Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Those Creative Juices

Have you ever wondered where they come from? I typically use Friday as fun video day, but since tomorrow is "relentless thank you day," and we've spent some time on creativity this week, I thought I'd showcase a video I originally found at Servant of Chaos and posted at Mullen's team blog relentlessPR. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why They're The Right Questions

In yesterday's post, I suggested 10 starter questions we should ask ourselves when attempting to enhance creativity as a means to improve client service. Why are these at least some of the right questions? Because...

(1) If creativity is not a core value for your agency, then just put a fork in it. You don't stand a chance competing against firms where it is a core value.

(2) If you're not recruiting people who are either creative by nature or passionate about the creative process, then your job just got 10 times harder.

(3) Being creative is no different from running, listening, etc. We can all do it to some level of proficiency (some having more natural talent than others), but we can always learn skills that can make us better both as individuals and as teams.

(4) You will not realize the creative potential of your team if you don't give them the tools and the training. For those of you concerned about turnover and the expense of such an investment, your choice is easy: Train your people and risk they'll leave, or don't train them and have them stay! (I heard this many years ago and never forgot it.)

(5) You can't say you value creativity and then not place any value on it. It's that simple. If you're going to talk the talk, then walk the walk. See to it that creativity weighs heavily in evaluating overall job performance and compensation.

(6) It's clearly not just about compensation. Everyone also loves recognition. But don't just rely upon independent awards shows. Start your own recognition program or if you already have one, raise its level of prestige within the agency.

(7) If you want to move from creativity being simply "what you do", to being "who you are", then a measure of creativity should touch every aspect of your agency life - not just your client work. How fun!

(8) Putting the same level of creative energy towards existing client work versus new business is a huge challenge, involving relationship dynamics that stretch far beyond the agency/client world. We just have to keep working at it.

(9) Don't blame the client for lackluster creative - it's embarrassing. Regarding budget, I'd argue that small budgets should not be viewed as obstacles, but creative weapons. When we were little kids and wanted to give our mom or dad a birthday card, we lacked the money (or at least I did) to buy a card at the local store. Forced to seek other means, we found crayons, paper, old magazines, glue, etc. and we concocted something more special and more personal than Hallmark could ever create.

(10) We have to bring new, creative ideas to our clients - all the time! (If you balk at this because you believe your client thinks you're just trying to sell them something, then you don't have a creative problem, you have a relationship problem.) But we have to be willing to hear 'no" and hear it often. We cannot be worn down. Because the day you stop bringing new ideas to your client, will be the day someone else will. If you find a client's resistance to be so problematic, then you should consider addressing the issue with the client directly. Work with clients who let you do the work you want to do! It will serve as a morale boost to your team and demonstrate that you mean what you're saying.

Hmmm......... Creativity may be an agency core value after all.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Creative Self-Assessment

While clients may believe (generally speaking) we should all raise our creativity game, they may or may not be talking about your firm. If they are, you have some work to do. If they're not, now may be the time to widen the gap between you and your "less creative" competitors. To know for sure, you should consider a self-assessment of your creative abilities. Here are 10 suggested questions to get you started:

(1) Do we believe creativity is a core value in our agency culture?

(2) Is passion and a track record for creativity something we seek in all our prospective employees?

(3) Do we believe that people can improve their creativity skills with the proper training?

(4) Do we have professional development offerings to nurture our talent and our creative development processes?

(5) Is creativity an important component of our performance/compensation reviews?

(6) Do we have internal recognition programs focused on creativity?

(7) Is our work as "creative" as it can be? (Don't just look at your award winning stuff, look at everything.)

(8) Do we demonstrate as much creativity with our current clients as we do to win new business?

(9) Can we honestly say we never blame our clients or their budgets for lackluster creativity?

(10) Do we bring unsolicited new ideas to our clients and continue to do so even if they repeatedly reject the initiatives?

Now, I'm not going to state that if you answered yes to at least 8 out of 10 questions, then you must be a brilliantly creative firm. I will say that you may not be one of the firms clients are complaining about, and it's likely you're well positioned to take it to the next level. Give it a try and add your own questions to the list.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The New Economics of Service

In the July-August 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review, Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work not only provides great advice for any professional services firm, but also offers a window into client service priorities and expectations for the future.

The "new economics of service" is a line from the article, originally published in 1994. Its substance is as relevant today as ever. Maybe more so. Probably why it was selected among the Best of HBR! It's time to read this article again for the first time!

Also, in the piece The Uncompromising Leader, Campbell Soup CEO, Doug Conant delivers this truism, "You can't talk your way out of something you behaved your way into. You have to behave your way out of it."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Client Service at Yorkshire Airlines

Let me know which of these airline services you'd like your carrier to offer!

My Friend Paul Tipton

With all the communication and social media tools available to us, we have instant access to breaking news in an unprecedented manner. When Tim Russert died, I read the news on twitter before it was posted at nytimes.com. I make this point because by June 13th, the day of Russert's death, a man who served as one of my mentors and who I was proud to call my friend had died about three weeks earlier, and I hadn't heard a word about it until yesterday.

His name was Paul Tipton - Fr. Paul Tipton. It had been five months or so since I last spoke with him, so yesterday afternoon I finally picked up the phone. I called his cell, then his home phone - both had been disconnected. I of course knew he had been battling cancer, and while I didn't want to admit it to myself in the moment, I literally felt his loss at the other end of the line. I googled his name and found his obituary in the Washington Post. I invite you to read about his extraordinary life.

I then called a longtime friend of Fr. Tipton, and still a dear friend of mine, who felt terribly that he had not called me. I assured him that this was not his responsibility, and with my move to Boston, neither he nor many others had my current cell number. I simply slipped through the cracks of the communication grid.

Fr. Tipton officiated my wedding, and he was a client for four years during the time he served as President of Jacksonville University. He had a larger than life personality with a heart and an intellect to match. He loved sailing and his dog - a black lab named Beau, who died just a short time ago.

Not everyone understood Fr. Tipton. He could be tough on people at times and was not universally loved by any means. (He'd be the first to agree with that statement with a bit of proud laughter). But for the lucky ones, like myself, who were fortunate to be invited into his confidence and experience his vision, faith, and infectious laugh, we're all richer for having known him.

I have a number of humorous Paul Tipton stories that I'd share if I had a great deal more space, but he taught me something about leadership and how to follow a leader that I'll never forget. While the Washington Post story mentions that Tipton served as president of Jacksonville University, it doesn't describe how he willed its positive transformation during his tenure. He did it by expressing one simple idea: students are at the top of the organization chart and the administration is at the bottom. Students first. Period. It marked a sea change for the university and not everyone was happy with being upended.

Now that said, the employees could be divided into two categories: 1) Those who were guided by the "student first" mission, and 2) those who would present ideas based on what they believed Tipton really wanted to hear. Those who were guided by the mission succeeded, those who were not, failed. It's that simple. Even if you had a bad idea, if it was student centric, it was OK. You may be sent back to try again, but at least he didn't believe you didn't get it.

Not "getting it" had biblical ramifications - lots of thunder, lightening, floods, etc. The survival rate for those people was not good. It's one of the most valuable leadership lessons I've ever learned. In graduate school, I wrote a paper about Paul Tipton and his leadership at JU which I later shared with him. He was very proud of his portrayal, and yet quipped, "is that really me?"

Let me just say that for all the communication tools out there, we have no excuses for not staying in touch. My lack of diligence about sharing my contact info more broadly cost me an opportunity to pay my respects at Fr. Tipton's memorial service. I figured I'd share my thoughts here because while Paul Tipton may not be walking the earth, knowing him, he's figured out how to get internet access. I hope he's reading this right now with Beau at his side.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Client Service Insights Subscription Drive

Back in April, Chris Brogan ran a subscription drive for his blog. I thought, "What a great idea!" However, at the time, I had just started CSI/Season 2 and thought it might be prudent to actually develop some content first.

So now that CSI/Season 2 is up to more than 100 posts over the past four months, I thought I'd humbly ask those of you who enjoy the content, and who have not yet subscribed, to subscribe today and be sure to pass the word along to your friends. I'm extremely grateful for your readership and your insights. The more robust the conversation, the better the blog. I look forward to your helping CSI/Season 2 get better.

You may elect to receive it by e-mail or use your favorite RSS reader. Thank you Chris for the idea! By the way, the end of the month is only a week away, so join the conversation to receive your June thank you links!

As always, thanks for your support.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Be Yourself" May Not Be For Everyone

Editor and author Thomas Masson once said, "Be yourself is the worst advice to give to some people."

He has a point. But the anonymous quote makes sense too. So now what?

Well, Masson did say just "some" people.

While I remain a strong advocate of being true to yourself when it comes to pitching business and serving clients, Masson notes clearly that being yourself may not be the best course of action for everyone. The question is: Are you one of those "some," or are you one of the rest of us? ; - )

Monday, July 21, 2008

How To Be Yourself

Here's a follow-up to David Whyte's challenge to "find the simple character of our own voice," I thought it was worth exploring for at least one more day. One of my favorite poets of all time is e.e. cummings. Here's what he had to say on the subject:

"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."

Conducting a quick search of the term, "Be Yourself," there's a wealth of information that not only provides helpful personal guidance, but also offers solid tips for finding your own voice as an agency. One article is actually titled, "How To Be Yourself."

I'd love to hear what you believe is relevant to both agencies and individuals. I tend to agree with Judy Garland:

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Who Chooses Our Clients?

We do. Or at least we should. While this may belie what we have come to know all too well as the process of clients choosing us among a cadre of agencies, we are the ones who choose. And if you're not choosing; if you believe you're just playing defense, then it's a recipe for an unhealthy agency and lots of client turnover.

The motivation for today's post, and likely more posts throughout the week, is poet and author David Whyte's quote which I found last week. To restate it:

"Other people's words may raise from our throats at the drop of a hat...excellence...total quality management...number one...but we struggle to remember the simple character of our own voice. It takes only a modicum of psychological savvy to admit that a corporate culture that constantly repeats the word excellence to itself must still have endless reservoirs of mediocrity on which to draw, and is deathly afraid of facing up to this fact. We open our mouths and too often utter the same phrases and opinions that might be said by a thousand other toilers in a thousand other companies."

It made me think about why we can't find the "simple character of our own voice" and if we do find it, why we're afraid to share it unabashedly with clients and prospects. Why are we afraid to be ourselves? Especially when you consider the consequences. When we're not ourselves, think about what happens. We either lose a pitch because we were obviously trying to be something we're not. Or...we lose a client because the charade is simply unsustainable over time. What's more, the prospects are relegated to choose among those swimming in a sea of sameness. No wonder client/agency turnover is what it is.

My rather simple, arguably pedestrian, theory here is that if we were to truly find our voice and be ourselves, we would attract clients that are a better fit with our firms, and, because of it, the relationships would be more productive, more enjoyable, and last longer.

Let's explore it further and let me know what you think.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Client Service Departure

Over the next 14 weeks of my marathon training program, I may relay some important lessons I've learned from running that have helped me professionally (just because I can't help myself), but today, I'd like to write about something much more important.

Running is not just about getting in better shape, losing weight, or realizing personal goals. It can also be about finding a new buddy.

One Sunday morning, I embarked on a 10 mile run. Inside of the first half-mile, I felt this little beagle nipping at my heels, and despite my discouraging tactics, he just kept on running with me. I didn’t recognize the little guy as one of the neighborhood dogs, but I was reluctant to have him follow me too far for fear that he’d get lost. Sometimes, I’ll carry my cell phone with me on runs 10 miles or longer, so I called my wife to ask if she’d come outside and grab the beagle for me. I circled back, and he followed me to the house. His ears were completely horizontal as if he were half-running and half-flying, only to be scooped up and introduced to our two Rottweilers.

Upon my return, our dogs, Bear (130 lbs.) and Greta (85 lbs.) each met the beagle – one at a time at first. Eventually, all three of them were playing in the house, with the beagle making aggressive moves toward Bear from time to time. We considered that if we couldn’t find a home for him, we would keep him and name him “Lunch”. This little beagle was fearless. Fortunately, despite the Rottweilers’ much maligned reputation, Bear is a sweet dog and quickly adopted him as his little brother.

For the first week, we did everything possible to find the owners; but admittedly, the longer he stayed, the less we tried. “Barney” was part of the family now.

Six years later, while Barney may have hung up his running shoes, he’s maintained his boyish figure. And, from time to time, when he’s just lying around sleeping (which is usually for 22 out of 24 hours a day) you’ll see him dreaming of his running days.

If I had stayed in bed on that fateful Sunday, as I’m sure I wanted to, just imagine what we would have missed!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Client Service and the Cab Driver

This week, we looked at client service successes at Dell, Bose, and United Airlines. Shep Hyken tells us the story of his cab driver in Texas.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Client Service Success at United Airlines

The airlines have been taking it on the chin for as long as we can all remember. While some of the criticism may be justified, a great deal of it is just piling on. I wonder how you or I would hold up under the daily stresses of working on the front lines in the airline business. It can't be easy.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were running well behind schedule trying to catch our United Airlines flight from Boston to Denver. Totally our fault. We arrived at the ticket counter hopelessly late when, despite being extremely busy, the ticket agent overheard us talking to another UA representative, and called out, "Are you two on the Denver flight?" We of course replied, "Yes."

At that moment she came from behind the ticket counter and said, "Follow me." She physically walked us all the way to the front of the line at security - not a short walk at Logan's C Terminal. As we breezed through security, she offered instructions as to what to tell the agent at the gate so we could board (nothing unethical mind you). She waved goodbye and wished us luck. We made the flight by a whisker.

Unfortunately, it all happened so quickly that I didn't catch the agent's name who helped us. I wish I had, but in the absence of that, I believe she represents the majority of the people who assist us with our air travel each and every day. She, and others like her, work under tough circumstances to say the least. It should give us pause not to be tough customers. As hard as it is when we want to get where we want to go, we should remember that the airline employees are there to help us if we will only let them.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Client Service Success at Bose

In the second installment of Client Service Success at... week, I'd like to talk about Bose. Bose provided me with a shining example of how a small, inexpensive gesture can offer big returns in customer loyalty.

My wife and I each own a set of the QuietComfort Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones; we don't travel anywhere without them. Whether listening to our ipods, watching an inflight movie, or trying to avoid unwanted conversation, they can't be beat. During our vacation, I discovered that one of the removable cords that runs from the headset to the ipod (for example) was missing. We couldn't find it anywhere.

Since I had to travel through the airport in Denver, I remembered that Bose had a station there, where they offer for trial, and presumably sell the headphones. I figured they might carry extra cords that I could buy. When I asked about the cords, the Bose representative quickly located one and gave it to me. I asked, "How much for the cord?" "Nothing, you can have it," she replied.

She might as well have given me a new set of headphones. I had every expectation of paying for the new cord, yet the Bose people knew that the only thing keeping me from enjoying my headphones was this silly cord. I came to realize they would not even think to charge me for it. That's not who they are.

In a world where we often get nickel and dimed for every little item, Bose takes the longer view. I look forward to buying my next Bose product someday soon. And when I do, I'll not only feel great about what I'm buying, but more importantly, who I'm buying it from.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Client Service Success at Dell

We can learn a great deal from industries outside the public relations profession about the mindset, dedication, and execution involved in the relentless pursuit of improving the customer experience. I thought I'd begin the next 100 posts with some personal experiences I've had over the last month that serve as shining examples of client service excellence.

Let me start with Dell. My daughter Taylor starts college in the fall. Her older sister Kristin wanted a Mac when she started school last year, but Taylor wanted a Dell. Interestingly enough, she asked specifically for the Dell brand, in the way that people have come to ask for Kleenex rather than tissue.

Thank goodness she did. Prior to her request, I had researched a number of manufacturers and despite my being pretty experienced in the world of online commerce, I was often frustrated navigating most of the sites. They were visually and logically bereft of any understanding that a consumer may not be an expert on their particular product line. The sites were built to suit the internal needs of the respective company, not for the customers they need to serve. The shopping experiences were cumbersome and tedious.

Conversely, I found the Dell experience to be visually appealing and extremely intuitive. I could customize every aspect of Taylor's computer from the exterior color to the processing speed. Easy. (Don't worry I asked what color she wanted and gained a solid understanding of her needs before I ordered.)

What makes this story interesting for me is that after placing my order, I called a woman from Corporate Communications at Dell whom I met at a Ragan Communications conference earlier this year to advise her of my outstanding experience. Interestingly enough, she said the company had just completed a redesign of the site. Lucky for me, I reaped the benefits. She was thrilled that I was so pleased with my experience. You could hear the pride and ownership in her voice. I have a feeling it permeates the entire organization.

That said, you can have the right mindset, but achieving client service excellence is hard work. Dell did the work and everyone wins as a result. DIRECT2DELL's post describing the web site redesign will give you a glimpse of the process and the work it took to provide a customer experience I'll tell my friends about - starting right here.

Dell didn't simply satisfy a customer; it built a relationship and won a client. Nicely done.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Client Service Insights...(CSI/Season 2) Just Getting Started

When I stepped back in to the blogosphere after I concluded Season 1, I promised myself that if I were going to get started again, I'd be in it to stay and have even more fun than I did the last time. The former will serve as an ongoing commitment, and I am enjoying my blog more than ever. I hope you are as well.

While my posting pace may pale in comparison to some of the uber-bloggers out there, I'm pleased to have reached 100 posts in just inside of four months - March 21, 2008 to date. I tell people all the time that a blog is a bit like a plant, you have to water it regularly for it to remain healthy and grow. What's more, you have to use good water. I try to provide quality content with each and every post. It's the least I can do when I consider the quality of the blogs I most enjoy reading. I do my best to return the favor, and I take that commitment very seriously.

During Season 1, I celebrated 100 posts as a milestone. Today, I know enough to simply note it as a foundation for offering new, fresh content for the future. That said, if you like what you see here at CSI/Season 2, I humbly ask you to spread the word. Invite your friends, link to your favorite posts, engage in the conversation with your comments, subscribe to the RSS feed, and most importantly, tell me what you'd like to talk about in this forum.

I look forward to inviting more special guests, celebrating International Talk Like A Pirate Day (a valuable client service skill BTW), and bringing back CSI's Halloween contest, where you recount your scariest client service story for a chance to win your favorite scary movie DVD to watch on Halloween! Will Lauren Vargas win again? Or will your scary story prevail?

Thank you all for everything. Your generosity is what makes this fun!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Client Service And David Whyte

In 1994, David Whyte published a book titled The Heart Aroused, Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. I happened to pull it off my bookshelf for the first time in years, and I found a passage that serves as a nice follow up to yesterday's post Client Service And Conversation. Let me just say it's far more poetic and poignant than anything I could write:

"Other people's words may raise from our throats at the drop of a hat...excellence...total quality management...number one...but we struggle to remember the simple character of our own voice. It takes only a modicum of psychological savvy to admit that a corporate culture that constantly repeats the word excellence to itself must still have endless reservoirs of mediocrity on which to draw, and is deathly afraid of facing up to this fact. We open our mouths and too often utter the same phrases and opinions that might be said by a thousand other toilers in a thousand other companies."

Sound familiar? Next time you're wondering why clients/prospects say that all the agency presentations sound the same, think about this quote and find the "simple character of your own voice."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Client Service And Conversation

While conversation is a common word to describe blogging, it's every bit as important when it comes to presenting your capabilities to a prospective client. What's more, it's a prospect predictor to who you are and the kind of client service you'll provide.

Having been on the client side, let me just say there's nothing more insufferable for a prospect than sitting through a 40+ slide PowerPoint presentation about agency capabilities. I especially liked being talked AT for 40 minutes and told to hold all questions until the end, so as not to disrupt the flow of the presentation. As if there actually were a flow.

Here are ten tips for your next agency capabilities presentation:

1. It's the prospect's meeting, not yours. You're there only to impart information that's relevant to them, not to expound upon what fascinates you about your own firm.

2. Engage in an actual conversation. Toss the PowerPoint. (Or if you can't help yourself, at least minimize it). Get to know one another. Everyone thinks capabilities are about qualifications. Maybe it's actually about capabilities. Are you capable of being fun, likable, smart, funny, human, etc.? Would I want to spend two hours with you in a car? Or would I likely jump out of the moving vehicle?

3. See to it that everyone in the room is well prepared about the prospect as well as its competitors, industry trends, etc.

4. Illustrate, don't explain. Tell interesting (short) anecdotes to make your point.

5. Show rather than tell. If you want someone to think you're creative, actually BE creative in every aspect of what you do rather simply list it in Times Roman as some kind of core agency strength.

6. Structure your presentation/conversation not in terms of what you want to TELL them, but in terms of the take-aways. Think of it in the bigger picture as it relates to the two or three conclusions you want the prospect to reach about you.

7. Ask great questions. In my mind, he/she who asks the best questions will make it to the next round every time.

8. Use the time to carefully evaluate the prospect in terms of whether it's a good fit for you.

9. Be yourselves, otherwise you'll never really know.

10. If you think it will be a good fit, then go after this prospect with a smart follow-up strategy - something specific to your meeting and designed to advance the relationship.

Let me know how it goes!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Coming To A Theater Near You!

Check your local listings and have a great weekend!

Listen With Your Eyes And Your Heart

In the book, The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner, the authors convey a story told to them by comedian and actor Michael Pritchard about a young girl in the third grade. Here's the story:

"He (Michael) was making a presentation at a local elementary school (at the time he was a probation officer), and he got to talking with a third grader. When he asked her what she'd been learning, she responded that she'd been learning sign language. Michael was, as we were, intrigued. Sign language? Kids don't typically learn sign language in the third grade. So he asked how she got started on that educational adventure.

"The young girl explained that her best friend since first grade couldn't speak and couldn't hear. So she asked her mom if she could learn sign language to communicate with her friend. Her mom agreed. Now, the young girl said, 'I listen with my eyes and my heart, not just my ears and my brain.' All leaders can learn from this third grader. Listening with the eyes and the heart, not just the ears and the brain, requires a deeper level of paying attention and understanding. It requires that we hear the heart and see the soul.

"...The third grader in Michael's story learned the language of another to strengthen their relationship."

It's a either a profound concept for a third grader or a simple concept that is oddly profound for us. When was the last time you listened to your client or colleague with your eyes and your heart? I'm going to try it! I hope you will as well.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Client Service Group at PROpenMic Up to 40 Members!

Kelli Matthews was kind enough to introduce me to PROpenMic, and I've truly enjoyed participating ever since. Among the many opportunities to get involved, I started the Client Service Insights group in an effort to offer a forum for practitioners, students, and faculty to engage in a conversation about client service - a conversation that transcends the limits of this blog and offers the opportunity for others to lead the discussion. The group now numbers 40 and is growing strong.

That said, PROpenMic is a robust, global community. If you haven't visited, please do. Join the community, join a group, and join us at CSI!

Client Service and The Job Interview

As agencies, if we're only as strong as our people, then why wouldn't we want to interview as many of them as possible? Don't we owe it to ourselves and our clients to do whatever we can to find the best available talent? No question about it!

Lately, I've receive a number of inquiries from job seekers asking for advice. Some of them need it, most of them don't, but I'm always happy to engage. Looking for a job is tough. Finding great people is just as tough. The resume is an inadequate vehicle to either present or judge talent. And web sites and Linkedin profiles don't do much to help either side determine if the fit is right. You have to meet face-to-face.

Over 10 years ago, much to the chagrin of agency principals and HR professionals alike, I wrote an article that Paul Holmes published describing my interviewing policy at the agency I owned at the time. Since I believe in that policy today as much as ever, I thought I'd pull it from the archives:

WHY WE INTERVIEW ANYONE WHO ASKS
INSIDE PR - September 15, 1997

Last week, we talked with several public relations firm principals to find out how cutting-edge firms are dealing with the challenge of attracting and retaining the best people. This week, one agency founder suggests a radical approach.

By Leo Bottary
In the fall of 1990, as the real estate market in New England plundered, I found myself without a job. I was laid off my position as director of public relations for a major real estate development corporation, and along with many in those days, found myself looking for work.

At the time, I was relatively self-assured about my background and experience. I had a good resume, strong portfolio, and several byline articles that I had written for various PR and industry trade books. I believed if I could just meet the employers face-to-face, then I could make a strong case for being hired.

I responded to ads, followed-up with phone calls, talked to recruiters, and exhausted my contacts. The competitive environment for communications positions was brutal. My greatest frustration was that I found securing actual face-to-face interviews next to impossible. It was six months before I actually found a job. Enough time to understand the feeling that comes from watching the business world function perfectly well without my personal involvement. I think I had three interviews during my entire search.

I promised myself that if the tables were ever turned, I would do whatever I could to give job applicants the opportunity to present themselves in person. Fortunately, the tables did turn, and since 1992 I have been in the position to hire people.

Today, we interview any person who calls our company seeking one.

Whenever I make that statement to people, their first reaction is: “How on earth do you have time?” What started out as a mission to keep a personal promise has turned into one of the most valuable initiatives for our organization. As a result, we make the time.

Here are the reasons for our interview policy:

• It keeps us informed of all the talent available in our market. Situations can change quickly. It keeps us a step ahead, whether we need to fill a permanent position or find a specialist for a short-term assignment.
• It’s consistent with our mission of serving as a public relations resource. We want to be a PR resource for everyone; we don’t discriminate against job applicants.
• Every person I’ve hired since 1992 has been as a result of this process. No advertising costs. No executive recruitment fees.
• Major corporations and other organizations in the area are aware of our policy. We receive calls frequently asking for recommendations and resumes. (Remember our “PR Resource” mission?)
• It sharpens the interview skills of all our employees who participate.
• These applicants eventually get jobs. Not necessarily with us of course, but better still, companies which can hire us. Individuals who’ve remembered that we gave them the time when others wouldn’t have rewarded us on numerous occasions.
• It’s proven to be great PR for our firm.
• It’s the right thing to do. We’ve all been on the other side of the desk.

We talk to students, people wanting to change careers, individuals who are unemployed or currently employed and actively looking for work in the public relations field. We make the time by simply establishing a few ground rules. All such interviews are conducted between 8:00 – 8:30 a.m. They last no longer than 20 minutes, and we are up-front with the individuals that while we may not have an opening, we’d be happy to learn about them, talk about our firm, and provide an overview of what’s happening in our market.

While this process may still seem frightening to some, it’s well worth it. We are continually delighted by the quality of people we meet and the level of talented PR professionals residing in our community. As for me, I’m grateful for every day that I have an office from which to work.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Truth To Power

Back in late March, I wrote a post called Client Service And Idi Amin. It was essentially a tale of speaking truth to power and managing some of the issues that arise when we're faced with such a situation and their relevance to client service. I used a scene from the movie The Last King of Scotland to illustrate the point.

Today at Talentzoo.com, you'll find my guest column titled Truth to Power, based in large part on that blog post and expanded to cover issues that arose from the resulting comments and conversation. Let me post the first three paragraphs of the article. If it intrigues you, I invite you to go to Talentzoo.com to read the piece in its entirety and offer your insights and comments either there or back here! Thanks!

Truth To Power

In an article by USC Professor Warren Bennis titled Followership, he notes: "In a world of growing complexity, leaders are increasingly dependent on their subordinates for good information, whether the leaders want to hear it or not. Followers who tell the truth, and leaders who listen to it, are an unbeatable combination.

"Movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn seems to have had a gut-level awareness of the importance of what I call "effective backtalk" from subordinates. After a string of box-office flops, Mr. Goldwyn called his staff together and told them: 'I want you to tell me exactly what's wrong with me and MGM, even if it means losing your job.'"

Let's face it, the same holds true for outside counsel of any kind advising a client. The only question we have to ask ourselves is: Are we selfless enough and courageous enough to speak truth to power? Is it enough just to speak truth to power, or do you we have to actually be successful at it? How far can and should you push your point of view?...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Making "Thank It Forward" Sustainable

So if you remember my post from July 2nd titled: Thank It Forward, then you've passed the first test that you're not still suffering from Todd Andrlik for President shock syndrome. Glad to have you back!

Someone had asked me where David Maister got the idea for his monthly thank you posts. I e-mailed David, who was in Europe at the time, yet he was kind enough to leave a comment on Mullen's relentlessPR blog. Here's what he had to say:

"Thanks for including me in this discussion, Leo. I cannot take any credit for the original idea. It was suggested to me by my online support team at StressLimitDesign. They are very caring, professional people AND thought it was a good online tactic. Which motivation dominated is hard to unbundle!!!!"

David brings up a very interesting point. For acts of generosity or thanks to be truly sustainable, is self-interest on some level a necessary component? What do you think?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Todd Andrlik for President?

As many of you know, Kami Huyse, Gavin Heaton, Drew McClellan, Darryl Ohrt, and I served as guest bloggers for Todd Andrlik while he was supposedly on "vacation." Little did we know that we were unwitting accomplices to Todd's run for the White House - I'm thinking you'll see an official announcement on July 4th. Have a look for yourselves:


To make your own video or to spoof a friend, please visit news 3 online! Enjoy your holiday!
*Video viewing in this context is not always reliable. (May just take time to load - seems faster on Explorer and Safari than Firefox). I encourage you however to visit the link, create your own video, and amaze your friends!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Thank It Forward

I've always loved the concept of paying it forward: Do something for another with no expectation for that person to return the favor, but instead, hope the act will inspire them to help another person someday. We may know it from the movie, but this concept of "generalized reciprocity" was first described in a letter written by none other than Ben Franklin in 1784.

Now fast forward to 2006, David Maister (who's taking a well deserved summer off from blogging) included me in a thank you post he writes every month to express his gratiude to those who comment on his blog. And he does so with links to his commenters blogs. David understands that contributing to the conversation on a blog takes time and for most people is a truly generous act, benefiting both the blogger and the audience. Without comments there is no dialogue, and without a dialogue of sorts, then a blog operates at less than half strength regardless of how good the author.

I've made the monthly thank you post a practice ever since, and today because of twitter and the other tools that allow people to contribute it so many different ways, I've expanded my thank you list to include not only commenters on my blog, but contributors in other social media forums including twitter, PROpenMic, etc.

Yesterday David Mullen, who's a colleague at Mullen and fellow blogger at relentlessPR, wrote a post thanking those who commented on his new blog based on my thank you post for June. Reading it made my day.

I 've always believed that being successful in social media starts with having basic social skills. A simple thank you goes a long way. If you haven't thanked those who contribute to your own blogs recently, please do. Your readers will appreciate it, and I believe you'll inspire them to thank it forward as well!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Relentless Thanks Again

For the second consecutive month, I thought I'd provide a "double thanks" to those who contribute to the conversation at CSI/Season 2, by including you in our Relentless Thanks for June post over at our new team blog at Mullen called relentlessPR. (If you haven't visited relentlessPR yet, please do!)

So a relentless thanks to:

Todd Andrlik, Gavin Heaton, Drew McClellan, Darryl Ohrt, Kami Huyse, Martin Lynch, Geoff Livingston, David Mullen, Chris Brogan, Scott Baradell, Sherrilynne Starkie, Lara Kretler, Susan Iskiwitch, Angie Chaplin, Walter Stevenson, Tyler Hurst, Kristen Smith, Terry Morawski, Phil Gomes, Robert French, Ruth Seeley, Sharon Bond, Josh Morgan, Barbara B. Nixon, Todd Defren, Paul Ritchie, Timothy Parcell, and Joyce Lofstrom.

So if you enjoy this blog, invite your friends, visit when you can, and keep your insights coming. Without you, there is no conversation. And if you have ideas for future topics, please send them along!

If I've missed anyone or you'd like a link added, changed or corrected, please don't hesitate to let me know! On to July!

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