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Author - Lecturer - Strategic Communications Adviser

Author: Jennifer Farmer

5 Media Trends for 2022

What you do matters. However, it takes more than a noble mission to garner media attention. As the media landscape changes, and the 24/7 news cycle puts increased pressure on content creation, leaders must work harder to garner publicity for their work. As we wrap one year and prepare to greet another, here are several things you should do to increase media` coverage.

  1. Include your overarching message in everything you do. Over a year, there are multiple opportunities to serve. There are numerous chances to advance your work. Regardless of the moment you find yourself in, always remind the public of your underlying message. Whether you are engaging in redistricting, voting rights, disaster recovery, or policing, your main message should be included in everything you do. For instance, if your main message is that social injustice manifests in everything institution, you should mention that point whether you are talking about disaster recovery, voting rights or policing. This will support brand recognition and loyalty. It will also contextualize the issue. Reminding the public of your main message will also help you stand out in a crowded media landscape.
  2. Continue building your email list. Every event, every engagement is an opportunity to build your email list. Your list is your media platform. It cannot be taken from you. As you work to garner media attention, be intentional about building a list of people who care about the work you’re doing in the world. As you build your list, remember to tailor it to your audience’s respective interests. For instance, if you do work on mass incarceration and gun violence prevention, discern your followers’ precise interests and message them about that interest. Then, communicate with your list at a frequency that is comfortable for you both. As you communicate, remember your value and trust in the fact that few people can offer what you bring, the way you bring it.
  3. Invest in paid media. I include this point on every year-end list of recommendations and organizations should do in the coming year to secure more earned media. That’s because this message will never get old. There’s no way around it; organizations must invest in paid media. Not only is paid media a method of delivering an unvarnished message, one can leverage paid media to secure earned media. All media outlets need advertising dollars, and the need is crucial for smaller outlets who most consumers don’t think to invest in. I’ve learned that smaller outlets are much more appreciative of the investment and tend to remember the organizations and leaders who steer financial resources their way.
  4. Do not forget newsletter curators. Years ago, organizations focused on sharing a client’s message with the media and the media alone. More recently, organizational leaders learned that to deliver a message, they needed to communicate with members of the media, bloggers, influencers, and micro influencers. But with the rise of Substack and newsletters, leaders are once again being asked to shift. Here’s why. As the media contracts, journalists are under increasing pressure to cultivate loyal followings. Additionally, with decreasing ad sales and newsroom cuts, people who love to write and tell stories must increasingly come up with new and innovative ways to communicate. One of the ways they’re doing this is by identifying their audience and communicating with them via newsletters.
  5. Collect mobile information and send updates via text. In addition to building an email list, you should be building a mobile list. You should have multiple means of communicating with your audience. Relying exclusively on one channel is risky. If your social media platform goes down or is locked, how will you connect with your audience? If you engage a younger demographic that doesn’t engage with email the way older groups do, yet you only communicate via email, you will miss a segment of your audience. Moreover, text messages convey a sense of urgency. They also provide helpful reminders. For these reasons, seek permission to communicate via text and then be strategic about what you communicate and when you communicate it.

We know that getting media coverage is important. It can influence your ability to raise funds and can also help you stand out in a crowded landscape. To garner it, you need to be strategic and intentional. These 5 tips will help you accomplish both.

“First and Only: A Black Women’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life” Included in United Methodist Women’s Reading Program for 2021-2022

A few years ago, I began journaling to document professional experiences as a Black woman. I wanted to understand the feedback I was receiving at work and place it in the context of gender, race, and class. Initially, I didn’t know my journal would evolve into a book. Upon sharing early journal entries with others, I noticed that my experience resonated and there was a larger story to be told about how Black women navigate professional spaces as the first or only.

I am grateful to have launched “First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide to Thriving at Work and In Life” in Feb. 2021. The book was published by Broadleaf Books and has affirmed Black women in a way that many leadership books do not. I am thankful it has been covered in Black Enterprise, Marie Claire, Salon.com, XONECOLE and more.

But I am also thankful that “First and Only” was selected for United Methodist Women’s 2021-2022 Reading Program. The Reading Program is a much acclaimed and cherished United Methodist Women tradition that unites women in mission with pivotal books. The reading list provides another avenue of spiritual and cultural growth for women and includes books from five categories: education for mission, leadership development, nurturing for community, social action, and spiritual growth. “First and Only” was included in the education for mission category.

United Methodist Women’s Reading Program is choke full of accomplished authors discussing some of the most pressing issues of our times. I am humbled that such a phenomenal organization and a critical reading list would include “First and Only,” which documents the racism, sexism, homophobia and classism that Black woman face. I believe this book is essential for Black women, but also for persons seeking to learn and do their own anti-racism work.

To participate in the Reading Program, United Methodist Women members and others select one of four plans and begins their reading journey! From captivating novels and heartfelt biographies to urgent messages about issues such as climate change and mass incarceration, the list includes something for everyone. Participants track their progress using a reporting form and are issued a certificate upon completion.

This is such a dynamic program and I am hopeful the book will be a blessing to all who experience it.

 

 

The Media is Still Contracting. Now What?

By Jennifer R. Farmer

At the end of 2019, I wrote an article titled, “The Media is Contracting: Now What?” We are a few weeks away from 2021, and guess what? The media is still contracting. There have been more jobs lost in the media industry this year than there has been since 2008. According to The Hill, “An estimated 28,637 cuts were reported in the industry by late October, …nearly as many as the record 28,803 reported in the media sector in 2008. By comparison, the sector saw just over 10,000 job losses in 2019 and 15,474 in 2018.”

If there was ever a time to think through approaches to media, that time is now. My question today is the one I asked a year ago: what will you do to ensure your brand is able to continue to tell its story?

As I shared in my earlier piece, if you are relying on media coverage to elevate your work and brand, you will need to develop a different blueprint than what you may have used in the past. Due to contractions in the media spurred by layoffs and media consolidations, earned media – or media that you do not pay for – is becoming harder to come by. Having a good story is no longer enough to secure media coverage.

To garner media attention in a contracting and increasingly competitive media market, organizations will need to:

  • Invest in Paid Media. Now. Relying on earned media alone is risky. I am increasingly learning that television hosts and many high-profile radio programs want people with celebrity. They want people who come with their own followers and fan base. That increases the likelihood that their content will be viewed by a larger swath of people. That is important because producers, hosts, writers, and reporters live in a competitive market, just like the rest of us. They need to produce page views, likes, retweets and shares. The bigger the name and profile of the guest they book, the more likely they are to have their content shared by more and more people. Further, because of reductions in advertising revenue, many outlets are financially strapped. They need and appreciate the revenue that comes with advertising. For those two reasons, brands with resources will need to invest in paid media. The investment can be as low as $2,500 for some outlets, and it can go up from there. Of course, when it comes to social media, one can make minimal investment and gain maximum results. With social media advertising, paid media is more affordable than ever. In an environment where there are more and more job cuts and less representation in terms of who is in front of and behind the camera, paid media enables brands to bring their content to the world. Brands will need to get very specific and precise with targeting to ensure that their message reaches its intended audience.
  • Create Your Own Content Channels. Campaigns and brands that want coverage will need to turn to self-publishing platforms, such as Medium, Blavity, YouTube, etc. Creating one’s own content channels enables brands and organizations to immediately get their message out. It also ensures their control over the message and the probability of it being seen by their intended audience. Further, creating one’s own content channels makes reporting as easy as possible for journalists once they find you. Whether it is the company website; podcasts; or videos on Facebook, Vimeo, TikTok, etc., the people who move messages will be the people who control the content and the speed at which it is disseminated.
  • Cultivate a Loyal Fan Base. It is essential to focus on building your brand and developing a loyal following. The bigger your following, the more influence you have. When brands focus of delivering to their audience and serving their audience’s needs, they develop a cult-like following. That is attractive to producers, reporters and hosts – hence the reason influencers are so attractive to media figures. I am increasingly encouraging clients to serve their people. In time, that service will pay off. Brands and organizations can do that by ensuring frequent communication with their followers and content that is tailored to their audience’s needs and wants. Make your audience know that you see them, and they will ensure the world sees you. 
  • Ride the wave. A great way to increase the likelihood of media coverage is riding the wave. That means following the topics highlighted in the news cycle and tailoring your topic to that which is most relevant to what reporters are discussing. To the extent that you can tie your news story to issues the media is presently covering and will soon cover, such as political, cultural and life-altering anniversaries, it may be easier to get media coverage. As we head into 2021, we know there will be stories about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine, stories about what the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden will look like during a pandemic, stories about Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ historic role, and stories about the Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History month holidays. If you are an organization or leader who focuses on those issues, even remotely, think about your content plans now. Plan and then ride the wave. 
  • Be Ready to Pounce. As much as we like to plan, there are some things we can never anticipate. That is why rapid-response communications is important. Rapid response is quick mobilization of communications resources to respond to a crisis or unforeseen issue. When the unexpected happens and you have deep knowledge or insights on the issue, be ready to pounce. Immediately craft or have someone in your team craft a story or pitch speaking to the issue at hand. Sometimes the prospects of media coverage can fall in one’s lap. Should that happen, do not drop the ball. Monitor media trends and the news cycle carefully. And when you see an opportunity, pounce.

As someone who has worked with the media for 18 years, I know how hard garnering media attention has become. But I also know how to pivot and align myself for the possibility of good coverage. The ideas I shared above will help you to do the same. Times are changing, and we must change as well.

 

Jennifer R. Farmer is a writer, trainer and activist communicator. She is the author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide” and the forthcoming book “First and Only: How Black Women Thrive at Work and Life.” Follow her on IG/Twitter using @pr_whisperer.

 

In Today’s Media Landscape, Opinion Essays Are a Communicator’s Best Friend

It is becoming more challenging than ever to secure earned media, or media one doesn’t have to pay for. Not only do public relations pros outnumber journalists 4 to 1, but journalists are increasingly asked to do more with less. Further, it appears the media is consumed with the latest offering from, or the latest activity in, the Trump administration.

Even when an issue is noteworthy, communicators face an uphill battle garnering media coverage. While it’s harder than ever to secure media coverage, the desire for media attention is unrelenting. I’m responding by utilizing opinion essays. Opinion essays are guest columns usually between 700 and 800 words. They have one or two bylines and represent opinion bolstered by provable facts.

If you’re interested in pursuing opinion essays as a strategy to share your message, here are five tips to ensure your column is published.

  1. Know Your Outlet and Who It Caters To.I once submitted an essay three times to a publication before I nailed exactly what it was looking for. The opinion editor was patient, but in an age where journalists must do more with less, she is likely an anomaly. Most editors won’t bother to respond to a pitch or essay that isn’t carefully tailored to their publication. While the sting of rejection is biting, op ed writers can decrease the prospect of rejection by researching the angle of the publication prior to pitching. Reading the publication’s opinion section provides insight into the content the publication is most likely to publish.
  2. Review the Publication’s Submission Guidelines. No two publications are the same. Some require exclusivity; some do not. Some accept anonymous columns, while others do not. Some require opinion essays to be between 700 and 800 words, and some want long-form essays or pieces containing at least 1,000 words. Since most media outlets include submission guidelines on their platforms, take care to ensure your essay conforms with what various outlets require. The submission guidelines are generally posted on the opinion section of online media outlets. In some instances, publications, such as The New York Times, Inc. and Truthout, write articles highlighting what they look for when considering opinion pieces.
  3. Include Links Backing Up Your Position. While an opinion essay is your opinion, if you’re seeking to be published in a journalist outlet, you’ll need to include supporting documentation to prove claims you make in the essay. Even if you believe your position is beyond dispute, insert links in your article to verify your point. Not only does doing so increase your credibility, it also saves opinion editors the time of having to research the points made in your essay or column. Separately, with persistent claims of #FakeNews, media outlets are under increasing scrutiny. To protect their interests and corporate reputation, they must verify claims published on their platforms.
  4. Be the First to Weigh In. Like other journalists, opinion editors are inundated with content from policymakers, influencers and savvy communicators. Waiting even a few days to respond to a breaking news item may be a few days too late. Some opinion editors accept the first well-written, error-free guest columns they receive. So, if you’re seeking to share your message with the world via an opinion essay, strive to be the first to weigh in. This means submitting your essay within hours, but at the latest, within a day of breaking news. The trick is to be timely without sacrificing quality. If you can do this, you’ll likely see your name, not quite in lights, but in the opinion section of notable media outlets.
  5. Know Whether Exclusivity is Required. Many publications such as the Washington Post insist on original content, meaning they won’t publish your work if it’s been posted on publishing platforms (LinkedIn Pulse, Medium or Facebook), posted on a personal blog or shared with other media outlets. Prior to submitting an essay for publication consideration, understand whether exclusivity is required and then honor the publication’s preferences.

By following these tips, I’m confident you’ll have success sharing your message via columns and opinion essays. And should you still not find success, you could always post your content on self-publishing platforms such as a personal website, Facebook, LinkedIn Pulse or Medium. In fact, one of the keys to boosting traffic on your personal blog or website is regular, fresh content. So, if your goal is to increase traffic to your website, posting essays there may be your best route. If your goal is to reach a specific subset of people who subscribe to, say, the Wall Street Journal, you’re better off trying to get your article published there. The bottom line is that even in today’s crowded media market, you have several options to secure media coverage.

10 Conflict Resolution Skills Every Manager Needs

(this column originally appeared on LifeHack.org)

By Jennifer Farmer

Intellectually, many of us know that conflict is a part of life. We may know that conflict can spur deeper understanding and stronger relationships. Yet, when conflict arises, it puts some of us on our heels. When disagreements emerge, we are left wondering how to address them while keeping the relationship intact.

If you are leading a team or working closely with others, here are 10 strategies to resolve conflicts.

Communicate early and often. To reduce misunderstandings and ambiguity, communicate your intentions and desires. Ask what your colleagues need to work their best, and do your part to meet their needs or – at a minimum – avoid doing that which you know will cause harm. If you suspect conflict in the relationship, address it swiftly. Problems do not go away on their own. Failing to act when you see a potential problem can create problems down the line.

Listen actively. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to know that when they speak, when they take the time to share what is on their mind, the person with whom they are communicating, listens. Active listening is a required step for conflict resolution. Active listening is listening to what is verbally and nonverbally communicated. Is it listening for intent and for understanding. Often, conflicts arise because two parties misunderstand or mishear what the other person is saying. Active listening helps ensure that the sender and receiver understand one another. This is half the battle when it comes to resolving conflicts. Given the prevalence of email and remote working, especially considering the COVID-19 health crisis, active listening is critical. Email and text communications are tricky, because intent and tone are difficult to gauge in them. Team members will have to work extra hard to ensure that they hear what their colleagues are communicating, thereby reducing the chance for conflict.

 

Use “I” statements. To reduce conflict, focus on how you feel. Focus on how an action has impacted you. Speak from your experience, and understand that your experience is not a universal truth. Just because you feel a certain way does not mean your colleagues do. Further, when you use “I” statements, you reduce the chance of overgeneralizing, which can add gasoline to the fire. If you are in a disagreement and you tell the person who has caused harm that they impacted everyone – versus telling them that they impacted you – you may illicit a defensive reaction from the individual. Instead focus on you and what you feel and need. This will reduce conflict by keeping tempers calm. 

Understand what is yours. Have you ever gotten into an argument and the source of your upset was something you have long struggled with? Perhaps you have struggled with being heard. You have felt as if others do not hear you when you communicate. Regardless of where you go, you carry this sensitivity with you. And guess what? It does not take much for others to rouse your anger if you even suspect that they are not hearing you. When this happens and you find yourself angry over your feelings about not being heard, step back and ask yourself whether that really is the case or whether your history is influencing your reaction in this moment. Ask yourself if the person with whom you have conflict is yourself and your history or the apparent offending party. Sometimes we get upset with people over things that really do not concern them. Get to the root of what is bothering you or the other person. Sometimes conflict has nothing to do with the current issue – it stems from something that happened at home, bad news or an unrelated interpersonal upset.

Do not take anything personally. When Don Miguel Ruiz wrote “The Four Agreements,” he cautioned readers against taking things personally. As much as I admire his work, I must admit that this piece of advice is difficult to follow. Yet, it is imperative that we learn not to take things personally. In the same ways that our lives are all-consuming to us, other people have enough in their lives to keep them occupied. When people behave poorly, it may hurt and disappoint us, but their behavior reflects where they are. It truly has nothing to do with us. A friend of mine is going through a rough patch. She feels isolated and overwhelmed as a single mother. I invited her to a party and was initially perturbed when she did not respond. I thought to myself, “That isn’t like her.” I thought about it for a few days before I decided to reach out and check on her. When she responded, she shared being in the fog of depression and struggling to complete even the most basic daily tasks. Guess what? She was barely doing life, let alone thinking about the invitation that she may or may not have seen. Her reaction had nothing to do with me. It was rooted in her own struggles at the time.

Give up the need to be right. I am not sure why, but the ego has an insatiable appetite. It wants to be right 100% of the time. When conflicts arise, give up on the need to be right. Be willing to be wrong. If you fight to be right, you may have incentive to keep the conflict going. Further, if you need to be right, your objective becomes defending your position versus getting to the root of the conflict. If you want to reduce or resolve conflict, do not be vested in being right.

Speak with people who have the capacity to make a change. I get that venting feels good. I understand that everyone wants to be affirmed. But when conflicts arise, it is best to communicate solely with people who have the power to influence change. This will ensure that there is meaningful action toward resolution, and it will prevent gossip from flourishing. Further, when you share information with people who have no capacity to help, you could do reputational harm to the person with whom you are experiencing conflict. And while you and this person may eventually resolve your challenge, the seeds of discord that you have sown will trail the person indefinitely.

Identify the root of the conflict. For persons who have repeated conflict, there is likely an unresolved or unidentified root issue. In this instance, conflict resolution can only happen once both parties get to the root of their challenges. The root could stem from something that happened years or decades earlier. It could stem from something completely unbeknownst to one party. But it is essential to identify the thing from which future problems have arisen.

Seek appropriate intervention. Sometimes conflict is so deep rooted that third-party intervention is needed. The intervention could come in the form of a therapist, counselor or trusted adviser. If you have tried unsuccessfully to resolve conflict, seek intervention from a qualified and objective third party.

Lead with how you feel. For some us, being vulnerable is second nature. For others, showcasing vulnerability is a sign of weakness. For people in the latter camp, it is better to express anger than to say, “Hey, I felt hurt when this happened, and I am wondering if you could help me with it …” When something upsets you, ask why. Then lead with how you feel. This will enable the person with whom you are upset to better understand how you feel and what you need.

If you follow these 10 steps and find that conflict is still present, think about whether it is time to exit the relationship. If you cannot exit the relationship, think about how you can restructure the engagement so that you spend as little time as possible with the offending party.

It is true that conflict is a part of life. Conflict shows up in our families, in our personal relationships as well as in our professional relationships. And guess what? Working remotely will not eliminate conflict. It is as guaranteed as the taxes you are required to pay. But with these 10 steps, conflict does not have to be the end of the relationship but rather the door to improve it.

 

Jennifer R. Farmer is a writer, trainer, and activist communicator. She is the author of the forthcoming book, “First and Only: How Black Women Thrive at Work and Life.” and host of the “First and Only” podcast on Spreaker. Follow her on IG/Twitter using @pr_whisperer.

 

The Underbelly of Assertive Communication

(this essay originally appeared on LifeHack.org)

By Jennifer Farmer

In a work environment, it is essential that employees communicate openly, honestly and in situationally appropriate ways. This communication could include articulating what each employee needs and expects. It should also include communicating when one faces challenges with a product, colleague or client. This is called assertive communication.

Assertive communication is the ability to directly and honestly communicate a range of emotions. It is being able to self-advocate and take a stand with and for oneself. While assertive communication is essential for the individual, it is good for the organization as well.

When we practice assertive communication, we reduce stress and anxiety, and we perform better. We also give others an opportunity to support us by fulfilling our requests or to grow by receiving feedback on areas where improvement is needed. When we practice assertive communication, we feel better, even if the situation for which we are communicating about doesn’t immediately change. When we advocate for ourselves and vocalize our needs, we take an important and empowering step.

As executive leadership consultant and Lifehack contributor Malachi Thompson noted, “Don’t make the error of thinking effective assertiveness means convincing and winning over others to adopt your values and point of view.”

For the organization, when employees practice assertive communication, morale improves. It is impossible for team members to be truly happy if they are unable to communicate honestly about their experience. When employees are fearful that honesty and openness can result in retaliation, they remain quiet or go along to get along. They may be physically present but mentally checked out. When this happens, employees could see problems coming a mile away, but they will remain quiet or they will vent to people without the authority and resources to solve the problem. They could see opportunities yet fail to innovate because they may not feel safe doing so. The thinking goes something like this: “If I experiment, can I risk being wrong?” or “If I experiment, will I be recognized for my contributions or overlooked? or “If I step outside of the box, will my colleagues or supervisor view me as a threat?”

For the benefit of the individual and the entity the person works for, assertive communication is imperative. But how do we cultivate for people not prone to being assertive or communicating assertively?

How to Develop Assertive Communication

Understand What You Want

To develop assertive communication, take time to get clear on what you want and why. When we are not clear on what we want, we are more susceptible to the whims of others. When we know what we want, we have a starting point from which to assess all opportunities and situations.

Get Clear on Your Personal Values

Similarly, get clear on your personal values. The values that you set for yourself will guide what you tolerate and what you simply are unable to accommodate. Before immediately responding to a request or question, think about whether the request violates your values, is in line with your values or aligns with what you want.

Start with People Whom You Trust

Next, to develop assertive communication, start gradually and with trusted people. Practice stating what you want and doing so to people who have demonstrated their profound respect and support of you. These individuals would be considered safe. Throughout your history with them, they have demonstrated that they support you and that, when given the chance, they attempt to act in your best interest. Because these people have been proven to be safe, asserting your desires with them requires little risk. Once you communicate what you want and need, supportive colleagues and people who respect you will do their best to meet your needs. As you gain practice with people who support you, you’ll gain confidence as well. In time, you will be able to gradually tolerate more risks in terms of whom you are willing to be honest with.

The Underbelly of Assertive Communication

While assertive communication is beneficial, there is an underbelly associated with it. Most people struggle with receiving and giving direct feedback. They hedge when they should specifically cite what they want, or they bristle when others share their honest thoughts and feelings. For people who were raised in environments where expressing one’s emotion was dangerous or unwelcomed, being told to be open can feel risky and foreign. For people who were taught that there is space for all emotions, communicating honestly may be like second nature. The rest of us are somewhere in between. To cultivate an environment where team members practice assertive communication, managers must understand something about their employees’ background, culture and upbringing. This will help inform resistance to assertive communication and strategies to ensure it happens.

Another rarely discussed aspect of assertive communication is the way societal norms and cultural expectations influence how we perceive people who practice assertive communication.

What Do I Mean?

I have spent much of my career manipulating how to speak appropriately in the workplace. I do not mean how to be articulate or speak, as my mother would say, the King’s English. No, I mean how to communicate without being labeled “bossy,” “aggressive” or “inappropriate.” I grew up in an environment where people spoke clearly about how they felt. They did so with little fluff. I carried that communication style into the workplace. My formative career experience involved managers and organizational leaders who pulled no punches in communicating their wants and expectations. Consequently, I thought the way I grew up, and the leaders I worked for were the norm in terms of how to communicate. As I progressed through my career, I learned that, sometimes, perceptions to communication styles could be gendered and racialized. A white person could say something and would be perceived one way, and I could say the same thing and be perceived an entirely different way.

“Angry Black Woman” Label and Assertive Communication

Further, separate and apart from my upbringing, Black women broadly have had to be mindful of our communication styles due to unfair labels and negative stereotypes. Many Black women spend a significant portion of their lives dodging the “angry black woman” label. This relentless stereotype has trailed Black women for decades, making it difficult for people to hear our honest feedback without coloring it through the lens of “she’s just angry.” We calculate how and when to raise dissent and ponder whether doing so will earn us that unenviable label. This means every conversation involves a risk. Whether individuals are communicating preferences to a teacher or advocating for their child with medical professionals, every bit of input must be carefully assessed through the “niceness” or “polite” lens: am I saying this appropriately, am I saying it politely, etc. This is not helped by the fact that, in some workplaces, when Black women express their feedback, they can be shut down, labeled “aggressive,” “difficult” or “problem employees.”

Model Minority and Assertive Communication

Many Asian Americans have navigated the model minority myth. The myth suggests that they are the prized minority. What happens when people who believe in the model minority myth or view Asian Americans this way experience assertive communication from a member of this community? They could be dumbfounded, or they could resent the person for stepping outside of the lines created for them. The bottom line is that managers who subscribe to the thinking that Asian Americans are the model minority may only be able to experience and relate to people who show up one way – passive, compliant and docile.

Gender and Assertive Communication

If you couple these stereotypes with gender norms for women, you know that communicating can be a morass. In a March 29 White House briefing on the coronavirus, President Donald Trump admonished PBS News Hour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, to “Be nice. Don’t be Threatening…That’s why you used to work for the Times and now you work for someone else” suggesting that her transition from the New York Times to PBS News Hour was somehow connected to how she treated others. Trump’s comments came after Alcindor assertively reminded the President that he’d said “some of the equipment that states requested, they don’t actually need.” She struggled to finish her sentence before Trump cut in to chide her. As the most powerful executive in the nation, the President’s passive aggressive and undermining treatment of a Black woman journalist sets a terrible example of what is and what is not appropriate. That he told her to “be nice,” is emblematic of what women, women of color and Black women experience in many workplaces.

The gender norms could dictate a narrow role for women and place a premium on patriarchy. I say all of this to point out that while assertive communication is ideal, we must be conscious of what it looks like on people of different genders and people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. That means that if we say we value assertive communication, we must value it on all people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race or background.

In closing, assertive communication is so important that it’s worth understanding how to do it right – not only for oneself but for the people around you as well. When you understand the underbelly to assertive communication, you may respond to your colleagues with more understanding, empathy and patience. In the end, everyone benefits – you, your colleagues and your company or organization.

So You Think You Need a Publicist?

By Jennifer R. Farmer

Social media can catapult almost anyone from relative obscurity to superstardom – or at least stardom. Once a person reaches a certain number of followers, the individual is considered a social media influencer, and brands will invest big bucks to cultivate a relationship with said influencer.

Reality TV, YouTube and Instagram can also take people who are relatively unknown and make them into media commodities. When people go from little-known to persons of interest, there is a natural desire to refine their look and present the best possible image forward. There is also a desire to expedite the fulfillment of dreams. To adjust and successfully make the transition, some people consider hiring a publicist.

If you have told yourself or someone else, “I need a publicist,” you may want to read this article first. While a lot of people believe they need representation by a #PR firm, not everyone is ready to maximize the investment. Before you jump out there, keep a few thoughts in mind.

Don’t hire a publicist until …

You are leading work you care about. Media attention is great. It can catapult your work and ensure that the right people and more people see your ideas or products. But your overwhelming interest and passion must be on the work you care about, because media attention is fleeting, and it is discriminate. There are a multitude of ideas and people competing for attention, and even worthy causes and products get overlooked. If your commitment is solely on capturing the glare of the cameras, what will you do when the cameras are temporarily focused on something or someone else?

You are committed to investing for the long haul. I have a lot of sympathy for emerging brands and individuals seeking attention for their work. But even under the best circumstances, public relations involve an investment. Too many times, I meet leaders who want to promote their work, and they want microwave results. For most people, media attention comes from sustained action, repeated investment and continual pitching. That means people may not get all the media coverage they want based on one campaign or one series of events. By going back at the apple repeatedly, you increase the likelihood of media attention. I remember when I was working with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber at the outset of his Forward Together Moral Movement. He held weekly actions at the North Carolina state capitol, and each protest was an opportunity to engage different and more people about the work he was leading. It was also an opportunity to capture state and national media attention. I can’t imagine what would have happened if he organized just one, two or three actions. While investing in public relations requires resources, it is an investment worth making. As public awareness about your issue, campaign or work increases, you stand to position yourself for bigger opportunities.

You are willing to commit time on your schedule for media. Media involves a time commitment. There is the time to prepare for the media interview, the time to physically go to the interview spot or do the interview remotely, and the time after the interview to promote the segment or your interview’s message. There is also an investment of time required when thinking through the best angle to share your work and story; what examples will you use? What visuals promote your message? What validators do you need to have lined up to affirm and confirm what you are saying? I’ve described a best-case scenario, but certainly not everything goes according to plan. I have actually had colleagues agree to a TV interview, be picked up by a car service for the interview, travel to the station, have their hair and makeup done, wait in the green room and then be told the segment has been cancelled or breaking news will bump their interview. This doesn’t happen frequently, but it does happen.

You are coachable. If you are inflexible and unwilling to let a public relations expert coach you, you may want to reconsider hiring a publicist. A publicist’s job is not only to help you share your work publicly but to anticipate the public’s reaction and help you adjust accordingly. The publicist should also help you articulate your vision in a way that invites others to be a part of it. PR work invariably requires feedback, so expect a publicist to challenge you, offer suggestions to help you refine your product or approach, and generally tell you the truth. If you’re unable to receive input or are unwillingly to bend, hiring a publicist may be a waste of your time and the publicist’s.

You are willing to make the publicist a part of your core team. Publicists can do very little to support you if they are not fully embedded in your team. In my book, “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide,” I mention that publicists and communications staff should be included at the outset and throughout core campaigns. This will allow them to understand the broader strategy and determine the right communications tactics to implement that strategy. It also allows them to give reporters and editors sufficient notice to cover your event, issue or campaign.

If you look at this list and honestly believe you are uncapable of following this guidance, you may want to reconsider hiring a publicist.

Jennifer R. Farmer, aka The PR Whisperer, is an author, lecturer and strategic communicator for organizations, leaders and celebrities committed to social and racial justice. Follow her on IG/Twitter using @pr_whisperer.

How to Be a Leader Who is Inspiring and Influential

by Jennifer R. Farmer

Most of what I have learned about leadership I have observed from former managers and from my own triumphs and failures. One lesson stands out. When I began managing people 15 years ago, I thought having a fancy title was synonymous with influence. Over time, I learned that power is conferred based on likeability, authenticity, courage, relationships and consistent behavior. When leaders cultivate these attributes, they earn power which really means influence.

Understanding influence is essential to professional growth, and companies rise and fall based on the quality of their leadership.

But what makes a leader fail? A host of factors influence a leader’s ability to succeed. To the extent that leaders fail to outline a compelling vision and strategy, they risk losing the trust and confidence of their teams. Employees want to know where a company is going and the strategy for how they will get there. Having this information enables employees to feel safe, and it allows them to see mistakes as part of the learning journey versus a fatal occurrence.

If employees and customers do not believe a company’s leadership is authentic and inspiring, they may disengage, or they may be less inclined to offer constructive criticism that can help a company innovate or help a leader improve.

And it is not just the leadership at the top that matters. Middle managers play a distinct role in guiding teams. Depending on the size of a company, employees may have more access to mid-level managers than they do members of the C-Suite, meaning their supervisors and managers have greater influence on the employee and the customer experience.

Effective leadership is inspiring, and it is influential. Cultivating inspiring and influential leaders requires building relationships across the company. Leaders must be connected to both the teams they lead as well as to their own colleagues and managers. This is key as titles do not make a person a leader, nor do they automatically confer influence. These are earned through trusting relationships. This explains why some leaders can get more out of their teams than others, and why some leaders experience soaring profits and engagement while others sizzle out.

Eric Garton said in an August 25, 2017 Harvard Business Review article “…inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.”

To be an inspiring and influential leader requires:

Courage. The late poet Maya Angelou once said “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” Courage is required in the workplace when implementing new strategies, especially when they go against professional norms. For instance, I heard Lisa Terkeurst, bestselling-author and founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries explain her decision to move away from her company’s magazine. While the organization had long had a magazine she saw a future where it didn’t exist. In order to make the switch, she risked angering her team members and customers. She took a chance and has grown her company’s online followers to [] million.   It also takes courage to share and receive feedback. When leaders see employees who are not living into the company’s mission or engaging in behavior that may undermine their long-term success, it takes courage to risk momentarily hurting an employees feelings or angering them, to tell the truth. Similarly, it takes courage to listen to constructive criticism without taking it personally or holding a vendetta against the person or persons raising the issue. In business, courage is a necessity for being an inspiring and influential leader.

A commitment to face your internal demons. If you feel great about yourself, enter a leadership position. You are likely to be triggered in ways you didn’t think possible. You are also likely to receive feedback that may leave you second-guessing yourself and your leadership skills. The truth about leading others is you get to a point where you realize that it is difficult to take people to places where you yourself haven’t gone. To be an influential and inspiring leader, you have to face your own demons and vow to continually improve. Influential leaders take their personal evolution serious and they invest in coaching, therapy and mindfulness to ensure that their personal struggles do not overshadow their professional development.

A willingness to accept feedback. An inspiring and influential leader is not afraid to accept feedback. In fact, they actively solicit it. They understand that everyone in their life has a lesson to teach them and they are willing to accept it. Inspirational leaders understand that feedback is neither good nor bad, but rather an offering that is critical to growth. Even when it hurts or is an affront to the ego, influential leaders understand that feedback is critical to their ability to lead.

Likability. Some people will argue that leaders need not worry about being liked but should instead focus on being respected. I disagree. Both are important. When team members like their boss, and believe their boss likes them, they are more likely to go the extra mile to fulfill departmental or organizational goals. Likable leaders are moved to the front of the line when it comes to being influential. Relatedly, when colleagues feel they are disliked by management, they experience internal stress and can spend unnecessary time focusing on the source of their manager’s discontent versus the work they have been hired to do. So, likability is important for both the leader and the people she leads.

Vulnerability. Vulnerability is critical for being an inspiring leader. People want the truth. They admire leaders who can occasionally demonstrate vulnerability. It promotes deeper relationships and inspires trust. When a leader can showcase vulnerability appropriately, they destroy the illusion that one must be perfect to be a leader. They also demonstrate that vulnerability is not a dirty word; they too can be vulnerable and ask for a helping hand when necessary.

Authenticity. Authenticity is about living up to one’s stated values in public and behind closed doors. Influential leaders are authentic. They set live out their values and use those values to guide their decisions. The interesting thing about leadership, is people are not looking for perfect leaders. They are, in part, looking for leaders who are authentic.

A true understanding of inspiration. Effective leaders are inspirational. They understand the power of words and deeds and use both strategically. Inspiring leaders appropriately use stories and narratives to enable the teams around them to see common situations in an entirely new light. Inspirational leaders also showcase grit and triumph, while convincing the people around them that success and victory is attainable. Finally, inspiring leaders encourage the teams they lead to tap into their own genius. I guess they convince others that genius is not reserved for a select few, but that most people have it in them.

As fellow LifeHack.org contributor Emilie Chu observes, “A leader creates visions and motivates team members to work together towards the same goal.”

An ability to see the humanity in others. Inspiring and influential leaders see the humanity in others. Rather than treating their teams as mere tools to accomplish organizational goals, they believe the people around them are unique beings with inherent value. This means knowing when to pause to address personal challenges and dispelling with the myth that the personal is separate from the professional.

A passion for continual learning. Inspiring and influential leaders are committed to continual learning. They invest in their own development and take responsibility for their professional growth. These leaders understand that like a college campus, the workplace is a laboratory for learning. They believe that they can learn from multiple generations in the workplace as well as from people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Influential leaders proactively seek out opportunities for learning.

No one said leadership was easy, but it is also a joy. Influencing others to action and positively impacting the lives of others is a reward unto itself. Since leadership abounds, there is an abundance of resources to help you grow into the type of leader who inspires and influences others.

Jennifer R. Farmer, aka The PR Whisperer, is an author, lecturer and strategic communications adviser for socially conscious organizations, leaders and celebrities. Follow her on IG/Twitter using @pr_whisperer.

 

4 Tips to Improve Your PR in 2019

4 Tips to Improve Your PR in 2019

By Jennifer R. Farmer

It is a new year, and a new you. If you are looking to improve your public relations in 2019, doing so is easier than you thought. If you were waiting on the blueprint to elevate your game, here it is: four steps you can take to improve your public profile and brand.

Do something or say something no one else is doing or saying. If you want to break through in the media and distinguish yourself from others, you need to do or say something that no one else is saying or doing. Do not choose this approach for the sake of merely being different. Look for what distinguishes you and your product from others and then publicize your thought leadership. If you are like everyone else, the media has little incentive to book or interview you. The media will instead go for the person who is more well-known, the trailblazer or the person with whom they have a relationship. Without thought leadership or uniqueness of ideas or approach, you will be unable to capture and sustain media attention. To go where you have never gone before, you must do what you have never done before.

Invest in public relations support. I love the oft-used saying, if a tree falls in the forest and no one was there to see it, did it make a noise? Did it really fall? You may be leading ground-breaking work, but without a strategy and a strategist to share your work with the world, you may be undercutting your own success. Some people wake up and go to sleep thinking about how to promote meaningful work. Find those people. If you are unsure where to look, refer to the National Association of Black Journalists, which includes public relations professionals as well as journalists. You could also refer to the Public Relations Society of America, Women in Public Relations or a host of affinity groups. If you live in the Washington, D.C., area, be sure to look up the Progressive Communicators of D.C. If these avenues fail, word of mouth will not. Most of the people who engage me to work with them have heard of me through others. Ask around and be sure to interview the leads to determine whether they are a good fit. A do-it-yourself approach is not always a blueprint for success when it comes to your personal and professional brand – it may be a recipe for disaster.

Get busy. Let’s face it. Media attention is highly addictive. When people question the utility of media attention or strategic communications, I know I will sell them on the importance of both if I have an opportunity to work on a campaign with them. Once the positive stories begin rolling in, it is difficult for most leaders and companies to dispense with communications. On a more practical note, campaigns rise and fall with communications and narrative work. Without the glare of media attention, it is difficult to build and sustain movements. Social good aside, on a human level, we live in a “see me, celebrate me” culture. If we are being honest, most of us believe that we, or a campaign we are working on, are worthy of a front-page story or a viral video. But the key to media coverage is action. When I think about truly remarkable leaders, I realize that they are active; they are constantly doing something to further their vision, or they are continually working to influence positive change.

The best example of this comes from my own client, Killer Mike. Whether opening a chain of barbershops with his wife, Shana, in Atlanta; investing in businesses in the Atlanta area with his business partner, T.I., better known as Clifford Harris; or kicking off a blockbuster new Netflix series, Killer Mike is innovative, and he is busy.

Take control and avoid the drip, drip, drip. You are human, and you are bound to make mistakes. You are likely to say the wrong thing or say the right thing at the wrong time. What’s more, if you are a public figure and are regularly profiled or interviewed, you will have more opportunities than the average person to either make mistakes or have those mistakes highlighted in the media. And guess what? The #cancelculture is real. If you are a public figure, the media and fans will stalk you and examine and scrutinize everything you do.

If you find yourself in a bad situation, take control of that situation immediately by investing in good counsel, acknowledging your mistake, stating all the facts and outlining a plan for moving forward. The worst thing you can do is to parcel out information or pray that no one finds out. Once inquisitive fans, reporters and investigative journalists get a whiff that something is wrong, they will search and search until they ferret out the truth. Further, people are inherently curious. And when curiosity gets the best of us, we will move heaven and earth to satisfy our “need” or “right to know.”

And if you have read this and still need help, email jenniferr@spotlight.org.

Jennifer R. Farmer is an author and strategic communications adviser for socially conscious organizations, leaders and celebrities. She is a writer for Lifehack.org. You may follow her on IG/Twitter using @pr_whisperer.

My Top 6 Books for Effective Communications

Often, when we think of skills, we focus on hard skills. But being able to communicate well is one of the most important soft skills you can develop. It is also a key determinant to success. Think of your doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant, sitter, or your child’s teacher. Your relationship with these individuals, and your confidence in them, is influenced by how well they communicate.

Being able to communicate effectively can make or break the company or the leader. If you are a communications professional, there are a host of resources that can help you improve. In addition to conferences, workshops and webinars, there are a ton of books that focus on everything from how to write, how to pitch the media, how to cultivate relationships and how to navigate difficult conversations. Below are my top eight books to improve your communications game.

Talking the Walk: A Communications Guide for Racial Justice. Hunter Cutting and Makani Themba-Nixon’s “Talking the Walk” book is a how to guide for communicating around issues in racial justice. The book is a resource for persons seeking to interrupt dominant but harmful narratives about people of color and for persons doing media work on issues in racial justice. There are so few guides that focus on communicating about race that this book is a treasure. It is also helpful for persons seeking to learn strategy and strategic communications.

Words that Work. Frank Luntz’s “Words that Work” is the last book I’ve read on communications. Luntz brilliantly describes that people hear what you say through the lens of their own experience. He argues that communications is less about what you say, and more about what people hear. This is why certain words are deeply triggering for certain communities. For instance, I bristle when I hear words such as urban, and riot because they are code for Black, and not “code” in a good way. Every community or group has words that are triggering of course. These just happen to be mine. The point of this book is that focusing on what people are likely to hear is a preventative measure for ensuring your message lands as intended.

It’s worth noting that Frank Luntz and I are not aligned politically. But I believe everyone has something to offer and something to teach. Politics aside, I read this book and saw its genius and for that I’m thankful. “Words that Work” is a must read for all people who value communications and whose job depends on communicating well.

On Writing. Regardless of what you do, or who you are, at some point you will need to put ideas and thoughts to paper. From standard office correspondence, to long-form essays, to business documents, and reports, you are bound to write. One of the most inspiring and helpful books on writing I’ve ever read is Stephen King’s “On Writing.” He covers everything from the mechanics of writing to his personal journey with the written word. The book is humorous, easy to digest and inspiring. It is helpful whether you are a professional writer, aspiring writer or someone whose job depends on communicating well.

Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life. bell hooks is one of the most prolific writers of all times. Like Stephen King, she produces full manuscripts the way many of us communicate via text message – nonstop. “Wounds of Passion: The Writing Life” focuses on hooks’s early career as a writer and the process she followed to produce some of her earliest works. Like King’s “On Writing,” hooks’ book is somewhat autobiographical as it provides insight into her journey and, well, writing life. She documents the trials she experienced, including an abusive relationship, while she was discovering herself as a writer. If you are serious about effective communications, and need help demystifying the process, Wounds of Passion is required reading.

Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide. Of course, I can’t write an article on communications as a profession, without including my own book. If you are interested in learning strategies for promoting your work and ideas, Extraordinary PR is an excellent resource. The book highlights case studies from actual social justice campaigns and the strategies me and my team used to place important issues on reporters’ radars. The book also focuses on how to cultivate relationships with reporters, who can have an outsize impact on how your audience views you and your work.

Crucial Conversations. We live in a society where telling the truth, especially unsolicited truth, is not always welcome. In fact, it takes tremendous courage to be direct. Working in strategic communications, I routinely am asked to give feedback when people I work with have media interviews. A person’s ability to improve, with the media or otherwise, is directly correlated to the coaching and feedback they receive, but that doesn’t necessarily make telling the truth easier. You risk backlash and resentment. However, no relationship works without each party having the freedom and the space to tell the truth in love. “Crucial Conversations” is a road map to having difficult but necessary conversations in the workplace and at home.

Jennifer R. Farmer is an author and strategic communications practitioner for socially conscious organizations, leaders and celebrities. You see her musings and writing here and at Lifehack.org. Follow her on IG/Twitter using @pr_whisperer.