Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lessons Learned

Today's post for Sizzlin' Summer is from Monica Faulkenbery, APR, and the San Antonio Chapter's Tex Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award Winner for 2009. It is an excerpt of her acceptance speech given in May.

In May, I was honored with the Tex Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award by our chapter. Not feeling quite “old enough” to receive a lifetime award but having been in educational PR for the past 30 years, I decided my speech would be about “lessons learned.” I figured that within those 30 years, I’ve probably made almost every mistake possible, and I could share some of those stories—some were funny (now); some were embarrassing (typical rookie mistakes); and some were life altering. I have been asked to share some of that speech on our blog—names may be changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent.

Lessons learned:
• At a college in central Texas, I was asked to do something about the apathy on campus among faculty and staff. We buried it, complete with casket, campus-wide funeral march, and kazoo band. Lesson learned: think twice before doing some stupid PR stunt.
• Coordinated a state-wide air show for several years. As planes came into the show, I signed multimillion liability contracts for military and civilian planes alike. Thank goodness, we never had an incident. Lesson learned: read the fine print on everything you sign.
• Played host to every seated President and U.S. Presidential candidate at the time. Preparing for an arrival, a Secret Service agent walked around the facility where we would have the press conference. Looking at the dingy, old room he said, “can you spiff it up a bit.” With mop in hand, it got “spiffed.” Lesson learned: don’t think you are above doing anything in PR.”• I once submitted a feel good story to local press about a third grader who was able to stop a school bus during rush hour traffic when the driver suffered a stroke. Because of that story, I spent the next month serving as that student’s agent booking him on all the major network talk shows, Jay Leno, Oprah, People Magazine, Access Hollywood, etc. You name it, he was on it. We even did a three day re-enactment for a TV show. The problem was that with all that attention he received, it changed the kid…not necessarily for the better. Lesson learned: you can change the path of someone’s life.
• Post-Columbine, I ran into an issue where a local shock radio station sent out a scantly-dressed biker dude to a high school pep rally, wearing only speedos and a back-pack with an antenna sticking out of it. The guy would not speak when asked what he was doing. Come to find out, he was broadcasting live. Not knowing that, security of course thought that there could be a bomb in the backpack. Kids, who listened to the station, knew what was going on and were going wild. Lesson learned: not sure what our lesson was…although the radio station learned a good one that day, but it makes for a good story.

I could go on, but as with my speech, I had to stop sometime, and conclude with a bit of sage advice to pass on from my lifetime of achieving. So here goes:

• Work at a job that you enjoy. I can say that I look forward to going to work every day. (I have worked at a job that I didn’t like and became a person I didn’t like, so I know the difference.)
• Join an organization – like PRSA – where you can connect with “your people.” People with similar interests and like personalities.
• Pursue your APR. Just by preparing for it will help you in your current job, help you learn more about your current field, and make you be more valuable to your current (and future) employers. By achievement your APR, will make you someone that finds their resume at the top of the pile in these tough economic times.
• Find a non-job related organization to volunteer at. We’re not on this Earth for just ourselves. Whether it is a homeless shelter, animal shelter, or family abuse shelter…by helping others less fortunate than yourself, making a difference in someone else’s life…will help you put things in perspective on those tough days.
• And, finally – don’t take yourself so serious. Enjoy your life because it truly is a short one.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

From Journalism to PR

It wasn’t that long ago, well, only 22 years that I graduated from the University of
Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism
certain I would retire as a TV news correspondent.

At the time, the civil war in El Salvador raged on and I had ideals of covering that conflict; but instead worked in Lubbock for a quick six months after graduation. Newsrooms were also increasingly becoming computerized.

As technology progressed, I could never envision the change it would affect on journalism. More often than not, I was rushing from crime scene tragedy after another, focused on my presentation for the 10 p.m. news while Silicon Valley tekkies were formulating blogs and about to give birth to Facebook and Twitter.

Now, four years into my PR career, I have found a real willingness and camaraderie among PR practitioners to help newcomers and freely share information. It’s truly the economy of giving.

Leaving TV news was easy but so was the transition into public relations.

Shortly after leaving TV news without a job, I walked into my first PRSA mixer. The late Marilyn Potts, PRSA Chapter president, took me by the hand and began introducing me to members. Marilyn told me, as did Kami Watson Huyse, that public relations is about forming “relationships.” I’ll always remember showing Kami a masterful campaign we planned for the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Kami looked at it and said, “That’s nice. However, you can have the best campaign in the world but it won’t mean anything if you don’t have relationships.”

As my former colleagues transition out of TV news, or anyone interested in public relations, I really encourage attending PRSA functions. Introduce yourself; let people know you’re available. Ask people how they did it and what they’d recommend.

I really enjoy public relations and PRSA. I have much to learn, but in my brief time in public relations, I have travelled the globe, literally.

You don't have to be the gregarious sterotype of PR practitioners, either. Even the more subdued have found success in PR. In short, network and keep asking questions. It’ll be your first foray into another honorable and wonderful profession as you form lasting relationships.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sizzlin’ Summer Session for Members

Every year, just prior to the last day of school, I ask my son to write down the five things he “must” do this summer. Two years ago, his list included having a community picnic with our neighbors up at Inks Lake, making a trebuchet with his dad, and going out to breakfast on a Saturday.

This year, we’ve been so busy, we haven’t yet had time to sit down and make the list, but it occurred to me that this would be a great thing to do from a professional standpoint. But don’t despair that you’ve got to compile the list all by yourself, or that you will be forced to go canoeing with my family this summer. The board of the San Antonio chapter is one step ahead of you.

We’re calling it “Summer Session” because, if you’ve ever taken a class at summer school, you know that you want the “light” version in which you don’t have to think too much.

Here’s what we’re cooking up in this summer session for PRSA members:

Sizzlin’ New Skills
is a feature in which members who have transitioned into the field will share things that surprised them or for which they were unprepared.

Lessons Learned – based on the very comical topic which Monica Faulkenbery, APR, used in her Del Oro award speech, you’ll hear from professionals on what to do AND NOT DO!

Bright and Shiny Things
– Here is where you will get the inside scoop on the members who were awarded La Platas or El Bronces, and find out what made them enter that campaign or tactic….just in time to start measuring your results for next year.

Try This will be a section about new tools for our profession.

Summer Session begins Tuesday June 23 and will be “in session” for ten weeks, every Tuesday and Thursday.

Wait for the bell!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Talking PR Strategy with Legal and IT Departments

There has been a lot of ranting over the years about the opposing views of a company’s PR counsel and its attorneys. PR staff in a crisis would find themselves having to stand by silently while CEOs listen to lawyers telling them to say nothing, admit nothing, help no one. They’d talk of the risk of lawsuits. While the risk of reputation loss was not even factored in to the equation.

I’ve never faced this myself. But – like you I’m sure – I’ve heard the arguments that typically call lawyers short-sighted and put the PR folk in the helpless role.

That’s why I found a recent live podcast recording by For Immediate Release so refreshing. They focused on the issue in a more balanced and constructive way. For Immediate Release is hosted by Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson. Their guests for this show were attorney Jim Golden and crisis expert Helio Fred Garcia. They talked about the relationship between attorneys and communicators and how it should change.

Part of the change they recommended was for the PR person in the room to come in talking about strategy rather than tactics. Don’t bring in a press release and ask about message points. Rather, instruct the CEO about reputation risks to the business for different stakeholders. Think like someone in the C-suite should be thinking.

The funny thing is that this is the same advice that some of my PR friends need to get through to their IT teams. I cannot believe how much leeway IT staff are given by CEOs to make what are really business decisions. Technology is a tool for business. And in our context, it is a tool for communications. We do communications to reach organizational strategic goals – not to be cool and never to put the organization at risk. It is IT’s job to make those tools available and to make them work for the organization.

I know I am ranting here – and it is not about my own situation (where there’s no reason to rant). I am ranting on behalf of some colleagues I know through PRSA. On at least three occasions in the last few months, I’ve had folks tell me of the trouble they are having getting their work done because of technology tools that are not available to them. In one case, the rationale was the out of pocket cost was too high. But clearly no one had not added the cost of wasted staff time caused by using the inappropriate tools. In another case, IT staff really don’t have an understanding of the particular tool in question, so their assumption is that it’s risky. In the third case, the IT staff are… well let’s just say sometimes you really do get what you pay for.

In all of these cases, the technologists are talking tactics, not strategy. But the paradox is that they get the ear of the CEO because when the network shuts down, the company shuts down.

Perhaps where I’m headed with this is that we each need to find a way to talk about strategy that is immediate and crystal clear. There’s no time to craft flow charts. With social media today and the 24-second news cycle, when a crisis hits, we don’t have days and days to argue with attorneys or with IT folk about the best response. We have minutes. And while we are focusing on strategy, we need our technology tools to help us handle the tactics.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Try Using Delicious

On Thursday, I led a quick demo of the free online tool, Delicious. I urge you to give it a try if you haven’t already. It’s benefits start with the small-level of personal efficiency to the larger-scale of media relations support and community building.

Here are some steps to get you started:

1. Set up a free account.

2. Follow the instructions to put the Delicious button on the toolbar of all the computers you use: home, work, etc. (this is critical and won’t mess with your computer).

3. Start bookmarking web sites as you find them over the next few days. For blog posts, remember to bookmark the particular story by clicking on the title or the date stamp before clicking the Delicious button.

4. Notice how many people are bookmarking (or “tagging”) the same sites you are tagging.

5. See what other sites they are tagging. This can help you in your research to find new resources.

6. Notice the other key words (or “tags”) they are using. This can help with your search engine optimization and news release optimization later.

7. Create a purpose-built Delicious page way to support a campaign you are working on. (See mine as an example:

Below are some previous posts I’ve written and some by other folk for other good ideas.

Using Delicious in Public Relations

Lesson Four: Using Delicious

PR-Squared’s “Social Media Tactics” Series … Using for Thought Leadership
by Todd Defren

How I use for public relations
from the PlugIN to the conversation blog

Six Reasons to Use Delicious
by Cindy Stephenson on her PR Perspective blog