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!
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.
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:
- What in my opinion is THE book on networking and forming meaningful, beneficial relationships: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- The Art of Schmoozing by Guy Kawasaki
- How to Work the Room by Larry Chiang
- Networking with Jerks by Penelope Trunk
- Three Common Networking Missteps by Penelope Trunk
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!).
I’ve been reading a book on media relations that’s been a great resource for me: Media Training 101 by Sally Stewart. It’s a good primer on smart PR tactics when working with press.
The interesting thing about the book is that it’s primarily geared toward executives and business people. Not PR pros.
Why is that funny? Having worked with quite a few execs throughout my career, I can’t imagine them having the time to read a book on media relations strategy.
Many of my clients can’t find time for a good night’s sleep, let alone the 4-6 hours it takes to read a 300-page book. You understand this when you get e-mail responses from your CTO after 10 p.m. at night and realize they’re still hard at work.
Which is what led them to hire a PR firm or consultant in the first place. The reality is it takes quite a bit of training to develop smart communication strategies for your brand.
That doesn’t even take into account the man hours needed to implement the plan once you put it together.
Reading through those pages is a reminder of how much training good PR pros need in order to prove their worth as true experts in communication. This now includes knowledge of traditional media outlets, key audiences, social media platforms, and any other new communication tools pop up along the way.
PR is a lot of hard work and the bar of excellence is high. If you’re a PR pro, you know how tough it is, and if you’re a journalist or blogger, you value the good PR people that are out there.
If it wasn’t challenging for companies to communicate effectively to their various audiences, the need for PR wouldn’t exist. And that’s why good PR, the kind that uses communication tools intelligently and gets results, will never die.
I’ve fallen out of love with Facebook as of late, for personal reasons that occurred previous to the Beacon fiasco and are not connected to its privacy issues. At one point I didn’t even log in for over a week! Perhaps that’s why I missed out on all the drama and infringements on personal privacy? That said, I haven’t been able to ignore the blogstorm that’s been brewing for the past two to three weeks due to consumer outrage at the ramifications of the new advertising platform.
After numerous incendiary blog posts and media commentary on the issue, yesterday marked a turning point as we finally saw a personal response to users from the man himself on Facebook’s official blog: founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It was great to see Mark finally addressing the issues through a medium that really speaks to the Facebook community. And then I noticed his painfully obvious lack of involvement in Facebook’s blog…
On the Facebook blog, Mark has only written 4 posts in the past year plus. Yup, that’s right. Just shy of one per quarter. And all but the first post (which describes the change in the social network’s name thefacebook.com to just Facebook, in addition to forward looking thoughts on the future of the site) are reactive responses to negative rumblings from the community.
It makes me uneasy to see that nearly all of Mark’s blog posts have disagreeable associations attached to them. It would be great to see more positive posts that demonstrate his ability to communicate with users via the Facebook blog beyond using it as a personal apology page. Granted, there are a ton of other Facebook employees blogging regularly about exciting new developments in the platform, but Mark is the most publicly visible spokesperson for the company which makes his blogging presence on the site that much more important.
We’ve got to give Mark at least a few Brownie points for attempting to be transparent about Facebook’s problems with the few posts he has written. However, it would be a wise PR move on his part to communicate more frequently about Facebook’s journey as a company. Like it or not, Mark is the most public "face" in Facebook, and given Facebook’s role at the center of the social media spectrum, his active participation in the conversation isn’t just advisable, it’s essential–and not just when a crisis brings the heat.
This morning, John Biggs of CrunchGear posted on what PR people can do this Christmas to make him happy. A lot of these tips are just plain common sense that can never be over-repeated, such as:
- Don’t lie
- Don’t waste time
- Know who you’re pitching
The other tips that John includes are just great fodder for how to approach CrunchGear intelligently. This is a must read for all PRs. Let’s give John what he’s wishing for, and hope that his perception of the profession can change from viewing us as largely underhanded Grinches to gracious Santas bearing gifts of interesting products and gadgets he can actually write about. 🙂 Hat tip to Peter Himler at The Flack.