Aug 29 2012

Managing the Informal Generation

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Today’s 20-somethings (aka Millennials or Gen Y) will soon be in middle management and then among the ranks of senior leadership. For those of us minding this generation gap in the workplace today, Millennials offer unique management challenges and opportunities. This group of young employees is not necessarily motivated by the climbing the proverbial corporate ladder or driven by traditional corporate incentives. Where can you find common ground and motivate the talent?

Shira Harrington, president of Purposeful Hire, shared practical insights into engaging the Millennial generation—with particular emphasis on communication, work-life balance, and technology—during PRSA National Capital Chapter’s “20+ LeaderPack” luncheon on July 25.

Millennials recognize that the employer loyalty contract is broken, explained Harrington. “Their ethic is to fit work around business, and they grew up with helicopter parents meaning employer validation is important.”

These attitudes and a more casual approach to communications—lack of punctuation and capitalization in written materials or frequent attention to one’s smart phone for example—highlight significant generational differences in the workplace. Harrington advised seeking mutual understanding to resolve differences. Her tips include:
• Ban cell phones from meetings to help ensure the full attention of all participants.
• Be a mentor. Help younger staff develop strategic communications skills and the value of social media as a formal channel for interacting with key audiences.
• Learn what motivates the “fast pace” of Gen Y and leverage their interests and abilities for optimal performance in the work place.

With nearly 80 million Millennials, it’s essential for older generations to develop an understanding of and appreciation for this cohort of leaders.

PRSA-NCC’s “20+ LeaderPack” is an exclusive forum for senior level professionals with at least two decades of experience to build relationships, offer support, and jointly address common challenges and concerns. “20+ LeaderPack” offers facilitated discussions that tap into the collective wisdom of the Washington area’s top PR professionals.

This post originally appeared on PRSA-NCC.



Jul 16 2010

#Antenna_Gate: First Tweet

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#Apple #Antenna_Gate response was defensive PR. Heed the lessons of #Icarus #FanBoy is insulting http://bit.ly/9ZHb2f



Jun 29 2010

Lipstick and Gloss

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Stereotypes exist for a reason. There’s a recognizable pattern, a kernel of truth to the general impressions that form stereotypes.

Many successful PR professionals and TV reporters (especially on FOX) are blonde.  When I named my blog, I purposefully played on my hair color and the wisdom invoked by my favorite accessory — Blonde Pearls PR Blog.

Ten, even five years ago, I would not have been so comfortable doing so. I’m pleased that constraints of rigid expectations have been loosen so that women can be more feminine in the workplace and in our expression.

Yet, we still have hurdles to overcome. Reading Howard Kurtz’s profile on Diane Sawyer, an anchor with an edge (and a role model I have long admired, along with Peggy Noonan who also is blonde), however, made me pause.

There it was. In the third paragraph. A reference to her looks. “This is the non-glamorous side of Sawyer, who at the moment — with her untamed hair, pale skin, black-rimmed glasses and plain white shirt — looks like a 64-year-old housewife in need of a cup of coffee.” Would he write that about NBC’s Brian Williams? CNN’s Anderson Cooper?

Thankfully, the rest of the article gave Sawyer the props she is due — an accomplished journalist bringing critical thought and improvement to her craft for the benefit of the viewers.

Yet, after decades of advancement for women in the workplace, why isn’t there more parity in reporting on the lives and professional accomplishments of men and women? Because stereotypes play a powerful role in how we think about women. Sans makeup, we are housewives or homebodies. Once we paint on the mask we are business women, soccer moms or teachers. Or in the case of female politicians once perceived as homely because of the wrong shade of lipstick, an “image” made over.

I long for the day when stories about women — executives, politicians, anchors, First Ladies — forget to mention designers, makeup and such. Better yet. How about covering men in the same fashion?

Unfortunately, that day is likely far away. The blogosphere is aggressively critiquing Elena Kagan’s makeover for her Senate confirmation hearings to become the next Justice on the Supreme Court. Female presidential appointees and candidates in an electronic age should care about their appearance, just as men should. The challenge is managing the unjustified scrutiny that accompanies women wherever they go.

Wendy Kaminer in The Atlantic recently posed the question: “Would Elena Kagan’s sexuality be a subject of so much speculation if she looked like Sarah Palin, or Kim Cattrall?”  Yes.  However, the commentary would be more flattering, but none-the-less denigrating and distracting from the discussion of her qualifications.

I met with a colleague awhile back to seek advice on job interview strategies. One of her cardinal rules, based on research, was to wear my hair in a bun or french twist so that it was off my face. While I often sport a pony tail on weekends or sultry summer days, I couldn’t bring myself to heed her advice. It just wasn’t me.

My advice in media training to women who appear on TV:  Befriend and trust the make up artist. But decline the lip gloss if you wouldn’t normally wear it.

You have to look comfortable in and with the accoutrements you choose — be it for a televised appearance, job interview or business meeting.



Jun 22 2010

Loose Lips

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Gen. Stanley McChrystal may be admired for his direct, warrior leadership style. However, the outcome of his interviews with Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone magazine paints a wholly unflattering, lone wolf portrait.  “The Runaway General” article is instructive for anyone trying to manage his or her media image.

When I conduct media training, I draw upon several examples of politicians and business leaders who forgot “the mic is always on” during a TV or Radio interview. Helen Thomas and Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown being among the most recent victims. McChrystal’s Rolling Stone interview now tops my list of how not to engage the media.

Critically, it will be hotly debated if McChrystal should lose his job as a result of his disparaging remarks about his Commander-in-Chief and other administration officials.

As for his apology, it meets the sincerity and contrition tests for an effective mea culpa.  Yet, like so many others (Helen Thomas, for example), it lacks a critical ingredient — the measure of improvement, the action by which the injured party can evaluate the effectiveness of the apology.

There are several lessons that can be gleaned from this error reputation management.

1) Reporters are not your friends; they are image makers. It’s important to remain consistent in your messaging and presentation.

2) You — and everyone of your staff aids attending the interview — are always on the record.  I’ve pitched similar “follow me” interviews — they can be very effective for sharing process and personality. Be sure to provide media training and guidance not only to the primary spokesperson but also those will be playing a secondary role in the interactions.

3) Define your messages and objectives.  Know what you want the outcome to be and plan accordingly.

4) Rehearse.  We don’t call media role playing a murder board for nothing.

5) Stay positive. (Or “Never let them see you sweat.”) It doesn’t matter if you’re fighting a war, deflecting criticism for an environmental disaster or answering questions about a new product launch that isn’t meeting expectations. Showing your crankiness and criticizing others isn’t effective. Leaders take responsibility regardless.

Finally, remember that controversy is the heart of compelling news headlines.

July 1: An updated version of this post appeared in the Capitol Communicator. And while I did not seek permission to share the cartoon below, I trust Mr. Wasserman and the Boston Globe won’t mind the additional publicity.



Mar 10 2010

Lack of Brains Hinders Research

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Yes, this headline was a question on the APR exam to define one of Lippmann’s barriers to communication(The answer is: Distortion due to compression).

When I started my blog last fall, I had intended to write more about the process of studying for the APR exam. Instead, I found my passion in writing about social media, crisis communications and current events.

Now that I have earned my APR, I am both relieved and excited to join this elite group of public relations professionals. Here are my lessons learned for the successful completion of the APR readiness review and computer examination process.

1) Be ready to make the commitment to read a lot (study guide, text books, articles, case studies) and to exercise the APR knowledge, skills and abilities in hypothetical scenarios.

2) Form a study group. You can meet in person or chat online (e.g. Google Chat). Invite APRs to your study sessions. Talk through every scenario in the study guide and your own case studies. Deconstruct case studies and rebuild them.

3) Embrace communications theory. It had been years since I thought seriously about diffusion theory and the Grunig models of activating publics. These and other theoretical concepts have helped make sense of the confusion surrounding social media, for example.

4) Research and measurement tied to objectives. Unfortunately, many PR operations often do not have sufficient budget for pre and post research or measurement.  Yet, these topics are a significant portion of the exam. Study up, and you’ll find new ways of thinking about how to incorporate research and measurement into your job with no or little budget.

5) Business literacy and ethics. Experience is the best teacher in these areas. If you haven’t worked for a publicly traded company or been faced with challenging decision making, seek out colleagues who have.

6) Sitting in front of a computer for 3 hours and 45 minutes was not as painful as I envisioned. There is plenty of time to read the questions and review answers if necessary.