February 26, 2016

There's No Overnight Success in a Good PR Program

We all love a good Cinderella story and in a YouTube world, it seems like there's an overnight success every episode of Ellen or issue of TechCrunch. But for tech start-ups immediate fame and recognition is rare - it can even be detrimental if your business isn't ready for the benefits PR can bring and worse if you aren't prepared for the work it takes to be successful. 

In the early days, you've barely formed your company. Your product is one step out of the gate. Your customers - if you have them - are just starting to kick the tires. You're iterating daily. Your team is working at break-neck speed. You need to grow your pipeline. And you think that one article, just one, in the right publication - the New York Times perhaps - could satisfy your investors, drive inbound sales, and accelerate your business. 

And yes, a good public relations program can do all of these things. But not overnight. I've known start-ups who have accelerated their business plans by years with strategic communications programs that helped them generate awareness, educate customers on their offering, create buy-in and advocacy with influencers, and develop positive relationships with industry. 

But if a single article in the New York Times is your goal, you're likely to be disappointed. If this is your goal you're short-changing your business and being very short-sighted. You're going to miss out on the benefits of creating a dynamic, interesting thought leadership program. You're going to miss out on building a foundation that can support your business long-term. You're going to miss out on iterating your product based on market feedback. You will blow through contacts instead of building relationships. And you're likely going to put a lot of pressure on your business and leave yourself without the elasticity and budget to grow, evolve your product, respond to the market, and maintain your operations and customer service. 

Sadly, I've watched companies do this time and time again because they begin their journey with the goal of that one holy-grail article and aren't prepared to do the work necessary to create a great program. Rather hoping for overnight success, think of your PR program as a journey, one that if you map it out well, will get you to your goals. 

Stay tuned for a checklist to help you prepare for a sustainable, ongoing PR program. 

February 22, 2016

Get Smarter for Just $2.50

There are two schools of thought as you develop as a professional: play into your strengths, or round out your experience.

The two approaches can lead to very different career paths. Two very different kinds of people. Do you help someone pursue the thing they're good at? Lean into their predisposition? 

Or, do you identify areas of improvement? Help them become a generalist? Encourage knowledge across a broad segment of the business functions? Encourage them to be able to accommodate a wide variety of tasks, people, and timelines...

This is a valid discussion for any employee or manager to have when thinking about their development path and how they will achieve their goals. And while this post could now launch into my feelings about 360 reviews, HR, and employee performance plans .... the topic got me to thinking ...

We read our media with the same two paths to choose from every day. 

I have long voiced my love of a printed newspaper - where you can walk up and down each column on each page and - even if only skimming - capture news that you might otherwise not be predisposed to read. I have no natural inclination to read about the stock market or the latest bills that have been passed. But, with a printed copy of the Globe and Mail I'll discover what Trudeau is up to, or what kind of investment is happening in our start-up community.

If however I head to my Facebook feed, or even theGlobeandMail.com ... I am going to enter the machine that sends me only what I'm interested in. A self-indulgent rabbit hole that will inevitably end up on a cute cat/puppy/otter video, and new workout plan, and articles on how to get more sleep.

This part of our human nature - our self-indulgence in what we consume - is singlehandedly shaping our media. And we've all been complicit. It started with our entertainment being what was free and accessible. Perez Hilton, Lainey Gossip were readily available while the our world events were hidden behind subscriptions.

No surprise, that quickly led to media outlets struggling to attract the users they needed to convince advertisers, to convince those subscribers, and the wheel of death has led to the downsizing, closing, and merging of media institutions. 

At the same time in that struggle to stay alive and relevant, some traditional outlets tried to pursue the infotainment game. Whether it was opening up comments and encouraging dialogue with readers, posting click-bait headlines, or even syndicating content from around the world with zero local relevance .... it often became drivel. And what were they trying to accomplish? Was it this hope that instead of letting you bath in your own interests, the media might actually have a valid role in getting you educated by just one article that didn't involve a puppy?

Sidebar: This Global News post about Ozzy Osbourne donated money to a kid in Kentucky might be the worst offense. 

So now, when I hear that BuzzFeed - an outstanding outlet for self-indulgent media - is redefining how they measure content and make decisions about what to produce, it's no surprise to hear, "the company is thinking about other metrics that come closer to measuring what media companies and advertisers call "engagement" which theoretically matches up with actual interest on the part of an audience." 

It's this last part that scares me. It scares me because self-indulgence is not just happening at an individual level. It's happening en-masse with millions of people every day. At a time when 12-million Canadians and 32-million Americans are barely literate, the issue is compounded. If people barely want to read the stuff they're interested in, how can you possibly educate them about things that matter?

We know that social media has already in just a short few years changed our thought patterns, short-term memory, and ability to communicate. And while Barack Obama used social media to win an election and educate the world about his platform, social media is now helping Trump gain ground based on his entertaining idiocy

At what point do we as adults, productive members of society, active participants in our community take individual responsibility to get educated? To protect the institutions (old and new) that help us to explore more than "Which Kardashian Are You" quizzes? 

Maybe you're only aware of how your content is served up to you if you work in PR or media. But if you've made it to the bottom of my rant, then I hope you'll pick up a printed copy of your newspaper and think of it as a journey into your own personal development. 

December 30, 2015

2015. What a Struggly Year.

It has largely been a shitty year. Not just for me. For some reason 2015 seemed really hard for a lot of people. There's a general consensus among my friends, that they too had a tough time. It was struggly. And whether we were just "due" or a planet/star/force field got way too close to us for too long and made our brains all squirrely, I'm sure glad it's over.

The plus side to 2015 being generally obtuse, is that everyone seems to have a brighter than normal hope for the year to come. 2016 has to be great - or at least better than 2015 - and that in itself feels amazing! It's like we've just become brave enough to poke our heads out from the dark holes we've been hiding in for the last few months - afraid to make a move for a new level of karmic punishment - and optimistically look around. We're recognizing how tough this year has been for our friends, family and community. We see their fear, stress and hardship and recognize it as our own.

In all the struggly though, I learned a few things this year that I'll carry with me into the next.

1. Stop dismissing your feelings. 
A friend of mine had a particularly bad day. Her feels were all over the place. She was stressed and overwhelmed. But in the middle of explaining her feelings, she said but then I saw someone who was having a worse day and it put it all in perspective. She forced herself to perk up on the spot. She grinned with clenched teeth.

Ok. Seriously. Can we stop this? There is always going to be someone having a worse day, a better day. There will always be someone doing more than you, succeeding faster than you, being skinnier than you, having a harder time than you .... We need to stop dismissing everything in our lives and downplaying everything. Not recognizing our feelings no matter how they rate on the global impact scale leads us to dismiss ourselves and how we respond and grow to things. It breeds beige into our lives, our stories. It stops us from feeling, expressing and creating intimacy with our friends and family.

2. It's ok to say, I'm done. 
Ok, nothing new here. Everyone parenting blog has an article about putting yourself first so that you can take care of other people. But what I've learned this year is that you don't have to pretend to have more to give when you don't. It's ok to say, I need a break, I need something for myself, I need time, I need space. It's ok to reset boundaries with friends, family and colleagues. For me, I need to recognize this point before it goes beyond breaking ... to see it coming and plan for the R&R I need before I become a total basket case.

3. Sometimes when you have nothing left to give, that's exactly when you should focus on someone else. 
Earlier this year I was having a wee bit of a meltdown. It lasted 3 months. It was scary and was largely due to stress, recurring adrenal fatigue, lack of sleep and more stress. All of it self-induced. All of it mis-managed. I enlisted the help of several experts to help me get a plan together - my doctor, nutritionist, acupuncturist, personal trainer - they all worked together to help me get out of my own way. And with a plan in place we had our course of action.

The funny thing is though, at a time when I could barely get my bearings, it was the perfect time to help another friend who was also having a struggly year. Giving to her what I was struggling to give to myself - support, kindness, an ear, love - not only reminded me of what I needed to do for myself, but fed my soul and reminded me that underneath everything that I was going through I was still ... me. A generally good person, with a kind heart, who was just having a tough year. And that it was the former, not the latter that defined me as a person.

4. I have long been over FOMO, but it took me until this year to actually be ok with it. 
I have a theory that you only get so many years to party each decade of your life. And I used up all of mine for the last two decades in my early twenties! I am 100% happy at home with Netflix, a glass of wine, a good book and the ability to get up early on a Saturday so that I can read the paper, have a coffee and go to the gym without feeling the effects of a late night. FOMO has not impacted me since I was 27. At least, not enough to actually make me leave the couch.

But it wasn't until this year that I realized I needed to stop hiding behind excuses and just own up to the fact that, as one friend put it "you turn into a pumpkin at 11." It's true. And if everyone else already knew this, then why was I constantly trying to dream up reasons for not wanting to go bar hopping. Friends, please don't ever stop telling me your plans, one day I may say I'd like to join you. I will continue to ask you to join me at the gym, the opera, an art gallery, or to brunch. Because even though some of you hate "brunching" or prefer to lounge on a weekend morning, there's always a happy compromise of lunch and day-drinking where we can both happily coexist. What I do promise, is that I'll just own up to it instead of insulting you with weird excuses you can see coming a mile away. (ps. I love and thank you for putting up with that neuroses)

5. Letting go of dreams you don't want anymore can be harder than holding onto the ones you do.
Singer Bif Naked wrote a great piece for the Globe and Mail in which she described the benefits of unclenching - the jaw, the mind. I think about it often.

For me, unclenching has been a process of releasing the death-grip I've had on specific goals and expectations I've had for what my life should look like. Much of it defined in my teens and not really considered or revised over the last twenty years. This last year though hard, has forced me to open the fingers on that tight fist and let go of some things that I don't actually want in my life ... and be ok with it. A forced hand if you will, but one that let me create more space in my life for other things. New goals, new dreams. Fresh perspective.


So friends, this struggly year is over. I commend all of you if 2015 was a year of barely keeping your head above water. I applaud all of you for just putting your head down and getting through it.

And I thank all of you who put up with my own struggly-ness. Because I think I've grown because of it, and largely because of you. 2016 is going to be great! xo