Thought leadership can be a PR team’s biggest waste of time - if you make these mistakes

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The Wikipedia definition of a thought leader - an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded – is straightforward enough.

Personalities like Tony Robbins or Gary Vaynerchuk clearly fit that bill and represent the gold standard when it comes to making your name as valuable (or more) than your actual work. Not everyone is destined to achieve that level of celebrity, of course. But even modest success – say, raising an executive’s profile in their industry enough that they are being called upon to write and speak – is well worth the effort.

There’s risk for PR teams who go down this road, however. To be successful, thought leadership requires an “all in” approach from PR teams and their business leaders, and in a planned and focused way. Anything less results in the worst-case scenario: devoting substantial time and effort and getting almost nothing in return, except maybe a tarnished reputation for inconsistency and for not getting the job done.

The good news is that like most traps, this is one that can be avoided, if you keep an eye out for the following warning signs:

1. You’re fighting for a seat at a table that has no seats left

I dare you to find someone in North America who is anti-innovation, who hates great customer service, or who desperately wants small businesses to fail.

By all means, tell the world about your passionate support for innovation or entrepreneurs. Just be aware that countless other organizations are right there with you, saying nearly identical things. As a result, you might be creating little of worth aside from some reading material for your business leads. By one estimate, there are more than 3 million people sharing content on LinkedIn each week alone. To get the attention of your audience, you need to have something new and interesting to say. Carve out a niche you can own, one that hasn’t already been done to death.

Need inspiration? Read this op-ed from Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. The topic she discusses is unique, bold and leaves lots of room for storytelling, while also staying true to the company’s brand identity. If you must focus on something nebulous like “innovation,” then be sure drill down and find a niche or segment no one else is talking about. Just be interesting. If you can’t, then it might be time to rethink whether it’s worth continuing.

2. Your executive finds any excuse to not take part

Even the best, most creative thought leadership program is meaningless if you don’t have executive buy-in. And in my experience, buy-in by itself isn’t enough. Thought leaders by definition must have passion for what they stand for – it can’t be invented in a PR planning room and assigned to them, nor can a great topic overcome a lack of interest on their part.

If your executive isn’t the kind of person who can embrace the always-on demands of becoming a thought leader – committing to a steady stream of social activity, hitting the speaking circuit, taking part in media interviews – then you’re facing a very big challenge indeed.

If this sounds familiar, have a conversation. Is there a topic he or she would be excited about? Is there something that can be changed to better suit their strengths? Be realistic, and don’t settle for half-way measures. Landing a few bylines here and there while constantly cajoling someone into a few lukewarm LinkedIn posts does no one any good. If that’s the case, move on to more productive things.

3. What you’re doing isn’t thought leadership at all

Over the years I’ve worked with companies that wanted their names attached to the mobile revolution, the rise of social media, artificial intelligence and, more recently, blockchain. Sometimes they had a real story to tell, but more often, they used a tenuous link to piggyback on a trending topic to try and get a short-term brand boost.

This approach can yield brief results, but in the long-term it’s self-defeating as fad topics always disappear. This is, in fact, the very opposite of what true thought leadership is trying to achieve, which is a stable, long-term platform that can be owned and refined over time. Jumping from issue to issue won’t achieve much.

So, ask yourself if what you’re creating will stand the test of time, or speaks to an issue that is at the core of your industry. If it doesn’t, find something that will.

4. Everything hinges on one person

Here’s where it gets tricky. As I stated, effective thought leadership requires a passionate, well-spoken person to be the face and the voice. When they get results, that’s a good thing. But this comes with its own set of risks.

Consider Kristine Stewart, a true Canadian thought leader and a strong voice for women and leadership, who at various times has held positions at CBC, Twitter, Diply and most recently, TribalScale. Stewart represents the culmination of years of business success and advocating for issues about which she’s passionate. Her brand will continue to follow her throughout her career. Each employer reaps a halo benefit – until she moves on, that is.

As I said before, few people will achieve what people like Stewart has in terms of thought leadership, but it’s worth looking at your succession plan in this regard. If you have an executive who has a strong following and building a personal reputation, begin to think about what would happen if they left their role. Look at others who might be able step in and build their own brand, while supporting the overall platform you’re creating. This lessens the risk of putting everything on one person and helps make the issue you stand for more about the organization than any one person.

Have other tips to share, or something else to add around thought leadership? Share below!

How to tell if your company is overdosing on PR

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Most people go to work each day at places where success is measured by how much more of something they can do. Identify more prospects, sell more stuff and win more awards.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that PR professionals often find themselves surrounded by people convinced that success in PR is also defined by “more.” I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve worked with who approached PR like sales, by constantly raising the success metrics with each new campaign.

In PR, pushing relentlessly for more will not only lead to diminished outcomes, it will eventually cause bigger problems that won’t be easy to fix.

Are you or your organization asking for – or doing – too much? Here are a few warning signs, and what to do about it.

Priority List? What Priority List?

Unless your company has the size and profile of Amazon, you likely have perhaps a handful of "sure bet" news stories every year. Those are followed by stories of interest to certain key segments of their audience that will generate some level of attention in industry publications. And then finally, you’ve got a number of what I call “FYI” announcements that no one should expect coverage around, but that you should still share with the beat reporters who cover your organization.

Companies with overly aggressive expectations, however, are  unable to make these kinds of distinctions. To them, every piece of news they issue is expected to get coverage, and failure is usually viewed as a lack of effort or creativity on the part of the in-house PR team (or their agency).

Such organizations usually measure PR success by total number of stories earned, and as such, force their teams to chase media on every last thing they can think of. The problem is that quite quickly, media will get wise to your game and start to tune you out. When there is actual news to share, the risk is that they won’t give you the time of day. That’s a big problem, and one that can be avoided by only calling them when you have something worthwhile, not each time you have a piece of paper to push.

All this sound a little too familiar? The best solution is to refuse to play the game. Decide what effort actually makes sense, and stick to it. Your boss or your business leader will complain. Don’t waver. Educate them. In my experience, you’ll go through a painful cycle, but as the numbers become normalized, your new round of targets will be much more realistic and anchored to stories that actually matter. Your pitching will become immensely more purposeful, and reporters may once again pick up the phone when you call.

The Siege Mentality

I once worked with a brand that enjoyed an unusual amount of consumer love. Good news stories were easy to come by for them, and serious reputation issues were relatively rare. Then, one day, a business reporter wrote what I viewed as a fairly neutral article calling into question the client’s business practices, balanced by opposing voices.

I was surprised by the response. Some at the company wanted to blacklist the reporter permanently. Others thought writing a scathing email response was they way to go. Others still felt it was worth coming up with a plan to hammer this reporter with a flurry of background interviews until they simply fell into line.

It didn’t occur to anyone to simply accept the outlier story and move on, knowing that the war for reputation is far more valuable than any one battle, or that any of the responses being considered was sure to make things worse. Likely, the client’s PR team was simply taking the same position as their business leaders – the very people they are supposed to be educating on the ins and outs of PR.

No on in PR will ever earn, nor should they ever expect, a 100 per cent win record. The job is not to deliver positive coverage at all costs. It’s about creating the most optimal conditions for positive coverage, and constantly optimizing and updating those efforts as news cycles unfold. Do that, and (barring issues you can’t control) you will win more often than you lose.

If you find yourself losing your cool over a negative story, unless it contains blatant errors, let it sit. Then decide whether action is necessary and, what measured, long-term approach is best to take.

Hating Silence

Some organizations can’t live with any breaks in coverage. When there is no news to share, they lean extra hard on their PR teams to come up with something, anything proactive. After all, isn’t that what they’re being paid to do?

Others will disagree with me, but the answer here is almost always no. The job is to get your story out in the most compelling way to your core audience. From time to time, this may mean spotting and pitching a proactive story, which the PR team formulated, and which is of genuine interest to a reporter. But desperately inventing a story out of thin air or constantly pitching a spokesperson with weak or desperate pitches means you’re viewing PR as an “all-earned” effort, which is absolutely is not. It’s just noise for noise’s sake. What’s more, you’re ignoring the tune-out risk I mentioned earlier.

No coverage does not have to equal silence. Turn your attention to your blog or social channels – craft well written or filmed content and put some paid spend behind it. Find some guest blog opportunities, or experiment with influencers. Use your downtime by being interesting and useful to your audience, not dreaming up a bunch of increasingly far-fetched pitches.

There is such a thing is too little PR, or lack of effort. And that’s a problem. But don’t let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction either. Find the balance that works, and keep it there.

Ever found yourself doing too much? Share your stories in the Comments section below.

Nervous about your PR pitch to a reporter? Here’s how to get over it.

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You’ve just published your press release, and you’re ready to start pitching. It’s a solid piece of news. Then, just as you’re about hit “send” on your first email to a reporter or pick up the phone, it comes: that first pang of anxious unease.

You start to second-guess yourself as the nervousness builds. Maybe instead of a pitch, you should just send your announcement as an FYI, and leave it to the journalist to read through and decide whether to write about it. Or maybe you shouldn’t bother at all? After all, the reporter is busy, and one of your competitors just recently announced something similar…

Now, I don’t have hard data on the numbers of nervous PR people. But I can tell you from my experience as a journalist, in-house PR executive and an agency leader, there more than you might think.

It’s worth unpacking a couple of the most common the reasons behind this anxiety. That’s because understanding them can help you overcome them. And that, in turn, will make you more effective as a PR professional, all while deepening and nurturing your relationships with the reporters who cover your client.

1. “They’re going to think what I’m pitching is boring, and they’re not going to write anything.” If that’s what you’re thinking while you’re drafting your pitch note to a journalist, it’s time to look in the mirror. Chances are that the reason you’re thinking this way is because a part of you – big or small – knows that your pitch isn’t exciting or newsworthy.

Instead of hitting “send” anyway, step back and stare down what’s in front of you. Did you write it with the reporter’s audience and interests in mind? Or is it all about you, your company, the product you’re launching and why all of the above are amazing? Is the pitch so long that you fell asleep half way through it?

Instead of getting nervous that you’ll bore the reporter, try to answer those questions and position your pitch to be about them (reporter and his or her audience) as much as possible, and as little as possible about you. Is there a trend in which you can wrap your story? Do it. Can you tighten up the pitch note by 100 words? Do it. Is there an excited customer ready to talk about the product? Get them involved.

If you’ve done all this and you’re still not pumped about the story, maybe it’s time to reassess whether you should be pitching this particular announcement at all, or whether you should be aiming it at a smaller or more targeted publication.

2. "They’ll write something I don’t like or, worse, that my boss/client/CEO doesn’t like." Here’s a bit of breaking news: the media are not out to get you (unless you’ve been behaving badly, and your bad behaviour is newsworthy). They’re also not out to write whatever you tell them to write.

The fundamental job of a beat reporter is to inform their audience in a compelling and engaging way about news that matters to them. It is therefore your job to a) understand exactly what “matters to them” means for any media outlet you’re pitching and b) package your pitch so that the reporter you’re approaching can see how it would be relevant to his or her audience.

That does not just happen as you’re drafting your pitch email. It happens much earlier than that, when you and your boss/client/CEO sit down and have a realistic conversation about what the reporter in question will likely be interested in speaking about, and how to prepare. It’s not enough to tell a reporter “we are launching product X today, and you can’t ask my CEO about anything else when you speak with her.”

I received this line (sometimes delivered as an ultimatum) many times during my decade as a reporter. Every time, I ignored it. Here’s why: if, for example, you’re launching an update to your product, and your CEO is going to speak to the media about it, you should expect that the reporter just might also want to ask why overall sales are down, or why a key piece of executive talent just walked out the door, or how you think the company stacks up against a new and exciting competitor. Again, this isn’t “gotcha” journalism – it’s just a reflection of the basics of what journalism is about: the news.

It’s your job to flag this when you’re considering the pitch, and rather than hide from it, to prepare for it as you would for a real conversation. A question about a new competitor or about sagging sales can be a great opportunity to talk about what your leader is doing to turn the corner or revitalize the company’s strategy. Developing a robust Q&A not directly related to whatever you’re pitching proactively is always a sensible approach.

The reality is that there is always an inherent element of risk to PR. Your job is to mitigate and manage it, while telling a compelling story that interests the media and drives value for your clients. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is – and it’s what makes our field so exciting.

By keeping some of these considerations in mind as you set out for your next pitch or announcement, you’ll set yourself up for success, arm the media with a great story about your company, and equip your bosses or clients with realistic expectations.

 

Want a career in PR? Here are some skills you really need in your toolkit

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A few months back, I had an opportunity to speak to a class of soon-to-be PR graduates.

I was impressed. They asked lots of insightful questions, and more than a few were already demonstrating all kinds of hustle, like starting their own side businesses while they were still learning the trade.

It reminded me of the interns and fresh new hires I’ve worked with over the years. The vast majority of them were smart, ambitious and looking to get ahead at top speed. It’s that last part that can trip them up, however. Having the right hard skills and strong work ethic are definitely important, but will only take you so far on their own.

There are certain qualities that employers are seeking that are may not show up on paper, but that will be always be critical to a successful career. So, for those looking to make the transition to their first job, or who are trying to break through a career plateau, here are the five less-obvious skills that will help you stand out from the herd.

Consume news like an addict

It’s simple: if you find current events boring and mostly avoid it, you’re in the wrong business, full stop. It doesn’t matter if you're interested less in public affairs and crisis and more in talent publicity, experiential or digital strategy. Not keeping up with current events leads to huge blind spots. It’s one reason why brands suddenly seem to spit out tone-deaf tweets. Analyzing headlines and staying attuned to what’s top of mind with the general public (and the mood they’re in!) is mandatory and will ensure you the ability to steer your client or employer away from trouble. So, get those alerts set up right away.

What’s more, by being able to connect the dots between cultural trends, news headlines and macro themes affecting your client’s business, you’ll be able to spot opportunities that others cannot. That’s as good as gold in this line of work, and is a top reason why you should acquire a news addiction as soon as possible.

Network like crazy

This is something I didn’t do enough of when I started out. If I had, who knows how many new clients I could have secured, job prospects I have could have uncovered or fascinating people I would have met who would later make a big difference to me, personally or professionally?

If you’re leaning toward agency life, networking is the cornerstone to virtually all aspects of career success. If you’re considering corporate, then at very least you’ll need a deep well of industry contacts and smart “outside the office walls” people you can turn to for objective advice as you run into challenges or seek new thinking.

Maybe dashing home every night to watch Netflix is what you want to do after a hard day. But don’t make it your every-night habit – get out there and build some valuable, long-term relationships.

Don’t rush to judgment

I once had a client that was one of those brands everyone wanted to work with. People cold-called the agency looking for open positions just so they could be part of the team who served this client. The client, too, was regularly inundated with intern hopefuls. And yes, the work was rewarding, but the small budgets limited what we could do, and much of what did happen was guided by executives sitting in a different country.

At about the same time, I had a B2B client with very deep pockets, a keen desire to innovate and a willingness to give their agency a lot of latitude to test and learn, and drive real results. The problem was staffing it. The brand just didn’t have the same appeal. But the people who did get it learned a great deal, formed close relationships with very senior executives, and carved out experience in a more niche industry that ultimately made them more attractive to future clients and employers alike.

Believe me, others will notice and remember if you have a valid point of view and the confidence to share it. Put yourself out there.

The lesson here is to judge the work based on the work itself and the opportunity that’s on offer, not on pre-conceived notions of the brand. You know that cliché about how growth and success live outside of your comfort zone? Thing is, it’s true. Stay open, and don’t judge too early!

Speak up

Contributing your ideas and advice – whether in an agency or corporate setting – is the very thing you’re paid for, yet many newly minted PR people can be shy about speaking up. It’s tempting to simply nod and agree with what you’re hearing while you learn the ropes. And sometimes you have to go along.

However, I’ve been on teams where we desperately needed a point-of-view from the youngest person in the room – someone who, because of where they were in life, had an insight on things that I and my colleagues lacked. Too often I just got nervous smiles in return. Yes, there are people out there who abide by the tiresome rule about being new and shutting up, but that’s more about them than you. Believe me, others will notice and remember if you have a valid point of view and the confidence to share it. Put yourself out there.

Don’t be a jerk

I know someone who works in sales. He’s born to sell and always got results, but by his own admission he was a terrible team player in his early years. It even got to the point where he felt pressure to leave or  shown the door. But each time he was able to start over again selling at a new company in a new industry, practically anonymously, until he ultimately matured.

That’s kind of repeated rebound is a lot harder to pull off in this industry, at least in Canada. The marketing/PR/advertising industry here is big, but not that big. People move around a lot, memories are long, and your reputation will follow you more often than not when you switch jobs. I regularly joke that if I don’t know someone in this industry, I can learn everything about them with one phone call. Only, it’s not really a joke.

If you’re a jerk, word will spread, and you’ll quickly find yourself having to overcome negative perceptions before you even have a chance to look someone in the eye, whether they’re a client or a colleague.

Have any other skills worth sharing with those just starting out? Share them in the Comments below.

 

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What makes a “strong writer?” The answer has big implications for your communications strategy

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In the marketing and communications field, we’re always on the lookout for talent. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked if someone is a “strong writer.”

It’s a simple question, but what does it really mean?

There are the clean writers – those who love grammar debates, can edit like rock stars and always produce clean copy, but who would never thrive as a copywriter at an ad shop or PR firm. Others lead with their creativity – they couldn’t care less about Oxford commas, but their stuff is original, compelling and interesting. There are also skilled technical writers, Web and SEO masters, and so on.

Communications writing suffers from a particular problem, and it is this: too often we assume that anyone who can string words together with any kind of proficiency is good to go. It's odd, because we go to such great lengths to pigeonhole other roles in the field – too much, in my opinion - based on whether they’ve done more consumer and business-to-business PR or crisis communications and social strategy.

Not applying this sort of critical analysis before handing someone a writing assignment can lead to bad fits. Sponsored content aimed at consumers written by a technician is more likely to be flat, while a sensitive internal memo from the CEO may not capture the right tone if written by someone who mostly produced content for an energy drink.

The problem for communicators is that, as earned opportunities continue to shrink, paid and owned channels are becoming more important than ever. And there are only so many videos we can make - or watch. Someone has to get busy writing, and the competition for eyeballs is unrelenting. It’s not enough to just get it done. It must be done correctly, and that starts at the source.

So, if any of your 2018 strategic plans include the word “content”, you need to look long and hard at your stable of writers, and ask yourself some important questions.

Do I want an industry expert, or do I want someone who can entice readers?

Most journalists who cover an industry have never worked in that industry, and never will. They get assigned to a beat and they do their homework to build up their knowledge. What’s important on day one is not that they can distinguish a mutual fund from an exchange-traded fund, but whether they can write about these things in a compelling, attention-grabbing ways. Same goes for corporate writing.

I’m not saying industry knowledge isn’t important, but when it comes to creating content, place the ability to write above the ability to speak and understand jargon. In fact, stomping out jargon, or the ability to distill complex and wordy explanations into simple concept can be the hallmark of a great writer. Keep this in mind when building or reviewing your writing team.

The person who knows your organization and industry inside and out is not automatically the best candidate for the content role in your department.

Is my current writer excited by their role, or are they simply writing because no one else wants to?

Especially in smaller organizations, the task of most blog and web writing falls to the person in the room who either doesn’t hate the thought of it, happens to be the best speller or who is too junior to say “no.” Once this person is identified, it’s very tempting to consider the problem solved and move on.

Don’t do it. If the person tasked with developing the voice and tone of your organization is doing it as nothing more than part of their to-do list, the result will speak for itself. Find someone with passion and chops.

Do I want a capable writer or a skilled storyteller?

The blogs you read regularly, the novels you download and the magazine articles you share on Facebook are written by people who can do more than just write with good grammar and correct spelling – they have a way with words that leave an impression. In other words, they’re storytellers. It looks easy, but it’s not, hence the old joke about people meaning to write a book after they retire but never getting beyond the first page.

If your strategic plan involves reaching a large group of consumers who have no shortage of distractions, then you absolutely need someone who can break through to them – who knows the art of the story just as well as the rules of grammar. The bigger your audience, the more important that skill is.

Am I constantly struggling to provide my writer with feedback because it’s hard to put into words what’s wrong?

A piece of copy reads well, but it’s just not “right.” The tone is off, or it’s just not capturing the spirit of the purpose behind it, or the organization that supports it. If that’s happening more often than you’d like, then it’s quite possible you have a mismatch – a writer who can write, but isn’t right for the assignment, or perhaps even the role. If you’re finding yourself having to often rework because of this, or lack a comfort level with your writer that’s not related to their technical ability, it’s time to reassess.

The bottom line:

When it comes to content, settling for good-enough writing is a dangerous proposition. Anything you post under cover of your brand must be more than adequate. It must strive for excellence. That takes writers who really know their stuff. Whether in-house or from an outside agency, make sure you have at least one that you can count on.


 

Here is the only New Year’s resolution that PR and comms pros have to make in 2018

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You’re back from the holiday break, you’re refreshed and recharged, and ready to tackle the plan for 2018.

This year will be different: you’ve made resolutions to use new channels, and to experiment to find new and more effective ways of telling your story. You’re going to measure everything, you promise yourself, and you’ll be bolder than ever before. Sounds amazing!

Trying new things and always striving to get even better are wonderful resolutions – but they’re also fairly self-centered. If you’re in communications or PR, you work in a very audience- and client-focused field. With that in mind, there’s really only one New Year’s resolution you absolutely have to make to be successful in 2018:

“I will respect and value the time and attentioN I get from my audiences.”

This one sentence is the very definition of customer-centric thinking when it comes to PR and corporate communications. If you resolve to let it serve as your North Star, you will accomplish your goals, blow away your clients’ expectations and set yourself and your team up for long-term success.

Here are practical principles by which you live this mantra. There’s nothing vague or high-minded here – just a relentless focus on the end users of whatever it is that you produce. I’ve broken it down by internal and external communications, as well as the agency world.

Internal communications

I will listen before I speak. (This one applies to all groups!)

I will invest time and effort to understand the strategy and priorities of the business/leader I support.

I will share information (and never hoard it) with my colleagues on other teams.

I will focus on simplicity… and then I will take what I create, and make it even simpler.

I will seek a seat at the table before plans and strategies are fully baked. Recognizing that this is a privilege and not a right, I will work to earn it.

I support a business/leader, but I work for the employees. If a proposed communications approach doesn’t resonate with them, I will have the courage to stand up and change it.

I will never insult our employees’ intelligence with glib messaging which skirts around the real issue. Employees are people first and foremost, and deserve to be treated with respect. That means honesty and transparency, wherever possible.

External communications

My job is not to put out press releases whenever the company decides I should. My job is to protect and enhance the company’s reputation through effective storytelling to media and other external audiences.

When we make worthless announcements, we hurt our brand with journalists and, ultimately, with the public at large. I will work hard this year to ensure that our organization understands this fact.

I will push to achieve something I know is valuable for my organization, but is outside its comfort zone. Wins like this are what people will remember most and where true value lays.

I will spend significantly more time this year with journalists. Building these relationships pays long-term dividends.

I will lead in a crisis. My role is strategic and vitally important, and I will ensure I’m the calmest person in the room as I navigate any challenge faced by our organization. If I’m not confident, I will train. I will also refresh our crisis plans, as soon as possible.

I will look inside our company, as much as out. My internal communications colleagues are often working on amazing campaigns that could have just as much impact externally as they do internally.

I will challenge my agency partners to deliver more. More creativity, more ideas, and more service.

I will also ask myself if I’m using my agency the right away, or being realistic in my asks of them – If my goal is not attainable, I will adjust accordingly.

Agencies

I will deliver more. More creativity, more ideas and more service. It’s what my clients deserve.

I will be honest. That means I will push back on bad or unrealistic client ideas, even if it means putting a working relationship at risk. Clients pay for honesty, not for an automatic “yes.”

I will be always-on for my clients. That means if I come across a great idea on the weekend, my clients will have an email waiting for them by Monday morning.

I will do more to understand my clients’ business and priorities, so that I can spot trends and storylines before they emerge.

I will work to understand the priorities of journalists even better. I will be helpful, pitch only stories in which they’re interested, and be pithy, brief and compelling whenever I have something to share.

I will bring external insights and best practices to my clients, without them having to ask. I will become an indispensable expert in my field, a font of knowledge for my clients to tap into whenever they have a question.

Integrated communications are going to be the theme this year. Budgets are shrinking and expectations are growing. That means whatever we produce for clients will have to be relevant internally and externally, both with traditional and social media.

I will actively seek out, listen to and act upon feedback from clients. (This one applies to all groups too!)

I will focus on what my team does best, and if client needs fall outside that, I will bring in a partner. Half-way solutions mean half-way results.

I will never leave a client wondering when or if I will respond. Even if I don’t have an immediate answer, clients need to know immediately that they’re being heard.

Bringing it all together

It’s important to note none of these principles get in the way of you experimenting with the latest technologies, channels and approaches, or interfere with your desire to be bolder and strive for more.

Instead, they empower and guide you, and will completely change how you’re perceived by your clients in terms, and how much value you deliver.

If that’s not a great goal for 2018, I don’t know what is!

How to get great PR results even when it feels like your whole company is against you

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You just landed a job running the communications shop of an organization, and you can't wait to dive in. You start to build the necessary relationships, draw up strategic plans and get people excited with your big picture thinking.

And then… nothing. Your new plans stall, initiatives don’t go anywhere, and you start to question how much appetite there is to try new things.

That’s when it dawns on you that the biggest challenge you face isn’t budget, resources or inherent desire – it’s the culture in which you operate.

In my experience, even the most talented communications leaders can find it difficult to overcome the “we’ve always done it this way” thinking in an organization. That’s because, as powerful as it may be, it’s also nebulous. It’s never written down or enforced by any one person. It’s simply the air everyone has chosen to breathe, and they aren’t inclined to question it.

While not an easy task, there are ways to break through the cultural malaise standing in the way of positive change. It all starts by recognizing the kind of cultural trap you face, and how to deal with it.

The Overthinkers

These leadership teams value consensus building above all else, often as a way to avoid making tough decisions. For communications professionals, that means that everyone is a stakeholder. Sure, the marketing team may be comfortable with your plan, but has this been run by HR? Or the sales lead who sits multiple time zones away who is impossible to reach, and doesn’t know the first thing about good versus bad communications? Meanwhile, the meetings to discuss the feedback and find alignment get pushed and eventually lost amid the daily bustle.

The best way to tackle this is to fall back on the old adage about saying sorry versus asking for permission. See an opportunity to get a result that, in theory, requires a group’s sign off? Go for it – without permission, if necessary. Get the win, and then market it back. Overthinking cultures aren’t necessarily interested in avoiding action, they’re afraid of risk.

Remember, wins will always find supporters, and make it more likely that plans will get green-lit in the future. Or at least, you’ll know how much runway you have to act in the future.

The Hiders

One of the weirdest mindsets I come across when working with clients is the one that views silence as a virtue. These are the organizations that speak to media or post content only when absolutely necessary. Otherwise, they don’t like to talk or make noise. Why? There’s no real explanation, that’s just how they are. They’re happy to let competitors hog the spotlight and tell their stories. In my experience, this kind of thinking usually stems from a bad experience buried in the past that led the organization to cocoon itself, or the influence of a nervous, gun-shy senior leader.

For PR people, this usually means constantly trying to get someone to do something, and watching in frustration as golden opportunities to drive brand awareness come and go. The best approach here is to enlist allies. Find a customer or partner who is open to doing a case study. It’s harder to say no to someone tied to revenue than it is to a communications director. Or, try getting senior leaders on the event/speaking circuit and drive coverage and content that way, as it comes at no extra effort to them. Finally, try to use your competitors to your advantage. Set up a steady stream of emails of coverage and blog posts showing them winning in the industry and keep at it. It’s hard to deny what’s in front of you.

The Chaotic

Then there are the organizations that take their entire cue from the whims of very talented but very erratic leaders. The only priorities that matter are the ones on their mind that day. Important work is often stalled as other executives deal with side projects these leaders like to dream up and implement, only to just as quickly abandon them. And just one stumbled-upon article or random comment made at an event can lead to major (and unplanned) course corrections.

For communications professionals, this kind of culture can be a blessing and a curse. These leaders often love the spotlight and can’t get enough of it, making results much easier to achieve. The downside is they love to talk and write about whatever they feel like in a given moment. The result is a job that feels more like damage control than communication strategy.

I recently had coffee with an old colleague who encountered this. Their solution? Create vanity projects – essentially, fill up the leader’s calendar and keep them busy with speaking events, approving pre-drafted bylines, or challenging them to write a certain number of blog posts on key topics. Stroke their ego and channel their energy for good, but leave them with little spare time to come up with their own solutions.

Some cultures can’t be fixed. But for PR professionals who like a challenge or truly believe in the organizations they serve, taking time to address culture head on can pay big dividends down the road.

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A no-BS job posting for an amazing role

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If you follow us on our blog or on LinkedIn, you know we’ve been looking to expand our team. But as anyone in this market also knows, finding great talent isn’t easy - especially if you're a young company like ours.

When we first posted a few months back that we were hiring, we saw some good candidates, but not “the one.” So, we posted again, this time with more detail, and we found a stellar candidate who, choosing between us and a tech startup, opted for the technology route (we wish them all the best!).

We were so, so close!

They say third time’s a charm, right? So we've decided to share even more detail, and to talk about the role in a way that's actually relevant to the job seeker. Here goes!

The Basics:

  • Title: If you’re an agency type, you’re an AD or a newish VP. If you’re internal, you might have any number of titles, but you get the idea.
  • Role: All the stuff you love - you will get to bring your experience to bear on everything from communications strategy to creating content and PR. Pitching. Writing. Planning. Impressing clients and prospects with kick-ass service. Working with a wide range of companies, from multinational to startup
     
  • Salary: No denying it, not as much as the big agencies. But that's just for now, and it's still more than you might think!
     
  • Perks: See Role, above, and Location, below
     
  • Location: Wherever you want, mostly. We have a shared workspace in downtown Toronto when you need it. Can you attend meetings in and around the city when needed? Then we’re good.

The Rest:

  • We’re two people. You’ll make us three – which means you’re shaping a culture, not joining one.
     
  • You’ll never hear the words “utilization” or “time entry”. Ever.
     
  • You follow current events and business news not because you have to, but because you want to. You're curious, creative and driven - a dangerous combination.
     
  • You think long-term, just like us. You can see what we’ve done in just over a year, and know that it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Everyone has big plans, but we're proud to say that our plans are already coming to life. Join us and help us continue to build. Email wojtek@providentcomms.com if you want to talk.

 

 

How to set your CEO up for success on social media

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A terse email from your CEO arrives in your inbox: “Have you seen this?”

It’s a forward of a LinkedIn post from a competitor’s CEO, featuring a massive amount of likes and shares.

“We need to get me on social.”

This very email exchange is occurring – and will continue to occur – at companies of all sizes. More than half of Fortune 500 CEOs still don’t have a social media presence on any platform at all. However, one of the most powerful drivers of behavior change is seeing someone else’s successful results, so my money is on this tide shifting profoundly in the coming years.

But while “being on social” sounds great on the surface, many CEO efforts – even the successful ones – can flounder and fail. It boils down to a lack of strategy, commitment and misaligned expectations.

At Provident, we’ve launched numerous CEOs on a variety of social media platforms, helping them grow their thought leadership brands and enhance the reputations of the companies they lead. Here’s how you can ensure your CEO's foray into social media is a success.

Strategy

When you set out to determine your approach, lumping all of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube under the label of “social” is a surefire recipe for failure. The rules of engagement, cadence of posts and indeed the very purpose of each of these networks is vastly different. Yet too often CEOs’ default stance is to be active on all or most of them. Resist!

The goals you’re trying to accomplish, the audience you’re trying to reach and the medium in which your leader is the most comfortable and engaging should determine the platforms on which he or she is present. Trying to engage employees and connect with potential new talent? Head to LinkedIn. Do you run a major consumer brand and want to engage in conversation with your customers directly? Twitter and Facebook are excellent.

Commitment

Success in business takes time. Leaders understand that. Yet when it comes to social media, so many expect overnight success. The reality is that unless you have an audience hungry to hear from you because you run a big company, or you have or a decent-sized budget to promote your content, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll hit a home run right out of the gate. Some of today’s household names on social took months and years to establish themselves. Be sure your CEO understands that, and that his or her expectations are set accordingly.

To scale your audience, your CEO will need to produce great content that entertains or gives away value, is easily findable and shareable, and which helps readers or viewers navigate their lives more easily. And developing that sort of content will take some time, testing, failure and optimization.

Authenticity

Too often, that “we need to get me on social” email implies that someone else is going to do it. The PR, social media or marketing teams, for example, are often given this task. The reality is that if your CEO is unable or unwilling to spend a bit of time to at least provide the nuggets of insight or content for a written piece, or if all you’re going to do in terms of video is capturing your leader speaking at conferences, you’ll find limited success. That’s because authenticity is the currency of every social media platform.

When you’re creating social media content, you’re asking for your audience’s most precious resource: their time. In return, they expect to get what they came to see: authentic content directly from the leader. So, when you’re posting on LinkedIn on your CEO’s behalf, ensure they’ve reviewed and put their stamp on the content. If you’re shooting video, the authentic, two-minute selfie shot on a phone will trump a slick, overproduced piece of corporate video content any day.

Above all else, deciding to launch on social should feel more like a strategic conversation rather than an edict delivered from your CEO. By weighing the relevant considerations, understanding the platform dynamics and commitment required, you’ll be able to show your CEO that you’ve got expertise to share as you frame out the next steps – and that’s exactly the position you want to be in to create value for your leader and your organization.