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Ten “Boring” PR Skills You Need to Have

A few weeks ago, I was talking to some college students about PR, advertising, living in Chicago, and the work I'm doing at C-K. They loved hearing about the work that we've done with Corona, Porsche, and Cedar Fair. We talked about branding, TV commercials, media tours, and social media. By the end of our conversation, they were all telling me that I had their dream job and were asking me if we had any openings. At this point, I was feeling pretty proud of myself – after all, this was a much cooler reaction than when I'd regale them with stories of working with the IRS or the TSA. However, when I got got back to my office, I realized that I did those students a disservice. I got them all excited about riding roller coasters, drinking beer, and driving fast cars, but failed to mention the really fun stuff that I do every day. 

You want to get really excited about PR? Check out my budget spreadsheets and staff forecasting tools! Join me as I write a statement of work and analyze row after row of statistics! Excited yet? Maybe you'd rather stay at the office until 8PM writing a performance review? 

The best PR pros do a lot more than Tweeting, drinking with press contacts, and attending events. That might be what got you into the industry, but if you want to move up the ladder, you better sharpen these ten boring PR skills too. 

You may think these things are about as exciting as watching grass grow, but you'll want to learn these things if you want to keep growing.

  1. Manage Upward. Do you know how to pitch new ideas and get fast approval to try them? Can you manage your boss and his/her time so they don't become a bottleneck? Learn what makes your boss tick. Learn how they work so that you can expedite getting things done when you want to try something new. Gain their trust so are empowered to take risks and know they've got your back. 
  2. Manage your time. How many hours does it take you to write a press release? Do you know how to estimate how long it will take you to do something and then manage your own workload to get that job done on time? One of the best skills a junior person can develop is the ability to accurately estimate how long it will take them to do a job. 
  3. Give feedback. Do you know how to give honest, constructive feedback to a colleague? To your boss? Learn how to give both positive and negative feedback. This goes beyond saying "good job" – it means giving feedback so that people are motivated to do better. It means giving feedback so that they learn from their mistakes without feeling like an idiot. 
  4. Analyze statistics. Do you know how to make sense out of a mess of numbers? Can you comb through a bunch of spreadsheets and tables to find something meaningful? Learn how to analyze data, but even more than that, learn how to distill it down to laymen's terms. 
  5. Build and manage a budget. Do you know how to allocate $10,000 to get the job done? How many hours do you need? How many hours does your Assistant Account Executive need? How much of that should be allocated to hard costs like giveaways or vendor fees? Learn about hourly rates, profit margins, and scopes of work. Learn how to adjust on the fly and reallocate costs as needed while still staying under budget. 
  6. Delegate. You aren't scalable. You may think you're a hard worker and that you'll do whatever it takes, but at some point, you're going to realize you can't do it on your own. Learn how to delegate work to other people. Learn how to accept that other people may do things differently than you, but that doesn't make them wrong. Learn how to leverage your team's strengths and understand their weaknesses so that you use everyone's time most efficiently. 
  7. Develop and manage a project plan. Can you break up a big project into small tasks, assign them deadlines and then manage to those deadlines? Learn how to create a project plan that integrates deliverables, interim deadlines and costs and how to manage against that. This goes for small projects and multi-million dollar accounts. I've used project plans to help plan my work for everything from website content to huge accounts with multiple workstreams. 
  8. Work remotely. Can you be productive from your couch? How about on a plane? In line? Learn how to maximize your productivity when you're not in the office. I'm not just talking about using technology like wireless cards, cell phones, and video conferencing. I'm talking about knowing how to manage your work so that you're able to take an early weekend because you know you've scheduled your conference calls for while you're on the road. I'm talking about using your time on the plane to write your blog posts or catch up on your RSS reader.
  9. Ask for help. I don't care how smart you are or how hard you work – you're going to need someone's help at some point. Maybe it's because they've got a skillset or experience you need. Maybe it's because you're on vacation and need someone to handle a client crisis. Learn that you don't have to do everything on your own. Learn how to ask for help before it's too late. 
  10. Write a performance review. Sooner or later, you're going to have to write someone's performance review or at the very least, contribute to one. Many organizations have implemented 360-degree reviews where you may be responsible for collecting feedback and writing a colleague's review. Learn how to objectively solicit feedback about someone else, analyze that data and write an objective review of that person's work.  

What other "boring" skills would you add to this list? The opportunity to pitch an idea to the producers of the Today Show or to go bar-hopping with the editors of Maxim may be what got you interested PR in the first place, but those opportunities only happen once someone has done the dirty work first. Someone has to build the strategy, develop the project plan, allocate the resources, manage the budget, and get someone to sign off on the idea before you're going to get the opportunity to make that call. Learn these boring skills now so that you can contribute to the entire process, not just the fun stuff at the end. 

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Ten Things Your Boss Should Be Saying to You

In my last post, I talked about the ten things you should be saying to your boss. Now it's time to  look at the other side and share ten things that your boss should be saying to you.

  1. "What do you think?" Your boss should value your opinion and contributions and frequently ask for your input. He/she should understand your unique perspective and solicit it often. This isn't done just to make you feel better, but because teams function a lot more smoothly when everyone feels like they're contributions matter.
  2. "I'm sorry." Just because you're the boss doesn't mean you're without fault. Be honest. Be transparent. We all make mistakes (well, I assume we do – I sure as hell have). Your boss should be self-aware enough to know when they're at fault and why. And guess what? If you're the boss and someone on your team messes up, your first inclination to should be to look internally – it's your team. You're responsible for their success and their failures. If they mess up, is it because you didn't provide enough direction? Because you forgot to pass along a key bit of information? Because you didn't read an email they sent to you? Own up to it. Apologize and move on.
  3. "Are you having fun?" My very first boss at Booz Allen made this a habit to ask this question of everyone on her team at least once a month. While she was always focused on meeting our deadlines and staying under budget (she was a PMP, after all), she also realized that there was often more than one way to do that. She made sure that everyone was also enjoying their work because she understood that more (and better) work got done if people were having fun doing it.
  4. "How can I help you?" Despite what your job description and place on the org chart may say, you aren't employed to simply ensure your boss's success. It's a mutual relationship. One of your boss's most important jobs is to ensure your success as well. One of the first things I told my account supervisors when I took my current job was that I wouldn't be successful unless they were successful. Just like you should be proactively asking your boss what you can do to help, he/she should be asking you the same thing.
  5. "Go ahead – I got your back." Sometimes, the best thing your boss can do is to give you the top cover to take a risk. To do something innovative. To challenge the status quo. One of the reasons I really enjoyed working at my last job was because my leadership always encouraged me to push the envelope and empowered me to do what I thought needed to be done. Even when they didn't agree me every step of the way. My boss once told me, "I don't really get what you're doing, but you seem to be passionate about it and I trust you know what you're doing so go for it." And if I stirred up a political battle or wrote a controversial blog post, my bosses were right there behind me to step in and negotiate those difficult conversations. Employees need to know that their boss is behind them 100% and will go to bat for them whenever, wherever, and with whomever is needed. Employees with this freedom and encouragement can do amazing things.
  6. "Here's what's going on…" One of the most common complaints in pretty much of every organization that I've worked with has been internal communications. The C-suite gets frustrated when they tell their senior leadership teams something and it doesn't cascade down through the organization. Middle managers get inundated with messaging and don't have the time, or the incentive, to take time away from their projects and budgets to share anything with their teams. Operations staff feel like their just cogs in the machine because they have no idea where the company is going. Junior employees get frustrated because they don't see a path forward for their career. A good boss will take the time to sit down with his/her team and pass along the information they receive that their teams may not be privy too – either because they're not on the same distro lists or in the same meetings. Your boss should be filling in those details for you and letting you know where you fit into the bigger picture.
  7. "This isn't going to work for me. Here's why…" Being able to provide candid, timely feedback is a lost art among many managers. They try to sugarcoat their feedback or they avoid the confrontation altogether and fix everything themselves. If I create something that totally misses the mark, I want my boss to take the time to tell me that, help me understand what I did wrong, and how I can do it better next time. If your boss doesn't give you that feedback, how can they expect you to do it any differently or any better the next time?
  8. "You did a great job." As a manager, it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day deadlines, budgets, and client demands. You become so focused on what needs to get done that you forget to share positive feedback as well. Your boss's feedback should always include a mix of positive and constructive feedback – while it's certainly important for you to clearly understand your mistakes (see #7 above), it's also important that you understand what you did well and why.
  9. "Here's what I'm looking for." I used to work for someone who was notorious for giving very cryptic direction on new projects. In some cases, she wanted you to follow her direction to a tee – your role was to simply regurgitate her exact words into a PowerPoint slide. In other cases though, doing exactly that would only cause her to throw out everything you did because you took her too literally. You can imagine how confusing this was to her team as they were constantly guessing what she was really looking for. Your boss should be able to clearly articulate exactly what he/she wants you to do…even if sometimes, that means, "I don't know what the right answer is – see what you can find out and bring me a recommendation."
  10. "It can wait until later." Have you ever worked in an environment when everyone is seemingly "putting out a fire" or "handling another fire drill?" No one likes working in that kind of job. Guess what? Not everything is a fire. Not everything needs to be done ASAP. Make sure your boss is helping you prioritize what needs to be done today and what is truly important. If you don't need that report until next week, make sure you're telling your team that so they don't spend 10 hours at the office on something that you aren't even going to look at until next week. I don't think bosses realize how stressful an environment they create for their teams when they make it seem like everything is a priority all the time.

How many of these are you hearing from your manager on a regular basis? If you have a good manager, what other things are they saying to you that you appreciate? If you're a boss, are you saying these things? Why or why not?

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Ten Things You Should Be Saying to Your Boss

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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Establishing a Vision and Then Getting Your Team to Buy Into It

As I wrap up my first week in Chicago, I've fully realized the advantage of working with the same people for years – they knew exactly how I thought about PR, social media, communications, and branding. They knew what I looked for in their work, what questions I would ask, what points I wanted them to make. Over the years, they had heard me say the same things so many times that they had all bought into the same approach to our work. This wasn't because it was mandated  or because I beat it into them (I don't have, what you might call an intimidating presence), but because we were worked together to form these axioms and bought into them collectively. 

The "Follow Me" statue in Infantry Hall at Fort Benning, GA

This past week however, has been a bit of a trip back in time for me as I again have to not only share my unique approach to our work, but also get my co-workers to see the value in the way I do things and buy into that approach. This is one of the differences between management and leadership. Can I get my new team to buy into my approach not because they have to (they don't) or because they'll get fired if they don't (they won't), but because they believe it's the right way? 

That's one of the big things I'll be working on over these next few months. So what are those things? Here are a few of the things my old team probably heard me say a million times:

  • Ten actions that will define how you look at PR – Too many PR practitioners have become so focused on the message that they have totally forgotten the relations part of public relations. Let's not fall into the same trap.
  • It's not about the technology, it's what the technology enables – Something I've said ever since I started using social media. All the bells and whistles and new features are great, but don't get distracted by the latest tools. Stay focused on our clients' goals and objectives and if the latest tech will help achieve that, then great. But don't try to use Pinterest, Highlight, Path, and Google+ just because you saw some social media nerds saying it's the "next Facebook!" Use them if and when they can help your clients achieve their communications goals.
  • Be you and be you all the time – Don't try to act/dress/talk like someone else just because you think that's what you need to do to get promoted  or to be accepted. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses and be confident in your unique abilities.
  • Don't be afraid to take risks – If it's been more than a few months before someone had to pull you back from an idea or you got scolded for pushing the envelope a little too much, you're probably not doing your job as well as you could. Don't be afraid to take calculated risks, but don't be reckless. Have a rationale for your decisions and try new things. I'll trust you and provide you with the top cover to take those risks. 
  • Don't become a social media ninja – use social media to become a better… – Social media technology offers tremendous tools for PR pros, and yes, I think we all need to be aware of their impact on our industry. However, I have no desire to create a team of gurus and ninjas. Instead, I want my team to understand how to best incorporate social media into their PR strategies and tactics. Social isn't the be-all, end-all of communication.
  • Don't forget that you're a human being so remember to talk like one – The Cluetrain Manifesto said it best – "In just a few more years, the current homogenized "voice" of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court." Remember that your goal is to develop and strengthen relationships with actual people, not just to sell something to a faceless, nameless customer.
  • Let's not look for "established best practices" for our clients – let's create the practices other people call best practices – You should absolutely continue to research what other companies and agencies have done or are doing. See what you can learn from their successes and failures, but don't identify a best practice and then try to replicate it. Use these best practices and lessons learned as source materials and then come up with your own idea, an idea that no one's ever thought of before. Sure, maybe 90% of your ideas will end up on the cutting room floor, but that one idea that makes it will be ten times better than if you had taken the easy route and followed the best practices laid out in the PR person's handbook. 
  • Be a trusted adviser – Your relationship with your client should be a partnership, not a dictatorship. Learn how to do more than just do what your client says. Build your relationship with them so that you can be candid (both positively and negatively) with each other.
  • Nothing is more important than your people – If you need something, I will get it for you. If you're interested in something, I'll do my best to give you those opportunities. If you ask me a question, I'll get you an answer. If you send me an email, I'll reply as fast I can.

I'm sure there are many more that I've forgotten here (if you've worked with me before, what else would you add?), and many more that I'll learn along the way. I'm excited to find out how these views fit into the culture here, and how they might adapt over time.  Until then, I guess it's time to go annoy a whole new group of co-workers with my little sayings 🙂

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