10
Apr 14

PR Needs a Better Way to Measure Success

I was at a conference a few months ago to staff a booth on behalf of a client.

During one of the break-out sessions, a representative from a company who was speaking about their sustainability program ended the talk by telling the audience that they wanted to earn 500 million media impressions when they release their corporate responsibility report.

(For those of you who don’t work in public relations, one impression = one subscriber, or one visitor to a blog. If we land a story in the Detroit Free Press, and the paper has 230,000 subscribers, that’s 230,000 impressions. Get it?)

By their math, every single person in the United States (and then some) was going to be aware of their report. But anyone with a shred of common sense knew this wouldn’t be the case.

500 million is a great number to throw around. And constituents love to see the big numbers. But 500 million, in this case, is severely misleading. It’s nice to state that goal. It’s quite another to prove it. (You can’t.) When we go to the client with this number, we’re really just estimating how successful we’ve been.

Seems arbitrary, doesn’t it?

Since I started working in public relations almost a decade ago, I’ve known nothing but measuring success in media impressions. When I landed a story, I’d look up the circulation and watch the numbers pile up.

But the longer I work in this field, the more these numbers begin to feel empty.

My parents subscribe to the Detroit Free Press. I guarantee that if I brought up an article I had a hand in placing, they would have no idea which article I was referring to. It’s only two out of 200,000+ readers, but their story would not be unique.

Just because you subscribe to a newspaper doesn’t mean you read every story. (Duh.)

I think it would be easier (and more accurate) to just report how many stories we’ve placed, circulation numbers be damned.

Those numbers wouldn’t be as high, but at least they would be accurate. I mean, for all of the flack that digital gets, at least we can say with some certainty how many people clicked on a link to get to a story, which we assume they read. Better than saying someone ready a story because it landed on their front porch.

As a PR professional, we’re only as successful as the last story we placed. But if we are inflating the numbers, how can we deem that a success?

We need a more accurate way to measure success.

At a time when “big data” is running everything, we’re lagging behind in using real numbers to show our worth.

 


12
Feb 14

Music Allows Us To Revisit Our Past

layne

Certain songs have certain meaning to all of us. That’s just what music does, man.

The songs are like bookmarks for our memories.

When I hear “God Am” by Alice in Chains, I’m suddenly 17 again, driving around with my buddy in his Pontiac 6000, smoking American Spirits. I can even smell the scent from the vanilla air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror.

It’s a glorious memory; one that’s even easier to pull from my memory bank when I hear that song. It speaks to not having a care in the world and a giddy anticipation of what was to come.

Last Sunday night, a local radio station here in Detroit played a block of songs as part of a 90′s Throwback Block Party (or something). On my way back from the grocery store, I listened during the 12-minute drive back to my house.

I wished my drive home was longer (and that I didn’t have ice cream in the trunk) because I could have driven around for hours listening to that music.

Every song played reminded me of something. Whether it was a feeling as complex as a break-up, or something as simple as the joy of driving to the mall in the summer with  the windows rolled down, those songs conjured up many memories from my formative years.

But they also stand to remind us that time is fleeting.

Green Day’s first popular album “Dookie” was released 20 years ago. It still honest-to-God feels like I bought that CD five years ago. Whenever I listen to it, it still feels fresh. New. Like something I can listen to over and over. But it came out two decades ago.

Imagine how much has happened during that time.

(The gray hairs are popping as I type.)

For as much as we love music, it is the one aspect of our culture that allows us to quickly mark the passage of time. And it usually catches us by surprise.

When’s the last time you heard an old song you love on the radio and remarked just how old it sounds?

Although Mitch Albom knew full well what he was doing when he wrote his recent piece about The Beatles (he basically said music should have stopped when The Beatles broke up) I bet even he sat up and took stock in his life when he did the math and realized 50 years had flown by.

We all know that time flies. And music stands to remind us how much we’ve moved ahead, while the notes and melodies stay the same.

Time travel might not exist. But maybe music is the closest thing we have to revisiting our old selves.

Picture of Layne borrowed from alternativenation.net.


03
Feb 14

Your Time is of the Essence

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My BFF and his wife had a baby just over a month ago. Their second.

They already had a toddler running roughshod over their house.

In the days leading up to the birth, I told my buddy that, in my opinion, having a second kid is more of a game-changer than the first.

Don’t get me wrong: That first kid is a total life-changer. I mean, you leave the hospital with a person whose well-being is entirely dependent upon you.

But the parental instincts quickly set in and you get into a groove.

The husband cooks dinner while the wife feeds the baby. The wife gets in a nap while the little bundle of joy sleeps in dad’s arms.

It becomes easier because you out-number the baby.

But when that second one arrives…oh, boy.

Things change.

Now, when you’re trying to soothe a screaming newborn, the other kid is screaming about something else in the other room because they need attention.

Kids with new siblings aren’t used to being left out of the limelight. Nor should they be. They just spent the first years of their life being spoiled as the only kid. Now there’s another baby to push them out of the spotlight.

While both kids scream their heads off (the first of many coordinated outbursts, I might add) you and your wife look at each other, frazzled, and come to the realization that the upper hand is gone.

The kids are in charge.

Free time is just a myth.

But it does get better. My wife and I are past the point of sleepless nights and watching mole hills get made into mountains. With our oldest in school, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We don’t want our kids to grow up too fast, mind you. But we wouldn’t mind if they just sped it up a teensy bit.

As they’ve grown older, the one thing I find myself coming back to is the idea of the importance of time.

Time to sit on the couch and watch a movie. Time to read a book. Time to get away on a date with my wife. Time to play a round of golf.

Uninterrupted, glorious free time.

Trust me: It’s out there. As parents of more than one kid, though, we had to put in the time up front in order to see the fruits of our labor.

Those people who “hustle” and “never rest” can keep hustling and never resting, as far as I’m concerned.

When my work day is done, and the kids are in bed, and the house is clean (sort of), sitting on the couch with a book or a game on television is the best idea I’ve ever had. I’m fiercely protective of that time.

As we get older, we see just how important time can be.

More important is how you spend it.


27
Jan 14

The Creaks in the Floor

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When my oldest daughter was just a few months old, I spent a lot of quality time with her walking back and forth on the wood floors of the hallway in the little ranch house where she spent the first handful of years of her life.

Our nightly strolls were born out of her need to cry, and my need to keep her quiet so Mom could get some rest.

I eventually learned where the creaks were in the wood floor, and I would step around them like a soldier making his way through a minefield, the quiet creak of the wood akin to an explosion going off in an empty house. I didn’t want all of that work to go to waste by waking the now-asleep Peanut.

The noises in the wood floor soon became as much a part of our home as the walls and windows. Every night I would walk over those creaks when I made my way to bed; a nightly reminder that provided comfort in the form of the known.

So when we finally decided it was time to upgrade our home, I wondered: Would I miss these sounds?

We knew we were eventually going to move.

A number of factors came into play. Schools. Family. Space.

All of those were very important reasons for us, as a family, to find a new home. But as the time drew near, and our offer was accepted, the usual second thoughts set in.

“Did we make the right decision?”

“Can we afford the new house?”

“Will I road rage on somebody during the longer commute?”

These questions bounce in and out of our head on a daily basis. But I imagine we’re not alone. In fact, I’d venture to say every new homeowner thinks about this. And I think most new homeowners miss aspects of their old house.

But there is a reason you don’t stay in one house forever.

I mentioned on Facebook a few weeks back that being an adult means you have to make tough decisions. And when you have kids, the decisions don’t get any easier.

We finally came to the decision that moving now would benefit our kids in the long run.

I pray every day that this will be one of those decisions we reflect on in 20 years as one of the decisions we got right.

I’ll always miss the house we raised our kids in. It’s where they took their first steps. Said their first words. Why wouldn’t it be tough to leave?

We’ve moved on with the future in mind, but we’ll always retain some of the past.


20
Jan 14

We Should Stop Celebrating Our Stress Levels

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Congratulations are in order for my fellow public relations professionals: Forbes named our occupation as one of the most stressful jobs of 2014.

It’s absurd, really, that we get bundled together with firefighters and police officers.

Lives are at stake if they fail to do their jobs properly. If we fail, nobody dies.

It’s like a former colleague once said: “It’s PR, not ER.”

I don’t want to downgrade the importance of our work, though. Every job is important in its own way. If it wasn’t, our clients wouldn’t pay us to do those jobs, and we would be looking for work.

If you work in PR, take a second to peruse your Facebook and Twitter feeds. Chances are somebody is “complaining” that they are putting in another 15-hour day. In reality, they’re looking for validation for their chosen career field.

I wouldn’t have seen this list compiled by Forbes were it not for the multitudes of PR professionals who shared it on social media.

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When I saw the link shared, it was usually with a nod and a smile, because, shit, all of us are just so stressed out at any given moment that we barely have time to talk about it.

Heh, yeah, I just came up for air to tweet this link so that I can show you how busy I am.

I don’t know if you know this, but it is possible to work in this field and not be stressed out all of the time.

A little bit of stress is good for you. So I am not saying we should all be able to live stress-free lives. But a lot of stress can wreak havoc on your body, so you have to set limits for yourself. That might include leaving at 5 p.m. for a week to get home and see your significant other/kids/pets before they go to sleep.

Or, you might want to head to the gym for an hour instead of writing that fifth version of a press release.

Unless you work in an unimaginable workplace, your job will still be there when you get back. (Unless you are terrible at your job. Then I can’t help you.)

And if you’re worried what your co-workers think when you leave at 5, let them worry. It will only add to their stress levels.

Bottom line: We need to stop talking up how stressed out we are. Not only does it make us look bad, but it sets a bad precedent for the future of professionals.

If they enter the workforce with the expectation that they will have to kill themselves to succeed, how can we feel good about our profession?

I’m of the opinion that the field of public relations is one of the most unique and ever-changing fields around. We are guided by a set of principles, but the freedom we have to figure out how to do our jobs is pretty amazing.

Not having a job, or wondering if I can put food on the table this week…that would be stressful.

Public relations?

Hardly.