Archive | January, 2009

Learning New Tricks

16 Jan

Ever since I can remember, I have been interested in learning how to do new things. For some reason, the learning is more important to me than the end point of having learned.

Some people are just never satisfied. I’ll admit to a bit of that. Growing up, my parents moved 14 times between my birth and finishing college. So I come by it honestly — my mom is a big believer in change. She likes the smell of new carpet, I guess.

But for me that searching is about new ways of thinking. My work is an outlet for this, in a productive way. The landscape of public affairs, PR, marketing and advertising is constantly in flux, which keeps my thinking fresh. My discovery of social media has been an outlet for me personally and a boon to my professional portfolio. Helping clients learn more about how to apply social media in the business environment has become one of my pet projects. I am impressed by how technology can help our productivity, and help us to pioneer new ways of delivering our work processes and products. Olivier Blanchard (blogger handle The Brand Builder) has a good post about this phenomenon.

Client account management is fluid–never a dull moment–and it also keeps my brain flexible. Working with people, including their infinite array of ways to surprise and engage my imagination, is fulfilling. I am fascinated by the dynamics of teamwork in the client environment. Just yesterday I facilitated a meeting that included several more junior associates that are all up-and-comers. We were brainstorming with a client, who happens to be a guru in his area of practice, and I observed such active creativity that would never have occurred via conference call or back-and-forth e-mail messages. The beauty of client engagement is the interpersonal, in-person contact that fuels our work. I was proud of our team for the ability to bring best-practice thinking to the table and infuse it with in-the-moment solutioning. You can make your agenda, plan the desired outcome of a meeting and anticipate how it will unfold, but so often it goes in a different and improved direction. In yesterday’s case, we were generating new ideas that will soon be moved into execution. It’s good to see a group’s ideas go from start to finish.

And knitting is similar. I just learned how to make cables–easier than I thought it would be. And they are just lovely. I am so proud of my cables.  Every new row of cables makes me happier. There’s a beauty in learning a new technique and repeating it row by row, letting it sink in. Mastery of one’s craft–for fun or for money–is rewarding.

Teaching is a natural progression for this admirer of change. Yesterday I led an informal lunch-and-learn session on using FastTrack for project management. I’ve found that PR professionals do not always see the benefits of this practice, but at Paul Werth Associates my colleagues understand the practical application and how this can help us to be better account managers. I would like to do more teaching in my field, and have equally enjoyed opportunities to share my knowledge of knitting with those who are learning their way.

I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn. – Albert Einstein

The teacher if he is indeed wise does not teach you to enter the house of wisdom but leads you to the threshold of your own mind. – Kahlil Gilbran, Lebanese symbolist poet and painter

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Newsflash: No Fear

3 Jan

Before the official beginning of my illustrious career at the DQ 27 years ago, I delivered newspapers.

First, it was the Columbus Citizen-Journal, then The Columbus Dispatch. There’s nothing like a newspaper delivery job to make you appreciate the hard work of stuffing and folding papers (hard to wash off that newsprint) and collecting money from people who never seem to be home. While in high school, I was the feature editor for the school paper. In my late teens, I freelanced for a community newspaper called The Reynoldsburg Reporter.

Now, I work hard landing good client news as a PR professional. The sensation is not unlike the feeling of carrying your newspaper bag on a bike: You have to pull weight from the front bag and the back bag evenly, so you don’t get thrown off balance from the front or strangled from the back. (Those of you who’ve delivered papers know what I mean.) Despite my decades-long commitment to print media, I am considering the cancellation of my local paper delivery.

Because it’s official: The Web is now the more popular news source.

Some on Facebook have joined a group about not letting newspapers die. But all the positive thinking in the world can’t change technology. In the world of news, fast is good. And in a world quickly realizing that paper is expensive and environmentally wasteful, words are best delivered digitally. And so is the Sugar Daddy for print news–advertising. It’s no surprise that papers are getting thinner and thinner. The Cincinnati Enquirer just eliminated advertising from two of its seven daily papers. Technology is speedy and cheap, and the immediacy of the Web has overtaken the process of the printing press.

It’s time to admit that the newspaper as a vehicle for delivering news is dead. In fact, technology is changing the delivery of broadcast as well as print media. Every day, good people are laid off from media jobs. There are various services documenting the downsizing phenomenon in media. And some entertaining summaries of the fallen. This one documents the demise of magazines during 2008. It’s sad but true. The Web, with its lightning-fast delivery, has replaced the once proud newspaper carrier.

Large and universally known entities like CNN, Fox, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are using technology to their benefit, leveraging all forms of media on the Web, blurring the lines between online, broadcast and print. They are not afraid to experiment with new media. It’s not a huge commitment to play with technology’s array of options and back out if it doesn’t work. Successful local media are finding their niche in community-focused stories that tell the human side of local events. Those who can best harness technology will remain intact.

Savvy PR firms are no longer pitching to the masses or trying to publicize the irrelevant. Like heat-seeking missiles, we are in search of the relevant news organizations, local, national or international, who have lured our target audience. And our pitching has to offer up visuals and a multifaceted story line. More than ever, our relevance comes from sifting through the various pieces of information and assembling a pitch package that includes all the right elements of news, delivered through the richness of multimedia.

Our pitching now had better include bloggers and citizen reporters. News organizations don’t always have the clout they once did. There are times when our pitches are first covered by bloggers, then picked up by the news organizations where they freelance. These days, there’s more than one way in–and we have to be prepared for the various points of access. This is not to be confused with pitching everything to everybody. We have to know our contacts. Relationships count.

This means setting the context for our pitches, and part of that comes from sharing mutual respect with the news media. Make no mistake, especially in the midst of constant turnover at news organizations, relationships make all the difference. What this means is that we have to be trusted sources for media, appropriately proactive in our outreach and reliably reactive when media ask us for ideas or access to sources.

New media is no longer new. These days, that’s old news. Case in point: Use of Twitter for press conferences and citizen reporter coverage of the recent Mideast crisis. Traditional and new media have become one. The best of both will remain when the dust settles.

If you’re not ready for the change that’s been underway for years, step aside before you get run over. If you are ready, come to grips with this newsflash: Constant change and progress have always been part of the news. The difference today is the speed of technology, driven by the higher proportion of the population with access to absorb and create the news.

Smart PR pros will embrace the change and help their clients navigate the unknown. Fear is not an option.

The Human Touch

3 Jan

There’s a curious sense of immediate gratification that comes from social media like blogging, Twitter LinkedIn and Facebook. A sense of having truly done something. Something that many people will see, which gives that something even more validation. It’s addictive. But can that sense of accomplishment be trusted?

Upon having posted something, people who’ve been vetted by me, have vetted me, or both, respond to that something. I wait for their reaction, intentionally or not, and get a sense of recognition and approval for having been noticed. But how genuine is this social media-driven relationship? Just because you comment on my blog, or you have friended me in Facebook, is there true quality in our engagement as human beings?

It’s intriguing how technology is changing interpersonal etiquette. Ten years ago, it was rude to talk on the phone at the grocery. Now, it’s generally accepted to simultaneously be having dinner with friends and monitoring various conversations on Twitter and Facebook via iPhone. At what point do we cross the line between the value of face-to-face interaction and the value of technology driven “friendships?” As human beings, do we have the bandwidth to manage hundreds or thousands of “friends” or “followers” — and should it be a priority to do so? There have been studies on the fallacies of multi-tasking. I think we’re in similar territory here.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the benefits of technology and social media–immediacy of information from trusted sources, interconnection capability with industry experts and peers and flattening of the world in a way that provides access for many minds to cooperatively build solutions. And more.

But I wonder, how do our most cherished human relationships suffer as a result of social media over-usage? As humans, we thrive on intimacy of relationship, with family, friends and associates. Much of this involves hugs or high-fives to celebrate, or a shoulder to cry on when it’s time to give support. These are tactile experiences. Much as we try to replicate them via interactive technology–witness the Wii or video conferencing–it’s not the same if it’s not “in person.”

My prediction for 2009: The challenge for social media evangelizers and technology gurus will be in finding a balance, a way to engage in social media that enhances and doesn’t replace true human engagement.  We still need the human touch, probably more than ever. And better ways to manage our “virtual” lives, so that our in-the-moment personal time makes a difference, in a way that we can sense–not simulate.