Columnist (26)

Crisis management is something you hope to never be confronted with as a professional, yet you intuitively know and understand it’s something for which you must be prepared. There are many ways to handle and manage a crisis, but it always begins and ends with a plan.

In my experience, I find that less than 10 percent of organizations actually have a crisis management protocol or plan — and even fewer actually practice their response on a regular basis. Why? The boss doesn’t view it as a priority.

Get focused on the importance of a plan

Smart bosses understand the importance of being prepared — the critical nature of practice, rehearsal and messaging.

So, for all of you without a crisis communications plan or protocol, walk into the boss’s office today and say, “I’m going to get started on our crisis communications planning.” I will bet you a doughnut you’ll get one of the following two responses: 1. “Why? What’s that for?” 2. “We don’t need that and that’s not what we’re focused on right now.”

Smart bosses already have a crisis plan in place, review it every six months like clockwork and practice it regularly. Other smart bosses that don’t have this in place are looking to their communications team to proactively suggest and develop a crisis plan in the absence of one, or in the event it’s out of date (more than a year old).

But, as we all know, most bosses just aren’t that smart

Remember, most bosses don’t think in terms of today — they think in terms of tomorrow and how what is happening today will impact and affect the future. It’s critical to impress upon them that the very nature of crisis management is designed not to make a crisis go away, but to respond professionally in a manner that makes the organization and its leadership appear to be in control and mitigate long-term negativity.

If confronted with “we can’t focus on that today, we have X next week,” remember, those types of excuses will always come up. Ask for a good time, and mention that this must be a communications and leadership priority, then work to set and get on a schedule. I encourage the use of a Gantt Chart that details involvement, timelines, anticipated delivery dates and milestones.

Outline the steps

The first step in creating this program is to get the necessary parties involved and sitting at the same table. An email with a request is probably not going to suffice. Sit down and talk to each and every stakeholder that’s part of the equation. Relate to that specific public on the benefits of this program and why they are an important piece.

Anyone who could or would have a direct response with some type of challenge that may come up and affect your external publics should be at the table. Then, you simply begin by establishing a set of protocols and criteria for exactly how you would respond in the event of a crisis.

Who is authorized to speak to the media? How do the communications channels work? Do we have a “dark site” set up? What are we trying to accomplish during a crisis?

Leadership must agree to all of this beforehand, protocols should be established companywide and they should be part of your master document. Clearly, these policies and protocols should be shared with all employees. And, this should be practiced, at least every six months, with mock drills.

Remember, this is only step one. How you communicate to the internal publics both in setting up and creating the plan, then reinforcing the protocols is critical to the success.

If there is no policy or protocol, don’t be angry when a low-level employee goes spouting off to the news media or offering up quotes and responses.

 

Rodger Roeser is owner, president and CEO of The Eisen Agency. He is also the national chairman of The Public Relations Agency Owners Association and works with other PR firms across the country to assist in their operations and profitability. He can be reached at RRoeser@TheEisenAgency.com

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 05:41

Move beyond “shiny and new”

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Say the word “innovation,” and immediately you think about business legends like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, as well as the companies they created – Apple and Amazon. Too often, however, we focus on the people who have been tabbed as innovators and the companies that develop those breakthrough products, services and solutions, such as Apple’s iPod and iTunes, or Amazon’s marketplace and unique ecosystem.

True innovation goes much deeper than a single leader’s vision. It is an all-encompassing philosophy that permeates an organization and defines its purpose for being. For me, at least, I prefer to think about innovation in its broadest terms, extending its definition to include corporate cultures and innovative management styles. Think about how Facebook and Microsoft are run, and how at both organizations employees are a key factor in the idea creation, or ideation, process.

Now, think about the breakthrough products that eventually went bust. Hopefully, you don’t have a basement full of Beanie Babies, boxes of Silly Bandz, or a home library filled with laser discs. It is more common to land on a singular breakthrough product that temporarily revolutionizes your industry rather than develop a product through a process that’s repeatable or scalable. And, just as true, no matter how innovative and creative your management team’s style may be, without the proper processes in place to push ideas through a system that takes them from mind to market, you’ll eventually have trouble keeping the lights on.

It all comes down to developing a culture imbued with innovation at its core. But this also requires having a servant culture in place where every person who works for the organization thinks about the customer first.

Consider San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels, where employees strive to create “Kimpton Moments” by going above and beyond with guests and delivering memorable experiences.

Kimpton overcomes the inherent limitations for creating new innovative products that being a boutique hotel chain includes by approaching innovation through its employee interaction – and then rewarding employees for their creativity. For example, when team members put in the extra hours to ensure world-class service delivery, the hotel chain has sent flowers and gift baskets to their loved ones. And when they create an innovative service experience, the company rewards staff members with such things as spa days, extra paid time off and other goodies.

And then there’s the Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting firm that’s known for developing innovative business processes and systems for its high-end clientele. Part of BCG’s internal process is a focus on team members maintaining a healthy work-life balance. When individuals are caught working too many long weeks, the company’s management team issues a “red zone report” to flag the overwork.

Talk about innovation! And no product, service or solution was developed, marketed or sold.

And finally, few organizations are more innovative than DreamWorks Animation. But beyond plugging out groundbreaking animated movies, the studio’s culture embraces empowerment and innovation. Employees are given stipends to personalize their workstations so that they create whatever inspirational atmosphere they need to succeed. And, as the story goes, after completing Madagascar 3, the crew presented a Banana Splats party, where artists showed the outtakes.

Not only are these three companies known for being innovative in their respective industry spaces, they also share the honor of being members of Fortune’s 2013 “Great Places to Work” list.

So how do you take the first steps toward transformation or put those initial building blocks in place to begin the journey? There’s no magic formula, but there are some common traits – and they revolve around empowerment and establishing a culture that cares. 

Innovation organizations

  • Are open-minded and ask “What if?”
  • Teach team members how to see what is not there and identify opportunities in the marketplace to take advantage of those gaps.
  • Develop cultures where innovation thrives through open and honest communication.
  • Flatten the organizational structure and recognize that innovation can come from anyone and anywhere.
  • Make innovation, itself, a cyclical and continuous process.

Stop and take an internal assessment of your organization, your team and of yourself. If you can’t check a box next to each of these five traits, stop and ask yourself why. Then begin your own journey to greatness.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013 18:48

Missed opportunities

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Nothing is more frustrating than missed opportunities — except when those missed opportunities were completely avoidable. For example, you and your organization put in the time and effort to drive prospects through the marketing funnel toward conversion. And then, when the prospect is engaged and reaches out to you, you’re not equipped to provide a timely follow-up response.

This happens entirely too often. But basic prep work on the front-end can help you avoid becoming one of those organizations whose well-planned marketing strategy is wasted.

Conversion means different things to different people. In retail, it may mean going to find a product — either online or in person. But in a different industry, it may mean that someone just wants to talk to you about helping to solve a specific problem.

Regardless of your conversion definition, the singular commonality is your ability to immediately follow up and act on the potential conversion. This is because when someone reaches out to buy a product or for help with a service, it is an emotional decision. He or she is claiming that they either need something (a product) or help with an area they do not have the expertise in.

The importance of this step in the marketing funnel is critical. Like it or not, we live in a world of instant gratification — both personally and professionally — and you must tailor your marketing efforts to accommodate it. When someone winds their way through that funnel by becoming aware of your services, having interest, and then being willing to engage and dig deeper to learn who you are, nothing kills those marketing efforts faster than failure to respond to that person.

Too often, we see conversion points that consist of a basic “email us” link on a website. It sends a note to a general email address that nobody regularly checks. Or, the company lists a phone number that reaches a general voice mail account that is rarely checked. In both scenarios, all the work required to lead a prospect to conversion is rendered moot.

Take steps to ensure conversion

So what can you do to reverse the trend and build systems that allow for more immediate conversion? Among the easiest to implement are

■  A phone number that connects with somebody who is dedicated to following up.

■  Online chat capabilities in real time

■  Marketing, through a website or other sales materials, that guarantee a 15-minute response time.

■  A well-designed form on your website that asks for four components: name, email, phone number and reason for the inquiry (any more information than that may cause prospects not to convert).

Keep it simple and swift

Many organizations simply fail to take the direct route, and as a result, they swing and miss.

Initiatives such as putting a map that points to your location as your prominent website “contact us” looks great, but how many people will actually get in their vehicle and drive over to see you?

Also, don’t underestimate the importance of offering multiple ways for people to reach you for a swift response. When it comes to today’s marketing funnel, there is no effective one-size-fits-all approach.

For example, let’s say you’re looking to refinance your house or buy a new one. This is an emotional decision. You do your research and find a company that you believe will offer the best possible rates. You reach out to them. And then, you don’t hear back for days. What happens? You lose interest.

But now, consider the result when you reach out to a company and get a return response within 10 to 15 minutes.

First, you get the information you need to make a decision. More importantly, though, that company has forged an emotional connection with you because they were responsive to your needs.

It is this emotional connection that can be highly effective in closing the final piece of the marketing funnel — conversion. And, if your organization’s marketing strategy includes optimizing your marketing spend, why would you ever overtly waste money by failing to have an effective — and immediate — follow-up process in place?

 

David Fazekas is vice president of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at dfazekas@sbninteractive.com or (440) 250-7056.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 02:34

F.U. or else!

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Calm down … those two letters in the headline are not what you might be thinking. However, it got your attention, for this leads to an important subject.

When you, or those with whom you work, don’t follow the principles of these two letters, problems occur. Not doing what these initials represent can be the difference between success and failure, cost big money, create disappointment and actually ruin relationships.

Hopefully by now you’ve figured out that F.U. stands for Follow Up. This skill is central to achieving objectives, supporting your people or customers, and maintaining your credibility. Too many people just don’t get it and consistently fail to make F.U. a part of their business regimen.

Words are cheap, but it’s action that makes the difference. Many promises are made every day such as: “I’ll get the answer and return your call soon,” or “My person will call your person so that we can get together.” Good intentions aside, if one does not make note of it, the call just might never happen.

Fortunately, only a relatively few get hit by locomotives because trains are big and people see them coming, but many are stung by bees. That’s the same with following up. Virtually no one would forget to pick up the big order, or neglect to attend a huge meeting, but too many let the smaller, yet important, matters slip through the cracks. This not only affects the person who didn’t receive what was promised, but also could significantly impede productivity.

As an example, an associate is to provide needed information first thing in the morning. Breakfast comes and goes and as the lunch hour approaches people along the line are sitting on their hands waiting. Do the math; count up what that could cost your business day in and day out. Frantically, and with a high degree of disgust, you track down the tardy offender and are appalled by the response, “Oh, sorry, it just slipped my mind. I forgot to write it down.” Sure, this can happen once but by the second or third time it becomes a pattern and the credibility of the perpetrator can be lost.

Following up is a reflection of respect. When people don’t have the courtesy of doing what they say, you begin to wonder if they can ever do it. In my companies, all those with whom I work quickly become aware of my sacrosanct F.U. policy.

Essentially after every meeting, whether a one-on-one or with a group, I assign a date for my own purposes of when what was discussed is to take place. If it was a task of significance, the date would be agreed upon with those who had to do the work.

When new employees receive a memo from me, with the unexpected “F.U.” initials in the bottom left-hand corner, many are initially stunned, thinking I’m giving them a crude ultimatum or don’t think much of their work. Fortunately, those with a modicum of common sense quickly realize that these two letters are not a pejorative as they are always followed by a numeric string that even a newbie can figure out represents a date.

I remind my team that I do not want to be their father or their baby sitter. Instead, when I ask that something be done by a certain date, and everyone involved agrees, it must happen.

Alternatively, the person assigned the task could always come back and say he or she can’t meet the deadline, don’t know how to do what was being asked, need help with the issue, or had figured out a better alternative. What could not happen is for the person assigned the task to pretend that no follow-up was required, or worse, that the covenant was never agreed upon.

Because so few follow up as promised, this presents your business with an outstanding opportunity to rise above others and create a rock-solid reputation for saying what you’ll do and then doing what you say. All it takes is a little discipline and respect for those with whom you work. It’s better to carry around a little string for your finger than run the risk of finding the proverbial rope around your neck as a result of errors of omission.

 

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 06:24

Ready, set, think

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Thinkers solve problems.

Mark Zuckerberg found a better way to connect people with friends and family through Facebook. Larry Page and Sergey Brin invented a better way to search the Internet by creating Google. Steve Jobs showed us a better way to obtain and listen to music through the invention of the iPod.

None of these examples happened by luck. Each of these great thinkers spent a lot of time working to perfect their ideas. Great thinkers are not born, they are made.

To create great products and services, you have to develop the habit of expanding your thought processes and critical thinking skills. Why? Because the human mind tends to be lazy. It tends to repeat the same thoughts unless it’s trained to explore new ideas. Great thinkers put in the effort to analyze things in new ways and not accept the norm.

We live in a negative society where bad news trumps good news and the potential downsides of an idea outshine the potential rewards. It takes a lot of effort to retrain our minds to focus on the positives and the solutions rather than the ramifications of a failed idea.

Becoming a great thinker requires an investment of time; there are no shortcuts. You have to be organized and plan for it. Take time to think about the problems unique to your business or industry. Work through the pros and cons of any idea, looking for a way to make it work. Study competing companies and leaders and gain an understanding of how they think. It’s also helpful if you always do your heavy thinking in the same location, and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Some people do their best thinking in the shower or over a cup of coffee at a cafe.

But there is one major pitfall to avoid: Don’t equate change with new thinking. Just because you are changing something does not mean you are being a creative thinker. There might be several “accepted” ways of doing something within your industry, and changing from one of the accepted ways to the other isn’t doing anything different. The goal is to identify new ways of thinking and as a result, find a new solution to a problem that no one has thought of before.

Finding these unique solutions won’t be easy, but success never is. 

One of my favorite business books, which also made it as a Broadway play and a big-screen movie, is “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” written by L. Frank Baum in 1900. My hero in this story is not the young orphaned Dorothy, nor the Cowardly Lion, the desperately in-need-of-some WD-40 Tin Man, nor even the Scarecrow in search of a brain.

Instead it is the Wizard. To understand why the dubious Wizard is my favorite character, one must get past the portrayal of him as scheming, phony and at times nasty.

To appreciate the man behind the curtain, recognize that he is a very effective presenter, though at times this ex-circus performer behaved a bit threatening. OK, he was a jerk, but the point of this column is to take you down the yellow brick road on the way to the enchanted Emerald City and corporate success.

From this tale there is a lesson that one can say all sorts of things, not be visible, and yet still have a meaningful impact.

Another takeaway is that playing this role provides plausible deniability. This absence of visual recognition is particularly beneficial in negotiating when you, as the boss, use a vicar, aka a mouthpiece, to speak on your behalf. This allows you to have things said to others that you as the head honcho could never utter without backing yourself into a corner.

Another plus is you can always throw your mouthpiece under the bus if necessary, of course, with his or her upfront understanding that sometimes there must be a sacrificial lamb. This is not only character-building for your stand-in, but also many times presents an unprecedented opportunity for him or her to learn in real time.

Perhaps the Wizard was the first behind-the-curtain decision-maker, but today this role is used frequently in business and government. In a similar vein, the “voice” of Charlie from the well-known 1970s TV series “Charlie’s Angels” was always heard, but he was never seen.

Frequently there is much to be said for using anonymity to float a trial balloon just to get a reaction. Think about a son having his mom test the waters by talking to dad before the son tells him he wants to drop out of junior high school to join the circus. Maybe that’s even how our former circus-drifter-turned-Wizard-of-Oz got his start.

In the negotiating process it is important to have a fallback when the talks hit a rough patch by instructing your vicar to backpedal, saying that he or she has just talked to the chief and the benevolent boss said, “I was overreaching with my request.”

This also serves to build a persona for the boss-behind-the-curtain as someone who is fair-minded and flexible. All the while, of course, it’s the boss who is calling the shots and maneuvering through the process without getting his or her hands dirty.

The value of using this clean-hands technique is that it enables the real decision-maker to come in as the closer who projects the voice of reason, instead of the overeager hard charger who at times seems to have gone rogue.

It actually takes a bigger person to play a secondary role behind the curtain rather than always be in the limelight. It also takes a hands-on coach and counselor to maneuver a protégé through the minefields to achieve the objective.

However, accomplishing the difficult tasks through others is true management and the No. 1 job of a leader who must be a master teacher.

After you have guided a handful of up-and-comers a few times through thorny negotiations, you will gain much more satisfaction than if you had done it yourself, while engendering the respect and gratitude of your pupils. They in turn will have learned by doing, even though they were not really steering the ship alone.

The final step is to let the subordinate take credit for getting the big job done. This will also elevate you to rock star status, at least in his or her eyes. Soon those who you’ve taught will emerge as teachers too, and the big benefit is that you will populate your organization with a stellar team of doers, not just watchers.

So, forget about the Wicked Witch of the West and move backstage for the greater good of the organization. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013 07:28

Make it count

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A few years ago, one of my friends embarked on what he deemed an ambitious, yet simple plan: Write a New York Times Best Seller.

“Ed” had reason to be optimistic: His first two books had sold well and he had successfully leveraged them to launch a burgeoning consulting practice. Ed also had a nationally known book publisher to handle distribution for this book, and he had developed a comprehensive marketing and promotions plan for the launch.

Ed felt all the pieces were in place and was sure he would succeed. His goals were two-fold: break out from the pack and grow his business, and hit the New York Times Best Seller’s list. While his head told him the first goal was more realistic, his heart was set on the second — publicly claiming it was his only true benchmark of success.

Needless to say, Ed’s book didn’t make the list. Few books do. That doesn’t mean Ed’s book was a failure. Quite the contrary, it was a huge success.

As a result of Ed’s book, he landed numerous speaking engagements with organizations and companies around the world. He began to command four- and five-figure speaking fees from those engagements, and his book was purchased and distributed to every attendee.

Further, Ed’s speaking engagements lead to dozens of private companies hiring him to provide one- and two-day seminars, where he taught executive teams how to implement the ideas he espoused in the book. Ed was also presented with numerous business opportunities for new and existing clients to tackle initiatives beyond the book’s subject matter that he had not previously considered but were related to his expertise.

Finally, Ed did sell thousands upon thousands of copies of his book in bookstores nationwide and online through booksellers like Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. His book was in the hands of the right people — and lots of them — and he had established a national profile.

Viewed through this lens, there is little doubt that Ed’s book was wildly successful — even if it wasn’t a New York Times Best Seller and even if it didn’t stack up to his primary benchmark.

This is the reality of book publishing. Each month, I speak with dozens of entrepreneurs and CEOs about their nascent book ideas and the possibility of having Smart Business Books handle development and publication of their stories and manuscripts. I begin every conversation the exact same way: “If your goal is to have a New York Times Best Seller, we’re not the right option for you.”

That’s because you should write books for the right reasons. If your only goal is getting on a best-seller’s list, then your ambitions are off the mark. Writing and publishing a book is not like a professional sports team’s season — there isn’t one winner who takes the championship and a bunch of losers who fall short. Publishing a book is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t aim high with your goals, and having your book become a best-seller is certainly one way to measure success. Setting reasonable expectations, however, is essential.

So why write a book?

One of the most important questions you should be able to answer when thinking about writing a book is, “Who is going to read it and why?”

As Ed’s story demonstrates, a book is a very useful business development tool. It is an immediate conversation starter, an excellent credibility builder and one heck of a leave-behind. If you’re engaged in marketing, why not capture your expertise through a book?

Another reason is to celebrate a milestone or establish a legacy piece. It could be for a 50th or 100th anniversary, or to recognize the history of an organization upon the founder’s retirement or death.

And, if you are interested in helping others succeed, a book is a great way to share your expertise or what makes you and your organization special. For example, if you’ve built an amazing corporate culture where productivity blossoms and innovation flourishes, the “how” and “why” are good subjects for a book. And if you’ve been involved with several mergers and acquisitions, consider sharing what worked and what didn’t, and the lessons learned along the way.

Whatever your story, the key is having a reason to share it with others. The bottom line: It’s your story. Make it count.

It’s an unfortunate fact of business — over the last 20 years, lawsuits brought on by a company’s employees are up 400 percent. Businesses are constantly striving to stay ahead of the game as it relates to employer-employee relations, seeking information and tools to protect the business from getting into long, expensive legal battles with employees.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce is answering the needs of the Ohio business community through the expanded HR Academy. Launched last year by providing HR Academy webinars, the program has expanded this year to provide even more human resource services. Businesses often don’t have the means to employ an HR professional or navigate the complicated HR laws themselves. So the Ohio Chamber’s HR Academy gives employers the tools to help them stay compliant. 

Knowing your rights as an employer is essential to protecting your business. Business owners need someone on the inside with a broad understanding of the legal issues that can affect employer-employee relations. The HR Academy is the perfect tool for business owners to make sure their HR staff is well-informed.

In addition, the HR Academy helps human resource professionals and employment lawyers stay up-to-date on the issues that can affect employer-employee relations. The HR Academy curriculum is accredited by the Society of Human Resource Management and is delivered through a series of online webinars and in-person symposiums. Participants of the program receive HR Certification Institute credits (for human resource professionals) and Continuing Legal Education credits (for lawyers).

Other products offered through the HR Academy include the following:

HR Symposiums: Held in cooperation with local chambers throughout the state, these monthly symposiums offer a variety of topics from social media in the workplace to the latest in employment law. The symposiums are presented by sponsoring HR Academy law firms.

Ohio HR Manual: Produced in conjunction with Squire Sanders, an Ohio-based law firm with employment law expertise, we now offer a comprehensive HR Manual packed with information about employment law and human resource-related matters, all presented in an easy-to-understand manner.

Employment Law Posters: Ohio law says that every employer must have its NLRA Employment posters displayed in an easily accessible area in a place of business. Failure to do so can result in a fine by the state. Business owners can make sure they are in compliance by purchasing posters from us.

Also, for the first time, we will be offering businesses an opportunity to brand the NLRA posters. A perfect “thank you” gift for anyone you do business with — clients, vendors, distributors, etc. — the posters can be branded with your company name and logo.

The HR Academy can be purchased as a yearly subscription for $1,200 that can be billed monthly and includes webinars, human resource symposiums, employment law posters, HR Books and access to HR legal experts. Items can also be purchased individually by visiting www.hracademyohio.com. 

The HR Academy webinars and symposiums are presented by sponsoring law firms with employment law expertise from around the state. The current HR Academy sponsors include Squire Sanders (Presenting Sponsor) and Baker Hostetler (Cornerstone Sponsor). Innovator Sponsors include Dinsmore & Shohl, Eastman & Smith, Jones Day, Roetzel & Andress, and Steptoe & Johnson. Fishel, Hass, Kim and Albrecht is a Partner Sponsor.

 

Beau Euton is vice president of membership for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. For more information on the Ohio Chamber’s HR Academy, contact Michelle Donovan at mdonovan@ohiochamber.com.

 

 

Tuesday, 30 July 2013 05:16

Get out of my social media sandbox

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It’s a new marketing communications argument — which “discipline” should manage the new medium of social media? Should Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn be handled by PR, advertising, HR or something else? 

Agencies are springing up that specialize in social media management and any manner of blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and the like. It’s become a verb. We need more friends, more likes, more this and more that. 

“Who” is managing your social media is far less important than “what” is being managed. You are trying to engage, to enlighten, to share. You are not trying to sell, although long term and softly that will be the ultimate reward. Social media, by its very definition, is controlled by those who are engaged and those who are sharing their thoughts and their views on any manner of issues or challenges we face as consumers or as businesses. So why the fight as to who “controls” it? Money and power. 

The debate brews 

Certainly, advertising agencies believe they should manage the discipline because it must be creative and part of your overall marketing mix of clever hooks and fresh ideas. However, your PR agency believes it should manage this as it is the master of sharing a story and providing clarity to your consumers in the written word. Both will invoice you fairly for their time, effort and strategy, and will provide good ideas and fresh thinking to drive traffic. 

What you truly need is insight, and the confidence and ability to trust in yourself or that so-called “expert.” Who really “controls” social media? If you’re smart — it’s the 3Cs — clients, customers and constituents. You control your social media, whether you’re hiring a firm or you attempt to manage it in-house. 

A good agency, regardless of being PR or advertising, will advise you to craft a solid brand and brand communications strategy, then utilize the virtually unlimited universe of social media and its many outlets to share that brand and tell your story. From there you engage your publics to some desired form of action or activity. 

Manage the infinite? 

Managing social media is, by my definition, attempting to manage the infinite. Rather, you must discuss what your end goal is and how that particular social media tactic will fit into, support and drive content from your overall marketing communications objective. It is not the answer; it is an option. 

Should your business, regardless of what that business is, “do” social media? Of course! The question and the strategy is why are we doing social media and what exactly are we trying to achieve. How does it support our branding initiatives? How does it help our sales team? How does it make our candidate or our issue more accessible? 

Social media allows you to fulfill the most basic and sacred tenant of public relations — the ability to have open, ongoing and one-to-one communications directly with your publics in an attempt to foster a shared conversation and engagement. 

You want to hear from an unhappy customer so you can fix it, not spin it. You want to offer ideas and specials and promotions to those that value it most. You want your business to be the best it can be so you value the ideas, conversations and suggestions of your target publics and foster that. 

Stop worrying about who manages your social media. Most likely it’s you. It is your choice to do or not do, to engage or let others talk about your business without your response. Social media happens regardless of whether you want it to or not. If you lack a social media strategy, it’s time to get a social media plan of action. 

 

Rodger Roeser is owner, president and CEO of The Eisen Agency. He is also the national chairman of The Public Relations Agency Owner’s Association and works with other PR firms across the country to assist in their operations and profitability. He can be reached at RRoeser@TheEisenAgency.com

Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

Are your messages getting lost?

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Remember playing telephone as a kid? You would sit in a circle with friends and whisper a message into the ear of the child next to you. By the end, when the last kid would announce the message out loud, everyone would break into laughter: It never bore any resemblance to the original message.

Is that still happening to you? Are your messages getting lost in a modern-day game of telephone?

I see it in companies all the time. The CEO knows the message — in this case the business’ vision and strategies — but it gets terribly distorted as it gets passed along and it becomes no laughing matter.

There are reasons why messages get lost.

No. 1, managers often don’t understand or even hear the message or its importance. Its relevance to their work hasn’t been explained to them.

No. 2, the noise of stress can deafen the message. Today, employees are running at breakneck speed in order to stay competitive. The priority is on responding to immediate needs and putting out fires. Under stress, many managers can’t hear the message or can’t prioritize communicating it.

No. 3, competitive work environments mean personal job security comes first and the company’s long-term success second. We make decisions that are in our best interests, not always thinking whether they’re aligned with the company’s goals. When that happens, the message gets sidelined in favor of short-term gain.

In order for the message to stay intact, it needs to be communicated loudly and clearly over and over again, and everyone in the circle needs to be responsible for passing it on accurately. Don’t wait until the end to realize the message has been mangled.

Articulate the vision and strategy.

The importance of this can’t be overstated. The vision and strategies — your message — should be presented to people over and over again, not just in words but visually.

Visuals resonate with people and make the message stick. Develop a visual representation of the company’s vision and display it prominently throughout the organization.

Generate confidence and commitment.

In order for people to pass the message on accurately, they need to know, “What does this mean for me?” and “Why should I care?”

Today’s competitive work environments are making people incredibly anxious and concerned about the future. People want reassurance about their own futures and their company’s future. Perhaps more than ever before, they need inspiring visions for the future that they can take confidence in.

Give them a vision they can support and make it clear that the company needs them on board in order to succeed. Let them know how they will benefit if the company reaches its goals. Once they believe in the company’s future and their role in it, they’ll be committed to the message.

Accept accountability.

Leaders must accept personal accountability for communicating clearly. Each leader must commit to communicating in ways that align with the original message. No matter how tense things get, the message can’t get dropped or distorted at will by one leader. If a leader or leaders stray, the situation must be addressed immediately. Otherwise, the strategy has no teeth and will not be trusted.

Invest in management.

Commend leaders who communicate well and work closely with those who need more help. Remember that this is a process. In order for it to work, people will need mentoring and coaching.

Break it down.

Our high-pressure work environments mean that people will want to throw out long-term strategies when the going gets tough. In order to prevent that, work with managers to create daily, weekly and monthly priorities that meet short and long-term goals.

 

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com.

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