Seven Ways to Form Meaningful Business Relationships

By Susan Matthews Apgood, News Generation

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Susan Apgood (middle) at the 2015 Thoth Awards

No matter your industry, the benefits of knowing how to form meaningful relationships with other professionals are exponential. And while maintaining relationships may be as simple as sending an email once in a while, forming those relationships is a whole other story. All meaningful business relationships have one key factor in common: mutual benefits. Being able to give is just as important as getting, and one cannot happen without the other. Each of these seven ways to form relationships rely heavily on mutual assistance:

 

  1. Find a Mentor and/or Mentee: Early in my career, I viewed asking for help as a sign of weakness. As a young business owner, I feared that not knowing how to do something would turn away potential clients and make employees nervous. It wasn’t until I found myself in a position where people came to me for assistance that I realized the true benefits of asking for help. The mentor-mentee relationship is a great way to build a strong business relationship early in your career, and even decades in. But the most important factor of a meaningful mentor-mentee relationship is mutual benefit. The relationship must go two ways. Don’t overlook how much your mentee can teach you, and don’t ask too much of your mentor. If the relationship becomes too much of a “take” on one side, it will not last.
  2. Consider Joining a Peer Group: Peer groups are an easy way to meet other professionals in different industries, that are in the same position as you, and faced with the same challenges. As a member of Vistage for seven years, I came to realize how much others can help you, and how much you can help them in return. Not only have I gained insightful advice from my peers, I’ve also seen first-hand how giving, but not getting in return, can limit business relationships. Like all networking groups, you get back what you give out. And don’t overlook the benefits of joining industry-specific groups, like PRSA. Getting to know peers within your industry in your community is invaluable. My experience with PRSA-NCC here in the D.C. area has allowed me to build some of the best personal and professional relationships I have.
  3. Understand Who You’re Working With: Everyone differs in how they like to be communicated with, and nothing is more beneficial than understanding what type of person you’re trying to form a relationship with. A simple way to read people is by evaluating their personality based on tests. Some people like quick and to–the-point communication, while others prefer more personal sentiments like starting an email with “Hope you had a nice weekend.” Knowing how people want to be communicated with, and showing them how you want to be communicated with in return makes a balanced, meaningful business relationship. For example, if the person I am working with is a “red,” I don’t have to go through the formalities when asking a question of them, but if they are a “green,” I definitely do.
  4. Help Others Get Valuable Experiences: In the business world, few things are more meaningful than helping others get valuable experiences. Connecting one meaningful business relationship with another that will provide mutual benefits for both will not only help out a peer, it will strengthen your relationships with both parties. Similarly, don’t be afraid to ask someone you know professionally to introduce you to other people. If you think a connection would be great to speak on a panel or serve on a board, speak up and ask them if they would like you to nominate them. Many people are too shy to nominate themselves, and if you do, they will not only be grateful to you, but so will the beneficiaries of their talents at the conference or on the board.
  5. Work with Clients with Similar Office Cultures and Thoughts: As a business owner for 20 years now, I’ve learned how I want to represent myself and my business, and how I don’t. Staying true to your office culture by working with clients that hold those same values is a great way to form relationships with both individuals and companies. Working with and trying to form relationships with those who have very different ways of conducting business may make it difficult to form meaningful relationships. It is important to know when a culture is not a fit, and potentially walking away from a client that is not a good match for you and your time.
  6. Be Persistent: Being persistent is important, but there is a huge caveat. Be persistent, but always have a reason. Emailing prospective clients to just ask for work can quickly read as too sales-y. But, when you have a reason such as “I was recently reading about your work” or “I loved your post on LinkedIn,” can make the difference between a read and unread email. One easy “reason” to connect clients is by sending out a newsletter, which involves minimal work on the receiver’s end, but can keep your business in the back of their mind. My goal is never to convince clients and potential clients to use broadcast services in general, because they can come to that conclusion on their own. But, if a client is in the market to buy products that we offer, we want them to choose us over a competitor. Building and maintaining a strong relationship before it comes to decision time is one way to do that.
  7. Know Your Industry: Being a master of your industry will allow you to fully understand how to give and receive in your business relationships, especially when they are with professionals outside of your industry. Even if that means working with competitors, being able to recognize a mutually beneficial opportunity comes from a deep understanding of your industry. This understanding will also help you identify ways that you can give in a professional relationship, thus making the relationship stronger. Let your hard work speak for itself.

The key to making it in the business world is to know how to interact with other professionals, and form mutually beneficial relationships with them. Having these meaningful professional relationships will allow you to advance your careers and find opportunities that may not have been presented to you otherwise. But always keep in mind, you will only get out of your relationships what you put in.

Stay tuned…

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Communications Can’t Cure the Current Chaos

Reflections on a thought leadership event.

by Samantha Villegas
Samantha Villegas, APR, is President of SaVi PR, and currently serves on the PRSA National Board of Directors. She was the 2013 president of the National Capital Chapter.

I don’t know about you but as a communicator, my optimism is at an all-time low, and my cynicism is at an all-time high. Though fake news (or lies or propaganda or whatever phrase you prefer) is nothing new, it’s now being created and disseminated at rates and volumes beyond what we’ve ever experienced before. And thanks to today’s sharing technology, it proliferates at warp speed. Couple this with the apparent loss of respect for facts and science – scientific method and critical thinking – and what is a professional communicator to do? It seems we can’t win for trying.

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Courtesy: Pexels/Stokpic

The science, data, and peer-reviewed study behind such important issues as climate change, vaccinations, and gun violence, for example, is indisputable, and yet, here we are, every day, forced to engage in insidious conversations about whether sea levels have risen or fallen (they’ve risen); whether vaccinations cause autism (they don’t) and whether having more guns and easier access to them makes us safer (they don’t). Each one of those facts, whether someone likes them or not, can be definitively defended, because there is ample data, peer-reviewed studies and science to back them. I know them like I know hot food will burn my tongue and the sun will rise tomorrow morning. Despite that, people are disputing them, with points that are irrelevant, not fact-based or just wrong. And they dig in and stay put.

The scariest part is this behavior is not confined to a small group of naysayers or even only the uneducated. This behavior can be seen in Ivy League graduates, serving in some of our country’s highest leadership positions, who are using it as a tool to push political agendas. It’s used by leaders in business and government to relax regulations that were grounded in science and put in place to protect public health, just so they can pad profit. This adherence to misinformation and disinformation, whether involuntary due to ignorance or purposeful for politics, comes with tremendous consequences. It has me feeling a bit paralyzed, frankly, as if the only firm ground I’ve ever known has suddenly crumbled away.

So I was glad to have the chance, recently, to attend a panel discussion about fake news and its impact on journalism and the public relations profession. A lot of agreement on the state of things, and very sound advice for dealing with our new normal was offered, such as:

  • Use non-confrontational language, even when challenging those who present ideas based on false premises
  • Be advocates for teaching the next generation critical thinking skills, how to interpret, analyze and evaluate information
  • Invest in market research to understand your audience’s wants
  • Speak plainly and in an authentic voice
  • Don’t jump in without first understanding context and having a strategy
  • Keep messages short
  • Build partnerships and alliances rather than challenge misinformation, disinformation, lies and false “facts” alone
  • Be vigilant in advocating for truth in communications

This is all, undeniably great advice. But here’s the thing: all those bullets apply to any communications professional at any time in history. All of this represents some of the very basics of savvy communications. Granted, not all of us can practice all of this all of the time. Budgets get in the way of conducting meaningful research. Deadlines prevent us from building the critical partnerships. And sometimes, the arrogance of a decision-maker stops us from being able to say the exact right thing in the exact right way we should. I get it, we can’t always be on our game. But, if most of us are doing most of this, most of the time, how is this chaos still happening?

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Courtesy: Gratisography/Ryan McGuire

Someone on the panel said truth is now a differentiator. Truth, as a differentiator. Let that sink in for a second. On the one hand, I can’t contain my sheer despondence if that’s the case. And two, at a time when facts don’t matter and he who lies best wins, how does truth set you apart, let alone set you free? Whose truth? Which truth?

Fellow communicators, we’re facing the challenge of our careers right now. I don’t have any easy answers for you. Of course we must follow the panelists’ advice, as I hope you always have been. We shall endeavor to seek first to understand before being understood. We shall strategize first and write truthful pithy copy in snack sized bites, and we shall seek common ground and partnership with different minded but similarly missioned (or is it similarly minded but different missioned?) groups. We shall continue to do as I think we have all been endeavoring to do, with added vigor and purpose.

But please forgive me if I tell you that I don’t believe these approaches will cure what ails us.  So while I am grateful for the sage reminders, I don’t think these issues – this lack of critical thinking, self-control, or basic understanding of science, can be fixed by upping our communications game. We need to stay focused and bring our best every day, but I think we just need to let this stink bomb dissipate.

As one colleague put it so well, “The flames of emotion are being fanned at such an alarming rate that I have no sense of how to encourage critical thinking in so many people who form opinions about policy and events from tweets.”

Another I spoke to about this said she “fear[s] for what happens when too many among our citizens fail to reason rationally and logically, and fail to think independently,” and I couldn’t agree more.

So, we must do all these things the panel said. Do your best work. And bide your time, because we can’t change crazy but we can outlast it. I predict that in a few years, after another election cycle or two, we will look back at this and shake our heads. We may even get a chuckle. We will have volumes of remember whens and memes and footnotes and stories. And we will snap back to reality, where facts are facts, truth is truth, lies are lies, and love is love. At least I hope that’s what will happen. See you on the other side.

The Value of In-Person Meetings in the Digital Age: A PRSA-NCC Event

by Jillian Cameron

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Photo courtesy of Danielle Bilotta

Whether you are a reporter, a PR professional, or anyone in the communications world, you probably rely heavily on email to connect with others throughout the day. Many prefer the comfort and the anonymity of online interactions compared to the riskiness of an in-person meeting.

On Wednesday, June 21, the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) hosted a panel of experts to discuss why so many professionals are reluctant to have in-person meetings and how those meetings can be beneficial to not only yourself, but to your work.

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Photo courtesy of Danielle Bilotta

Alex Gangitano, panelist and reporter for CQ Roll Call, discussed how in-person meetings are vital to maintaining relationships with her contacts and are “always worth the time.” Gangitano says that being able to put a face to the name not only creates relationships between reporters and their sources, but can also build trust that may prove to be invaluable in times of need.

But is the Internet to blame for the lack of in-person meetings? Panelist Dr. Mary Alvord of Alvord, Baker & Associates and former president of the American Psychological Association’s Society for Media Psychology and Technology , says that a lot of people have some degree of social anxiety that can be avoided through sticking with online interactions. Most of the anxiety related to in-person interactions is anticipatory, Alvord says, and will ease as the conversation begins.

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Photo courtesy of Danielle Bilotta

Alvord outlined three dimensions of interactions: texting and email, phone and video chatting, and in-person. Texting and email can be useful for an initial contact, while video chatting provides the comfort of online communication with some of the benefits of in-person interactions. Yet, neither emailing nor video chatting create the same effects as in-person meetings.

While in-person meetings can create meaningful professional relationships, they’re not always necessary, according to Washington Post reporter and panelist, Michael Laris. Laris says that it’s not necessary to schedule in-person meetings with organizations that make information widely accessible and understandable on multiple platforms.

In order to prepare for those nerve-wracking in-person meetings, Seth Turner of the Congressional Management Foundation, says to remember your ABCs: acknowledge, bridge, and communicate. Practicing your talking points and doing your homework will set your in-person meeting up for success.

As moderator, Aaron Ellis, says it’s all about balancing online interactions with face-to-face communication. Finding a happy medium between sending out emails and grabbing coffee or lunch is the key to success and building strong professional relationships.

Enter Your Firm’s Best Work to Win a 2017 Thoth Award from PRSA-NCC

By: Jillian Cameron, News Generation, Inc.

The 48th Annual Thoth Awards, hosted by the Public Relations Society of America National Capital Chapter, recognizes and celebrates outstanding strategic public relations programs and components created in the Greater Washington, D.C. area.

Named for the Egyptian god of communication, the Thoth Awards (pronounced “tot”), is the National Capital Chapter of PRSA’s local version of the Silver Anvils. Previous winners include the National Education Association and Ogilvy Washington’s Bring Your Brave Campaign, among many others. The awards recognize work in public relations across 34 categories, ranging from public relations campaigns to tactics.

Entry to the 2017 Thoth Awards is open to both PRSA-NCC members and non-members, and will be open until Monday, June 24, 2017. But why should you apply to the 2017 Thoth Awards? As Raymond Crosby, President & CEO of Crosby Marketing Communications, puts it:

“The Thoth Awards are really worthwhile because the entries are judged by industry peers who know how to recognize great work that gets real results.  The greater Washington, DC region has a lot of high profile agencies and organizations that participate in this competition, so winning a Thoth says you’re the best of the best.”

This year’s Thoth Awards Gala will be held at the National Press Club on Thursday, October 12, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. Still not convinced the Thoth Awards are for you? Here are some more testimonials from leaders in the Greater Washington, D.C. area public relations community:

“The PRSA-NCC Chapter is the largest PRSA in the country. The communications work produced in the metropolitan D.C. area is national-caliber work. Therefore, to win a Thoth Award is truly a great honor.”

– Jeff Wilson, Vice President, Padilla

“At News Generation, personal interaction with our clients is a huge priority. Being a finalist for a Thoth Award is a great opportunity to invite your clients with whom you entered to spend the evening with you at the Gala. The recognition of being a finalist or a winner positions your client as a thought-leader in the industry in front of peers. It has been a great way for us to continue to grow our relationships with clients, and shows them that the value we are providing them is strong enough to be recognized on such a large scale.”

– Kelsey Pospisil O’Planick, News Generation, Inc.

“For me, as a federal government communicator, the Thoth Award was certainly about recognition, . but so much more, too. It was exhilarating and incredibly satisfying for the entire team at the US Department of Labor to not only “go up against” work done by major corporations, international PR firms and influential trade associations, but to actually win? That was amazing! I knew that our work was as good, or even better, than work done by more experienced and bigger (including budget) Washington area PR professionals. Winning a Thoth proved it. And it was an incomparable morale booster–team members walked a little straighter and held their head up a little higher for weeks after the award ceremony.

This part isn’t as glamourous or exciting, but I think it’s still very important: The application process is a very worthwhile endeavor. It is rigorous and time-consuming, there is no doubt about that. But it makes you think (and think hard); it makes you ask yourself tough questions about your program and its results; it makes you write, and rewrite and edit; and it forces you to defend your project. You can’t just say it was great, you have to prove it. Too often, we don’t have the time to “post mortem” a project (we’re on to the next crisis). Working on the Thoth application gives you an opportunity for serious reflection and professional introspection. Everybody needs to do more of that. Especially PR people!

There was an unexpected benefit of winning several Thoth Awards, as well as winning a PRSA Silver Anvil and Bronze Anvil: our shop became known as a real talent destination—and not just in the federal space, but throughout the Washington, DC public relations community. Recruiting talent became easier (and we attracted the truly best and brightest) because we were an award-winning shop, just as cool and creative and exciting as the boutique PR agency of the moment. The team was certainly proud of that, and applicants very much wanted to be a part of it.”

– Carl Fillichio, Weedmaps, formerly of U.S. Department of Labor

Thoth Award Submissions Now Available Online – D.C.’s Most Prestigious PR Awards

by Susan Matthews Apgood, News Generation

thoth3Many organizations throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area do great work in public relations, and submitting your work for a Thoth Award is an opportunity to showcase your most successful campaigns. Thoth Awards are given to all types of organizations, from independent to global PR agencies, from government agencies to advocacy and non-profit groups, and from private to publicly held companies – and across many categories.

Named for the Egyptian god of communication, the Thoth (pronounced “tot”) Awards recognize the most outstanding, strategic public relations programs and components developed and produced in the Greater Washington, D.C. area. Achievements are recognized in 34 categories, including 16 program categories that celebrate the best PR campaigns and 18 component categories that highlight top accomplishments in PR tactics.

The Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) hosts the local annual Thoth competition to recognize and reward outstanding achievement in public relations and to encourage continued excellence in the field. The deadline for entries for this year’s Thoth Awards early bird deadline is Friday, June 30 and the final deadline is Monday, July 24.

Here’s how to get started: Step 1: Before entering, be sure to view and print a PDF of the 2017 Thoth Awards Call for Entries; and Step 2: NEW for 2017: All entries will be submitted online.  To enter, just go to our Online Entry Portal.

To help you put together your entries, we a brief video on How to Win a Thoth Award. And, visit the PRSA-NCC website for the full details on the Thoth Awards. Follow us on Twitter at @prsa_ncc and use the hashtags #thoth2017 and #nightwithkingthoth. For more information, please contact Susan Apgood at sapgood@newsgeneration.com or Danny Selnick at Danny.Selnick@businesswire.com.

Ready for Strategic Management of Public Relations?

By Suzanne Ross, Chair, Accreditation Committee

Last Friday, at the PRSA NCC Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) seminar to “Jump-start” candidates’ year-long study for their independent assessment, it struck me, that everyone is looking inward to align their moral compass, discover their unique professional advantage while developing a career roadmap to navigate a transforming industry.

Unlike career paths of a Chief Financial Officer and a Chief Executive Officer that have well-known professional skill requirements, the PR career path is less understood. PR practitioners seek the APR in order to acquire third-party validation and formal recognition of their professional competencies to advance a desired career in public relations.

The value proposition of an Accredited Public Relations professional is broad and deep expertise that supports operations, social effectiveness and measurement toward organizational performance goals.

Although they are not legal experts, they provide a similar staff counsel function as they are knowledgeable about legal principles and statutes important to the PR practice and advise management on stakeholder and ethical issues that could impact public opinion and an organization’s operation and success.

During the APR Jump-start, presenter Patrick Evans shared his expertise as a trusted advisor providing his network – both internal and external publics – with information and recommendations to anticipate or respond to issues and crisis.

Like other APR experts leading difficult conversations about what to do and what not to do when an organization faces a crisis, his advice is to tell it straight, consistently:

  • It’s a unique situation where a person banks a career on personal reputation: telling the facts, and explaining what his organization can and can’t do and why, with integrity and discretion. He said, “Every communication is a credibility transaction.”
  • “I’ve invested in building relationships before crisis or career-defining moments occur. Through strong relationships built on a sound reputation, I’m given latitude to resolve issues, because people know I’ll discover and share the facts.”
  • Whether communicating with senior management, the reporter down the hall, the blogger or diverse people on social media, he said, “I deliver on the promise of accuracy and truthfulness in communication.”

With insight from APR presenters Joyce Brayboy, Karin Drinkhall at the Jump-start and hundreds of APRs, I’m inspired to learn that when the issues are challenging, the speed of communication quick, and competition gets tough, APRs and APR candidates adhere to core professional practices and values that shore up the APR advantage.

Back to Basics: Sticking to Change Management Fundamentals in Navigating Trump Administration

By Robert Krueger

Political polls and pundits led the public to believe that President Donald Trump had an unlikely chance of winning the General Election.  Not only were American citizens surprised by the news on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016, but so were many leaders in the association, corporate, and nonprofit sectors. After spending months preparing and building relationships with potential appointees in a Hillary Clinton cabinet, these leaders were caught off guard and without plans for how to navigate an unpredicted set of policy and budget priorities in the Trump Administration.

170323-bIn a recent event hosted by the National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA-NCC) entitled The Trump Era: How DC Communicators are Capitalizing on Change, panelists addressed how their communications teams are responding to unforeseen changes and how the current Administration’s new focus impacts their organization’s reputation, advocacy efforts, and communication goal strategies.

Greg Staley, senior vice president of communications for the U.S. Travel Association, noted that despite the quick shift in planned messaging, his organization approaches the Trump Administration the same as they would approach any change in Administration. His association is focusing on educating the new Adminstration on the importance of travel industry to the overall U.S. economy.

This same point was echoed by panelist Jamie Hennigan. As Vice President of Strategic Communications for the National Association of Manufacturers, Hennigan said that a big focus of their messaging strategy is to educate Trump officials about the makeup of today’s manufacturing workforce. Contrary to the type of manufacturing job that the Administration has been speaking about in the first 100 days, the traditional manual factory floor laborer, characteristic of Rust Belt cities in the mid-1900s, has not been growing over the past three decades. Instead, the manufacturing sector is now extremely diverse and its workforce skews young.

“It is also important to remember that we also elected new members of Congress, so it involves educating them as well and getting them up to speed. As with every new President, we look to build new bridges and we expect everything to be just fine,” Staley added.

When asked about what have been the biggest changes to their communications role since Trump’s inauguration, panelists reported expanded roles and involvement with overall strategy.  According to Hennigan, his communications team is focused more on recruiting digital-first talent due to their increased importance within the organization.  Members of his team are now regularly at the table for any policy decision since any external communication, including a simple email to members, can potentially turn into a bad situation if not careful with messaging.

“I am now part of meetings that I have never been part of before,” said Michael McManus, vice president of corporate communications and government affairs for Asia Pulp and Paper. “I am now part of expansion and investment meetings, among others. If you are in the market, organizations are looking for people with expertise in government relations and communications to provide them with information and sound advice.”