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strategic communicator - Author - Facilitator - Workshop Presenter - Ghostwriter

Tag: communications

Is Your Need to Be Liked Destroying Your Effectiveness as a Manager?

In Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, each of us has an innate desire to belong and to be loved. Once that need is met, an individual can move along their respective path to self-actualization.

While the desire to be loved is natural, managers desperate for their team’s approval will compromise their effectiveness and inflict harm on their teams. Perhaps, you can understand why; a manager who is driven by a need to be liked may shy away from delivering constructive feedback that could help an employee improve. A manager fearful of upsetting the apple cart may tolerate behavior that is harmful to the work environment and culture.

In his April 7, 2014 Harvard Business Review article, “The Problem with Being Too Nice,” Michael Fertik said “Few people want to be the bad guy. But leaders are also expected to make the tough decisions that serve the company or the team’s best interests. Being too nice can be lazy, inefficient, irresponsible, and harmful to individuals and the organization.”

For these reasons, leadership can be a solitary experience. When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive, he earned many enemies as he was challenging the status quo and insisting on civil rights for African Americans. We lavish praise on him now, but were he dependent on the approval of others, he would not have championed racial and economic justice.

Leadership requires a willingness to do what one believes is right, even when “right” is unpopular. It also requires a willingness to make decisions independent of the approval of others.

A painful lesson from my own career underscores this point. I was leading a team of 8 communicators. I’d hired most of them personally and was extremely proud of what they each brought to the table; they were smart, outspoken, hardworking and cutting edge. To this day, they remain the team that leaves me beaming with pride. I desperately wanted to honor their accomplishments with bonuses and financial perks. I’d requested that two members of my team receive a pay increase; they were underpaid in my estimation and I knew we would pay more to replace them – there was no way we would get their level of talent, passion for the job, and experience in another candidate. I lobbied hard for pay increases for these two staffers and thought I was successful. Before the process was complete, I notified these staff members, and the rest of the team, that they would receive a pay increase. Imagine my horror when weeks later, I learned that while my own bosses were sympathetic to my request, they denied the increases. I was certain my immediate supervisor approved the increases but was somehow mistaken.

This process was riddled with mistakes; my mistakes. Rather than waiting until the review process was complete, I prematurely announced pay raises. I wanted to be celebrated by my team and I wanted them to know that I fought for them. My desire to be liked overshadowed common sense. I ultimately had to go back to the entire team, apologize profusely and notify them that there would be no pay increases for anyone. “Anger” does not begin to describe my team’s reaction. Days later, they ran an action on me and filed into my office, one by one, to explain how disappointed, hurt and angry they were. In that instance, I chose to listen, acknowledge my mistakes and work to regain their trust. As a leader, this was one of the lowest points in my career. By humbling myself, acknowledging my error and vowing to continue fighting to reward the team with pay increases, we somehow recovered. While the experience is long gone, this lesson is fresh.

Perhaps your approval-seeking behavior wasn’t in the same form as mine. But if you are driven by the affirmation of others, you will never be free to be your authentic, powerful self. I am increasingly asking the question, and encouraging clients to ask this as well, ‘How does what I am about to do or say, serve my team?’ This will enable you to power through difficult conversations or to withhold information that is unhelpful. This Psychology Today article includes helpful tips on overcoming the dependence of external validators, including identifying the advantages and disadvantages of seeking approval, identifying the underlying thoughts that drive one to seek external approval and examining the evidence and logic of one’s thoughts.

The need to be liked can drive managers to do quite foolish things. I am a witness.

 

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

 

What You Can Expect as a New Communicator

If you’re prepping for your first day in an entry-level communications position, you’re probably unsure what to expect. You may have questions about the company culture, or perhaps you want to know the rules of engagement for navigating your new environment. If this is the position you find yourself, you will love this post. From being a brand ambassador to learning different parts of the organization, below is a list of what every new communicator should know prior to stepping into that communications position.

You’ll be captain of the company fan club. To be effective in communications and public relations, you must believe in your company’s vision, mission and purpose. The work is too hard to be a less eager enthusiast. For all of the organizations I have worked for, I have believed in their mission. I may have had concerns with the internal workings or the management style, and that is not to be taken likely, but the reason I stayed was because I believed in the broader vision. The vision also aligned with my viewpoints and life’s calling. In these cases, I didn’t mind putting in long hours, because I believed the company was making a difference.

You’ll learn more than you imagine. One of the best parts of my career in communications is having had an opportunity to work on a host of campaigns that I might not ordinarily have engaged. Because communicators are among the few departments that touch an entire organization, communicators have an opportunity to learn a ton. For instance, if your organization has three main issues areas, chances are you’ll have to work with those departments to help communicate their work internally and externally.

Your colleagues will become future references. Even if your first job isn’t ideal or you don’t love your supervisor, you may need them in the future. Everyone knows someone and each time you apply for a job, the new employer may knowingly or unknowingly contact former colleagues for references. Find a co-worker you connect with, and who could serve as a reference when you do move on. In the best of circumstances, recognize when you have a really amazing boss and/or team, and make the effort to stay in touch. Long term professional relationships and mentors are incredibly valuable. You may not even realize how much you learned or how talented your colleagues or boss were until you’re not working with them anymore.

You’ll work hard, but it will be worth it. PR is one of the most fascinating career fields. Every day is different.  You may literally go from flying high after a major event to reeling from an unexpected crisis. One day you could be celebrating a huge grant and another you could be staffing your CEO who is speaking at the World Economic Forum. Whatever it is – it’s likely to occasionally go beyond a strict 9am – 5pm job. If you’ve managed a major event, one where you garnered media attention, you’ll find yourself getting up before dawn to search for media coverage of your event. Your schedule may be unpredictable, but it will also be exciting. PR people are on the front lines and that means you will learn the skills necessary to not only be a great PR person, but a real leader.

You’ll occasionally meet non-communications staffers who think they can do your job. You read that right. Communications is a highly skilled arena, but people who do it well, do it so well that others think it’s easy. I don’t want to suggest that communicators shouldn’t accept feedback or solicit ideas from people outside of the communications department. Some of the best ideas for campaigns are co-created with legal counsel, development, political or organizing staff. That being said, you should expect that many people will see you work effortlessly and believe they can do your job. When this happens, offer context and remind your colleagues that a leader wouldn’t send a communicator into a court room and ask that individual to argue a case nor should someone untrained in managing communications be sent in unaided and uninstructed to lead a press conference or arrange a company public affairs campaign.

There, now you have it. These are a few things you should know as an entry-level communicator. With this insight, you’re well on your way to a successful career in communications and public relations.

Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator, lecturer and the author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide.” Connect with her on Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR or visit www.jenniferrfarmer.org.

Building a Brand from the Inside Out

Building a Brand from the Inside Out

by Jennifer R. Farmer

Put your money where your mouth is. We’ve heard this phrase since early childhood. It usually implies the tried and true lesson of say what you mean and do what you say, or it can literally mean spending time or money on causes or issues you claim of personal importance. But it is also critical in internal business practices, both for protecting the workplace culture and also the organization’s reputation. As public relations professionals, we have the responsibility to advise colleagues, company leaders, as well as clients to adhere to the organization’s mission statement in both external and internal communications. Building a brand must start from the inside out.

Many of us have had professional experiences that did not match up with what was claimed on the website or sold in an interview. Being victim to bait and switch advertising in hiring has farther reaching consequences than unhappy employees. Once an organization develops a reputation for poor internal culture, the effectiveness and credibility of the business itself is at stake.

The tragic downfall of Thinx CEO Miki Agarwal is a prime example. The fiercely feminist company selling “underwear for people with periods” was known for its shocking NYC subway advertisements, which even seemed to overshadow the company’s cause; however, the campaign was so successful in awareness raising, it also brought to light the mismatching HR practices with the feminist ideas the company promoted. Accused of horrible benefits at best and worst sexual harassment at worst, Agarwal made a less than heroic exit, and the company’s reputation was ruined.

As progressive communicators working on social impact campaigns, implementing fair and equal practices in the workplace is critical to effectively communicating our message. To become a brand people trust, your people must trust their leadership and each other.

That means building a team of individuals that will not only work hard, but work well together. Many organizations go through standard team building exercises and personality tests, but nothing replaces a natural commitment to collaboration and inherent respect for one another and new ideas. Often attitudes are most affected by the internal environment and what is allowed to become “normal” or “standard”. Avoid an internal PR crisis by committing to a transparent, authentic, and morally sound work environment, just as you would advise your company or clients in external communications.

Inspirational speaker Alexander den Heijer has said, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, we change the environment in which it is growing, not the flower.” Whether building, reorganizing or adding to a team, implement the right organizational practices, attitudes and leadership that will allow a team, the company, and its message to thrive.

Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator and the author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide.” Connect with her by following Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR.

Here’s How to Make Your Next Presentation Pop

by Jennifer R. Farmer

 

Few things are as gut-wrenching and anxiety-inducing as public speaking. It doesn’t matter how much you prepare, there are almost always worries that, despite your best efforts, you’ll freeze up the moment the spotlight shines your way. Public speaking elicits a host of what ifs and worst-case scenarios – “what if no one shows up?” “What if the audience rejects or heckles me?” “What if I have a wardrobe malfunction?” – that left unchecked, could ruin your speech or presentation before it even begins. While there are few tried-and-true methods for easing the anxiety associated with speaking in public, there are a few things you can do to increase your likelihood of success.

  • Speak with the End Game or Desired Outcome in Mind. For a speech to be effective, you should be clear about your desired outcome. Your remarks should be driving toward a unifying purpose or goal. When you’re clear about your desired outcome, you are careful to reiterate key points to ensure your audience understands and retains your main message. When you’re clear about your desired outcome from a speech, it will have focus and direction, which is then easier for your audience to follow. I was working with a presentation coach, Meghan Dotter of Portico PR, and she really upended what I thought I knew about public speaking. Before I met Meghan, I believed my job when I spoke publicly was to wow my audience with how much I knew. I would ramble off fact after fact or case study after case study to underscore my breadth of knowledge. I shared so much information that I was actually undercutting my goal of inspiring people to purchase my book. With the cliff notes version I gave in my speech, I essentially shared everything that was in the book, prompting some to wonder, “Do I really need to purchase this after all?” After a presentation coaching session, I learned that I only needed to share enough information to inspire listeners to buy the book. I’ve since learned to get clear with myself on not only the topic for the speech or presentation but also the desired outcome: What do I want people to do as a result of sitting through my presentation or speech.
  • Make it Interactive. For many of us, it is extremely difficult to sit through a presentation that is longer than 15 minutes. It is also really easy to check out, especially with smartphones, computers and other devices that offer myriad things we can do to make time go fast. Unless your presentation is interactive, you will struggle to get and maintain your audience’s attention. Interactive presentations also lead to increased retention and learning. You can introduce interactions with your audience by including exercises, asking questions, soliciting volunteers and generally planning points of engagement.
  • Adapt to Your Audience. When you prep for a speech, you may envision how everything will flow. You may have a sense of when you’ll hit each point and how the audience will react. But as with most things in life, speeches don’t always go according to plan. I recently facilitated a communications training for a group of leaders who were honing their campaign manager skills. The attendees were lively, engaged and fired up. They were far more engaged than most audiences I typically train, and I had to adapt and match their energy. When I sensed the room was fired up, I decided in the moment that I needed to engage them and give them a role in my presentation. I quickly recruited an “Amen Corner,” a table of participants who could back me up at different points throughout the presentation. I then asked the audience of 50 people to help me select the table that would be the Amen Corner. This set the tone for the presentation and subtly suggested to the audience that I was looking for group I believe my willingness to adapt helped me to deliver one of the best presentations I’ve ever given. I left the room energized and excited, and judging from evaluations, I believe attendees did too.
  • Set the Atmosphere. When you present, you are contending with a host of factors. You are dealing with whatever happened to you the morning or the day before your presentation. You may be experiencing jitters, and you may be questioning whether you are adequately prepared. In the same way that you are contending with a lot, each person in your audience is contending with his or her own bag of blues or challenges. This could cause audience members to tune out. When you speak, it’s critically important to set the atmosphere. You could do this by creating ground rules such as “step up, step back,” where you encourage attendees to be mindful of how they and others engage, or “throw glitter, not shade,” where you encourage attendees to share affirmations versus harmful critique. You could even set the atmosphere by including music at breaks, having designated people to engage the crowd between breaks to keep them present and excited. The point is that excellent speeches rarely happen – you have to create the conditions that make them possible.

While many typically fear public speaking, these tips are gleaned from actual experience and may very well help you deliver an engaging and memorable presentation. Be sure to drop me a line in the comment section below to let me know any other tips you have to offer.

 

Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator and the author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide.” Connect with her by following Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR.

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

By Jennifer R. Farmer

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.

When You Commit to Hiring Communicators, Commit to do These Four Things as Well

You may be looking to expand your communications team, or build one (assuming you’ve received funding to do so) from the ground up. If you’re looking to hire communications and public relations all-stars, here are four things you should do:

1.) Commit resources to invest in staff salary/benefits as well as professional development. In communications, as in other critical industries, you will get what you pay for. And trust me, you don’t want to shortchange the people who help you maintain a trusted brand. As you develop the compensation package for communicators and #PR pros, adopt a wholistic approach to attract and retain talent. In addition to a competitive salary and benefits package, be sure to include other incentives such as a fund for professional development, resources for your communicator to travel to conferences to network with journalists and communicators, and any other reasonable benefit that your team flags as desirable. Year-over-year, jobs in public relations have been deemed to be among the 10 most stressful, according to CBS News. Since public relations pros are (or should be) among the first to learn of an organizational crisis, and must be available for rapid response, it’s important to reward them accordingly. Part of attracting a talented team is making a commitment to invest in salary and benefits as well as other things that make the job more attractive.

2.) Include your communications team early and often. It takes time to develop a communications strategy for organizational campaigns or programs. Since it’s ineffective to develop tactical responses without a broader context for the work, don’t make a habit of bringing in communicators at the 11th hour. Additionally, communicators are relying on journalists, producers and TV or radio hosts to help them tell your story, and members of the media need advance notice. They need lead time to pitch a story idea to an editor, interview other sources to determine the validity or impact of an issue, or fit in your story with the others they’re working on. It’s a sign of respect (for your team and the journalists your work with) when you include your communications team at the beginning of a campaign, at the outset of a campaign, or very quickly after a campaign has begun. By including them early on in your planning, you are giving them a chance to work effectively on your behalf and also showing them that you value them and their contributions.

3.) Keep your communications team close. When I was starting out in communications, I worked for the Service Employees International Union/District 1199 (KY/WV/OH) and had the privilege of working with labor leader Dave Regan, and later with his successor, Becky Williams. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they granted me a huge advantage by including me in media interviews. By including me, I mean both Regan and Williams included me in phone and face-to-face conversations with reporters. This allowed me to learn more about our union, and our leadership’s position on any number of issues. It also assisted in developing relationships with reporters. As a bonus, after a period of time of sitting in on interviews, I really learned the voice of our leadership and was able to be an effective spokesperson on their and the union’s behalf. If you’re hiring a communicator, see the person as important enough to keep at your right hand.

4.) Make a commitment to hire a diverse staff from the perspective of race, gender, age and career background. So many brands make terrible mistakes, and I imagine some of these mistakes can be attributed to the fact the people charged with vetting their commercials and content, are dominated by people from one or two backgrounds. Without a diverse staff, you may not consistently understand how organizational behavior impacts people from different communities. In addition to race, gender and age diversity, you also need diversity in terms of career background. A well-rounded communications team ideally should have people who have a journalism, public relations, advocacy and/or political background. You’ll want people who have experience in working for either a Public Relations agency, an in-house Public Relations team, a political campaign or advocacy organization. Experience working as a public relations consultant is also beneficial. The key is not developing a team that is homogenous from the standpoint of career background and career experience. The diversity in career background will ensure you have people who think and see the world differently.

Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator and author of Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget. She’s based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @Farmer8J or on Facebook at Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR