Are you really ready to hire an agency? 4 Questions to ask yourself.

You’re an entrepreneur or a small business that hasn’t had the funds up until now to hire outside marketing or PR services. Fortunately for you, business is looking good and you can now consider spending some marketing dollars.

Before you even narrow down your short list of possible agencies you’d like to work with, you need to ask yourself the following questions. If you can’t answer “yes” to all of these questions, you may want to consider holding off your decision until you can.

1) Am I ready to trust someone else with my business goals? Trust issues and entrepreneurism often go hand in hand. Your can-do spirit, hard work and laser vision have brought you where you are today, but realize that even the best leaders can’t do it all alone. You need to go into a new partnership with optimism and a certain level of trust.

2) Am I ready for a partnership, or do I just want an order taker? Agency-client relationships are doomed from the start if you are just looking for “yes” men. If you care about your business, isn’t it best to hear out and respect other points of view that could possibly lead to a great insight and subsequent break though for your business?

3) Can my ego take it if someone has better ideas than me? Yes, it’s great that you have landed where you are by working your fingers to the bone and making great business decisions for yourself and your company. Moving forward with marketing experts on board, can you be objective enough to hear them out if one of your ideas isn’t considered the best approach or will you take your marbles and run?

4) Am I patient enough to give a partnership time to grow and settle in? Or is your attitude, “what have you done for me today?” As with any type of relationship, business relationships work best when both parties are committed to shared goals and a common outcome. Sure there will be bumps along the way as you both get accustomed to each other, but only a partnership that’s in it for the long haul can achieve the results you want.

5 Ways to Make Your Internship Program a Win-win for You and Your Intern

You’ve hired your summer interns, but are you doing your best to ensure that they and your organization are getting the most out of the experience?

There is no doubt that internships should be a mutually beneficial experience for the employer and the intern. Too often, I hear about disappointing internships where an intern’s primary responsibilities were relegated solely to making copies, answering phones, organizing online files or making frequent coffee runs.

While students should embark onto an internship experience knowing there will be a fair amount of clerical (aka grunt) work, the point of an internship is that it provides a real educational opportunity for students to receive hands-on, real-life training in the field of their major. Many former interns will admit that their internship experience was far more valuable in their decision to pursue their career than anything they learned from textbooks and classroom lectures.

I understand that you are a busy executive and that you don’t have the time (and possibly the patience) to hover over an intern all day. I don’t think you should have to, but I do firmly believe that as well-established experts in our field, we have an obligation to guide our industry’s future leaders, just as our mentors did for us.

In order to prevent any daily hand-holding sessions, employers can adhere to a few tricks of the trade I’ve acquired over my years overseeing various agency internship programs.

What Employers Can Do

1. Make a job description and stick to it
Doing this lets the intern understand the required duties but also lets your team know the boundaries of what they can and can’t ask of an intern. Once you get to know your intern’s capabilities and skill set, you may be able to add some specific tasks to the job description.

2. Have a program/timeline in place
Interns need structure. Don’t expect your intern to wait enthusiastically each day for you to decide what projects to give him or her. Understanding that you can’t anticipate every scenario, at lease have some structure and consistency in the program/schedule (e.g., Every Thursday is a “Lunch and Learn” session where the intern(s) brown bag their lunch and listen to company experts talk about their job and provide career advice)

3. Make the internship an enriching experience.
It’s typically understood that interns will be given a fair amount of grunt work, but make sure you allow them to have access to real business experiences. A client conference call may not seem like an exciting activity for you, but it can be a great learning experience for an intern.

4. Be a mentor
I know you are a very busy person, but as I stated earlier, I believe we professionals owe it to those interested in our field to provide them with an accurate glimpse into the field they would like to enter and the skill set needed. Make it a weekly habit to monitor your intern and give them feedback – whether it’s positive or negative – since it’s part of the learning process that lectures and textbooks can’t teach. Lead by example.

5. Don’t’ burn bridges.
Let’s face it, we’ve all been burned by a bad intern experience. As much as you’re ready to boot them out the door or vow never to have another one again, remember that the interns are still very young and don’t have much finesse in professional settings. And, though it’s hard to imagine, you never know how your paths might meet again (your intern’s aunt might be the contact you’ve been wooing for new business for years).

Best wishes for a great internship partnership this summer. If you have any additional tips to how you make internships an all-around success, please feel free to share them.

A few grammar tips

Just some clarification on a few grammar errors I’ve been seeing lately, including one mistake made by a major U.S. newspaper.

immigrate vs. emigrate

One immigrates TO somewhere; one emigrates FROM somewhere

“My grandfather emigrated from Poland”

“My grandfather immigrated to the United States.”

 

should have, not should of

“I should have brought my umbrella with me”

or as a contraction: “I should’ve brought my umbrella with me.”

 

more than, not more then

“George is more than likely to show up early.”

 

My Top 3 Picks for the Next GOP Debate Format

family fuedAs a PR practitioner, I’m looking forward to tonight’s debate. I always find it interesting and insightful to study candidates’ brand messaging and presentation skills. I’m also looking forward to the debate because it’s being held in Cleveland, my hometown.

However, the biggest reason I’m looking forward to the debate tonight is that – I have to admit – with Trump in the mix, I believe it’s actually going to be a lot more entertaining than the average presidential debate.  Entertainment, after all, is what presidential debates are missing.

Most TV viewers and folks in general are not debate watchers (I have no statistic to back this up with, but it seems pretty logical, right?). If viewers could choose between America’s Got Talent and a typical political debate, which one do you think they would choose to watch? Right.So, Shouldn’t we play at the people’s level?

It’s actually already happening – viewers are trying to make the debate more fun by devising drinking games for tonight’s match up. That sounds fun but I have to work tomorrow.

I say we marry the sobriety of the average presidential debate with the entertainment value of some sort of reality TV or game show.

My top picks:

1) Real World

2) Family-Feud

3) Jeopardy.

Are you in?

138045-realworld

Another Social Media Fail – Brought to you (Again) by Malaysia Airlines

It’s a given that 2014 has been a very bad year for Malaysia Airlines. Just about as bad as it can get in the airline industry. In two separate incidents – the crash of flight MH17 in Ukraine and the disappearance of flight MH370 – 510 passengers lost their lives.

In addition to the tragic human loss, the company is now riddled with financial losses that began even before the ML370 “crash” in March. Of course the two tragedies caused an even larger snowball effect as the company is currently faced with insurance payouts, lost planes and crews and a not surprisingly decline in bookings (in the 2nd quarter, average weekly bookings declined 33%).

But heck, thank God they have a marketing and social media team to take passengers’ minds off of things as well as to take the brand to new heights. Right?

Well…not so much.

Just last week, the social media team for Malaysia Airlines had to apologize after sending a very bizarre tweet that was an attempt to promote last-minute holiday travel deals. There’s no need for further set up – here’s the post:

“Want to go somewhere, but don’t know where? Our Year-End Specials might just help.”Malaysia Airline Tweet

Oh dear. Probably not the best slogan if only 8 months ago, you lost a plane that just disappeared without a trace.   Well, one could chalk it up to a possible loss in translation I suppose. But that certainly doesn’t explain another big faux pas that occurred just in September.

Brilliantly trying to devise ways to inspire and incentivize consumers, the marketing department created a dialogue and contest where it asked folks what types of things and destinations are on their “bucket list.”

Oh yes they did. Not as obviously offensive as the most recent Tweet, but this one is pretty inappropriate too.

I am going to take the high road and blame it on another poor translation. But if that is the case, I would strongly advise Malaysia Airlines, and all global brands, to ensure that they use only native speakers as community managers for their social media channels. I know doing so can be costly, but it can greatly help to reduce these types of incidents from happening.

However, this still wouldn’t necessarily get rid of careless and poorly thought out marketing strategies, would it?

What do you think?

 

 

 

When the Media Kept Presidential Secrets

270px-Rooseveltinwheelchair

One of only a few photos of FDR in his wheelchair.

As I watched Ken Burns’ marvelous documentary, “The Roosevelts,” I couldn’t help but notice just how different the role of the national media was at the time. As a public relations practitioner, I am fascinated in particular by the fact that the media entered into and honored a gentlemen’s agreement with Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and his staff to never publish a photograph of the president in his wheelchair or leg braces.

While most Americans at the time knew that FDR had been afflicted by polio at age 39, few actually realized that as a result he was left paralyzed. This was due in large part to the media not publishing those types of photos, but also to FDR’s dogged commitment to hiding his disability when campaigning.

FDR was worried that his disability would make him appear weak in the eyes of the American public. He was known to arrive so early at events and speeches, that crowds rarely ever saw him being lifted out of cars or ‘walking’ up to a microphone. Clearly, the lack of television and social media also helped keep FDR’s secret.

FDR managed to win four presidential campaigns and he led a weary America out of the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. His leadership played a critical role in the Allies’ victory in World War II while his New Deal legislation, according to many, helped build up the American middle class, establishing a baseline for the “American Dream.”

He was anything but weak. But could he have stayed in office to accomplish so much had his disability been exposed early on?

The White House press corps acted similarly during John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s presidency. Though it was common knowledge among the media that President Kennedy had many romantic dalliances, the American public didn’t come to know about them until decades later.

So when did things change? When did the media stop adhering to the concept that politicians had a public life and a private life, and that the latter was thought to be inconsequential to the former?

Today, it seems that the media can’t do enough to expose politicians, athletes, celebrities and business leaders at their most vulnerable and weakest times. This is not a criticism.

No one can escape the media’s magnifying glass, yet there are still plenty of folks who say that the media is not uncovering enough. I’d say Anthony Weiner, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson would disagree.

So just how much do we need to know about today’s political leaders or about our favorite celebrities and athletes? Are we somehow expecting complete perfection? Where is the balance between knowing too much and not knowing enough; and what is the media’s role in delivering this?

These are questions that I’m not certain of the answer. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

P.S. One final thought: do you think today’s media would have ever have agreed to FDR’s request?

3 Grammar Rules I Cannot Adhere to (and yes, I ended this with a preposition – see point #2)

Photo by Jesse Wojdylo

Photo by Jesse Wojdylo

There is no doubt that I have had many visits from the grammar police over the years. Most times I am guilty because of an oversight or error. Then there are other times when I just don’t agree with some of the rules as they apply to language and the way we communicate today.   The following grammar rules are the ones I violate the most often, and here’s why.

1.  Single space after a period
I suppose this is more of a punctuation rule. Nonetheless, I don’t stick to it, mainly because I am physically unable to. I’m told the double-spacing rule was originally made for the typewriter in order to mimic the style used by traditional typesetters. But as my friend, Charlene, likes to point out often, the double space rule is dead. I guess I’m just in denial. No matter how hard I try, it’s a reflex for me to type two spaces. After all, I did learn to type on a typewriter in typing class (when it was called that and not ‘keyboarding’). As to why this post seems to be only single-spaced, I believe WordPress automatically adjusted it.


2. Ending a sentence with a proposition

I think this rule was created by a bunch of tea-drinking British linguists from centuries gone by – back when the written and spoken words were much more formal. In any formal writing I do I try to abide by this rule if it doesn’t sound too unnatural, but in everyday emails and conversations, I don’t worry about it. Again, no one talks like that anymore. For instance:

Scenario 1 – my way

“Good morning, Stacey.”
“Good morning, Clovis.”
“You sure are in a hurry. Where are you running to?”
“I am. I have another meeting to go to.” (I stub my toe on a box in the kitchen) “Oww, I just stubbed my toe.”
“Oh no, what did you stub it on?”
“This dumb box.”

That’s typical conversational American English, no? Here’s the same interaction going by the rule:

Scenario 2 – By the rule

“Good morning, Stacey.”
“Good morning, Clovis.”
“You sure are in a hurry. To where are you running?
“I am. I have another meeting to attend. (I stub my toe on a box in the kitchen) “Oww, I just stubbed my toe.”
“Oh no, on what did you stub your toe?”
“A box, alright? Stop sounding like such a snob, Clovis!!”

My case is rested.

3.  Never write a one-sentence paragraph
Oh poppycock. Sometimes using just one sentence is needed to underscore a point. I occasionally use it – even in an occasional news release (gasp!) – For emphasis. There’s no point in writing another sentence just because there should be two, and especially if it only detracts from the point being made in the first sentence. Novelists do it all the time. I don’t have a specific example from the book itself, but I’m sure Colleen McCullough used this technique in her risqué and tantalizing novel, The Thorn Birds, which I read many, many years ago.

Are there grammar rules that you don’t follow or that you disagree with? What are they?

Any PR is better than none, right? Wrong.

There’s been some controversy over an event that happened over the weekend. A professional golfer, Alastair Forsyth of Scotland, was playing in the Madeira Islands Open when his caddy suddenly collapsed on the fairway of the ninth hole which was Forsyth’s final hole of the event.

Caddies react to the sudden death of a fellow caddy who died on the fairway during a tournament.

Caddies react to the sudden death of a fellow caddy who died on the fairway during a tournament.

Frantic efforts were made on the course to resuscitate the 52-year old caddy, Ian MacGregor, but unfortunately he was pronounced dead at the scene from an apparent heart attack. MacGregor was well-loved among the caddies, and they, along with other players and fans, were stunned over what had happened.

What happens next is a bit bizarre.   For one, the tournament officials didn’t call the tournament right then and there. But what appears to be even more disturbing is that Forsyth decided to keep playing.

Yes, Forsyth’s caddy literally dropped dead on the final hole of the tournament and he felt it best to play through. Bad decision? Well, it would have seemed completely understandable for him to drop out of the tournament and give a heartfelt speech about the tragic loss of his dear friend and caddy. In doing so he would surely lose the tournament, but he would have gained much sympathy and respect from fans and the media for his noble gesture.

Instead he’s received much notoriety.  His fans, the media and people around the world are portraying him as callous and heartless.

Oh, and he didn’t win the tournament.

What do you think about it?

6 Social Media Customer Service Tips for Small Businesses

"The Scream" by Munch

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch

We’ve all been there.  That moment we become so utterly frustrated and incensed over a product or service mishap that we angrily dial the phone to reach a live person for help.   If we survive the exasperating labyrinth of automated phone hell, we may finally connect with someone who – after all that – may or may not (“I have to check with my supervisor”) be able to help us. Argh!

Well, it seems that phone complaints are becoming passé.  The often profane-laden phone tirades, accusations and pleas have yielded to a new medium through which to get a company’s attention: Social media.

I believe there are several reasons for this. First, social media correspondence has taken over for many as a preferred method of communication, especially among millenials.  Second, today’s  automated customer service phone systems are designed to work more as a moat surrounding the corporate castle, and only the fittest and those with too much time on their hands can steamroll past the murky water to reach a representative. Third, consumers have realized that the last thing a brand wants is to be shamed on Twitter or Facebook for all their customers to see.  In my experience, consumers posting problems via social media channels have typically led to companies resolving matters fairly quickly.

Large brands employ a social media community manager whose job is to create awareness and engagement for the brand as well as observe and respond to customer inquiries and complaints.   However many small and mid-sized companies don’t have the time and resources for a full-time community manager.  So what happens in many instances is that monitoring the social channels becomes an afterthought.  Companies double up social media duties, throwing them into the lap of a sales executive, administrative assistant or even (gasp) IT.  And, I’ve seen many times with small businesses, the CEO/owner takes the helm of the social media channels.

If any of those scenarios are the case for you, here are some tips to effectively address customer complaints within social media channels:

1. Regularly monitor your social media sites – I believe one of the biggest assets of social media (particularly Twitter) is listening.  It’s not glamorous or edgy, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to help understand your customers’ wants and needs. You don’t want to hear it second hand that someone has dissed your brand on social media; you want catch it first.  Be active in monitoring brand mentions and complaints so that you can swiftly react and rectify the situation and nip situations in the bud. Jetblue social media

2. Respond quickly – but not too quickly – Waiting five minutes before addressing a complaint can help eliminate the possibility of a hot-headed response from a gut reaction for which we are all capable.  Just as you should think before you speak, think before you tweet or post and avoid the possibility of making the matter worse. Here’s a great example (left) of the airline Jet Blue responding to a customer’s frustrated tweet.   Brands that do it right respond to a complaint in four hours or less.

3. Don’t be defensive or condescending – Look, you and your brand are never going to come out ahead in a name-calling match, so try your best to avoid that scenario.  And, keep in mind that while most complaints are valid, there are a group of folks out there who simply like to stir the pot just for fun.  Make sure you can tell the difference between the two.

4. Acknowledge their problem – Customers – whether in-store, on the phone or online want to know that their voice is being heard.   Respond initially with something like “I’m sorry to hear your [product] is not working/broken/missing a part, etc.  I can help you.”  Then as a next step:

5. Do your best to get them offline – You don’t want the dialogue to go on publicly through social media, especially when the customer is very angry.  I recently voiced my frustration via Twitter about – of all things – the phone system maze at my bank.  Within an hour, I received a response from a point person at the bank who gave me her direct number and I was able to get the matter resolved.  If you really can promptly and effortlessly solve the problem, it’s alright to do so publicly – just be careful not to appear as self-serving.

6. Use humor when applicable – I’m not advocating that you make light of any complaint.  But, In some cases when the problem is not a grave or serious one, adding some friendly humor can help disarm some egghead who is ranting and raving without due cause (remember those folks who love to stir the pot). Sometimes the best way to silence them is with an unexpected, cheeky response.  Use discretion as this can be a tricky line to cross.  A great example of this is a recent letter written from BIC pens UK, in response to what we infer was one man’s outrageous and profane complaint about his new pens (strong and explicit language here so read at your own risk): http://www.brandwatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/bicletter.jpg

In most cases, acknowledging a customer complaint and responding quickly and purposefully will be enough to resolve matters.   As with all of us, customers appreciate being heard.

4 Great Reasons to Hire a Freelancer

There is still a lingering misconception today that freelancers – or sole practitioners – are simply professionals between jobs, and that the act of freelancing is more of a necessity for them than a choice.  This misconception is also fortified by the perception that most of these individuals must have been let go from a job or passed up for new opportunities because they are not talented or good at what they do.

This is simply not true.  In fact the opposite reigns:  freelancers today are doing their own thing, on their own terms, by choice.

For a myriad of reasons,  these individuals have chosen to work in a sole proprietor or freelance capacity because it better suits their current professional and/or personal goals.  They might desire greater flexibility or just simply want to have more control of their professional destinies.

Thanks to technology — specifically the ability to be able to connect anywhere at any time—   individuals spanning all generations are now working in a free-lance capacity.  According to Fabio Rosati, CEO of elance.com, an online community of over 2.5 million freelancers and 500,000 businesses, freelancers, consultants and temps make up twenty-five percent of the workforce.

That number isn’t expected to shrink in the upcoming years. Earlier this year, software company Intuit  predicted that by 2020, 40% of the American workforce (or 60 million people) will be employed as freelancers.

So as a business leader, why should you consider working with freelancers?

1.  Value – You retain the services  of a seasoned practitioner for less than you’d pay for their same services at an agency

While there are many millennial developers, graphic designers and social media freelancers today,  I believe that much of the marketing and communications fields are comprised of seasoned and successful veterans in their industry.

Because of their experience and expertise, they are able to command a higher fee for their services. This is great for them, but it’s also good for you as a business owner, because their fees are still typically much less than the hourly rate you would pay for their same services if they were working at a big agency, since its rates and costs are higher in order to help cover fixed costs including salaries, building rent, benefits, etc.

2.  The person you hired is actually the one working on your account

As a business owner or marketing manager, selecting an agency as a partner has as much to do with the agency’s reputation and portfolio as it does the folks involved in the pitch.  Chemistry,  personality and work styles play a large part in why businesses may select one agency over another.   So, it’s no surprise that many companies are often blind-sided when they call the account supervisor (who was in the pitch) with a problem or challenge, and discover that this person knows very little of what’s been happening daily on the account.

Sure, underlings are supposed to communicate to their team leaders, but those team leaders might be managing other accounts as well as being pulled in to pitch new business.   It’s part a function of and part good business sense for the agency to utilize junior people for the blocking and tackling since their hourly rates are lower.  However, junior folks lack the experience and confidence that allows them to make a quick decision on a dime or handle conflict in an effective manner.

Working with an accomplished freelancer gives you the best of both worlds.  Your experienced account person is deep in the trenches, and at the same time, has the savvy and skillset to handle any situation – whether it’s a negative Tweet or an emerging crisis situation – in a quick and efficient manner.

3.  Flexibility

Working with a freelancer is advantageous since they are able to respond and adapt to your needs or any changes in a program without a hassle.  Solo practitioners don’t have to go through a series of processes in order to accommodate any changes in the scope of a project.

Agency processes are typically very rigid, and while they are meant to streamline project time and costs, they often have the opposite effect.  Think of all the internal meetings and steps the agency must implement– and that’s all before they begin any  actual work on your account.

4.  Speed

Freelancers work quickly.  Their expertise allows them to speedily turn over projects. For instance, a seasoned PR person can write a news release in about half the time of a less experienced practitioner.

Years of ‘doing’ gives them the advantage in knowing all of the steps to successfully complete a project.  After all, they’ve done it many, many times before and know all of the short cuts.  Moreover, as was mentioned above, they don’t get bogged down following all of the agency processes (or office politics) that add time to jobs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that businesses forego agencies to only work with freelancers.  Agencies do serve a great purpose.  Larger companies and big brands can justify hiring an agency, since they often require a more dynamic, integrated marketing plan involving many resources that are often under one agency roof.

But, if you are own a smaller business or run a small marketing department and you don’t want to sacrifice great counsel and service for a lower price, I encourage you to check out the local freelancers in your area, myself included.