Friday, October 30, 2015

3 Scary-Easy Tips to Present Yourself as a Serious Leader

Halloween is right around the corner and while developing the theme for my next Connect2 blog post I thought, “what is the scariest thing that could happen to me professionally?” Losing my job is of course at the top of my list, but a close second is not being taken seriously. The thought of it makes my skin crawl! I know I work hard and put a lot of thought into (most) everything I do, so how could someone not see that I am a valuable resource to my team? Chills my bones.

In reality, I can probably count on one hand the number of times someone has made me feel underappreciated or insignificant to a team. I am lucky to work for a firm that always finds value in its employees. We also promote professional development with consistent constructive feedback to ensure our team members present themselves as confident PR leaders.

I’d like to share with you some of the constructive tips I was given in my career, as well as the most common feedback I give to young professionals. Following these tips will help ensure you present yourself as a mature team player from day one at your new job. Not following these tips could lead to some seriously scary consequences.

1. Unless zombies are chasing you, don’t use an exclamation point in that e-mail.  This form of punctuation was created to express excitement, surprise, astonishment or any other strong emotion. Are you strongly emotional about the fact that you attached an excel sheet to your e-mail? Are you surprised that you figured out how to attach it? If so, then feel free to type, “The excel sheet is attached!!!” But also realize we may have to talk about your qualifications for this job if you didn’t know how to do that yet.

I find that many college or grade school students (myself included) make this punctuation mistake because exclamation points are informally used to emphasize happiness, kindness, good moods, etc. In a professional environment, though, it emphasizes inexperience.

2    2. You might have to find your way out of the Haunted House alone. Many young professionals expect to learn a lot in their first few years starting a career. What many don’t expect is that they will often have to act as their own teacher.

Your superiors at work aren’t there to show you how to load the printer correctly or fix a faulty Outlook calendar. If something isn't going quite like you expected, not go to the CEO hoping she will tell you what to do next. Instead, problem solve. I bet some simple Googling would suggest what might be wrong and get you on your way to a solution. This may sound harsh, but I honestly don’t care that your Outlook calendar isn’t working. I just need you to send out that meeting invite.

The point is that there are many resources at your disposal to help you be self-sufficient. We want to see you use those tools and demonstrate you can think for yourself and think on your feet. Your superiors aren’t there to be your mama, your babysitter or your teacher. They are there to guide the best teams to deliver the best results for customers.When you gain independence, you'll also gain respect.

3    3. Blame the Werewolf, not the Moon. Learning to become accountable for your actions is one of the most crucial steps in demonstrating maturity and leadership. This is a lesson that many people struggle with because it is natural for humans to deflect blame. However, having an excuse every time you underperform is childish and not a behavior you want to practice at work.

If you’re at fault, own your mistake and point it out! (Yes, I got excited there so an exclamation mark is appropriate.) I have much more respect for team members that can point out what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. That second element is key: when something goes wrong, demonstrate you understand the mistake, why it is an issue and what changes you can make moving forward.

As you move into a role where you are managing others, the ability to own your mistakes is critical in leading your teams. You will be responsible for their work, so you will be held accountable when something goes wrong. I doubt blaming Intern Jane for missing the team’s presentation deadline will go over well the next time you need Jane’s help on a project.

While leadership isn’t a scary concept, getting there can sometimes be intimidating. Luckily, there are many professionals out there willing to offer their insight on how to best navigate the road to success -- I know some good resources right here on the Connect2 blog (wink wink)!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Beginner's Guide to Navigating Public Relations: Time Management

Many of us can agree that we often feel there is not enough time in the day to complete everything we want to do, be it family time, going to the gym, etc. Even our work days are fraught with issues when it comes to budgeting time. How often have you worked on a project, only to have several items fall in your lap all at once? This can lead to missed deadlines, shoddy work, or a very poor attitude in the work place. It is very easy to find yourself underwater and swamped with work to do. Nearly everything revolves around a deadline in the PR world and problems can pop up at any moment like a jump scare in a cheesy horror film. So how can you avoid the stress and fright of having multiple things to do at one time: by having good time management practices.

This is something that is supposed to develop while one is at school. I was a student who enjoyed working up against a deadline. I developed the habit of finishing little assignments immediately when they arose to avoid having to worry later if I had done them or not. This strategy worked well for me while I was in college because everything was presented in a linear fashion. It is relatively easy to budget your time when everything is already planned out for you in a syllabus. Unfortunately, the real world isn’t close to being that linear, and in the PR world you might as well expect that things can turn sideways at a moment’s notice.

When I first started working at Connect2 Communications, I immediately found myself treading water. I was not only dealing with the commonplace issues of being a new employee in his first professional job, but also realizing that I was responsible for helping coordinate PR for multiple companies. It was an extremely difficult adjustment. I constantly felt under siege by the emails, due dates, and work I had to complete on a daily basis. It wasn’t until I was shown how to manage my time that I was able to finally settle down some and get my head on straight. It is common for me to be calmly working on a pitch for a press release or a briefing book and then all of a sudden have a deluge of emails pouring into my inbox. Before, I would start to metaphorically drown in this sea of email. Now I have learned how to do one thing to manage that: prioritizing. It may sound trite and simple, but it is easy to overlook and hard to do when you are new on the job.

It starts with writing the items down in some sort of planner and getting the due dates for them. It’s too easy to get bogged down by a myriad of little assignments that may not even be due for days. Next, work on the things that are most pressing and complete them first. If it’s Monday, don’t work on a briefing book due Friday when you have an award submission to complete on Wednesday. I found myself frequently trying to complete every item that came to my inbox when I first started and that put me behind the proverbial eight-ball for completing work that had a higher priority. Lastly, when worse comes to worse, delegate. One thing that was and is still difficult to do is ask someone for help completing something you simply cannot get to. As a new employee, I didn’t want to be that guy who said “I can’t do that”. I wanted to be a reliable contributor to the company and not be someone people couldn’t count on. Sometimes though, we need help getting things done, and at the end of the day I’ve found it is better to have said “Can you help me with this?” than “I didn’t get to this because I was swamped with work” and have a missed deadline.

Working in PR means you are always on the clock for something. Anything can happen that can require your full attention immediately. That is why learning how to prioritize your tasks early on is important. Get into the habit of managing your time for the things that are the most important on your to-do list. It will save you a boatload of hassles later on.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Don’t Be or Believe the Stereotypes – PR Tip 16

In PR and in journalism, there are lots of stereotypes in play. People love them and love to band everyone together into a generic category that is ripe for ridicule and scorn. Soooo much fun! There are biases and assumptions, condemnation and narcissism, bullies and airheads – in both camps. The challenge of working in an always-on, globally connected world driven, in large part, by social media, is how do we work together without becoming jaded, bitter curmudgeons that are no fun at parties?

First, it would be good to just be nicer. Nicer in person, nicer in email, nicer on Twitter…especially nicer on Twitter. I don’t mean nicer in the Southern way when folks say “isn’t she sweet” or “bless your heart” and not mean it. I mean really….be….nicer. Treat people around you with the professional respect you’d like to be treated with, especially when they don’t deserve it.

This is more than just being polite. Nice is also about doing your job well so that the people you work with can easily do theirs better. It’s about being prepared, organized and on time. It’s about paying attention and showing a genuine interest in what the other person is saying, or at least trying to say.

It’s about doing the research required to make sure you’re reaching out to the right person, or doing the research needed before an interview so that you don’t waste everyone’s time. This can be particularly hard when you have a gauntlet of back-to-back interviews and the interviewee isn’t particular engaging.

Being nice is also recognizing you’re going to run into people every day at different stages of their careers, and sometimes they just might not know better yet. The PR person that is overly excited or the reporter that thinks snide is a good interview technique can be annoying to everyone, but it’s usually a sign the person is just trying to figure out how to do a challenging job in an unforgiving environment. It can also be taking the time to stop and think for a second what might have happened outside your own interaction with them that might be throwing their game off.

Reporters and PR folks are just people. They get up in the morning, brush their teeth, send their kids to school, pay their taxes, etc. There are hundreds of things that can happen on any given day that can impact how they are perceived in the brief moment you might interact with them. It’s a shame most people, on either side of the fence, don’t take the time to step back and give someone the benefit of doubt. Because you know, it’s so much easier to take to Twitter and try and shame them.

One of the things that makes my skin crawl on Twitter is #PRFail. Yes, sometimes PR people pitch the wrong person, but reporters also get things wrong. We all do because that’s human nature. The truth is, PR and journalists inhabit the same world and we’re all moving at a break-neck pace. It would be a much nicer world if we could all, bless our hearts, be a little more polite.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Socializing 101—Making Connections with 140 Characters or Less

One thing that I have learned throughout my career is the power of social media. The informal, conversational atmosphere of social media platforms somehow brings people’s guards down and creates a community atmosphere. Twitter, in particular, has become one of my most valuable PR tools. When you’re trying to get you client’s news noticed in a sea of other PR people, you have to stand out. It’s really that simple.

This is where learning the art of 140 characters or less comes in. Here are my suggestions for making connections with key press and analysts to ensure that next time your email doesn’t land in the trash:
  • Do your research: Make sure that you are following all of the relevant press and analysts for your client’s industry. Many times you can find out what they cover based on their bio and the type of content that they tweet. I would also suggest seeing who these people follow. It’s a good way to discover new relevant press, analysts and publications that you may not have found otherwise.
  • Engage & interact: This may feel a bit uncomfortable because you don’t know many of these people yet, but as I mentioned, Twitter is a very informal community and you can get away with things that you normally wouldn’t in the real world. For instance, retweet stories, reports or any other content that they may post that you find interesting or relevant to what your client does. If you find a good story, share it on your Twitter and tag the reporter that wrote it in a complimentary tweet. Everyone loves compliments. Even by strangers on the Internet. Reply to a tweet or join in on a discussion that you find of particular interest. While you typically wouldn’t interject into a conversation that didn’t involve you in real life, it’s perfectly acceptable and welcomed in the Twittersphere.
  • Get personal: Many times press and analysts use their Twitter accounts to share both personal and professional news and updates. Don’t be afraid to retweet something that you find funny or strike up a conversation about something that you both enjoy whether it be hobbies, television shows, music or anything else. Remember, the point is to stand out and what stands out more than bonding over a love of spinning or Game of Thrones (just an example).
  • Call to action: Sometimes you will have an immediate need for your Twitter interactions like pitching a story idea or getting time on their calendar to schedule a briefing at a conference. In these times, it’s important that you bring your interactions full circle. Establishing these relationships won’t benefit your client if you don’t seal the deal. Most of the time, conversation will start on Twitter and then migrate to email where the details and logistics are hashed out. In other cases, you may find that there is not an immediate action to take. Perhaps it turns out that the reporter wasn’t relevant or you were simply relationship building. That is fine. It’s important to continue to nurture and maintain these relationships as you would a real-world friendship. Nobody likes the friend that only texts when summer rolls around because you have a beach house, right? The more you continue to invest in these connections, the more likely you are to get a response when you do have a client that would be of interest.
So you’ll see, in PR there is true value in cultivating professional relationships on a platform that is instant, conversational and effective. If you consistently implement these tips into your PR practices, not only will your emails see a lot less trash and a lot more replies, but you’ll undoubtedly see you Twitter popularity skyrocket. Double win.