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Communications

How to Talk about the Election as a Brand

By | Communications | No Comments

know you’re thinking you know what I’m going to say . . . that I’m going to say, “Just. Don’t.” but that would make for a very short post, and isn’t, in fact, what I’m thinking at all. (You don’t know me!)
For many brands, the election and its aftermath are totally irrelevant and they should, in fact, not try to leverage the news cycle and trending topics. BAD IDEA; don’t do this.

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You Probably Aren’t Just Fine

By | Communications | One Comment

Robyn Jackson, Civility Expert

Guest post by Robyn Jackson, the owner of The Civility School, providing training and education for professionals interested in polishing their interactions as a critical part of attaining business goals.

The 2016 presidential election and its brutal build-up have brought about a surge in the business of Civility. Leaders of organizations are calling with SOS cries for help in “civilizing” their employees, their students, and themselves. They want to know if I offer a magic pill (no), a good fairy wand (no), or a lifetime guarantee (no). What I do offer, however, is something pretty darn magical, good, and guaranteed to work IF you practice it.

Your business is probably doing just fine. Your employees probably get along just fine. And your clients and customers might just say that your service is just fine as well. But if you’ve heard me speak, you’d know that “just fine” is not just fine at all. I digress, but will return to that in a moment.

Your business and its representatives deserve to be compelling, not just fine, and believe it or not, focusing on civil engagement and its practices have the power to do just that. The changes can be subtle, but they pack a punch. Back to the word fine, for example. I would immediately take that one little word out of your company’s word bank. No one would answer a howdy-do with fine,
And fine would not be the answer when rating the quality of an experience or product. Modern society, in which I would include generations of thirteen-year-old girls, has taken this word and twisted it around to sound un-fine, adolescent, and NOT compelling.

Words and their magic (for good or bad) are only a part of what professional civility entails. Learning, practicing, and being mindful of the evolving nature of facial expression, body language, gestures, cultural expectations, gender issues, and other areas of human regard will make you and your company go way beyond JUST FINE. You will be exceptional, compelling, and yes, civil.

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!!”

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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 http://blacklivesmatter.com/ 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?