Vacation Tips For Business Owners And Worryholics

Another year, another spring break.

Last year I shared some very reasonable tips for going on vacation as a business owner, yet ended up breaking most of those rules. This year, I tried a slightly more realistic tack. If you own a business, are a workaholic, or just a worryholic like me, it’s not as easy as unplugging and trusting that all will be well. So, here is a “new and improved” list of tips for business owners who are indispensable (or who just think they are.)

Be honest with yourself. If it’s just not possible to disconnect for a week, compromise. Instead of driving yourself and your family crazy, plan a mini-break over a four-day weekend. Or decide on a working vacation, and let everyone know that means office hours from 8 to noon, or whatever.

Set goals. If you’re a hard-charging type, that may be the best way to approach your time off. Remind yourself exactly why you need this vacation, what research shows about the benefits of taking a break, and what you personally need to get out of it. Your goal might be business-related, like recharging your creative batteries, or personal, like saving your marriage. (What’s the ROI there?)

Vacation in season. For agency owners, it’s a no-brainer to choose spring break, July 4th weekend, and Christmas, because those are the times when clients are likely to be away also. Of course, those are also times when senior staff might want to be away, but there should be some perqs to being the boss, right?

Communicate your plans to staff and clients well in advance so they can schedule meetings around your absence (since you’re so indispensable.) Better yet, trust that the meetings can happen without you. Sometimes less is more; you don’t have to be in every meeting for your clients to feel and appreciate your involvement.

Break up the week. Instead of a Monday through Friday vacation, consider Wednesday to Wednesday. Maybe it’s psychological, but dividing the week can lessen the anxiety for some, even though the number of days off  is the same.

Plan immersive activities. Notcot co-founder Jean Aw has a rule to do something that directly contrasts with daily work life. Whatever you do, it should be absorbing enough to take you out of your everyday world. For my husband it may be skindiving, while for me, it could be reading a novel.

Make a decision about technology, and how accessible you need to me, and plan accordingly. Most of us need a reliable Internet connection. Or, for a short break, it may be better not to have WiFi, but if email withdrawal makes you jittery, don’t try to go cold turkey. Just compromise by checking it only twice a day.

Indulge yourself. Preferably a massage, hike, or other physical activity. It will reduce stress and build stamina for your return to the fray.

Combine business with vacation. If guilt is your thing, you’ll feel more deserving of your break.

HARO And ProfNet Dos And Don’ts

HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and ProfNet are great sources for PR professionals to get daily inquiries from reporters looking for content, interviews, experts and insight to help them complete a story. The sources typically send requests on a tight deadline, and the requests need to be treated with urgency. If the story being discussed isn’t a fit for your client now, no worries, this contact becomes someone you can  add to your media list.

Here at Crenshaw, we check HARO and ProfNet hourly and try to be the first ones to reach out to reporters to get the best results. Keep in mind that you’re not the only responder, so you’ll have to make your pitch stand out by getting to the point quickly with a pithy response.

Dos and Don’ts of HARO and ProfNet responses:

DO read the post carefully – Does the reporter want a response to a question at this point are they seeking leads on appropriate sources to interview? Read and respond accordingly.

DO provide your own contact information, not your client’s. Be the first point of contact and then put the two together, but DON’T be hard to reach. Leave all the ways you can be contacted with your most up-to-date information so you are easily accessible.

DO shamelessly use HARO and ProfNet as a “trend-indicator” to develop some pitches of your own. These sources often presage what’s timely and trendy just before it makes the airwaves.

DO provide examples of previous relevant media and press, when providing an expert. It’s always helpful to demonstrate prior experience and media successes.

DON’T describe your client in excruciating detail. Give as much relevant information as you can but not their entire story. A reporter will respond to you if they are interested, then you can provide more.

DON’T let clients answer queries on their own unless you have edited their response or they have a true knack for PR-type writing.

DON’T try to “force-fit” your client into a story pitch that they are just not right for. But if they are “close” – DO contact that reporter for another pitch at another time. The reporter knows exactly what they’re writing about for this particular story. Scour the queries for interesting reporters and beats to add to your own media list for the future.

What are your most successful (or most horrific) HARO/ProfNet stories? Do you read and respond regularly?

What’s Your "Limitless"Fantasy?

In Limitless, the new movie starring Bradley Cooper, a top-secret “smart drug” enables him to use 100% of his brain and become a perfect version of himself.  Soon our protagonist can recall everything he has ever read, seen or heard, learn any language in a day, comprehend complex equations and beguile anyone he meets—as long as he keeps taking the untested drug.

Of course this becomes messy and scary, but it got me wondering what the professional equivalent might be for our business. What if a PR pro could work some mind magic? Here are some of the tricks I’d like to try.

  1. Read the minds of client prospects to know what they really when they say things like, “…chemistry will determine,” or “we really have no set budget in mind.”
  2. Predict which start-up companies will flourish and which will flounder.
  3. Have my finger on the pulse of the next great trend so I can align clients with it before it goes viral.
  4. Harness the full capacity of my right-brain, creative thinking self to dream up extraordinary ideas for client programs without breaking a sweat.
  5. Never have to take a note, digital or otherwise, after a client meeting, presentation, or seminar.

What would you use your professional miracle drug to accomplish?

How Do You Measure Up?

The Barcelona Principles is not the name of the next installment in the Jason Bourne series. It’s a 7-step recommendation for overhauling the way PR professionals measure results. Industry leaders representing companies and clients in more than a dozen different countries have agreed to these new global standards for measuring and evaluating the results of their work.

In the “old” days, it was enough to share a stack of clips with a client without examining the tone or the outlets all that carefully. It was impressive to rattle off advertising equivalencies without taking into consideration who was absorbing the information and what their likelihood to act might be.

The Barcelona Principles make the case that PR practitioners should make a renewed commitment to measurement as “Job 1.” My contention is before you implement the principles, you need to know your audience.

Ask yourself these questions first:
1)      Is your client comfortable with an existing measurement metric that works for both of you?
2)      Is your client willing to invest the recommended 5% of pr spend in overhauling the existing results measurement method?
3)      Are you willing to take the time to educate your client in the newer measurement systems available?

Every client will be different, and ultimately a customized approach to measurement may well be the answer. What do you think?

What Marketers Don’t Know About PR

Are we living through PR’s “golden age”? Sometimes I think so. Clients understand the benefits of PR and are sophisticated about the tricky aspects, like trading perfect control for a measure of credibility. And budgets are opening up after the economic downturn.

But other times I wonder. Last year a favorite client of mine refers to public relations as “the cheapest form of advertising.” He meant it as a compliment, but it made me think misconceptions about PR linger even among seasoned marketers.

Here, then, are seven myths that persist about public relations, and my perspective on each.

PR is advertising lite. The two are so distinct that they shouldn’t be compared, or, worse, pitted against one another. As Freddy J. Nager once put it, debating their merits is like arguing which is more important in a football game, offense or defense.  It’s a useless argument because each has a different function, and they ideally work in concert.

PR is cheap. Although a modest PR investment is peanuts compared to, say, a national TV spot, it’s not insignificant. Budgets vary widely. The key, of course, is to match the need with the right PR resource and approach.

PR is publicityPreferably Oprah. Sure, media coverage is often an end result of a PR program, but a well-crafted plan covers so much more. And to get to the earned media outcomes, there’s plenty of foundation to be laid. Overall brand positioning, media strategy, relationship-building, messaging, etc. – all are critical to a successful result. When the publicity breaks, it’s not usually a magic bullet. The old adage that we trade control for credibility still holds. (And what publicists don’t like to admit is that Oprah’s producers rarely take ideas from PR people.)

PR is about getting the word out. This is true, but many marketers don’t realize that it’s a two-way street. A successful public relations program is often designed to tell a brand or business story, yes. But a PR team should also function as a source of feedback and intelligence on what customers and influencers are thinking and saying. If you’re not using them that way, you’re not maximizing your investment.

PR drives sales. When I hear a client say they’ve put their ad budget into PR to replace marketing or promotion as a sales driver, it doesn’t make me happy. It’s a red flag, because PR isn’t designed for demand generation. Despite some spectacular exceptions, what PR does best is build brand visibility and enhance reputation over time. When it comes to driving sales without a built-in sampling program or other promotional piece, it will nearly always fall short, particularly because frequency is nearly impossible to achieve with publicity alone.

PR is about press releases. The news stream is important, but the release itself is a commodity. Press releases don’t add up to a strategic PR program, and the impact of any one release is likely to be minimal. If you’re paying for news releases, you’re wasting your money.

PR isn’t measurable. Actually, it is, but this one’s tricky, for two reasons. One is that the traditional metrics of volume and outputs, like ad equivalency or impressions, are outdated and inadequate. Again, the comparison to advertising doesn’t really measure what PR does well. The second challenge is that the research needed to demonstrate PR’s value is sometimes as expensive as the program itself. The good news here is that as social media adoption grows, things like sentiment, message delivery, impact, and action are now trackable.

This post was originally published in a slightly different form on MENG Blend.

Charlie Sheen For President?

Celebrities-turned-politicians aren’t new … but this one caught our attention. A recent poll from Public Policy Polling revealed that independent voters favor Charlie Sheen over Sarah Palin for President by a 41/36 margin. Sheen’s “winning” outcome is even more surprising given that he’s the “most unpopular” figure they’ve ever polled about, with 67% of respondents indicating an unfavorable opinion of him.

People having fun with pollsters? Residual affection for dad Martin Sheen, our TV president for seven years on NBC’s “West Wing”? Let’s hope. But the survey also speaks to the power of non-stop media coverage, and, maybe, to our lack of faith in the political establishment. Sheen’s antics don’t seem to end, especially now that he’s launching a one-month tour across the US.

How many would really vote for a self-proclaimed warlock with Adonis DNA and “tiger blood”? If you could pick any celebrity to be President, who would it be and why? Let us know below.

PR By Another Name: Public Relations and the "New" Competition

The chemistry was great, our experience perfect, and they loved the proposal. But, in a twist, the account went to a “digital brand management” shop whose website touts its ability to drive visibility and engagement.

PR by another name? The “creative destruction of PR“? It’s true that social media has changed the game for our business, and mostly in a good way. The blurring of the PR/marketing line is a gift for firms who understand the social Web.

But there’s a flipside. Just as we’re hungry for more of the social marketing pie, digital marketing firms, branding agencies, social media consultants, and others are eyeing it, too. Last year, a prospect told me he was placing funds earmarked for PR into SEO. He needs a quick fix, and he doesn’t think PR can provide it. And he’s right.

So, how can we benefit from the blurry line? Expansion is one way. Late last year Edelman announced Ruth, an in-house integrated marketing unit offering a laundry list of marketing services, from branding to mobile marketing. In my view, it’s tough for a company whose core business is PR to attract top talent in all non-core areas. But, a mega-firm needs to tap all budgets, and it’s probably a defensive move, too.

But short of being all things to all clients, we should look at how the need is articulated…or how we can frame it. As a marketing PR person for so many years, I fall squarely into that camp in the debate over where PR belongs. But for marketing issues, PR is rarely the sole answer, and our strategy has to fit into the larger picture. The typical PR program isn’t designed for quick (and often, temporary) demand generation.

But where reputation is an issue, we tend to come out on top. Last month, we won an online assignment as the sole PR contender in a field of digital marketing firms. One reason was in how we sized up the issue together. Not as a purely online threat subject to SEO “dark arts” or social media magic. We discussed it as a critical and long-term reputation issue, best addressed through “education” (read: PR.) The client agreed.

So, maybe it’s a wash. But, I’m convinced that PR remains the most flexible, credible, and powerful tool for most communications issues, so I’m keeping tabs on the one that got away.

The Idea-File-Phile

What do you do with all the good ideas you come across, whether business or personal? Do you see a great website and bookmark it? Spot a creative email and shove it in a folder? Tear out a magazine page and stick it in a binder?

Do you ever look at them again?

I propose that you take an hour a week to reign in all your best ideas and make a file. The cloud works better for some; for others, it can be a shoebox. The point is to get all the creative thoughts into a place that you can both remember it and access it when you need it.

This past Christmas I wanted a particular gift for someone and knew I had kept it in a “good idea file” but had to ask: was it a file in a drawer or on a drive? I later found I had it on both. Overkill? Maybe, but as a good idea-file-phile, I believe that more is more.

To generate more of your own good ideas, read this post from the Freakonomics guys. It makes the case that great ideas don’t come from lone geniuses, but from connected networks. Be sure to bookmark and stick in your ideas file!

If PR Is A Woman’s World, Why Do We Earn Less?

The feminization of the PR industry is undeniable, and it’s not a particularly good thing. For one, it hurts diversity. And it’s been widely noted that the domination of any profession by women tends to have a depressing effect on salaries. A recently debated 2007 PRSA study confirmed what we already knew: that men earn up to $30,000 more than women for the same work. Now, that is depressing.

It’s International Women’s Day, and we’re reminded of the enormous challenges faced by women the world over, as well as the stubborn salary inequity here at home. In fact, the big-picture statistics make the PR wage gap seem like small change, and one that’s easily closed. With our advantages, we should be able to catch up quickly in a female-dominated industry, shouldn’t we?

Yet, the gap persists, probably because 80% of senior PR managers are male. But, why? Women take time off to raise children, of course. Yet, even allowing for family leave and “mommy trackers,” the gap is wider than it should be, say the experts.

Some say women just need time, but that doesn’t wash. Females have dominated PR for decades, yet the number of C-level women at large PR firms is static or declining. And, I hate to say it, but just because women are in HR and middle management does not mean that we hire and promote in our own image. On the contrary, the feminization of PR makes qualified men more sought after…and very possibly, better paid.

But there’s another likely reason for the salary gap. Apparently, women don’t ask for what they’re worth, either when starting a new job, or afterwards. A Carnegie Mellon study showed that women ask for raises or promotions 85% less often than male counterparts. The study is rife with discouraging facts, but for my money, the most telling are the metaphors chosen by the participants. While men compare salary negotiations to a sports competition, a majority of women liken them to a visit to the dentist. Ouch.

I think we’re on to something here. It’s hard to catch up if you’re behind at the starting gate. In today’s workplace, you have to negotiate, ideally from a position of confidence and in a spirit of win-win. To do that, you need to believe you’re worth it. I do think women know their worth, but my suspicion is that, in PR, where we’re often trained to promote others while we stay in the background, we wait for recognition. As Professor Karen Pine, a psychology professor and co-author of “Sheconomics,” puts it, “Many women think, ‘As long as I work really, really hard, someone will notice and they will pay me more.’” But they don’t.

Clearly, there are many things at work in the PR business. Women can benefit from better mentoring, more flexible work schedules, smart use of technology, and an “old-girl” network at the top. These and other factors have been noted by PRSA, The Council of PR Firms, and the handful of women who run large agencies.

But, it pays to ask. So, I have a suggestion for every woman out there who thinks she’s underpaid. Behave as if you were promoting your most important client, – yourself. Gather the facts, make the case, take your inspiration, and pitch. And then, keep on pitching. And don’t take no for an answer.

I Just Texted To Say "I Love You"

Did anyone call you to tell you about the devastating earthquake in Japan? More likely, they texted. Or posted on Facebook. Maybe you found out in something close to real time via Twitter.

Thoughtful posts that express sympathy and support in the wake of a tragedy are normal and welcome – particularly when they’re tied to fundraising, like Verizon’s free calling and donation program.  Yet, some things, in business anyway, are still best handled by an actual conversation. And here they are:

1)    You want to convey real enthusiasm or joy. You just landed your client a plum story want them to hear the excitement in your voice and vice-versa.

2)    You need to express genuine sadness. A colleague has experienced a loss – condolence calls are not good text fodder.

3)    An explanation is required. You’re ending a contract or changing someone’s role. You need this to be a real conversation, not an IM.

Has your voice-to-voice behavior changed? How do you communicate in the above situations? Skype? Direct-dial? An expanded library of emoticons?