You know you’re a Public Relations pro when…

  1. You tend to mentally review any emails and texts you receive – even if they’re only from your friends and family.  And, if you’ve made a typo yourself, you immediately send a follow-up text with the intended word/grammar.
  2. Much to the annoyance of your family, you aggressively need to ‘plan in advance’ to ‘book’ family gatherings and ‘nail down dates’ for holidays.
  3. You don’t read the news for the news’ sake, but rather for ideas of how and where you can find publicity opportunities for your clients(“Hmm, wonder how this trend on increasing bear attacks can help my client that makes laundry cleaning products”).
  4. It’s a minor victory when you spot a typo in a novel you’re reading (“Woot, woot! I’m calling Random House right now!”).
  5. At least once a month, one of your friends or family members tells you about a great TV ad they love, and then offers more ideas for you to take back to your boss.
  6. Over the course of your career, you’ve appeared in dozens of product usage photos (“see that? it’s my hand holding that bottle of glue!”), camera-ready articles and video news releases.  And, you might even have dressed up as your client’s company mascot.
  7. You learned to no longer use your family in the above-mentioned tactics for fear you will silence the video crew again when you yell at your mom for not realistically taking the plate out of the microwave (“Come on, Mom – do it again!”) #guilty
  8. You’ve removed yourself from being the point person who divides the check and collects the cash at lunch (#BadAtMath).
  9. You’re addicted to your mobile devices to the point of exhaustion, but at the same time you would seriously love to chuck them off of a bridge for a few days (but just a few).
  10. It’s taken you 20 years of trying to explain to your parents what you actually do for a living – and they still don’t understand!

3 Things My Dog Has Taught Me About Business

Charlotte stepsSome of the best things about owning a dog are the unconditional love, pure joy and the humor that they bring to everyday life.   And, if you watch carefully, you’ll see that they can actually teach us a thing or two.  My dog Charlotte, a bichon-beagle mix, is no exception.

1.   You can teach old dog new tricks – Last year I bought a security system for my house.  Each time I open one of the doors or windows, a very posh British woman speaks to me – ever so politely, of course – and announces aloud what particular door or window has been opened.  As one might imagine, I open both doors often to take Charlotte outside. Recently I noticed that she can actually distinguish between the two doors, so that if I want to go out the front door and she’s running to the side door, I just have to say “front door” and she comes. She’s learned that just from hearing our British friend over and over again. Brilliant! It made me realize that while I have twenty plus years’ experience in the communications field, probably half of what my job now entails – social media – has been learned in just over the past four years.   For those of us who think we can’t adapt to this digital age of communications that comes so easily to younger generations – I beg to differ.

2.  It pays to be dogged in reaching your goals – One day we were all at my parents’ house for Christmas dinner.  The table setting was lovely with candles and greenery and my mom’s best china.  Charlotte accompanied me, much to the chagrin of my siblings and their kids, since Charlotte is widely known to not be very polite when it comes to sitting quietly as the humans eat.    That evening, in true form, Charlotte nudged, barked and clawed at all of us, but her efforts to gain a morsel were unsuccessful.

After we ate dinner, we abandoned the table and began to open presents in the other room.  Through the loud holiday banter and the tearing of wrapping paper, we suddenly heard my nieces scream “Nooooooo.”  The rest of us ran into the dining room only to see that my dog had climbed from a chair onto the table and somehow had stealthily and miraculously navigated around the lit candles.  There she was nose down on my grandparents’ antique table.  My family was stunned. Then she looked up, stick of butter in her mouth, and gave a short and stifled victory growl.  Dang. That dog wanted some people food and she was going to get it one way or another. She actually looked so funny to me on the table that all I could manage to say was “you go girl!”  Look, there will always be some roadblocks in reaching your goals, but you must overcome them by staying the course and relentlessly pursuing what you want.  Anything is possible.2013-01-19 15.26.12

3.  Every dog really does have its day – At 25 pounds, Charlotte is a lot smaller than her friends, Amber and Beavis, who used to live next door.  The larger dogs were Vizslas and their long legs kept a quick pace when we went on our joint walks.  Poor Charlotte’s little legs tried their best to keep up, but Amber and Beavis were just were too fast for her, and we eventually had to stop walking together.  Beavis and Amber also loved to wrestle, their little nubs shaking with delight as they jumped and chased one another.  I always felt badly for Charlotte when she tried to join them, nipping playfully and awkwardly at their feet.  They ignored her like elementary kids who dismiss the smaller ones on the playground.  Charlotte eventually conceded and stopped trying to play.  But, soon enough a new dog appeared on the street, a little Yorkie named Kobe, which was eager to make new friends.  Hesitant at first, Charlotte eventually warmed up to him and soon they were fast and furious friends, playing their small dog games, tails wagging feverishly.  She seemed a different dog, happier and more self-assured. While the timing was off for her to run with the big dogs; Charlotte didn’t let it get her down and waited her turn. Like Charlotte, I have worked tirelessly throughout my career, patiently preparing for my day, the one when I could be my own boss. Over the years, I was sure to gain corporate and agency experience in addition to civic leadership, which has allowed me to broaden my expertise and has helped prepare me for my dream of running my own business.

Every dog has its day, and today is my day.  Make it yours too!

Are Rampant and Unproductive Meetings Killing Your Company’s Bottom Line?

 7 Tips to Decrease “Meeting Waste”          Meetings image final

Do you ever feel as though you’re on the meeting hamster wheel?  Well, you’re not alone.  According to a joint research study by Harvard Business School and the London School of Economics, executives typically spend more than 18 hours per week in meetings – that’s about a third of their work time.

Not only is the number of meetings being held increasing from past years, many meetings are deemed by participants as unnecessary and not productive at all.   A 2012 Salary.com survey found that “too many meetings” was the #1 complaint as the biggest time-waster in the office, up from #3 in 2008.

Moreover, a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics discovered that unnecessary meetings cost U.S. businesses approximately $37 billion each year.  Most leaders don’t even know the cost of their meeting waste.

Meeting costs take into account the salaries of those involved adding in their benefits [healthcare, 401(k), etc.] in addition to meeting room, equipment and furniture costs.  Then add the price for lost productivity and meeting costs can soar.  A one hour meeting with six high-level attendees could easily cost upwards of $2,000.  If you’d like to check your company’s meeting cost, there’s a great meeting-time calculator available that shows the cost of every minute that goes by in your meeting (http://www.bringtim.com/meeting-cost-calculator.html).

On the plus side, meetings serve many purposes including keeping staff informed, understanding client’s goals more clearly as well as facilitating collaboration and problem-solving. You shouldn’t declare a moratorium on meetings, but you should encourage your staff to take some necessary steps to ensure that their meetings are efficient and productive:

  1. Ask yourself, “Is a meeting really necessary?” – Oftentimes, people are on auto pilot that defaults to mindlessly scheduling a meeting.  Determine what you need to accomplish and assess if there are more effective ways to communicate or collaborate such as face-to-face meetings or group emails.
  2. Invite only the necessary participants – During my agency life, it wasn’t unusual to have more than eight people in a meetings, sometimes 3 people from one department.  I realize that sometimes office politics and egos prevent us from limiting invitees, but whenever possible, make sure there isn’t redundancy on your list.
  3. Be prepared – Don’t be that annoying colleague who pulls together a rushed meeting just because she had a call five minutes ago with a client who only asked a hypothetical question.  This will happen, but a meeting is more effective when you are able to provide the answers to anticipated questions from participants.
  4. Create an agenda – Meetings do run much more smoothly when participants are informed of the sequence of discussion topics.  Having an agenda also helps reign in everyone when a topic goes off tangent.  Additionally, it lends more credibility to the meeting organizer who is perceived as being on the ball and efficient.
  5. Be the master of your meeting – As the organizer, you need to take the reins and facilitate the meeting with aplomb.  Be in control of your meeting so that you keep the group on task and on time.  If a key person is late, I don’t like to waste everyone else’s precious time waiting 15 minutes for one continuously tardy peer. Let everyone have a turn at speaking and be respectful of participants’ time – watch the clock and don’t go over the meeting’s scheduled time.
  6. Always end the meeting with action steps – The takeaway from the meeting should be a consensus on project direction as well as making sure everyone understands their roles and applicable next steps.  You can also plan your next meeting while you have everyone in the room.
  7. Write a meeting recap – I know it seems like more work and a bit of overkill, but it truly saves you time and money in the long run when you provide a quick email recap as to what occurred in the meeting and lay out the next steps and roles of everyone who attended.  This helps eliminate misunderstandings and is beneficial for an attendee who had to pull out of the meeting at the last minute.

Getting in the habit of enlisting your staff to follow these steps before sending out that meeting invite will help you whittle down the financial drain of meetings, and more importantly, help to ensure that meetings are run efficiently and effectively in order to achieve the goal(s) at hand.

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5 Components of a Dull Presentation

I have sat through many presentations in my life, both at work and outside of the office, and there’s nothing worse than a boring one that doesn’t engage the audience.   A friend in my French club still chuckles when he remembers us siting together listening to a lecture given by a professor from an esteemed French university on a topic that I can’t even remember.   The only thing I do remember is the monotone voice of the goldfishspeaker (think of Ben Stein’s character in “Ferris Beuhller’s Day Off,” but with a “vehr-ee” French accent) droning on for two hours with what seemed like one thousand slides of the same stone building.  About an hour into it, my friend leaned over and asked me what I thought.  “I’d rather gnaw my arm off than listen to this right now,” I replied.  And I meant it.

It doesn’t matter what field you’re in – nearly every vocation requires that you put together a presentation at some point.  Today’s universal presentation tool seems to be Power Point, though Prezi is gaining strength as a nice alternative, but it can be time-consuming and costly (in terms of resources) to create.

It still always astounds me that, in this day and age of competing distractions and vying for those precious few minutes of a prospect’s time, there are still presenters who flub their presentations – usually by making them too long and by not dynamically presenting the information.

What’s worse is that the attention span of the average human adult has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2012.  (source:  http://statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics/ ).  Even more disturbing is that goldfish have attention spans of 9 seconds – that’s one second longer than people!!  More so than ever, presentations have to be brief but engaging.

But, if you enjoy making complete strangers nod off and drool, doing these things will absolutely guarantee that you will bore your audience to tears and in doing so, jeopardize the desired outcome of your presentation:

  1. Including too much content – The mantra of presentations is not “more is better.”  It’s always a real challenge not to overload your presentation with lots of information and corresponding slides. I know you have a lot of points to get across, but you need to really create a succinct presentation that is tight and to the point.  I typically go back at least three times to edit out any redundant info as well as to streamline slides.  Let’s face it, do you enjoy sitting through a 70-slide Power Point presentation?  If not, why would your audience?
  2. Being too copy-heavy  – Not only do you have too much content, but the content you do have is all text with no visuals to break up the monotony.  It’s beneficial to pepper your presentation with some relevant visuals or videos; perhaps a chart or images that make sense in order to help you drive your point home.  And, if you don’t have any relevant visuals, just intermittently stick in some pictures of cute baby animals such as puppies or bunnies.  How can people not like that?
  3. Reading entirely off of the slides – If you are just going to read the slides, then you don’t even need to even be there  –  just run the presentation with a cardboard cut-out of yourself and have the audience read it themselves.  Remember that the slides are there merely as a guide and road map to help you verbalize and expound upon the key information you want to convey.  Don’t rely on your slides to present (what if the computer or AV system was down).
  4. Not practicing beforehand  – I’ve seen and experienced this firsthand myself.  I realize it’s difficult since many times, we actually finish the presentation at the eleventh hour and find ourselves with no time to practice.  Additionally, some folks think that because they wrote the presentation, that they know it and needn’t practice.  Not so.  Practice is especially crucial when multiple people are presenting.
  5. Ignoring the human factor To me, this is the most important point of all. Most of the time, such as in new business situations, the reason you are presenting in person is for your prospect to test the chemistry between potential team members.  A presentation with excellent content is only as good as the person(s) presenting it.  That means looking at audience members as you speak as well as reading non-verbal cues from them to see if you are going to fast or confusing them.  Engage your audience – don’t just talk at them.

While these tips seem to be logical and innate, we’ve all experienced sitting through a presentation that includes one or more of these no-no’s.  Don’t be that person – the one who makes the audience so disengaged that they begin seeking refuge by gazing out the window or checking their emails; or worse yet, begin gnawing at their arms.  And, if the goldfish in the room is floating at the top of the bowl, you know you really bombed.

When Cancer Hits the Workplace

Yesterday my friend entered hospice.  He has braveImagely battled lung cancer for the past two years.  I’ve known him for nearly 20 years – we met through his sister, who is a very close friend of mine.

Honestly, it was with dread yesterday afternoon that I entered the front lobby of the hospice, which is situated on Lake Erie and offers a beautiful view and a certain calmness that the lake exudes.  My friend was having some immediate stomach issues, but otherwise was being a real trooper.  We even took a walk to the meditation room which overlooks the lake. 

We talked about how lovely the crocheted blankets were that my friend was given after he became cold. These blankets are lovingly crocheted by volunteers, and my friend was very touched that folks can be so generous with their time and efforts for complete strangers. 

That got us to talking about how cancer can be a defining moment for friendships or any type of relationship including work relationships.  I am a cancer survivor, and while I experienced a tremendous outpouring of love and support from friends and colleagues, others – afraid of their own mortality and not clearly recognizing that someone else’s cancer makes them uncomfortable – pulled back.  I noticed who they were and I cannot say it did not greatly disappoint me.  However, those who rallied around me were greater than those who didn’t, and I thrived with their encouragement and support.

My colleagues at the PR agency I worked at were so supportive.  I chose to work during my six months of chemo and radiation, and our management team provided me with the flexibility I needed.  I worked when I could and when I couldn’t, I rested. 

I chose to work because I believed it provided me with a distraction that would help me cope better with my illness.  It did.  I know that not everyone can or wants to work during treatment, but it helped me keep a routine and not feel “sick.” However, I was very nervous of letting my peers down and not being able to keep up my usual pace.

My staff and colleagues picked up the slack for me and that meant more than I could ever express.  While a few people actually were resentful of having more work on their plates, the majority was more than willing to pitch in.  My boss and a number of colleagues came to visit me during chemo sessions while another colleague provided me with nutritional supplements and meditation books.  Others sent flowers, balloons and cards with messages of encouragement.  One peer made a client trip to Arizona in my place since I was unable to travel. This outpouring of kindness and support made me so happy and proud to work where I did. 

I realize there can be awkwardness to being around and communicating with someone with cancer.  Believe it or not, some people wouldn’t ever make eye contact with me and I felt at times like a leper. I get it. People worry they will say the wrong things.  I’m sure I have.  But to me, it mattered less when they did say the wrong thing and more that they were willing to put aside their own anxieties and say anything at all to me.

It is difficult today to find someone whose life hasn’t been touched in some way by cancer.  I will gladly take on more work for a colleague who is struggling with a life-threatening illness because I would want someone to do that for me – or for my brother, mother, cousin or nephew.

My advice is to just do what you can.  Whether that’s as big as taking on one of their accounts for the time being, or as small as sending an uplifting email.   Don’t avoid them because you are worried about saying the wrong thing – even small talk is greatly appreciated.

You needn’t be Mother Theresa sitting a bedside vigil.  But, for those of you who are uncomfortable around “sick” people or hospitals and avoid your friend or peer because of that, my harsh suggestion is to suck it up – it’s a fear that stems from one’s own issues and the sick person shouldn’t be punished for it.  Cancer is sadly becoming more prevalent in our society, so unfortunately you’re going to have to deal with it sooner than later.  More importantly, your colleague will appreciate your demonstrative support more than you could imagine.  I also think you’ll feel better too.

Today my friend asked me to bring him Hawaiian punch, even though he can only drink an inch of it.  I’ll take it to him and hopefully he’ll feel well enough to sit in the sun along the lake.

Why Doodling Can Be Good for Business

I am a chronic doodler. I’ve been chided my entire life for doodling, from grade school to college and at various jobs.Bestdoodle

There has always been a long line of critics of doodlers. Parents, teachers and bosses admonish us to put our pens down and pay attention. I have often been the recipient of the disapproving eye-roll whenever I begin to draw in meetings with non-doodlers (yet ironically they are the ones constantly checking their smart phones throughout a meeting).

At one agency where I was on the management team, I doodled away in board meetings and on weekly conference calls. Most of my colleagues (especially our CEO) showed signs of annoyance whenever I doodled through weighty discussions. It was obvious to me that most were thinking that I was bored or uninterested, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was actually the times when I couldn’t doodle in a meeting (say a new client meeting or presentation), where I had more trouble concentrating and became bored.

It turns out, I’m not alone. There are many doodlers out there who get the same grief as I do from co-workers and bosses. But guess what? There is actual research that vindicates us and confirms what we’ve already known – that doodling doesn’t mean we are unfocused, but rather the opposite: doodling can actually aid in concentration.

According to a study published by psychologist Jackie Andrade that appeared in Applied Cognitive Psychology in 2009, basic doodling can actually help one focus better and it aides in preventing daydreaming which actually takes one more off task and out of focus. Results of the study showed that individuals doodling through a meeting retained information 29% better than their non-doodling counterparts (view the study at http://bit.ly/R4X5lh).

Even former U.S. Presidents were avid doodlers. Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy were known to doodle during meetings according to an article from The Atlantic http://bit.ly/OpWESj. Leonardo di Vinci was an avid doodler as is Bill Gates.

So, to all of you bosses out there, please give your doodling employees a break, or better yet, join in. And to all of my doodling peers: Keep calm and doodle on! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself – oh and by the way, apparently Tony Blair is a doodler too).

PR: A job to die for? I don’t think so.

Did you know that Career Cast’s annual list of the most-stressful jobs in America shows Public Relations Executive as No. 5 for 2013?  Jobs that are listed as more stressful than PR Executives this year are, in order: Military Personnel, Military General, Firefighter and Commercial Airline Pilot.

Really???   Are you kidding me?  I mean, I’ve been in the PR business for nearly a quarter of a century and I most certainly understand the challenges, but do I really believe my job is nearly as stressful than dodging RPGs from insurgents over in Afghanistan?  Or flying a 747 through a huge storm system?  And, how about the firefighters who risk their lives daily?  Does their cortisol level beat out mine when I fret over a typo in a news release that has already gone out on the wire?  I just watched “Backdraft” again last night and there is no comparison between my work stress of writing against deadline or getting hung up on by an editor to their saving lives whilst ensuring they don’t lose their own in an apartment blaze.

Look, don’t think that I don’t take my job seriously.  I do, very much so.  I always strive to do everything I can to ensure success for my clients and my company.  But dodging a bullet is only a figurative expression in my field of work.

What’s even more ironic is that Police Officers are listed as number 10 on the list.  Their hearts skip a beat every time they pull over a car, not knowing if the driver is high on drugs or armed.  Yes, that probably is on par of how I felt when my team and I stuffed and sealed 200 press kits only to realize that somehow the personalized cover letters did not match the contacts on the address labels!  It’s possible I suffered a mini-stroke over that one.

We PR folks are not daily risking our lives nor others’ and we don’t witness gruesome scenes of carnage on a regular basis – well, unless you consider those beautiful uneaten, melted desserts at the two empty tables at a media luncheon I hosted, where half the invitees were a no-show because it poured in NYC. Ugh, that was a horrible scene now that I think about it.  It was painful. After the product demonstration and brief speech from my client, the most exciting thing to happen with the 7 editors who did attend, was how thrilled they were to run over to the window and watch a hawk gliding majestically over Central Park.  Okay, so maybe I stand corrected.  That was stressful.  But, we did still get some media coverage.  There’s always a silver lining in PR.

What I’m trying to say is that we all have to do our jobs and make sure we do them well – for the sake of our clients, their customers, our bosses and our colleagues.  Let’s just keep our work in perspective: in PR it’s always just an ordinary day when no one dies doing their job.  Let’s be happy about that.

Check out Career Cast’s full list at: http://www.careercast.com/jobs-rated/10-most-stressful-jobs-2013

Why I cringe when I hear interviewees say “I Love Working With People”

Call me an old fashioned curmudgeon, but it just bugs me when PR folks say they are “people-persons” or that they “love working with people” and believe it to be an asset when applying for a PR position.  I just don’t understand why this hits a nerve with me.

Look, I get it.  In order to be in PR you do have to have better than average communications skills with other humans.  So, when young students appear to have great personalities and/or people skills, teachers, parents, etc. might typically suggest that they go into PR.

Fine, but then why just PR?  I suppose we’re known to be “show people.” So then, why not clowning?  Have you ever met a circus clown that wasn’t good at or did not like working with people (okay, one comes to mind, but let’s not go there, and anyway, he wasn’t an “official” clown)? The entire purpose of being a clown is to entertain people and make them laugh, so shouldn’t they be adept at doing so and, in turn, enjoy it? Or what about post office employees working at the stamp counter – they work with people every day and also apparently seem to love it!  Yet, are students guided into postal careers because of their good natures and communications skills? Certainly not!

In reality, practically every occupation on earth requires human interaction and having to be decent enough at getting your point across so as not to offend your coworkers, customers, vendors, bosses, etc., so much that you get fired.  As far as I’m concerned, you pretty much have to work well with people to succeed in any job, but I suppose you don’t necessarily have to like it or them.   I guess that’s why there are lawyers and accountants.

I remember when I was in high school I wanted to be a veterinarian and talked to ours while taking my dog, Kenyon, for an appointment.  I told our vet that it would be so great to work with animals and less with people.  You know what he said?  He told me that yes, he does have to work with animals, but being a vet really more requires excellent people skills – because  it’s the owners you’re  ultimately servicing and interacting with.  You have to be empathetic under difficult circumstances as when pets are sick, and even just regular circumstances like, say when the crazy-cat-lady-spinster (I do not own cats) won’t stop talking about her seven cats’ various bowel movements or finicky eating habits.

Hey, don’t think I don’t like working with people, although there are truthfully some days when I just want to write and type on my computer with my dog at my feet.  For the most part, I enjoy camaraderie and communicating. I recognize that I do have a skill of being able to communicate with folks to create positive outcomes.  It’s just that I don’t believe it’s a trait germane only to PR practitioners, nor do I think I went into the PR field because of it.

Clearly, I went into PR for the great clothes and shoes.