Sunday, February 22, 2009

The best investment you'll ever make

Over the last six months, I've been asked many times by colleagues, friends and family why I spend so much time on Twitter and other online channels. 

My one word response: Relationships.

Like nothing we've ever seen before, tools like Twitter allow you to connect, share and collaborate with fabulously smart, creative and interesting folks across the world. People like Chris Brogan, Amber Naslund, Beth Harte and Jason Falls, just to name a few (OK, so I don't connect with many people from Singapore....yet). 

These tools also allow you to build and foster relationships that often lead to real-life relationships. You hear examples all the time. Folks that have connected for months--even years--online, meet up in person and make the relationship that much stronger. It's like online dating, in a way. Twitter, and tools like it, provide you with the introduction and you build and nurture the relationship from there. I have gotten to know so many great people online this past year in the PR industry--folks like David Mullen, Rachel Kay, Danny Brown, Allan Schoenberg, Matt Batt, Scott Hepburn, Sonny Gill. I could go on and on. And I hope to meet many of these folks at events like SOBcon09 and BlogPotomac in the year to come. I also hope to meet up with others on a more personal plane in 2009--golf trips, informal meet ups, etc.

Why am I investing all this time and effort into this relationship building?

Simple. I see it as the best professional investment I can make. The relationships I build help me:

* Learn new skill sets. We're all learning about the ins and outs of these social media tools together, right? What better way to learn best practices and new approaches than from your colleagues and friends online? Seems like I learn a new way to use Twitter from my friends every day. I've also discovered new approaches to my blog by following, reading and commenting on some of the best blogs out there in the PR/social media space.

* Meet new people through my network's network. One of the first people I met through Twitter was David Mullen (lucky for me, I know). But through David, I've gotten to know so many other folks, like Lauren Fernandez and Jen Wilbur, who I know consider good friends and smart colleagues to turn to for advice and ideas. I've also met new PR folks locally through my online network--people like Ryan Mathre, Dan Wolter and Ryan Maus at the University of Minnesota. Folks like Graeme Thickins, Brad Bellaver and Albert Maruggi through Social Media Breakfast. And I've fostered existing relationships with PR colleagues like Eva Keiser, Jason Sprenger, LeeAnn Rasachak and many, many others. 

* Uncover new opportunities. Through Twitter and the relationships I've built online, I've been offered speaking opportunities (about social media/PR) and recently had a shot at moderating the famed Journchat conversation on Monday nights (congrats to @standupkid, by the way). Offline, my relationships have led to at least two job opportunities, freelance consulting engagements and a slew of life-long friends.
* Hone existing skills. During the day I spend my time consulting with clients, thinking and writing. That's pretty much it. So, you would think I'd be pretty sick-and-tired of writing by the time I got home at night, right? On the contrary, I've found my online engagement to be a great way to hone my writing skills differently than the way I practice in my "day job." And, since I don't work as much in media relations in my current job, I relish the chance to develop my pitching skills through Twitter. After all, every time I attempt to promote a blog post or RT someone else' tweet, isn't that what I'm doing? And, in 140 characters no less.
* Build life-long friendships. You can't put a price tag on this one. Folks like David Mullen, Allan Schoenberg, Lauren Fernandez, Jen Wilbur, Rachel Kay, Matt Batt, Candee Wolf, Joel Swanson (I can't possibly name everyone) are people I see myself staying in touch with for a very long time. They're people I connect with on a professional AND personal level. And I value their friendship and opinions every single day.

* Feel better about life. Every day I go online and connect with my colleagues and friends in San Diego, Boston, North Carolina, Minnesota, heck even Romania (yes I follow someone from Romania)--I feel better about myself. I feel better about humanity. I feel better about life. 

That's the "ROI" of relationships to me. What about you? Why do you spend so much time building your relationships? What do you hope to get in return?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

PR Rock Stars: A conversation with Rachel Kay

I met Rachel just a few short months ago on Twitter chatting about advice for young PR grads. Over the last few months we've shared thoughts on the PR industry, brainstormed ways to engage our PR colleagues and discussed the ins and outs of the golf business during her trip to the PGA Merchandise Show (hello, Jealous, party of one!).

But the thing I've noticed about Rachel, besides the fact that she's a razor-sharp PR pro who's never shy about telling you exactly what's on her mind: She's not afraid to jump right in. Yes, economic times may be tough. Yes, she may be resource-constrained (down a staffer at her shop). But, at the same time, she's not afraid to try new things, take a different approach or identify an opportunity and seize it before the moment has passed. Case in point: her involvement with Danny Brown's 12 for 12K initiative (see below). That's the kind of Rock Star I want on my team. The type who's smart, passionate and not afraid to take calculated risks. You can never have too many Rachel Kay's on your team.

You've recently joined the 12 for 12K challenge, an initiative designed to raise $12,000 for 12 charities in 2009 (the brainchild of Danny Brown). Why did you join the fray, how are you participating and what are you doing to encourage others to rally around this cause?

I was instantly attracted to 12for12K for a number of reasons, the first being the well-deserving charities that stand to benefit from this remarkable effort. So many non-profit organizations are in desperate need of assistance right now, and with the economy in its current state, people are understandably more reluctant to give up their money. This effort doesn’t require a significant donation – so it’s important to communicate to people that we can still be frugal while helping.

I was also fascinated by the cause because of the passion of those involved, especially Danny Brown. The best way to execute a successful campaign is by leveraging the resources you have in front of you. Danny Brown combined his expertise in social media and PR with a passion for charity to create this global effort designed to benefit so many. Other partners have donated creative services and PR skills. In addition, it’s really an experiment to see how social media in many different forms can propel camaraderie of giving. Our friends on Facebook, Twitter and other vehicles are our peers and friends, and through the sheer sharing of information we can take our efforts far and wide.

My task is to rally corporate partners engaging businesses eager to join an exciting and well meaning effort. What’s great is we can tailor a program to meet the needs of any company, so the sky is the limit! We really encourage companies to join us – because there is so much buzz about how brands are approaching social media, this is such a great way for companies to add to the social Web in an impactful way. This month’s charity is Stop the Silence, which helps pay for medical and psychological treatment, social services, legal costs and much more for young victims of sexual abuse. Companies, if you are reading this, contact me to get involved!

We've had some discussions online about the younger PR generation. You seem to have a great deal of passion around mentoring more junior-level professionals. What advice would you give these Gen Yers looking to advance their career in this industry?

The next generation of PR pros is a significant point of passion for me – I have spoken many times to students about the industry and what to expect as they enter their careers. In addition, as someone who is currently looking for entry-level talent to join our team, I have had great insight into the areas of opportunities in the current talent pool.

As everyone is well aware, the economy is a mess right now. Newbies are struggling harder than ever before, competing not only with other new entrants, but with more experienced people that have lost their positions in the downturn as well.

Tips for the job searcher:

• Network with Social Media. This younger generation is more experienced with social media than any previous. Now move beyond simply the social. Leverage this experience to reach out for advice, referrals, and information interviews using Linkedin, Twitter and even Facebook. Ask your network to help you, and give them the professional demeanor and materials to make it easy for them.

• Customize. Customize each cover letter for each potential employer. Time consuming? Yes, but what else are you busy with? When 300 resumes fly past my desk I want to know you want to work at MY company, and not just any company. I’m amazed how many applicants have clearly sent me a generic piece. In addition, if you send me the same template you send everyone, I figure that’s the same way you approach media relations, which isn’t what I am looking for.

• Prepare. Before meeting with a potential employer, use your skills to research the company. Go beyond the Web site – what are they saying on blogs, on Twitter and product reviews? Understand the types of clients they have, or the type of business they are in. Beyond your own learning, use these points of information to form your own insights, questions, and opinions and share them in the interview. You will come across as informed, thoughtful, and well beyond the typical candidate.

• Energize. In this economy everyone will experience rejection. Working through your disappointments will require persistence. Energy in the interview will also differentiate you. In this economy an employer wants to know that you are the best investment among many candidates.

Tips for those employed:

• Perform a Level Above. Always perform at the level you wish you were at. While you may dislike the tedium of compiling clips and sending out calendar announcements, if that’s what you resign yourself to then you’ll stay there a lot longer. Get creative and show off your strategic thinking skills by sending your supervisors new ideas to generate buzz for your clients. Pull together data on what the competition is doing and present it with some forward-thinking ways to for your company to get ahead. Read the trades so you can speak industry talk with the higher-ups. Do you current job fabulously, but think bigger.

• Speak Up! This is PR – make yourself heard. Always publicize yourself by being a dynamic force within the company. Position yourself as a future leader by speaking up in meetings and giving opinions and ideas. My first boss used to rap me on the knuckles for staying too silent! If you are vocal, you’ll be the first to be invited to that new business meeting or client call.

• Be a Sponge. Soak up all you can. Pick your boss’s brain over lunch about issues in the PR industry. Share something you learned during Journchat and ask her thoughts about it. Call your local television station and ask if you can come in for a station tour. Offer to treat a reporter lunch in order to learn more about what he or she likes to write about. Read everything you can get your hands on. Knowledge is power!

I know you're a big Sarah Evans fan and you follow JournChat religiously. Why do you participate and what do you think other PR professionals can gain by joining the discussion every Monday night?

Sarah Evans has done an incredible job providing credibility to the career of PR as well as leveraging social media in revolutionary ways to benefit the trade. Journchat is a fun and engaging meeting of the minds for PR up-and-comers, veterans and journalists, which takes place Monday nights on Twitter. Never has there been a better opportunity to get inside the heads of journalists to find out how they like to be pitched and what the most current tools are.

Anyone in the PR industry can gain insight by participating in or following Journchat. PR is changing with the speed of light, and pros are implementing new techniques all the time. These fantastic ideas, especially the implementation of social media, are common topics of discussion on Journchat. This is a free service which can help all of us stay on the cutting-edge of the successful techniques others are using. In addition, Journchat gives each of us the chance to position ourselves as leaders in our field and to build relationships with journalists and bloggers in an incredibly personal and engaging way. Just follow #Journchat and join the conversation or simply soak up the information.

You started Rachel Kay Public Relations a little over a year ago. What key lessons have you learned in the past year about running a small agency and the challenges that go along with that?

I learned that running an agency is a lot of work! The biggest challenge for me is juggling the administration with the client work – because we are small, I have to do a lot of things myself including sending invoices, collections, interviewing and purchasing. However, the benefits far outweigh the challenges.

There is an amazing satisfaction in taking on clients based on what you enjoy and believe in. I love the thrill of courting a client, customizing a plan with exciting ideas and creative thinking, nurturing my clients understanding of communication and creating results that elevate their businesses. In addition, I also adore my team and creating an atmosphere where my employees feel empowered to own projects and share ideas.

Finally, a personal question. I know you follow the Hollywood scene closely. Any insights into what we might see at the Oscars on Sunday? Any favorites or dark horses you like? Surprises we might not expect?

I am going to be completely honest – I am in no way qualified to answer this question because I have only seen one of the flicks, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” I’d like to see a few more before the big night if possible, but in true PR style, I’ll take my own direction with this question and make some bets on the fashion, since that tends to be my favorite part!

The ladies – Some of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood are vying for awards this year, which will make this year’s awards show stunning if nothing else. Angeline Jolie will shine as always, I predict in a Grecian-inspired dress, but I am hoping she goes bold with something outside of her typical neutrals. Anne Hathaway will ravish the red carpet with her classic glamour in something bright and eye-catching. Kate Winslett will rock her fabulous curves in a form fitting gown (I’m betting blue, which seems to be her favorite). Penelope Cruz has worn black (my favorite) at the last two big shows – will she change it up for the big night?

The gents – A more rugged crew than the ladies, Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke are sure to be sporting just-rolled-out-of-bed disheveled hair – hopefully partnered with some dapper tuxes. Taking a big leap (note the sarcasm), I predict Brad Pitt will be his always traditionally stylish self in classic black tie. Finally I think Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire will keep it young and fresh, possibly choosing a skinny tie over typical black tie and maybe adding a pop of color. That’s all from the Red Carpet.

Rachel Kay Public Relations (RKPR) specializes in the consumer technology, food, beauty and fashion industries. RKPR helps smaller, emerging brands and Web start-ups maximize their potential and tell their story through a variety of tactics including media relations, media events and press conferences, social/online media, and media training. RKPR has landed coverage for their clients in the nation's top press, including CNN, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Newsweek, People, Elle, US Weekly, Entertainment Tonight, Cosmopolitan, Shape, Self, Fitness, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Brandweek, Adweek and many more. You can find Rachel and her agency online at

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Throwing my hat in the Journchat ring...

At the suggestion of a few friends and colleagues, I am throwing my hat into the proverbial ring for moderator consideration during next Monday's Journchat.

Sarah: If selected, I can only hope to be 1/100th the moderator you have been since you founded Journchat. You have set the bar remarkably high! Thanks again for this wonderful opportunity. Regardless of who moderates next week, your openness to sharing the stage and spotlighting others is one of the reasons I, and many others online, love collaborating and working with you.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Social Media and Not-for-Profits: The perfect marriage?

I've had several conversations with leaders at local not-for-profits lately and one theme continues to emerge: How can we use social media tools to further our organization's vision and help us make a difference in the communities we serve?

I currently consult with two not-for-profit organizations and for both social media can and will play a key role in their marketing and communcations mix in 2009.


The tools are cheap or relatively inexpensive--key for not-for-profits with little to no communications budget. They're usually easy to set up. Also important for organizations who usually have one do-it-all communicator on staff. And finally--and most importantly--most social media tools can help build stronger communities. Isn't that what not-for-profit organizations are all about?

Think about the not-for-profit organizations in your town. Maybe you volunteer with a few. Are they taking advantage of these new tools and resources (in addition to their existing PR and marketing tools) to connect with donors, volunteers and community members? If not, maybe it's time for you to intercede and lend your valuable time and talents to help an organization you believe in further its mission. Here's a few ideas to get you started:

* Communicate more effectively and efficiently with volunteers through a blog. Instead of communicating with your volunteer base through one-off and group emails, communicate one-to-many through a blog. Using this tool, you can also share photos and video with these important stakeholders. And best yet, they can share with and learn from each other by posting comments and information.

* Enable photo sharing (and spread your message) by creating a FlickR account. Most not-for-profit organizations hold events--whether it's to raise money, engage new audiences or recognize volunteers. Why not give your members and stakeholders the opportunity to share these photos with their friends, families and colleagues through their own social networks like Facebook. After all, who doesn't like to see themselves in a photo? It will spread your message and mission to audiences you've never reached before.

* Build stronger communities and engage your champions through a Facebook "fan" page. Set up a playground where your members and stakeholders can interact, share and connect. Give them the resources they need to tell your story (photos, PDFs of donation forms, brochures, etc.). Provide video testimonials from people your NFP has helped. Find new ways to engage this "fan base."

That's the short list of my ideas. I know there are many others out there. What's worked for you? How are NFPs using these tools to build stronger communities?

Photos courtesy of American Red Cross and kmxphoto.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

PR Rock Stars: A Conversation with Greg Swan

You hear something once, you may dismiss it. You hear it twice, your ears start to perk up. You hear it three times, you start to believe the hype. This has been my experience in getting to know Greg Swan, digital strategy manager with Weber Shandwick here in the Twin Cities.

Over the last few years, I've heard so many great things about Greg and his work--from my PRSA colleagues, mutual friends and PR leaders throughout the community. But, I'd never really had the chance to meet Greg and sit down and chat until just a few weeks ago. Instantly, I became a huge fan. 

Smart. Plugged in. Creative. Early adopter. Greg Swan is many things. What he is not is just another media relations pro. Sure, Greg knows PR backwards and front. But, what makes Greg so unique is his ability to draw upon his experience with digital solutions, citizen journalism and PR to craft integrated marketing and communications programs for his clients. Now, that, my friends is how you become a PR Rock Star.

You’ve been one of the pioneers in the Twin Cities blogosphere since starting your PerfectPorridge blog in 2004. How did you get into blogging and who would you consider your key influencers and mentors in that space?

After my ad agency stint in Des Moines, I interned at the alternative newspaper in Des Moines and had the opportunity to put that journalism side of my PR degree to work and fell even more in love with writing. Shortly after leaving the paper I co-founded and edited a statewide arts magazine dedicated to the arts, Art Scene. When I moved to the Twin Cities and moved into PR full time, I still needed an outlet for all of that arts-writing passion. Perfect Porridge was born.

However, I first set up a LiveJournal blog back in 2000, where I eloquently shared rants like, “Why I Refuse to Call Independence Day the Fourth of July.” Now I maintain three to four blogs daily: PerfectPorridge, Greg Swan, Minneapolis Metblogs, PerfectPorridge Second Helpings; but try to stay away from the pajama-style rants. Twitter is the ultimate blogging tool, and because it’s so simple to update, it’s my preferred publication medium.

There are so many pioneering trailblazers across the blogging landscape; it’s difficult to give them all enough credit. I can’t say I regularly read a single blog, but I do make it a practice to skim FriendFeed, Twitter and Google Reader a few times a day and use a sundry of new media widgets and alerts for constant updates.

I have this horribly personal analogy for mining this overwhelming data stream I can’t stop myself from sharing: I imagine myself as an F16 fighter pilot who flips down a 360-degree lens wherein real-time data is piped through the lens and enters the sensory awareness of my consciousness as I fly the plane. I may not directly pay attention to every post or news story, but there is a working madness to the osmosis of skimming hundreds of streams a day and gleaning a general feel for news of the day or what’s really important. That’s how I use social media streams – straight to the brain!

You play a key role on the digital strategy team at Weber Shandwick here in Minneapolis. As we ease into February, how are organizations integrating social media and digital tools into their marketing communications mix differently in 2009? What kind of trends are you seeing there?

Clients and agencies are looking are continually evaluating and evolving their approach to social marketing. Weber Shandwick Digital has a focus on inline communications, meaning we don't create a stand-alone, traditional communications campaign and bolt on a few online tactics just because. We also rarely deliver solely digital or social media plans. Instead, we craft integrated strategic plans that reflect the audience our clients are trying to reach, as well as the approach that will be most effective in driving advocacy for a specific brand, issue or company.

Advertising, interactive, pure-digital and even events companies are trying to carve out their own approach to social marketing. In my opinion, PR agencies already build campaigns that help a company/brand foster two-way dialog with their stakeholders. Therefore, social media is a logical, next-generation framework for generating the opportunity for this discussion to happen.

Additionally, legacy media reporters are increasingly using media tools – often without realizing it. The “2008 Journalist Survey on Media Relations Practices” study found the greatest change in journalism practices as a result of the internet to is the ability to access corporate news and contact information online 24 hours a day. Nearly half of journalists reported visiting a corporate website or online newsroom at least once a week, while nearly 87 percent visit at least once a month.

Many companies see those kinds of stats, review their own corporate newsroom and take a big “gulp.” We’re helping companies bridge the gap between 1) legacy reporters who may still want a formal news release and a high-resolution photo, and 2) citizen journalists who may want two bullets and a Web-quality photo, plus a digg or button.

Whether it’s a social media newsroom to accommodate unique media needs, a corporate blog for consistently updated information, or a Twitter account for less formal updates, I feel we’re enabling the trend toward corporate transparency and immediacy using new media tools.

As for other trends in the mediasphere and PR industry, check out these other stats from that same study:

* Nearly 75 percent follow at least one blog regularly
* More than 75 percent of journalists say they use social media to research stories
* Nearly 38 percent of journalists now say they visit a social media site at least once a week as part of their reporting
* More than 53 percent of journalists now say they visit a social media site such as FaceBook or YouTube at least once a month
* Nearly 19 percent of journalists receive five or more RSS feeds of news services, blogs, podcasts or videocasts every week

This blurred gray line between traditional and social media is the reason I’ve tried to stop myself from using the terms “mainstream media” and “new media.” It’s increasingly hard to distinguish the two.

With that said, mass media is still “mass,” yet legacy news outlets now publish their stories online and include comments and sharing tools. I think what’s left of that gray line will dissolve by 2010.

You’re actively involved in both PRSA and MIMA (Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association). In fact, you just moderated an outstanding panel at a recent MIMA meeting at the University of Minnesota that covered digital reputation management. Why do you continue to be so involved in these two organizations? What value does it bring to your professional life?

I highly recommend PR pros join one or more professional organizations. My college advisor was a long-standing APR accredited professional and frequently extolled the importance of accreditation to help shape and restore PR’s reputation.

Based on Wednesday’s unfortunate USA Today piece, “Despite dim view of public relations, it may be needed,” the PR industry still has a long way to go on the reputation front.

PRSA’s code of ethics and APR programs are a great foundation for new and tenured PR folks to lean on day-to-day, and especially in time of a crisis or need for a snap-judgment.

MIMA is leading the way as the go-to organization for interactive marketing strategies. They also hold less formal, more frequent and integrated discussions about a wide range of topics that help me stretch my thinking beyond PR 101 blinders.

Back to the inline concept, it’s important for all PR professionals to understand the changing face of the media landscape. You don’t have just one person in your company/agency who knows how to write a press release, so you can’t afford to just have one person who reads blogs or even more importantly, understands how an innocuous blog post can seriously and immediately impact mass media coverage.

I can understand the challenges professional organizations face in recruiting these days, particularly with 1) the economy tightening our belts and budgets and 2) a Millennial generation who may view their employment as an 8-5 commitment and perhaps not a career that demands investment, education and peer interaction.

Event groups like Social Media Breakfast MSP, Conversations About the Future of Advertising and Likemind provide all generations with a less formal opportunity to get together, network and collaborate. I think we’ll continue to see formal organizations become more dynamic while these information organizations adopt formal protocols to manage growing membership bases.

I recommend seizing the opportunity to interact with peers at every chance, and the Twin Cities marketing community offers countless opportunities every month.

As I mentioned, you started PerfectPorridge, a Minneapolis-based music blog that covers the national, international and local music scenes. Clearly, you have a passion for music, but what keeps you blogging? It doesn’t seem like you have a lot of free time on your hands with your position at Shandwick, professional association duties, speaking engagements and your growing family. What’s stoking that fire?

That’s a great question. I like to be busy and have my irons in lots of fires. But last fall we bought this gorgeous 120 year-old house, and if you were following closely, you may have noticed my tweeting, blogging, tagging, etc. severely dropped off while I refinished the hardwood floors and tended to home projects.

I also rarely tweet or blog between 5-8 p.m. when I try to give my son the attention he deserves. With new technology tools, it’s simple to stay connected, but I try to maintain a healthy level of offline discipline, too.

Interested in a live band take from you. Give me your top three local (Minneapolis) bands and three national bands you absolutely have to see when they come to town.

I understand the reasoning behind this question, but I always hate ranking local bands. Our musical community boasts a tremendously creative talent pool across multiple genres.

The new P.O.S. album, “Never Better,” is shaping the next generation of hip-hop. Adam Levy (of the Honeydogs) recently put out a kids CD under the moniker Bunny Clogs. I took my two year-old to Rock the Cradle at the MIA a few weeks ago to see Adam and his daughter perform tracks from “More! More! More!” Jeremy Messersmith is another talented singer-songwriter who has recently come on my radar. His track, “Welcome to Suburbia” was my theme song last fall.

Nationally, I have to recommend Raleigh’s Annuals, who never fail to disappoint when they come through town. I’m also a big fan of Great Northern’s dissonant songwriting and poignant live show. They have a new album coming out, “Remind Me Where the Light Is,” poised to really break them out. I also caught Fujiya and Miyagi last night at a sold out 7th Street Entry show. My ears are still thumping twelve hours later.

You seem to be somewhat of a hybrid in professional terms—you have a keen interest in citizen journalism as the captain of the Minneapolis Metroblog, you work for one of the largest PR shops in Minnesota and you clearly “get” the social media/digital space. What do you see as the advantage of focusing on multiple areas of expertise instead of specializing in just one?

Unlike some traditional brick and mortar trades, public relations is an industry that changes dynamically nearly every day. I’ve found the best way to stay in touch with those changes is to jump into the fray head first.

For example, to be a good PR pro, it’s critical to understand journalism and the natural flow of news. Both the definition of “news” and how that news is reported have changed greatly in the last decade. But it’s not as easy as touring the local newspaper and TV stations and reading the local daily newspaper every morning.

Reporters are scanning blogs, LinkedIn and using Twitter to source experts for their stories. Stories are now often updated after they publish with corrections or better, fresher content. And where do they get that content? Press releases still serve a purpose, but that purpose is fading. Matte releases are headed the way of the Video News Release. With the advent of e-mail, reporters are the most accessible they’ve ever been, yet they’re completely overwhelmed with competing pitches from our peers. Meanwhile, everyday people – citizens – are using new tools to publish, share and tell stories and impact mass media coverage.

The most daunting challenge we face – that tomorrow will never be the same as today – should be the easiest hurdle to overcome. I want to be involved in knowing and shaping what’s next, and the best way of knowing and shaping is by doing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

7 ways to hone your consulting skills

Like many in the PR/communications business, I've been on both sides of the table. As the consultant, you're looked to for fresh ideas and sound advice. On the corporate side, you're more accountable for the organization's results and feel a little more connected to your employer. After all, you're on the "inside."

But, after sitting in both chairs, I've learned the consulting skills in both positions are quite similar--no matter if you're on the inside or coming from the outside. Regardless, these skills are among the most important in your toolbox. You might have a great idea or strategy you believe your client should implement, but unless you can persuade, communicate and manage expectations, you won't get too far.

So, as you sit down with your clients next week, think about how you can improve your consulting skills. Do you have a tendency to do all the talking in client meetings? Do you really understand your client's business? How well do you know your client? As you assess your performance, keep the following tips in mind:

* Understand your client's business--inside and out. This is imperative. You can't provide effective counsel if you don't understand the key drivers of their business. Who are the client's key audiences? Who are their top three competitors? How are they perceived in the marketplace? Who are the key influencers in their market? You know the drill.

* Partner and collaborate--don't preach and tell. Easiest way to get under a client's skin? Walk in to the meeting and start telling them how smart you are, how much they have to learn and what they should be doing to improve. Yes, they want your advice--but it's all in the approach. If you can learn to join forces with your clients and work toward common goals (isn't that the whole idea?), it will pay huge dividends down the line. Results for your client. Additional work for yourself or your agency (results for you). And happiness. True happiness.

* Listen. Intently. Probably the biggest mistake we make as consultants--we don't listen enough. We're so eager to advise our clients and tell them what to do, we forget to listen. I mean, really listen. One way to do this? Ask intelligent questions. Start with the basics. What are your business goals this year? How do you expect marketing/PR/communications will help you achieve those goals? How are you currently performing vs. expectations? What are the top three challenges your company's facing right now? What's preventing you from reaching your goals? Get the client talking. And listen.

* Do your homework. The mark of any good consultant? Over-prepare for every client meeting. That means walking in with an agenda--even if the client didn't ask for one. That means clearly laying out what you hope to achieve in the meeting. That means researching the client and their immediate and long-term needs, the challenges they're currently facing and identifying any roadblocks they need to navigate. Never, ever, ever be caught with your pants down in a client meeting because you weren't prepared.

* Tell them how wonderful they are. The great ones do this so well. I've had the privilege to work alongside some incredibly talented consultants in my career and they always made a point to commend the client and their team on their great work. Without flat-out lying, of course. Couple reasons why this is a smart move. A) It shows you're paying attention to what they've been doing and that you recognize great work, and B) It helps you start building that relationship, which is critical. The client has to see you as a partner, someone who's looking out for their best interests. By telling them how great they are, you're in fact saying, "You do great work. I do great work. Let's do great work together for your brand."

* Manage expectations. An often overlooked component of the consultant-client relationship, but one that's vitally important. Constantly look for ways to uncover the client's expectations around specific projects you're working on together, your role in the work and the overall relationship. This will help you manage those expectations when projects get derailed or sidetracked or results don't pan out as originally planned.

* Date your client. Ok, not really because that will get you fired (or not, stranger things have happened). Instead, build a relationship with your client. Find out what they're interested in outside of work. Find ways to incorporate those interests into your daily interactions with them. Remember their birthday. Comment on photos on their desk. Ask about their children. Just get to know the client as a human being. To a large extent it's still a relationship-based business. People do business with people they like. Work on being someone people like.

So, how are you doing? Are you hitting on all cylinders in these areas? Any room for improvement? If yes, how do you plan to hone your consulting skills in the weeks and months ahead?

Note: Photo courtesy of Creator Apps

Thursday, February 5, 2009

PR Rock Stars: A conversation with LeeAnn Rasachak and Sarah Ryder

My first two conversations in the "PR Rock Star" series have been with fairly seasoned PR pros--David Mullen and Lee Aase. Today, I'd like to highlight two younger pros and a couple of the real up-and-coming PR stars in the Twin Cities community--LeeAnn Rasachak and Sarah Ryder.

If you're on Twitter, you may know them as @uptowngirlmpls and @sleepnumbersara. Together, they make up a formidable social media and PR duo at Select Comfort, the number-one bedding retailer in the U.S. They're also both past Dr. Willard Thompson scholarship winners (through PRSSA), by the way, so we know they're smart, driven and ethical practitioners at their core.

OK, enough set up--let's get on with the conversation! Hope you enjoy this installment of the PR Rock Star Conversation series.

You’re both active on Twitter professionally with Select Comfort, the number-one bedding retailer in the U.S. You share information, promotions and sleep tips through your accounts. What was your strategy as you started to use this new tool in your marketing mix? And what’s the one thing you’ve learned about your community through using Twitter?

LeeAnn/Sarah: As a communications team, we’ve adapted social media vehicles like Twitter and Facebook to reach our customers and consumers interested in getting a good night’s sleep. By providing followers and fans with sleep tips, sleep/health news and Sleep Number promotions, we’ve become a resource to help them achieve the best sleep possible. Fortunately, the Sleep Number brand meets two essential social media criteria a brand needs to have in order to be successful:

• The Sleep Number brand has a solid awareness among online consumers.
• We have a large group of satisfied owners, who are already highly engaged with the brand and online talking about it. Social media is another way to support a mutually beneficial relationship.

Sarah: As “SleepNumberSara” I’ve learned there are a lot of owners actively talking about and promoting the Sleep Number bed on Twitter, and the recommendation by a community or network carries a lot of weight in the consideration and purchase process. I’ve enjoyed connecting with consumers to gather testimonials, answer questions from potential buyers, troubleshoot issues, and ensure they have a quality experience with our product.

LeeAnn: From a personal perspective, I’ve become a Tweeter because it’s a tool to help me connect with other communications professionals, colleagues, friends and news resources every minute of the day. And, I do mean every minute! While external social media does not fall into my day-to-day Select Comfort responsibilities, I have an overwhelming interest and need to share my knowledge and serve on the “truth squad.” We have great products and I want to help people understand how each of the personalized products work.

Sarah: Through my personal Twitter account, I’ve learned that Twitter is a great resource to stay-up-to-date on news, trends and to maintain relationships. But it still doesn’t beat reading the Wall Street Journal or talking face-to-face with friends and colleagues. I love the ability to read my feed between meetings and conference calls, but no form of technology will replace the importance of face-to-face communication. On that note, happy hour anyone?

LeeAnn: I’ve learned many things about my community through Twitter but so far the most important lesson is to provide worthwhile content. My tweets reach beyond sleep and Sleep Number products. I speak to my personal life as UptownGirlMpls – sharing how to maintain a great quality of life within the Twin Cities as a single, 20-something who is active in her community. And as an Uptown community advocate, I’m always game for happy hour. ;)

Unfortunately, like many companies, Select Comfort has had to layoff staff recently. From some of our previous discussions, I know you have used social media tools internally as part of your strategy to communicate with staff and open up two-way dialogues. What tools did you use and what kind of response did you hear from employees?

LeeAnn/Sarah: We have many internal communication vehicles including a weekly e-newsletter, regular voicemail and e-mail communications, and an internal blog. One of the company’s goals is to foster true engagement. To help us reach this goal, it’s important that employees feel real ownership of the company. So, we created a company blog.

Our internal blog is a place where all employees have a voice. It helps to foster communication not only across the company, but across the country. New, relevant and important information is posted by contributors from all areas and levels within the company. And, we encourage all employees to comment, share ideas and engage in conversation. Ultimately, the blog is an importance resource for employees. A place where they can give and receive information that will help everyone feel true ownership.

Sarah: As a side note to our answer, I’d like to add that as a fairly new Select Comfort employee, I really appreciated the open communication and dialogue – especially during the past two months. The communication has truly helped foster great conversations, and has increased employee confidence and morale via our internal blog, brown bags and other employee engagement activities.

Staying on that topic for a minute. There are plenty of case studies online featuring companies that are using social media tools with external audiences. However, there aren’t nearly as many when it comes to internal audiences. In your experience, what’s the biggest challenge in using these tools to foster productive conversations and build community with employees vs. customers and external stakeholders?

LeeAnn/Sarah: In our experience, the biggest challenge to foster productive conversations is getting ALL employees to comment and engage in dialogue. We know there are many readers of the blog and the next step is to activate more voices. Our employees are passionate about the product, company’s success and display a personal commitment each and every day. The conversations are always productive and honest. We are working to bridge the gap between retail field and home office participation. While the retail employee base is larger than corporate employees, it’s a goal of ours in 2009 to evolve it to be more tailored. We have such different internal audiences that one tool is never absolutely perfect for everyone.

I know you’re both big supporters of PRSA and professional development. What have you found to be the biggest benefits of your involvement with the Minnesota chapter? And what is the one thing you learned this past year as a result of your involvement with this organization?

LeeAnn/Sarah: We both agree that we wouldn’t be where we are today without PRSSA and PRSA.

LeeAnn: The biggest benefit I’ve found in our local Chapter is overwhelming support. We have a great community of public relations professionals who take care of each other. My mentors are PRSA professionals who have connected me with many opportunities and helped develop my career path. In the last year as co-chair of the Student Relations committee, I’ve learned how to be a better leader by managing through change – listening to my committee, balancing workload and making decisions together.

Sarah: As a relatively new PR professional, it’s been wonderful and beneficial to have a nurturing community and a network of great professionals to learn from. I feel very fortunate to have great PRSA mentors and friends who have supported and shaped my career.

During the past year I’ve been a PRSSA president and a Classics committee member. Although both positions are very different, I’ve learned a similar theme; volunteering my time to help others is the best way to give back to the PR community that gave me so much. As there is constant change and learning opportunities associated with being an active PRSA member, I’ve also learned to become more adaptable to change.

You both played lead roles in your respective PRSSA chapters (Sarah at the University of Minnesota and LeeAnn at the University of St. Thomas—both
Dr. Willard Thompson Scholarship award winners, by the way) so you understand the value of effective leadership. As we continue to struggle in this rough-and-tumble economy, what are three characteristics you believe every leader should possess?

Sarah: I think a leader should posses 1) a genuine passion and excitement for the team members and the team’s goals, 2) good listening skills for open two-way communication, to identify emerging ideas/trends and gauge group morale and 3) have an overall vision for the group and the confidence to make quality decisions.

LeeAnn: Adaptability – not just during difficult economic conditions but always. As communications professionals there is constant change and without becoming adaptable to change, it’s difficult to grow and succeed. Social media is a prime example. So many professionals have tried to ignore it -- but think of your audience; what are their needs and how can you help meet them? Be present in front of them; stop standing in the back waving your hand hoping they’ll see you.

Humor – without it, we’re toast. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the positive within a situation. But to operate without warmth or a way to connect to others does not help. Commit to optimism and focus on what you can control.

Keen listening skills – when things are tough all you hear is noise. The buzz about what to do next, questions to establish accountability and determining what the solve is. Now more than ever it’s important to use your listening skills. To hear the real question and concern, and tune into what your constituents are asking of you. To be an effective communications leader, you need to listen before establishing the course.

As companies think about integrating social media into their marketing and PR mix, some believe these tools are just for high-tech or high-profile consumer companies. You convinced a bedding retailer and mattress manufacturer to give it a try. How did you do it?

LeeAnn/Sarah: Select Comfort uses Twitter and other social media to not only spread the word about the benefits of the Sleep Number bed, but we also create genuine relationships with our owners while providing them with value.

We provide metrics that define our success with every communications tactic used. The same goes for social media. If we can measure what we implement, generate positive results and be cost efficient, it makes for a winning case with our senior leaders.

As technologies evolve, what remains the same is our great product and our owners genuine excitement to talk about it. Whether offline or online, we enjoy being involved in that conversation. Technology is one communications vehicle; it’s the connection that’s important.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The PR Industry: Trusted business advisors or glorified party planners?

A few days ago, I found myself in a good discussion with my PR colleague Allan Schoenberg around the legitmacy of public relations as an industry. Allan was lamenting that yet another network TV series this winter may portray the PR profession in a somewhat negative light. I immediately responded by saying this has been going on for years (Sex in the City, Spin, PoweR Girls, for example) and that it doesn't help our cause as we fight the good fight for a seat at the proverbial "table." 

Allan's response surprised me: "I actually think shows like Sex in the City legitimize the PR industry by highlighting it in a very public way" (I'm summarizing--Allan, correct me if I'm wrong). 

Hmm...what do you think? See, I tend to think every time one of these shows characterizes a PR professional as a flak or glorified party planner that we lose a little bit of credibility with our clients. They might not come out and say it--heck, they might not be every consciously thinking it. But I think shows like these affect people's perceptions and attitudes toward our industry at the very least. 

Now, I know at the core, we need to earn our client's respect by the work we produce and the counsel we offer day in and day out. That's a given. But, I can't help but wonder if these shows still have a negative impact on an industry that's worked so hard to legitimize itself over the years. 

What do you think? Are we still seen as party planners and spinsters by our clients? Or, are we making progress? Do the clients we work with see us as true advisors and business partners--the same way they do their attorneys and financial counselors? 

Where do you stand?

Twin Cities PR/communications pros online

As promised, below you'll find the updated list of Twin Cities communicators online (Twitter and blogs). With your help, this list grew massively from just last month.

Again, standard disclaimer: This is by no means meant to be an end-all-be-all list. It's a work-in-progress and a resource for us all. So please, if you know someone I've missed, please leave a comment below or DM and I'll add their name, Twitter handle and/or blog to the list. My plan is to update this list and re-publish every month so we have a definitive, running online catalog of all Minnesota PR/communications blogs and Twittizens.

Blogs (Waxings--authored by various Beehive staffers) (authored by various RMPR staffers) (authored by Tim Otis and other Axiom staff) (authored by various FH staffers) (authored by Albert Marruggi) (authored by Lee Odden) (authored by Connie Bensen) (authored by Katie Konrath) (Shandwick PR/social medial blog) (authored by Albert Marruggi and Mike Keliher at Provident Partners) (Sterling Cross blog) (Sterling Cross blog) (Sterling Cross blog) (blog by David Erickson) (authored by Lee Aase) (authored by Heather Schwartz)

Twitter (GTA Marketing) (Jennifer Kane--Kane Consulting) (Padilla Speer Beardsley) (Fairview) (Strother Communications Group) (Axiom Communications) (April Nelson--Weber Shandwick) (Mike Keliher--Provident Partners) (Augsburg College) (Provident Partners) (Kary Delaria--KD Public Relations) (Anthony Deos--Target) (TopRank Online Marketing) (Connie Bensen--Techrigy) (John Reinan--FastHorse) (Brant Skogrand--Risdall McKinney Public Relations) (Bridget Jewell--Mall of America) (Xiotech) (Minneapolis Synod) (Beehive PR) (Carmichael Lynch) (Sara Ryder--Select Comfort) (Heather Schwartz--Weber Shandwick) (Risdall McKinney Public Relations) (Erika Dao--Mall of America) (LeeAnn Rasachak--Select Comfort) (Keith Negrin) (Tastefully Simple) (Best Buy) (Ayme Zemke--Beehive PR) (Greg Swan--Weber Shandwick) (Joel Swanson--Risdall McKinney Public Relations) (Jared Roy-Risdall) (Ryan May) (Melanie Boulay Becker) (Laura Kaslow) (Jennifer Bagdade) (Jon Austin) (Ted Davis) (Dawn Bryant) (Blois Olson) (Susan Busch-Best Buy) (Amy Fisher-Padilla Speer Beardsley) (Liz Miklya) (Nicole Garrison-St Paul Pioneer Press) (comm pros at Allina) (Shelle Michaels) (Stacy Housman-Ameriprise) (David Hakensen) (Mike Porter-University of St Thomas) (Rose McKinney-Risdall McKinney PR) (Gabby Nelson-Select Comfort) (Brooke Worden-Weber Shandwick) (Kaleidoscope Partnership) (Michell Wright-Padilla Speer Beardsley) (University of Minnesota) (University of Minnesota) (University of Minnesota) (University of Minnesota) (Sterling Cross Communications) (Sterling Cross Communications) (Sterling Cross Communications) (Sarah Ryder-Select Comfort) (David Erickson) (Lee Aase-Mayo Clinic) (Maria Surma Manka) (Heather West) (Andrew Meyer-North Memorial) (Adam Meyer-Interval Marketing) (Chris Bevolo-Interval Marketing)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

25 random things

You've probably seen the meme going around on Facebook that asks you to list out "25 random things" about yourself. I posted mine initially a few days ago, but since then I've been tagged by a number of people, so instead of reposting on Facebook, I thought I'd post it here for everyone to see. After all, I'm an open book for the most part. Nothing to hide here.

And, in typical meme fashion, I'm going to tag five folks who I'm hoping to get to know better in 2009 and potentially meet in person (please economy come through for me!): Jen Wilbur (@rockstarjen), David Mullen (@dmullen), Matt Batt (@storyassistant), Lauren Fernandez (@cubanalaf) and my new friend, Amy Mengel (@amymengel).

1. I have a Blackberry but I have HUGE iPhone envy.

2. On that note, I'm a Mac guy. Always will be. I think you're either a Mac guy or you're an idiot. Just sayin'.

3. I'm a relatively smart guy, just don't ask me to do anything that involves a hammer, screwdriver or a table saw.

4. I spend WAY too much time on my computer every day. I cannot overstate this enough.

5. I'm a big wimp. Can't look at needles when they draw my blood. Had to leave room once when they gave my son a catheter. Seriously, they gave him a catheter when he was 3 months old. I still have bad dreams about that.

6. If it weren't for my wife, I'd be a walking pizza roll. Let's just say historically, I haven't had the best eating habits.

7. I need my Caribou coffee. Just started drinking a few years ago. Oddly, that's about the same time we had our first child.

8. I live for my kids. Love my wife. Can't believe how lucky I am each day to wake up to all of them.

9. I like having a broad network of friends instead of a few really close personal friends. Always been that way.

10. I played golf collegiately. Wasn't all that good but I did play in an NAIA national tournament.

11. I really didn't start my college experience until my senior year. Long story. But it led me to some of my best friends. No regrets.

12. I have wide-ranging music tastes. I can go from Disturbed to Journey to Johnny Cash to Jimmy Buffet in a 15 minute span.

13. I played in a "garage band" for a few years. And when I say "garage band" I mean five guys who had no idea what they were doing. Some very fun times though in Jay Troe's basement. Kinda miss that sometimes.

14. If I had to do it all over again (collegiately), I'd go to school at KU for all four years, take the hit and pay off the loans. And I'd teach and coach boys basketball and golf somewhere near KC, Charlotte, or San Diego. I'd also spend a semester abroad--missed out big time on that one. Of course, I'd be broke as hell, but it'd be a lot of fun.

15. If I had to do it all over again again (professionally), I'd start my career working for an agency like Fleishman or Shandwick, travel the world and settle into a cushy corporate job in my mid-30s. Do 'cushy corporate jobs' still exist? :)

16. I'm looking forward to teaching my kids the game of golf and playing many rounds with them as I grow older. Then again, they could wind up playing hockey. Damn Minnesota.

17. My favorite spot on earth: Honeymoon Beach on St John. We will retire there. Mark my words.

18. I've always wanted a boat. Don't know how to operate one. Don't know much about them. But every time I've been on one, I just feel like I was meant to be on the water. Can't really describe it. I need to act on this soon.

19. I'm a little bit of a video game nerd. Grew up on Track N Field, Qbert and Pitfall. Graduated to FIFA soccer and RBI baseball in my college years. These days it's all about Guitar Hero and MarioKart.

20. I hate MN winters. HATE. I know that's a strong word and I don't care. I HATE them. If it weren't for the fact that my entire network of friends and family leave within 30 miles of us, I would be out of here in a minute.

21. My dream job? Director of PR/communications for the PGA of America. Actually met the guy who performs this job three years ago at Medinah. Best. Job. Ever.

22. I'm a huge WI Dells rube. My Mom and Dad took us every summer growing up. Plan on doing the same with my kids. Love Noah's Ark.

23. I live with a lot of regrets, but I'm always hopeful about the future. Never more so than this year. So much opportunity ahead of us al in 2009.

24. I grew up in the suburbs and now live in the city. That's a microcosm of my life. I like to do things my way (Frankie style, baby!), not necessarily the way everyone else does it.

25. My dreams: Watch my kids grow up to be healthy, happy, productive human beings; live in St. John; live on a golf course at some point in my life; grow old with my wife; have at least three different careers by the time I'm 75.