Is PR About Risk Taking or Risk Management?

risk taking (2)Fairly recently, I was recruited by one of Boston’s leading tech companies for a Director of PR role. I’ve been quite happy with consulting and contracting, but I knew that it was important to at least explore the potential opportunity.  While the role wasn’t the right fit, the interview made for a good discussion point regarding “what PR is.”

During the interview, the first question out of the gate went like this… “Tell me about the biggest risk you’ve taken.”

I was caught off guard. I asked for clarification. This is what I got: “Explain something ‘crazy’ you’ve put out there in terms of PR.”

Interesting question I thought to myself.  I replied by describing a number of creative and unique PR initiatives I led.  Was creative what she really meant?  It seemed that had to be what she was implying, as “crazy” wasn’t necessarily a word I used to describe my professional achievements or the strategic initiatives I’m most proud of.

It was evident that she was disappointed with my response.  She did, in fact, want “crazy.”

Immediately following the interview, I regretted my response.  I should have taken a moment to help educate her and clarify that PR isn’t about putting “crazy” things out there or taking risks.

PR is about creating a strategic communications plan that mitigates risk.

I’m not sure what the expectations were for this role, but it sounded like there was some disconnect from what a Director of PR role should look like in my opinion.

After connecting with the recruiter following the interview, the feedback was that I didn’t exhibit that I was enough of a “risk-taker” and that was what they were looking for.  I was counting my blessings. I think most PR professionals would agree that signing up for a “risk-taking” PR Director position would be setting oneself up for disaster.

While risk-taking may be an important characteristic in entrepreneurship, that is not necessarily the case with PR leadership.

On the other hand, pushing boundaries and experimentation are good traits in PR. And of course, so is creativity.  There’s certainly no harm in trying new approaches and messages, but it’s important that they are executed smartly and strategically.  It’s also okay to be controversial (e.g. disagreeing with a piece of legislation or taking a contrarian view on a highly visible issue), but again this should only be executed if it doesn’t pose a “risk” to the brand image or its leadership.

Often creative and unique PR campaigns are an extension of a larger marketing or social media campaign, and sometimes they can come in the form of a publicity stunt.  We also find that great marketing initiatives can lead to great press (think ALS Ice Bucket Challenge) or in some cases just the opposite (check out this example from Business Insider about a failed movie theater stunt that led to police calls).  The latter case demonstrates that regardless of what team and department the initiative is driven from, the PR or Corporate Communications team should have a seat at the table in the discussion (more on this topic coming soon in another post.)

So the key takeaways?

  1. Risk + PR = Potential harm to a brand: PR is about mitigating risk and not muddying a brand’s image, worrying investors or jeopardizing customer or partner loyalty.
  2. Creativity + PR = A winning combination: There are plenty of ways to be creative and unique – whether it’s a very educational and insightful byline or a big publicity stunt, creative approaches can help achieve results.

 

Lessons In Building a Business: Tax Time

taxtimesFollowing my first year of self-employment and consulting, filing my 2014 taxes introduced a new set of challenges (and work) that I hadn’t anticipated. Perhaps it was silly of me not to have educated myself beforehand, but hey, this is a learning process, right?

In an effort to help others who journey into the world of entrepreneurship or self-employment, I’d like to share a few of the lessons I’ve learned (and mistakes I’ve made):

  • Make quarterly estimated tax payments. This might be obvious for most, but after being ill-advised by an accountant, I opted to make one big payment at tax time. Although I had been putting away an ample percentage of my earnings, I faced a penalty for not paying throughout the year. That mistake won’t happen again.
  • Keep records. It might seem brutal and at times exhausting, but it’s crucial for a small business owner to track expenses throughout the year (and save receipts).
  • Open a business credit card. To make record-keeping easier, there’s no better way to track business expenses and write offs than with a dedicated credit card. Credit card providers like American Express break down your expenses by category (transportation, entertainment, etc.) and help alleviate the stress of managing your costs.
  • Work with a smart CPA. This probably goes without saying, but find a CPA who can help guide you at tax time and ensure you’re making the best decisions for your business.

For more fun tax reading, here are some handy links for tips on write offs:

Do the Nice Guys Always Lose?

boston-marathonThis point recently came up in a client discussion, and it resonated all too well with me: “Being nice is an effective leadership quality.” That’s right, I said it.  Being “nice” can get you far in the business world.

There are several arguments against being nice. For instance, a contributed article in Harvard Business Review, draws a correlation of being too nice to “being lazy, inefficient and irresponsible” and argues that this style of leadership can be harmful to individuals and an organization. I wholeheartedly disagree with this and believe there’s a distinct difference between being nice and being ineffective.

Other arguments I’ve heard suggest that leaders who are “nice” are taken advantage of — their employees under perform or there aren’t enough boundaries as a result. Again, I haven’t found this to be true in my experiences.

In my research on the topic, I’ve come across an alternative phrase to describe this style of management: a “relational leader.”  Now that’s something, no pun intended, that I can relate to.  Relating to others and being a leader who exhibits compassion and warmth can help build trust and positivity in a work environment–which in turn can help produce better results for the team and organization overall. Here are 3 proven examples, on why being “nice” and a “relational leader” has helped with my career success:

  1. People want to work hard for those they respect and like.  Whether it’s a direct report or a colleague within an organization, I’ve found time and time again, people want to deliver results or go above and beyond for someone who is supportive of them.  Those who I have managed are more committed to meeting or exceeding the goals I put in place. Those I work with and around are more likely to reply to my emails, collaborate on a project or share important information.
  2. Encouragement and positivity drive motivation.  I should be clear, that by no means am I suggesting that “tough conversations” are avoided or sugarcoated. Nor am I suggesting that under-performing employees should get a pass. What I am saying is that by setting a positive tone in a team heightens morale and in turn drives hard work.  I’ve seen first hand how one team can produce better results when they don’t feel a pressure or cloud of negativity hanging over their heads.
  3. “Relationships” last beyond a job. From references to new business referrals to media contacts, the relationships I’ve built throughout my career continuously prove to be beneficial.  By leaving a positive impression on those I’ve worked with, I’ve established myself as both a kind and effective person to work with and for.

The Benefits of Being a Benevelont Boss has many other great proof points on why being nice doesn’t mean finishing last. It’s a great further read if you’re still not a believer.

 

 

 

How to Write an Effective PR Pitch in 3 Steps

Media receive dozens and sometimes hundreds of email pitches a day, so that makes getting yours to stand out all the more difficult. Luckily there are three really basic, but essential, tactics that will help you write an effective pitch and get noticed by media. While these tips may seem obvious, they are all too often forgotten about.

1. Write a customized email

Despite how many articles and PR professionals out there warn you not to send an email blast, generic “template-like” emails are still be making their way to reporters inboxes.  Make sure each email sent is unique to the recipient – whether it’s indicating what section this would be best for or referencing why this “news” is interesting to their audience, make sure your email is relevant.

2. Get to know the writers

This is the next step in customizing your email.  Read their bio, check out their recent tweets, and most definitely familiarize yourself with their recent coverage. If appropriate, reference what you know about them in your pitch email–mention a recent story or make a connection about something you have in common.

3. Be concise

Keep your email as brief as you can while still getting your point across. Remember how many emails a reporter gets a day? Make their lives easier by sending emails that are to the point and easy to digest.

There are several other things to consider when drafting a pitch — writing a good subject line and proof reading are among them.  This is a great list of tips to check out from contributing editor John Brandon.

PR for Startups – Is it Really any Different?

Next week I’m presenting a PR101 session at Paypal’s Start Tank and innovation space to help educate Boston’s upcoming entrepreneurs and equip them with the PR basics.  When putting together my presentation, it really hit home that when approaching a PR or communications strategy, the process has to be the same whether its a startup or an enterprise.

I’ve spent the majority of my career supporting big name brands–some household names, some international powerhouses. Toshiba, RIM, Kaspersky Lab, Orbitz, no need to explain who they are.  Some may think it’s a breeze supporting these types of corporations and organizations–the media knows them, there’s no breaking down walls to get attention.  But what happens when that’s not the case?

After a decade of working with big industry players, I switched gears to support a number of startups–services just coming to market, products first hitting retail, and companies with all of two employees. What have I found?  It’s really all the same.  At the of the day, it’s abStartup Stock Photosout reaching an audience, raising awareness and driving some sort of desired result.  

Here’s a quick look at the first steps of building a PR strategy regardless of business size:

  • Establish your goals and objectives: What do you want to achieve from PR?  Do you want to drive app downloads? Increase web traffic? Make your CEO a recognized industry name? No matter what your goals are for PR, put them on paper, and then you can create a strategy to get you where you want to be.
  • Identify your audience: Who do you want to reach? Is it customers, partners, distributors, investors? Before you can determine how to reach them, you need to know and understand who they are.
  • Know your key messages: Although your messages should be customized for each audience, a brand at any size needs to create the core messages that will be consistent across all communications (press releases, interviews, pitches, social media posts). What are those key takeaways you want your audience to walk away with?
  • Check out the competition: Familiarizing yourself with the competitive landscape will help with creating your messages, differentiating yourself, and identifying what media outlets/channels you want to be included in. The competition can often help inspire your direction (whether it’s following their lead or avoiding their mistakes!).

 

 

My PRactice, My Story

I had my first baby, Dylan, in August 2013. In addition to all the crazy emotions and big life changes that the first three months of parenting introduced, having a child led me to reevaluate many aspects of life including my career and my priorities.

As the end of my maternity leave approached, I realized my role as a Senior Manager of Corporate Communications at a leading international security vendor was no longer the right fit for meIMG_0660.

While there were many great experiences in that position–working with the senior leadership, collaborating with colleagues across the world and traveling to amazing destinations that included F1 and Moscow–at the end of the day my priorities shifted. I wanted more flexibility, less commute, more autonomy.

After taking a month off and rolling in the new year with a fresh perspective, I tried my hand at a small consulting role with a Boston-based startup. The rest is history — well history in the making I suppose!

In just a matter of months, my client roster matured and the opportunities to work with growing brands all over the country came popping up in my inbox. Creating my own consulting practice seemed like the logical next chapter in this new career journey.

That’s my story in about 200 words, but I’d love to tell you more over coffee or maybe a glass of wine. You can find me here.