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6 Communication Lessons from the Presidential Debate

communication lessons September 27, 2016

Last night was the first of three presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. Millions watched as the candidates went head to head on issues affecting our country. But, for those of us in the audience who communicate for a living, we were probably watching as much for the lessons in what to do—and NOT to do—as we were for anything else.

Here are six communication lessons we can learn from watching:

  • Preparation matters: It was clear to most of the viewing audience that one candidate seemed very prepared—while the other less so. When it comes to important events in our careers—big meetings, presentations, negotiations, speaking engagements—we can’t just “wing it.” Taking the time to prepare appropriately pays off when you can confidently deliver your message and handle tough questions.
  • Sometimes, it’s better to say less: We watched several times as Clinton let Trump hang himself by not saying anything. She could’ve intervened, but she waited—and let him go on. This was a strategic move on her part. The more he talked, the more missteps he made. She simply stood by and let it happen. This can apply in a meeting or negotiation, as well—even in written communications. Sometimes, saying less really is
  • Moderators need to moderate: Trump continually interrupted Hilary last night—AND he interrupted moderator Lester Holt. Of course, this is bad manners, but if professionals do this, they need to be reigned in. The moderator’s job is to help control the amount of time each person speaks and not allow anyone to step on others’ time. Holt is taking heat for allowing it to go on and not stepping in more assertively. It works the same way when you’re part of a panel at an industry conference, for example. This should be a lesson to anyone moderating—maintain control of the event.
  • Keep your cool under pressure: If we’re under pressure, sometimes, we crack. We saw this last night, as Trump continually lost his cool, baited by Clinton multiple times. We must remember that, no matter what happens, we need to keep our composure. Don’t let anyone throw you off your game. When Trump stuck to his game plan, he was able to make some solid points. Unfortunately, that was overshadowed by his inability to remain calm to cool-headedly answer questions and stick to messages he knows resonate.
  • Don’t interrupt: Communication 101—try not to interrupt when others are speaking. Yes, sometimes someone will go on and on—and then we may feel the need to try to get a word in edgewise. But, interrupting continually should not be our default mode of operation. It’s rude. Children do it—but they’re children. Professionals shouldn’t operate this way. Keep interruptions to a minimum, if you feel you must interrupt at all.
  • Every once in a while, smile: If you noticed last night, the only time Trump smiled was at the end of the debate, while Clinton smiled throughout. Smiling makes you more likable, more relatable. According to The Definitive Book of Body Language, if you smile at your audience, they’re more likely to feel a connection with you (even if the smile is forced). Struggle with remembering to smile? Put a reminder in your notes.

What communication lessons did you learn from watching last night’s debate?

7 Takeaways from Content Marketing World

img_1961-1vertical September 15, 2016

As I continue to come down from the “high” of attending Content Marketing World this past week, I’ve begun to process all the knowledge I drank in.

If you’re not familiar with Content Marketing World (#CMWorld, for short), it’s a conference put on by the Content Marketing Institute in Cleveland, led by the “godfather” of content marketing (and all-around nice guy), Joe Pulizzi (@joepulizzi). This year, it drew 3,500 attendees from all over the world, including attendees from 40 Fortune 100 companies. If you create or market content, trust me—it’s a BIG deal.

So, what did I, as a writer and PR pro, take away from the event? Here, I share my top takeaways from the week:

  1. Slow down: This message seemed to come through time and again. If we’re doing too much, and not doing it well, maybe we need to do less—and do it better. It’s quality, not quantity, that matters. In our race to produce as much content as possible, something’s lost. So much of the content produced today isn’t as stellar as it could be. And, the number of typos seems to be growing, even in the work of high-level publications. Let’s slow down, take a breath and make sure what we’re writing is of a higher quality. Let’s make sure to make what we produce count. As social media and content marketing expert Ian Cleary (@iancleary) noted, “Don’t publish content just to publish – make it worthwhile.”
  2. Writing is a constant: Strong writing matters. Without great writing skills, our content suffers. That’s why, if we’re accomplished writers, we’ll always have a future in content creation. So, a focus on improving your writing skills will never go out of style.
  3. Better writing IS attainable: On the topic of writing, I was lucky enough to hear one of my favorites, best-selling author Ann Handley (@annhandley), present not once, but twice, at CMWorld. What I like about Ann is her practical advice on writing—it’s not magic. To get better at writing, guess what? You just have to write. Yes, there are some techniques and approaches Ann shares in her bestselling book, Everybody Writes, that are quite helpful (if you don’t own this book, you should). However, as she herself said in her session, “There is no magic feather” that will make you a better writer overnight.
  4. Strong opinions lead to more shares: Content marketing authority Andy Crestodina (@Crestodina) gave one of the most popular keynotes at CMWorld (no wonder he was the most highly rated speaker at the 2015 event). He talked about the power of strong opinions when creating content. What do you believe that most people would disagree with? What questions are people in your industry afraid to answer? Andy says if you take a stand and publish your strongest opinions, more followers will share your content.
  5. Social media involves more than just setting it—and forgetting it: Jonathan Crossfield (@kimota), content marketer and social media expert, talked about how history repeats itself—and there’s really little excuse for brands that could learn from others’ mistakes. Be thoughtful when planning social campaigns—don’t rush to push that campaign out there without first doing your research. Learn what not to do—and there are PLENTY of examples.
  6. Don’t forget the visuals: We know visuals are important. But HOW important? Research published by Hubspot says content with relevant images gets 94 percent more views than content without relevant images[i]. That’s 94 percent! So, find a designer or some tools (like Canva) to help you. There are also plenty of sources for royalty-free images like Unsplash and Pixabay, if you don’t have your own photos to use.
  7. Get buy-in: Content creation isn’t a solo activity. You really need buy-in from the top AND engagement to ensure the success of your content marketing efforts. If you struggle to get that buy-in, take small steps to win them over. As content strategist Deana Goldasich (@goldasich) said, “You have to walk before you can run.”

 

[i] http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/visual-content-marketing-strategy#sm.00006ju6bu19m4dg8y3gk2ofxhfjg

 

Do Midwest Startups Have a PR Problem?

startup-593304_1920 August 14, 2016

This week while scanning the news, I saw an article that struck a chord. It talked about the Columbus startup scene and how startups here don’t often get featured in major tech publications like TechCrunch—because they don’t reach out to TechCrunch.

The article was based on thoughts shared by TechCrunch editor John Biggs during a recent interview with Columbus Business First, “TechCrunch editor to Columbus startups: Do a better job promoting your product to national tech media.”

Unfortunately, I know this to be true. From my first-hand experience doing PR with startups in both Silicon Valley and the Midwest, I can tell you that it’s just not a priority for startups here. In fact, I’ve written about it previously (5 ways PR can help startups toot their own horns).

I don’t know if it’s the Midwest in us, but we need to do a better job of promoting ourselves. And according to Biggs, it’s not unique to Columbus. It happens in other smaller markets, too. Continue reading Do Midwest Startups Have a PR Problem?

PR Is No Picnic in the Summer — 5 Tips to Plan Your PR Efforts Around Vacations & Holidays

PR is no picnic in the summer (4) June 27, 2016

Ah, summer…a time for getting outside to enjoy the warm, sunny days with picnics, margaritas and relaxing by the pool…but, what about your PR plans? Summer can be a challenging time if you have PR initiatives that need to move forward. With many reporters on vacation, your media outreach can take even longer than usual. And, of course, the 4th of July is right around the corner.

So, what does this mean for your public relations efforts? PR can be anything but a picnic during the summer months. Here are some tips to try to make the most of this season when it comes to PR:

  1. Planning is imperative: Trying to choose the best date for an announcement? Study the calendar. Avoid the major summer holidays, the 4th of July and Labor Day, as well as the days before and after. That is, unless your news has a tie-in to these holidays. If you’re making a tech-related announcement, for example, you’d certainly want to time it so it doesn’t coincide with the 4th to achieve maximum visibility. On the other hand, if your news involves a holiday-related trend, you’d want to pitch that a week or two before the holiday.
  2. Allow extra time: As we know reporters may very well be on vacation, it’s a good idea to build in some extra time on pitches during the summer months. For instance, if you usually pitch news a week before an announcement, allow two weeks. That way, if a journalist is out of the office, you’ll still have time to follow up.
  3. Avoid the dead zone: Per the point above, as the 4th of July and Labor Day each fall on Monday, you can expect the Friday before to be pretty quiet (you can almost hear the crickets chirp!). Some may even take off the Tuesday after to create an even longer weekend. And, once they return, their inboxes may be filled to the brim with pitches. You don’t want your pitch to get lost in that sea of email, so maybe wait another day or so before sending it.
  4. Think Christmas: Believe it or not, it’s not too early to think about the holidays. Gift guides for many print magazines are already in the works. If you have a product that fits in that category, you’ll want to start pitching those gift guides now. Be ready with a product description and high-resolution photos.
  5. Cover your time off: Lastly, if you’re in charge of working with the media for your company or client and are planning to take a vacation, have a plan in place should a reporter get in touch during that time. Ask someone to cover for you and be sure to have basic resources ready for them to use if a reporter needs anything. If you have a press area on your site, all of these materials should be posted there (that makes it easy for the reporter AND for anyone trying to cover for you).

And, be sure not to leave your clients in the lurch. Give them plenty of notice so you can complete any work they need done before you go. If you’re a consultant leaving for an extended period of time, e.g.               more than a week or two, consider asking someone to fill in for you. Perhaps you have a trusted consultant colleague who could be on call, should your clients need anything.

I hope these tips help you make the most of your summer PR initiatives. Now, time to get back to your sunbathing!

 

 

Why Hire a PR Consultant?

Why Hire a PR Consultant June 4, 2016

So, you’ve decided you need some outside PR help for your business. But, what kind of help do you need?

Of course, in the world of outsourcing, one size does NOT fit all. If you’re thinking of hiring external support, there are always options. Agencies, subcontractors, PR consultants (sometimes known as freelancers) can all offer assistance—but which option is best for you?

Why would a PR consultant be a good fit?

Let’s look at some situations in which a PR consultant would be a good fit. Here are some possible scenarios:

  • You can’t afford an agency
  • You have sporadic projects with which you need help (so a subcontractor may be overkill)
  • You have an ongoing program that needs to be managed by an outside resource

Consultants are generally more flexible than agencies, in that they may not ask you to sign a long-term contract and may accept project or hourly work. Another benefit: most are probably less expensive than an agency, which stands to reason, because they don’t come with the overhead that an agency would carry.

And, consultants are accustomed to working with teams of all sizes. They’re skilled at getting up and running quickly, as they tend to work on a variety of projects at once.

Which companies can use a PR consultant? 

Consultants can be plugged into any scenario:

  • Small businesses: This can be an ideal fit, as most small businesses don’t have an internal resource for certain job functions and may just need help occasionally. Need a press release and some media pitching? Hire a PR consultant. Need some graphics designed for a brochure? Hire a graphic design freelancer. Get the idea? Consultants can help as needed.
  • Startups: Usually strapped for cash, startups need a resource that can assist—but on a budget. Consultants can be the answer. They can help you with a launch or an ongoing effort, showing results that will help keep your investors happy.
  • Corporate/enterprise: Even large companies can make effective use of freelancers or consultants. Many times, there’s a project that needs doing, but the internal team is just too taxed to add it to their workload. That’s when a freelancer can really come in handy. They can focus on that particular project—and when it’s done, they can move on. Or maybe there’s a big project coming up and the team just needs an extra set of hands. A consultant can help offload some of that temporary burden.
  • Non-profits: Another group that can be operating on a tight budget is nonprofits. While they might benefit greatly from some assistance, they may not think they can afford it. A consultant can come in to affordably help with a major fundraising push or perhaps an upcoming event.
  • Agencies: Freelancers can work with agencies, as well. Many agencies like free agents because while they don’t have enough work to keep someone on staff to do a particular task, a freelance consultant can be beneficial for certain clients or projects.

Once you determine you need the benefits outside help can bring to your business, be sure to consider hiring a consultant as a viable option. They’re a versatile solution that can be plugged in in a number of ways to help you using the approach that works best.

For New PR Grads—Advice from an Editor

graduates-351603_1920 May 17, 2016

I recently wrote a piece for Muck Rack, “7 Questions NOT to Ask a Reporter,” which garnered some of the best feedback I’ve ever received. An editor at an industry publication actually took the time to write me about how much he enjoyed the piece—and how every new public relations grad should read it.

With many new PR pros graduating this spring and entering the ranks of those who pitch the media, I thought I’d share his words of wisdom. Whether you’re new to the PR field or have been at it a while, you can always learn from the mistakes of others. Continue reading For New PR Grads—Advice from an Editor

Start Before You’re Ready

“Successful people start before they feel ready 3 April 13, 2016

Spring is my favorite time of year—the trees and flowers are blooming, and we finally get some warmer weather here in the Midwest. Another reason I celebrate spring is because it’s the anniversary of my business. This year, I celebrate 17 years of Garrett Public Relations.

As my business turns 17, I’ve been reflecting on how I got started. It was a dream of mine to strike out on my own, but when I was a younger professional, I knew I didn’t have the real-world experience needed to make a business fly. I needed to wait for the “right” time—whatever that meant.

So, I sought out opportunities that would give me that experience. I worked at a public TV and radio station. I worked for a large university. I worked for an IT company. And finally, I worked at an agency to round out my experience and learn the ropes on how to handle clients. There, I worked with major enterprise companies and startups.

While I waited for the “right” time, I learned all I could about how to run a consulting business. I talked to other independents and attended a group for freelance communication pros. Then, when the time seemed “right,” I hung out my shingle. I wondered if I were truly ready. “Ready as I’ll ever be,” I thought.

Even though I launched my business with three clients, my biggest fear, of course, was not having enough work. I figured the worst thing that could happen was that my business would fail—then I’d have to go back to get a job working for someone else. But, it’s never happened. Have there been ups and downs? Absolutely. Would I trade the ride? Never.

I recently read a quote I love, “Successful people start before they feel ready[i].” I had laid the groundwork for success, but in my heart of my hearts, I was still a bit afraid of taking the leap. Had I waited until I felt truly “ready,” I might never have done it.

17 years and many clients later, I still enjoy the freedom and flexibility that consulting brings. There really is nothing like working for yourself. Being an entrepreneur was my calling.

Launching your own business can be a scary thing. But not pursuing your dreams can be even worse. If you want it, go after it. Don’t live wondering, “What if.” Make a plan, find those who can help advise and inspire you, and go for it. If you wait for the “right” time, it may never come.

 

[i] http://jamesclear.com/successful-people-start-before-they-feel-ready

 

Spring marketing and PR spruce up

tulips March 31, 2016

Ah, spring is here at last. Nature is coming back to life. The birds are singing, the trees are blooming—and, our thoughts turn to….cleaning. Cleaning out closets, getting rid of clutter, sprucing up the yard…but, what about your business? For small businesses, marketing is a constant concern. Have you given any thought to freshening up your marketing—specifically, your public relations initiatives?

Here are five things you can do to spruce up your marketing and PR: Continue reading Spring marketing and PR spruce up