Social media: Books I want to read

July 15, 2009 at 3:51 pm (Uncategorized)

My reading list is many miles long, but given how many great books are out there, it’s always getting longer as I continue to stumble across new prospects. This Social Media Reading List is one of the culprits adding to that list (but in an absolutely great way).

It’s a good one. Check it out.

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My quest for productivity

July 10, 2009 at 7:00 am (Personal Growth) (, , , , , )

The first time I read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, I was just out of college and starting in my first job. I remember getting all my manila file folders in order, buying a Brother labeler, and looking forward to how productive I would be with my new system.

Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. 🙂

So I’m giving it another try. I’ve started reading the book again on my Kindle in an effort to get the “mind like water” that Allen talks about. I’d really like to figure out what time management system works for me. While I’m primarily a digital native that shuns the mess paper often creates, I find I also like to scribble down jots of ideas or quick to dos on my Moleskine when I’m on the move. It should be an interesting journey.

Time management is also a difficult task for communications professionals and knowledge workers in general. How does one balance creativity with organization and attention to detail? It’s no easy feat, but one I’m determined to tackle in earnest over the next month. I’ll document my progress here, but in the meantime, I’d like to hear about your preferred time management strategies. I feel like it’s not really a topic that’s addressed by PR professionals in the blogosphere. 

So what’s your personal organization method of choice? GTD? Franklin Covey? Please do share your wisdom for the rest of us still trying to figure it out!

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5 PR Lessons from Ben Franklin

July 9, 2009 at 7:00 am (PR Musings) (, , , , , )

Over Christmas last year, I finished a 500-page tome on Ben Franklin, which I loved. Our fascination with him is timeless. As is usually the case, my pragmatic mind is always thinking of what I can take from my readings and apply to real life, so I couldn’t help thinking that so much of Franklin’s best habits were absolutely applicable to my work in PR.

Sure, he had his faults, but the guy accomplished multiple lifetimes’ worth of achievements over the course of his 84-year life. Beyond working behind the scenes on the Declaration of Independence,  the French Treaty and Britain Treaty, all of which were integral to our success on the American Revolution, his early days had a lot of exciting discoveries. Community leader who formed the first local militia, firehouses, police force and lending library. One of the first media barons, using the printing press repeatedly over the course of his life to trumpet his causes and that of others. World-renowned scientist who conducted numerous experiments over his lifetime, cornering electricity being one of them.

So what can we learn from Franklin’s method of practice?

1. Practice makes perfect: Wash, rinse, repeat until you get it.

Franklin is known as one of the best writers of all time. What many don’t know is that he practiced hours and hours in order to hone his craft. He would make outlines from his favorite articles, put away the original text, and use the outline to write his own version of the article. Then he would compare the two side-by-side and critique his writing to improve it. The point is, he just kept writing and writing and consistently worked to become better. And he never stopped. In PR, you do the same. You keep making calls, writing pitches, networking in the flesh, and honing those skills indefinitely because you can always get better. 

2. Be an agent of action.

While Franklin was a great thinker, he was a doer first and foremost, and that was why he was the best practiced and most accomplished American of his day. When he had an idea, was alerted to anything that he wanted to comment on, his turnaround time was impressive. Oftentimes he would write up something for his printing press within a matter of hours after figuring out his next step.  It’s easy to read, theorize, and come up with strategies around your next steps, but without action it’s useless. Don’t fall victim to someday syndrome. Going forth and making mistakes is better than sitting still and letting the world pass you by.

3. Know your audience.

Franklin was well known for his sly way of presenting his case in a way that supported the recipients’ best interests as well as his own. His juggling of the French and British while negotiating the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War is legendary and has been called one of the smoothest diplomatic maneuvers of our entire history.  While living with the French for many years, he integrated himself into the French culture and endeared himself to the French however he could. Wearing a coonskin cap to fashion himself as the quintessential backwoods American. Selling American flags as a souvenir to the French to raise money for the war. Appealing to France’s ideological sensibilities to rally them to America’s cause. Using France’s enmity with Britain to present an alliance with America as a smart political move.

4. Always prepare to present your best.

Franklin always came well prepared – he was known to bring notes to all his meetings AND record the conversation after when it was fresh in his mind. One of the biggest complaints about PR is that we don’t do our research. We don’t think ahead. We’re lazy, incompetent flacks just looking to get a “quick hit.” Let’s change that!

5. Improve your bedside manner and know how to schmooze.

Franklin was the king of networking. While he had quite a few enemies, they were greatly outnumbered by his many friends and allies. Also, while he knew a plethora of very important people, his less famous friends in various places were often the ones that helped him to best exert his influence. Franklin hated pompousness and enjoyed meeting anyone with good ethics and an engaging love of intellectualism like himself. Too many PR people do not know how to do this! Improve your bedside manner and don’t get so caught up in who’s important or benefits your own selfish interests.

I encourage you to check out Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. It’s a great read that will inspire you, no matter what profession you work in.

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The Karma of Networking

July 8, 2009 at 7:00 am (PR 101) (, , , , , )

Networking is such a buzz word, particularly for PR people. Who do you know? What relationships can you leverage for your clients? Who do you have an “in” with? A former colleague of mine once told me that as a PR pro, “your contacts are your currency.” And in many ways, she is right. The way that a lot of people size up a PR pro is based on the number of “heavy hitters” she has in her proverbial Rolodex.

While there’s no denying the importance of networking for PR pros, it seems to me that some young PR pros have the wrong idea of how to go about networking in a way that will be mutually beneficial to the PR pro’s individual brand as well as to that pro’s clients.

Let me give you a scenario. I’m at an industry-flavored event (a social media panel, a Web 2.0 presentation, what have you) and afterwards, my colleagues and I feel the urge to “network” a bit afterwards with anyone we find particularly interesting. Too often I hear this response: “Well, y’know, I don’t really see anyone here that would be a fit for my clients. I’ll wait for you guys while you network, and then let’s skedaddle.”

This is NOT the kind of attitude young PRs should be taking in regard to networking. I see too many people that look at networking as a burden and a chore, yet another way in which they are required to “work” at building relationships for clients. This is the absolute WRONG way to look at networking.

When it comes to networking, you should leave your business interests when you leave your cubicle. Why? It’s really very simple: People hate being used or treated like they are only valuable to you because of their ability to help you.

This is not to say that your clients and/or business interests won’t come up naturally in the conversation (you definitely SHOULD have brief talking points prepared on your clients that you can whip out at a moment’s notice. Tomas Carrillo over at The Closet Entrepeneur has a great “elevator pitch” how-to here). But let it be an afterthought to the convo, not the reason for its inception. People will be able to tell you’re trying to start a self-serving conversation if you begin the dialogue with “so have you heard about XX company and how awesome they are?” Or if you start by being too inquisitive into what your conversation partner does (i.e. conveying this type of attitude: “Sooo…should I keep talking to you or move on to someone more important?”). Let the conversation evolve naturally. “So, what brings you here tonight?” “Having a good time?”

And that is the karma of networking. You should network with the knowledge that every person is valuable and should be treated as such, whether or not they seem to have an initial purpose for your current interests. Then, later on down the line, karma will no doubt come back to benefit you. You should never base your choice to network with someone on the clients or business-related interests you have. Your clients will not be around forever, but hopefully the contacts you build throughout your career will stand the test of time. You never know whether or not a contact you make now that seems irrelevant may come back to benefit you later on.

Worst case scenario: you will meet someone interesting that doesn’t happen to hold any on-the-face value to what you’re working on for your clients. So what? Big whoop. One of the reasons why I enjoy the PR industry is that I am encouraged to get out there and meet people. And many of those people are interesting, dynamic individuals that provide me with an exciting range of conversations and dialogue.

Wouldn’t it be great if journalists, bloggers, and other important folks thought of you as “that gal that loves to water ski” or “that guy that blogs about marathoning” instead of “the flack that reps XX company”?

Repeat after me:

  • I will NOT network for selfish reasons, because networking genuinely and without an agenda will give me good karma.
  • I will network for the pure pleasure of meeting new and exciting people, with the knowledge that the relationships I build may end up benefitting me beyond this mere pleasure of good company in the future.

Now take three deep breaths, and repeat until it really sinks in. There, doesn’t that feel better? Now get out there and start meeting people, just for fun, and see how many great and worthwhile connections you can make when you’re not constantly angling for the “pitch.”

Some other great resources for honing your networking skillz:

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Are you a PR champion for your clients? Five ways to get there

April 7, 2009 at 8:00 am (PR 101) (, , , , , , )

As the economy continues to plummet and unemployment reaches a 25-year high, many of us are thankful to be engaged in good, honest work. Standards have also skyrocketed. Beyond checking in for the 9 to 5, we are required to be more efficient, persuasive and successful at meeting our goals. Our livelihoods depend on our ability to adapt quickly to rising expectations.

The increased pressure of cubicle life extends even more forcefully to your clients. Now more than ever before, companies shelling out the big bucks for PR expect not just results, but a tangible passion from their PR team. The savviest companies realize they’re not just paying a vendor – they’re enlisting a trained team of enthusiastic advocates that can get behind their product and authentically champion their brand to mainstream press, bloggers or their consumer base.

Time is limited, and a prized resource in these troubling times. But a few small investments of time can establish a solid relationship with your client that should weather you through the storms.

1. Know the business. Spend some quality time getting to know your client’s product. Pretend you’re the end user and you have to decide if this product is worth your energy. Are you excited about the product? Feeling just “meh” about it? Let your client know. He or she will appreciate your investment in their product and your knowledge of their core business will make you a valued asset in the development and promotion process.

2. Look for the competitive edge. Do some industry reading. How does the competition stack up to your client?  Are there strengths the client has that you can capitalize on? Weaknesses that need addressing? Become an expert on your client’s space and look out for how you can leverage the competitive advantage. 

3. Don’t be a “yes” man. If you have doubts about a proposed strategy, say so.  Speak up. Start a productive dialogue. Demonstrate that you have the client’s best interests at heart, and provide compelling reasoning to prove it. You’re not being paid to affirm the client’s ideas about PR. They are paying you for your expertise. Make it clear that you are ardently thinking about the future of their business and advocating the most effective strategy for promoting it.

4. Imagine you’re the boss. What if you were running your client’s company? Think of what fears, hopes and dreams would overtake your mental energy. What would keep you up at night? Your client will usually share these answers with you, but putting yourself in their shoes provides a more colorful picture of reality. Work on anticipating those thoughts and thinking from the bigger picture perspective as a business owner.

5. Be an advocate even when you’re “off the clock.” We’re often required to attend networking events after hours to build contacts and rub elbows with new and different people. Do you have your 10 to 30-second elevator pitch at the ready? You never know when you might need to advocate your client at the appropriate moment to a relevant person.

Your client is pouring their heart and soul into their company. If you commit to mirroring that passion in the work you execute on their behalf, they will appreciate your efforts (and continue to keep you employed!).

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Reading on the iPhone rocks, thank you Stanza!

October 4, 2008 at 2:41 pm (iPhone Obsessions, My Fabulous Life) (, , , , )

I watched the Jane Austen Book Club last night. It’s a great movie that I highly recommend if you’re a big Austen fan like myself. Beyond making me want to read the book version (since we all know the book is nearly always far better than the film rendition) it reminded me of the fact that it’s been a few years since I last read one of the original Austen novels.

I thought I would test out a new iPhone book reader app my resident Apple expert Terry Chay told me about, Stanza, since he mentioned you could read a lot of the classics for free there. Sure enough, within minutes I had downloaded a free version of Pride and Prejudice to my iPhone and had my nose buried in a book, so to speak.

I can’t emphasize enough how incredibly easy it was, not only to get the book uploaded to the phone, but also how great the interface was for the actual act of reading the book. What a cool concept! No need to buy another version of the book (I’m sure I have one or two copies lying around my apartment somewhere) and I can read it on-the-go, wherever I am, whether that’s a dentist’s office waiting room, when I’m on BART, or just want to curl up on my couch and settle in for some serious reading time.

I’ve taken a few screenshots from my phone so you can see it in action. It was listed as one of the top 11 iPhone apps by TIME Magazine and was rated five out of five stars on iPhone Alley. I’ve also started following them on Twitter.

[Image of “The Jane Austen Book Club” DVD cover courtesy of FlixRay]

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A feel-good Friday post: The magic of mentors

September 26, 2008 at 1:29 pm (inspiration, Personal Growth)

I had dinner with one of my favorite mentors last night (Nicole Rodrigues of Voce Communications), and it reminded me of how essential it is to have mentors guiding your professional life, no matter what industry you work in.

I can’t tell you how inspiring it is to hear from someone older, wiser, and more experienced than me. All of our dinner conversations over the years have given me invaluable guidance about planning for the career path that will bring me to my goals and dreams.

I have so many mentors  it might seem ridiculous to some – about 10 total – but in my mind, you can never have too many. Especially when mentors can come to you from so many different areas of your life: Your parents, significant others, close friends, colleagues present and former, teachers and professors…the list continues on.

The important thing is to make sure you always have someone you trust that can be an advisor, sounding board, and all-around rock as you navigate through the treacherous waters of life.

In particular, one piece of advice Nicole gave me last night really resonated with me: Think of every step of your career as a stepping stone toward your ultimate goal.

Your first priority is to figure out where you ultimately want to end up, and every decision you make in your career should support that vision. A lot of times it’s easy to get mired in the day-to-day grind, and before you know it, months and then years go by in the blink of an eye. How do you know you’ll be where you want to be? The only way is to consistently evaluate your life and career goals and make sure you’re staying on track.

Getting a mentor is step one. Good mentors will give you candid and honest advice and look out for your best interest whether you’re going through a rough patch or celebrating your successes.

Need a mentor and don’t know where to start? There are a lot of resources out there, but here are a few of my faves:

I’m also a big believer in paying-it-forward, so I try to be a good mentor to my friends and colleagues as well. I want to be just as open and available to others as my mentors are to me, especially because the newcomers of today are the leaders of tomorrow. Building those relationships early will always come back to you with positive karma.

[The above image, I Will Give You An Advice by ambergris on Flickr, used under Creative Commons]

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Why the Publicity Bubble in PR Begs Popping

September 17, 2008 at 10:14 am (PR Musings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

 There’s been talk lately about the PR pro’s evolution from publicist to social media strategist. While I wholeheartedly support the increased attention to social media, the underlying message is disconcerting. For too long, media relations and the hot pursuit of “ink” has been our reason for being. Let’s pop that bubble right now.

PR has never meant press relations, but to look at the industry’s widespread propagation of that mantra it would seem that is the case. How is it that we term ourselves publicists, when our true role encompasses so much more? Perhaps if we treated the industry as a more strategic practice instead of focusing on getting a stack of clips, we’d have more seasoned and capable professionals in the field instead of an army of cold callers smiling, dialing, and pissing off droves of journalists and bloggers in the process.

It’s interesting that despite the growth of social media and the decline of mainstream media, the importance of the latter has stayed virtually the same. There’s still a lot of resistance, most of all from PR professionals, to admit that traditional media relations is declining in importance and we live in a brave new world where social media is taking over.

A hit in the Wall Street Journal is a great coup and will no doubt cement the reputation of your brand with your consumers, your business partners, and your competition. But it’s becoming less and less valuable to the bottom line as social media grows exponentially in influence.

One example that continues to blow my mind is when a client of mine was included in a Thanksgiving-day GMA segment – a major accomplishment for our team. The client saw thousands of inbound leads occur as a result and was pleased as punch with the results.

Imagine his (and our!) surprise a few months later when we secured the client blog coverage on TMZ – which was still a relatively small celebrity-focused news site at the time – to phenomenal results that blew GMA’s out of the water. When a niche-focused Web site can bring in more bang than a nationally-syndicated morning show, you stop and pay attention.

The Internet tips the scales in favor of social media by making it far easier to track online coverage that leads to site traffic, leads from that traffic that convert into sales, and gauge customer opinions by participating in the online discussion.

Beyond online coverage’s potential for being far more successful than mainstream media coverage, the possibilities for community engagement is endless and gives companies a better chance than ever before of dialoguing with their most important publics: The end user. These direct-to-consumer conversations are arguably the most important for a company, and PR can strategize for and drive those conversations.

Social media provides PR professionals an opportunity to take back their rightful role as big thinkers, strategists and high-touch relationship builders, relegating media relations to a more modest (and arguably more deserved) position with the rest of a company’s key audiences.

It’s no wonder most clients still value the old school “ink” and pooh-pooh social media coverage as a lesser accomplishment when we so poorly represent ourselves as mere media lackeys. Yes, it’s time to expand beyond the publicist role, but in the process, we should realize that we never should have represented ourselves so narrowly in the first place.

[The above image, “POP!” by N1NJ4 on Flickr, used under Creative Commons]

[I originally contributed this post to my friend Chris Lynn’s blog, socialTNT.]

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Shout out to my PR brother, Chris Lynn of socialTNT

August 13, 2008 at 9:01 am (SHIFT, socialTNT) (, , , , )

My good friend, mentor, editor and former colleague Chris Lynn posted on his blog today about leaving SHIFT. Last Friday was a very sad day for all of us in the San Francisco office as Chris packed up his things and prepared for the next step in his career journey.

Chris was not just a social media guru, whip-smart talent, and all-around fab PR pro to me. He challenged me to become a better professional and to strive for greater heights in my own career. He was my partner in crime at industry tech parties, someone I grabbed lunch with, the guy who made all of us in the office laugh with his good-natured humor and sharp wit and was constantly the life of the party when us SHIFTers would get together for drinks after hours. I know he’ll continue to be an integral part of my life even as he moves past SHIFT and onto the next horizon.

I’ll miss you, Chris, but I’m so happy for you and I can’t wait to see you go on to more successes in your career!

A favorite pic I took of Chris with the lovely Kristen Nicole of Mashable at StumbleUpon’s 5 million users party at 111 Minna in SF

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Our Modern Lives: Tune In or Turn Off?

April 16, 2008 at 8:26 am (PR Musings, socialTNT) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This is a post I contributed to my friend Chris Lynn’s blog, socialTNT.

With Blackberries and iPhones keeping us constantly connected to an online IV stream, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to disconnect. As of late, discussion around the problems of our “always on” lifestyles seem to be popping up everywhere. Last month, the Churchill Club held a panel on the issue of information overload. And, even more alarming, The New York Times recently chronicled the health problems–and two deaths–resulting from the demands of round-the-clock blogging. While not as severe as those tragic cases, I recently came face-to-face with my own info-addiction.

Click here to read the rest of my post on socialTNT.

[The above photo, “Streeter Seidell, Comedian” by Zach Klein on flickr, is used under Creative Commons]

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