Here is another entry in a series of stories about my experiences working in public relations, and more specifically, in media relations. The names of clients and products have been changed to protect the innocent, but the facts remain the same.
Some tales may be good; some may be bad; and some may be ugly. But, like Aesop’s Fables, each tale ends with a valuable lesson I learned as a young PR professional. I hope you enjoy these and learn something from my experiences a well!
Picture it: Philadelphia, 2007, a young Senior Account Executive is presented with a sticky situation when a reporter covering a Hispanic disease-awareness event becomes critical of the event sponsor and lack of Hispanic community members in the audience…
Oh crap, why does this have to happen now? thought the young SAE.
She was still relatively new to the agency and was assigned to the Hispanic disease-awareness account because she was bilingual and worked in a Hispanic nonprofit organization as a communications director.
With no prior “agency experience,” this was an altogether new way of working and managing projects for the young professional.
And in all her previous media relations work, including the White House Press Corps, the SAE had never had to “mitigate” situations with the media like this before, especially with media from Northern New Jersey, where no one in the agency had any media contacts.
She approached the reporter, noticing the reporter’s furrowed brow during the event presentation.
“Hi there, Ms. Reporter, thank you again for coming to this event. It’s an important topic to talk about in the Hispanic community,” said the young SAE, remembering her media talking points.
The reporter cocked her head and replied, “I thought this was supposed to be about Hispanic Alzheimer’s disease awareness. But there are only six Hispanic people in the audience.”
“I understand that is a little perplexing,” the SAE replied. “We placed ads in the local Spanish-language papers and also in the area church bulletins where there are large Spanish congregations to encourage attendance. It might simply speak to the fact that there is still a lot of fear and taboo about Alzheimer’s in the Hispanic community”
“So why did (your client) sponsor for this event? Was it just to promote their drug?” the reporter retorted.
Jeez, that’s a little rude, the SAE thought to herself.
Trying not to lose her composure, the SAE explained to the reporter that the event was not a prescription promotion event. In fact, in no place during the educational presentation nor in the health fact handouts did any medication name appear.
Still, the reporter needled at the idea that the event sponsor had ulterior motives.
Okay, this woman has made up her mind about this event, and no amount of reasoning at this point is going to help, the SAE thought.
Time to think of another approach, maybe one from a source the reporter would trust.
“If you’d like, you’re more than welcome to talk to (a local Hispanic physician) who has helped the event sponsor create the educational materials used here,” the SAE offered.
“She is active in educating the Hispanic community about Alzheimer’s and knows this community very well.”
The reporter scribbled in her notebook without looking up and replied, “Let me see if I need another source. I might have enough for my story.”
Great, she’s already written the story, the SAE resigned in her mind. This isn’t going to go over well back at the office…
The next day, back at the office
The SAE decided she needed to review the situation with the account lead and get her feedback about how to follow-up with the reporter.
The account lead reassured the SAE that the physician interview was a good strategy.
“I’m sure the reporter had it all decided in her head how to write the story. The best we can do is offer to help with additional sources. Why don’t you give her a call and follow-up with her to see if she’s still interested,” the account lead suggested.
The SAE trudged back to her cubicle, dreading the phone call to the reporter.
It’s not like she begrudged the reporter for being cynical or for questioning the reasoning behind what was essentially a PR goodwill event.
It was more that the reporter didn’t care about hearing any other angle or source, besides a handful of event attendees and her own editorialization of the situation.
Still, the SAE picked up the phone and dialed the reporter’s number. It rang and went to voicemail, so she left a cheery “just following up” message for her.
A few hours went by and the SAE thought to try the reporter again. Again, no answer; straight to voicemail. She didn’t leave another message this time. I don’t want to come off as a stalker, she thought.
Instead, the SAE went about her work as usual, organizing the next event and getting various client materials ready.
Then, her phone rang and she saw that the area code was from the Northern New Jersey area.
“Hello, this is Krista,” she said.
“Hi Krista, it’s (the local Hispanic physician) calling. I just had the nicest conversation with Ms. Reporter from (a Northern New Jersey daily publication),” the doctor on the other line said.
Nicest conversation? the SAE thought to herself. She talked to the physician about the questions she was asked and how she responded. It all sounded perfectly benign, but she was still certain the reporter would stick it to the client somehow.
A week later…
Media monitoring found the story on the newspaper’s online version, and the young SAE read it with nervous anxiety.
But in the end, it was a perfectly nice article. It framed the lack of Hispanic community member attendance to the cultural sensitivity about the disease.
The physician’s quotes were all great, and she even quoted one of the other event site organizers who was familiar with the elderly Hispanic community.
Whew, that wasn’t so bad and it was good coverage, the young SAE thought to herself.
But then, there was a quote attributed to the young SAE in the article itself.
How nice, I was actually quoted….but I was identified as the client’s spokesperson? Oh crap, why does this have to happen now?!
- Always be prepared for the skeptical media, no matter what your event is (even a Hispanic Alzheimer’s awareness event in Northern New Jersey)
- Build relationships with trusted members of the community who can speak to your issue sincerely
- Accept that you can’t write a story for the reporter; in the end, it’s up to them and their editors; your job as a good PR pro is to be as helpful, honest, and accurate on your part.
Any similar experiences to share? What would you have done differently if you were in that situation?
Yes, that is a reference to the Whitney Houston song. I loved that album when I was little– and by album I mean the cassette I listened to so much that the tape warped.
But I’ve had that song going through my head recently, as I recently completed a supervisory development course and just wrapped up a graduate course in facilitating adult learning.
Both courses brought up the idea of self-awareness and self-management with regard to emotions, mostly in the workplace, but also in the training or adult learning setting.
Not getting emotional from a managerial (or employee) standpoint is not always an easy thing to do.
Very rarely do human beings have an “Off” button they click when they step into the office.
Sometimes, getting emotional at work can be detrimental to a person’s professional career.
In fact, while working at a communications agency previously, it was written into my performance evaluation that I was “too emotional” at times, yet there was no definition of what that phrase meant.
It is a difficult order, being told to manage your emotions, when so much of what makes us human is our emotional ticker.
But by that same notion, businesses and companies cannot fully function if we are guided purely by emotional reactions to situations. At some point, reason needs to prevail.
For women in the workplace, there is more pressure to control our feelings and to hold back the tears if we feel our emotions getting the better of us.
So what do we make of all this emotional stuff?
In learning how to be an effective supervisor, my training colleagues and I went through the exercise of exploring emotional intelligence, a term made famous by Daniel Goleman with his 1995 Harvard Business Journal article.
Put simply, the key to emotional intelligence lies in our ability to manage ourselves (i.e. our emotions) and our relationships with others.
I’m no stranger to emotional intelligence. I remember reading Goleman’s HBR article in graduate school. It all made sense, in theory…
But in practice, many communications professionals can find value in understanding emotional intelligence.
Our emotions will have an effect on how we communicate to others, so it stands to reason that many communications and PR professionals should have a good grasp of the concept of emotional intelligence.
The way my supervisory development course framed it, the four-part model can be thought of as a step-by-step process of gaining the emotional intelligence skills necessary to result in productive interpersonal communications and supervisor-employee relationships.
- Self Awareness – the first step is within the individual; recognize your own emotions, what sets you off, and how your emotions affect others.
- Self Management – a little harder than the first step is actively managing our emotional reactions so that they facilitate rather than interfere with the task at hand.
- Social Awareness – includes the ability to identify and understand another’s wishes, emotional needs and reactions, read situations, and demonstrate empathy.
- Relationship Management – is like the icing on the cake, if you get through the other stages, because it involves the ability to manage relationships, social interactions and service transactions. For those in supervisory roles, this includes interpersonal and cross-cultural communication, change management, influence, conflict management, team building, motivate and managing diversity.
This is not to say if you are emotionally intelligent that you will automatically have a productive team or clear communications. But it couldn’t hurt.
For those in the communications/PR field, emotional intelligence can help in how we work with our colleagues and clients. Imagine conducting an exercise on Self Awareness with a company CEO or a Relationship Management workshop with an account team.
Emotional intelligence is not the end-all, be-all of business communications. It’s more a method of organizing human emotions and utilizing them to their potential.
So maybe the key to emotional intelligence is not just controlling our emotions, but also understanding the right time and place to put our emotions to work for us.
That’s just my understanding of the emotional intelligence model. I would welcome anyone to share their experiences or interpretations.
What do you think? Is emotional intelligence a bunch of baloney or is there real value to the communications field?
It’s Friday, yay! Hope the start of your May is going well. I’m glad to be back in the blogging saddle after a little bit of a hiatus. And speaking of saddles, I’ll also be watching the Kentucky Derby tomorrow afternoon and sipping on a refreshing Mint Julep. What a way to kick off the homestretch month before the start of summer. So, if you’re also enjoying a refreshing cocktail (or two) this weekend, here are a few posts of interest to read as well–enjoy!
Ditch the Corporate Speak from PR Writing by @ArikHanson:
I recently laughed out loud (yes, I mean LOL’d) at a press release sent by a former employer. It said so much and so little in two pages that it was clearly a case of corporate speak running over common sense.
Arik Hanson presents an interesting challenge to PR pro’s to take a stand against the over-use of corporate buzzwords in press releases.
I am guilty of committing many of those terms, as many of us are, as they’ve engrained themselves into the corporate dialect that many leaders just assume the common consumer/stakeholder uses them too. It’s more of a learning curve that PR folks need to catch their corporate clients up to speed on how to clearly communicate messages without muddying the waters with too much jargon.
Ten Most Censored Countries by @pressfreedom:
May 3 was World Press Freedom Day but not all the world’s press is “free”
This report from the Committee to Protect Journalists reminds us of the reality that many members of the international press face with limited rights as journalists or photographers. It is especially concerning since many of the countries listed are areas of civil unrest and who knows how much of the story is getting out to the world, such as in Syria
Lessons Advertising Can Learn from PR by Timothy Kane via @AdAge:
I did not expect to read this article in Ad Age of all places—from my experience, PR and advertising (or marketing) always battled over budget and were expected to “play nice in the sandbox” together. (Oh, how I hated that phrase, but that’s another topic.)
What this article does so well is help articulate an advantage of public relations- that of connecting and communicating with a community, which is directly relevant to the way social media works. Social media is more than just one-way communication of the brand to the consumer; consumers today want a personal connection or the ability to articulate what makes them prefer a product.
So, if this trend continues, and social communications makes a few in-roads for PR to have a seat at the strategic table, I think it speaks to a need for an integrated communications team composed of people from all communications aspects. I think we’re going to need a bigger sandbox!
Breaking Free of Patterns and Routines by @chrisbrogan:
Here’s a post that made me really think. Personally, I am a creature of habit, both at work and at home. I have my routines that comfort me because I know things get done when they work. But after reading Chris Brogan’s reflective post this week, it made me realize that I might also become trapped by those patterns.
It’s not easy to just say, “oh well, I guess I’ll change my pattern” because we’re human and some of those patterns are necessary (like law enforcement or utilities). However, that doesn’t mean we can’t think of creative ways to break up our usual patterns to see how it might positively affect our outcomes.
That’s a lot to think about and I appreciate Mr. Brogan for positing that consideration…I’ll see if I can get to pondering it outside of my pattern ;)
As always, feel free to share any links or posts you found this week as well. Have a great weekend!
Do you remember how you became familiar with the whole concept of “homework”?
I remember there was a time, maybe when I was in grade school, that I looked forward to having homework. I believed it was a hallmark of being a “grown-up” student if I had the privilege of taking my workbooks home with me after school.
Fast forward to high school and the concept of homework took on a completely different meaning to me.
I’m sure it did for many of us when we went from doing multiplication charts and spelling tests to trigonometry and English literature.
Homework was officially a chore—it was something that stood between us and our freedom of being young and carefree with our friends after school.
But I learned that homework is not something that ends with the school bell or even after you get your college degree.
Homework can come about as a result of simply doing our jobs as communicators.
For instance, I was tasked with helping my supervisor draft a proposal about integrated marketing communications in the higher education setting.
I had no prior knowledge about how marketing communications works in a higher education institutions, let alone how it would look as an integrated model. What did I do?
Luckily, I have access to my university’s library. I rolled up my sleeves and thought like a student again—what has been written or studied on this topic before? What do other universities do to integrate their communications? Has anyone presented best practices at any of the major higher education conferences?
With a little help from the library journal library and Google (because let’s be honest, we all Google things to kick-start our research), we were able to draft a well-informed proposal for our department leadership’s review.
That research, or homework, helped inform a better proposal because it was based on current data and facts that supported our claims.
As communications professionals, we do this sort of homework all the time without thinking about it.
We research best practices or prior institutional accomplishments to establish our benchmarks for our strategies. We can’t simply pull random numbers out of the sky (although that’s been known to happen…admit it!)
Homework can also come about as a result of voluntary action on our parts.
The past few weeks, I’ve been preoccupied with homework from a graduate course I enrolled in this semester. And I’ve also had homework for a supervisory development course I’m taking as part of an HR professional development program.
My homework in this sense was actively sought on my part because, personally, I simply craved a scholarly outlet to stretch my thinking and to learn something new.
It’s no secret that as we age, our minds and the way we remember things change, but that doesn’t mean we cannot learn new things.
Homework can help reinforce learning and cause us to stretch our mental muscles to develop new ways of thinking about problems or issues as they relate to our professional and personal lives.
I’m learning more about this concept as I have started taking classes toward another graduate degree in adult and organizational development. And it’s been interesting because I am learning how adults learn as a learning adult myself!
Homework might not be the same tedious process it was when it was fraction tables and vocabulary lists.
It can actually be an important component of our daily professional lives and also help enrich our personal lives, whether we recognize it or not.
What kind of homework do you do in your job? Have you taken on any non-work related classes or projects that have required homework as well?
A few months ago, I listed my favorite fictional journalism characters. I had meant to write this follow-up post about my real-life favorite journalists sooner, but I got a little side-tracked.
As many of you already know, I originally studied print journalism in the hopes of becoming a crusading, do-gooder newspaper reporter.
That didn’t quite pan out as I had expected.
Regardless of my actual career path, I sometimes remember those days of studying journalism and immersing myself in a world of mass media.
I always kept a mental list of those I consider my favorite journalists or my journalism heroes. Here are a few I’d like to share:
A reporter, an author, and perhaps one of the best storytellers I’ve had the opportunity to hear in person, Mr. Halberstam stood for the kind of reporter I had aspired to be like one day.
He reported from some of the most tumultuous environments of the 1960’s, from Vietnam to the segregated South. But he never lost his commitment to telling compelling stories that illustrated the larger picture. In doing so, Mr. Halberstam was preserving moments in our history that now stand the test of time and remind us of how far we have come.
As someone who has worked for everything in her life and has never had anything “handed” to her, I can appreciate Mr. Cooper’s dedication to broadcast journalism and to foreign reporting despite the fact he comes from a highly prestigious pedigree.
I also feel like I saw his career progress over the years—from Channel One in high school, to a foreign correspondent for ABC News, to not recognizing him as the silver-haired news anchor on CNN, to the personable daytime talk show host he his today. Mr. Cooper also demonstrated a dedication to those about whom he was reporting and raised the bar with watchdog journalism when he keeps those in power in check.
Yes, that cantankerous commentator deserves a place on my list. The reason being is that he inspired me to get fired up about what mattered to me and to express my thoughts and opinions. Often, after watching Mr. Rooney’s final thoughts on “60 Minutes,” I would write my rebuttal to him at my Brother brand word processor. (I realize how nerdy that must sound, but I must confess my geeky journalism past…)
I never sent any of my responses to Mr. Rooney, nor did I ever let anyone read them for fear of embarrassment. But it was always a cathartic experience to explain my feelings to him, and I realize it taught me to feel passionate about what really matters to me.
Anyone else have a favorite journalist to share? What about your particular communications field (PR, marketing, advertising, etc.)—any communications heroes you’d like to recognize?
Inspired by recent blog posts about important women in a bloggers’ lives, and because I had a nice exchange with other bloggers last week about my mom, I decided to take part in blogging in recognition of International Women’s Day.
I’m glad that Oxfam America is raising awareness of women’s roles in our global community.
It’s striking when you read some of the statistics about the realities of women’s lives in the world:
- Sixty-six percent of the world’s work falls on women’s shoulders, yet they earn only 10% of the world’s income;
- If women were given the same level of access to resources that men have, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30%;
- Hunger and poverty are about power and inequality, and women and girls face the biggest inequalities of all.
Kind of makes you stop and think, doesn’t it? What would the world be like if there was more equity to these statistics?
I know that many of the women in my life have gone through a lot to get to where they are, and they deserve to be recognized as women working to make a difference, no matter how big or how small their actions may seem.
So, in honor of International Women’s Day, and in celebration of some (because there are many) strong women in my life, here are the women I would like to recognize:
My mom: Although she is becoming a regular fixture on my blog, my mom did everything in her power to make sure I had a happy childhood. She also instilled many important values in me, such as independence and confidence. I came to understand why a happy childhood for me and my siblings was so important to her, and I have definitely reaped those benefits well into my adulthood.
My sister: I grew up idolizing by my older sister, who used to talk for me when we were little. She has always been supportive of me and she has never lost her strength or sense of humor, no matter what life has thrown at her. And I know she’ll always be happy because sometimes when people meet us, they ask her if she is the “younger one.” (yes, Sara– I wrote that because I know you’re reading this and you remember that story!)
Anne Larson: One of my mom’s dearest friends, Mrs. Larson (as I knew her) was one of the kindest, most gracious women I’ve ever known. She never had children of her own, but she knew dozens of children in our neighborhood who kept in touch with her through the years. She even gave me one of my most precious gifts when I graduated from high school—a unicorn music box I played every time I visited her home as a child–and every now and then still.
Ginny DiGiacomo: My mom was named after Ginny, who was her mother’s cousin who grew up with her in New York. My mom’s mother died when she was very young, and for my mom, getting to know Ginny in adulthood was like getting that connection back. I loved that Ginny was always a sharp and outspoken woman who taught me to cherish of the family you have in your life and to remember and honor those who are not.
Although Mrs. Larson and Ginny DiGiacomo are no longer with me, I would still like to recognize them with my mom and my sister as women who have made a difference in my life.
You can also recognize the important women in your life or community on International Women’s Day by doing any of the following:
1. Send an International Women’s Day eCard to a woman you know, to say thank you for all that she does. Better yet, send it to several women who’ve made the world a better place.
2. Give the Oxfam America International Women’s Day 2012 award to a woman you think has made a difference to the world. She could be a teacher, your mom, a non-profit leader, a woman entrepreneur, the neighbor who always checks up on you when you’re ill…the possibilities are endless.
To give your award, just fill out the PDF file with the awardee’s name, and your name and date. You can then save it as a PDF or JPG (JPG if you want your readers to see the actual award) file. Then just publish a post to your blog, or to Facebook (make sure to tag her so she sees it), or wherever you’d like. You can even print it out and give it to her as a tangible reminder of your gratefulness.
So, to all the strong ladies out there (and the countless women bloggers who inspire me) I’d like to raise a glass and toast your accomplishments. Here’s to making our world a better place.
Happy International Women’s Day!