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strategic communicator - Author - Facilitator - Workshop Presenter - Ghostwriter

Tag: public relations

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.

The Path to Media Attention is Action

By Jennifer R. Farmer

Throughout my career, I’ve met countless people who had lofty dreams and larger-than-life aspirations. Most of them were passionate about a particular issue, and they wanted the world to know. It’s not hard to understand why; media attention offers a type of validation that signals to clients, potential clients, funders, allies and others that an individual is making a positive impact.

For much of my career, I’ve worked to help leaders and organizations receive media attention for the incredible work they were spearheading.

But media attention is highly addictive. Regardless of how much one gets, there’s usually a desire for a bit more. The exception, of course, is when the media is lambasting an individual. Outside of negative coverage, many of us have an insatiable appetite for media coverage.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, the path to sustained media coverage is action.

When I think about truly remarkable leaders, I realize that they are active; they are constantly doing something in furtherance of their calling or working to influence positive change.

The experiences of two of my favorite entertainers and producers, Tyler Perry and Steve Harvey, underscore this point. When Perry got the idea to produce stage plays, he invested all he had on his first show, only to attract a mere 30 people. He spent $12,000 – his life savings at the time – on the show, rented out a theater and a little more than a couple dozen people showed up. He had this experience for years before ultimately finding success. In his case, the path to success was to refuse to stop, even in the face of disappointing failure. Harvey also suffered through years of disappointment, estrangement from his family, financial lack and homelessness before finally striking it big. There would be no “Steve Harvey Morning Show,” “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” or Harvey as host of “Family Feud” had he embraced a life of inactivity. These leaders didn’t necessarily set out to garner media attention; they set out to share their gifts with the world. The media attention was a byproduct of their life’s calling.

If you’re a communicator under pressure from colleagues who want to be recognized in the court of public opinion, encourage them to get busy doing work they care about. Help them tease out the pieces of their work that may be most appealing to the media and be a thought partner offering honest feedback. Listen for what’s unique about their work and then use the uniqueness as an entry point to pitch them to the media.

If you’re an executive desiring more publicity, the path to notoriety is sustained, long-term action. By “action,” I mean doing work that you truly care about, and work that fills a void.

It doesn’t hurt to hire public relations staff but be clear that a communicator’s role is to amplify; it’s to serve as a megaphone testifying to what is already occurring.

For example, I recently arranged a meeting with media executives and colleagues who work on gun violence and mass incarceration. The discussion went well, and I expect it will result in media coverage. While I set up the meeting, the discussion would have been futile if my colleagues didn’t have a body of work that demonstrated their promising approach to addressing gun violence and mass incarceration. Had they lacked experiential evidence of their work, the interview may have gone poorly.

The bottom line: If you want media attention, get busy working on your craft or your life’s purpose. I’m confident you’ll find that media coverage is a byproduct of sustained action.

 

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

How to Relentlessly Advocate for What You Believe In

There’s no escaping the fact that communications and public relations work involves an element of rejection. In PR, the rejection likely comes from reporters who may not be interested or available to cover a story idea you’ve pitched. Rejection also occurs when the strategy you’ve proposed to meet an organizational challenge is overlooked or summarily dismissed.

I’ve been a communicator for more than 15 years, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “no” from organizational leaders and members of the media alike. Bo Bennett’s quote, “rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success” rings true.

For all the stories I’ve pitched and placed, countless others didn’t see the light of day. For all of the meetings I’ve requested with members of the media, many were flat out denied, and in some cases, I didn’t get a response at all.

Dealing with rejection is hard. But overcoming rejection and being resilient is critical to being an effective advocate. I focus on relentlessness in my new book, “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide,” and here are five things I’ve learned that may help you relentlessly advocate for the organizations and causes you support:

  • Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself. From my experience, the key to being relentless is believing in something bigger than yourself. When we believe in something bigger than ourselves, we are likely to stick with it. We’re passionate when we talk about it, and that passion is contagious. When we believe in something, we’ll go to the ends of the earth fighting for it. In my book, “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget,” I talk about being on a campaign with the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and how I believed so strongly in the campaign that I traveled to North Carolina almost weekly to support it. From my first encounter in with the campaign and the people supporting it, I determined I would do whatever was necessary to support the movement.

What I learned from this experience is that you cannot effectively promote something you do not actually embrace. If you believe in something, you’ll stick with it even when the going gets tough.

  • Know that There’s Always a Silver Lining. Sometimes “No!” comes with a silver lining. A “no” with an explanation may be viewed just as favorably as an immediate “yes, I’ll cover your story.” For instance, I asked a member of my team to pitchThe Washington Post on a guest column about the systemic oppression of Native Americans. The Washington Post declined to publish the piece. When we politely inquired as to the basis for the decision, we learned that the essay was submitted too close to the desired publication date. We had submitted the piece for consideration on the Tuesday before the Sunday we had hoped the column would run, which was also opening day of the 2014 professional football season. The feedback from the publication allowed us to better establish internal deadlines to place opinion pieces going forward.

Relentlessness is about patience and persistence. Had we not pressed for an answer, we may not have known The Post’s desired lead time for nonurgent opinion pieces. Had we stopped at the first, second or third “no” – we had pitched the piece to The National Journal, Politico and The Washington Post before MSNBC.com agreed to run it – our piece would never have been placed. Failing to place an opinion piece is losing an opportunity to share your message.

  • Remember, “No!” Isn’t Always Permanent. Just because a reporter or producer doesn’t bite on a story idea today doesn’t mean the idea is permanently doomed. He or she could be sidelined covering breaking news, on work or personal travel, or juggling multiple stories. There’s also a possibility the reporter didn’t see your pitch or press release if you sent it electronically and didn’t follow up with a call. The bottom line is that there are a lot of factors that could cause a reporter to decline your pitch, but that doesn’t mean he or she won’t be willing to consider your source, angle or material in the future.
  • Don’t Allow “No” to Ruin a Relationship. Journalists aren’t obligated to cover your issues. While getting reporters and producers to cover your work is key, it’s not worth losing a relationship over. So, don’t come unglued if you don’t receive the response you were hoping for. Practically speaking, journalists often move from beat to beat and from media outlet to media outlet. You’d feel bad to have ruined a relationship with a member of the media only to have to pitch to that person again if he or she moved to a different beat or media outlet.
  • Know When to Back Off. If a reporter hasn’t responded to multiple emails or a couple of phone calls, you can safely assume he or she is not interested in covering your story. After multiple attempts to reach a reporter by email and phone, don’t continue to press for a response. The reporter’s continued silence is all the response you need. Similarly, if you receive an unequivocal, “No, I am not interested in covering this story ever” response, move on.

Ultimately, relentlessness is about seeing denial as a temporary, rather than permanent, fixture. It’s about viewing denial as an opportunity to tweak and refine, especially if you are lucky enough to receive feedback. It’s not, however, about pestering reporters or others into submission. Used effectively, the principle can lead to impressive results. To learn more, pick up a copy of my new book “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget (Berrett-Koehler Publishers).”

 

Jennifer R. Farmer is managing director for communications for PICO National Network and the founder of Spotlight PR LLC, whose mission is to develop and distribute high-impact communications trainings and workshops. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR and Twitter @Farmer8J.