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6 Communication Lessons from the Presidential Debate

communication lessons

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?

Without Media Relations, Is It Really PR?

This post by Geoff Livingston caught my eye this week:

PR Cannot Escape Media Relations. In this post, Livingston talks about the inescapable connection between PR and media outreach and how some in the PR profession struggle with this.

This struck such a chord with me, because I, too, came to a point in my PR career when I was really resistant to continue doing media relations. I struggled with this—I’d really rather just write, I told a few trusted  PR-savvy colleagues. “Well, then, is that still PR?” some of them replied.

So, I took some time to think. When I looked closer at the needs of my clients, I began to realize what an integral part of PR media relations is. What did my clients really want, in many cases? Media coverage. And why? Because media coverage:

  • Adds to a company’s credibility
  • Raises visibility
  • Paves the way for your sales force
  • Is shareable
  • May be repurposed
  • Feeds content marketing

When you think about all that media coverage can do for a company, it makes sense that businesses are looking to include media outreach in their PR efforts.

So, instead of distancing myself from media relations, instead I embraced it. And what have I found over the years since? This has become a differentiator for me. I don’t how many PR pros I’ve met who say, “Oh, I don’t really do media relations.” Then, how can you call yourself a PR practitioner, I would ask. As Livingston mentioned, “You can run, but you can’t hide” from media relations.

Further, I get the impression that some PR practitioners tend to look down at media relations—almost as if it’s something beneath them. This was what I encountered when I worked at an agency, as well. The “smile and dial” approach was often used, which is probably why people didn’t enjoy doing it. And, it would be assigned to the most junior person on the team…further demeaning it and its value to the client. If this is the most important thing to the client, why would you look down on it and assign to a junior team member? If it’s so important, as Livingston points out, wouldn’t you want to assign to someone who has some experience and even skill doing it?

“I believe a media relations pro or agency that can open those doors and facilitate that story breakthrough is even more valuable today than ever before,” writes Livingston. “Practicing public relations without media relations is much like playing the lottery. Assuming the media will stumble upon your business story may as well be a raffle, one that loses probability every year.”

As long as media relations provides value to clients, it will continue to be a vital part of PR. “PR pros who no longer want to offer media relations could position their service offering a little differently. They can clearly offer marketing communications services, or social media marketing or simply content,” Livingston continues. I like this line of reasoning. And they can leave the media relations to those of us who understand its value and truly embrace it.


Think Spring: Five Ways to Spruce Up Your PR and Marketing Efforts

Ah, spring is here at last! Spring is the time of year when our thoughts turn to freshening up our homes, cleaning out our closets, and by the way, have you checked out that cluttered garage lately?! All kidding aside, while spring cleaning your home may be on the top of your list, how much thought have you given to your business and to freshening up your marketing, and specifically PR, initiatives?

In the spirit of spring cleaning, here are five things you can do to spruce up your marketing and PR:

1) If you haven’t made the commitment to social media, do it now. Social media isn’t going anywhere…and it’s a free tool just waiting to be taken advantage of. If you haven’t dipped your toe in the water yet, come on in! Start small, so as not to get overwhelmed. Pick one or two platforms you can commit to consistently updating. LinkedIn is a great place to start. I also like Twitter and Google+. Of course, there’s Facebook, Pinterest and many others, depending on the audience you’re trying to reach.

2) Consider a press release. Press releases are a multi-purpose tool in the marketing mix. They’re like the Swiss Army knife in your marketing arsenal! They help you get the word out to the masses and also help your SEO (search engine optimization). They can be posted to your site and to social media. You can pitch the release directly to reporters who may be interested in covering the news. Your sales team could use the press release in their efforts.

3) Content marketing is hot in 2014. Have you embraced it yet? To develop your own content, look internally for ideas. Are there customer case studies or success stories you could create? Is there a trend in your industry that might make a good white paper? Maybe look into creating an infographic you could publish. Once you have the content, make sure to add it to your site and post it to all your social media outlets. If you mention a customer or partner, perhaps you can ask them to blast it out on their social media platforms, as well. PR plays right into content marketing, as it can be used to create much of the “content.”

4) Have you booked a speaking engagement? Speaking is one of the best ways to increase visibility and be seen as the “expert.” Many organizations need speakers for their meetings and conferences. While these are generally unpaid speaking gigs, the benefits you’ll reap in the form of visibility can really boost your business and help your product or service get on the map. You can publicize the speaking engagement before, during and after the fact to get the most visibility from it. Again, using this as content on your social media platforms is a great idea. And those at the event may try to book you for another event or even purchase products or services from you.

5)Have you considered an award submission? Many industries and publications have awards programs you can enter, some at no cost. What does this get you? If you win, you can publicize it with a press release and once again, blast it out via all your social media platforms. You can also post the win on your site (some awards come with an icon you can use). Awards create credibility that lasts forever. Think of the Oscars—Tom Hanks will forever be known as “Academy-Award Winner Tom Hanks.”

Try leveraging the power of some “fresh” PR and marketing initiatives this spring by putting some of these ideas into action.


Eight Reasons to Hire a PR Pro

I came across this article today, “Five DIY Public Relations Tips for Startups”:

It’s a good article with helpful tips, and yes, of course you can do your own PR—I even give on a talk on it. But, if you find it too cumbersome to do yourself, as many business owners do, consider hiring a pro who freelances to help you out. Here are eight reasons to hire a freelancer:

1)      A freelance PR pro brings expertise to the table that takes many years to amass. PR consultants are steeped in strategies and tactics to get your business out there and get noticed. From press releases to speaking gigs to media relations, a consultant can help you come up with the best strategy to fit your needs and then carry it out.

2)      Once you have them on board, you can ask for advice on any number of things related to your marketing and overall company strategy. Clients often ask me to take a look at a new web site, brochure or logo they’re designing, or for advice on a strategic decision they need to make. If you bring a seasoned pro in to help, they’ll have a depth of experience to draw upon and can be a valuable sounding board for you.

3)      They often are expert writers, as well, and can handle writing projects ranging from customer case studies to web text. For example, to earn my degree with a specialization in PR, I went to journalism school.What did we do there? Write! Don’t feel like writing that newsletter text this month? Need help crafting a speaking proposal? Want to publish a contributed article? Ask your PR consultant to help.

4)      They keep their eyes open for opportunities for you. A good PR freelancer knows where to look for opportunities and notices when something comes across his or her desk that may be a good fit for you.

5)     They think like a reporter. Back to my previous example of attending journalism school, part of that training was reporting for the school newspaper. This means you learn how to interview sources, research stories and put them together to run in the paper. This training has been invaluable in helping me understand how reporters think and what’s newsworthy. Once you’ve been a reporter, you’re in a much better position to understand what makes a good story. 

6)      They get results. Sure, you can do your own PR, but just because you can, does that mean you should? How steep a learning curve will there be before you’re able to get results? A good PR freelancer can hit the ground running to bring some early successes to the effort that can be leveraged into more opportunities.

7)      They provide an outside view of the business and the competition. Although they become, in essence, a member of the team, they aren’t sleeping, eating and drinking the company kool-aid, so they can provide an unbiased perspective on strategy and direction.

8)      They help you get the most bang for your buck: Good freelancers will be more than worth their fee because they find ways to add value to your business beyond their focus on PR. They’ll bring fresh ideas to the table and give you helpful input on all your communications, internal and external.

So, if you’ve tried going it on your own, maybe it’s time to give some thought to hiring a PR pro to bring some sanity to your world—and some attention to your business.


PR or Coffee Mugs?

Has it really come to this?

I was recently talking with a colleague who also owns a service-based business over lunch when he mentioned he’d realized that when he met with prospective clients to discuss how his service could benefit them, he’d started to consider what types of marketing budget items he was competing with. One prospective client explained that he could probably take some of the budget he had for coffee mugs and other tchotchkes to spend on my colleague’s service instead. A light bulb went off in my head as he told the story—coffee mugs?! Has it really come to this? Are we in marketing services businesses such as PR now competing with, of all things, COFFEE MUGS for dollars? Say it isn’t so! But what if is….?

Let’s say you have a marketing budget. It’s limited. You probably have budget for items such as advertising, events, direct marketing, and so on. Is PR even on your list? Or is it competing with tchotchkes for a piece of the marketing pie? If it isn’t even on the list, here’s where you could gain a lot of visibility, potential customers and sales for a small outlay. PR helps your company by using the media to help you get the word out to your customer base about your product or service. Nothing gives your product more credibility than a favorable review by an industry publication or a positive mention in an article about your competitors–not advertising, not a booth at an industry event, and no, not even a coffee mug.

With PR, you gain credibility in the eyes of your customers and potential customers because the reporter who wrote the story in which your company or product appeared wasn’t biased. He’s an expert on the topic and felt that what you have to offer was valuable enough to his readers to include it in the article, even though he may have heard from 50 companies who provide a similar product. And once you’ve begun to forge a relationship with that reporter, chances are he will look to you again in the future when in need of an expert to comment on a particular story he’s working on.

And that’s just the beginning of what PR can do for you. Once the article has appeared, you can repurpose it in a number of ways. You can include it on your web site in your “press” or news area; you can send it out to your customers/prospects with a cover note; you can pull quotes from the article to plug into sales and marketing pieces; and those are just a few examples. The articles can also lead to more hits in web searches.

Not to mention the value of the space PR provides vs. advertising. When was the last time you spent precious marketing dollars on a paid ad only to have it flop, providing little or no return? With PR, you can more cost-effectively reach out to an audience because what you’re paying for is the time and expertise of a PR professional to conduct outreach for you. If you work with a consultant, you can pay an hourly, project or retainer rate for this type of work, which is generally much more value-oriented than buying advertising space in an online or print publication. While potential customers might not read an ad, they might read an article those talks about products or services they’re interested in.

Good PR is worth so much more than a coffee mug. Think about that the next time you’re reviewing your marketing budget.

PR is Opening Doors

I often see articles asking about the definition of PR. Here’s one I like: “PR is opening doors.”

What does this mean? As part of a worthwhile PR effort, media relations factors in, in a big way. Media relations opens doors for companies to get the word out about their product or service, raising their visibility and drawing customers their way. A skilled PR practitioner will contact the media on a company’s behalf. If the pitch is good and the timing is right, the reporter will respond. Thus, the door is open for that reporter to get to know the company and in the best case scenario, write about that company.

Previously, I posted an excellent article on PR from Forbes that talked about PR “disasters” that should be avoided That article had a great line about PR planting seeds in the reporter’s head. Whether it’s planting seeds or opening doors, PR paves the way for coverage to happen. Will it always take place? Unfortunately, the truth is no. But if a well-worded pitch finds its way to a reporter who may potentially write about your company and he responds, the door is open. While PR doesn’t guarantee a company coverage, working with the right PR expert can open those doors for you to walk through.

Once you have that opportunity, be sure you’re armed with what you need to walk through that door and hopefully, on to the page.


In Honor of Halloween: A “Scary” Week for PR

This week was an interesting one for PR pros, as we faced challenges due to a number of current events that came together to create a “perfect storm” for those of us who regularly pitch reporters on behalf of our clients.

Even last week, I had received feedback from reporters that this wasn’t a good time to pitch any news not related to the upcoming presidential election. So when the hurricane came into play this week, it pretty much put an end to any media outreach outside Sandy or how the candidates might be responding. Not exactly what clients want to hear, but to proceed poses the risk of alienating reporters. (Now that’s SCARY!)

With the election next week, it’s probably best for us PR folks to put our pitching efforts on the back burner and wait it out. Let’s hope the week of Nov. 12 is uneventful, because–EEK!–Thanksgiving is coming up the following week…!

Handling Media Opportunities: Media Training 101

Everyone knows that media attention is usually a GOOD thing! But, what do you do if you’re lucky enough to get a reporter interested in your story? The truth is that many companies might not know how to handle a media opportunity if they were fortunate enough to land one.

Relationships with reporters require the utmost care. Here are some tips to help you make the most of any media attention that comes your way:

1)      RSVP! At the top of the list is a prompt response. If a reporter contacts you proactively or in response to something you’ve contacted them about, drop everything to respond. Even if you don’t have all the answers to their questions, at least let them know you’ve received the message and are working on their requests. If you wait, the opportunity may disappear because they’ll have moved on to the next source on their list.

2)      Provide what they need: Make sure you’re ready BEFORE reaching out to media by having your images, logos, customer references and any other information they may request ready.  

3)      Prepare for the interview: Do a little research on the reporter. Take a look at what the reporter’s written to get a sense of his style. Read his bio, if you have access to it. Think about what questions he may ask and what answers you’ll give. It doesn’t hurt to prepare a Q&A document to refer to, especially if more than one person at your company is speaking with the media.

4)      Listen more than you talk: During the interview, you want to make sure you don’t talk too much. I’ve been on media calls with clients who, despite coaching to the contrary, seem to do ALL the talking! OOPS! Not a good move, if you want to build a relationship with the reporter. Let the reporter drive the discussion. DO answer their questions and work in your nuggets (see next point), but don’t overdo it.

5)      Work in your “nuggets”: What are the top three things you want this reporter to take away from your interview? If they remember nothing else, what three pieces of information about your business—or nuggets!—do you want them to write about? Weave those in throughout the interview, as much as it makes sense.

6)      Wrapping up: When you wrap up the interview, make sure to ask if the reporter needs anything else—images, customer references, etc.  See #2 above so you’re prepared to send these over immediately after the interview. Also during wrap up, you should ask when the article might appear. You can then follow up to get copies, if it’s a print publication.

7)      Follow up: If the reporter did need something, make sure to get them the requested information as soon as possible. If they contact you with questions following the interview, get right back to them with the answers (or reply to say you’re working on getting them the answers).

8)      Promote Your PR: When the article appears, blast it out via social media, post it on your site and make sure to let your audiences know it’s out there!

Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to building a relationship with the reporter so that next time he needs an expert source, he’ll call you first.

And if you need help, consider hiring a professional to handle media outreach, requests and responses. Even if you can’t do it yourself, you can make sure someone is there to handle media relations with the care it deserves.



Everyone Could Use PR

In my work as a PR specialist, I often notice things perhaps others don’t.

For example, walking through a mall on my way to meet someone for a lunch appointment, I noticed a sign about an upcoming event that would appeal to parents in the area. I thought, “Hmmm, why haven’t I seen/read/heard about this before?” The event happened to be coming up that very weekend…and I’m just now seeing it. So how many others who’d be interested won’t see/read/hear about this before the weekend? This happens to me frequently, leaving me to wonder, “Why doesn’t everyone see the value of PR?”

There are many situations where I think a little PR could’ve helped an organization or event immensely. Here’s another example: I recently attended a local charitable event—a major undertaking to plan and prepare–that would’ve benefitted from better communications. Meaning that after folks signed up to participate, they should’ve heard regularly from the organizers. I signed up and received only one email confirmation. I never heard back before the event with any buzz-building messages or updates. Did it affect the turnout? Yes, unfortunately, the event suffered from a poor turnout, despite all the planning and preparation that went into it. Better communication would’ve yielded much better results and helped the organization reach its goals.

These are just a couple of examples of how better PR could help even the smallest of organizations. There are, in fact, many instances that take place in our day-to-day lives when I’m left wondering why someone didn’t do a better job of promoting this event/product/service? It’s plain to see that a lot of time and effort went into the initiative; why didn’t someone spend just a little more time getting the word out to the masses?

PR is getting the word out about your event, your service, your product, your customers, your new hires, and so on—it’s spreading the news about your company or organization. Oh, and here’s another key point: Other than the time it takes to create the message or content and contact those who publish the news (or self-publish it via social media channels and your site), PR is free. That’s right, FREE! If that doesn’t get your attention, than what will? Unlike paid advertising, you don’t pay for the space. PR also goes hand-in-hand with your marketing efforts, so that any content created can be tweaked and repurposed, meaning you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

So, if you’re taking the time to plan an event, launch a new product or service, hire someone, or do something else newsworthy, why hide your light under a bushel? Get the word out—shout it from the rooftops if you have to!–but make sure to include PR in your planning efforts.