The Best Leaders Tip #7 – Be a good leader, not just good at your job

This is my 7th of 12 posts about how to be among the Best Leaders.  In these, I provide inspiration for everyone seeking professional and personal growth as a leader of people, projects, groups, teams and organizations. I welcome your comments and feedback.  Visit my website for more information.


Best Leader Tip #7          Be a good leader, not just good at your job.  People get promoted much of the time because they’re proficient at the core business of their organizations.  CPAs become CFOs, engineers become project managers, journalists become executive producers.  Organizations need to do a better job at making sure the core requirements of these promotions include expertise related not just to technique, but also to people.  This includes getting educated and experienced in areas like interpersonal communication, motivating teams, creating and communication an organizational vision, providing formal and informal feedback, holding effective meetings, predicting and managing change, and so much more.  conducting evaluations, giving and receiving feedback, and self-awareness, which is the foundation of all of this. (For one example, click here for a New York Times article about 360-degree evaluations.)


Social media means a new mindset for PR

This is a time of big mental adjustment for communication professionals. We’re used to controlling the message, writing the news releases and the quotes, approving all materials and controlling the delivery channels to every single audience. For us, it’s all about control, lest our precious brands be misunderstood or maligned.

It’s time to let it go, folks.

Social media means we have to give up control and channel our professional expertise to educate and empower others in our organizations to do what we do – to represent our brands publicly. It’s not all bad. We have an opportunity to expand our work, our resources and our scope by engaging our workforce beyond communications teams. We can create brand ambassadors.

But should just anyone in your organization be a brand ambassador? I don’t believe so. A good brand ambassador should have most of the following qualities:

  1. Specialized expertise in areas important to your company
  2. Credibility in their profession and in their role in your organization
  3. Some existing visibility and reputation in their/your industry
  4. Unique or provocative point of view
  5. Ability to let their personality shine through
  6. Will take guidance (about strategy, message areas, themes, needs) from communications team
  7. Time and willingness to participate as part of a team effort

Once you’ve thought about people in your organization with those qualities (and more you might add depending on the culture of your organization), how do you engage and utilize them? Stay tuned for my next post, which will continue this series and move you closer to a great program.

Drama vs. headlines: how can we make science news accurate and readable?

Journalists are loath to dissect studies from prestigious medical journals.A Chicago Tribune article a few days ago asserted that news reporting of research findings and other science topics is usually condensed by reporters to the point of over-simplification that leads readers to misinterpret the actual research findings and what they mean. All of us in PR who have struggled to write the audience-friendly healthcare press release headline or Twitter post understand all too well. The general audience appetite for technical information – content with many figures and hard data – does not warrant in-depth analysis. However, Tribune reporter Cory Franklin gives some practical and effective guidelines for science reporting that can ease our dilemma when churning our content for our health, medical, biotech, science, and pharma clients. Check out the link here for the article. Look forward to your comments!

(Photo from Chicago Tribune, March 28, 2013)

A Matter of Policy: Protecting Employees and Your Brand on Social Media

In the spirit of social media, you want to encourage and empower employees to share, interact, voice their opinions, tout their philosophies and overall, express themselves freely. You also want them, as representatives of your organization, to remember their roles and responsibilities related to said organization, their fellow employees, and their signed agreements to uphold all company policies. After all, they will be held accountable for any potential breaches, no matter how innocently committed.

It’s our job as communicators to advise our company’s leadership and human resources teams about the risks as well as the benefits of using social media for branding and other goals. As intellectual property, content ownership, authors’ rights, privacy, and other issues make their way into the courts by way of social media’s increasing popularity, organizations of all kinds are seeing the need for evolving their employee policies related to media relations, electronic communication and other related areas.

I’ve seen firsthand how necessary these policies are. And they can be tricky to create and enforce. From my observations and research of many companies with social media policies that are considered great, the best social media policies follow a process that includes the following:

  • They are created in collaboration with internal decisionmakers from human resouces, information technology, security, legal, marketing and perhaps others depending on the specifics of your organization
  • The executive team agrees about the necessity for the policies, and the new policies have at least one influential champion to guide them through the process
  • They are created over time, with patience to gain all the right buy-in within the organization
  • Once they are created, the new policies are publicized internally, with a simultaneous and coordinated effort to educate all employees about the new policies (after all, they can’t be reasonably held accountable for policies they don’t know about, right?)

Successful policies themselves contain these elements:

  • Ethical conduct and legal reminders
  • What constitutes “confidential information” at your organization
  • Boilerplates and disclaimers to include in any personally owned social media
  • Contact information for PR team for clarification or situational assistance
  • Clearly state what’s at stake if policies are breached (as HR policies, the same sanctions should hold)
  • Remember federal and local laws and guidelines in addition to company rules.
  •                       A great example is the FTC Guidelines, which applies to “endorsements” in advertisign and communication, and suggests that marketers should be held accountable for disclosing material connections, disclosing typical experiences, that marketers are to be held liable for false information and that they should insist on full disclosure of relationship by all participants.
 I know many of you are creating and have created great social media policies. If you’d be willing to share these with us, it could help us learn a lot! Thanks-

Teach Your Brand Ambassadors Well (and keep them engaged!)

Successful employee programs empower rather than control people. They motivate employees to bring their best to a collective effort, and encourage them to volunteer for stretch assignments. For some, maybe many, members of your workforce, using social media for branding purposes, probably represents one of these stretch assignments.
So help them. Empower them by teaching them the ins and outs of social media use. By giving them new skills, you not only expand the capability of your branding function, you motivate them to spread your branding messages throughout the organization and externally. (Don’t deny it – you need that help!)
Here’s a starter list of topics to present as you train your brand ambassadors:
  • How to write for social media (you can narrow this to one platform such as Facebook, corporate blogs, Twitter, etc or keep it general and comprehensive)
  • What social media audiences expect (e.g. timely response, creative content, good visuals, interaction)
  • The role of social media in media relations (as it applies to your organization)
  • Media relations in general
  • Your organization’s social media properties (how you’re using them, why (business purposes) and how it benefits employees and business needs
  • How to monitor and respond to organization-related issues and topics via social media discussions
  • How social media is used (in your organization) for issues and crisis response
You and your team can conduct the training, or you can ask a communication professor from a local university to help. You also could tap into the expertise of independent consultants or members of your agency team if you have one. Often, bringing in someone from outside your organization to co-lead the trainings with you is a good idea – you can present corporate strategy and messaging and be the audience expert as well as the liaison regarding culture and history; the outside person can present the tips, techniques and larger world perspective on what others are doing. It’s a great way to keep your audience engaged.
I’ve done these trainings via webinar, or conference call with accompanying slides, as well as live in a room with workbooks and time for practice. All have been received favorably – there is tremendous interest and appetite for learning social media right now – great opportunity for us as communicators.
I encourage you to try some of these activities and when you do, please let me know how it goes – we can all continue to learn from your experiences!

Empower, don’t control: employee use of social media

Just when we thought we had reputation management figured out, here comes a new twist. We’ve spent years crafting and approving talking points for activism, have the template news releases ready in case of corporate scandal; have a prepared distribution list of journalists in case stock prices drop… we’ve got it covered and we can rest peacefully in our beds at night.

That’s the way it was. Along comes social media and all those peaceful easy feelings have gone away. In their place, panic because the threats that used to be outside our organizations are now right in our own buildings, eating lunch alongside us in our carefully guarded corporate cafeterias. These new threats? Our employees!!

That’s because they’re using Facebook, Twitter, FlickR, LinkedIn and starting their own blogs. Sometimes they do it a home, sometimes at work. Sometimes for personal reasons, sometimes professionally. Often, they talk about where they work and what they do. That’s the threat. Because one day, inadvertently, they could say something they shouldn’t online – about a co-worker, an executive, a company product, a research project, a competitor – and you’ll all be in trouble. That’s the risk management threat. The threat to your brand is also important – and that is, with so many people giving your brand an online presence, chances are, it’s not a consistent set of messages nor image and that makes your brand muddy. And remember… a muddy brand is no brand at all.

Also, it appears that social media use, even for approved business purposes, goes on in many different departments by many different people who might or might not talk to each other, coordinate with communication teams or know that much about branding or communication. Recruiters reach directly to college students, marketing folks create Facebook promotions, sales teams contribute to client blogs… again, it adds up to uncoordinated efforts and a muddy brand.

With millions of people on social media properties, the exposure created by these activities is serious enough that our legal, HR, information security and IT teams are getting alarmed, and involved. Corporate communicators are taking charge of this situation as a media relations, reputation management and customer relations task area. But you still want to empower, not control, employees’ use of social media. In spirit of the internet, speech is free, and individual expression encouraged. Studies show that the world’s best-known brands also have the largest numbers of employees using social media.

In my next few blogs, I’ll give you some programs and techniques I’ve found effective to address this. Welcome to my series “Engaging Employees as Brand Ambassadors via Social Media.”

The Bold and the Beautiful – Helen Gurley Brown as communication pioneer

Helen Gurley Brown with Cosmopolitan magazine, from The Washington Post, August 14, 2012

She was one of “us,” as a journalist, advertising copywriter and executive, publisher, innovator, at a time when women’s voices in business were not encouraged (to say the least).  She made her unique mark on all these professions.  Last week, following news of her death at the age of 90, public comments vary as to whether her contributions as a woman were good or bad for women. No matter where you land on that regard, it’s clear to me that she was authentically herself and found powerful platforms for her voice.  Since these remain challenges for many, many women in leadership positions today, and for those trying to move up, I applaud Ms. HGB for being  unabashedly “cosmopolitan,” and for breaking through some layers of the glass ceiling.  We all benefit and like her, we can be bold as well as beautiful, and yes, we can have it all, however we define it.

Read more in The Washington Post –

Mike Wallace: the PR pro’s nemesis and teacher

[SB10001424052702303772904577331921838185312 ]Crisis communicators honed their skills and established their reputations by how well they could handle a Mike Wallace type of media ambush. The iconic newsman, who died on April 7 at the age of 93, helped to give his CBS show 60 Minutes leadership status among investigative news programming. He also gave public relations professionals a reason to create and practice crisis communication plans, media train executives, perfect the interview arts of deflection, not saying too much, staying calm and on message, and develop nerves of steel.

Journalism has changed in so many ways on so many levels during Mr. Wallace’s lifetime and career, and change is good. As long as news professionals (whether broadcast, print, bloggers or anything else) aspire to and maintain the stringent standards of great reporting, ethics and service demonstrated by Mr. Wallace and his peers.

The world keeps changing…

Read more about Mike Wallace, his life as a news person, and the PR profession.

Slip ups and slurs

NBA star Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks  has hit the big time, and we know it because companies are falling all over themselves to jump on the bandwagon of his success… and a few are falling flat on their corporate faces in the process. At least two companies have issued Lin-related apologies in the past week. (Read my blog post from February 28 about Ben & Jerry’s.)

ESPN, which reports on sports stars from many ethnic backgrounds (and so should know much better)  published a racially insensitive headline about Lin early the morning of Saturday, February 25. To make matters worse, an ESPN anchor used the same insensitive/offensive phrase while conducting an interview about possible weak spots in Lin’s game.

ESPN issued an apology for the website snafu, which included the statement: We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.

The anchor, Anthony Federico, also apologized, and seemed sincerely shocked at his thoughtlessness. I kind of felt sorry for him – I mean, we’re all moving so fast through our work days, news media pros have to process and deliver so much information so very quickly – they’re bound to slip up now and then. These days, with reputations made or broken at the speed of social media, those slip ups can ruin you. Extra, painstaking, timely, sensitive care has to be taken to avoid doing something that could take years to recover from.

Slip ups can’t occur if the expressions and thoughts are erased from our minds altogether, even if those took our lifetimes to form, they can be expunged. And they should – or we could get ourselves in trouble.

Asian-American groups have expressed concern about the growing use of racial stereotypes in media coverage about Lin. The issue is bigger than this situation, of course. For all the progress the media has made regarding diversity and inclusion, it’s troubling that groups still have to express concern. How can this get better? The Asian American Journalists Association said,  “Is there a compelling reason to draw a connection between Lin and fortune cookies, takeout boxes or similar imagery?” “In the majority of news coverage, the answer will be no.” Of course the answer is no. Unless a fact is relevant to the story, it doesn’t belong IN the story – an important rule of journalism. Is Lin’s ethnic heritage a relevant fact when reporting on his performance on the court?

Even if we agree that it isn’t, there are habits of speech, joking and conversing that come out when we’re stressed, busy or otherwise letting down our guard. How to change these and their subtext is the work we all share – as communicators and as influencers and as consumers who can influence the media and hold them accountable.

When sorry is the hardest word… turn to the experts

Ben & Jerry’s isn’t just a great ice cream maker; the company seems to be a fabulous newsmaker, too. Their latest headlines were made just this week, as they apologized to customers for inadvertently offending some customers with their  limited-edition frozen yogurt flavor offered at their Harvard Square location in Boston that “paid tribute” to New York Knicks basketball star Jeremy Lin. Fortune cookie pieces were included in the initial recipe – Lin is the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. And a Harvard graduate.

Pints of “Taste the Lin-Sanity,” which also contained vanilla frozen yogurt and lychee honey swirls (fresh-baked waffle cookie replaced the fortune cookie pieces), sold out over last weekend, so the actual product was popular. Actually, it sounds interesting and delicious – I’m a big fan of lychee! Ben & Jerry’s issued an apology that included the following:

“On behalf of Ben & Jerry’s Boston Scoop Shops we offer a heartfelt apology if anyone was offended by our handmade Linsanity flavor that we offered at our Harvard Square location. We are proud and honored to have Jeremy Lin hail from one of our fine, local universities and we are huge sports fans,” Ben & Jerry’s officials posted on the company’s local Twitter and Facebook pages. “We were swept up in the nationwide Linsanity momentum. Our intention was to create a flavor to honor Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments and his meteoric rise in the NBA, and recognize that he was a local Harvard graduate. We try demonstrate our commitment as a Boston-based, valued-led business and if we failed in this instance we offer our sincere apologies.”

 Hmmm. Although a well crafted statement (who can argue with the company’s motive to honor a local and now national hero?), something is missing. What do fortune cookies and lychee have to do with Boston, Harvard or the NBA? Are those items among Lin’s favorite foods, is he fond of his heritage, is Ben & Jerry’s proud of the NBA for its diversity efforts in recruiting and playing Lin…? Any one of those reasons, and more, would have seemed more authentic than the one released by the company.
This brings me to the question at the top of my PR-addled brain: where are Ben & Jerry’s communication advisors? Clearly, their product development and marketing folks are bright, creative and trendy people with many brilliant ideas. Do they run these ideas by people who understand audiences, consumers, and social media so everyone can be alerted to potential missteps, misunderstandings, insults and grievances? And THEN make a decision about whether the risks are worth the financial and other benefits BEFORE releasing the product. And maybe, sometimes, risks ARE worth it – you might want to stir up debate, shake up your image, cause a controversy – just for plain old visibility. (Maybe this is why Ben & Jerry’s released their controversial, ode-to-an SNL- skit  Schweddy Balls ice cream last fall.) That’s all fine.
Just be sure you know what you’re doing and why.
Not being audience-savvy gets companies into big, big trouble. PR teams are on hand to help. LISTEN to them before making business decisions or releasing new products that are highly visible or will be meaningful to your most important stakeholders. 
(Another case study for listening to your communication experts is the recent decision by the Susan G Komen Foundation to stop funding for Planned Parenthood, which resulted in major news coverage because of the jolting reaction from donors and the general public. In one of the news stories, it was said that a Komen communication executive had advised against the business move because of just such an audience reaction. The negative effects of the decision will be felt by Komen for a very long time. Read more at the following):
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