Stop Enabling Assholes


As an industry — I’m talking about public relations & marketing — we need to stop enabling assholes.

I’m not talking about demanding clients who expect great things from their agency partnership.

That is an entirely different and not at all poor behavior.

I’m referring to individuals who are downright mean to the agencies that support their efforts.

While they are small in number, they are large in presence, often overshadowing everything because of the way they carry themselves.

To wit, I once had a supervisor say this about a client: “He’s an asshole but he’s our asshole.”

While I agree with the spirit behind the statement, I wholeheartedly disagree with giving somebody a free pass to act like one and get away with it, even if they are the person responsible for the budget.

In this competitive agency world, where we fight for every nickel and put up with terrible client behavior, we let them walk all over us.

We watch colleagues cry after being berated by a client, even going so far as to comfort them and tell them everything will be okay.

But we won’t actually do anything about their behavior, because most agencies haven’t properly planned for this type of situation, even though we’ve all seen it happen time and time again.

This has to stop.

Let’s face it — the world seems chaotic nowadays, what with natural and man-made disasters taking up a lot of the time on the nightly news. The last thing we need is to work with those who make us feel small and incapable of doing the work.

The client-agency partnership thrives when both parties know what is expected of each other, and both sides work their tails off to produce results.

That is how a partnership should work, not with one individual lording his or her power over his minions.

Agency folks are hard workers, often juggling more than one client at a time.

They don’t need any more stress than necessary.

Let’s stop enabling those who treat us poorly, and begin to recognize those who treat us fairly and push us properly to do our best.

Those are the folks we want to work with, and those are the clients who will see the greatest results.

Good PR Takes Time And Effort

My front lawn needs a lot of work.

It looks passable to the neighbors who fly around the corner in their SUVs and barely give it a second look.

But, to me, it’s the scourge of the neighborhood.

If I look at it from my second-floor bedroom window, the bare spots and green-that-is-not-that-green grass are blatantly obvious.

So, as fall comes around and the temps begin to drop (that will happen eventually), I am committed to making my lawn nicer in preparation for next spring and summer.

That means taking care of the grass already there and planning to have more sprout up next year.

I’ve begun to fertilize on a regular basis, and over-seeded the bare spots so green grass fills the brown and I have a somewhat passable lawn.

From there, I’ll have to put in the work to keep it from falling into disarray again, but I’m pretty confident I can make it better if I pay attention and work upkeep into my schedule.

It’s a process, but it’s a process that will yield visible results.

As I thought about how much work it would take to bring my lawn back to life, I couldn’t help but think that, like a lot of projects we undertake, the work of the public relations professional rests on a consistent drumbeat of activity that pays dividends down the road, but not immediately.

You know, like my lawn.

There are a lot of services that promise immediate results if you pay them enough money. But those results don’t amount to much, other than being picked up by websites that already pick up every release that crosses the wire.

The mark of a true public relations professional lies in their ability to land meaningful coverage for a client; coverage that is born out of consistent and diligent hard work, made possible through regular discussions with the right media, and a knack for finding stories that the general public will care about.

There is a time and place for posting a press release on the wire, but don’t confuse those high numbers with actually moving the needle.

Just like you can’t lay down grass seed and expect blades of grass to pop up overnight, you can’t expect the front page of the New York Times after your first company announcement.

It takes work.

If you take the time to lay out future announcements into a cohesive editorial calendar, and sprinkle in elements of the company story through owned media, you can begin to tell the right story and bring customers and consumers on board.

That steady cadence will do more for your success than a press release blast ever will.

Think of your sod as the story of your company.

That story will shrivel up and die if you send it out into the world and forget about it.

But if you are consistent and smart with how you care for it, the narrative will grow over time, and you’ll find journalists are more interested in what you have to say because you’ve built up the background story over time.

Like I said, if you want your company to be truly revered and looked at as meaningful, you need to nurture it at all times. Don’t ignore it.

Like a good, strong lawn, a company’s story is only as good as the people who care for it.

That’s the value of public relations.

Define Failure to Achieve Success

Credit: Ben Harper Digital

Airline pilots are lucky. They know exactly what failure looks like. If the plane crashes, they haven’t done their job properly. You can’t really argue with that logic, but you are more than welcome to try.

It’s very cut and dried.

In our profession, the definition of failure is a bit more murky.

Nobody dies if we don’t do our job properly (usually), but budgets get cut and clients walk away if we don’t deliver on our promises.

The problem is teams are often taken by surprise when the client expresses dissatisfaction with the current direction of the account.

Instead of rallying around a common goal of ensuring the client gets back to a happy place, this can often lead to a grumpy team that becomes resentful and believes, right or wrong, their work is not valued because they’ve been busting their butts for the past six months.

Once this happens, it can be very difficult to bring everyone back together to act as a cohesive team.

In my experience, this happens because neither side has taken the time to define success.

Or, if you look at it from the opposite side, what it will look like if you fail.

It can be as simple as setting clear and measurable goals at the onset of work, but it must be done to ensure everyone remains on the same page.

I’ve managed accounts that fell behind stated goals. In these cases, we had agreed with the client to land a specific number of pieces of coverage in one calendar year.

After six months we were not close to meeting the goals, which led to uncomfortable discussions with clients.

When I went back to the team to push them to increase their output, I could reference the agreement we signed at the beginning of the year, so their was no surprise.

To be successful, it was as simple as meeting (or, in the best case, exceeding) a number we agreed upon six months prior.

I’m a big fan of using simple ways to motivate myself. Even writing that number on a piece of paper and hanging it in my cube is enough motivation to push me to call one more reporter when I didn’t feel like it.

Nobody wants to fail.

If you understand what failure looks like, you’re on the path to success.

Nine Quotes From Really Smart People On The Topic of Fake News

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a panel titled “The Role of the PR Practitioner in the Era of Fake News” that was arranged and hosted by the Detroit chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

As a PR practitioner and concerned citizen, fake news is always on my mind. It’s a topic that is not going away and will only gain more scrutiny as we go through more election cycles and continue to rely on our Facebook friends to tell us what is happening in our communities.

I consider it my duty to tell friends and family members they are sharing fake news when it warrants, even if it means I sound like a jerk. The ability for the media to remain trusted and relevant is important for the public, and not just because my job sort of depends on it.

A free and fair media is a core tenet our country was founded on and I want to fight for it.

So, when I heard about this panel, it was not a difficult decision to attend, and I’m glad I did.

On the panel was Ron Fournier, editor, Crain’s Detroit Business (and fellow University of Detroit-Mercy alum!); Matt Friedman, co-founder of Tanner Friedman; and Taylar Kobylas, a PR professional who works for Finn Partners in Detroit.

What follows are nine quotes I tweeted during the panel, from the panelists, that accurately sum up the gist of the discussion. For the record, I will be using the term “cognitive miser” as much as possible in everyday discussions.

“People are cognitive misers. We use pre-existing cognitive beliefs to decide what information to accept or reject.”

“In this day, when the truth is pragmatic, it’s important to tell people there is another way to think about it (the truth).”

“Fake news is not new. What’s changed is the media and how we consume news.”

“Fake facts are being pushed on the public. Those who can say it’s fake (the media) have been discredited.”

“If all we talk about is how excited we are to leverage synergies, how can we (PR pros) earn the public’s trust?”

“Nobody should get their news from social media, they should get their news via social media.”

“We have to learn to be intellectual gleaners and have the courage to confront our biases.”

“Cable news has become pro wrestling.”

“Fake news is a social issue. We have to decide, as a people, to be skeptical.”

The Only Constant is Change


A wise man once told me that the only constant is change.

It holds true for all facets of life, both professionally and personally.

I first heard this gem at the height of the recession in 2008.

It was a tough time for everyone. The agency I worked for had to let a handful of people go. Everyone was sitting on pins and needles. Each vague meeting notice brought with it the threat of another round of layoffs.

Needless to say (but I’ll still say it) it was a nerve-wracking time.

As we were forced to watch our friends and colleagues pack their belongings and say their goodbyes, the man I referenced above shared this bit of wisdom that has stuck with me to this day.

Not only has it taught me to take most things in stride, but it also helps me keep an even keel when it seems like everything is working against you.

I think it’s helpful to remember this if you work in public relations. Especially for an agency.

One of the great fears that keeps us up at night is losing a client’s business. It’s why we bend over backwards and work long hours and late nights to ensure our client is happy: we don’t want to lose revenue that helps us maintain our livelihood.

But for a number of reasons — some that are out of our control — we do lose business. And it sucks when that happens. You look inward and wonder how projects and assignments could have been handled differently and, suddenly, it’s glaringly obvious.

But, like I said, that’s hindsight.

It’s like a golfer reading a putt wrong and looking back at the break, wondering how they missed it. That golfer didn’t have the information at the time, so they made a poor decision. Next time they will make the putt because they learned from their error.

The “what if” energy is better spent elsewhere.

The longer you work in this industry, the more you’ll come to realize that fearing change benefits nobody: clients will come and go, accounts will change, work will be upended.

Life will go on.

Fear only serves to handcuff us into non-action. If you sit and wonder when the ax is going to fall, you’ll never improve your lot in life.

There is only one thing you can count on in business and life, and that’s change.

If you write that down and put it in your cubicle as a reminder, you’ll be better prepared to handle change than most people.

And while everyone else is worrying about what the latest element of change portends for their future, you won’t waste time worrying: you’ll be moving forward, on to the next challenge.