• 12Apr

    Flying Solo Caution SignPublic relations is a creative job. You have to be able to look at a client’s product or service, assess market needs and news angles, and find a way to build market awareness with his target audience. It’s not always an easy task and it requires innovative thinking, solid storytelling – creativity! Good PR and marketing also require solid teamwork. You need to be able to engage with your clients to agree on market objectives, key messages, market differentiators, everything. You need to work together with senior decision-makers to agree on strategy, execution, deliverables, and ways to measure success.

    Creativity and teamwork are not good bedfellows.

    I have the privilege or working with some very smart and dedicated people. And that means we have some very heated discussions on how to do things to achieve an end result, right or wrong. One of the challenges in being smart and creative is that you can see multiple ways to solve a problem or achieve an objective. However, your ideas may not jibe with someone who is equally intelligent and brings a different perspective. So good PR also requires good diplomacy and a willingness to compromise, even when you are convinced you are right. There is little room for ego if you run a service business.

    So I was interested to spot a blog post by Kimberley Weisul on BNET today, “Why Smart People Make Lousy Teams.” Citing a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College, the findings demonstrate that smart people don’t necessarily play well with others. For example:

    Intelligence does not affect team performance. There is no connection between smarts and teamwork, so throwing smart people at a team-driven problem isn’t going to help you.

    EQ is more important than IQ. Good communications, good coordination, and stronger emotional intelligence (EQ) tend to promote good teamwork. If you have people who are good at reading and responding to other’s emotional needs, your team will deliver better performance. Even a single contributor with a high EQ can make a big difference.

    Strong personalities hurt team performance. Groups where a single strong personality or decision-maker dominates the conversation don’t do as well as groups where team members take turns. Strong leaders are less effective in group decision-making.

    According to the research, the easiest way to create more emotionally intelligent teams is to include women:

    Women are often perceived to be more socially sensitive, and more communally-minded, than men. To the extent that’s true, it’s easy to see how it could be helpful in a team context. And in the experiments, the researchers found that teams that included women were more socially-sensitive, and better performing, than then all-male teams. (No word on the performance of all-female teams. I’ve reached out to the researchers about that, and will update if I hear back.)

    Without revising any additional scientific research, I think I can safely say that the male ego plays a role here. Working with male CEOs and executives, particularly at start-up companies, has taught me that even though they are paying for your counsel and expertise, you have to tread lightly and be judicious with your opinion. (I find women executives are, indeed, more open to new ideas. I also think that’s why women gravitate to public relations.) To be a successful CEO requires a certain amount of hutzpah, and the conviction to stand your ground when everyone else tells you that you are wrong. Sometimes such egos get in the way of success and sometimes they fuel that success; it depends on the situation. But whenever you are dealing with a strong, charismatic leader, the concept of teamwork changes dramatically and the work becomes more of a parade than a huddle. If you can’t follow the leader, then you should bow out.

    And that’s where a different kind of creativity comes into play. You need to find new ways to deliver through compromise. No matter how good your approach or ideas, if the client says no, then you have to achieve the goal within whatever restrictions you have to deal with. Being in a service business means you have to fulfill the wishes of the client as well as the requirements of the project. And when the two seem at odds, it’s time to set aside you IQ, crank up your EQ, and deliver the goods.

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  • 22Mar

    imageI recently stumbled across the blog started by my last agency employer, Allison & Partners. I may as well get the platitudes out of the way up front. I have worked for a number of agencies and Allison & Partners is far and away the best place I have ever worked, and they are committed to delivering superior results. Thank God I love consulting because Allison & Partners has spoiled me for any other agency job. And I was gratified to see the title of the blog is “It’s About the Work.” I recall the first Allison corporate retreat where employees from offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego gathered in Pismo Beach to map out the company’s future. I was one of the members of the committee that captured the core values of the firm, and I guess it has stood the test of time. 

    And this past week I have been sharply reminded why the work matters. I have been doing some pro bono work for Lifehouse, a local organization that helps people with developmental disabilities lead independent lives. Mostly I have been helping them promote fund raisers, which is rewarding and interesting in itself, but this month they approached me with a real problem. As you know, the state of California is in a fiscal crisis, and they are threatening to cut vital funding for Medi-Cal Intermediate Care Facilities (ICF). What this means is that non-profit organizations like Lifehouse will be forced to close some of their care facilities, in essence making their clients homeless.

    What is really heart breaking about this is many of these clients have lived for years, even decades in these care homes. The residents and caretakers have become family and this budget cut will force these family groups to disband. And these people can’t advocate for themselves, which is why they depend on organizations like Lifehouse to advocate for them.

    What’s even more ridiculous is that by cutting Medi-Cal funding to ICF homes, the state is increasing its overall costs. Those with developmental disabilities will need care because they can’t care for themselves, so if the state cuts funding to support ICF homes and those homes are forced to close, the state will have to pick up the cost of care at three times the expense, or more. The California Association of Health Facilities estimates that a small community-based ICF home serving six residents costs $70,000 per person per year. The same care in a State Developmental Center would cost $300,000 per year. How much sense does that make?

    So this is one occasion where the work is its own reward, and I am happy to do what I can to help. I am applying what I know to get the word out about this issue which could impact more than 7,000 people across the state. I don’t see this as a local or government spending issue, but one of humanity where we need to care for a group that need our care and concern. And I am glad that I am in a position to bring my expertise to help spread the word.

    If you read this, I hope you will spread the word as well.

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  • 15Jul

    After 20 years, Octavia Nasr won’t be reporting on Middle East Affairs for CNN following her controversial Twitter post in pimageraise of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who passed away last week. The CNN editorial team took great exception to Nasr’s 140-character post, which gave her enough space to offer praise of Fadlallah, without allowing her to provide the additional information that the praise stemmed directly from the cleric’s positive views on woman’s rights. However, too little space was too much for CNN’s editorial team. As noted in the online media watchdog Mediaite:

    Nasr’s initial tweet mourning the death of Fadlallah said, “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah… One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” It was almost immediately called out by several sources, including Newsbusters and the Jerusalem Post. Also today the Simon Wiesenthal Center (“one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations”) formally denounced the remarks and called for CNN to take action.

    Well, CNN did take action and summarily dismissed Nasr. As Parisa Khosravi, Senior Vice President for CNN International Newsgathering explained in an internal memo:

    I had a conversation with Octavia this morning and I want to share with you that we have decided that she will be leaving the company. As you know, her tweet over the weekend created a wide reaction. As she has stated in her blog on CNN.com, she fully accepts that she should not have made such a simplistic comment without any context whatsoever. However, at this point, we believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward.

    As a colleague and friend we’re going to miss seeing Octavia everyday. She has been an extremely dedicated and committed part of our team. We thank Octavia for all of her hard work and we certainly wish her all the best.

    Parisa.

    So what does this tell us about the power of social media? Was this an overreaction on the part of CNN? Are they giving Twitter too much power – it takes some effort to be concise in 140 characters, which is the beauty and the beast of Twitter. This is a prime example of how you have to be extremely careful about everything you post online. Your online brand needs to be sacrosanct, and you need always need to think before you post.

    But was this an overreaction? It was a mistake in intent, if not in judgment, but does the punishment fit the crime? And how would you approach the same issue for employees in your organization? When do you hold employees accountable for every drunken frat picture or racist slur they post on Facebook? How far do your policies and procedures extend to “appropriate” social media use, and how much should employees be given latitude to express themselves?

    I think one of the real challenges is the blurred lines between professional and personal brands. If you are blogging or posting for your employer, which many of us do, then the lines are clearly drawn. But what about personal posts that spill into our professional lives? Facebook and other social media sites typically ask for employment data, but does that mean we are using social media for professional purposes, or that we should be held accountable to a professional standard?

    In this case, Nasr may have had a lapse in judgment, and the punishment meted out may seem harsh in light of the offense. Still, her Twitter feed was clearly an extension of her job, her professional brand, and CNN has a right to protect its brand and its reputation. But did CNN go too far? Would your online activities measure up to the same standard?

    I have to ask myself if we are giving social media too much power, especially in this case. It’s one thing to demonstrate a pattern of hate speech or a consistent opinion that might rankle management. It’s something else to make a mistake. So before you hit that “post” button, think twice about what you are saying and its possible consequences.

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  • 21Dec

    Building a social media strategy for clients is like building any other PR program – you target your message to the outlets that matter to your audience and your objectives. So where you want to build social media buzz helps you identify where you get the most value, whether it is with your professional contacts on LinkedIn, or through vertical outlets such as IT Toolbox or BankInnovation.net. Of course, there are those mainstream media outlets where all clients crave coverage, such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. It looks like Facebook is starting to develop the same regulation as the “must have” social media site for any social media strategy.

    A recent survey by Anderson Analytics revealed that Facebook has become the coolest place on the web for college students, despite the fact it is continues to grow in popularity with their parents. The Anderson Analytics 2009-2010 GenX2Z American College Student Survey conducted this fall shows that 82 percent of college men and 90 percent of college women ranked Facebook as “cool,” and  other social media sites including MySpace were ranked as “lame” by comparison. Consider the growing number of adult users migrating to Facebook, including these college students’ parents and even grandparents, and you have a bona fide phenomenon.

    “Once a trend goes mainstream, it often gradually loses its ‘cool’ factor among young people, and they move on to the next ‘big thing,’” said Tom H.C. Anderson, managing partner of Anderson Analytics. “Our data indicate this is not the case with Facebook.”

    The same survey revealed that college students are participating less in blogs (down 5 percent from 2008) and discussion boards (down 8 percent), which bodes well for microblogging. Twitter continues to grow, although growth has flattened a bit in recent months.

    What’s also interesting is we are seeing a media convergence on Facebook. The survey shows that 70 percent of college students had watched entire television episodes or feature film streamed online. In fact, for the first time a streaming media site, Hulu.com, ranked in the top 10 sites in the survey. And there is a natural symbiosis between Facebook and streaming media sites like Hulu and YouTube. There is a Hulu widget on Facebook and popular shows, like the Simpsons and Family Guy, are streamed on Hulu with fan pages on Facebook. The convergence is organic.

    And popular brands who “get it” and understand how to engage are seeing a boost from Facebook. In the Anderson Analytics study, both McDonalds and Coca-Cola ranged first among college students, and they also had more Facebook fans than their number two competitors. (Coke’s Facebook fans outnumber Pepsi twenty to one.)

    What this survey reveals is that social media in general and Facebook in particular have become a real marketing force, not just to reach college students but for all ages. Extending your marketing program with a social media presence is a cost-effective and sure-fire way to expand your brand footprint.

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  • 12Nov

    internetbdayI can’t believe that I forgot the Internet’s 40th birthday. Throughout most of my professional career the Internet has been a steadfast ally; a friend that has helped me stay in touch and brought me new business. I have been writing and talking about Internet technology for 25 years now. Some of my first clients sold TCP/IP stacks for Windows, VMS, and Macintosh (no, the IP protocol wasn’t always bundled with the OS). I worked with early SMTP vendors, including the guys who created the MIME standard that lets us send files by e-mail, and the first SNMP stack vendors selling raw, Internet management goodness.

    The march of alphabet soup has continued over the years, the Internet has become a bosom companion. Who knew that from the early ARPANET days, the Internet would grow from a network of loosely connected college computers to a global infrastructure supporting billions of users? One of the things that continues to amaze me about the Internet is that it is an autonomous entity. There is no central Internet authority. And while the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) remains the harbinger of evolving networking standards, the Internet infrastructure itself has become a self-healing mesh of data arteries that remains incredibly reliable, even though no one entity is really in charge.

    The Internet’s actually birthday is somewhat in question. One group claims that it was born in 1961 when Dr. Leonard Kleinrock presented a paper on packet-switching at MIT. Most acknowledge the Internet was born in 1969 when data was transmitted by two California universities. Wherever you set the marker, the world has never been the same since.

    And it is important to remember that the Internet is not the same as the World Wide Web. The Web has made the Internet more consumer-friendly and commercially accessible, but the Web is only 20 years old. Tim Berners Lee first proposed the concept of the Web to CERN management in March 1989. However, the Web is just another protocol that runs over the Internet, like e-mail of file transfer.

    So with the growth of the Internet and the Web, our world has changed. And as a PR professional, our world has changed dramatically as well. I have been doing PR long enough to remember stuffing envelopes with press releases that were mailed to editors for publication. Today, of course, data is distributed via e-mail, blog posts, Twitter, and any number of other Internet-driven communications. Information access has become virtually instantaneous, which makes our jobs as publicists infinitely more challenging. We have to make our clients’ stories more compelling, more relevant, and more Web-friendly in order to have an impact. We need to engage in the Internet-driven conversation, rather than pitching stories in a one-way channel, pleading with editors to write about our clients.

    The Internet has made the world much smaller, and given us instant access to an unprecedented amount of data. I believe that part of our responsibility as PR professionals is to use the power of this incredible technology for good, and to promote best practices, authenticity, and adopt new methodologies that promote truth and authenticity. And the 40th birthday of the Internet seems to be an appropriate moment to pause and consider what role we can play in shaping the future of the information revolution.

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  • 11Nov

    Veterans Day 2009 - We all need to remember

    From the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate.com, Major Bill Tubbs of the California State Military Reserve plays Taps at the San Francisco National Cemetary in the Presidio. More than 30,000 soldiers have been buried here since the Civil War. I recall my father, who served in Europe during World War II, marching in the Memorial Day parade in my home town as a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. As a boy I didn’t understand what that meant. But today, I want to remember dad and all those who served, and to offer our thanks and gratitude.

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  • 08Nov

    Does technology make us more indifferent to one another? Are cell phones, e-mail, and Facebook responsible for bringing us together or putting a wedge between us and our loved ones? According to a recent study by Tech Anthropologist Stefana Broadbent, technology is actually promoting intimacy. Check out what she had to say at the Oxford TEDglobal conference earlier this year.

    What I found most fascinating from a marketing standpoint is that most people use their technology infrastructure – cellular phone, texting, instant messaging, e-mail, etc. – to communicate with a handful of loved ones. That’s it! Consider the stories Broadbent shares about the families who gather together via webcam for a meal, or the friends and coules who communicate regularly from work via e-mail and text. Of course we all do it, and technology can bring us closer to our loved ones. I am in ongoing contact with my spouse via text and cell phone. In fact, she now uses her iPhone to stay in constant contact with her daughter, who is a college freshman this year 3,000 miles away, using text, e-mail, Facebook, and, of course, phone calls. It’s almost as thought my stepdaughter was still home every night (and a far cry from the weekly call I made from the payphone to my parents in the days before cellular technology).

    This demonstrates man’s infinite ability to adapt new ideas and new technologies for the things he cares about most. However, from a marketing standpoint, I have to wonder if this revelation undermines the value of social media to reach customers and prospects. If people only communicate with a handful of close friends on Facebook or Twitter, are the rest of us shouting in the wind, trying to get their attention? I don’t think so, but we do run the risk of devolving into so much white noise as people pursue the more intimate conversations that matter to them. Establishing online intimacy with strangers is difficult, but if we understand that the Web has become a tool to communicate both in an intimate way as well as with a larger universe, it helps us better understand how to reach the people who matter to us.

    I also have to wonder about the impact it has on how we separate our personal and private lives. Broadbent talks about class distinction and our separation from the workplace. We seem to have come full circle. In medieval times, the merchants lived above their shop or place of business, the farmers lived on the land, and there was no thought of separating your work and your personal life. That came later with the modern concept of cities and suburbs. Our fathers, and our fathers’ fathers, used to travel from home to the workplace and back again, isolating themselves for eight to 16 hours in an office, or a factory, of a field, where they toiled to support their families. With the aid of technology, home and workplace have converged once again, or at least grown closer together. The more affluent use technology to carry their workplace with them. I work from home, and my office is my laptop and my cell phone, which means I carry my place of work with me. (I often joke that the great thing about working for yourself is you keep your own hours – any 24 hours in the day you choose.) Those who don’t use the technology are the commuters who transport themselves from home to workplace and back again, forging boundaries (both real and artificial) between their professional and personal lives.

    And I have to wonder about the impact all this has on organizations. From my recent work with FaceTime Communications, I have a deeper understanding of the challenges that IT managers face in trying to contain personal conversations on public networks. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Skype are pervasive, and defy many of the conventions of IT managerial control. If you can access the Internet from your office computer, then you can chat online with you boyfriend, your girlfriend, your mother, and completely bypass most enterprise security measures. Companies can choose to block access, or try to control it. I have a client that uses Barracuda to control employee network access, which means when I work on site I can’t be productive because I can’t access any of the social networking sites or online tools I use for the client. Locking the door isn’t the solution. Instead, you need to find a way to help your workers feel more connected to home in order to increase productivity. If you control the online conversation rather than blocking it, you can prevent abuses and data leaks while letting workers connect with their loved ones, which helps everyone.

    There are some important insights here as to how technology is transforming human interaction. What are your views? Can you build intimacy online? Share your thoughts.

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