Here is the Jan/Feb issue of Cornell Alumni Magazine.
Naturally, startup companies are often unable to position public relations or internal communications as one of the prominent items on business development’s ever-expanding “punch list.” Even when products and services can thrive on their own value proposition, efficiency or quality, it will not be long before young firms need to acquire the ability to perform several types of communications, including a healthy mix of maintaining external channels and fostering proper internal practices.
If your core competencies or current budget situation will not allow for you and your team to address forthcoming communications objectives and needs, there is no reason to panic about adding another function to your daily responsibilities. Prior to hiring a public relations director, you can still cobble together your own style of communications strategies and tactics by developing an outline of priorities and preparing an informational toolkit about your company.
Part of a startup’s business plan already includes significant marketing and communications elements; they just need to be formalized. You can stretch your current communication capabilities or address potential deficiencies by leveraging strong writers and previous public relations experience that may be present on the leadership team or your staff to compile the following plans and resources:
I. Communications Planning and Strategic Materials
- Communications goals for business plan over next two years
- Media relations objectives
- Branding opportunities
- Social media measurement considerations
- Establish plan for earmarking future budget and resources for creating a communications department; build a staffing model that best suits your business relationships with stakeholders and priorities for articulating and supplementing your company’s brand
- Outline primary responsibilities
- Define reporting structure
- Create protocol for public information and media requests
- Issues management response protocol
- Audit of crisis or issue situation to include the following:
- How should the company respond to difficult issues or emergencies?
- What are the key messages for the company’s public response?
- Who is the most suitable spokesperson to address media in timely fashion?
- Audit of crisis or issue situation to include the following:
II. Public Information Toolkit:
- Company history and timeline of product or service development
- Overview of product or service brand offering / points of differentiation
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about product or service if necessary
- Founders and leadership biographies
- Publish all of the above information components to a functional, organized press room on your website
III. Internal Information Toolkit:
- Create branding guidelines and a writing style guide that align with company mission, culture and type of business for internal documents, presentations and memos
- Establish a protocol for sharing internal announcements, success stories, media coverage, new hires or promotions.
- Consider developing an intranet set for distributing leadership messages and company news across all levels and locations of the organization.
By building a basic shell of a communication plan for internal and external audiences and aggregating essential company information, your leadership and administration team will be equipped to respond to growing interest in your company from the customers, the community and local, national or trade media outlets. Selecting one leader as the ideal spokesperson and delegating an organized, versatile associate person to moonlight as the public information liaison despite not being versed in the traditional sense can go a long way toward cementing your brand and quality of communications as you devote your attention to elevating your brand.
Two weeks ago I attended the IABC Heritage Chapter’s Regional Conference in Indianapolis. This is my sixth year as an IABC member, but there is no chapter in Buffalo, so I applied for a scholarship to attend and share some key learnings through my blog. It was a session-packed two-day conference with about 150 attendees, mostly from the Midwest and New England chapters. It was great to see IABC student chapters from Ithaca College and Indiana State. I joined the Heritage Region, which covers 11 states, as an at-large member. I attended the 2009 IABC International Conference in San Francisco and the 2012 IABC Leadership Institute for chapter board members in Miami, but this was my first regional conference.
The organizers did a great job planning the agenda, which featured an excellent opening reception and Butler University social media presentation at the NCAA’s headquarters in downtown Indy. It was also a great convenience that all of the conference presentation decks were distributed via a Google docs link in the days leading up to the conference. This is especially helpful when you can’t attend all concurrent sessions, of course, but would like to peruse the materials of the ones you missed at some point.
Generally, when I attend workshops, panels, presentations and conferences, I will compile what I call a “synthesized summary” of highlights. In this spirit, I have digested several of the presentations into the list of takeaways.
1.The new IABC career continuum categories are “Foundational,” “Specialist,” “Strategic Advisor” and “Business Leader.”
2. Tim McCleary from The Involvement Practice provided an interactive opening keynote session called “What’s Your It?” that covered ways to involve employees better, outlining the methodology of “Understand It” (What is the change or opportunity?), “Own It” (Why is the change occurring?) and “Activate It” (“How will you make the change happen?).
3. Management change initiatives follow two avenues – The Escalator Effect – Employees can’t keep up with the constant management changes just as an escalator rail is always slightly ahead of the tread’s pace; and the Pancake Effect, where change programs keeping stacking on top of each other like flap jacks.
4. Where there is dialogue, employees will remember 50 percent of management communications; where there is immersion, there is 75 percent retention; and where there is true involvement, engagement rises to 90 percent.
5. Linda Dulye provided survey results that indicated employee engagement remains the top workplace challenge for communications with customer satisfaction the second greatest factor. She also noted that strategic planning and personal development are the top priorities of communications leaders.
6. Dulye’s 4R model for effective communication entails “Relay” (channel choice), “Relate” (customize information), “Receive” (active listening) and “Respond” (verify and follow up).
7. The 3V leader model – Seeing, influence and believing: 50% of communication is visual, 50 percent is vocal and 10 percent is verbal.
8. The SOCIAL acronym stands for Strategy, Objective/Obstacle, Content/Channels, Integration, Action Plan and Learnings.
9. 360-degree reviews and assessments can identify the “Say/Do” gaps in leadership communication. Leader behaviors and communications audits should include these questions: How they use their time? What are they leading? What questions do they ask employees?
10. Change awareness comes from formal communication (15%), processes/experience (30%) and leadership (55%).
So many people are fearful or nervous about public speaking, and yet so many others have experience and an ease in various speaking arrangements. It occurred to me that the progression of public speaking status titles might proceed as follows:
1. Public Address Announcer
2. Panel Moderator
3. Association Panelist
4. Subject Matter Expert Presenter
5. Event Emcee
6. Workshop or Retreat Facilitator
7. Lecturer / Adjunct Professor
8. Conference Keynote Speaker
9. Nationally and Internationally Renowned Orator
Do you serve as a mentor in some capacity in your busy life? Do you try to give back to students and younger professionals when your schedule can accommodate such knowledge-sharing sessions? Over the last few years, I made a more proactive effort to be a mentor and contribute whenever I am available.
Over the last couple of years I have enjoyed having mentees and job shadows from local college students.
There are a couple of things I have done to prepare for a mentee or shadow appointment is approaching:
1. I outreach to colleagues in other departments to see if they will be available for a 10-minute visit with the students during the “shadow tour”. This has worked well for me on several occasions, as we have been able to show students different work environments, including a television production studio, city hall, recreation centers and economic development and tourism offices.
2. I make a “media packet” or information folder to share with the students to show them the kinds of publications and stakeholder or customer collateral that are published by different agencies, departments or divisions.
3. I gather up back issues of marketing, public relations or advertising periodicals and bundle them up in a little “career development care package”. I figure since I have skimmed them already and they start to pile up, I might as well route them over to someone else who might make good use of them.
For the most part, all of my mentee tours have been productive, positive experiences. There has been one or two times where someone wasn’t able to make it, but all those who confirmed made the effort to come out to my office and were genuinely interested in learning about the various careers I was able to show them.
I always try to sign up when local professional associations put out the call for mentors. It’s usually just a couple of hours each semester and it can really help the students benefit from being exposed to a sector they might not have really ever considered from their academic track or personal interests at the time.
We can all be mentorpreneurs every now and then. It can feel good to help broaden someone’s mindset or perspective on a particular field. I encourage you to try and do it once in a while if you haven’t yet or just didn’t think about it as a part of your career development; after all learning and sharing is a 360-degree journey.
Have you ever been immersed in an “Association Engagement Continuum.” Below is the escalation of involvement and roles as I see it for members of professional associations. For those who have traversed this cycle or any of its six stages, it has either been an avenue for networking, a way to enhance career development, a long-term volunteer commitment to leadership, a routine drain on their personal life or a blending off all of these scenarios. On top of eagerness and commitment, these diligent members pay the same annual dues while contributing ample amounts of time, talents and treasures above and beyond the casual members who just show up when a space clears up on their schedule.
- Stage 1: <Attache involved> Curious non-member: This occasional event attendee will test the waters and sniff out the social scene and is willing to play the cafeteria-style card in their prerogative of selective participation.
- Stage 2: <Provided satisfactory completion of Stage 1> Enthusiastic novice member: This person is eager to attend as many association functions to feel that he or she is procuring full value for the $300 investment undertaken by his or her employer or their own wallet.
- Stage 3: <Provided the new member hasn’t gone AWOL after three to six months of regular face time at Stage 2 > Eager-to-chip-in recruited volunteer: This person is tapped for a specific volunteer role to help plan an event or educational luncheon. Following said engagement with the board and/or general membership body, the volunteer either vanishes from the association on a permanent sabbatical or he or she is hooked and is now on track for a three-year bid or more with the association in some leadership or board member capacity.
- Stage 4: <Provided the volunteer has renewed his or her annual dues and passed a litmus test of at least one board member> Committed board member: This person has committed to multiple years of board service in a variety of positions, such as special event planning, finance, mentoring.
- Stage 5: <Provided the board member still has a life and is a glutton for more volunteer punishment> Executive committee contractee: This is the ultimate reward / punishment conundrum – the much-feared or admired three-year bond as president-elect, president and the ever-so redundant “immediate past president”.
- Stage 6: <Provided board member can go cold turkey and abandon all volunteer and board duties for an extended period of time> Academic accolade acolyte: Individual embarks on pursuit of coveted association or related industry certification to become welcomed into the ranks of industry enlightenment.
Last week I served as an awards judge for the first time in more than a year. It was a great experience and only took about 90 minutes after work on the way home.
Have you ever volunteered as an awards judge for one of your local professional communications, marketing or advertising, associations?
While it might sound arduous, time-consuming and clerical, it can be a fun and worthwhile endeavor to work with a different group of professionals of varying experiences while expanding your “disciplinary dimensions” when casting judgment on an assortment of campaigns, tactics, programs or events.
By no means do I consider myself a seasoned judge, but I have done it on 10 occasions over the last five years.
If you haven’t done it before because you think you are too busy or no one as asked you directly, here are some points to contemplate and why you may want to be a little more assertive the next time a call for volunteer judges surfaces in your direction:
- It can be a great after-hours work session to draw you out of your daily “career comfort cushion zone.” It really is work to be taken seriously, and not a happy hour (though be sure to do that after to unwind from the brain drain that can ensue from reading through and rating many entries in a couple of hours).
- Judging in a group can also prove to be a productive networking and mutual-learning session. I know that I have met new colleagues in this environment that I never would have otherwise worked with.
- You can really glean the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of projects, campaigns, collateral and events in a way that can help your perspective in your work and lead you to develop a stronger award entry for your organization down the road.
- Analyzing a spectrum of budgets, core competencies, experiences and quality of collateral samples can help you benchmark what you have and what you are capable of doing in similar channels for your organization. Perhaps you borrow an idea or a new challenge or concept is sparked from scrutinizing entries. When you become immersed in the whole plan, recap of results and samples, you may end up pondering what the applicants could have done differently or better, all in a productive sense for your approach when faced with a similar project or challenge.
- When all the tedious calculations are done with the weighted formulas, it is just as important to provide some direct tailored feedback on the evaluation form. You are assuming responsibility as a judge and your name is on the form, so provide that valued input in a concise, constructive and straightforward fashion. Just a couple of sentences outlining suggestions or areas that weren’t fully addressed in accordance with the criteria would suffice for all entries whether they are winners or not. Always point out a couple of highlights or strong points in addition to the areas to improve the next go-around. Providing these feedback will help your strategic thinking and evaluating of projects and metrics in your job.
- No rating system is perfect when it comes to picking winners, All-Stars and other accolades, but as a participant it is important to be fair and independent while applying the criteria in a consistent and meticulous fashion. That includes not peeking at another judges sheet or discussing the entry until you have completed your process with it. These uniform best practices for judges are crucial to establishing the benchmark or threshold for submissions that will advance and those that don’t. Where there are discrepancies between judges, discussion, negotiation and a third judge weighing in will yield to a consensus for an entry that is clearly a winner or finalist vs. the caliber of the rest of the pack. Having these discussions with fellow judges is beneficial for being a collaborative thinker capable of accepting counter-points while being flexible in assessing the final summaries of projects and reported results.
- On a related note, serving as a student scholarship judge is another way to be involved in your professional associations, provide your insights into the evaluation methods and get a feel for the work and interests of up-and-coming professionals in the academic pipeline eager to be in the industry and possibly become a future employee.
[This is the final post from my seven-part MBA overview series. To see the previous six posts, see the MBA Summary Category in the right column].
After you have completed the MBA program, you will have arrived at a juncture in your career primed, eager and feeling ready for significant advancement. You will take pride in your achievement for a while and exude optimism knowing you will represent a versatile asset for your employer or the next one. You have to think this way and be positive when faced with a challenging hiring environment.
You don’t want to get frustrated if time elapses with no new big opportunity calling your name. For evening program graduates, even if you remain in the same position for some time after graduating, it is essential to approach your role with a new sense of leadership, creativity, thoroughness and vision in how you can bring added value to your department and organization.
It is important for your confidence to embrace new possibilities in your position even if you seek other senior positions elsewhere. You want to avoid falling into the pessimistic perspective that earning the MBA hasn’t paid off for you. Even if you feel it isn’t in a direct, immediately measurable fashion, it is helping you and it will pay off in sustaining a career for many years. Just don’t worry about what other MBAs may be achieving and figure out how you can carve your path with the additional education that you proudly pursued.
If your post-MBA job is the same as pre-MBA, consider investigating other avenues to demonstrate your varied skills and leadership experience such as volunteering for a board position on any of the vast array of organizations in the professional, cultural or community services sectors. These can be intrinsically rewarding opportunities that can foster new working relationships, contribute to the augmenting of other professional skills and further shape your managerial mindset.
Other areas to step away from your routine could include mentoring college students in your field or offering to speak at some university classes or local business organizations. These are the kinds of experiences that bolster any C.V. and improve confidence and presentation acumen regardless of one’s expertise or industry.
A colleague once asked me via LinkedIn, “Which accreditation – the APR or the ABC – was proving more valuable?” It was a great question and I was glad she asked. The result of my thinking this answer through is the following blog. This is entirely my personal experience and opinion. I love and value both of my PRSA and IABC memberships for the sixth year running now.
[**My aim is to summarize my path through both accreditation processes and how I see their merits for those considering pursuing either].
The first response I would give is that with all due respect to both parties – the ABC was harder to complete. The process was longer and required significant patience and second-effort at different stages of the journey. I completed the APR process in four months (from August – December 2010), while the ABC path took just over two years (I applied in January 2010 and received my passing notification in March 2012).
I am glad I worked hard toward attaining both credentials as they provided me with a great “academic experience” outside of my job. The benefit of completing these certifications is the prospect of demonstrating significant transferability into other industries or markets. They are designed to exhibit versatile, broad-minded communications expertise that applies to a variety of disciplines and industries.
I venture to say that the APR accolade may yield a more concrete return for its usefulness and prominence for practitioners elevating themselves in a highly regimented public relations agency, government public information officer or public affairs environment. I think that the APR has a more tactical testing approach with its historical, practical and theoretical applications of traditional industry standards and current-day widely accepted best practices.
I feel the ABC has the potential for broader applications to attain higher roles in corporate, nonprofit and independent consulting sectors, especially for people in multinational firms or looking to work abroad. The ABC testing mechanisms require serious graduate-level writing (my three-part written exam was 14 pages after nearly four hours of writing). The oral exam requires quick thinking, simulating and planning when you are handed a few emails and documents and given 10 minutes to plot out a course of action for a crisis communications response
Some people may see the ABC or APR as a cosmetic addendum on business card. Others may think having either really doesn’t impact a career; rather it is all about your experiences and responsibility progression. Sure, it is nice to display the accomplishments as part of your calling card or signature. They should in theory command respect from colleagues versed in the accompanying efforts and merits. A variety of senior-level positions across the board are frequently calling for either certification as a required or desired qualification for candidates. For practitioners pursuing either or both, the end-game result should bring nothing but personal satisfaction while help propel said recipients to the top of the candidate pool for those coveted leadership roles across the spectrum of industries seeking the big-picture communication planners and thought leaders.
Overall, both certifications are somewhat interchangeable for experienced professionals. It may primarily depend on which association one opts to remain with because you have to renew your annual membership constantly to retain the designation.