Why Imperfect Actions Make the Best Stories

Harry S. Truman said that, “imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.”

Most likely, he said this because he noticed that most people won’t try to do anything they think they can’t do perfectly on the first try. It’s also called “perfection paralysis.” It happens to writers a lot. It’s the leading cause of writer’s block.

It happens to everyone who begins to drift out of the “comfort zone.”

Then, a teacher or mentor comes along and says, “Gosh darn it, just write whatever comes to your head. All first drafts are sh*tty, no matter who you are. Get your thoughts down. Be messy!”

I’m in a program with 30 other high achievers who are intent on taking their speaking careers to the next level. These are amazingly accomplished people from all walks of life. An astronaut, several best selling authors, successful serial entrepreneurs, healthcare gurus, world travelers, big stage keynoters — and me.

One of the projects for the keynoters has been to draft a 45- to 60-minute keynote speech, which is about 6,000 words. And many of us were initially stuck, because we have a lot invested financially and emotionally in creating spellbinding presentations.

Even a room full of unquestionably talented industry experts were defaulting into the fear of taking imperfect action.

Because the reality is, when you have a big footprint and take imperfect action, the critics and haters come out, not to praise you for your courage and stick-with-it-ness, but to point out your imperfections and question your worthiness.

The corporate world is eons away from being supportive of imperfect action. So the creatives often get boxed into “safe zones” with well-defined parameters that discourage innovation and risk.

Because most of us speakers are in business for ourselves, we can try out all kinds of crazy ideas, and whether we win or lose isn’t important. It’s the bold act that counts in our culture. For instance, trying a new joke at a speaking gig. Sometimes, the audience will bust their sides laughing. Other times, they’ll look at you like you’ve just eaten a bug. Later, you can laugh about it, because of the support of your comrades in arms.

But our freedom to “just be me” was hard-earned, because most of us started our careers in soul-killing corporate cultures that punished, not rewarded, imperfect action, until a kindly mentor reminded us of our worth.

I’m in the infant stages of launching a series of humorous, 2-minute videos on YouTube. And so far, they’re awful. I can tell, because no one has said anything. Not even friends and family. That’s bad. But I don’t care. I’m going to keep taking imperfect action until they’re good — good enough that people tell me they’re good, and good enough to make the haters come out.

These videos are deliberate, imperfect action, because I am going to keep the project going until they’re good and have a huge following, and then I’ll write it up as a case study to give hope to other creatives everywhere.

Why not take imperfect action today, and then share your experiences via your blog or some other story telling vehicle? It’ll have struggle, conflict and an inspiring resolution — the stuff good stories are made of.

 

 

 

How One Big Thing Changed My Business

I did a little hibernating over the holidays to de-stress and rethink my professional life.

After my TEDx talk in November, a tsunami hit me — extreme fatigue, anxiety, self-doubt, and genuine confusion about what I was supposed to do next in my life. Doing a TEDx talk is a tough act to follow.

I let this ride for a few weeks, just letting it be. I didn’t resist it, just fell into it like a trust exercise. I’ve lived long enough to know that these kinds of episodes usually result in epiphanies. A big “aha!” moment was coming, and it was being processed at the deepest level of my subconscious. All I can do at times like these is to wait patiently until the answers bubble up from within.

Well, did they ever.

The reality is that I’ve been working so very hard over these last few years, toiling in the mines, wrestling with bears, conquering fears and making mistakes. And you know what? Much of it just wasn’t fun anymore.

My deep, inner voice told me to relax and have faith. It assured me that I was going through the necessary self sculpting and chipping down to the essential me, a peeling off of layers and the unplugging from the matrix.

Letting that stuff go was painful. I was molting — shedding the outer shell to make room for new growth, Michelangelo at a block of marble, “chipping away all that wasn’t David.”

And that’s okay. Well worth the trouble, I’d say.

Another epiphany was, strangely, a productivity tip. All the business books I’ve read over the past two years said that “focus” was a common attribute among successful people. It meant staying with one task until it was complete, instead of doing what I usually do: make a to do list, check emails, start a project, go get coffee, clean up my desk, start a different task, check emails, check Facebook, do laundry, write down brilliant ideas, write a blog… and then, voila! It’s dark outside, and I haven’t made a single step toward my vision.

So here’s what I’m doing now, and it’s making a huge difference in what I’m accomplishing each day. Using my planner, I break down visions and goals into manageable tasks and schedule them out into daily sessions (or small bites). Then, I set the timer on my phone for one hour and give myself to work on that ONE thing for the next sixty minutes. I allow nothing to break the bubble. When the timer goes off, I can either keep going if I’m in the flow (which happens a lot if I’m writing), or move onto something else after a 15-minute break.

My favorite thing is I’ve allocated one hour every morning for reading. My second favorite thing is the most important things are getting done, better and faster.

What I’m saying is nothing new. This is simply my testimonial in praise of the method.

Surrendering to change, and focus. What an extraordinary, pleasant way to start the new year.

Who is Your Ideal Client?

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You know how at certain times in your life you keep hearing the same phrases or concepts over and over, as if the universe was pounding you with an idea until you got it? Such ideas drop into the zeitgeist of a particular collective or within the sphere of consciousness of distant individuals, latches on, and won’t let go until you either implement it or drive it away.

Something hogged the lion’s share of my brain’s bandwidth these last couple of years—the notion of the “ideal client.” Segmenting to the power of one. Reducing a market segment to a single individual that’s so precise you can see the avatar, or at least, describe it’s characteristics in exhaustive detail.

I didn’t get it. I couldn’t figure out how I’d distill the giant jigsaw puzzle of personality traits, vertical markets and business needs into a single individual, but I did understand the wisdom of it. Having the picture of your “audience of one” firmly in your mind enriches the substance of every piece of content you produce, and makes it especially meaningful to the person who needs you the most.

But last week, I finally got it. At last, I understood who my “ideal client” was with a burst of insight so powerful and clear that, if I hadn’t been passing a truck on the interstate at the time, I would’ve raised my arms to the heavens and shouted, “Hallelujah!”

My eureka moment was the result of a recent meeting with a potential new client. We were in his tastefully appointed conference room, having an easy, friendly conversation, and my mind simply said, “This. This is your ideal client.”

As I drove home, I was elated. You see, before that day, I didn’t want to pigeon-hole my client base. I had, after all, certain clients with certain needs, and I was afraid to get specific because (I see now) I was viewing it from a place of lack. If I got specific (I thought), really narrowing it down to that one perfect person, how would that be enough to sustain my business? Wouldn’t I be cutting myself off from more opportunity? Sure, some clients are bothersome, unpleasant people, but they keep you in socks and underwear, right?

Wrong. It doesn’t have to be like that. I’ve drawn a line in the sand. No more negative energy vampires. No more putting up with relationships, whether business or personal, that aren’t a pleasing fit. Life’s too short.,

For the ultimate success of your business and the fulfillment of your soul, it’s utterly essential that you be able to identify the characteristics of your ideal client. My friend, Rita Wilkins, a brilliant interior designer, was the first to tell me about the concept of the “ideal client.” A few years back, Rita and her team had pulled out all of her client files and reviewed them, one by one, ticking off the characteristics that made each one of them special, or conversely, heinous, to work with. She scored them and converted the numbers into a spreadsheet. Any clients that did not fit the “ideal client” criteria perfectly were tossed into the bin.

With this manifesto, or public declaration, I am listing the seven characteristics of my perfect client:

Greets me with a firm, friendly handshake; looks me in the eye

This simple ritual tells me at once almost everything I need to know about the person. With this simple gesture, the person is saying, “I see you, and I respect you.” It conveys a knowledge of personal courtesy, a level of maturity, and a respect of others. Polished professionals are the types of people who will respond well to the services I provide. Weak handshakes or failure to make eye contact signal lack of power or confidence (or something else that’s not conducive to a trusting relationship), and I’m instantly on my guard. A grotesque handshake or shifty eyes is the first red flag.

Did his due diligence on me before the meeting

One of his first questions is, “So, tell me about yourself,” but he already knows almost everything about me, because he’s googled my name, checked my website, and read my LinkedIn profile. He already knows I’m qualified, but now that we’re meeting in person, he wants to see the real me in action. At some point, he’ll demonstrate that he’s done his research by mentioning an acquaintance we have in common or commenting on some of my previous work. When he does this, I know that the chances of developing a working relationship are excellent. And again, it shows he’s a polished professional who respects the contributions of others. A prospective client who knows nothing about you before the meeting is, most likely, going to be a difficult client, because either he sees you as a commodity,  or places little value on your area of expertise. Another red flag.

Has a sense of humor

I love to laugh. My whole style is about wit, and humor, and seeing the funny side of things. When I meet a potential client who’s also able to roll with my humor, and even up the ante, it’s pure joy. Since I’m a creative individual who thinks way outside the proverbial box, it’s helpful if the client has a similar sense of taking strategic risks, a fondness of adventure and who loves to not take things too seriously. Of course, the work is serious. Producing excellence and getting results is what it’s all about. But if we can have fun at the same time? What could be better? Because of my line of work (which relies a great deal on one’s imagination and sometimes flying in the face of convention), it’s difficult to work with anyone who seems to have been born without a personality. People who are non-creative or without humor don’t get what I do—at all—and they fight me every step of the way. Which gets me to the next important characteristic…

Gets what I do and why it’s important

So, I asked this prospective client, “What is it that you think I do? What does the term, ‘public relations,’ or ‘strategic content’ mean to you and your business?” He pondered the question for a moment, and then answered with one of the most erudite description of the importance and necessity for public relations and content strategy I’d ever heard from anyone to whom I’d previously asked this question. I swear, I wanted to jump up from the table and do that happy dance right there. Oh, how I love a client who respects the power of public relations and content marketing strategy, feels the urgent necessity of it (because she has educated herself about it or studied it in college), and has allocated a long-term budget for it. If I have to explain in too much depth why it’s important, or defend its importance to a prospective client, then I know I’m not sitting with my ideal client. I love to educate, when the education is craved. But if the prospect doesn’t believe it’s important, I know I’m fighting a losing battle. Time to walk away.

Our professional values are closely aligned

The client says he values service to the community, a collaborative and inclusive business environment, growth, hiring people smarter than he is, customer service excellence and integrity, which are closely aligned with my own company’s core values. Shared values is an important consideration when making the decision to work with a client. The client’s values will set the tone for every future interaction, and will be tested when times are challenging. I recommend to everyone in business that you have clearly thought through and articulated your mission and core values before you begin your business development process. People will choose to work with you, and vice versa, based upon the mutual attraction of shared values and not upon price. These types of alliances can last for years and years.

Personal interests are aligned, too

Isn’t it fun when it turns out your client likes the same sorts of things you do? Is a Game of Thrones junkie… is a musician… likes being healthy and maintaining physical fitness… reads books… has the same taste in movies or a love of wine… is self aware or intent on personal growth… you get the idea. Isn’t it great when your best clients are also your friends? That’s a match made in heaven. When I can contribute to my friend’s/client’s professional success, it’s sweet satisfaction and not worth living without.

Have you identified your “ideal client?” What characteristics to you look for, or value?

How to Handle the “Brain Pickers”

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This post is dedicated to the service providers: writers, publicists, web designers, graphic artists, marketing consultants and others who want to help businesses succeed. We are the ones who want to rescue David from Goliath, i.e., help the little guy. Am I preaching to the choir when I say that there are some new business owners you ought to avoid at all costs, because even though their market presence cries out for help, they may not be ready, willing and able to pay for advice.

Let me tell you a story.

My anti-hero’s name has been changed to disguise the identity of a solopreneur who doesn’t do the work (whether through design or lack of know-how), and then complains he’s not getting enough leads. Let’s call him Nullen, of the firm Nullen Void. Nullen is an amalgam. Have you met him yet?

He’s a nice enough guy, really, but at heart, he’s a slacker. He barely squeaked by in college, never cracked a textbook until the night before an exam. He got his girlfriends and starving student ghostwriters to write his papers for him. Professors cut him slack because he was on the football team. He’s a firm believer in his own “likeability,” and has been trading off of it for years to get what he wants from people.

After years of working in middle management jobs for a series of small service businesses, Nullen decided to start his own business. He does just enough work to pay the bills, though he often dreams of bigger things. He puts in an 8-hour day, five days a week, doing paperwork, getting his annual CEU credits, hanging out in local leads groups (getting leads, but not giving much), answering the phone when it rings, hoping it’s a new client, and little else.

But the phone rings less and less these days, and he’s become increasingly frustrated, because suddenly, it’s not easy anymore to get new business. He had to do something to drum up business, so he called me for a free, 30-minute consultation to “pick my brains.” (That’s code for someone who wants your advice but doesn’t expect to have pay for it. Good old Nullen.) He invited me for lunch and offered to pick up the tab, which is a first for him. And he played the, “You’re an old friend, and you’re brilliant” card. He almost sounded like he was begging, which is also a first. So I took pity on him and agreed to meet. Maybe he’d since realized the world wasn’t beating a path to his door, and maybe our pal, Nullen, was growing up. Maybe this time, he has a budget.

Before our meeting, I researched Nullen’s internet presence, knowing what I’d probably find. Sadly, I was correct.

Nullen’s social media is a ghost town

I found him on Facebook and LinkedIn. He posts occasionally (not personally, however), mostly curated content. Most posts have two or three likes, always the same people who work at the social media firm he hired because they were cheap. The posts are inane, either with little relevance to his business or not noteworthy in any sense. Whomever is posting on Nullen’s behalf has little understanding of the business he’s in and/or the audience he’s trying to reach. Further, evidence suggests that Nullen isn’t engaging with anyone on social media—there are no “likes” or “comments” from him on anyone else’s posts. What he’s done, obviously, has handed over the keys to student drivers.

Nullen doesn’t understand social media. He never studied it, never tried to figure out what channels are most strategic for him. He just figured it’s something he ought to be involved with, because everybody’s doing it. In truth, he doesn’t believe in it and thinks it has no value. It’s like sausage, he figures. He doesn’t need to know what goes in it. And so, he doesn’t participate. Too much work, anyway.

His LinkedIn profile is glaringly incomplete. No summary. No descriptions of his previous positions. His photo is obviously a crop job. I can see a friend’s disembodied hand on his shoulder.

When he buys me lunch, I will give him the “you’ve got to engage if you want your social media to be effective” speech. I will ask him why he’s using social media in the first place and what he hopes to gain. And I will say, “No, Nullen, I will not do it for you, unless you’re willing to pay my going rate.” Brain pickers usually run away at this point.

His web site is static

His home page seems to say, “Move along folks; there’s nothing to see here.” In the “about us” section, he lists his products and services but tells us nothing about who he is. There’s very little substance, no interesting content, no blog, no newsletter.

The red flags were everywhere. I don’t need to look at the rest of his marketing communications to know that Nullen is just phoning it in. I’ll let him buy me lunch, give him my dime-store advice, then walk away, hoping to have made a difference.

Have you encountered people like this in your search for clients? How do you handle requests from people who want to “pick your brains?”

Before You Create, Incubate

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If you have a fertile mind, ideas spring up around you constantly—while you’re driving, in the shower, during walks in nature, in your dreams or while someone is talking (the latter of which is rude, so don’t let on).

If you are a person who thinks too much, and you’re inclined to self reflection and the quest for inner peace, this tsunami of creative thought can be overwhelming, often frustrating and sometimes painful. This is particularly true for someone who’s dependent upon business growth in order to do things like support a family, pay the bills, eat and not have to worry about the possibility of living in a box under a bridge.

Overthinkers tend to catastrophize, which is to make things worse than they actually are. Creative types are particularly susceptible to overthinking, because we live in a colorful world of imagination. It’s why we are good writers, painters, entrepreneurs, inventors, dancers, architects, photographers and storytellers.

But there is a dark side to creative hyper-ideation. It’s the part of us that is in a perpetual state of anxiety, a quiet, persistent hum just below the center of our chest. It disturbs our sleep, makes us feel something is amiss. It almost ruined my vacation.

Every year, my family gathers for a week on beautiful Sanibel island, on the Gulf side of Florida, across a bridge from Fort Myers. I love it there. I want to live there, see myself living there, where it’s warm, and the water is blue, the beach is white, and dolphins frolic just yards from where you’re standing waist deep in the gentle waves. And the shells! A bounty of beautiful shells is washed ashore every day, endless treasures for the taking.

I needed this vacation so badly. I’ve been working my heinie off, day after day, seven days a week, building my brand, pumping out content, creating new products, starting a podcast, searching for clients, networking, asking for help, reading hundreds of books, watching webinars, getting older by the day, and thinking, thinking, thinking, “What else can I do to grow my business? What am I missing? How can I possibly keep this going?”

I had lots and lots of ideas. Too many ideas, perhaps, because there are only so many hours in a day and too few hands on deck. But what I needed to know was, “What should be the best focal point(s) of my activities that would best help me get to where I needed to be in my business?” Oh, man. I’ve gotten so much conflicting advice. I always forget that the answer lies within.

One day, on Periwinkle Boulevard, during my routine three-mile walk around the island, listing to one of my favorite podcasts on my iPhone, I was stopped in my tracks. I was on a small bridge that traversed one of the many canals criss-crossing the island. I leaned on the railing, and watched the water undulate and flow among the wooden, residential docks. A mild breeze tickled the leaves above my head. And the answer I had been seeking landed upon my head like a soft, cool blanket. Yes, I thought. that’s so obvious. And I smiled. I simply knew what I had to do next and where to focus my efforts. I knew I was on the right track.

I also knew that this realization was something I had been asking for for weeks, in my journal, in my worries, in my seeking of knowledge from others. I had asked a big question, to no one in particular, and after a period of time, which I call the “incubation” period, the answer simply presented itself. As always, the answer came from within.

I wanted to share this with you because I know that you, too, suffer through long bouts of doubt and uncertainty. It may be when you’re stuck for just the right lyric, or you can’t find the right lighting or hue to complete your artistic vision, or you don’t know who or what will help you over the next hurdle of your business, like where your next customer will come from. I had been tearing myself apart trying to find my answer, and now I realize that my subconscious had been working on it all along, in the background, and all I had needed to do was be quiet, have faith, and wait.

Avoid These Writing Mistakes

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How could we have learned a better way of doing things, if we had never made mistakes?” 

― Lailah Gifty Akita

Oh, the sins I’ve committed, the misery I’ve perpetrated, the havoc I’ve wreaked, during my long and illustrious career as a professional business writer and communicator. My tormentor? The dreaded email correspondence.

I’ve made every mistake in the book, especially in the early days of my career when I was eager (okay—desperate) to make a name for myself. Email was new. It was wonderfully convenient. It meant never having to walk to the next cubicle again. It’s as if I’d discovered a new way to destroy myself.

Your readers are the best teachers, albeit the cruelest. There are times I would have preferred to have been smacked in the head with a two-by-four rather than have endured the ridicule or harsh criticism of an offended reader, or worse yet, my boss. Even worse, his/her boss; triple worse: the bread-and-butter client.

Despite the occasional tragic mistake, however, my communications skills have improved significantly, and at this stage of my career, I commit myself to sharing my numerous humiliations with you so that I can help you avoid some of the horrors of my hard knock education. True wisdom is learning from other people’s mistakes.

1. Don’t write an email if  you’re emotional.

Someone’s actions or email has infuriated or embarrassed you. It’s time to hit them back with a scathing email while your anger is fresh and you’re at your brilliant best, right? NO! No matter how much steam is blowing out of your ears, step away from the keyboard before someone gets hurt—you. Instead, breathe. Take a walk. Vent to a friend or two. Sleep on it. If you must communicate or confront, do it in person or over the phone, when you’ve remembered it’s best not to vent your emotional un-intelligent-ness in writing. Moral of the story: Always take the high road.

2. Don’t use humor in your email if you don’t know your recipient well.

I crack myself up. I really do. I am a “creative” type who loves to laugh and have fun, especially in the workplace. These days, I am able to be “appropriately professional” in most situations, but when I was younger, I could barely contain myself. In the years since, I’ve taken many personality assessments, such as Myers-Briggs, all of which taught me that there are several distinctive types of personalities other than mine. Introverted people. “Save the World” people. “Nothing makes me laugh” people.  I’d always wondered why certain people looked at me as though I’d just beamed down from looney town. It was an epiphany to me to learn how to author my communications accordingly. Don’t try to be funny in your professional email correspondence unless everyone on your distribution list (the members of your crazy marketing team, for example) have accepted lively banter as the order of the day. Otherwise, just stick to the facts, ma’am. It’s simply sensible. Many see humor as unprofessional in the business context.

3. Spellcheck isn’t always write.

The above sentence makes my point.

4. Beware of the, “Who wrote this?” question.

This piece of advice is mostly for those of you who are in subordinate writing positions. One time, the meanest boss I’ve ever had blasted over the office intercom (in a very belligerent tone of voice, as was her style), “Tell me who wrote the Biltmore proposal NOW!” Sheepishly, I stopped by her office and said, looking at the floor, “I did.” She said, “This is the most fantastic proposal I’ve ever seen. Give me a hug!” A few years later, a male boss waved some paper in my face and said, “Who wrote this?” I said proudly, “I did,” and waited for his praise. He replied, “I meant to ask, who’s the idiot who wrote this?” Luckily, I was able to walk him through the copy and get him to recognize that what I’d written was pretty darned awesome, but it taught me a lesson. From now on, when someone asks, “Who wrote this,” ask, “Why do you want to know?” If the person thinks it stinks, smile. claim it was only a draft, and say, “Jeepers, I really appreciate your feedback.”

5. Short sentences rule.

I knew an IT manager once who wrote emails comprised of hundreds of words in one, long, run-on sentence. This was a nice guy, and a brilliant technology expert. It was his responsibility to explain highly complex new developments to the staff: New procedures, new technology equipment, new developments in fraud protection for our customers, etc. Unfortunately, his emails were baffling. No one but the most motivated reader understood the critical take-aways. I encouraged him to keep  his sentences short, and use bullet points.

6. Don’t hit “reply all” by mistake.

There is no deodorant or sedative in the world strong enough to cure the sweat and panic caused by this terrible faux pas. It cannot be undone. There’s no lie or excuse sufficient enough to remove the stain on your sterling reputation. The toothpaste has left the tube. Once, a woman in the compliance department wrote an email to me, with a copy to my assistant, complaining about our failure to provide sufficient lead time to approve the advertising copy we needed by 12 noon. I wrote the following note to my assistant: “Don’t worry—she clearly doesn’t understand what we do,” and hit “reply to all.” Then, I screamed. Then, I tried to recall the message, which doesn’t work, by the way. Was I able to save the situation? Not really. I apologized to the woman (a very nice woman, I might add), but the damage was done. Word of my foolish mistake spread through the C-Suite like red wine on expensive white carpet. Naturally, it’s best not to write anything acerbic in an office email. If all your emails are professional and reasonable and you mistakenly hit the “reply all” button, you’ll never have to fear being shunned by the villagers.

7. ALL CAPS MEANS YOU’RE YELLING.

I THOUGHT EVERYONE KNEW THIS BY NOW. THEY DON’T. STOP IT! YES, I’M YELLING! (There are also many folks out there who object to the use of exclamation points, too. What’s your opinion?)

8. Be able to defend your grammar choices.

As the newly promoted vice president of marketing for a huge regional bank, I was assigned the task of explaining the advantages of a recent merger in a letter to our customers. Each paragraph highlighted one of the advantages of the merge. “Most important,” said the fourth paragraph, “you’ll enjoy the same, friendly service which is our hallmark.” (Or something like that.) Marci, a highly influential, albeit argumentative, member of the C-Suite, stomped into my office and insisted that the correct phrase was, “Most importantly.” In a workplace populated by grammar sticklers (e.g., your CEO was an English major), be sure to look up any words or phrases with which you’re not 100 percent comfortable. For example, is it “I feel bad,” or, “I feel badly?” My family still argues over that one. “Between you and me?” Or, “Between you and I?” In the Marci situation, I was able to flip open my handy dandy grammar book and show her the correct usage. Two points for me.

9. A phone call or face-to-face conversation trumps an email every time.

In this age of electronic communication, people are avoiding human interaction in favor of email and text messages. A recent YouTube video illustrates this growing trend. Have you ever emailed a coworker who’s sitting in the cubicle next door? Have you ever texted a family member who’s in the same house? Emails are so easily misinterpreted. I wrote a totally innocuous email once to someone once who wrote back that she didn’t appreciate my “tone.” Emails are cold, and can build a distance between people. Don’t assume in an email that everyone will derive the same meaning from it. When in doubt, pick up the phone.

Are these the only mistakes I’ve made? Of course not. I’m sure we could all write books on the subject. Please share! I’d enjoy hearing about some of your blunders, and what you’ve learned as a result.

 

Wishing you fame and prosperity.

PR Drives Revenue

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Public relations is one of the most powerful weapons in the brand building arsenal. A smart PR strategy is best for generating word of mouth and driving positive outcomes.

Many businesses believe that advertising is the most effective way to drive revenue, but that era is long gone. In their book, provocatively entitled, “The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR,” Al and Laura Ries make a persuasive case that advertising as a brand builder is dead. Food for thought: According to author Tom Himpe, 20 years ago you could reach 80 percent of the American public with three TV commercials. Today, it takes 150. The market is that saturated.

My intention is not to slam advertising across the board. As part of a campaign to strengthen the brand that PR has already built, advertising has its merits. The reason I bring it up, though, is that invariably, when I sit around the table with company leaders to discuss their business goals, one or two people usually say, “We need to do more advertising!”

Sadly, public relations is under-used by those for whom it makes the most sense as a strategy (entrepreneurs, start-ups and struggling small businesses) because of a lack of understanding of what public relations actually is. I urge you to educate yourself and get your head out of social media or advertising as your primary tactics. You’re spending too much money for too little ROI.

Among other things, public relations builds and maintains positive relationships. Some of it includes help from the media. Because people believe what they read or hear in traditional and digital media outlets, public relations carries more credibility, and thus more power, than your sales materials or advertising. A strong public relations program brings new customers to your door, and builds loyalty with your existing customers because PR earns trust.

Here are some ways you can use public relations tactics to your best advantage.

All of your customer facing and business development personnel need to have professional and optimized LinkedIn profiles. LinkedIn is part of the digital PR strategy that helps you cultivate business relationships and build your brand as a thought leader. It’s a new paradigm. It reflects badly on your organization when your team has unprofessional-looking, incomplete, misspelled or poorly written LinkedIn profiles.

Promote your subject matter experts. Under the collected roofs of your institution are people with expertise on a range of interesting topics. Media outlets are always seeking out people to interview for articles, especially in light of late-breaking current events. Advice from your experts can be translated into blogs, social media posts and articles. Content is in high demand these days, and you are sitting on a gold mine.

Nominate your institution for awards. It takes a bit of research, but opportunities to win recognition are common in the regions in which you do business. Winning a “Best Place to Work” award may seem trifling, but there are numerous ways to use the title to your advantage. Again, people believe what they read, and if you’ve won any kind of “Best of” award, then it must be true!

Be patient. Don’t quit. Public relations is a long-term, committed effort. Don’t expect results overnight. Have the faith to know that your dogged and consistent pursuit to build relationships and a positive perception of your institution has a measureable effect on your bottom line.

How PR Increases Company Value

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How skillfully companies manage key non-financial areas of performance and then communicate related successes to outside constituencies—shareholders, investors—will have a powerful effect on how they are valued. In fact, the more analysts use non-financial measures, the more accurate their earnings forecasts become.

–Ernst & Young, “Measures that Matter”

A well-executed PR program is very effective for meeting goals for revenue growth and increased company value. PR helps accomplish these goals by meeting two primary objectives:

  • PR increases awareness of your company and its products.
  • PR enhances the reputation of your company and its products.

By increasing awareness and enhancing the reputation of your company and its products, the PR program is key to decision-making among target audiences. Target audiences, or “publics,” which include customers, potential customers, investors, potential investors, owners, employees, partners, vendors, opinion leaders, journalists and others in the market, make important decisions about:

  • If, when and how your products should be purchased.
  • If, when and how your company fits into various markets.
  • The quantitative value of your products.
  • The qualitative reputation of your products.
  • The quantitative value of you or your company as an organization.
  • The qualitative reputation of you or your company as an organization.
  • The experience of doing business with your company and its employees.
  • The value of a partnership, affiliation, or other equity arrangement with your company.

Decision Making

PR affects many stages of audience decision making, as identified the the four-step “Mental States Approach.” The quantitative and qualitative decisions audience members make about your company, its products and its people are subject to this four-step process, a.k.a. the “Aida” formula.

  1. ATTENTION
  2. INTEREST
  3. DESIRE
  4. ACTION

To support the company’s goal of revenue growth, the PR program focuses largely on the first two steps in the decision making process, Attention and Interest. Your PR program accomplishes this primarily by its first objective, increasing awareness of the company and its products. The PR program works in concert with your sales program to support the third step in the decision making process: Desire. The fourth and final step in the process, Action, is a function of sales programs, including e-commerce.

To support the company’s goal of increased value, the PR program focuses again on the first and second steps in the decision making process, Attention and Interest. Your PR program accomplishes this primarily by its second objective, enhancing the reputation of the company and its products.

The PR program works in concert with management, and, perhaps, operations to support the third step in the decision making process, Desire. The fourth and final step in the reputation decision making progress, Action, is often a function of operations and management.

Research shows that financial performance and communications performance are inexorably linked. Organizations see bottom-line results in their equity when they executive PR programs to increase awareness and boost reputation.

Corporate equity can be expressed as a combination of tangible components (revenues, assets, liabilities) and intangible concepts (credibility, loyalty, reputation). Reputation is seen by most CEOs as vital to the organization’s overall performance. In fact, 77 percent believe good reputation helps sell products and services.

In addition, companies viewed as “winners” (i.e., better reputations) are much more likely to attract external audiences such as customers, employees and partners. In fact. more than 60 percent would consider selling their own business to companies with good reputations.

Reputation also works as a business multiplier. Organizations counted among the top 10 in corporate equity are much more likely to sell at premium prices, have recommended stock, and attract employees and venture partners.

How do you defend public relations to your management or clients? What language do you use to convince them?

Is Fear a Good Sales Tactic?

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I’ve been marketing and writing for financial services professionals for many years, notably those in the insurance, accounting, wealth management and investment advisory professions. The acquisition of new clients is always a major objective. Another objective is to sell more stuff to existing clients.

These are wildly competitive fields, especially for the independent practitioners. They all have impressive data that shows aging individuals the dangers of what might happen if they do not plan their finances properly, for example:

  • You’ll outlive your savings, at which point you’ll starve and die.
  • You haven’t saved enough for retirement. You’re going to be old, sick, poor, and then die.
  • Not able to retire? You’re in big trouble, because you’re going to get sick and won’t be able to work and you’ll be a burden to your family who can’t afford to put you in a home.
  • Bad people are going to break into your  home, steal stuff, and burn it down. Then there will be a flood and you’ll lose everything.
Yes, these are serious considerations, and people need to be aware of the consequences of their actions, or inactions. But I advise against using people’s fear as a reason they’ll do business with you. Here is why:

People are scared already. I know I don’t have enough money to retire. The vast majority of people my age (boomers) are unprepared for retirement. I, personally, have read scores of articles that tell me I’ll be living in poverty when I’m old. I get it. I’m terrified. You know what I need? A big hug, and words of encouragement from a caring financial advisor who isn’t just in it for the commission. Give me solutions, not ulcers. Relieve my pain, soothe my fears, even if I’m not a client—yet.

People don’t trust you.  It takes a long time to cultivate trust. You’re not going to touch my money unless I’m sure you’re not the boogey man. Be the person who gives me valuable information and acknowledges my pain without asking for anything in return. Show me you’re an expert, and that you’re a likeable human being. Teach me what I need to know. Otherwise, you’re just looking for a commission and I delete you as spam.

People are forgetful. I’m not ready to select an advisor, yet. But I’m so scared and worried that I think about it often. But who will I select? It will be the people who are in my awareness at the time I make the decision to pull the trigger. You’re going to need to be a nurturing presence within my sphere of consciousness so that I’ll select you at some vague, indefinable time in the future. You need to have a warm, professional presence on a consistent basis, or you won’t be on the list of choices.

If I had a nickel for every time a pro has asked me to create messaging that will scare prospects into action, I could retire comfortably. But again, it’s not a “why to buy” for you. I’m buying you, not a commodity.

In the old days, we’d use marketing to attack people’s weak spots in order to sell products or services. In my experience, such negative messaging is actually a turn-off. I keep going back to the mantra I learned many years ago. I forget who coined it. To wit: “The purse strings are connected to the heart strings.”

Warm my heart—don’t stop it.

How to Succeed as a Corporate PR Director

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Practicing public relations in the corporate setting has many challenges, one of which proving your impact on the bottom line. Here are a few ways to demonstrate your value to management:

Plan well. Less is more. You don’t need a 250-page PR plan. Try an eight page PR plan, with the thinking you’ll do three or four things incredibly well. Sometimes you feel the pressure that you’ve got to do more, faster, but the truth is, you can’t. You can’t move faster than the organizational thinking. Instead, try to figure out where you want to start, and make sure you can dedicate enough resources to it. It’s the biggest challenge—prioritizing tomorrow’s direction with today’s needs, but doing only the critical things, quarter in and quarter out.

Be a good communicator, listener and educator. Too often, non-PR professionals don’t know what they don’t know about PR. That’s why you exist: to teach them, consult with them, help them better understand the process. You’re not an order taker. You’re the one who listens to what their needs are and counsels them along the way.

Be good at building partnerships. For any PR initiative to succeed, you’ve got to have the trust and buy-in of all key constituents in the organization: line managers, regional managers and each step up the management ladder. Spend time talking to people, and listening, so that you come to be considered a member of their team.

Know how to talk to members of the C-Suite. Most people in top leadership positions  speak the language of numbers. Learn the language of analytics, and you’ll earn their trust and respect. Produce reports like clockwork. Monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and annual reports. How many Twitter followers? How many applications taken? The numbers, the measurement, are crucial.

To illustrate the application of PR leadership skills, consider the story of how a prominent bank became an early, “all in” adopter of social media, one of the many communications channels, as a PR tool:

The PR team realized early on the potential of social media, but the question at the time was, where do we want to head with it? When they engaged senior management, (who were not as in-tune with audience outreach as they were), their first question was, ‘Why?’ The PR team asked management to give them three months before making a specific recommendation. They spent the next 90 days investing the time to build relationships with key people inside the organization so that when the time to present the plan came, they achieved what they call the ‘Bobble Head Effect,’ which is everyone nodding in unison.

Measurement and ROI. Develop a systemized approach to setting up and measuring results, which starts by asking the following questions:

What resources are available?

  • What’s my access to data in the system?
  • What kind of data does management want to see?
  • How much is our investment versus sales volume? (if applicable)

It’s easier to measure ROI for a product launch than it is for new customer campaigns, so methods of evaluation must be established from the start.