Thursday, December 31, 2009

Peaks and valleys lead to what's next (or 2009 can suck it)

Peaks and valleysImage by ccferg via Flickr
One line has been stated, repeated, tweeted, retweeted and for some, even provides some relief: "2009 can suck it."

I don't consider myself to be mean-spirited or anything like that. My family just had a very difficult year. I won't bore you with the details, all I will say is peaks and valleys. Peaks and valleys.

No complaining about the past. We should always learn from the past upon going through life's (and work's) peaks and valleys and decide to move forward.

That's why I like some of the social media, communications and public relations predictions and dream posts for 2010. I think taking time to reflect on where we've been in the communications industry and look forward to organizational, collective and individual potential in the coming year is inspired.

So what's next? 
I will leave the predictions for others who have down such a good job of taking their best shots at 2010. As for me, I have some plans:
  • APR - it's time to re-focus on getting accredited in public relations
  • PRactice, PRactice, PRactice - I love soaking in great knowledge, lessons, and ideas from books, blogs, and presentations. In 2010 I want to put even more key points into play at work and in my professional life. (Most recent book is a must-read: The New Rules of Marketing and PR.)
  • (Re)Learn conversational Spanish - I will be on a short-term mission trip to Spain in March for my church and I really need to get my act together on brushing up on the language. This is totally a personal thing and has been on my short-term goals list for quite some time.
  • Seek Speaking Opportunities - I have really enjoyed the opportunities I've had to speak to professional organizations and other groups. I plan on continuing the trend and offering up such services. (I think I'm officially over my fear of public speaking.)
  • Clean up Social Media Garbage - It's time to go back and shut down accounts for those random social media tools left unattended. You know the ones I'm talking about. Tools that popped up and folks flocked to try them out but then left them swaying in the constant breeze of the Internet.
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I know there will be more for me to add to the list next year. For now, this will be a place for me to start. What about you? What's next for you in 2010? The comments are yours.

Oh and before I forget, Cheers and Merry New Year from Next Communications.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Better business of school district public relations

incompleteImage by JaBB via Flickr
I feel very fortunate to work in PR for education. As my PR counterparts in other industries, organizations, and businesses are winding down their calendar year, we are at the half-way point of our 2009-2010 school year. Yes, the holidays and regular breaks are quite nice and on many levels the differences in being in school PR versus other forms of PR are quite noticeable. However, I think more and more school PR people are missing a great opportunity in our respective communities when we don't treat our school districts like businesses.

Business concepts for school PR
When it comes down to it, public school districts are about two of the most precious commodities in our communities: children and tax money (and not necessarily in that order depending on the day and the media-inquiry).

I don't know too many school PR people who live and breath tax money much less local, state, and national funding or who could present on the various facets of school finance without some studying, preparation and help from the internal finance experts in our districts. And that's ok.

The business I'm talking about is in terms of thinking about the various functions of your school districts and how using business-world concepts can make our districts better.

School districts and their customers
School PR people should be advocates for customer service in our districts. 
But wait, school districts don't have customers!

You better believe we have customers. Our customers (or buyers) are our parents, students, community members, and even other staff members. What are we selling? School districts sell trust. We are selling an idea. Thankfully, educating kids is a good idea.

Unfortunately we sometimes go about selling it the wrong way or don't do enough to let our buyers know what's out there.

An incomplete thought
This isn't my regular style of blog post since I am not really offering up any ideas at this point.

However, I am very interested in exploring the business of school public relations. I want to look at what makes a district's communication/PR department's job easier, better, manageable, and useful within a district's community. I want to look at various buyer personas within school districts to help PR people craft targeted messages and use specific communication channels to fill needs.

I'd like to get your feedback as well. What am I missing? What other ways do PR people need to view school districts in business terms? As always, the comments are yours.
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Friday, December 11, 2009

By Jove, I think they get this transparency thing

yes.Image by (michelle) via Flickr
Yesterday I sat in on a District-wide Educational Improvement Council (DEIC) meeting made up of a few administrators, teachers, and members of the community. The group's charge is to develop the annual District Improvement Plan, put forward a school calendar or calendar options for review, and provide other additional recommendations.

During the meeting while the group discussed calendar options one of the comments caught my attention:
"...well we are coming across to the community as being so much more transparent and open with so many things in the district now,  so if we don't provide this it might come across in a bad way."

That one line made my day. It confirms, in a small way, that our staff is understanding and believing in what we in the Communications Department strive toward - honest and effective communication with our district community.

I know it's a small victory, but it was one worth remembering and sharing.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

School PR and the grad student's questions

Show and TellImage by hylah via Flickr
I was recently asked by a graduate student from a local university if I would be willing to take part in an e-mail interview for a class project in which answers were needed from an administrator in public relations at a school district. I was glad I agreed to help because it forced me to take a step back and look at our communication program in the school district. Plus, it was a fun bit of show and tell:

What is the importance and role of public relations in your district setting?
PR in our district is a function of the Department of Media and Communications Development. The importance depends on the PR strategies and tactics needed for a variety of situations. In general terms, our role is to determine and use the communication channel(s) that help the District forge mutually beneficial relationships with individuals and organizations vital to the District's growth and development.

What techniques and strategies do you have in place for implementing positive public relations?
We have positioned ourselves as being crucial to the communications counseling during decision-making processes. Our department maintains a multitude of strategic initiatives thanks to positive levels of trust and credibility from within the organization. The relationships we maintain with our stakeholders help us to position our District with our community.

Briefly describe the public nature of your school district and expectations that have been put into place for you as an administrator.
Since we are a public entity, our charge includes providing access to information and ensuring an appropriate amount of transparency on behalf of our community. As part of our mission, the Communications Department "fosters an environment of open and honest communication aimed at building trust and credibility with the District's key internal and external stakeholders."

What various roles do administrative positions carry as it relates to public relations?
Administrators play a crucial PR role for school districts. In many cases, it is preferable to have the  appropriate administrator (i.e. Superintendent, Human Resources, or Curriculum and Instruction administrator, etc.) speak on topics relevant to their areas of expertise instead of me as a spokesperson.

What are your ideas of how to successfully work with the internal and external publics?
Be honest. Think about how your audience wants to receive the information and messages. Determine which communication channels are going to effectively reach your publics. Listen to what your stakeholders have to say about your actions.

What do you have in place to determine local and public opinion about school issues, climate, etc?
We utilize a variety of "listening" techniques and tools such as word-of-mouth, internal network, Google alerts and RSS feeds. We are in the process of developing/using further online tools as part of our reputation management initiatives. In addition to the technology tactics, we have several top administrators in the community in service organizations, plus we have a strong network of PTA organizations and booster clubs. The grapevine is a great source of informational nourishment if you know when fruit is ready to be picked.

How do you inform teachers about email usage and proper Internet usage?
Currently, we rely on staff trainings and new-employee orientations to explain these issues as well as providing information in staff handbooks. Unfortunately, this is not always the best way to reach the staff especially when so many other competing messages get in the way. When it seems like we are having issues arise, we put together mini-campaigns internally to help spread the information and expectations.

How do you plan to maintain positive school/parent relationships?
It goes back to being the trusted resource for information and explanations. It is imperative that we are involved in difficult situationsso that we can look at it through a communications/PR lens. We have to be prepared to offer advice on reactions and determine optimal options for the District. Further, we can operate within the District's vision, which is to is "to provide a superior education to each student within our diverse community by encouraging mutual respect and enthusiasm for learning in a safe and friendly environment." This vision helps the PR team craft messages around clear educational and community themes.
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For my school PR colleagues, how would you answer these questions for your school districts? Have you ever taken the time to assess your communication efforts and objectives? I'd love to see what you would add. As always, the comments are yours.
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Friday, December 4, 2009

Nonprofit Facebook Primer


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Above is the presentation slides from yesterday's social media session on Facebook for the Fort Worth Funding Information Center. The group was kind enough to invite me back to give this follow-up session on Facebook after my first presentation last Spring on nonprofit social networking.

For attendees: What did you think of the information presented? Do you have any additional questions that did not get asked? What other topics would you have liked to receive?

For non-attendees: I certainly appreciate any thoughts from you as well.

The comments are yours.
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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Facebook making privacy controls easier

Mark ZuckerbergImage by jdlasica via Flickr
Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, sent an open letter to the social network's users announcing some good news both for the company and for users. He announced Facebook now has over 350 million users. To put that into perspective, the Facebook population is larger than those of all of the countries in the except China and India.

The other, and arguably more intriguing, bit of information from Zuckerberg was the announcement of updates to Facebook privacy settings:
"The plan we've come up with is to remove regional networks completely and create a simpler model for privacy control where you can set content to be available to only your friends, friends of your friends, or everyone.

We're adding something that many of you have asked for — the ability to control who sees each individual piece of content you create or upload." (emphasis added)
Make good privacy choices
This is an important change because it will provide individuals a way to have better control and hopefully filter their postings for appropriateness. Perhaps this is Facebook's way of letting users help themselves and making good choices online. I especially liked how Zuckerberg leads users down the path of choosing privacy settings:
"...the best way for you to find the right settings is to read through all your options and customize them for yourself. I encourage you to do this and consider who you're sharing with online." (emphasis added)
If you're a Facebook user, will this change be helpful to you? Do you think people will take the time to update their privacy settings? The comments are yours.
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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks on #tweetsgiving and the Turkey Song

Thanksgiving 2009 happens to also be the second annual TweetsGiving, where people are encouraged to express their thanks through a variety of online communities and tools. The site hopes to create "a global celebration that seeks to change the world through the power of gratitude."

While this may seem a lofty, it does strike me as a simple, yet remarkable opportunity to offer thanks framed around a great cause.

So with that in mind, I offer my gratitude for:
  • the unconditional love freely given from my God;
  • my loving wife, who encourages and keeps me motivated;
  • our two amazing kids, who help me to view the world through optimistic and curious eyes;
  • the blessings from the work that I get to do;
  • all of the support and love from my family and friends through life's challenges; and
  • those of you that stop by my little corner of the blogosphere to read and discuss the often strange ruminations I leave here.
Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

Of course, I can't leave you with sappy. No, I want to share a quick video that offers a bit of the holiday, humor, and harmony of Thanksgiving that could only come from The Addams Family...


What are you thankful for? As always, the comments are yours.


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Friday, November 20, 2009

PR Roles: Be a Strategic Adviser

I wasn't able to attend this year's PRSA International Conference. From what I gathered through presentation reviews, live-tweets, conversations, blog posts and back-channels, it seems to have been a worthwhile conference (aside from the big complaint of no wifi in the hotel and the delegate issues related to organizational governance. But that's for another time.)

One particular session caught my eye today was posted on the PRSA ComPRehension blog entitled “Developing a Strategic Mindset: How to Become a Trusted, Strategic Adviser presented by PR thought-leader James Lukaszewski.

This is excellent information from Al Kruger and I recommend reading the full post if you're a PR practitioner who seeks wisdom on how to becoming a trusted strategic adviser for your organization. Here's an excerpt:

The Top Things That Leaders Are Looking for in Strategic Counselors
  1. Advice on the spot — Management is a real-time activity. It happens now, so leaving a meeting and offering recommendations later in the day isn’t valuable to them.
  2. Say things that matter from the boss’s perspective … not your perspective — Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. When you offer advice and talk in meetings, you have to ask yourself — Is this really important? Is this what we’re here to talk about? 
  3. Provide focus — In meetings you may need to pull leaders back and get them centered on what’s important and relevant in the problem/issue you are discussing right now.
  4. Leaders want help with things they don’t already know — Pointing out the obvious isn’t valuable. What can you bring to the table that is lacking?
  5. They want options to consider — If you only offer one option they will likely question it to death, so give them other ideas that can work.
  6. Bosses want help with what to do next — They already know what has happened. Give them ideas on what the company should do and offer insight about what will happen because of it.
This review post by Al Krueger is well worth the read and bookmark. Kruger also touches on a way to break down discussions into their most important parts for efficiency and so you can offer appropriate PR counsel.

What other things are looked for by leadership in strategic counselors? The comments are yours.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

They did their share, so we can say thanks

Special events and campus programs are commonplace for school PR people. Whether we are celebrating a national holiday like Veterans Day or commemorating a school namesake, outside by the flagpole or inside the cafetorium (yes, that's what they are called), having students commemorate events make for great opportunities to gather the school community and get some good photos.

This year was no different. We had students recite the Presidential proclamation, choirs sang patriotic songs, students read their winning essays and a few guest speakers told their stories of life in the military. One middle school program included the following  poem reading that struck me as being especially touching and appropriate:

They Did Their Share
On Veteran’s Day we honor
Soldiers who protect our nation.
For their service as our warriors,
They deserve our admiration.
Some of them were drafted;
Some were volunteers;
For some it was just yesterday;
For some it’s been many years;
In the jungle or the desert,
On land or on the sea,
They did whatever was assigned
To produce a victory.
Some came back; some didn’t.
They defended us everywhere.
Some saw combat; some rode a desk;
All of them did their share.
No matter what the duty,
For low pay and little glory,
These soldiers gave up normal lives,
For duties mundane and gory.
Let every veteran be honored;
Don’t let politics get in the way.
Without them, freedom would have died;
What they did, we can’t repay.
We owe so much to them,
Who kept us safe from terror,
So when we see a uniform,
Let’s say "thank you" to every wearer.
 
By Joanna Fuchs

I don't think we can say thank you enough to those who serve our country. I know I've not done all I can do. So as another Veterans Day comes to a close, let us give pause in remembrance to those who protect, fight, sacrifice, and work in our service.

Thank you to our military personnel. Thank you for being our servant heroes. Thank you to the families who lend us their loved ones. Thank you, veterans.

Thanks, dad.

(Note: My dad served in the U.S. Army in the 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War.)

Photo credit: brianhendrix

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tarrant County College lets blog double as a public forum


Yesterday, the Tarrant County College (TCC) Office of Public Relations & Marketing shared a blog post requesting public feedback on a new chancellor. The post* read in part:
The TCC Board of Trustees has begun the search process for a new chancellor, the chief executive officer of the College. Later this month, board members will conduct a workshop to draw up and approve a job description, and they would very much like your input.

What qualifications, experience, characteristics, and attributes do you think the next TCC chancellor should have? Please give us your comments, and/or react to the comments of others.

Why this works
I can tell you from experience that sometimes it's difficult to get feedback from your community if you work for a public educational institution (unless you've angered them in some way) on important matters. Just look at voter turn-out and you can see how (dis)engaged people are when they get distracted.

What TCC has done here for their community is provided another channel for voices to be heard. They could still hold public meetings in addition to the board meetings as ways to get thoughts, but using the blog post is a smart and efficient way for TCC to collect the thoughts on the "qualifications, experience, characteristics, and attributes" for a new chancellor. Here's hoping their community steps up to the plate and delivers views that will help shape a profile to fit their leadership needs.

*As an added bonus for education PR folks, TCC provides a link to their social media regulations in the post.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Starting clean for #Movember

The fact that I am not a hairy man makes me (and my wife) happy. My inability to grow facial hair into a full beard or goatee leaves me to wonder where my genes came from since there are beard and moustache-wearing guys among my male relatives. It usually doesn't bug me too much accept during the month of Movember because I know my mo won't be as robust as most of the others. But then, that's not the point.

Movember
Movember is a moustache growing charity event held during the month of November every year that raises funds and awareness for men's health - specifically prostate and testicular cancer. The month-long campaign this year will benefit The Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

The Movember campaign is one worth checking out even if you don't want to participate because it has integrated some social media outposts like YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter profiles in addition to a sites for the foundation and launch. The fun has an edge and seriousness to it.

Here's the Intro video for 2009:



The cause is worthy. The rules are easy. The campaign is cool. The benefits are noble. Change the face of men's health. Grow a Mo. 

Besides, what else do you have going this month? And so goes day #1 of Movember.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Taking a slight detour from my typical posts for something on arguably my favorite holiday.

I really dig how this educator has a little fun, a good personality, an engaged audience, and uses a bit of a performance mentality and techniques all while being a math teacher.

The observational geometry quiz at 2:24 is pretty cool too. (The audio in the clip is a little low, so you may want to turn up your volume a bit.)



Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Keep conversations going by not showing-up empty handed

A couple of weeks ago while preparing for a speaking engagement, a few thoughts crossed my mind to share about social media integration.

I was preparing to participate on a panel entitled Creating Sustainable Conversations Online during the Dallas PRSA's Communications Summit. (Fellow panelists included Christi Day and Chad Sour and was moderated by Lauren Benson.)

Thankfully, we were provided with a few lead-in questions prior to coming to the panel to get the conversation going and topics flowing.

Three questions stood out for me as being particularly useful to ask yourself when thinking about how to effectively integrating social media strategies within a broader communication effort.

What do you hope to achieve through Social Media?
  • Clarity of message - Understanding that control of the message is a bit of an illusion, but since we are in the social web, we can provide clarity to it to bring it closer in line with our communication objectives.
  • Consistency in information - Make sure your organization's voice is one that can be replicated across communication channels.
  • Listen to (and for) issues - Be available for conversations. It may not always be comfortable, but is important for your community to 1.) know you are listening and 2.) understand that you care.
  • Provide assistance when and where possible.
Why were you there in the first place?
  • You must be present to win - We believed in the concept early on that conversations were occurring online with or without us. 
  • We wanted to be available for those conversations or miss out on opportunities.
The Annual All-Vegan Thanksgiving Potluck
How do you keep conversations going and keep them coming back for more?
What about you? How would you answer these questions?
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Facebook Fan Page Rules for a School District

For those of you looking for an example of a school district's Facebook policies, guidelines, rules, etc., I submit for your consideration the 'Mansfield ISD Facebook Fan Page Rules of Engagement.'


These rules were posted earlier today on the District's Facebook Fan Page as a 'Note' to help set the rules and community expectations for the fan page usage.

(It probably would have been better to have these posted before we acquired over 600 fans, but better late than never.)

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The Mansfield ISD Facebook Fan Page is provided for the district community by the Mansfield ISD Department of Media & Communication Development. We will update this page as often as possible to share as much as we can about Mansfield ISD and the achievements of the students and staff as well as other relevant district community information.

All posting of comments on this page are at the discretion of the page administrators. The intent of this policy is not to keep any negative or critical information from being posted, but to protect the privacy and rights of Mansfield ISD staff and students. Naming specific employees or students in a negative way will not be allowed (and is just generally rude.) The page administrators will review all postings to make sure they do not run afoul of the rules nor of the district’s Acceptable Use Guidelines regarding Internet access and practices.

We welcome your thoughts and comments and look forward to what you have to say. However, we will not leave postings that:
  • Break the law or encourage others to do so. This includes respecting copyright and fair use laws. If you are talking about somebody else’s work, reference this or the person, and where possible include a link.
  • Contain abusive or inappropriate language or statements. This includes remarks that are racist, homophobic and sexist as well as those that contain obscenities or are sexually explicit.
  • Easily identify students and/or staff in defamatory, abusive, or generally negative terms.
  • Do not show proper consideration for others’ privacy or are considered likely to offend or provoke others – i.e. don’t pick fights or goad others into inflammatory debates. Nobody likes a bully.
  • Are spam – i.e. repeatedly posting the same comment or comments that are simply advertising/promoting a service or product. If you wouldn’t want to receive it yourself, don’t post it.
The page administrators reserve the right to not post or remove any comments at any time, for any reason…but we hope that won’t ever be necessary.

If you have a comment or would like to report an inappropriate comment for us to review, send an email to blog@mansfieldisd.org. (Yes, it’s the same e-mail as our district blog.)

Please note, you can also receive e-mail and phone text messages of our updates as they are posted through the settings of your personal Facebook account.

Thank you for stopping by and/or being a fan of Mansfield ISD.
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What do you think? Are these a decent set of fan page rules for a public school district? I'd appreciate any thoughts on these rules.
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Going Green for Good and #BAD09

On Wednesday, October 14, the Greater Ft. Worth PRSA chapter held a program entitled The PR Impact of Being Environmentally Proactive, and had the following speakers:


Most people understand that being environmentally conscious is good for the environment, but the question remains is it good your company or client? Each panelist provided green and sustainability perspectives from their organizations and what it can mean for progress.

If not now, when?
One of the most interesting things about the program was just how much this theme seemed to resonate with attendees. From a public relations standpoint, we should always pay attention to how our organizations are perceived. The environmental impact view is just one more lens through which we need to monitor and help counsel leadership. Does this mean we need to be experts in environmental policy? Not necessarily, but it does mean we need to determine what our stakeholders expect from us in the areas of being green and sustainable meaning we look to meet business needs in ways that minimize environmental impacts.

The lessons went a bit beyond public relations since the speakers provided insight from global, national and city perspectives. The topic was also perfectly timed for the Blog Action Day 2009 theme of Climate Change.
(hence the #BAD09 in the post's title)

I appreciated what Chris Smith provided from the Environmental Defense Fund. Her organization seems to be taking the smart approach in targeting practical solutions based on science, business, and communities to find environmental ideas that work. She presented a short clip from a video of Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund that is worth a watch.

I found a related video on the EDF channel on Climate Change. (I loved the call to action at the 2:22 mark.)


Other interesting bits:
  • IBM has had a corporate policy on environmental affairs since 1971.
  • IBM was listed as #5 in Newsweek's 2009 Green Rankings List
  • Tom Burke, APR mentioned the Pecan Street Project (of which IBM and EDF are among the partnering organizations) 
  • The project has a goal of ensuring "Austin’s leadership in the creation of the next generation electrical system, including utility and community infrastructure, consumer systems, State and local policy and regulation, economic development opportunities, new venture creation, and community engagement." Think of it as Energy 2.0.
While I'm impressed with Austin, I am especially proud of Ft. Worth because according to Brian Boerner...
  • Ft. Worth was named #15 on Popular Science's 2008 'America's 50 Greenest Cities' list  
  • The water reuse program saved 3,667,137,480 gallons of water for the year.
  • They converted three city soccer/rugby fields to artificial turf and is saving 11.5 million gallons of water annually.
  • Over 22% (62,000 tons) of the residential waste stream was recycled and diverted from area landfills.
  • We have six USDA approved Farmers Markets in Ft. Worth.
Communication Carry-out: Start small, start where you can. Sustainability is a process not a product.  Look at the bigger picture beyond your organization. Change is required. How can we balance customer expectations as they relate to environmental issues with customer service? Yes, we need to be paying attention.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Who is keeping you from being a better communicator?

Here's Pointing at You KidImage by Looking Glass via Flickr
Answer: You

 "Whether you think you can or can't, you're right."
- Dr. Adolph Brown, III

With all of the tools, trainings, conferences and research at your fingertips to access, learn, and use, what is keeping you from taking steps to advance or achieve your professional goals?

I am an advocate for communication professionals having working knowledge of the tools of the social web. I also believe being a life-long learner through a variety of professional development is a central component to having any kind of success in your field.

Whether it's crisis communications or being a strategic business consultant, media relations or measurement, whatever it is you need to do to sharpen your skills and change, learn, and grow, do it.

Personal responsibility is 100x more important than personal branding.

What are you going to do to be a more effective communicator? What steps have you taken to improve your craft? The comments are yours.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Turning an adversary into an advocate: How 24 Hour Fitness customer #twervice got it right

About a week ago, I was informed by my wife that 24 Hour Fitness had erroneously been charging us for memberships we had assumed had been canceled a couple of months back.

After a few expletives about the situation I did what any rational and mature person with a variety of social media tools and networks at their disposal would do:

I complained about it on Twitter.



(Ok, so that may not have been fair, but it made me feel better.) Actually, I said aloud right before I posted my little note, "I wonder if anybody at 24 Hour is listening."

Sure enough, they were.

30 minutes later I received an e-mail from Randy Drake (Senior Vice President - Fitness & Business Development at 24 Hour Fitness) with the subject line: Issue with cancellation.

So they were listening, on a Friday evening, and more importantly they were willing to get the matter straightened out. I commended Randy for paying attention and "listening" on Twitter. It just shows how important the network is for engagement. Mr. Drake's e-mail correspondence was thoughtful, expressed concern about the situation for our family, and has offered to make things right. (Disclosure: We are still in the discussion portion of this situation on how to resolve the issue.)

Winning over an adversary
What I think is most interesting about this episode is the fact that 24 Hour Fitness did a great job of turning an otherwise tough situation for a disgruntled member (or former member) into something that more resembles fostering a brand advocate. Regardless of whether or not we continue using their organization for our family's fitness needs, the attention to details and response was excellent and had a positive impact.

Granted, not all customer service interactions are adversarial in nature. Sometimes they are informational or  transactional. Whatever the case, being open to listening to interactions, questions, and even silly rants is an important customer service step for companies and organizations to grasp.

Customer Twervice
For additional thoughts on the matter with research, make sure you dig into Jason Falls' report Customer Twervice: Exploring Case Studies & Best Practices In Customer Service efforts Using Twitter where he presents "10 companies, how they started their Twitter efforts, their strategic approach, how much time and resources they devote."

The report includes a list of Twitter Customer Service Best Practices:

1. Be Present
2.Walk Before You Run
3. Be Prepared For Scale, But Expect A Slow Growth
4. Have A Quarterback
5. Making Rules Is Prohibitive
6. Immediacy Is Imperative
7. Look For Buy-In Opportunity

Get the report for thoughts on each of the above points. The Customer Twervice report by Jason Falls is a great read for anyone considering or actively engaging in customer service via Twitter.
Do you have any examples of good customer service engagement in Twitter? What about other social networks?  Is your company using the social web for customer service? Why or why not?

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

9 PR rules my daughter learned in kindergarten

This year marks a new chapter in my life as a parent of a school-age child. In the first couple of weeks of school, my daughter's kindergarten class collaborated to establish a set of rules for how to treat each other. When I saw these rules hanging up in her classroom, I was struck by how simple and honest these rules are as well as how they translated as rules for public relations professionals.

9 PR Rules
  1. Say please
  2. Say I'm sorry
  3. Be friendly
  4. Share
  5. Play fair
  6. Don't litter
  7. Never hurt others
  8. Say excuse me
  9. Listen to others
1. Say please - This rule speaks to a sense of decency and politeness. Some days we get so caught up in our work and we forget to be thoughtful with our co-workers, clients, and unfortunately, other members in our community. Forgetting this rule can cause tragic disconnections that are sometimes difficult to mend.

2. Say I'm sorry - If you screw up, own up to it. The sooner, the better. This is true for individuals as well as organizations when things go wrong. Your community will be more likely to forgive mistakes and missteps if you can express honest remorse when needed.

3. Be friendly - Public relations professionals had better like people. I don't mean the "I'm a people-person" platitudes that so easily get thrown around. I mean PR people need to have others' interests in mind when planning, preparing, and implementing in order to be the stewards of information and counsel our community expects us to be.

4. Share - I appreciate this rule for the facets it represents in the professional life of a PR person. Sharing is another word for communicating. Being effective communicators is in my opinion the basis for the work we do. The share rule can be the difference in being a part of a community and being apart from the community.

5. Play fair - The PRSA Code of Ethics includes fairness as part of the core values: "We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression."

6. Don't Litter - I'll be honest, I wasn't exactly sure at first how I was going to fit in this rule as a relevant rule for public relations. However, then I thought about what litter was: trash. So for PR people, this rule is simply to not leave your garbage lying around. Clean up after yourselves. If you make a mess of things, clean it up. Not every idea is a winner. That's ok. If your idea gets turned down, learn from it. That's how we grow.

7. Never hurt others - You might think that this is just an extension of being friendly and saying your sorry. In reality, this rule is different. Hurting others takes a certain level of intention. What this rule is saying is never proceed with plans that you know will do widespread harm.

8. Say excuse me - In addition to fairness, PR people should be held to a standard of advocacy: "We serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent. We provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate." Sometimes I think we need to add the word polite to this notion of public debate. Being civil is never out of style.

9. Listen to others - There is an interesting duality to this rule. A.) You don't know all there is to know about public relations. You need to continue to learn and hone your skills through discussion, research, and professional development. PR is an ever-evolving field and being able to adapt and change is what will make you stand out. B.) You don't know all there is to know about your organization or clients. Active listening within your work environment, on behalf of your organization and through monitoring will mean the difference between taking shots in the dark and making educated and informed communication decisions.

What do you think? What else would you add to this list?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Political Engine vs The School House

As many of my readers know, I work in the communications department of a public school district in north Texas. Last week's plans were derailed by the announcement of President Obama's Tuesday, September 8 live address to students. Like many, our district became a center for lively debate and spirited feedback by our community.

In no way am I here to disparage any of the parents or community members who called to, ahem, "discuss" the merits of showing or not showing the President's address to students. I'd rather focus on an interesting phenomenon in communication and why the headaches are worth it.

School PR and a Presidential Address
As the topic heated up for school districts, we reached out to other school PR teams in our area, across the state, and even a few friends across the country. It was important to find out what they were hearing, how they were handling the calls/e-mails, and if any decisions had been made on showing the broadcast. (Photo credit: darkmatter)

The common themes we heard from our brothers and sisters in school PR were ones of political leanings being argued against the educational decision-making process. Of course this is nothing new, we often have to balance the political winds that blow in a community with educational needs, mandates, and expectations. But this time, the contrast was so stark as to see that we had all been thrust into a no-win situation.

The difference was in the language that was used. While most school districts were trying to internally decide and discuss the instructional merits and curricular needs, we all were hearing arguments both for and against live (as well as taped) broadcasts of President Obama's address that hinged squarely on the shoulders of political dogma. (In our area, many of the calls began, I believed, during and after a local conservative talk-radio show.)

Bottom-line: We weren't going to win over the hearts and minds of our communities because, in this instance, we were speaking different languages and looking at the same thing through different lenses. And this brings me to the bigger positive of the ordeal.

Spotlight on Education
For the many extra hours, meetings, arguments, e-mails, phone calls with media friends and decisions ultimately made, I will still be thankful for one big thing. The nation was talking about education for a change.

In two days time, our neighbor asked, sports-talk radio shows discussed it, I read (and commented) on Facebook friends' wall postings as well as talked with random family members who don't usually engage in these types of talks. They were all talking about education and the issue of Obama's address along with the mainstream media:


Future-gazing
There is little doubt in my mind that on Tuesday, September 8 at 12:00 pm EDT, many people will stop what they are doing at work, school, and home to tune-in to the live broadcast of Obama's address just for the curiosity of it. Many will want to confirm their fears or solidify there beliefs, but they all will hear the message or at least hear of it. The address will continue to get local and national media coverage. Parents and students will get asked to share their thoughts via interviews. Pundits will claim righteousness or indifference. The machine will roll and just maybe, a greater discussion will open up on addressing the common issues that plague education.

It is for this reason that I can be thankful for the havoc and short-term PR problems we'll face because they are outweighed by a larger (much-needed) discussion about education in this country. Further, I think we can all be a little calmer if in fact the Presidential address stays within the realm of wanting students to take personal responsibility for their own education, to set goals, and to not only stay in school but make the most of it.

Those are good lessons and a debate worth having.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

The foundation of a communications condo

I really enjoy a healthy debate or discussion. (My wife would probably correct me and say that I enjoy arguing often just for the sake of arguing.)

As such I have quite enjoyed the recent discourse attempting to answer the question: Who owns social media?

Don't get me wrong, it is a good question considering many people have staked their professional claim in the social web while organizations continue to struggle with how best to implement social strategies and who best to do this for them.

Welcome to the communications condo
I know it doesn't look like much at first, but let's look at an often forgotten aspect of the big three: advertising, marketing, and public relations.  

All three are comfortable rooms inside a dwelling built on a solid foundation of effective communication.

(Photo credit: yeaiknit)


Advertising - Advertising is the kick-ass Media Room we all wish we could afford to have and showcase multimedia storytelling to our friends. We are often awed by those in our various industries that are quite comfortable in the advertising media room. They inspire us to push the boundaries of controlled messaging, compel us to compete, and put on a great show. (Photo credit: sarahleeab)


Marketing - Marketing is our Kitchen where we plan, prepare, and process the exquisite recipes for measured success. In the marketing kitchen, we hear things things like "ROI," "creative strategy," and "brand relationship." All of the ingredients (people's needs and wants) come together through the work of skilled professionals in satisfying feasts. (photo credit: emptyhighway)


Public Relations - Take a seat in the Public Relations Living Room. This is the conversation room. The PR living room is where dialogue, community, and trust take shape. Public relations needs to facilitate the delicate balance between strategy and tactics for organizations. Yes, planning and presentation are well received in this room as invited neighbors or guests are welcomed to the discussions. (photo credit: Roy Sinai)

All three rooms share the common foundation of communication. Without communication, these rooms are useless. Professionals in the three rooms would be better served (and would better serve their organizations) if they'd stop arguing with each other and start integrating together as much as possible. These are separate rooms where invited guests should be able to roam in and out freely in order to have the best possible experience in your home. You want them to want to be there. Let's not give them reasons to leave early.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

School Districts Sell Trust

Today my daughter started kindergarten. It was hard for me to see her all dressed up and excited about starting at her new school. It wasn't hard because I want her to stay a little girl, but because of my irrational fear of the big world.

All that aside, today gave me a uniquely poignant opportunity to explore the transaction of trust ideals and what school districts "sell" to their communities.

School districts and the business of selling
School district administrations have many choices to make on a daily basis with far-reaching implications. As a communications and PR professional for a suburban school district, I have seen first-hand the oftentimes arduous process these decisions go through and ultimately given to the community of parents, students, staff, and public.

So how are we selling trust?

In order for a school district to have an effective relationship with its community, the district's stakeholders must trust that...
  1. the school district will provide safe learning environments;
  2. their teachers will adhere to set instructional standards and expectations;
  3. all students will be given every opportunity to succeed and achieve;
  4. parents are a wanted and integral part of the learning process;
  5. technology and instruction will not be mutually exclusive;
  6. when things go wrong, the district will be open and honest when communicating and work to mitigate future issues;
  7. tax dollars will be spent and sought with sound financial judgment;
  8. facilities will be constructed and maintained with extreme care; and
  9. ultimately, what's in the best interest of students' education will be the guide.
Are you paying attention to the details?
I asked another new kindergarten parent, Kami Huyse (a respected communications professional) of her thoughts on trust from a school. Here's what she said via Twitter:
The orderly way in which things ran today was neat, controlled chaos. Also, the "call" from the principal yesterday and today, cool | Not sure if that is selling but made me more comfortable my kid was in able and responsible hands | The key was in the details, that they pay attention to details, makes me trust them more.
The numbered list above includes what I believe to be trustworthy ideals. They are what make your community believe you have "able and responsible hands." The ideals are quite difficult to achieve all the time due to circumstances beyond the control of district. However, as school communicators, it is our job to provide counsel, explore challenges, plan sound strategy in the face of adversity, and implement tactics to help facilitate the transaction of trust.

It is also not a complete list. What other ways do school districts sell trust?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The (Social Media) Natives are getting restless

This is cross-posted over on Geoff Livingston's blog, The Buzz Bin. I had the distinct pleasure of providing Geoff with a guest post while he's on vacation. I hope my readers who have not already done so, will take some time and explore his blog. It's one of my favorites. Enjoy...


"____________ is dead."

Go ahead and fill in that blank with the usual suspects; blogging, Twitter, PR, marketing, FriendFeed, the press release, the media, etc.

Admit it, you've probably seen, read, or possibly wrote something that fits the above standard claim. It gets repeated, rebroadcast, refuted, and recycled. And that's ok. That's how this stuff is supposed to work. It is what happens as people keep entering the house of social web and longtime residents become bored with the decor and want to move on to more interesting things.

The barriers to entry into social media are often easy to overcome with a little planning and commitment. Basically, you have to want to know because by this point, if you are not learning, experimenting, or using social media tools, you are choosing to ignore the significance and potential of the social web.

Natives + Immigrants
In his book Don't Bother Me Mom - I'm Learning, Marc Prensky writes:

"After dealing with Digital Natives for quite a while, I've become a kind of digital anthropologist, spending a great deal of time observing the rich digital world and life that the Natives are in the process of creating for themselves. It turns out that for almost every activity in their lives, the Digital Natives are inventing new, online ways of making each activity happen, based on new technologies available to them. Some of these new approaches Digital Immigrants can -and do - use as well. But some are so foreign to the Immigrants that they are almost, or totally, unintelligible."

Sound familiar? While Prensky is explaining to parents how children are actually getting valuable skills from playing video games, I am interested in how social media natives and immigrants are not adversaries. Instead, we should operate in mentoring relationships.

To the Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, and Late Majority on the adoption bell curve, you are the Social Media Natives. You get it, you've shared it, many of you are tired of talking about it.

To the Laggards of the adoption bell curve, you are the Social Media Immigrants. You're getting it, you're sharing it and yes, in time, some of you will probably grow tired of the tools.

But we can (and should) still learn from each other.  

We have a responsibility to share
In the seminal work for the PR field, Effective Public Relations, the authors write:

"Because professions draw upon a specialized body of knowledge developed through research, practitioners are obligated to support the advancement of professional knowledge."
(Cutlip, Center, and Broom)

As professional communicators, we should devote time to topics, writings, discussions, and brainstorms that keep us sharp and informed. If that means rehashing some old(er) debates, so be it. We'll all be better for it.

(Photo credit: matildaben)


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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Take-aways from #accredchat - August 18, 2009

Earlier today another installment of the periodic #accredchat, a Twitter chat on accreditation in public relations. I am a part of a small APR study group within the Greater Ft. Worth Chapter of PRSA who are at the beginning stages of attaining accreditation in PR.
(Image credit: Universal Accreditation Board) 

Today's conversation mainly hit on some differences and similarities between the exams in the U.S. and Canada as well as as some interesting discussion on authority and the perceptions of accreditation.

APR Readiness Review Panels
The best take-aways available today came after a question on the Readiness Review Panel process.
For those that have sat on Readiness Review Panels: What are you looking for out of an APR candidate? Expectations, etc.?

Here are some of the responses:
rayatkinson A strong understanding and demonstration of strategy and planning. Important that they can ID potential weaknesses.
kamichat For readiness review we are looking to see if you are really ready to take the exam, we are also looking at your portfolio
kristen_okla RR [Readiness Review] panelists want to see how well you think on your feet, what experiences you have to prepare you for the exam
kristen_okla RR shouldn't be confrontational but should allow you to receive honest feedback on areas where U need to focus more attn.
kamichat Also we are looking to mentor you. Do you really understand the 4-part planning process
bprickett As panelist, I want to see that you planned, set measurable goals and that your evaluation/results were measured.
If you have ever sat on an APR Readiness Review Panel, what would you add to this list?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The hats we wear

The following is a guest post by my wife, Kristen Escovedo, who after 12 years as a dedicated school PR professional is moving on to the next chapter. This post first appeared on The Miss Information blog. (I just love that title, but I'm biased.)
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Every Thanksgiving my husband's family descends upon his grandparent's house to enjoy turkey, dressing, and quality time with family. The tiny house is filled with aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins, some of whom I'm not sure I've ever met before.

Inevitably between the wishbone and pumpkin pie someone will ask, "Now, Kristen, what is it you do again?"

"I'm in public relations. I wear many hats."

This cliche, while tired, seems to work well in this situation, because generally speaking, it does not lead to many follow up questions, except perhaps, "Can you pass the yams?"

I would hazard to guess that most PR pros have been guilty of using this cliché more than once. I would also guess that not once has a cousin replied with the logical follow up question "What kind of hats? Ten gallon? Fedora? Top? Berets?"

Of course, when we say we wear many hats, we mean it metaphorically. When arsonists are coming out of left field, we sound the alarm, put on our firefighter hat, and start putting out fires. When our organization is under attack, we rally the troops, put on our combat helmet and prepare for battle. When we land that good news story on the front page, be honest ladies (and sometimes men), we put on the tiara and celebrate. And some days you just put on your ratty old ball cap and do the grunt work that nobody else wants to do because it has to get done.

We all have metaphorical hats that we swap off and on depending on the day, the hour, sometimes the minute.

However, in addition to all my metaphorical hats, I also keep one literal hat in my office that serves as my inspiration. The hat, or more accurately the mining helmet, belonged to my grandfather who worked in underground copper mines in Montana from the time he was 17 until he retired almost 50 years later. When my grandmother passed away two years ago I found the helmet in her attic.

It has been in my office ever since.

There are a few things you should know about both my grandfather and the helmet for you to understand why such an obscure object could serve as inspiration. My grandfather had an incredible work ethic. As you can imagine, winters in Montana are harsh and working in underground mines in those conditions is not easy. The shifts were long and the work was tedious. But my grandfather worked in difficult conditions for almost five decades to support his family. He was not one to complain, he was one to do his job.

It is hard to see from the picture, but there is a large crack down one side, which means that the helmet was used for its designed purpose. That means that at least once (and I suspect more than that) something substantial in size fell on my grandfather's head causing the helmet to crack.

Something about this crack intrigues me. He didn't get a new helmet. For whatever reason - sentimental or financial, he went back to work wearing the same helmet that had protected him from that accident. Perhaps it was his stubbornness that drove him back down into the mines wearing that same helmet with the crack down the side.

Perhaps it is that same stubbornness that drives us back into the field when we have taken a hit hard enough to rock us to our core. People often accuse me of being stubborn like it is a bad thing, and sometimes I suppose that it is. But sometimes I think a degree of stubbornness is required in a field that requires us to be firefighters, soldiers, advisers, janitors, counselors, and teachers.

People often ask about the helmet when they come into my office for the first time.

You have just read the long answer.

The short, but honest, answer I give is this; It reminds me that no matter how bad of a day I'm having, my job could always be worse. No one has to send a canary into my office first to see if I'm going to make it out alive today.

[Please note: Her grandfather's mining helmet now rests in a prominent location in my office today. Thank you Kristen, I love you.]