Aside

Read the news!

If you’re in public relations and you’re not reading/watching/listening to the news on a regular basis, it’s time for a change.

I have the pleasure of speaking to public relations undergraduate classes at least twice a year. One of the first questions I ask them is “How many of you read the local news on a regular basis? (That is, at least a few times a week.)” A resounding one or two students raise their hand. “Okay, how about national news?” A few more raise their hands, but it’s always less than one third of the class.

I then go on a five minute lecture about the importance of staying in-the-know in our field. Here are some of the highlights:

You can have intelligent conversation with others
I don’t know every gritty detail of current events, but I have a general idea of some of the big topics from a local to international scale. If someone brings something up in conversation, I can tell that person I’ve heard about it, overview what I know and tell them I would really like to learn more. I’m being honest, engaging in conversation (perhaps strengthening a relationship) and learning something all at the same time.

Current events give you the opportunity to benefit your client
Perhaps there’s a topic that your client could be a source of information for a news outlet. Or maybe there’s a new trend coming up that your client could benefit from.

You’re keeping an eye on the competition
Always read the news with your clients in mind. Is someone doing something that you’re not?

Being a source of information for news outlets strengthens the relationship
Of course it has to be approached in the right way, but if you can be a valuable resource, who wouldn’t like that?

Reading is good for your brain
They may just be short news articles, but you’re working your brain every time you read something new.

“But I don’t have time to read the news!” Yes. Yes you do. And if you’re really swamped, at least check out The Skimm and scan the headlines from your local paper.

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The benefits of an old school thank you note

When is the last time you wrote a handwritten thank you note?

Not an email. Not a text. A note signed by you, with postage, dropped in the mailbox that wasn’t printed from a computer.

If the answer isn’t within the last month, take yourself to the store, buy a package of note cards and start writing.

Hand written thank you notes, or even just notes of encouragement, go a long way – especially in the field of communications. Why?

No one does it anymore.
Thinking on the flip side, when is the last time you received a thank you note?

It makes you stand out from the crowd.
See bullet number one. If no one else is writing a thank you note, that means your note will really stand out.

It’s memorable.
See bullet numbers one and two. Because no one writes handwritten thank you notes anymore, it makes you stand out and therefore makes you more memorable.

It’s personal.
While it’s not a face-to-face communication or a phone call, it’s personal and lasting. That person can hold on to that card for as long as they need to to feel appreciated. I keep many of my thank you and encouragement cards in a box, and refer back to them every now and then just for a reminder that sometimes my work is appreciated.

It strengthens your relationship.
By taking the time and effort to hand write a thank you note, you’re telling that person that they’re important to you.

I once wrote a thank you note to someone for speaking at a luncheon. A few days later, she called me to thank me for the thank you card! What? She said it was so kind, in part because it took personal thought and time – something that is most valuable to all of us. She pinned it to her wall (physically, not like Pinterest) to remind herself how much of an impact handwritten notes can make, and to try to encourage herself to increase the practice. Now that’s an impact.

Now step away from your email thank you, go grab a thank you card and write someone a note!

Customer Service After the Sale

Customer service doesn’t just happen when someone is at your place of business or purchasing your product. Customer service can (and should) happen after the sale too, and can make an even bigger impact than you’d expect.

Example:

My husband and I traveled internationally last week and flew United Airlines. I knew tickets would be expensive, and it wasn’t going to be an enjoyable experience (8 hours in coach), but you gotta do what you gotta do if you want to go to Europe from the U.S. The most you can hope for is that you make it there safe, your flight is on time and there aren’t any unpleasant passengers.

However, great customer service can make what you expect to be a mediocre experience a pleasant one. Here are four examples in one trip of how United Airlines did just that.

After a week vacation, it was time to head home (boo!). We had an 8 hour flight ahead of us followed by a 2 hour layover and another 2.5 hour flight. The morning of our departure, we checked the flight (or maybe my husband got a notification via the App, not 100% sure) and realized it was running an hour late. This was going to be a MAJOR problem, as we only had a 2-hour layover in D.C. which included going through customs. When we checked in, the person working the desk noticed the delay and our short turnover. Without request, he checked later flights to see if he could go ahead and put us on a list for one of those in case we didn’t make it. (#1) Unfortunately they were full, but at least he tried – and without request. He wished us the best and sent us on our way.

Once we were in the air and they came around for beverages, I ordered a glass of wine. The attendant notified me that the first round complimentary because of the delay. (#2)

As a flight attendant came around towards the end of the flight, we mentioned we already had a short layover in D.C., and with the delay we were concerned about making our connection in time. We had a few discussions about what we and she could and couldn’t do to help, but no luck. However, she did offer to make an announcement after the plane landed asking customers whose final destination was D.C. or who had a longer layover if they could stay seated, so those of us with short layovers could get off the plane first. (#3)

We made it off the plane with a whopping 45 minutes until our next flight was wheels up. Unfortunately customs was no help (heads up, there’s no line skipping there). But while in line and killing time, I checked my email and saw there was a note from United Airlines. After seeing that our flight was delayed and the next flight would be cutting it close, United went ahead and booked us on a later flight rerouted through a different city (because remember, the other flights were full) just in case we didn’t make our flight. (#4) They didn’t cancel our original flight, just got us on the next one as a back-up.

What did this cost United Airlines? Maybe $100 in booze to the drinkers on the plane. A little bit of extra effort from their staff. But that’s about it.

What did they get out of it? A very satisfied customer who will be flying United again, and recommending others do the same.

The takeaway for today: There’s nothing more valuable than excellent customer service. Especially after the sale. And employees can be your most valuable PR.

What can you do to serve your customers after the sale?

Always Have a Goal

Stop reading this post and think for just a second: What is one of your goals in life? (Personal or professional.)

I’ll wait…

If you don’t have one, it’s time to start thinking. If you have just one – that’s a great start! If you have multiple, well, kudos to you!

In my previous job, I never had a longterm goal. When people asked me what I saw in my future, I honestly didn’t know. I wanted a  job I enjoyed, a happy family, and a good life – but that’s about as far as my vision went. I knew having goals was important, but I just didn’t know what I wanted to do.

Then I started training for a marathon. That was a goal. It was personal, it wasn’t professional, but it was a start. After finishing my first marathon, the goal from there was just to be healthy. I adopted a pretty normal exercise routine and continued to register for races. Signing up for a race 10 months in the future was an easy way to create a goal. But I was still only thinking personal, not professional.

When I started my current job in August 2012, I had the opportunity to go back to school. After working here for a semester, I began classes in the spring, knowing it would take 5 semesters to complete my master’s degree. Today, I was working on gathering paperwork together to submit my application for graduation and to schedule comps. This will all be over in August. My goal will be completed.

Coming to this realization, I decided to set my next goal. Getting my APR. I know, there’s a split debate on the value of becoming an APR, but for right now it’s the only certification (that I’m aware of) in our field. So why not strive for it? I haven’t fully looked into the process, so I don’t yet have a timeframe, but it’s a start. I know now that once I complete my goal of attaining my master’s degree, I know the next step. And that’s important.

I still don’t have a BIG goal. I don’t think they just come to you. They take time to develop, and you truly have to want it. There’s no point in making up a goal you don’t want, because you won’t work towards it. Find out what you want – set that goal – and do it.

How can you continue to grow if you don’t know where you’re going?

Have a laugh

One thing I love about public relations is that there are always opportunities to have a good time. Maybe it’s just me, but I try not to take myself too seriously. Occasionally, I like to share the silly things I find in life or on the internet with my fellow PR friends. Perhaps other career paths allow for a little humor (although I don’t think I’ll ever understand accounting humor…), but because PR can relate to nearly anything and everything, the laughs abound!

Here’s one I found courtesy of George Takai:

Image

Ha! Grammar Pirates!

Oh, and another:

So true!

Have you had a laugh today?

Networking: It’s not just an online thing

This evening, I had the pleasure of speaking to The University of Southern Mississippi’s chapter of  the Public Relations Student Society of America. The coordinating professor had the foresight to plan for the arrival of spring conferences, and thought it appropriate for the group to discuss preparing for these events. She asked me to speak on networking – something that I’ve been involved in as long as I’ve been in the profession. By no means am I an expert, but when it comes to the basic what-to-do and what-not-to-do, I can speak for days.

Hello my name is AnxietyHere’s a brief recap of what we discussed:

  • It’s okay to be nervous about jumping into a networking event. Many people are. It’s probably right up there with public speaking with things that make people anxious.
  • Remember, this is work, not a party. Treat it appropriately.

Do this:

  • Set goals before the event. How many people do you want to meet? Is there anyone specific? In PR we (should) always set goals before approaching a project – networking is no different.
  • Have plenty of business cards. Even if you’re a student. These days business cards are so easy to create and pretty inexpensive – there’s no reason really not to have one. Check out VistaPrint, tinyprints, Minted, and many more.
  • Have your elevator pitch prepared. While you’re likely not going to walk up to someone and pitch them, you need to be prepared for a good, full introduction.
      • Include something unique about yourself – a conversation starter. I like to run marathons/half marathons, I work full time and I’m a student – these are all things that I can include in my elevator pitch that could help drive conversation.
  • Today at an event, I got my first limp fish handshake. I didn’t realize how awful it was. Please, for everyone’s sake, practice your handshake.
  • When you’re talking with someone, ask questions. People like to talk about themselves, and you could possibly learn something about the person that you hadn’t considered asking.
      • Be sure to LISTEN!!!
      • You don’t know anyone at the event you’re going to? Hint: You’re probably not the only one. Try to find others who are in your same situation. You can find them doing the same bad habits you’re doing or good habits you’re attempting to pick up.
  • After the event, make notes on the business cards you collected from those you met. Follow-up with those connections; this is a great opportunity to incorporate social media into your networking. LinkedIn is a powerful tool (check out this previous blog post) – use it!

Don’t do this:

  • Try to wing it. Preparation is paramount. Some people just naturally succeed at everything when they wing it. I haven’t met that person yet, but I’m sure they’re out there.
  • Treat the food/beverage like an all you can eat/drink buffet. In addition to looking like a glutton, eating and drinking while networking is really difficult. You only have two hands. Use them wisely.
  • Stick with only people you know. You went to a networking event to meet other people. If you wanted to chit-chat with your friends, you shouldn’t have wasted your time/money/effort into going to a networking event.
  • Play on your phone or read the event program the whole time. They’re easy crutches when you’re feeling anxious about getting out and meeting people. Don’t use them. Hint: If you see other people doing this, these might be the other people like you that you can approach like mentioned above. 

Additional Thoughts:

  • Name tag goes on your right side.
  • Check out this Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy on body language and Power Poses. In fact, check out all the Life Hacks Ted Talks – they’re very interesting (a collection available on Netflix).
  • If you’ve met someone before, but they don’t remember you, be kind, but remind them of where you met before. On the other hand, if you don’t remember someone’s name, be honest. Apologize for your forgetfulness, and try not to do it more than once.
  • Volunteer to help out at the event. It’s a great way to meet people and gives you a task to ease your nerves.
  • Find a wingman. But that wingman can’t be equally anxious about networking – they need to be the kind of person that can help get you out of your shell.

Remember, practice makes perfect. If you’re new to the networking world, fear not, it will get easier will time. This is just a small collection of thoughts, and by no means a comprehensive list. Every person is different. Every situation is different. Get out there, give it a shot, and let me know about your experiences.

Juggling it all

When you work in public relations, you find yourself getting involved in everything. Part of the job is being social and staying connected with your community. Even when you’re off the clock. At times, it can be overwhelming, but everyone has their tricks to making it work. Me, I’m learning how to say no.

Just last week, I had to quit one of my commitments. I’m not a quitter, and I hated to quit, but it was time. I have served on my neighborhood association board of directors for four years. As the secretary, I was responsible for keeping meeting minutes, distributing the quarterly e-newsletter, managing the website and just overall keeping things organized. Since I joined that board, I’ve gotten involved in many more other groups, committees and projects. When I started to get stressed out, I knew it was time for something to go – but how do you decide?

While serving on my neighborhood board of directors was good for my neighborhood and in turn good for me, it wasn’t directly related to my career path. And that’s what mattered. When I first started out in my professional career, I was joining any and every group that would take me. But as I began to find my niche and get more involved, it became time to be selective. Since dropping the neighborhood board (and still feeling guilty about it), I’ve felt a lot less stressed. Of course I gave them due notice, and finished up the projects that were on my plate.

It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to quit.

In public relations, you’re going to find yourself juggling a lot of different tasks. At first, pick up all the balls and throw them around in the air. Enjoy the excitement, the business, the fun. But after a while, elect to juggle only those things that truly matter to you, and you’ll find yourself successfully juggling it all.