#COVID-19 has changed our professional landscape – perhaps forever. Businesses that balked at allowing telecommuting are embracing staff taking initiating and connecting, producing and meeting whatever deadlines are in place. Restaurants – those that can survive this chaos – are enlisting waitstaff to connect with customers online and by phone to take and produce pick-up or delivery orders. Teachers from kindergarten through higher education are instructing students, responding to messages, and finding new avenues to explore with their classes.
It is difficult to not be somewhat emotional during this chaos. I am continuing to teach my Rutgers business communications course that was already an online class. Only one of 30 students has dropped in the past week; a few others are trying to catch up as they deal with effects of #COVID-19 in their lives. I struggle with whether I should make changes in the course or try to maintain some normalcy. Finding the compromise seems to have worked so far.
Deadlines are softened; extension requests considered more closely; slight adjustments to the team project; all of these tweaks are allowing students the ability to breathe a little easier in order to complete successfully complete the course. So that’s one small victory.
My client, as always, is incredibly supportive. The growing real estate development company, Kokes Properties, LLC has me crafting some content in part focusing on sales success during this difficult period. It’s a balance to encourage potential new home buyers to consider this new townhome construction while navigating this crisis that changes daily. Michael J. Kokes and his expert team are proceeding with this nearly-complete project and are fortunate to be economically sound during this period.
Will we revert to our ‘old’ ways and operations when the danger has passed? Some businesses will – others will not. Time will tell. Our Realtor mentioned that the way they do business may never be the same.
Now, for the personal. We have sold our home of more than 27 years and are moving permanently to New Hampshire where we bought a home in 2016. We have developed a community of friends in the small town. Our life transitioned there as we found more happiness and quality of life there.
Times are bittersweet for all of us; professionally and personally. When we talk about professional soft skills, listening and empathy are among them. Listen well, understand questions and comments given this unusual time and thoughtfully make decisions and choices that can benefit your organization, team, business – and you. Be well.
Watch the local TV news any night of the week. You may an uncomfortable corporate executive fumbling through a 10-second sound bite that makes you cringe. “That could be ME,” you think.
Be prepared for interviews – a PR consultant offers his or her expertise
A Philadelphia investigative reporter did a segment on a company that was being cited by the state for equipment problems. During a sound bite, the reporter questioned the CEO and president why he didn’t know about the problems. The man wondered out loud to the reporter while the camera was rolling why the reporter referred to him as the CEO and president. The reporter replied that he had done his homework. The CEO looked ridiculous for seemingly trying to ‘hide’ the fact that he is indeed the CEO and president and is ultimately responsible for what happens at the company.
This scene is a reason a company – especially a small or medium-sized business – needs a public relations consultant. Large companies have resources to retain in-house PR or communications directors; smaller companies often don’t have that luxury.
A PR consultant who is familiar with your business and who has media experience will guide you through protecting your brand and keeping messaging and responses focused.
A good PR consultant will listen to you and your company’s needs and be able to translate those needs into messages that the customer/consumer/client can relate to.
When you are revamping your web site, ramping-up social media and collateral materials, the PR consultant is a fresh set of eyes to write, edit, interpret and offer expertise on how your content and communications will be perceived outside your company.
Since media can be your friend, the PR consultant can reach out to his or her contacts with an appropriate pitch geared to the media audience and then prepare you to take on that media interview with confidence.
To prepare for times when negative news is focused on your company, the PR consultant will act as your company spokesperson or prepare you or your delegates to speak in a straight-forward manner aimed at tackling the crisis and looking forward to repairing the company image.
Can your company afford to be caught unprepared? The PR consultant is a human insurance policy watching over your image and brand which is what makes you successful.
You’ve got the best product or service out there, right? So you say. But how do you get your audience and customers to believe your message?
One of the most difficult challenges to public relations is straddling the needs of the client and the needs and wants of their customers. It’s the PR person’s job to relay a message that ‘sings’ to the audience even when the client may not be completely on board with that message. For example, the client wants the message to express how expert their services are; the longevity in the business and how they will take care of the customer like no other similar company. The customers sees many other options in the marketplace so how does THIS company stand out above the rest? It’s all in the storytelling.
The PR person should consult with you to develop potential news ‘hooks’ that can be told in a clear, concise and compelling way in order to attract the interest of customers via your web or social media content, news releases or through customized pitches to the media. A savvy PR person who has strong media connections and knows how to reach out to reporters, producers and editors is uniquely qualified to provide this service for a client.
A PR company that blasts the same release, pitch or storyline to a long media list will likely not get the results the client is hoping for. A media pitch can take hours to mold and shape. The client has to assist by providing the facts, quotes and other details needed; it is the PR person who shapes those details into a pitch (and compelling subject line) that will at least get the media person to open the e-mailed pitch. The client who believes he or she can do all this will be disappointed in the results and frustrated by the amount of time taken away from daily business. A PR person is a step removed from the client’s daily business and can more or less objectively present the pitch to media contacts.
Why not call each media person? Reality is: people seldom answer their phones these days. When they do, they are pressed for time. If they are not interested in your pitch, the phone call may leave a bad impression.
The best PR people:
Listen to the client’s story
Ask questions about the business, challenges, hopes and dreams of the clinet
Find the message that will translate first to the media – then to the public
Trust your expert PR person to understand and tell your story in your content as well as in media pitches. That person is working for you for a reason; he or she can translate your story about your product or service to people with a compelling story that in turn can mean more business for you.
What’s next for 2014? How about a little civility? Our world is so connected; so digital; so electronic; we lose sight of the human connections that make our lives complete.
It is so incredibly easy to write an e-mail and hit ‘send;’ or text someone a question, that we often never make that human connection. Remember the days when you’d phone someone and ask, “How are you doing?” It seems no one really cares how the other person is doing these days. Each of us is so tied up with whatever the deadline of the moment is that we are just happy to get a reply email from the person we reached within a day or so.
What could be happening is that we forget how to talk to each other. When we are in the same room together eye-to-eye and face-to-face, we have no patience; we react too quickly we fail to listen.
I saw a TV spot from Values.com that expresses the need for civility. While the message is that a little kindness goes a long way, what we also need to do is get in the room with people more often and just listen. Have a conversation that goes back and forth; try not to interrupt while the other person – or people – are trying to make their points. Share your thoughts; ask questions when you don’t understand and for heaven’s sake, be civil.
When you can have an actual conversation with a person or a group of people and leave the room with a smile and some satisfaction that something got accomplished, you have renewed the human connections needed to get from one day to the next.
Among the goals you set for 2014, consider making a phone call to a business associate, friend or family member at least once a week – just to ask, “how are you doing?” Show appreciation; say “thank you;” and when someone thanks YOU – reply with, “you’re welcome.” Better yet – try “my pleasure.” And say it with a smile.
The heart of any business or personal success is the team you have working on each and every detail.
Look at the Louisville Cardinals team and how those young men banded together to bring home the Midwest Regional trophy while teammate Kevin Ware was carried off the court after suffering a horrendous broken leg. While teammates convulsed in shock and tears streamed down the faces of thousands who watched Ware’s leg snap, the team pulled it together and rallied to put the lid on the regional championship.
I am working with a team of volunteers from Sustainable Cherry Hill and staff members from Cherry Hill Township to put on for the South Jersey region, the 4th Art Blooms Earth Festival. Everyone has a part to play. Volunteers worked with the township police department on safety and route planning for the family-fun bike ride that opens the festival at 9 a.m. Today, I met with John Martorano of Magnum Computer Recycling to find the easiest site location so visitors to the festival April 27th can bring e-waste for safe recycling and disposal. I worked with the Cherry Hill Food Outreach Council which will have a donation station at the festival for non-perishable foods. One of our volunteers has coordinated the entertainment schedule to include several chorus and dance groups and musicians to perform throughout the event. It’s an amazing experience to work with people and maintain a ‘can-do’ attitude so everyone achieves most of what they hope for.
Attitude is everything when it comes to a project involving many people. To have even one team member who seems to work against the grain, can ruin the experience, if not the event, for everyone. The Louisville Cardinals could have folded after they saw what happened to Kevin Ware. The injured Ware yelled to the team to win the game as he was carried out of the stadium. Some hiccups can threaten any event and lead you down the path of ‘CAN’T-do.’ With the team I am fortunate to be associated with – township and Sustainable Cherry Hill – plus our amazing sponsors and supporters – the Cherry Hill Earth Festival and the family-fun bike ride Saturday, April 27th – will be another step toward helping the community and region focus efforts on sustainability in home, work and play.
When women put themselves out there and take those leadership roles, they are often bashed or called the “b” word. They lead by example and then they’re called “cold” and “calculating.” Women who let their talents speak for them are often passed over or left aside. They have to balance “tooting their own horn” with coming on too strong. This – I know.
A lot of success in the business world comes from networking. A lot of that networking happens by listening. I attended a symposium today focused on sustainability. There was so much information shared in less than four hours that my head continues to spin. I gathered many business cards and plan to follow-up on several different levels with people I met today. A LOT of what I did today was listen. While I did moderate a panel, it was important for me to really listen to the experts who were presenting their cases for sustainable communities and progress being made in their worlds.
It’s easy to jump to – “Well, how can MY business help?” It’s more important to listen and learn during these networking opportunities. Then follow-up during a less busy time with a suggestion for a morning coffee with someone or a lunch. Whatever is appropriate. One thing I did do immediately after returning back to the office was to write a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the people who I worked with on the panel. I admired their expertise; thanked them for their presentations and let them know that they certainly provided the standing-room-only crowd with a lot of food for thought.
Several years ago when I started by consulting business, I had a very difficult time in networking situations. I felt along; ill-informed; unable to measure up to other people and their expertise. Networking is like anything; practice makes perfect. While I never profess to be perfect at anything, I am comfortable in my own skin now. I feel confident in the work I do and what I can take on. I believe this, in part is what Sheryl Sandberg is trying to express to women today: Know yourself; let others know you. Learn your craft well and lead others in your field.
A former boss of mine once told me “Brenda, you just don’t toot your own horn enough.” This is a boss I respected immensely – and still do today – for his knowledge of broadcast journalism and his ability to get to the point, hone and craft talent and be a positive, professional force.
It’s a Noisy World
He was right; I did not toot my horn. I believed my work stood on its own merit and people would see the quality of that work. In today’s fast-paced world, you have to rise above all the noise that is out there. Today’s business world is all about tooting your horn and rising above the din of the junk that should NOT be recognized. The adage – ‘squeaky wheel gets the grease’ applies today.
How many times have you seen a product, author, business owner, etc. quoted in the media and you wonder HOW did that person or product get so much coverage? Public relations is about tooting your horn in a positive way whenever possible. You can’t sound preachy or as if yours is the only opinion or thought that matter; you need to be credible, knowledgeable and confident in making the pitch.
I’m the best!
Convincing others that you are the expert is also about listening. When you are networking or at some sort of business-related function, how much time do you spend listening to other people’s business conundrums? You should be listening more than 50% of the time. You have to listen carefully to hear any problems or issues; take notes when possible (or write things down as soon as possible) and connect by letting the person know you get it. That can be the hook; letting the person know you get it without going on about how you solved a problem in the best – or worse – avoided getting into a similar problem. Responding by saying, “I can hear that your issues are at a critical stage; I have practical solutions and ideas that can help you,” lets the person know you heard what he/she said and you can help. Simply letting someone know YOU are the BEST in your field isn’t about the person and their business problem; a comment like that is all about YOU.
By listening, observing and understanding the depth of my own expertise, I’ve learned how to let people know I can help them. It’s about saying HOW I can help them; how I can take a load off their busy shoulders and how I can be a benefit to their organization for the long haul.
It happens too often; you get an email sent to multiple people setting up a meeting or providing information about something. There’s always one person who hits ‘reply all.’ How many times does that ‘reply all’ message just read “Thanks.” Or worse – is a long message about why they can’t make the meeting because they have to pick their young son up from soccer, then run their daughter to piano lessons, then they have to go food shopping. I hear you yelling, “WHO CARES?” Well, making excuses is another topic; for now, back to the ‘reply all.’
In my business communications class at Rutgers-Camden there are a myriad of topics we discuss. It seems that the ‘reply all’ conundrum is something that continues to be a problem. Why is it that in this age of digital messages many of us can not train ourselves to be more attentive to replying to emails?
Compare this mistake to back in the day when you actually called someone on the phone rather than send an email. Would you just call the person holding the meeting to let them know you couldn’t make it – or would you call everyone involved? well, of course – just the team leader needs to know you couldn’t be there.
How do you stop from accidentally replying to EVERYONE on an email list? Simply breathe; take your time. Pay closer attention to what you are doing. If you are completely rushed – step AWAY from the keyboard. As my mom used to tell me all the time, “Watch what you’re doing.”
This ‘reply all’ problem is complicated when you reply to emails on your Smart phone. Everything is smaller and not exactly the same as your computer keyboard. All the more reason to TAKE-YOUR-TIME. Make a rule of thumb: don’t reply to emails while you are in the car at red lights. WAIT until you have a few moments to concentrate on your digital etiquette.
Another pet peeve: be sure you have a businesslike email signature on your Smart phone, tablet or iPad. Do you really have to advertise that you wrote the message on your Samsung phone? Go into ‘settings’ and set up your email signature properly with your name, title, etc. DELETE the advertisement for the type of phone you have.
Just like when we were little and we were taught to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ it’s time to learn more digital etiquette.