Monday, December 29, 2014

Resolve to be authentic, not animatronic

I didn't know you could buy surplus animatronic figures from Disney parks. Let alone install one from the Hall of Presidents as a company CEO.

Animatronic at Disney Hall of Progress
By SteamFan (own work (Nikon D80)) [GFDL
CC-BY-SA-3.0 (
via Wikimedia Commons
You'll read countless New Year's resolutions in the coming week. Some will be preposterous or hard to keep.

But if you're a CEO or executive director of an organization, and you don't wish to be mistaken for an animatronic historical figure, there's an easy resolution to keep -- one that will help your internal communications far more than any newsletter or video message.

It's simple:

Be authentic. Be human. 

Not every CEO is a "people person." The leader I'm describing -- call him Gerry -- was a good strategist and a charismatic sales leader. But he was never at ease talking about himself, his values, or his family. Ask about such topics, and he'd go semi-rigid. As one of his speechwriters, I struggled to get Gerry to share glimpses of his background, or anecdotes of events that informed his leadership style today. 

Eventually, I cobbled together a few stories that helped create a public persona for Gerry. But it was somehow incomplete, and further complicated by another PR manager who insisted on painting the boss as a business visionary. 

Yawn. The business visionary fable only works when the business you lead is wildly successful. Gerry's was struggling. No one bought the "visionary" story. And it told the company's employees that their leader was disconnected from the realities of the business.

Contrast this with the legendary honesty of Jim Sinegal, co-founder and former CEO of Costco. He engaged with employees, had a modest cubicle of an office, and connected in shirtsleeves. When employees' health care costs rose, he defied logic and decided that Costco would bear about 90 percent of their costs.

But, even with financial challenges, Gerry could have found ways to show his human side. During his tenure, we learned that Gerry had a close relative who was seriously ill. Gerry let down his guard during a meeting with a small group of employees. Serious illness touches everyone, and we understood his anguish. He momentarily lost his composure. We all empathized.

Suddenly, he was human.

You needn't have an emotional moment to be authentic, either. A newly named department head I know took the time to write hand-written thank-you's to her team, and included a scratch-off lottery ticket. Cost? Miniscule. 

Had Gerry shared a moment of being human now and then, prior to this emotional moment, it would have resonated far more than any "business visionary" fable. We all recognize and appreciate authenticity. Sometimes, it enables us to rally around a leader in difficult circumstances. 

Gerry didn't succeed, although his shortage of humanity wasn't the only reason. Had he broken out from his animatronic facade, he'd have connected with employees -- who might have rallied to help the business succeed.

Friday, December 19, 2014

This season's wisest PR advice

Did you hear about the CEO who gave back his bonus because the company missed its financial target?

If you did, great. If not, you'll have to look up the story elsewhere. I'm not going into it here.

The most important part of public relations is being authentic. Being real. Acting like a human.

So if you're reading this, a few short days before Christmas, here's my professional advice:

Turn off your your computer. Browser. Tablet. Phone. Whatever. 

Go out and do something real. Something authentic. Something that has nothing to do with clients, product publicity, or crisis communications. It'll keep.

Be human. Celebrate the love of others, and be generous with your time and talents.

Happy holiday. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Five PR Basics: saying less is saying more

When you need to drop 2,000 words on "what PR Is not about," as a recent online opinion piece does, you're too much in love with the sound of your own words. And losing readers with every sentence.
By Joost J. Bakker (Flickr: Do The
Right Thing graffiti Amsterdam)
[CC BY-2.0 (
licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Is this really a checklist? It feels like a rant -- a long-winded epistle about what PR is not about that strayed into TLDR* territory after 300 words. 

So, in the interest of brevity and casting PR in a less-defensive light, here's a much shorter list of what public relations is:

1. Public relations is about building trust between an organization and its stakeholders: customers, members, employees, investors, partners, and media. Do this by telling the truth. 

2. PR is about helping organizations and their leadership act and sound smart, innovative, and authentic. 

3. PR is about doing the right thing and getting recognition for it. (I always attribute this to David Culver at Boyd Tamney Cross, who's the smartest public relations leader I know.)

4. PR is writing and sharing an organization's best stories in ways that connect their people, products, and services with others. And building relationships. 

5. PR is one essential element in an integrated marketing communications strategy. Advertising, digital content, social media, and event marketing are a few others. They should work together.

You can lengthen this list if you like. But saying less is often saying more.

*Too Long, Didn't Read

Monday, December 8, 2014

On Twitter, it's all about you

By lululemon athletica
[CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.
org/licenses/by/2.0)], via
Wikimedia Commons
There's a bit of Twitter real estate that can help your organization or client create brand presence. And too often, it's just thrown away. 

It's the "bio." That's what Twitter calls the 160-character summary about yourself or your company. One hundred sixty characters isn't much, but I'm often astounded how many organizations squander this real estate in unrelenting hyperbole. 

Creativity's fine here. But jargon isn't helpful. Here's one example:

BLANK BLANK, one of the nation's leading drug store chains, proactively empowers you in your pursuit of personal wellness. (Website)

What does this mean? Should I expect the drugstore's employees to drop by and be my personal trainer? They sell vitamins, bandages, and personal beauty products. My pursuit of "personal wellness," such as it is, comes from diet, exercise, and some ukulele playing. Not a wellness tag on my key ring. 


 award-winning chef/restaurateur 's casual neighborhood joint |  Est. 2011 •  Est. 2015

This is for Harry's Pizzeria in Miami, FL. -- but they never mention pizza! Astounding!  

I'm not crazy about using other Twitter addresses in that space that's supposed to be all about you. I might figure out James Beard's foundation, but I don't know @chefmschwartz -- and would be a bit confused. Just tell me you serve great pizza.

One more:

The D&C is the best source of local news in Rochester, bar none. Compared to the competition, its coverage is deep, varied and enriching.

Very prideful. Boastful, even. Doesn't say "daily," "newspaper," or even "media group," however. Comparisons are hard to make when there's no other daily newspaper in the market. So "compared to the competition" would mean what, exactly? The 30-minute local TV newscast, which on some days runs longer than the time it takes to read the D&C? 

My advice: Don't brag. Don't name drop. Don't wallow in hyperbole. Just tell me who you are. 

By Zesmerelda from (
/zesmerelda/175053378/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
A fine example is actor/LGBT activist George Takei, who's known for his immense Facebook following. But his @GeorgeTakei Twitter account has 1.4 million followers. So he's pretty specific: 

My name is George Takei. Some know me as Mr. Sulu but I hope all know me as a believer in, and a fighter for, the equality and dignity of all human beings.

George tells me what he does -- and does so with passion. All Twitter bios should follow his example.