Is Honesty the Best Policy?

 By Meagan Price

“Honesty is the best policy!” It was Benjamin Franklin’s mantra we all learned at a very young age.  While parents everywhere have convinced their children this is true, the corporate world seems to live by “honesty is an ‘okay-maybe-it-works-sometimes’ policy.”

We’ve all seen countless examples of dishonesty in the news and in real life — name your politician, Fortune 500 company, or even your neighbor. We’ve all witnessed how and when a lie comes back to bite the liar and it’s not pretty. I believe that dishonesty has a bigger bite in the business world, particularly in employee engagement and company morale metrics.

In a 2017 New Tech Benchmark study done by Culture Amp, companies with highly engaged employees consistently scored high on employee communications metrics. In Quantum Metrics’ Employee Engagement Survey, only 26% of respondents believed their organization provided honesty and transparency when making changes. Companies that encouraged honest feedback among their employees outperformed competitors by 270% over a 10-year period, according to a 2010 Corporate Executive Board study.

I’ve worked for clients that believed their employees should be the first to know company news, and as a result, employees felt invested in the company’s future. I’ve also dealt with clients that considered employees an afterthought, and consequently employees did not consider their leadership trustworthy. The difference in employee morale was stark.

Employees are entitled to know as much of the story as can legally be shared. They’re your team members and your best assets to bring your company success. Company leaders need to approach their employees as allies and as their company’s best marketing ambassadors.

Employees crave honesty. They need straightforward, no-bull communication from their leaders. Employees can spot a “line” from a mile away. Tell your employees the truth about your company strategy, goals and even finances. Maybe the financial news isn’t great but use communication as an opportunity to share how you’re making it better, what the commitment level is from leadership, and how your employees can help the company succeed.

A motivated employee is your best employee. The corporate world should not discount honesty as the “okay-maybe-it-works-sometimes” policy. It’s the foundation to success. If your employees believe in their leaders, they’ll do whatever it takes to help their company succeed.

About the Author

Meagan Price is an independent communications consultant with nearly 20 years of experience in employee communications. She excels in strategic communications planning, change management communications, and senior leadership writing. Ms. Price uses a blend of creativity, the latest communications trends and a healthy dose of common sense to deliver results for her clients. Connect on LinkedIn @MeaganPrice.

 

 

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Looking for Agencies in all the Wrong Places

By Robert Udowitz, RFP Associates

Whether you’re on the agency or client side of public relations, you’ve no doubt encountered the Request for Proposal – or simply, RFP. It’s a bane to most everyone’s existence for a multitude of reasons yet, by design, it truly is the best way to solicit PR services or respond to the need for them.

Naysayers forget that RFPs span most industries and are a generally accepted method of doing business. In fact, when done well – and by that, I mean comprehensively and transparent – they should serve as the most efficient method of agency selection.

In today’s frantic-paced communications departments it’s difficult to devote the resources to create an RFP and identify the right agencies. But how can you consider hiring a public relations firm that you’re willing to pay, say, $250k or more a year – equal to the cost of several employees – without taking the proper precautions to screen, review, test, and verify those firms?

The average search takes 150-200 hours. Surprised? Look at your clock and consider that you need to build a review team, develop the budget, draft the initial RFP, pre-screen agencies (to ensure expertise and eliminate those with conflicts), read/re-read and evaluate all those responses, schedule presentations, and then make a final selection – all while you manage your department without the agency you desperately need.

So what should you do? Here are a few ideas:

  • When searching for an agency, first look inward. Assess your goals and needs AND your current structure’s ability to manage an outside firm.
  • Build an initial search team to set the tone and goals. Doing so will commit a group to strict responsibilities and deadlines that have to be adhered.
  • Create a scorecard from the very beginning, too, so each step of the way you can fairly evaluate and compare what each agency has to offer.

Today’s pool of agency choices is greater than ever before. The large firms have expanded their services and built fully integrated teams. On the other hand, there are many good, smaller specialty firms and independent practitioners that have sprung up that are nimble and cost-effective.

The time and effort it takes to hire a PR firm should begin a long and mutually beneficial relationship. By putting the necessary time, thought and energy on the front-end you’ll become a much more satisfied client that never has to look back with regrets and bemoan your agency to colleagues.

About the Author

Robert Udowitz is a principal with agency search firm RFP Associates, LLC. He can be found at www.rfpassociates.net

Going it Alone: 6 Tips for Prospering as an Independent Communications Consultant

By Laura Porter, Independent Writer and Communications Strategist

“I’ve got a great gig for you, only you’ll need to create your own LLC.”

When a recruiter said those words to me in March 2015, I hesitated. Start my own business? I’d been a communications government contractor for years letting others dictate my job location, work, and role. Did I want to become my own boss?

Working for a federal consulting firm was a comfortable situation for me as I always considered myself risk averse. Then the last project I was on ended and there were no other assignments on which to place me.

Everything involves some level of risk, so why not give it a try, I thought to myself. My first major client lasted over two years. However, it turns out relying on one client is not a good long-term approach for building a sustainable career. Today, I consistently support two to three clients at any one time.

How does a communications professional successfully create and build their own business?  I’m going to share with you what I learned after four years and how you too can thrive as an independent consultant.

Understand Who Your Clients Are and What They Need

While a good communications professional should be able to support clients regardless of the topic, having experience and first-hand knowledge of the fields that your potential clients work in gives you an edge.

The significant experience I had previously working with multiple IT departments unquestionably helped me secure new technology clients. They loved the fact that they didn’t have to explain terms like DevOps or AI, to me and that I could jump in quickly.

If you are looking to break into a new field, read up on that industry and identify opportunities for them to better communicate with stakeholders. They’ll be impressed, and it’s more likely you’ll be hired.

Know What You Want to Do and What You Don’t

Previously, I was sometimes placed in positions that made me feel like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Communications is a broad term and when you are relying on others to place you in a role, it may not be something you really enjoy.

It’s important to figure out what you really enjoy doing (and do well) and self-identify opportunities where you can use your skills to shine. For me, I love to write blogs, newsletters, and case studies. I’ve now become a go-to-person for content creation.

Reach Out to Your Network Even When You’re Not Looking for Work

It may feel awkward reaching out to someone you haven’t connected with in 10+ years only to ask them for work. If you make a habit out of grabbing coffee with contacts or reaching out to check in with them from time to time via email or LinkedIn, you’ll have better luck when you do need a favor.

These touchpoints help you remain fresh in their minds if an opportunity comes up where you’d be a great fit. I recently completed a wonderful six-month stint with two former colleagues who I last worked with 10 years ago. Staying connected with them over the years made them remember to reach out to me when they had the chance to bring me on to a project.

Embrace Life-Long Learning

Communications tools from five years ago are already obsolete and the use of social media for brand, company, and personal promotion continually evolves. To remain a successful communications consultant, stay up on the newest trends, understand where communication and engagement is headed, and broaden your knowledge of the latest industry tools and technology.

You should also consider listening to podcasts like Inside PR, follow communications experts like Shel Holz (Internal Communication) Jon Winoker (Writing), and/or Pam Hughes (Marketing) on Twitter, or read books like Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story. It’s easy to stay ahead of the curve if you are willing to put in the effort.

Remain Flexible

Becoming your own boss can be especially tempting for working parents. When I first took the plunge, I had visions of greeting my daughter after school in my yoga pants with cookies and milk and cultivating a new hobby.

While there are days when I can greet my daughter and wear my yoga pants to an actual yoga class, sometimes I work longer hours than I did in an office. It’s important to stay flexible to meet your clients’ demands.

The freedom of being your own boss comes with a few strings, but much less than working for someone else.

Don’t Panic When Things Slow Down

Sometimes a sure thing, isn’t so certain. Clients who initially promise a contract extension may reconsider due to financial constraints or changing priorities. Work might ebb or flow based on the season.

To account for potential downswings, consider taking on extra work during other phases. Extend your network through business events, ask your contacts to connect you to their network, and browse online job boards.

I secured one of my largest clients by blindly applying for a part-time copywriter job online for a company based in Richmond, VA. The client wasn’t necessarily looking to make the position a remote one, but was swayed by my experience, writing samples, and interview.

If you want to join me and the other 16.5 million others who make up the growing gig economy, do your homework, reach out to your peers, and enjoy the ride!

About the Author

Laura Porter is an independent writer and communications strategist with 16+ years of experience working with government and private sector clients. Ms. Porter conducts activities as diverse as blog writing, case study creation, change management, technical and non-technical writing, web and video content creation, and implementing internal and external client communications campaigns. She enjoys working collaboratively with clients to advance their organization’s mission and get their key messages seen and heard by their target audiences. She currently lives in Arlington, VA with her husband, daughter, and Boston Terrier, Pugsley.

11 Podcasting Tips for Ambitious Creators

By Aimee Stern, Brave Now PR

I went to a well-attended podcasting seminar at George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration recently. Sponsored by PRSA-NCC, speakers included journalists, GWU professors, production companies and other types of professional podcasters.

They discussed how to create a successful podcast and offered a multitude of tips for how to find your audience, improve marketing, audience engagement and other areas.  I sat in on two sessions: “Production Strategies and Post Production Tips,” with Molly Ruland, CEO and Founder, Heartcast Media and Ian Enright, CEO & Co-Founder, Goat Rodeo; and

“Launch Campaigns and Promotion” featuring Jenn Sherman, Founder and Chief Strategist, The Influencer Collective and Michael Hempen, of the Associated Press and the National Press Club. Tips are highlights from their talks.

My favorite tip?  If you want to learn about podcasting do not read stuff on the Internet. Go to your local music store and talk to them.  They know a lot more about sound and can tell you about the podcasts they listen to.

Find Your Audience                                                               

You are nothing without your audience. Building it quickly will help you get feedback and make continuous improvements.

  • Get their emails. You can ask for emails when a listener signs up or during the podcast. Experts say that if someone listens to your podcast for more than 20 seconds odds are they will give you their email.
  • Be a guest on other people’s podcasts that have big audiences. That way you can boost your audience through theirs.
  • Invite guests with large followings to be on your podcast and cross-promote their appearances with them.

Engage Your Audience

Some episodes will be more successful than others. Measure everything. Google Analytics can help.

  • Your friends and families will be your worst critics. Don’t take it personally.
  • Ask “Do I really have to be funny?” If you are trying too hard, chances are you should not. Engagement does not always mean humor. Tell a compelling story.
  • Determine what makes your podcast engaging to listeners and how to do more of it. A great way to figure this out? Ask.
  • Your audio needs to be good but not perfect. Since podcasts are listened to in so many different settings there will be interference with sound. If you are engaging you will keep your listeners.

Keep Your Audience

I was struck by how marketing-driven the podcasters and even the professors were. Marketing can help you find your audience and keep them.

  • Have an ask. If someone sits through your entire podcast you can ask them to share it and you should.
  • Brand your first group of shows as your first season. Many podcasts don’t make it after a couple of shows and saying its season one of yours sends the message that you plan to stick around.
  • Use Facebook Watch. Facebook has a rule that you cannot advertise a podcast while it is live. But you can preview your podcast and promote that – giving snippets of what is coming on your next how.

About the Author: Aimee Stern is a writer and PR consultant who loves learning. Her company, Brave Now PR, works with thought leaders to help them shape and share their great ideas.

 

2019 PRSA-NCC Thoth Awards Are Open!

By Sabrina Kidwai, co-chair Thoth Awards Committee

One of the events members look forward to every year is the Thoth Awards in the fall. It’s a great time to celebrate the best communication campaigns and components created by professionals in the DC area. It’s an annual tradition and now it’s your chance to take part in the great celebration.

Do you have a successful communications campaign or component(s) that you are excited about from 2018? Is there a PR agency or association/nonprofit that you believe should be recognized as a great communications team? If so, now is your chance to submit for the 2019 Thoth Awards. Deadline to submit is July 1 and the early bird deadline is June 7.

As a Thoth committee, we made a few changes to the program this year, and we believe it will help streamline entries as well as give more members an opportunity to apply for and attend the awards ceremony. Here’s what’s new this year:

  • We have changed the awards from a dinner to a lunch. Save the date for Friday, Sept. 27, at the National Press Club. It’s now called The Thoth Awards Luncheon.
  • We took a fresh look at all the categories and have combined some and eliminated others, due to lack of submissions over the past four years. A full list of changes is online here.
  • In the past, we heard from independent PRSA-NCC members that pricing for Thoth can be prohibitive for a small business, so we wanted to ensure that entry is accessible from a financial perspective. So, we are introducing a PRSA-NCC IPRA price this year: early bird pricing is $95 and regular price is $135.
  • We are offering special pricing for first-time Thoth Award submitters. Some of our members haven’t submitted for a Thoth Award before, and we want to encourage them to apply this year, with hopes that they will become repeat applicants. This special pricing is only for PRSA-NCC members.
  • In the past, we gave out both the Thoth award and Award for Excellence (entries that were second place). This year, we are only giving out the Thoth awards. It will provide you with more opportunities to network with and celebrate the winners.

During the Thoth Awards Luncheon, we also are going to recognize professionals in the industry with more than 30 years of experience, presenting them with our prestigious Hall of Fame Award. Last year’s winners were Martha Boudreau, Executive Vice President & Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at AARP, and Patty Yu, Principal of theYucrew, and they gave great speeches that inspired us to innovate and challenge ourselves every day. I can’t wait to see who we will honor this year. If you know someone who should be nominated for the Hall of Fame award, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, submit your nomination by July 26.

We hope you apply for this year’s awards! If you have any questions regarding the submission process, please reach out to me or Aprill Turner.

Partner With a Membership Organization to Help Market Your Business

By Kate Perrin, CEO PRofessional Solutions, LLC

This is PRofessional Solutions’ 25th anniversary and while I credit its longevity to providing excellent PR temp services, equally important has been leveraging the reach of our marketing time and dollars through organizations like PRSA-NCC who spread our message to our target audience.

Fish Where You Know the Fish Swim

Small business owners must find ways to get noticed and demonstrate competence.  Membership organizations provide many ways to do that.  Our target audience is communicators and those who employ them, so where better to focus than on PR professional societies?

Each business needs to identify the best ways to highlight itself, but we’ve identified three roles you can play that membership organizations appreciate and will put your firm in the spotlight:

Be a Supporter – Become a sponsor either of the organization or of one of its events.  Donate to auctions that support its programs or causes.  Contribute to its large events.  This gets your firm’s name visible to leadership, members and participants.  And be sure to attend yourself.

Moderating a PRSA-NCC 2012 panel on using a career coach

Moderating a PRSA-NCC 2012 panel on using a career coach

Participate! – Make yourself or key members of your organization available to write for the membership organization’s newsletter, website or blog.  Participate in its mentorship programs.

Meeting with students at PRSA-NCC PR Day 2018

Meeting with students at PRSA-NCC PR Day 2018

Demonstrate Knowledge and Expertise – This can mean serving as speaker, panelist or moderator for the organization’s programs, but also consider opportunities that highlight the accomplishments of others.  Nominate worthy members for the organization’s highest professional recognition.  Or, work with the organization to create events or scholarships which may be linked to your business’ support that will build future industry talent or highlight outstanding industry achievers.

These roles have real value to the organization of which you’re a sponsor and its member at the same time they are valuable marketing approaches for your firm.

2018 annual WWPR dinner for past Presidents and winners of the PR Woman of the Year award

2018 annual WWPR dinner for past Presidents and winners of the PR Woman of the Year award

Sorry

sorryBy Karen Naumann, APR, Vice President at Susan Davis International

Apologies abound. From political figures, religious institutions, entertainers, corporations, there seems to be an apology issued in the public domain every week.

Crisis Response

For professional communicators, the apology is an attempt to restore the image of the entity or person, preserve the business/organization, and minimize damage after a crisis. However, simply saying “sorry” is not the proper response for every crisis as academia’s Situational Crisis Communication Theory would inform.

Before taking a message position, culpability should first be carefully considered. Ask, “Was the person or organization actual the victim? Did the situation arise through unavoidable circumstances or unknown factors?” If the answer is “yes,” then “sorry” is not the response.

  • If there is clearly another blame-worthy party, then the message positioning could shift blame to the culprit and attack the accuser of the false accusation.
  • If there is some negligible responsibility to be taken, then minimizing role and justifying choices may be the best message positioning.
  • If, however, responsibility for a tragic and avoidable situation falls with your client or organization, then “sorry” is only the beginning. Compensation to those affected and demonstrating authentic change is immediately required.

This is a simplistic framework of crisis message positioning. The content of the crisis response will likely be multi-layered.

Sometimes the foundational messaging framework is followed by necessary instructional information for those affected by the crisis. Instructional information can be actions taken to correct or mitigate the threat of the crisis for stakeholders. Also, expressions of compassion and sympathy may need to be part of the messaging, especially if there was a loss of human life.

Regardless of response message positioning selected, always be transparent, accurate and swift.

Once the Smoke Clears

The above addresses crisis response messaging. Issuing the messaging and fielding media inquiries is not the end of the crisis.

Post crisis is comprised of follow up actions and changes to avoid similar crises in the future. The benefit of time to make sense of a crisis may be an opportunity to issue a report stemming from investigations into the crisis and the actions taken to prevent another going forward.

A thorough report can set the record straight and restore faith in an organization.

The Best Offense Is a Good Defense

In the end, the best crisis is the one that never happens. Preventing crisis should be job #1 for the professional communicator.

Pre-crisis scenario building is pivotal to that risk management role. Scenario building is a strategic-planning technique that projects multiple future situations for an organization.

While there is no rigid scenario building process, the most respected models are rooted in James E. Grunig’s work. Steps to consider include:

  1. Conduct environmental scanning of stakeholders, influences, trends
  2. Identify issues emerging from environmental scan
  3. Zero in on areas of potential crisis, such as legal/regulatory, physical locations, internal employees and clientele
  4. Examine the intersection of issues, stakeholders, influences, trends, and areas of potential crisis
  5. Create response frameworks for the potential crises identified.

sorry2

Additionally, actively preparing the crisis response team for the most likely scenarios for an organization is a common initiative led by communicators. These efforts should go beyond the crisis response team to prepare the entire organization from the top down and to open dialogue that promotes deep understanding of what stakeholders think of the most probable crises.

Additionally, communicators, along with internal leadership, should proactively work toward mitigating the circumstances that may lead to the crisis in the first place.

About the Author

Karen Naumann, APR is a Vice President at Susan Davis International, a Washington D.C.-based public relations and public affairs firm. She is a member of the PRSA-NCC Board of Directors.