Author Archives | sradick

About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

Ten Things You Should Be Saying to Your Boss

August 21, 2012

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One of the questions that my team members and potential employees have asked me a lot over the last few years is "what are you looking for in an ideal employee?" We just finished a performance review cycle here where I worked with a few members of my team on their development plans for the next year. I've also been spending some time identifying and interviewing potential new team members and holding regular mentoring meetings with the members of my team. This is all on top of leading the annual performance review process for more than 600 people while I was still with Booz Allen. Over the course of all those interviews and development discussions, I found that I've repeated a lot of things.

Here are ten of those things that I've said repeatedly over the last few years that I think any employee should be regularly saying to their boss. 

  1. "How am I doing? How did I do?" Ask for feedback early and often. It shows that you want to improve and that you want to know how to do things better. After every presentation you give, report you complete, article you write, etc. make sure you ask your manager if he/she has any feedback for you. And don't let them get away with just telling you that "you did a good job." Ask them specifically what you could have done better. Seek the negative AND the positive feedback.
  2. "Don't worry about it – I got it." One of the things that all managers love is to be able to cross something completely off of their to-do list because they know that someone they trust is taking care of everything – from beginning to end. From doing the actual work to keeping the right people informed, the ability to take something entirely off your manager's plate and do it well is something that will be much appreciated. It will also give you some great experience in showing him/her that you've got what it takes to move up to the next level as well. 
  3. "I just read/watched/heard…and it got me thinking that…" Learn how to look at everything you read/watch/listen to from a work/client perspective. I want people who are constantly on the lookout for newer, better, more efficient ways to do things and who can apply them to their current work. You should be bringing new ideas to your boss at least as often as he/she is bringing them to you.
  4. "You know how we've been doing X? Why do we do it that way?" Question the status quo. Don't just accept things because "that's the way they are." If you're curious about some process or rule or regulation, ask for the background on it. You'll be surprised to discover how many things we do for no other reason than that's the way it's always been done and no one ever bothered to ask.
  5. "I don't think that's the best way to do that. How about we do it this way instead?" Please, don't be a yes-man/woman. Disagree with me. Don't just assume that what I say goes. Sometimes, I have no idea and am just throwing ideas out there and want some honest feedback on them. When I was first given a team, the first person I approached was a good friend of mine whom I knew would be candid with me and tell me when I was wrong. I knew that she'd tell me about an awful idea long before it made its way to the client.
  6. "Here's what I'd recommend and why." If I've asked you to work on something, don't just send me your research. I want to know your thoughts on it too. You're the one closest to the research. Give me your recommendation and your rationale for it. It shows me that you can think critically and that you can back up your assertions.
  7. "Here's what I learned and how I'll do it better next time." Learn how to be your own worst critic. One of the best things you can do is become self-aware. Know where you're strong, know where you're weak, and know where you can improve.
  8. "You gotta see/read/listen to this – I know you'll love this." It doesn't always have to be about work. Don't be afraid to send your boss the latest meme if you think he/she will enjoy it. I like to know my team's interests outside of work, and I want them to want to get to know mine as well.
  9. "Do you know who I can talk with to understand this better?" If you're struggling with something, I will NOT think of less of you if you ask how you can get smarter on the topic. I'll be impressed that you were self-aware enough to know what you don't know and confident enough to ask about it. I may not know the answer either, but I'll be sure to help put you in touch with someone who will.
  10. "What can I do to help? Be proactive. Don't wait for other people to task you with something. Ask if you can help with something. Or better yet, refer to numbers 3 and 4 above.  

Now don't get the wrong idea here – while you may have thought this post was targeted toward more junior employees, these are all things that I try to regularly talk with my boss about as well. These aren't just for entry level or mid-level employees – at no point should you feel that you're too old or too high on the org chart to ask for feedback or to challenge the status quo. If you're a manager now, start asking your employees to think about these things. Likewise, look internally and ask yourself if you've been been doing the same with your boss.

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Recovering from a Social Media Mistake

July 24, 2012

6 Comments

Everyone has posted something they wish they hadn't. Don't worry so much about the past and get back up on the horse. That's what will define you, not one post.

On Friday, the NextGen Journal published an article titled "Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25" by Cathryn Sloane. This article predictably generated a TON of traffic (More than 6K Facebook likes, 1K Tweets, and about a billion times more traffic than any other article on the site) not to mention a ton of online vitriol from the social media community. Let's put aside the content of the actual article – there have been plenty of posts made already by really smart people that do good job of offering alternative viewpoints. Let's put aside the discussion around what Cathryn did (she wrote a blog post that pissed off a bunch of a people – join the club) or didn't do (she hasn't responded to the people carrying pitchforks outside her window – I don't know that I would have done any differently at that age either). Instead of discussing what Cathryn said or should have done, let's discuss how we can help her and others like her and move forward from here.

Cathryn could have easily been one of my team members or mentees. Lord knows I've pushed and prodded the junior members of my teams often enough over the years to do more writing, sharing, and commenting online. If you were going to be advising a client or colleague how to use social media, you damn well better be using it yourself too, right? That's why I've spent an inordinate amount of my time on internal mentoring, giving presentations at colleges, sitting on the SMCEDU Board of Advisers, and holding social media training for internal teams. To say that I've been passionate about helping this next generation use social media more effectively, both personally and professionally, would be an understatement.

That's why I want to use this opportunity to do what my friend Mark Story recommended in his rebuttal post and offer Cathryn some career counsel.

Dear Cathryn,

First of all, I want to tell you congratulations. You took a step many aren't willing to take and you played the game. It's a hell of a lot easier to sit back and say that you don't have the time to start a blog or that you're just a kid so who cares what you think and never actually use social media in a professional manner. You got up on that stage and took a chance, which is more than most will ever do.  You've written posts for NextGen Journal and USA Today. You've already taken the most difficult step – going from doing nothing to doing something. You've already done more in this space than most people you've graduated with and for that, you should be congratulated. It shows me that you have initiative and that you can take risks and that's something to be proud of.

Right now, you're getting a first-hand education about social media that you wouldn't learn in any class or from any book. Last Friday, you published a very controversial post that angered a lot of people (and understandably so). I'm sure you've already read through all of the rebuttal posts and comments people have posted and have been completely overwhelmed by it all. I've read through many of these as well and was a little taken aback myself. As you read through them, remind yourself that most of these comments were written by people over the age of 30 who feel as though you were attacking them and their livelihood. Please put yourself in their shoes and empathize with them before dismissing them as trolls. You have to understand that there's a history of ageism within this community – for the longest time, employers automatically assumed social media could only be understood by the young kids and so they were the ones given these new positions instead of more experienced individuals. Only recently have employers and the C-suite begun to realize how important social media is and how important it's become to identify the right people for these positions. So when they read your post, I think many people saw it as an opportunity to again demonstrate their value, to show potential clients why they should hire them instead of someone under 25.

That said, a lot of those comments were made by people who should know better. People who should realize the difference between disagreeing with someone's opinion and vengefully attacking the person behind the post. People who should realize that their comments, whether they're made online or off – "good luck getting a job in this industry, you idiot!" – reflect on them too. I hope they know that just as they bully you and try to destroy your reputation, they're doing the same to themselves from a managerial perspective – I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to work with someone with a history of treating people like that, be it online or off.

Once you've gone through the thousands of comments, posts, and Tweets and weeded out the hateful ones, spend some time absorbing the feedback. Do you have a better understanding of why people were so upset? Do you feel any empathy toward their position? Do you still agree with the basic premise of your article or have you changed your mind (there's no right answer to that one, but either way, make sure you have some thoughts/facts to back up your assertion)? What were some of the most beneficial pieces of feedback you heard? Once you've collected this feedback and filtered out the garbage, start drafting a follow-up post. One of the reasons this situation spiraled out of control so quickly was because your voice was MIA the entire weekend. As Tony Heyward or any of the dozens of CEOs who have paid the price of silence can tell you, it's important that you communicate early and often.  Now, I'm making the assumption that you haven't spoken up because you were utterly overwhelmed by what was happening and had no idea what to do. That's totally understandable, especially given the tone and amount of the feedback as well as your experience level in handling stuff like this.

Boil the feedback you received down to 3-5 key points and then address each one. Admit where you were wrong, but also don't be afraid to disagree with them.  Don't give in to the mob collective just to get them off your back if it's not something you believe in. Did people misinterpret what you were trying to say? If so, tell us why. Were you just not aware of some of the points made in the comments/posts/Tweets? If so, tell us which ones and why they've changed your mind. Tell us what you would have done differently. By the same token, tell us what you would have done the same. Explain what you've learned and how you'll apply that in the future.

In your follow-up post, I would inject a healthy dose of humility but I would also tell you to balance that by telling you to stick with what you believe in too. No one wants to see a "I'm sorry if I offended anyone" post where you essentially back off everything you wrote. Turn the whole thing around on everyone and tell us what people of any age can do to show employers that they know what they're doing when it comes to social media. No one, at any age, likes to hear that they're disqualified from doing something simply because of their age. Talk to Dara Torres or Missy Franklin about being told they can't do something because of their age. Give some advice to your generation about the things they can do to bridge the gap in years of experience. The opportunity is there for all of you – YOU are already taking advantage of it. You can write blog posts, engage with professionals on LinkedIn, participate in industry Twitter chats. You can bypass recruiters and job postings entirely and talk directly with VPs and other hiring managers. If they're impressed with your writing and approach they're not going to care that you only have four years of experience instead o five.

Once you write the article, send it to a mentor to review before hitting publish, someone who is knowledgeable and whom you can trust. Whenever I write a post, at a minimum, I always have my wife review it first to tell me if I'm coming off too arrogant, if it flows nicely, if she can understand it, if she's having the reaction I aimed for, etc. Hell, send it to me and I'll take a look at it for you. I'd recommend having at least two people familiar with the whole situation read through it before publishing and then publish it – the sooner the better.

The other thing that I'd recommend to you and I can't say this strongly enough – don't let this incident get you down. When I was building the social media practice at my old firm, one of the first things I told our SVPs was that yes, social media will do a lot of great things for us, but there WILL be mistakes made. We can't stop them but we can mitigate the negative impacts by planning for them. That's what I'd recommend you do as well – don't stop writing. Don't disappear. Continue writing, but develop a plan to back you up in the future. Have someone you trust review every post before publishing. Never post anything before you go offline in case a firestorm erupts. Never publish something without sleeping on it at least once. Develop a mentoring relationship with someone in the industry with a lot of experience and run your ideas by him/her. Before publishing, spend 30 minutes thinking through the potential negative and positive reactions the post may elicit and be prepared with a response.

But most of all, just get back on the horse. This post isn't your legacy. How you react and move on from it will be. Everyone makes mistakes out here. Everyone has posted something they wish they hadn't. It's the cost of playing this game. Write your follow-up post, put in some processes to help guard against similar issues in the future and continue writing. As Mack Collier says in his post, "another thing about social media and such firestorms is that we all tend to move on quickly.  In another day or so most of us will have moved onto something else and your time in the spotlight will be over." I can't imagine not hiring someone over a single silly post, but I can easily see interviewing someone who wrote a post that caused a firestorm and then recovered from it. Because we're all going to make mistakes – that's a given. I'm more interested in how someone recovers from those mistakes. 

After all, you've already taken the first step and done something. You've also already gone through your first challenge. Now, you just have to react and move on. You'll be fine. In fact, if you do get up, dust yourself off, and continue writing, give me a call – I could use people who have this type of real world experience.

To the people who continue to personally attack Cathryn for this post, use this as an opportunity to empower those in Cathryn's generation to use social media more professionally. We need more people like Cathryn out there using social media now so that they're better equipped when we need to hire them. We can't afford to drive this young talent away by publicly crucifying them for not being experts.

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Klout for Enterprise 2.0 Networks is a Bad Idea

July 19, 2012

5 Comments

"The performance review of the future will include services like Salesforce.com's Chatter and its Influencers feature, which measures how much weight you carry among your peers"

This is a quote from a recent Fast Company article discussing how enterprise social networks behind corporate firewalls are using Klout-like tools to measure how "influential" you are within your company and it terrifies me. I then read "Enterprise Social Networks, Performance Reviews, and Company Culture," on the Social Media Club DC blog that rightfully (and thankfully!) takes issue with this idea of ranking people's influence on these internal networks. I left the following comment there that illustrates why I believe trying to assign influencer scores within the confines of a company's social network is not only a terrible idea, but that it can virtually torpedo any chance that that network has of being successful. 

"People like things like Klout because they ostensibly allow you to stop wasting all your time talking to the little people who don’t matter, having meaningless conversations with non-influential people and actually creating relationships with people – you can cut through all that crap and maximize the reach of your messages simply by using this little rating system!!! (as a side note, I need one in real-life too – little did I know that my best friend’s reach and influence are really low and I should stop hanging out with him and instead make new friends who can optimize my conversations better). I don’t blame Salesforce’s CEO for taking advantage of this laziness that exists among his customers, but I can’t see how in any world, things like this being a good thing for creating collaborative organizations. As Shirky said in the video, you can’t eliminate all the fluff and get just the brilliant ideas. Communities don’t work like that. People don’t work like that. Enterprise social networks don’t work like that. Instead of trying to find easier ways to identify influencers so you don’t have to actually take the time to participate, try spending five minutes a day reading some of the posts and actually talking people – that’s going to be the easiest way to identify influencers, and hey, it’s got the side effect of maybe making you an influencer too."

Maybe the folks at Salesforce aren't just trying to take advantage of the public's laziness and weird fascination with "influence" scores. Maybe they truly believe they're helping these organizations filter out unnecessary content and focus on what and who matters. In that case, let's explore just a few of the unintended consequences that will occur, thereby destroying the very network this feature was created to help.

  1. People become less willing to help their colleagues unless they get "likes" for it
  2. More time is spent on identifying and sharing interesting, but ultimately non-work related things to increase their "influence" at the expense of their actual work
  3. People may actually become less likely to comment and like other people's content because they don't want others to get higher scores than they doBringing Klout to the Enterprise? Get ready for the interns to become more influential than your C-suite
  4. #TeamFollowBack appears on internal networks
  5. Posts that lower the barrier to entry that actually create the sense of community disappear because they don't positively impact influencer ratings, meaning fewer and fewer people feel comfortable sharing anything
  6. People will game the system and quickly figure out which types of posts result in the higher influencer scores
  7. Leadership becomes even less engaged because hey, why waste time actually talking to people when I can just look at the ol' leaderboard to determine who matters
  8. Criticisms, often the most valuable posts of internal social networks, would disappear as there would be no incentive to comment or like those posts, much less make them yourself

Thankfully, the commenters over at Fast Company see the flaws in attempting to quantify people's using organizational influence using an internal social network. Unfortunately, despite all the criticism of tools like Klout on the open Internet, there seems to be a demand somewhere for tools that reduce actual people and relationship to numbers. So, I have no doubt that we will begin to see influence features embedded into internal social networks with increasing frequency. And, even more unfortunately, just as marketers and social media gurus have propped up their own Twitter follower, Facebook likes, and Klout scores at the expense of the community as a whole, we will see similar situations behind the firewall as well. 

Rather than creating features based on proprietary algorithms targeted at leadership who don't use the platform, Enterprise 2.0 vendors should instead be focused on creating a transparent rewards system that encourages collaboration and communication. There is a place for gamification and rewards on these internal networks, but they should reinforce and increase collaborative behaviors, not selfish ones.

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Why I Hate the Word “Pitching”

July 4, 2012

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I've grown increasingly frustrated when I hear my PR colleagues tell me they're going to "pitch the media." Maybe it's because my non-PR friends look at the term so pejoratively. Maybe it's because it implies a certain level of salesmanship. Maybe it's because it erodes my own idealistic view of the media as the fourth estate and that I hate seeing so much of it be controlled by pitchmen who take advantage of lazy journalists. Maybe it's all of the above. For me, it's almost as bad as our industry's most hated word – "spin." Then I read Amber Mac's excellent piece on Fast Company about how social media can help save the PR industry from bad pitches as well as Gini Dietrich's follow-up post on Spin Sucks, and I got all riled up again how PR people rely on blind pitching instead of focusing on the "relations" part of public relations.

When someone tells me that they're pitching something to the media, the default image in my head has sadly become this –

From spamming thousands of reporters and bloggers at a time in the hopes of getting 1% of them to cover your "news," to copying and pasting entire pitches and only changing the name, to using outdated information, PR people have become used car salesmen, interested more in making the sale than on building an honest relationship. At some point, it became acceptable to send an awful pitch out to 10,000 people and hope that 1% would cover it instead of crafting customized pitches that go to 200 people with the expectation that 50% would cover it. Wonderful. Glad to see that we're modeling our pitching approach after Nigerian email scams. Aren't we better than this? PR people have to stop trying to take the easy way out. Stop being lazy and start taking pride in each and every pitch you make. It is YOUR name after all that will be tied to that pitch. It's YOUR agency's name that may end up on a blog somewhere as an example of a bad pitch.  Act like every pitch you make is a reflection of you and your agency…because it is.

One of the things I've told my teams over the years is that the best media pitch is usually pretty simple. It's usually something along the lines of "hey man – just read your latest post and wanted to clue in on a client of mine who's got a cool new product that I think you'd like. Check it out and let me know what you think." While the "pitch" is surprisingly simple, the reason it works is because of all the work that's required to get to that point. For it to work, it assumes that you've established a relationship with this person, that they trust you, that you only share things like this that they are truly be interested in, that you've interacted with them before when you weren't pitching him on something, and that the link they click will give them everything they need to know – photos, videos, quotes, contact information, research, etc. In other words, there's no need to worry about crafting a perfect pitch if you've already laid the groundwork – at that point, it's just two people talking with one another.

Let's all work together to change the connotation of the word pitch and agree that we should aspire to be better than used car salesmen and spammers.  Let's make pitching less about trying to sell the media on something and focusing on providing them with what they need – good stories to tell that will be interesting to their readers. Let's pledge to:

  • Get to know the people covering our clients before we start pitching them
  • Read at least three different stories/articles/posts they've written before reaching out to them
  • Know if my contact prefers to be contacted via Twitter, email, Facebook, phone, or carrier pigeon
  • Avoid making our first contact with the blogger/reporter our pitch email – Retweet them, comment on a blog post, answer a question they have
  • Help the media do their job even if there's no direct benefit for me
  • Pitch fewer people but aim for a higher success rate
  • Stop blindly "trying to create more buzz" and instead be more of a PR consultant to my client
  • Write my pitches in actual English like I'm talking to a person instead of my client's key messages
  • Refrain from spamming dozens of reporters with the same email
  • Never ever send an email with any form of the words – "just checking to see if you got my email" (because they did, and then they deleted it)
  • Validate everything that I find out about a reporter/blogger from a PR database
  • Clearly identify the "what's in it for me?" for everyone I contact
  • Include my name, contact information, and links to more information
  • Stop overselling our pitches – when everything is ground-breaking, innovative, and the first-of-its-kind, nothing is
  • Coordinate our pitches with our clients so that they aren't surprised by questions from the media
  • Realize that no one likes to feel like they're being pitched, but they do enjoy hearing a good story
  • Read and proofread and read and proofread everything before I hit send

These are just off the top of my head – I'm sure there are plenty of others. If you're a PR pro, what other tips would you add here? If you're a reporter/blogger, what do you wish PR people would do better when pitching you? 

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