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Getting Paid to Make Decisions

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The other night I was sharing a few of the day’s successes with my husband when he pointed out a theme I never considered with my public relations consulting work. My clients value my ability to make educated and decisive decisions for them.

All this time I thought I was in the business of providing public relations and communications strategies (and I am), but the real success of these strategies is hinged upon being decisive. Essentially, I get paid to make decisions.

Maybe you can relate. In your career, do people look to you to take the lead on a project, trusting you to make the decisions needed to keep things moving? Do people often seek your advice or want to pick your brain on an issue? If so, you’re also getting paid to make decisions. Here are some key things to keep in mind while sharpening your critical decision making skills.

A Clear Yes or No

I’ve said before that a “no” is as good as a “yes” and I still stand behind this philosophy. I have been highly decisive all my life, often at the dismay of my parents. I crave a clear cut answer so I know how to move forward with a project. Action items that hang in limbo due to an unclear answer make me anxious.

So, when working toward being an effective decision maker, you not only need to provide your own clear answers, you need to pry them out of other people. Make it easy. Present options as yes or no scenarios and be clear that a single word decision is all you need. Give a deadline for the decision and follow-up, as much as it takes, to get that yes or no.

Expertise to Back the Decision

When I tell my clients either yes we should, or no we shouldn’t implement a strategy, I am quick to provide my rationale. In the instance I say no, I want to be clear that it’s not due to a lack of interest or resources, it’s a sound decision for the business. When I say yes, I want them to know I support the idea and am not just agreeing to please them. Especially when providing quick answers, show that you still put time and thought into your response by backing it with expertise and examples.

Openness to Other Options

I said I get paid to make decisions for my clients, but I didn’t say they were required to listen. I appreciate clients who push back because they feel strongly about another option. An educational discussion is enlightening for everyone involved. It builds trust and shows your relationship has reached the level where you’re comfortable speaking your mind. When a client has an alternative view on a decision, I’m often happy to accommodate their wishes, so long as it aligns with their mission and our prioritized goals.

Which brings me to….

Giving Clients What They Need

I’ve often seen clients (and really any business) get side tracked from time to time with the next shiny object which is what they want and not necessarily what they need. You know, these are the people who think every sales email they receive is the next best marketing opportunity. It takes time to fully explore these options for a client to see if it’s viable, but the result is my ability to offer sound advice that conserves the client’s time and resources.

Sometimes you need to be the parent who says “no, don’t waste your money on that” and you don’t always get a favorable response. However, I have found long-term that these clients are always appreciative and come back time and time again to pay me to make smart decisions.

Do you find that you’re in a role where quick and clear decision making is critical? Share how you provide this value to your customers by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Why Didn’t My Press Release Get Picked Up?

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Whether we PR professionals want to come to terms with it or not, the media is not our mouthpiece that will print exactly what we want, when we want it. They are the ultimate gatekeepers who determine the extent of media exposure that will be granted to us or our clients. The sheer volume of press releases that cross their desk each and every day ensures that only a fraction will receive review, and an even fewer number will be published in some capacity.

But don’t despair! Rarely is an ignored press release a direct reflection on your business or your media relations skills. Rather it could be any number of possible circumstances. Take a look:

It wasn’t really news.

The hard truth is that you’re likely to think everything your organization does is newsworthy because, well, it involves you. It can sometimes require taking a step back and role playing a reporter to determine whether or not something is worthy of media attention. Just because it’s not a good fit for the media, doesn’t mean you can’t promote it in other ways. Utilize your website, blog, social media, and newsletter to tell your story.

It was overly promotional.

Be sure to learn the best practices of writing a press release. Your headline can make or break your chances of getting picked-up. If you start off overly promotional, with a heavy focus on your business or brand, this is a huge red flag to a reporter that this isn’t a helpful “news hint,” it’s a PR tactic. As much as a client may want to see their name in the title, explain to them that this isn’t the best media-bait.

You’ve used this angle, again and again.

Is your strategy to, every month, announce the new businesses to whom you’ve sold services or goods? The first time you do this is the best chance you’ll have at gaining media attention. Every press release after that is beating a dead horse, in the eyes of the media. Reserve this angle for a truly noteworthy client, or present your new client information in a unique way. It’s easy for the media to spot a template press release which will quickly get you tossed in the “no” file.

It got stuck in spam.

There are major benefits to using an email platform like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact to send out your press releases. However, they can increase your chances of getting you sent to a spam folder. I’ve had my own clients’ emails skip my inbox and head straight for the spam folder, even after I marked previous messages from the same sender as “not spam.” The bottom line is to track your analytics, as these email platforms allow you to do. If it seems like a low percentage of contacts are opening your email, it may be due to their spam filters.

It was poorly written.

Another hard truth is that your press release may been poorly written to a point that your media contacts couldn’t see the value in the information you were sharing. I again reference the best practices of press releases to ensure you have the greatest advantage of getting picked up. You need to write to the media’s preference, not your own. Learn to embrace AP style!

You relied solely on a “Wire” for distribution.

You are likely familiar with PR wire services such as PRWeb, PR Newswire, and Business Wire. I have yet to have a client truly benefit from any pick-ups received from such services. I believe the value lies in personal contact, not some syndication service. Even if you’re hitting a list of several hundred media contacts, you are far more able to personalize your messaging and track their engagement from traditional email. Don’t waste your time or money!

You gave up too soon.

Finally, and most importantly, you may have just given up too soon. I have yet to receive a single complaint from a member of the media for sending out the same press release twice, each with a unique headline. Sometimes you hit them on a busy news day when they just don’t have the capacity to cover your story. A few days later might be the perfect timing for when they need a story like yours. Try and try and again – but two times is the perfect number. Anything more than that could work against you.

Most importantly, don’t drive yourself crazy over-analyzing the reasons your press release may have been overlooked – and don’t stop trying! Tomorrow is another news day.

Can you empathize with this experience? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment.

 

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Online Bullying Even When Working From Home (Contribution from freelance writer Jenny Holt)

The following post comes to us from Jenny Holt, who left her HR career behind to pursue freelance writing and to spend more time with her young daughters at home. This article is based upon her own entrepreneurial journey and balancing family and work.


Online Bullying Even When Working From Home

African man sleeping at his workplace in officeFor me, this is a personal topic. Bullying was endemic in the company where I worked prior to becoming a mother. Human Resources is a challenging and fast moving area of any business. At first it excited me – the ability to find ideal, new employees, evaluating them, helping them flourish and rewarding the good ones. However, it soon became like many other areas of business and life in general – a case of who you know, what you say to the right person, and more, how you destroy those you do not like. Those in power bullied the new, the weak, and the ostracized. This had nothing to do with ability or work ethic, but everything to do with cliques.

No Boundaries for 21st Century Bullying

The level of bullying increased whenever someone was ill, made a mistake, or worst of all, got pregnant. So you can imagine my own feelings on becoming pregnant for the first time. Sure enough, the bullying stepped up a notch. Luckily, senior management was flexible and accommodating, so they let me become a remote worker. My jobs could be done from home just as well as in the office and for a while this was fantastic; largely because I had a new daughter who brought joy to my life, a supportive and engaged husband, and maternity leave – sweet maternity leave.

Once back, even though I worked from home, I would receive bullying emails, text, Skype messages, and phone calls. Eventually I was released from my work for “under-performance,” despite being one of highest producing employees. Working from home is not a protection from bullying in the 21st century. Whether as a remote employee or a freelance worker, those who seek to bully will do so regardless of the working environment. It can be brazen and open or covert. In fact, the proliferation of smart devices, chat apps, online work platforms, and so on make it easier for bullies to get a hold of their targets and harass them 24/7.

What Employees can do to Reduce Online Bullying

If you need to leave your current employer or client, then you are presented with several options. There may be legal angles you can take due to the nature of the bullying. This is, however, a long term compensation rather than a solution. Finding new clients is obviously the first thing for a freelancer to do. Being self-employed, there are benefits and problems when work is slow, so it can feel difficult to give up a source of income and trade it in for insecurity. If you have been earning for long enough, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance. While there are federal regulations, most of this is handled on a state by state basis. Any unemployment insurance and benefits can be vital in giving you the chance to turn around your situation and find new employment, new clients, or a totally new direction.

However, it may be possible to save the situation. Being bullied has untold effects on our bodies and our minds, but it is not something to suffer or put up with. First, you should gather evidence of how you are being bullied by this person or people. Then you need to find the support of someone in authority – this can include a Union Rep if you have one. Check your legal rights under both federal and state law. Then you need to stay tough, hold your ground, and sadly, as noted above, have an exit strategy just in case. Now, the important part is not to confront the bully directly because they can and will twist this to suit them. First confide in management or a colleague, and work with them to address the situation.

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Bullying can come in all shapes and forms – and even from someone you consider a friend. If a colleague or client’s actions are causing you mental and emotional distress and impacting your work, it’s time to take action. No amount of money is worth putting up with negative and harassing comments. Often it’s the subtle harassment that builds up over time that is the hardest to identify. Working together doesn’t mean you have to be friends, but it absolutely means you must treat each other with respect!

Have you been a victim of workplace bullying? Please help us shine a light on the common occurrence of this very important topic!

 

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5 Signs a Client is Not a Good Fit for Your Business

5 Signs a Client is Not a Good Fit for Your BusinessWhen meeting with a prospective client, we can get so caught up in wanting to help them see the value or our services, that we overlook the signs that they wouldn’t be a good fit for our business. I’m guilty of having done this a time or two. I know because the client was a headache to work with and ultimately didn’t work out long-term. So how can you avoid wasting time and energy on the “wrong” clients? Start by watching out for these common warning signs.

  1. They can’t really tell you why they want to meet with you

This first warning sign should throw up an immediate red flag of caution. If you receive an email or phone call from someone who wants to meet with you to discuss your services, but they can’t really tell you specifically what service they need or the major challenges they’re facing right now, don’t be too quick to schedule an initial consultation.

It may seem like a good idea to sit down with them to gain more information, but from my experience, this isn’t the case. A good client can communicate why they want to meet with you, and what they need from you. A client who doesn’t know enough about their business’s problems to know why they need your services is likely going to be a waste of time.

  1. They use the initial consultation to get as much information out of you as possible

If you leave your initial meeting with a prospective client feeling like you just left an interrogation, there’s a good chance you may not be hearing from then again. I never charge for an initial consultation because I see this as an “information-collecting” phase and not an “information-giving” phase. A warning sign that a client is not a good fit is that they use this first meeting to try and get right to the meat of things. How do I do this? What are the best practices for this? How can I solve this problem? These are all great questions I’m happy to include in a strategic communications plan, but as for this first cup of coffee together, let me understand more about your business and current tactics.

  1. You pick up on the fact that they’re “shopping around”

If you meet with someone who references the multiple other companies (who offer your same services) that they’re talking to, this is a sign that they are making a game out of this. I understand – and encourage – clients to talk to one or two other companies for comparison, but when a client is taking months to “interview” a dozen consultants, this isn’t going to be a good fit. First, you’ll end up waiting on hold for a long time until the client can sort through all of their proposals and notes. Second, this is a warning sign for how they do business and it’s likely they will overanalyze and hold up progress on your efforts, too.

  1. They don’t seem serious about making a commitment

When I meet with a client, there’s a pretty clear process that results in a signed contract and the commencement of services. A big warning sign of a bad client is one who doesn’t have any idea of when they’d like to start their project. They’re just beginning to test the waters to determine if your services are the answer to their current challenges. What you want is a client who has already worked through this process and determined that they need the services you provide and have clear start date in mind.

  1. What they need is not really what you provide

A final warning sign to watch out for is when you get the gut feeling that your services are not the answer to their problems. Maybe they need business development, not PR. Or maybe they are already doing everything you would tell them to do and they just need to give it time. There are a lot of scenarios, but the end result is the same. If you know your services are not a good fit for their business, do a favor for both of you and be honest with them.

Do you have a warning sign to add to this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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The Real Service I Provide to My Clients is Reliability

the-real-service-i-provide-to-my-clients-is-reliabilityA question I often receive is what type of services I provide. Well, literally speaking, that’s not a hard question to answer. It’s a blend of communications strategy, content creation, social media, media relations and event planning. But as I tend to do, I have gotten philosophical with my answer. The real service I provide to my clients is nothing more than reliability (okay, and some communications expertise).

Every single one of my clients needs me to be reliable in order for me to be successful with my work. I often deal with busy people who easily get buried under their own workload, so they don’t have the time or energy to micromanage the services I provide them. I prefer it this way. My personality type is built on the foundation of reliability. I can’t not see something through completion, to a fault. But in the case of my business, this has been a big point of success. Here’s why….

Responsiveness

A key part of being reliable is being responsive. During regular work hours (and admittedly, even during non-regular work hours), I give my clients quick responses. Sometimes the response is that I will look into this tomorrow or have the task completed by the end of the week, but it will warrants a response so they know the status of their question. It’s how I would want to be treated and so it’s how I treat my clients.

There’s no reason why I should close my laptop for the day without every email in my inbox receiving a response to the sender that it’s been received and will be handled in a timely manner. Even if I plan to be “out of the office” a day…or five, an auto-responder message accomplishes the same thing. I’ve found that my responsiveness to my clients results in their responsiveness to my invoices.

Consistency

Another big part of being reliable is being consistent. I have clear deliverables for each client that I accomplish for them on a monthly basis (most commonly). They know that if they are expecting a weekly blog and monthly newsletter to be created for them, it will be done just about the same time each and every month. It’s this consistency and reliability that they really pay me for. Often these are busy business owners who would never get to these tasks themselves, which is why they trust them to me.

Proactive Thinking

I strive to answer my clients’ questions before they have to ask them. For example, rather than making them come to me for my thoughts on what should be the topic for this month’s newsletter, I provide several options from which they can choose when I sent over the invoice. This kick starts the planning process and reinforces the value of the service I provide – a key time to do so when also giving them an invoice.

Follow-Up

Finally and most importantly, a lot of my job is follow-up. I’ve venture to say it’s the single thing I do that directly contributes to the success of my business. Some days I feel like all I do is follow-up with people who have fallen off the radar and breathe new life into a project that has gone stale. I’ve gotten pretty creative with the ways I follow-up with clients and leads, so as not to come across desperate or annoyed. By keeping clients engaged, I ensure the success of my work and the likelihood they will continue to contract my services.

Aside from the obvious, what service do you provide to your clients that makes you standout? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Would You Ask a Man That Question?

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A real life snapshot from my life as a work-from-home mom

A few weeks ago I was asked a question that I initially didn’t hesitate to answer. It’s actually a question I’ve been asked on more than one occasion, so I felt prepared to defend myself with an explanation. The question was, “How do you plan to balance work with a family?”

It’s not an unreasonable question, right? It was asked in a light-hearted way by a new client who, I truly believe, felt like they were going through any normal paces of qualifying someone to be their new PR consultant. The board voted unanimously in my favor and I ultimately got the job. Sometime later, a female colleague of mine, who was also at that meeting, brought up her frustration that I had to answer such a “ridiculous” question. She picked up on the (not so subtle) sexism of that question that I’ve come to view as normal as a female business owner and working mom. Her point was clear. Would you ask a man that question? No, no you wouldn’t.

Picture a man being asked “How do you plan to balance work with a family?” during a job interview. I envision a bewildered look come across his face as he responds “What do you mean?” He would likely ask for clarification before he felt compelled to offer an explanation…an excuse, really. Meanwhile, I had my “excuse” locked and loaded because it’s one I’ve had to provide time and time again. Sometimes I even voluntarily offer it up as I can see the look of concern come across a client’s face when they learn I have two young children, one of whom stays at home with me 5 out of the 7 days of the week.

“When do you have time to do work?”

That’s another common question. I used to be proud to answer this with a description of my highly disciplined and efficient schedule that is required for raising a family, keeping up with the house and growing a business. But now I see that I was defending myself from society’s disbelief that I can be a mother and a business owner – and do both well.

I’m not angry or outraged at these questions. I hold no grudge against the people who asked them. Rather, I’m shocked by my own numbness toward sexist remarks made to women entrepreneurs daily. I’m sad that I allowed myself to feel guilty, even for just one second, for “balancing work and a family.”

It is without question that a woman most often gets the lion’s share of work and responsibility when it comes to raising a family. Rather than questioning her ability to work and parent, congratulate her, offer encouragement and be flexible with your demands.

How refreshing would it be to instead hear “I know you have a young family. It’s wonderful you’re pursuing your passion. We will flexible, as we know family comes first.”

I’m fortunate to work with understanding and encouraging clients who not only know I am a hybrid mom, but see it as a badge of honor. They know when they call me there’s always a chance you’ll hear a babbling baby in the background or that I may need to reschedule a meeting because I’ve got a sick toddler. But as a mother, I also know how to power through a challenge and multi-task like it’s an Olympic sport. If you want something done, give it to a busy person. And if you want something done quickly, correctly and with every distraction going on around her, give it to a mom.

Have you ever been asked a sexist or unfair question? Share how you responded, or wish you had responded by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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The 5 Biggest Myths About Public Relations

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Somewhere along the line, the Public Relations industry has been attached to some common myths that frame the way in which people value this service for growing their brand. Throughout my entire career spend working in Public Relations, I have found five reoccurring themes of PR myths that have challenged me to prove to clients they are simply not true.

Take a look at these myths and the real story behind them, and let me know if you agree or disagree!

  1. Myth: Public Relations can solve marketing and business development issues, too.

Truth: On several occasions a prospective client has contacted me to help them grow their business by adding Public Relations. After an initial meeting, I start to pull back the layers to discover some problems, far bigger than a lack of PR, exist. Things like a lack of focus, no business development plan and inability to scale are just a few of the common offenders. No amount of Public Relations, no matter how good, can fix these types of problems. In fact, PR that pushes customers to a “broken” business will only amplify these problems.

  1. Myth: Public Relations is a lot of twisting truths and calling in favors.

Truth: Thanks to Hollywood and TV shows like Sex and the City, people have somehow gotten the impression the successful PR professionals are those who rub elbows with the right people and lie or blackmail their way into getting good press for their clients. Ha! The truth is you catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar and this applies to Public Relations. Building genuine relationships, delivering honest and accurate information and providing reporters with relevant tips and timely follow-up are the ways to really earn good press for a client.

  1. Myth: Public Relations delivers results almost immediately.

Truth: Especially for clients who are just beginning to implement a Public Relations strategy, they want to see results almost immediately. Not every press release, social media post or YouTube video is going to go viral, but that’s not a reason to not promote your news. You never know what the media is looking for that day, and your information could catch someone at the right moment and result in a really great pick-up. Also, every time you put yourself out there, you’re building brand recognition in the long-run.

  1. Myth: Public Relations results are easily quantifiable.

Truth: Just as Public Relations is not immediate, it is also not easy to quantify. Unlike paid advertising that can give you a pretty good estimate of the number of people it should each during your ad campaign, Public Relations is a lot more volatile. You’re trying to earn media instead of purchasing it, which means you don’t have control of the results. On the flip side, when you do earn that live interview or feature story, it’s worth far more than anything you could purchase – and it only costs you the time you or your PR professional put into it.

  1. Myth: Public Relations is overpriced.

Truth: I’ve personally experienced a few clients who will set a meager monthly budget for Public Relations, but blow 3 or 4 times that on their monthly advertising budget. People expect advertising and marketing to be expensive, but then want Public Relations to be cheap. It’s a mental block I haven’t quite figured out. What I do know is that a good PR strategy can easily return its investment each month with a single press pick-up. People are getting better and better at tuning out traditional advertising, but still perceive a news story as genuine, trustworthy and memorable.

What other myths have you debunked in the field of Public Relations? Share your personal experience by leaving a comment!

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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