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Sent to the Minors

February 19, 2013

After 16 NHL seasons, former Washington Capital Andrew “Bruno” Brunette has hung up his skates and is retiring. It’s not uncommon to hear story-after-story of acts of kindness from NHL players around the league, as they’re some of the most grounded pro athletes around. But this tale is a lesson that has stuck with me nearly 16 years later.

As a fresh-faced intern for the Caps PR department, one day it became my job to shuttle a player to his apartment then to the airport. After a few games in “The Show,” Andrew Brunette had been reassigned to the Caps minor league team. Not the most pleasant circumstance to meet somebody for the first time and sit in a car for a couple hours.  And to put the icing on the cake, his girlfriend had just arrived 12 hours earlier to spend a few weeks. But here’s the thing—despite the obvious professional set back, Bruno was courteous, polite, and downright nice the entire ride. He engaged in conversation and probably answered some stupid questions from a lowly intern.

36 hours later, I’m part of a two-car caravan driving Bruno’s SUV and the SUV of another player sent back to the minors that same day. The players had to fly out quickly to make a game, and now we we’re tasked with getting their vehicles to them…in Portland, Maine. After 10 hours or so on the road, we finally arrive at the Portland arena where the two players meet us to retrieve their vehicles.  In chatting briefly with Bruno in the garage of the Portland arena, he learns that I am a little unclear on the details of my flight home. This was a time before smart phones, dumb phones or mobile phones of any sort, and all I know is that there is a plane ticket waiting for me somewhere at the Portland airport. That was the extent of my information. Sensing there is a chance I might be stranded for a bit, Bruno hands me his home phone number, and insists that if I run into any issues I call him and I can spend the night on his couch. This is how he treated an intern he had just met two days earlier.

It’s a small lesson I’ve always kept with me—treat everyone with the same respect and kindness, despite whatever setbacks you may personally be experiencing. Congrats to Andrew Brunette, who went on to play 1,100 games and tally 733 points in his NHL career.

Measuring Success in a PR Small Business

January 15, 2013

“How’s business this year?”

If you’re a small business owner in the public relations industry, it’s probably a question you get quite a bit. And it’s probably an area you’ve spent several hours reviewing in the past few weeks to size up 2012.

I think we put too much weight on determining our success as a PR small business based on year-to-year figures. How was your total sales compared to the previous year? Total invoices? Profit? The list goes on and on. While you need to have a strong handle on your company’s finances and the big picture in mind, I’m beginning to realize that it may not be the most productive, or healthiest way, to measure success.

I propose this:

Measure the success of your PR small business on a three-year cycle. The new business cycle in public relations is not a short-term endeavor. Getting your foot in the door with a new client can take six-to-twelve months alone.  Establishing your value and generating consistent business is definitely a multi-year process.

Of course there are bills to pay and paychecks to cut, but I’m suggesting measuring the overall financial health of your business in longer terms. I know I spend a fair amount of time analyzing our firm’s financial data and comparing every conceivable figure from previous years.  I probably spend too much time doing this. I would definitely be better served if I focused that time and effort into other areas of the business.

The other reason I make this suggestion is that in the public relations industry especially, some years will definitely be better than others.  There will be the ebb and flow of business, and you can’t get too high with the highs or too low with the lows.  A three-year cycle will help provide an overall picture to these ebbs and flows and maybe (this might be wishful thinking), eliminate some day-to-day worrying.

After your first three years in business, take a look at your Profit & Loss statement. If you’re satisfied and met all your expectations, treat yourself to a nice dinner. Then get back to work.

The Men Who Built the Lockout

October 26, 2012

Thanks to the ongoing NHL lockout, I’ve been in search of some other televised entertainment in the evening. In a normal non-lockout year I’d be watching Washington Capitals hockey whenever I could, but in its place, I’ve stumbled across a few other gems on TV. One of these is the new series on the History Channel about the titans of industry (some call them robber-barons) from the golden age of industry in our country. The Men Who Built America has chronicled the lives of Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie thus far. The series is fantastic, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about these men and the time period.  

The last episode focused on Andrew Carnegie and his top lieutenant, Henry Clay Frick. While Andrew Carnegie seemed concerned about his image, his legacy and how he was perceived, Frick was the opposite. He simply just didn’t give a “Frick.”

Henry Clay Frick was a ruthless business man who used any means and any tactics necessary to improve the bottom line of his company and get what he wanted. Carnegie would task Frick with the messier matters and simply turn a blind eye to his tactics in order to increase profits. In fact, in the lead-up to the historical deadly labor strike at the Homestead steel factory, Carnegie had left the country and was hanging out in Scotland  to avoid being a part of the ugliness. He left Frick in charge, and the result was bloodshed.

This labor dispute got me thinking about the correlation to the NHL lockout situation.  In this scenario, the owners represent Andrew Carnegie. They want to stay in the good graces of fans and project a positive image, while at the same time, improve the bottom line. It’s tough to do both, and in this case, profit trumps all. The owners, who may as well be in Scotland during the lockout, have all been silent (by design), and whatever goodwill may have existed between the owners and their loyal fan base is left in pieces. Carnegie spent years after Homestead trying to restore his image, and the NHL owners will face a similar predicament. Previously, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis would be cheered heartily by fans every time they’d put him up on the in-house jumbotron during games. Pretty sure those days are over.

“Are they booing me or saying Leooooooonsis?”

Gary Bettman is of course the Andrew Frick of his day. Using bully tactics to get what he wants and a win-at-any-cost attitude, Bettman, like Frick, emerges as the villain in this NHL lockout story. History may show that he was just doing the bidding of the owners, but for now he remains the despised face of the NHL lockout.  Henry Clay Frick, according to my in-depth research (Wikipedia) was “once known by his critics as ‘the most hated man in America” and named by portfolio.com as “one of the Worst American CEOs of All Time.” Now to make that comparison to Bettman might be a bit of a stretch, but to those that are really feeling the effects of the lockout, it may not be too far off.

And lastly, from what I’ve learned about Frick, much like Gary Bettman, he didn’t like hockey either.

Now let’s hope the NHL lockout can get resolved quickly so I don’t need to compare it to anymore TV shows that I’m now discovering. Up next, how the lockout is similar to Breaking Bad, and yes, Bettman “is the danger.”

The Ideal Client Relationship

October 11, 2012

Today I heard one of the best phrases come out of a client’s mouth since “we have unlimited budget.” During a discussion of a new project, which will prove to be both involved and logistic heavy, the client requested “that our team just handle it and take it off his plate.”

A few things excite me about this: One, this project is a little out of the ordinary, and definitely does not fall under the header of any of our pre-designed services. Second, it’s one of those cool projects that truly is challenging and enjoyable at the same time. And lastly, the trust level between our firm and our client is clearly demonstrated, and we have essentially become an extension of their internal communications team.

New business is great, but the first project with a new client doesn’t thrill me. The second project is a step in the right direction, but, it’s the third project when I begin to be satisfied.  This is the point when we have hopefully proven our value to a client, while at the same time, they seek out our advice while working together to achieve campaign goals.

When I first started this firm, a goal was that we would be a strategic partner to our clients rather than “just a vendor.” The conversation today confirmed that we continue to accomplish this goal.

 

PR When You’re Off the Grid

September 20, 2012

Guest Post by Lyons PR Director Mercedes Marx

I’ve always known that PR wasn’t a 9-5 job:  there are always documents that need to be reviewed last minute, emails that need to be sent before dawn, advisories that need to be adjusted after hours.  In other words, you’re always expected to be connected — it’s part of the job.

In many ways, technology has facilitated the manner in which I do my work.  I don’t always have to be in the office late or come in at the crack of dawn:  I can respond to my client on my smartphone while I’m out to dinner, or, alternatively,  I can moderate radio media tours while my office phone is forwarded to my home line in the wee hours of the morning.   Simply said, I can be connected to the job without having to be in an office.

In my six years at Lyons PR, I’ve always been able to respond to emails and answer phone calls wherever I’ve been:  there was the time I pitched a producer while driving to my sister’s graduation in Canada (I was in the back seat), and that other time I received a phone call from an NPR producer while I was on a mid-week hike in California after a weekend convention there.   He wanted audio from the meeting, and because I had my phone on me, I was able to make a few phone calls and get the bites he desired by the time “All Things Considered” aired that afternoon.

But what do you do when technology fails you?  What if the mobile device doesn’t download your emails – or god forbid – there’s no internet connection?  Does it make you a bad publicist because you have unintentionally gone off the grid?

Well, the unimaginable happened and I was “disconnected” while on a Sunday hike out in southwest Virginia a few weekends ago.  I received an email confirming that a reporter from a top radio station in Washington, DC was going to be attending one of my client’s events that afternoon.  It was a fantastic opportunity for our client to get extensive exposure in a major city – but when I tried to alert the client, the email didn’t go through.   I was off the grid.

But, at risk of having my client blindsided by the reporter’s appearance, I did what any caring PR pro would do– I ran to the parking lot (and back to the 90s) to find the nearest payphone.   And, when the payphone didn’t work (shocker!), I got in my car and drove five circuitous miles to a country store which had a payphone available for use with the purchase of a calling card.  Mercifully, the owner of the store spared me the purchase of the calling card in exchange for the purchase of a water and allowed me to make a “long-distance” call to DC from their landline.  Thanks to the benevolence of this storekeeper, my contact was appropriately prepared by the time the reporter reached the locale.

Was this the first time I had to do something out of the ordinary for a client connection? Probably not – there have been many of happy hours, dinner and weekend plans disrupted or delayed by a client call or email.

Will this be the last time?  Most definitely not.  Although I’m at my desk for the most part during regular office hours, and I’m always a phone call, email, text, tweet, FB message, away deeming me “reachable” at all times.  Regardless of where I am geographically in the world, no matter what time of the day it is, or, really, what day of the week it is, there will always be a way to communicate back to the client.

Most importantly, does the client have any clue how many hoops and hurdles I had to go through to make the connections?  Not a clue.  It’s just part of the job.

A Tale in PR Ethics

September 12, 2012

September has been deemed “Ethics Awareness Month” by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), so it’s the perfect time to examine one aspect of PR ethics — the ethics involved with the business side of PR, especially with first time clients.

Whenever pursuing new business in the public relations industry, there are no guarantees until you have a signed contract. Here in the broadcast media relations realm, there’s a pretty firm verbal agreement and acknowledgement first with new clients, and the contract is often finalized once some work, at least of the intellectual variety, has already commenced. During the time between the verbal agreement and the signed contract, there’s an extensive back of forth that includes brainstorming ideas, timing, logistics, etc.

So here’s what we encountered several months back. A potential client came to us after we were recommended by an existing client. So far, so good. As we always do, we listened to what they needed, determined what their goals were, and strategized how we could help. In this case, a radio media tour was the best tool for the job. Several conversations and email exchanges followed, and at their request, we provided potential news hooks and ideas to make their topic more attractive, provided a draft media alert, identified key targets, and discussed deadlines.

Then, after a few days of this back-and-forth, we got an email. Essentially said thanks for the great ideas, but our point of contact had been directed by a higher-up to work with another firm on this project. At no point in any of our conversations or exchanges was there any mention that other firms were in consideration. It’s not exactly being dumped via text, but it’s not too far from it.

Am I right to be upset? I think so. Yes, a signed contract can always help protect from any confusion, but there’s always a very fine line between actively working on a project, and trying to win the business, especially in the broadcast media relations business. I know there are several outside factors that can influence something like this—personal connections, pressure from a boss, etc. But it usually doesn’t get this far along in a project for that to be exposed.

Did that one project make or break Lyons PR? No. In fact it’s pretty small in the grand scheme of everything. But it’s the principle involved that had me fired up. We spent plenty of man hours planning and brainstorming, and provided creative and useful input to make this radio media tour successful. The way I see it, this would-be client is stealing our ideas and I should probably send them an invoice.

I think I’ve been pretty lucky to have such great clients since Lyons PR began, and that this sort of thing doesn’t happen. Perhaps I’m spoiled.

But I’m not bitter. I hope the radio media tour in question was an overwhelming success. It ought to be, they had some great ideas and direction behind it.

Four Reasons I Unfollow People in PR & Social Media

February 3, 2012

I’m not a social media guru. I don’t have thousands of twitter followers. And I don’t follow thousands. But like any PR professional worth his or her salt, I follow a fair number of my fellow PR flacks and social media types.  Lately I’ve noticed an overwhelming trend among this group that leaves me shaking my head, and flexing my itchy “unfollow button” finger.

There’s only so much time in the day to look through your twitter feed and cut through the clutter. Call me fickle, call me a jerk, but here’s the four fastest ways PR and social media folks get unfollowed by me:

1. Live tweeting common sense: While attending a public relations seminar or conference you repeatedly tweet comments like “Social media expert says that your brand is your identity.” Or, “PR guru says customer service is key!” Holy Smokes! This is life altering stuff here, thank you for sharing. Of course, I jest…my four year old knows these concepts. It’s common sense and I wouldn’t be too excited to share that with people as if you’re just learning it for the first time. If you just paid in the neighborhood of $1,000 to attend the PR conference, and this is what you’re getting out of it, you need to ask for your money back. Because you just lost money, and you just lost a follower. Unfollowed.

2. Exercise:  “Woke up 4 hours early to do a 23 mile run and…” STOP, we don’t care! Good job staying healthy. But we get it, you wake up way earlier than everyone else, exercise much longer than everyone else, and you work much much harder than everyone else. Congratulations, you’re awesome. Awesome at getting unfollowed.

3. Quit complaining: “Company XX customer service sucks!”  While your twitter feed is yours and yours alone, when you work in PR, you must realize by now what you’re putting up there is a reflection of your company. And especially if you work at a PR firm, or are a social media expert for hire, how are you so sure you will never be trying to win sucky company XX’s business.  It seems short sighted to me to complain in such a public forum. Save it for a private Facebook page, or if you need to reach out to a company, do it in a more positive manner. I’m under the impression that you never know who’s looking to hire you three months or three years from now. And you better believe that when they do come knockin’, your twitter feed is going to be researched. Knock Knock. Who’s there? Unfollowed.

4. The Over-Quoter: One inspirational quote every now and again? Acceptable. Making it painfully obvious that somebody gave you a book of famous quotes as a gift, it’s now sitting on your desk and you pull from it every day to tweet in an attempt to make it seem like it’s really meaningful to you at that particular point and time. “Unfollowed.”

Now it’s time to go back and check @lyonspr and see if I’m guilty of any of the above over the past three years. Do i need to unfollow myself? Time to go find out.

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