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.

Time Is Fleeting

It has been theorized that, as we get older, time speeds up.

Whether it’s because we’re introduced to less new experiences than we did when we were kids, or our biological clocks have slowed down, the jury’s still out on why this is a phenomenon.

But no one can argue the speeding up of time is something all of us experience as we age.

Last week, over a span of five days, I celebrated my oldest daughter’s tenth birthday and attended my 20-year high school reunion.

If there was ever a time where I felt the crushing weight of the passage of time, this was it.

Not only do gray hairs begin to sprout when I watch how mature my daughter has become, but it’s jarring as hell to see a group of people I haven’t seen in 20 years.

I met most of them when I was around my daughter’s age, and now we’re getting together to celebrate being out of high school for two decades.

In short: I’ve never felt older.

Seeing old classmates — some balder, a few grayer — after so long was completely different, while being exactly the same, if that makes any sense.

We fell back into old habits and gravitated toward the same group of people we always did, as if we were sitting in the cafeteria having lunch together.

The only difference is that there was some alcohol involved, and a lot of us knew our kids would wake us up early the next morning, seemingly indifferent to the fact that mom and dad stayed up way past their bedtime.

When I tried to explain to my kids the next morning how fast these past 20 years have flown by, their brains were incapable of comprehending.

To them, a six-hour school day may as well be six days. To them, time drags.

But not to us. This was a time to marvel at how quickly time flies.

This post, however, is not to send you into a depression about your impending demise.

Rather, I want to encourage you to take advantage of your time, and this stands as a good reminder to do exactly that while we are still relatively young.

Spend time with people who matter.

Sneak in an extra round of golf.

Start your own business.

Speak your mind.

For God’s sake do something. If this past weekend taught me anything, it’s that time is going to fly no matter what you do, so get as much enjoyment out of this life as possible.

How To Train Your Writers

Let’s try a thought experiment.

Imagine, for a moment, you are a fresh college graduate at your first PR agency job. You have worked there for a few months and, so far, everything is going well.

You’ve landed a few media placements on behalf of your client, you are killing it at media monitoring, and your weekly call recaps are must-read material for account team members.

One morning, you arrive at the office to find you have been assigned to write an article on the topic of, say, autonomous vehicles on behalf of your client’s chief technology officer. You need to write it in the “voice” of the executive, yet, you’ve never heard the CTO speak.

So you open a blank Word document, start and re-start the piece 27 times, then cry because you are a failure.

Sound familiar?

If you haven’t experienced the crippling agony of struggling to write something in the voice of an executive who has decades of experience on the very topic you are banging your head about, then you’ve never really lived.

The sad part? It happens a lot, usually under pressure to get a final draft in front of the client.

But when that new writer struggles to put together a good first draft, the agency is forced to bring in a more seasoned writer to quickly clean it up and ship an acceptable version off to the client to meet the deadline.

You might be thinking “Hey, what’s wrong with that? The client is happy and that’s all that matters.”

The problem, dear reader, is that we are bound to live in this never-ending cycle of turning over writing projects to the better writers at the last minute. If the only practice junior staffers get is a first draft that gets completely rewritten, what’s the point in having them write that draft in the first place?

Not to mention the fact that those senior writers have deadlines to meet and projects to handle. If we have to bring them in at the last minute on a regular basis, it throws off everyone’s schedule.

It’s pointless.

This type of activity isn’t sustainable.

To be an effective agency, you need the right mix of personnel who are all-star writers, as well as the future stars who are ready to break into the big leagues.

To do this, there are a few steps that can be taken to get started down the path of grooming the next generation.

  1. Practice, Practice Practice – I know everyone is busy, what with billable hours and client demands. But nobody ever got better at something by not practicing. Consider building writing practice into your team’s time, even if you force them to mark it as non-billable. As content creation and marketing becomes a more integral part of PR, we will need more writers who can cut it, not less. If they have put in the practice time, rest assured they’ll produce better content.
  2. Plan, Plan, Plan – There isn’t really a good reason to rush to deliver a piece to the client at the last minute. Putting together a simple editorial calendar for client content is one way to ensure those who need practice have ample time to write the first draft, and those who need to review have ample time to review and provide feedback.

The need for good writing is only going to increase, especially as the journalism industry continues to shrink.

The ability for a company to tell its own story becomes more attractive, so it’s in your agency’s best interest to retain a stable of solid writers who can grasp the intricacies of a client’s business and put it out there so it’s easy to understand, all while doing it in an efficient manner.

Not only does it save time and energy, but great writing and content creation can be a boon for your agency’s business, so it makes a lot of sense to have people on the team who are great at it.

I’ve Been A Parent For A Decade

My oldest daughter turned ten yesterday.

I know you’re not supposed to share the age of your kids or your home address in a blog post or a picture of that keg stand you did in college before Facebook was a thing, but having a kid reach double-digits makes me feel old.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago I was walking her back-and-forth down the hallway at our old house to soothe her, barely a month after she was born. I had to memorize the creaks in the wood floor so I wouldn’t step on one as she fell back asleep.

Now she retreats to her bedroom after school and FaceTimes her friends to see if they want to come over and stare at devices.

Not that I’m complaining about the way kids view technology. (Who do you think I am, Mitch Albom?) I consider myself lucky to have a daughter who still gives me the time of day and laughs at me in the morning when I do my best Miranda Sings impression to wake her up.

There’s no avoiding it, so you might as well embrace it. In fact, I applaud her school district for introducing Chromebooks for the kids to use on a regular basis. Start ’em young, I say.

Wait, did I say she’s young? That’s false. She’s older than I would like her to be, which means I’m older than I would like to be.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My wife and I can run up to the coffee shop to grab some java and we don’t have to load both kids in the car.

My daughter is also perfectly able to FaceTime her friends and rendezvous at the park to hang out. I don’t need to shuttle them anywhere, as long as it’s within bike-riding distance.

Those are the perks of having an older kid.

While I will always miss looking at her tiny face while wrapped her up in a onesie, having an older kid is pretty fun, too.

It’s just a different kind of fun.

Now, talk to me again in five years when the boys start to show up.

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.