Time Management and the "Laborious" Life

It’s Labor Day weekend, and I certainly hope most people will celebrate by not doing labor. I mean, we’re all so busy, especially in PR!  But are we being honest about how we spend our time?
Start from the premise that we all have 168 hours per week, which sounds like a lot. And out of those hours, many would say we work about 45-50 hours a week and try to sleep 7-8 hours a night. Many have a one-hour commute each day. We have now used up about 100 hours, what are you doing with the other 68?

Perhaps you’d like to be:
• Exercising at least three times a week
• Eating (preparing and enjoying your meals, a bit more on weekends)
• Binge-watching your favorite shows
• Family time/entertainment
• Catching up on your reading

If your current time allotment is just not working for you, here are some ways to improve your laborious life:

Keep a time log. Track time to keep you from spending it mindlessly and to keep yourself honest. Write down what you’re doing as often as you remember for at least a week. Add up the totals. Checking social media five times a day at six minutes a pop adds up to two-and-a-half hours in a workweek — curiously, the exact amount of time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends we exercise.

Be honest. While humble-bragging Americans claim to sleep only five hours per night, time logs show many of us do actually get the prescribed eight or more. One study tracking people’s estimated and actual workweeks found that those claiming to work 70, 80, or more hours were logging less than 60.

Set goals. Ask yourself what you’d like to do with your time; perhaps adding more exercise by swapping out a couple hours of purposeless web trawling. See where in your 168 hours you could make that happen.

Change your language. Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” which is often a perfectly adequate explanation. “I have time to clean out my closet, but it’s not a priority.” Other things are harder. “I keep cancelling the dentist because my health is not a priority.” Changing up our terminology reminds us that time is a choice – some of it anyway – and we have to balance how we spend our precious time!

Smart PR Move of the Week: "I’ll Send You to Belize"

On AMC’s irresistible “Breaking Bad,” now in its final season, “going to Belize” isn’t a good thing. It’s a threat. So when in a recent episode, the sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman (played brilliantly by Bob Odenkirk) suggests that a troublesome character could be, um…”sent to Belize” – well, use your imagination. It didn’t mean mojitos and coastal sunsets, unless that’s your idea of the afterlife.
Fans smirked at the reference, and the Belize Tourism Board noticed. But instead of getting mad and overreacting, as some might have done, or shrugging, as most would have done, the Belize group saw an opportunity.

It moved quickly to take advantage of the mention and to turn a negative reference into positive visibility for the destination. A few days later, Belize invited show runner Vince Gilligan and its key cast members, including stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, to enjoy an actual vacation in Belize, all expenses paid.

The invite was filled with the kind of inside-baseball details that only a true “Breaking Bad” fan would know, and the timing was ideal, since the show recently wrapped after five successful seasons, and the cast is surely in needs of some creative down time (although presumably well able to pay their own way.)

The Belize Tourism Board broke news on its Twitter account with a quirky invitation, where it was picked up by show fans and even covered by The New York Times and other outlets. And though it likely won’t have to make good on the offer of free vacations, it did reap the PR benefits.

There are those times when a well-crafted PR response flows like another day at the beach. Well played, Belize Tourism Board.

5 Ways Employers Can Maximize the Intern Experience

by Crenshaw Communications intern Hilary Dillon

Internships are a “win-win” for students interested in a career in PR and for employers with busy workplaces in need of high-energy staff. At some point during an internship, the student will know whether the industry is right for them. Much has been written about how to succeed from the intern perspective; my tips, therefore, are for employers who want to maximize the experience for the intern.

Set expectations. It’s important for an intern to understand exactly what their role is, and to revisit the goals as necessary. Set up weekly meetings to discuss goals and answer questions. Even the most intrepid intern can be intimidated, so encouraging discussion is key.

Set the bar high, but be reasonably so. The goal of a motivated intern is to reach his or her full potential during this employment. Employers should push and give them more responsibility as warranted; the job is aspirational, after all! But it’s best to be practical with the amount of work assigned and to phase it in gradually. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, especially in a new position, when a younger employee is learning to balance and prioritize.

Value intern input. Interns sometimes have trouble “finding their voice” within the company, as they are the lowest on the totem pole. But encourage them to speak up and take initiative. If they present a problem, encourage them to think of solutions. In brainstorms, solicit their input, and listen! Sometimes fresh input is valuable.

Make mistakes “teachable moments.” Mistakes are bound to happen. The best way to deal with a young intern’s error is to turn it into a learning opportunity. In the first few weeks of my internship, I had to deal with an outside source involving the shipping of a broken banner for an event. Without realizing it, I sent a very harsh email to a vendor. My supervisor presented me with the note and asked me to spot the mistake, then draft another note. The vendor didn’t even notice, but now I am careful to use a professional tone with clients and vendors.

Give them the keys to succeed. In this case, literally! Give interns access to some social media projects. The millennial generation is known for its tech savvy and social awareness, so why not tap into it? Another way to help them succeed is to give them a mentor. Have them work directly with one person. A mentor can help alleviate the frustrations that interns often feel in the first few weeks of their new position. In the PR world, a good mentor also reiterates the value of networking and building relationships.

Any other words of wisdom you’d like to share with employers?

How To Be A Thought Leader (A PR Perspective)

Becoming a thought leader—everyone’s always talking about it, but who’s really doing it?  It’s a cliché in PR and marketing circles.  We tend to promise clients we can help make them a thought leader, pepper our proposals with the term, and invoke “thought capital” to differentiate corporations and their most marketable attributes.

So, what is thought leadership, and how is it attained?

While it’s not as easy as it sounds, thought leadership status is more attainable in times of rapid technology and social change… in other words, like now.  In my book, it’s not just about visibility or strong expertise although both are highly desirable.  True thought leadership requires a blend of innovation, insight, and influence.

The easiest way to achieve that status, of course, is to be first.  A handful of early bloggers, like Chris Brogan or Mack Collier, were able to parlay their status and insight into enduring influence, helping marketers and communicators interpret and anticipate change.  As a company, Amazon.com is a good example of a thought leader, given its early bet on the impact of e-commerce, and, later, web services, at a time when many doubted the wisdom of the investment.

But most of us haven’t had the luck to have been in the right place at the right time and the prescience to have realized it.  So, in the spirit of thought leadership about, well, thought leadership, here’s my list of essential behaviors and qualities common to past and current people and brands that fit the bill.

Six Essential Thought Leadership Behaviors

They’re about ideas.  PR educator Bill Sledzik points out that John F. Kennedy was a thought leader when he rallied Americans to put a man on the moon before 1970.  It wasn’t a new concept, but it captured the public imagination like few others, and it served as a metaphor for American ingenuity, competitiveness, and idealism.

They have focus.  “Go vertical or go home,” is how author Daniel Ramus puts it.  It’s far easier to stand out and thwart imitators if the field of expertise is narrow or niche.  So while it’s a challenge to be recognized as a thought leader in marketing, it may be more feasible to earn the label based on expertise in new forms of marketing segmentation or online behavioral marketing.

They package the message.   Often an idea or trend is staring us in the face, but he who identifies and names it can take the credit.  Malcolm Gladwell had some excellent and insightful observations about the spread of ideas and memes, but it was only after he packaged his observations under a label borrowed from epidemiology that “the tipping point” was born.

They take risks.  Many true thought leaders are naturally contrarian.  If it’s legitimate, one of the quickest routes to recognition is to zig when others zag.  The quintessential example here, of course, is Steve Jobs.  He was never afraid to swim upstream, and he took risks in rejecting market research and other conventions of product development.

They offer hope.  Part of inspiration is to offer a path to progress, particularly in a dynamic, troubled, or rapidly changing industry.  Andrew Zolli elevated his own brand from “foresight expert” to true thought leader with his book, Resilience:  Why Things Bounce Back, in part due to its hopeful insights for a cynical audience saturated with dire prophesies about the fate of the natural environment.

They take the long view.  Laura Ramos of Forrester says it well when she writes about the “authentic generosity” necessary for B2B thought leadership.  It’s almost never about profiting from ideas in the short term; rather, it comes from a deep understanding of the problems of customers or colleagues, and it takes patience.  They literally give it away, but the fruits of true thought leadership include more and deeper relationships with customers, which is a key ingredient for business health and growth.

This post originally appeared on MENGOnline.

Back To PR School

PR is fast-paced, ever-changing, and always a learning experience. That’s why it’s essential to go back for a “refresher” every once in a while to make sure you stay at the top of your game. In the spirit of the back-to-school season, here are a few classic best practices and some “in the now” tips to keep you skill-savvy after vacation.

Be a (News) Sponge PR is a news-centered industry, and new tools and tools can translate into a competitive edge. What better way to gain insight into emerging trends topics than by becoming a news junkie? Try downloading Pulse, which brings some of the day’s top headlines to one simple interface. PR pros can stay tuned in to what matters most: the news.

Keep Your Cool Difficult and stressful situations arise constantly in PR, which is why it’s imperative to keep a level head at all times. Stay solutions-focused by turning to time management apps like SmartTime.

Stay Detail-Oriented Details are everything in PR, so be sure to always double, and even triple-check the fine print. Ask questions, highlight areas you want to go back to, take notes and make to-do lists. With apps such as any.do, which prompts you to review your to-do lists and notes, you will stay on top of every project with ease.

Organize Life in an agency can be hectic, but PR practitioners can manage the ebb-and-flow by starting with a manageable workspace. Most importantly, be sure to give your workplace a little sprucing up from time to time; you’d be surprised what a little decluttering and updated storage can do.

Communicate Rarely in PR is a task ever touched by just one individual, meaning that inter-team communication is a necessity! Consider employing smart apps like Intelli IM– which syncs your office communications across multiple platforms and provides notifications even when the app is closed, to ensure that each member is looped in no matter how far-flung the team.

Manage Social Media In PR, social media matters like never before. Don’t be left behind on the coolest and buzziest platforms. Over a billion people use Facebook, so you probably take it for granted, but have you checked out any of the new social resources like BranchOut or Cubie? Each day social media is becoming more and more entrenched in our digital lives, so don’t be afraid of going and checking it out, or maybe even giving a few popular apps and sites a whirl. Furthermore, once you have come to terms with social media be sure to use tools like Hootsuite and Buffer to take the strain and pain out of scheduling and managing your various social media feeds.

Google Hasn’t Killed The PR Industry

It’s good for any profession to have a few bomb-throwers, and PR is no exception. People who challenge, bait, or even criticize an industry can make it better. That’s why I’ve always been interested in Tom Foremski’s take. His 2006 post, “Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die!” remains my favorite attack on the lowly press release, and, indirectly, on PR.

Foremski’s most recent post, Did Google Just Kill PR Agencies?’ is in the same hyperbolic vein. It comes in response to new rules that Google handed down regarding press releases. Essentially, Google has further tightened its policies in an effort to rid the industry of keyword-stuffed announcements of dubious quality. Google is now requiring that “anchor text” and URLs within press releases be converted to no-follow links, or links that don’t count towards page rank.

In other words, Google has just made it harder to spam the web through crappy content disguised as news.

So the problem with Foremski’s conclusion is that, while inflammatory and entertaining, it’s wrong, and any agency person can tell you that. The reports of our death are greatly exaggerated.

The majority of PR firms don’t spend time posting irrelevant press releases crammed with keywords for temporary search traction. That’s the purview of small businesses and bargain-basement practitioners who can’t really claim to be professionals.

The irony of Foremski’s latest is that Google’s new rules will probably strengthen the hands of legitimate practitioners. Here’s why:

PR is not about manipulating search results. Ninety percent of professionals spend their time identifying, shaping, and telling stories on behalf of clients. And most don’t have enough SEO knowledge to game the system even if they wanted to.

Press releases amount to a fraction of what we do. They’re a tool, and like any tool, they can be used well or poorly.

“Earned” media is still the heart of publicity results. That’s the opposite of paid, which is what the Google crackdown is all about.

Press releases should be written for….the press. Yes, PRs today interact directly with customers and others through social media, but there are still journalists out there, and releases should fill their needs.

Good clients don’t use press releases as an SEO tool.  Any business using enhanced releases for SEO or online marketing deserves to be downgraded by Google.

SEO isn’t the new PR. In fact, PR just may be the new SEO.

5 Steps To A Successful Twitter Chat

Twitter chats are a great way to interact with followers and fans, and also to cultivate a better understanding of your community.  A Twitter chat is an online, public forum that revolves around a central conversation theme.

For PR folks, Twitter chats are useful for getting your client in front of key media and influencers. When done right, they can even position a client as a leader in his or her field.

When it comes to social media, many make the mistake of going the Field of Dreams route, assuming that “if you build it, they will come” – and that’s just not the case. A successful Twitter chat requires planning and strategy. Here are some tips to make your Twitter chat a blockbuster.

Create a Plan
Twitter chats can run between one and two hours, and you want to keep the conversation flowing. Think of it as an event, and your plan as the Run of Show, because essentially that’s what it is.
Consider your target audience when choosing a theme and time. Think of a broader theme when trying to reach a larger audience, but be mindful of the time when targeting the 9-5 crowd. Lunchtime or mid evenings work best for those in the office during the day.

Own Your Hashtag
Be sure to make your hashtag unique to your client and topic in order to own and track the conversation. A simple search on Google and Twitter will ensure that your hashtag isn’t being used by anyone else, and you eliminate the risk of having off-topic tweets in your chat. A good rule of thumb on hashtags: if it’s been used more than 5 times in the last month, look for another one.

Surely you can moderate the Twitter chat by yourself, but this is a good opportunity to call on your client’s contacts (i.e. media or partner companies) to draw in a larger crowd. This will also foster organic interest from the audience. Remember, this is an opportunity to communicate candidly with your audience.

The moderator’s role is to make introductions, announce the start and end of the chat, retweet the best questions/comments and thank everyone for participating, so choose someone who can devote to the entire hour (or two).

Promote, Promote, Promote
Once the date, time, theme and moderator are set, promote your Twitter chat to your client’s followers and be sure to post on all social profiles to cast a wide net. Also, don’t forget to send an invitation to select key media as well. They may not participate, but getting your client on their radar helps to build relationships.

Let’s face it, everyone loves free stuff, so make your Twitter chat fun and interesting for your audience, and give a prize to drive traffic. It can be anything: Best question, funniest point, best product picture. Feel free to be creative here, and don’t forget to congratulate the winner on your social media channels – everyone likes a little recognition!

Next up, some of our favorite Twitter tools for chats and other real-time events.

Adventures In New Business

PR pros know that the high-stress experience of pitching a prospective client can end up being an adventure. The attendees, location, even the assignment can change without your knowing! And, of course, technology can always thwart you.

The best thing you can do is to be prepared for anything and everything. It’s a jungle out there! Here are some tips about what to expect.

Expect delays. Always assume a new business presentation will take longer than planned, especially if it’s a “beauty contest” with back-to-back meetings. A recent prospect from out of town kept our team cooling our heels for an hour while we assumed the worst – a business emergency, or a lengthy meeting with a rival agency. (We later found out the CEO had a personal errand.) The trick with delays is not to let them make you nervous; try relaxing with a mobile game or even listening to music with earphones to keep the tension at bay.

Be discreet. Some pitches are confidential, but even if not, never share details about pending new business. It can’t possibly help to clue in a competitor. Also, take care when you travel. At a recent agency shootout for a plum travel account, we ended up in the same hotel as a competitor. They, too, were rehearsing in the business center, and if we’d wanted, we could have overheard their entire pitch!  (We did the honorable thing and moved.)

Dress to impress. Assuming the execs from the cool new startup will show up in jeans? The stuffier corporate types in navy blue suits? Not always the case! Dress “safe” and be prepared for anything. This can even mean keeping a change of clothes at your desk for meetings that come up unexpectedly. Or not. Once a supervisor of mine flew to a meeting “for the day” that turned into 3 days and the client provided a clothing allowance! (ahh, pre-recession).

Lunch, what lunch? Just because your meeting is set during the “lunch hour” and someone may have indicated the team will be ordering in food, assume they’re not. Besides, you can’t eat and present at the same time. Fortify yourself ahead of time. A former colleague of ours actually passed out during a business meeting…either from hunger or nerves, we were never sure! It’s a good way to win the sympathy vote but not recommended.

Hard copies. Going “green” is a great thing, but it’s not always practical. The last thing you want is to show up ready to present with presentation backups saved in the cloud but no access to a computer projector. Technology will fail, trust us. We once had to present from a dying Dell netbook – not a winning strategy.

Date/time/location. Things get lost in translation. Triple and quadruple check meeting details, and make sure you confirm the day before. Last year, a group of us sat waiting in our conference room, prepared to the last detail, for a prospect who didn’t show. (It turned out they were waiting in a hotel uptown, and yes, we did rush there.)

What have you learned from your new business adventures?

Oh, No! This Blog Was Hacked! (Chipotle’s PR Stunt Shows Poor Taste)

Okay, the title is a joke. But did Chipotle’s fake Twitter hack legitimize the faux attack as a down-and-dirty publicity stunt? Apparently the random tweets, which include such nonsensical posts as “do i have a tweet?” and “mittens13 password leave” were part of a treasure hunt promotion based on a series of puzzles.

The promotion seems similar to alternate reality games run by blockbuster movies. But it was the fake claim, and specifically the use of the loaded word “hack,” that spiced up the story and gained Chipotle 4,000 followers and 12,000 RTs in a single day. The whole episode played as a ploy to bump up the social following.

In a way, I see the humor in it. It seems that every boldfaced name who’s tweet-blurted something regrettable has initially claimed to be a victim of a hack, with Anthony Weiner being at the top of the list. It’s beyond cliche. And a Twitter breach isn’t exactly up there with the PRISM scandal. It’s designed to be public, so there’s no confidentiality violation.

Yet the fake hack makes light of something that can happen, and if it does, it can have a serious reputation impact. More importantly, there’s the issue of trust. Chipotle is a terrific brand with a great product and customer experience (I’m a regular customer and a big fan), and although the entire hack episode was lighthearted, it was a trick.

Finally, the fake tweets were flatter than a stale tortilla. If you’re going to fib to your customers and risk their trust, at least make it entertaining!

So, for most marketing and PR types, as well as any customers who were watching, the fake hack may have been well-intentioned, but it was hard to swallow. And I hope the mixed coverage can nip the trend in the bud, but that’s doubtful. After Burger King experienced a legitimate hack, both the MTV and BET networks decided to stage their own attacks to get in on the press coverage. Chipotle isn’t the first brand to fake a Twitter hack, and it won’t be the last.