Public Relations and the Non-Compete Agreement

By | Communications | No Comments

I’ve had one non-compete agreement in my career — at the first PR firm I joined in the mid-1990s. I made less than $24,000 a year. It was a hard-core agreement but even as I signed it, our HR person said that it “didn’t really mean anything.”

The interesting thing about the agreement was that it didn’t say I couldn’t go work for a client — it said I couldn’t go work for another PR firm. Within two years I broke the agreement when another firm lured me away with the promise of a bigger paycheck. The first firm threatened to go after me. Their lawyers contacted and threatened the lawyers of the PR firm I joined. I was assured by my lawyer (father) that the agreement wouldn’t hold up — that you simply can’t deny people the right to make a living in their field. The matter was ultimately settled behind the scenes and I had to agree to work on certain clients and not others, details of which I barely remember.

But it was stressful, for sure.

News today that President Obama is urging a ban on non-compete agreements thrills me. It’s how it should be, and employers should simply offer fair wages and a great workplace if they want their people to stay. The next firm I worked for didn’t have a non-compete of any kind. (Good; I would not have signed one.) They sometimes lost employees to clients but you know — that turned out so well for them. The firm continued to have the client with a friend and former colleague now on the inside. It was an incredibly, accidentally ingenious move, founded by a firm that had enough confidence in the quality of the service they offered, and in the loyalty of the people they employed. It often was the case that corporate or nonprofit life was a better fit than agency life for the employees who left, and the firm was better for it, ultimately.

My advice? Don’t sign a stinking non-compete. And if you’re in one now and thinking of breaking it, I believe you have a good shot of getting through it unscathed.

Doug Muir, the Bella’s Boycott, and Black Lives Matter

By | Crisis Communications, Social Media | 3 Comments

A week ago, we attended Rooting Out Injustice, the signature fall event put on by Legal Aid Justice Center and Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. Full disclosure, I’ve been involved with Legal Aid for more than seven years and am on their advisory council. The event featured co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Alicia Garza, who was a fantastic, inspirational speaker. The speaker panel, emceed by local attorney and author John Grisham (you may have heard of him) explored the intersection of race, injustice, disparities within the system, and ways the nonprofit organizations are tackling civil injustice.

In the midst of the event, a local business owner, Douglas Muir, saw fit to post a comment on Facebook stating, “Black lives matter is the biggest rasist (sic) organization since the clan. Are you kidding me. Disgusting!!”


Mr. Muir is the owner of Bella’s, an Italian restaurant in Charlottesville. He’s also listed as a guest lecturer at the University of Virginia.

What Mr. Muir obviously didn’t know is that the wrath of the offended via social media is swift and ruthless. There’s a hashtag #boycottbellas and there has been a peaceful demonstration. But that’s not the end of this. Doug Muir deleted his comment and is, no doubt, keeping a low profile while his employees suffer a lack of income (restaurant workers make their money mostly in tips. No customers = no income.)

I think this is an opportunity for all people — not just the people who attended the event, or who have heard and seen Mr. Muir’s comment and are aware of the boycott of Bella’s to go look at the page. Think about civil rights and a movement that didn’t just start last year, but has been going on since before Abraham Lincoln was president. This isn’t new. Racism isn’t new. Social media is, though, and how we use it can change minds and change our society.

UPDATE 10/12/2016:

The Cavalier Daily ran an apology from Douglas Muir about the comment. It’s a good apology.

Learning to Read the Room

By | Communications | No Comments

So much of what we do in public relations and communications is about developing relationships. Whether there’s a need to create new customer relationships, or cultivate loyalty with existing ones, all the business we do boils down to what’s happening between the people involved.

We spend a lot of time encouraging clients to listen carefully to their audiences 00 to pay attention to what’s going on with the people with whom they engage and rely on to make a living, or raise funds, or keep a thriving business going.

It’s stunning then, to be witness to an example of someone who has failed, utterly, to read the room. Taking a moment in a business setting to gauge the tension, to size up the tone and play it safe by being professional and not overly familiar, is a good strategy. This close to a very heated presidential election is not now, nor is is ever a time to inject politics into a business conversation. Unless your business IS politics, leave mentions of the candidates, their positions and most certainly your views out of any meeting, or the chit chat before and after a meeting as well. How often do we need to be reminded that religion and politics really have no place in this kind of interaction!

Being overly familiar is a tough line to walk as well:

  • Don’t go for a hug when a handshake will do
  • Don’t try to be funny if you’re not naturally funny, and if you find you’re the only one laughing, stop immediately
  • Smiling is better than a polite chuckle. Laughing when you don’t get the joke or approve of it can cause a real problem later: don’t.
  • If tensions are high, ask questions, and maintain objectivity. Gather information before you dive in.


These are important skills to learn and they take time. In your next professional gathering, observe the interactions and try to identify those who fail to listen and pay attention — those who are NOT reading the room. What do you see? What impact do you think it has?


Should We Use LinkedIn or Facebook to Promote our Business?

By | Communications | No Comments

Social media is pretty useful when it comes to getting the word out about your business. Too often, businesses try to spread themselves too thin, however, trying to manage a Facebook page, a LinkedIn page, a Twitter account, an Instagram account, a Pinterest profile, all on top of a website! It can be pretty overwhelming.

We really encourage organizations to take a look at what they can really invest time in keeping active. If it’s ONE TOOL, that’s fine. And if, truly, all they can manage is keeping content on a website fresh, then DO THAT, above all.

From there, it depends on the kind of business you have, and the audience you attract.

If your customer base is other business people, please focus your efforts on LinkedIn. You’re going to attract many more of the right audience members than you will with the shotgun approach of trying to pull in people from Facebook who are largely there for personal, not professional reasons.

If you have a consumer facing business, by all means, please keep your Facebook page active by being helpful to your audience. Be warm and interesting. Share information. Celebrate your community.

From there, the tools differ based on the kind of product or service you offer. But above all, stay focused on fewer tools and do a better job with the ones you use, first and foremost the platform your business owns: your website.


What to do When Your Campaign Accidentally Goes Viral

By | Communications, Crisis Communications, Social Media | No Comments

There’s really nothing that can prepare you for that moment when you pick up your phone and/or  log in to Facebook and see 8,000 new messages. Just yesterday, you think, we were trying desperately to get 300 likes on our page!

It’s the stuff some companies dream of. It’s a nightmare for most.

The thing is, you’re not going to know when your campaign is going to take off like wildfire. You may be pretty sure you’re going to get some attention, but you don’t really think it’s going to be Snuggling Baby Goats attention.

It doesn’t matter — it’s still worth the time to do a little preparation — a bit like the conversations people are having about the nearly $2 billion Powerball jackpot and how they would spend the money if/when the win. (Buying baby goats!)

Know these four things:

  1. To whom you will turn to help manage the overwhelming number of messages across all channels. This must be a trusted, experienced individual. Do not throw your intern under this bus.
  2. To whom you will turn to increase production/meet demand, etc. How big could you scale, if necessary?
  3. If things go viral in a bad way (you mess up, a terrible review gets major attention, etc.) what will your apology say, and how will you make it right? Write that message now, leaving blanks to fill in later, of course,  long before you need it.
  4. What will be your strategy when people are mean, overenthusiastic, threatening, troll-like, etc? If it’s to turn the monitoring of comments over to the person identified here under number one, that’s OK. Shutting down and disappearing might feel like the right action in the short term, but don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. The flames will die down, a new viral story will emerge, and you don’t want to be in a position to build your audience from scratch. Hang in there.

And if it happens to you suddenly, and you have no idea what to do, and you don’t know any of the four things, just give me a call.