would you expect?!

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