Friday, December 18, 2009

The Music Is All Around Us

For those of you who have seen the 2007 movie August Rush, you learned that "the music is all around us, you just have to listen." Well, life lessons (personal and professional) are all around us as well, you just have to pay attention.

As we wind down the year in celebration of the holidays, I've always found it a wonderful time to take stock of what we do and who we are both personally and professionally. So if you determine that client service excellence is a priority for you next year, then imagine what it will take to improve. Other than getting a tip or two from this blog, and other client service related sources throughout the year, keep in mind that the lessons are everywhere - they too are all around us if we listen and make the connections.

John Dewey once stated, "Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only the particular thing he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and is often much more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned."

This will be my last post for this year, as I take a break and enjoy the holiday season. So happy holidays and thank you for reading and offering your comments here at CSI. May next year bring you happiness, prosperity, and lots of collateral learning!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Measurement Problem Or Just Poor Communication?

As we prepare for the new year, it may be a good time to think about the importance of demonstrating value to our clients. To do so effectively, we have to agree on what we're measuring. While we as PR professionals can't always isolate or align a specific strategy to a company's business results, we can do a better job of working with our clients to devise measures specific to the relationship. Ambiguity in this area is, more often than not, a function of poor communication rather than an inability to measure results. Here are just a few examples of how communication can break down:

• Agency people who are trying to win a new piece of business will promise prospective clients the moon, the stars, you name it - whatever it takes to get them to agree to the xx thousand dollar a month retainer.
• Some agency people loathe to talk about money, let alone be pinned down to provide specifics regarding what a client can expect for a return on investment. They're so happy just to win the business that talks of finances and accountability somehow compromise the moment.
• Long ago, the agency world weakened the PR brand by suggesting that one can measure the value of media coverage based on a multiple of ad equivalencies. Three times the ad rate, five times the ad rate - just pick a number. It was not only arbitrary, but also defined PR value only in terms of media relations and editorial coverage. All other aspects of the discipline were left out in the cold. (Thanks for that!)
• Clients wanted to know what they were getting for their money, but were inconsistent about what they asked for. For example, does $5,000 per month get me x number of press releases or does $5,000 per month get me coverage in the New York Times, etc.? What CAN you tell me?
• Clients don't always understand what PR does, and we haven't exactly done a stellar job clarifying the matter. If your client isn't sure what PR is really supposed to do, then you certainly can't expect them to understand how it can be measured.
• Clients and PR people don't sit down and have honest talks about what motivates an organization's PR effort, the aspects of PR they seek to employ, or their definition of success and how to measure it.

Before you start crunching the numbers and breaking out the excel spreadsheets, talk to your clients first. Really talk. Find out what it is they'd like to achieve through public relations. Outline the objectives, agree on the strategies, and define the measurement tools. Understand what success looks like to your clients and be clear about what you can do to help them realize that success.

That's the measure of a true PR professional.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Giving More Than You're Getting?

Ask most employees if they're giving more to their organizations than they are getting in return, and they'll proudly say, "Of course. I'm working 80 hour weeks and responsible for adding millions of dollars of extra top-line revenue to my firm." They hear the question in terms of justifying the company's investment in them and then unabashedly, if not defensively, touting their worth. But as I learned recently, there's another way to look at this question.

Pepperdine University
professor Vance Caesar told us the story of when he was once asked the same question earlier in his career and how he provided an answer similar to what I described above. Instead of Vance's supervisor beaming with appreciation, he was furious at his response. Vance was at a loss, wondering what he said that was so wrong. Just before the weekend, his supervisor posed the question again. Vance offered the same reply and received an even more enraged reaction. The supervisor told Vance if he didn't have a better answer by Monday morning, then he should be prepared to clean out his desk.

Totally perplexed, and extremely worried about Monday's meeting, he called one of his mentors and asked why his answer was so wrong. His mentor replied, that it was highly unlikely that Vance was giving more than he was getting. As Vance began to defend his position, the mentor stopped him and asked, " Are you developing professionally? Are you building relationships that can help you grow? etc, etc... He continued to ask questions that defined all the currencies besides salary and bonus that Vance was receiving because of his work at the firm. Vance quickly realized he was getting much more than he was giving.

On Monday morning, Vance met with his supervisor who was waiting, with Vance's resignation letter in hand. When he asked the question for a third time, Vance answered, "No, I'm getting more than I'm giving." "Why?," replied the supervisor. Vance then explained all of the ways he benefits from being an employee. Pleased with Vance's answer, the supervisor explained that Vance was being groomed for a leadership position in the company and that when employees believe they are giving more than they are getting, the seeds of resentment are planted and begin to grow. He said he would keep the resignation letter in his desk drawer, and that if Vance ever felt he was giving more than he was getting, he would ask Vance to sign the letter and leave the company.

Whether it's an employee relationship or a client relationship, both sides should be getting more than they are giving. The key is making sure everyone is aware of all the currencies being exchanged. Imagine if your client understood that (s)he was getting more than giving, and that you were realizing that dynamic as well. Why would such an agency/client relationship ever end?

So during this holiday season, with all this talk about it being "better to give than to receive," you should know that investing in the right relationships (giving more), means that everyone receives MUCH more.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Integration Imperative

I had the pleasure of reading Suzanne C. Lowe's book, The Integration Imperative: Erasing Marketing and Business Development Silos - Once and for All - in Professional Service Firms. Before reading it, I was struck by David Maister's endorsement, "An amazing blend of insight and in-depth real world examples. All professional firm marketers and managers should read this book." I figured if David put his name to it, it must be valuable. Needless to say, it really is.

While the title suggests a concept with which most of us would agree, there's a difference between agreeing with it and being able to execute it in your organization. Marketing and business development should serve the organization, not the other way around. And they'll be most effective when their efforts are at a minimum, congruous and at best, synergistic. In many organizations, they are neither. Thus the need for such a book.

As I mentioned in my last post, Lowe has written more than a book that one reads and puts back on the shelf. It's a valuable resource, grounded in extensive research, worthy of constant reference for the professional services firm seeking to maximize its marketing and business development efforts. (By the way, its utility extends to any type organization). Lowe reminds us of the importance of believing and pursuing a mission and vision for our organization that's larger than ourselves. I can't think of a more valuable resource for the professional services firm - particularly during these tough economic times.

It reminds me of a book called The Customer Comes Second by Hal Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters in that the concept is so simple, one wonders what the rest of the book could be about. I was amazed at the extent to which Rosenbluth's firm so consistently and completely delivered on its philosophy. As a result, I kept the book on my desk, constantly referring to it for new ideas and insights. The more I looked at it, the more I discovered. From my perspective, The Integration Imperative achieves the same result.

I'd recommend getting a copy and keeping it close at hand. Mine sits right next to Hal's book.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

While Lincoln was immersed in a war to save our Union, he found time to ensure that Thanksgiving would be celebrated annually on the last Thursday of November as a national holiday. The proclamation and a column by John Burbank that ran on HeraldNet offer greater insights into the story.

Work and doctoral studies have interrupted my usual posting flow, so I look forward to contributing to this blog more regularly after the Thanksgiving holiday. I'll begin by reviewing a terrific book by Suzanne Lowe called The Integration Imperative - a must read for anyone leading a professional services firm and an important and relevant book for other professionals as well. It's the rare book that's more than a book, but a practical resource from which you can draw upon on an ongoing basis. I look forward to sharing more with you next week.

In the meantime, be sure to propose a toast to our 16th president and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Remember To Close Your Questions!

If you're active on LinkedIn, you may have either asked or answered the many questions found on the site's Answer tab. It's a terrific feature where members can ask very specific questions and receive valuable insights from professionals who generously offer their expertise - expertise not so easily gained elsewhere. Some people ask questions that involve business challenges in their organizations; some are looking for a broader perspective for crafting a blog post; while others may use the insights to educate students in undergraduate and graduate classrooms.

Unfortunately, people who take time to answer questions too often discover that it's a thankless task - literally. In many cases, the member asking the question neither writes a quick note of thanks nor properly "closes" the question to acknowledge helpful responses. I can see how it can be easy to forget sometimes, but that doesn't make it right.

As the questioner, you should treat those who take the time to answer your questions as "clients." It's a small courtesy considering that you're asking for their help. I've answered a number of questions on Linkedin, so I know how much time it can take to offer a thoughtful response. Next time you ask a question on LinkedIn, remember to acknowledge those who took time out of their day to respond and don't forget to "close" the question after the allotted period has expired.

Thank you for reading!

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Few Words About Priorities

Lately, I've been confronted with more and more examples of two common problems relating to priorities. First, people who state their priorities as one thing but demonstrate their priorities as something else. For example, if you're the company that talks a good game of prizing the concept of teamwork, but rewards and awards employees as individuals, you've got a problem. James Frick wisely stated, "Don't tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are." Don't say you value something and not give it any value. See to it that your words and actions are congruous.

Second, sometimes it's helpful to keep your priorities to yourself. Never share with your client that the reason you're not addressing his/her issue until tomorrow is that you have matters involving three other clients that are more important today. Your client does not want to hear that. Either develop the organizational capacity to do more than walk and chew gum at the same time, or have the decency to say you'll address your client's issue tomorrow and then stop talking. Sharing your priorities here will not help you, and unless the timing is problematic for your client, (s)he is not likely to ask why.

If you can think about priorities in this manner internally with regard to your employees and externally when it comes to your clients and other stakeholders, you'll accomplish a great deal in terms of strengthening your brand and building organizational trust. These should be your priorities!

*barrydean.wordpress.com

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Access To The Decision Makers

In my last post Lessons Learned, I responded to the plight of a college professor and her class regarding a fundraising event for their local public library. The library board members said they loved the plan, but chose to delay the event until after the end of the semester, making it impractical for the class to actually manage it. While the class will lose out on the experience of running the event, I pointed out that they learned a great deal more than any of them anticipated. Sometimes lessons learned are more valuable than the lessons intended.

Of the ten points I offered in my post, I'd like to focus on one of them that is common in the PR business. I pointed out to the students, "you initially spoke to the library director and PR person, yet you presented and needed approval from the board." Sound familiar?

Direct access to the decision makers can be among the biggest obstacles a PR firm can face in getting a proposal of any kind approved. While your contacts may be acting in good faith and "think" they know what the decision makers really want, they miss the mark all too often. Which means when you present to the decision makers themselves, you're likely to miss the mark as well. This commonly takes two forms: A) You learn that what's motivating the need for action is not what it was portrayed to be; and B) you discover that the definition of success is different from what you were told (often because you were not clear or you were misled about the motivation).

So what's a PR person to do?

First, do whatever you can to gain access to the decision makers. In some situations this can be difficult if not impossible. I get that. I've been there many times. But often, you just have to ask and be creative in making your case. Usually, face time with the decision maker is advantageous to everyone. You can also make the case that by getting the decision maker involved in the process early, you'll not only get helpful insights, but also enlist involvement which can increase the prospect of buy-in once you present your ideas.

Second, if decision maker access is not possible, try your best to get the answers to the questions of motivation and definition of success. Too often, it's not that you're misled, so much as you just didn't ask the direct questions.

Third, find out what arguments work best with the ultimate audience. For example, do you need to provide research data to make your case, or will anecdotal information be more effective?

Fourth, in lieu of a face-to-face meeting, ask whether there's an opportunity to test your thinking and gain input along the way in writing prior to a face-to-face presentation.

Fifth, during your face-to-face presentation with the decision makers, carefully set up the situation analysis that's driving the ideas you're about to present. Gauge your audience carefully to assure that the audience agrees with the platforms from which you are basing your thinking. If not, get clarity on what you perceive to be any misunderstandings before you say another word. Then adjust your remarks accordingly.

Finally, assume your audience will say YES to your ideas! This means you should send the message loud the clear that you're ready to hit the ground running. Offer next steps and/or as complete a time-line as practical for how you'll deliver on what you presented.

This is a part of our business that isn't easy, but it's also among the challenges that separate the great practitioners from average ones. Choose to be great and share your ideas for how to meet this challenge!

*Image from blogs.bnet.com

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lessons Learned

A college professor sent an e-mail asking me to respond to a story reflecting a recent situation involving her public relations class and a client with whom the class was working pro bono. She shared her frustration and that of her class with this account of what happened:

I met with the client, the local public library director and PR person, this summer. They told me they wanted an event in November, fundraising because the system has lost so much government funding this year. Books and other materials are funded by the library's Foundation. The team did the research and came up with a chili cookoff downtown in November. They went to the foundation's board meeting, and the board said they didn't think there was enough time and they'd rather have it at the middle school anyway. They now want the event in March.

OK, fine. The problem is that the students are all graduating and won't be here to do the event. Instead of getting hands-on event planning experience, they're now looking at writing a plan and handing it over to the board in hopes that they'll implement it well. They are SO disappointed. They feel cheated because they did what they were asked and never had any idea that the board might totally change the plan in this way. I met with them yesterday and tried to explain that this is what happens with clients -- for example, they send out RFP asking for A,B,C, and then choose the agency who pitched D. Sometimes they don't know what they want until you give them something to look at.

Also, you should know that the board gave them a budget of $6,000 even though they only asked for $4,500 -- so clearly the client was NOT disappointed with their work. But the students are angry and disappointed and some said they don't even want to help the library anymore -- one asked if they could change clients! (Obviously I said no.) I tried to rally them by saying that they've been tested and have to rise to the challenge, but I don't know if it worked.

I don't want to embarrass the library or even necessarily have it directed at me/my team/university. I was just hoping you could write something that might help them understand their duty to the client (which is a little less obvious because they aren't being paid) and maybe even a little on the client's perspective.

I'm happy to respond and will do so based on the information provided in the story. First of all, I believe the lessons here are far more valuable and pervasive than what might have been gained from ordering plastic forks and napkins for a Chili Cook-off. As a professor you should be grateful and as students you learned more than you realize. Consider this:

  1. Based on what's stated here, you offered the board a single idea (risky) - the chili cook-off. Don't assume that because they said they liked it, that they really liked it. You never know.
  2. The argument that there wasn't enough time to pull it off could have been rectified by offering a detailed time-line, dating backwards from the event date demonstrating that it was well within reason to hold the event in November. My guess is that because you didn't provide it, you created an opening for your client to delay it, and if you did offer a time-line, then they were either not being straight with you (see above) or they thought your time-line was unrealistic.
  3. The suggested change of venue to the middle school is suspect on a number of levels.
  4. You stated: You should know that the board gave them a budget of $6,000 even though they only asked for $4,500 -- so clearly the client was NOT disappointed with their work. I'll admit to not following the logic here. Price and the quality of the work are entirely separate issues.
  5. Not sure why you'd come in with a budget of $4,500 when given a budget of $6,000. In the case of an event, that doesn't make sense. You should have come up with some creative ways to use that $1,500 to create something more special that would have drawn bigger crowds/raised more money and, more importantly, inspired the board to scream YES, YES to your idea. (And if I misinterpreted this and you're saying you asked for $4,500 to pull off the event, and then the board gave you $6,000, I ask what kind of board would do something like that when it's trying to raise money for books in the absence of a killer idea that would justify the additional budget?)
  6. Not to be harsh or to minimize the contribution you were making here, but the responsibility of the board is to serve the library not your class.
  7. Clients can, will, and have every right to change their minds about what they want to do at any time and for any reason. Such an occurrence will happen countless times during the course of one's PR career. Get use to it.
  8. Another important dynamic to consider is you initially spoke to the library director and PR person, yet you presented and needed approval from the board. Hard to know who the real culprit is here. Be careful of this dynamic in working with future clients!
  9. Rework the plan and add a line item for how to spend that $1,500 in an innovative way. It will be a great way to get your class to take the plan to the next level.
  10. Thank your lucky stars you don't actually have to manage the event. If you have these kinds of problems now, there's a 95% chance that they just get worse. Happily hand them the plan!

Tell your students from me: Welcome to the wonderful world of public relations!

Thank you for sharing your story!

*Image from tmg2.vox.com

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How Smart Is Your Team?

If you lead a professional services organization of any kind, your team is continually challenged to serve a diverse group of clients across a broad range of industries. So when it comes to assessing the intellectual capacity of your employees to meet that challenge, it may not boil down to "how smart" so much as "how are they smart?" This is what the Accelerated Learning Network says as it spreads the word of noted Harvard Professor Howard Gardner.

Professor Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, developed in the early '80s, states that unlike IQ which relies on a single metric, people are intelligent in different ways. A 1998 article in Education World described Gardner's 7 original intelligences this way:
  • Linguistic intelligence: a sensitivity to the meaning and order of words.
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence: ability in mathematics and other complex logical systems.
  • Musical intelligence: the ability to understand and create music. Musicians, composers and dancers show a heightened musical intelligence.
  • Spatial intelligence: the ability to "think in pictures," to perceive the visual world accurately, and recreate (or alter) it in the mind or on paper. Spatial intelligence is highly developed in artists, architects, designers and sculptors.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: the ability to use one's body in a skilled way, for self-expression or toward a goal. Mimes, dancers, basketball players, and actors are among those who display bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.
  • Interpersonal intelligence: an ability to perceive and understand other individuals -- their moods, desires, and motivations. Political and religious leaders, skilled parents and teachers, and therapists use this intelligence.
  • Intrapersonal intelligence: an understanding of one's own emotions. Some novelists and or counselors use their own experience to guide others.

Gardner has since identified an eighth intelligence called naturalist intelligence and has alluded to a ninth intelligence as existential intelligence, which he feels at the moment lacks the neurological evidence to be added to the list.

Gardner readily admits that we all intuitively understand this concept. When I was growing up I marveled at how Larry Bird could make sense out of chaos on the basketball court in a way others simply could not. It's what made him a basketball genius, yet he was hardly regarded as a classic intellectual. Gardner; however, took this beyond mere intuition and built a framework of intelligences and then conducted the requisite research to support his theory.

For a quick look at how MI compares with IQ, here's a short video that provides a bit more clarity:


Recognizing how people are smart and leveraging that intelligence for your organization can be a powerful tool for matching the right people with the right clients and challenges. What's more, as a leader and coach, you can more readily recognize people's strengths and build on them.

While many of you may have taken online IQ tests, try taking a free, self-scoring multiple intelligence test based on Howard Gardner's model. Even if you're not smarter than a fifth grader, take comfort that you likely possess your own brand of intelligence.

*Image from brainleadersandlearners.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Managing Expectations

Managing expectations is one of those expressions to which we should pay more attention, but not in the way you might think. For most people in the professional services business, let's face it, managing expectations is code for lowering expectations. It's the time-honored practice of promising a Cadillac, but making sure the client is happy if you have to deliver the Chevy. The people who live this life of managing expectations bristle at the David Maister(s) and Marshall Goldsmith(s) of the world who have built their reputations on telling clients to pay only what their performance was worth, or nothing at all, if they don't meet or exceed expectations. But we'll save that for another time.

Fortunately, we're not headed down that road today. What I mean by managing expectations is managing our OWN expectations so they don't become obstacles to ourselves or to our clients. Ask yourself if you're the type of person who gets overly irritated when your 8:00 AM presentation starts a half-hour late. Or maybe you walk into an executive meeting assuming you're there to listen, only to be asked to "wing-it" to the leadership team. And God forbid, you learn that the plan for the day has been upended without your consent. Most of us run across hundreds of moments like this during the course of our careers. Today is as good a day as any to take stock of how you typically respond.

Your choices are simple: 1) Respond negatively by clinging to what was supposed to happen; or 2) Embrace what's about to happen. Your ability to manage your own expectations will indelibly shape the personal brand you share with your clients and co-workers. If you're rooted in what should have been, nobody misses that, and it does nothing but create additional stress for everyone.

Replace your negative reaction with the belief that you cannot control the past but you CAN positively shape the future. Try it the next time something doesn't meet your expectations!

Image from cioguy.com

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What's Your After Hours Message Say?

After a few days of Seeing Red Cars and imagining what it would be like to hit a hole-in-one at one of the most famous Par 3's in the world, I thought I'd shift from high intensity goal setting to the lighter side of client service.

In a perfect world, it would be tempting to record an after hours voice-mail message that while offering a broad range of service options, also captured the essence of the real world problems and unreasonable demands clients often impose upon their favorite account executives. Well if you're feeling brave and looking for a little inspiration, check out this public school voice recording. Is it real? Doesn't matter, it will give you plenty to think about the next time you update your voice-mail.

Enjoy!

After you listen to the recording, hit the back button to return to this post and leave your comment or, if you like, a script for your firm's new after hours message!

*Image from luckytangnovel.blogspot.com

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Be Sure To Bring Enough Club

Just over a week ago, I watched a wonderful video from Laura Goodrich titled Seeing Red Cars. Without giving too much away, Laura asserts that we get more of what we focus on. She calls it "seeing red cars." Interestingly enough, she finds that when you ask most people what they want, they're often very clear about what they DON'T want, but not always able to say what they DO want. A terrific observation.

Laura illustrates the point with a golfer getting ready to hit a tee shot to an island green on a 140-yard Par 3 - the signature hole on the course. The golfer takes a pitching wedge, lines up the shot and thinks to himself, "Whatever you do, don't hit it in the water." Of course what happens? He hits it in the water. Because he was focused on what he DID NOT want, he failed to achieve what he DID want. A fitting metaphor.

At this moment during the video, I turned to a colleague and said, "The guy also didn't have enough club; he couldn't get it there with a pitching wedge in a hundred tries!" I then thought to myself, "Maybe there's another lesson to be gleaned." Most people I know, myself included, would need at least 8-iron to get on the green unless assisted by a very stiff wind. So what does that mean?

Realizing our life dreams is first about understanding what we want and second about coming to grips with what it will take to get there - or bringing enough club. For example, once you know what you want, you need to identify and commit yourself to what it will take to make it happen. What relationships do you need to foster? What formal or informal education will you require? How will you prepare yourself physically and mentally, so when you're standing on the tee and it's time to perform, that you have enough club to be successful - regardless of the challenge.

Here's the good news, most successful people haven't achieved that success because they're more powerful than a locomotive or can leap tall buildings in a single bound. They do the things anyone can do; it's just that most of us choose not to. (Sound familiar? Just check the subhead on this blog.)

So whether you want to offer the world's best client service or embark on a new career, it starts with knowing what you want. It sounds easier than it is, that's why the lessons in Seeing Red Cars can help you down this road. Once you know what you want, commit yourself to what it will take to get there and you'll likely realize your dreams; fail to do so and your vision will have all the teeth of the typical new year's resolution.

Shoot for a hole-in-one, bring enough club, and with lots of practice, you'll land it on the green every time...Well, most of the time ;-)

*Image from Houston's Clear Thinkers - Par 3, 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why You Should Interview Anyone Who Asks

I read a terrific post yesterday from Shonali Burke titled Communicator, Sell - and Share - Thyself. She describes an event where communication professionals met with job seekers and offered resume advice. I offered a comment stating that it was a wonderful initiative, but asked that she consider spreading the word about a program I led when I owned my own firm between 1995-2000.

About 12 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. Since I believe in that policy today as much as ever, particularly during these economic times, 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.

As I reread the piece today, I wouldn't change a word. You could do a world of good by taking 20 minutes of your day, at least once a week, to offer your ear and your counsel to a person looking for a new job. You could make an enormous difference in someone's life and in all likelihood help your own business in the process. If you like the idea for yourself, start as soon as you can and use the power of social media to spread the word. If you have any questions about it, please share them as a comment! Thanks!

Image from http://www.internetmarketinginc.com/blog

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How Do You Manage Conflict?

I'm not just talking about client conflict, but any kind of conflict. I know someone who's the queen of conflict; she's always ready for a fight no matter what the circumstances or the consequences, and she doesn't just fight to win, she fights to destroy. I have another acquaintance who politely doesn't rock the boat, but manages "situations" by internalizing everything and working back channels to feed his self interest. I find both to be unhealthy extremes.

Personally, I grew up around a number of people who weren't shy about mixing it up. As a kid, I concluded that the more you fought, the more you just didn't get along. So why spend time together? Then I experienced situations where conflict was avoided at all cost; nothing was ever discussed and feelings were bottled up to the point where deep-seated, silent resentment would set like cement. From there, I started to realize that conflict is communication, and it can be healthy, productive communication as long as you have two important dynamics at work:
  1. It's not personal. You argue about the topic rather than attack one another.
  2. That the conflict is not about winning or losing, but about reaching the best solution and sharing credit for the result.
I come to talk about this today after reading a thought provoking post from Edward Boches on the subject of conflict (or lack of it) in social media venues. He's essentially asking for a healthy fight because he knows that out of positive, spirited conflict emerges the best ideas.

Now think about the role conflict plays in your professional life. Can you openly disagree with colleagues to reach solutions that benefit your client? Do you and your client trust each other enough to discuss real or perceived differences in a timely fashion? And when you do, is the relationship helped or hurt?

I'd love to hear your thoughts about conflict - whether you disagree with me or not!

*Image from fatwaitress.com who suggests that Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots may be the answer. Who could argue with that?

Monday, August 24, 2009

What's Your Priority?

Imagine for a moment you're starting your own business from scratch and one of your goals is client service excellence. Then look at your current company and consider whether you're really set up to accomplish this goal. Who or what is the real priority and what would you change?

Most businesses, even professional service firms, are built with internal operations or financial goals as the centerpiece. Within that structure, leaders who espouse client service excellence as a priority then do the best they can to service clients within the parameters of that model. Sounds reasonable so far, but think about the number of times a client wants or needs something you're not set up to provide. Sometimes you can accommodate them, but often times you can't because your business/organizational model doesn't allow for it. When operations and financial considerations drive your organization, you are limited by definition as to how well you can serve your client.

So what if you built or restructured your organization with client service excellence as the centerpiece? What if your financial and operations models were actually based on meeting your clients' needs rather than asking clients to serve yours. How different would you look? How much better could you serve your clients than your competitors? It's just a little food for thought as you consider writing the next chapter for your organization.

Tough economic times are not only about survival, but about building excellence into everything you do and taking the opportunity to create greater distance between you and your closest competitor. The way to do so is to compete with yourself. Getting your team together and evaluating your actual versus espoused priorities is a great place to start.

*Image from Experience Solutions

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Coming Soon: More Insights

By now I've written more than 500 posts about client service and associated topics. I've done so because I believe any firm committed to client service excellence (really committed) will recruit the finest people, attract the best clients, and retain more of both.

During my Masters Program at Seton Hall University, I learned a great deal that I often passed along in my blog posts. I learned from excellent professors, countless scholars, and most of all from fellow students in my learning team. The beauty of learning teams is that team members are not academic competitors, but colleagues. The more we all worked together, the more everyone gained from the experience. Not unlike how all great teams perform, whether it's in the workplace or on the playing field.

As I begin my doctoral work at Pepperdine (Ed.D. in Organizational Leaderhip), I look forward to enjoying a similar learning experience and sharing more insights with you as they are passed along to me. Thanks in advance to my professors, scholars, and learning team members for their generosity. Let the games begin!

*Image from my-lifestyle-coach.com

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Client Service or Client Relationships?

I was struck by two posts recently that make me feel I (we) have this whole client service terminology all wrong. The first post was from Terry Morawski where he talks about the arc of his relationship with social media. He realizes now of course that social media is A tool, not necessarily THE tool when it comes to marketing communication because it's the relationship, not the tools that matter most. Edward Boches also wrote a terrific post about three new business presentations delivered by Mullen interns that showed incredible promise - not just for their social media prowess, but more for their understanding of building relationships and employing all of today's tools to do so.

Let me add that last week I read Marshall Goldsmith's book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There - a fitting title included in my Carousel of Recommended Books. Marshall talked about the need for many leaders to improve their listening skills, and while he offers some great advice, at the end of the day I thought, you'll never be a good listener unless you care enough about what the other person is saying to pay attention. I believe the model for client service excellence is similar.

The idea that we "service" our clients and, by doing it well, hope to build a relationship is backwards, and the young people coming up in the world today are about to prove it. Their perspective will offer us a model for building great relationships on multiple levels and doing right by the people with whom we do business - ensuring this notion of customer service excellence.

You won't offer truly excellent client service unless you care, and you won't care enough unless you have a strong relationship with your client and a true passion for their business. Build a relationship to improve service, not the other way around.

*Image from jkvirtualoffice.com

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Carousel of Leadership & Client Service

Speaking of resources, I was intrigued by PROpenMic's use of this Amazon Widget to showcase book titles on its site. After reviewing our updated list of client service blogs, consider reading one or more of the selections below. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Updated Client Service Blog Directory

Ever since I started my first client service blog, I've tried to keep track of the best of the best blogs that cover client/customer service and associated topics. I learn a great deal from reading them. I hope you will also. Thanks for your suggestions. Keep them coming as I'm always eager to add to the list. For your convenience, here's CSI Season 2's updated list of client service blogs for your education and enjoyment. Feel free to share!

Client Service Blogs

Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices

Better For Everyone

CBA Practice Link

Church of the Customer Blog

Customer Excellence
Customers Are Always
Customers Rock
Flooring The Consumer

Gladwell.com Blog

Golden Practices

Gruntled Employees

How To Change The World

Howling Point

In Search of Perfect Client Service

Infamy or Praise

Jim Calloway's Law Practice Tips

LawMarketing Blog

Leaderhip for Lawyers

Legal Business Development

Legal Ease Blog

Legal Marketing Blog

Legal Sanity

Malcolm Says

Management Craft

Minor Wisdom

More Partner Income

My Shingle

Passion, People and Principles

Rainmaker Best Practices

Real Lawyers Have Blogs

Rob Hyndman

Service Untitled

Software for Better Client Service

The [non]billable Hour

The Adventure of Strategy

The Greatest American Lawyer

What About Paris?


*Image from Gruntled Employees

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Call For Great Client Service Blogs!

Each year, I update the roster of client service related blogs you'll find in my client service blogroll. To provide the best possible list, I'd like your help. Please share your favorite client service blogs with me so I can offer the most complete, up-to-date roster for those of us who are passionate about client service and truly enjoy learning from one another.

I've gone through the list and eliminated any blog that hasn't posted in 2009 with the exception of Passion, People, and Principles by David Maister. David suspended his blog for awhile, and it's my hope he returns soon. The archived content is both rich and timeless, and I encourage you to visit. If at some point, David tells me he has brought his blogging career to a close, then I'll have to create a new blog roll category - The Client Service Hall of Fame. No one would be more deserving.

So send me your favorites! I also plan to post a question on LinkedIn as well in an effort to compile the best of the best blogs out there. I look forward to posting the updated list sometime next week! Thank you!

*The image comes from Patrick J. Lamb's blog, In Search of Perfect Client Service

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Client Service And Trust

I thought I'd try to gain some mid-year perspective on the findings and recommendations contained in Edelman's Trust Barometer, so I recently reread the study. Released in January, it's the tenth year in a row the firm has conducted this global study on trust - a worthwhile and laudable commitment. And as my professor Dr. Karl Soehnlein from Seton Hall University always preaches, "It all comes down to trust, doesn't it?"

As many of you who read this blog know, when it comes to building trust, I'm fascinated by the impact of values. It's about who you are, what you care about, and matching words and deeds. Building trust isn't about key messaging to client/consumer hot buttons, it's about influencing a marketplace to draw its own positive conclusions about your values and priorities, and reinforcing those conclusions each and every day to build trust.

While this year's study includes its share of sobering news, Edelman suggests that a strategy of public engagement, both in terms of policy and communication, can start you on the road to rebuilding trust. It's described in terms of public sector diplomacy, mutual social responsibility, shared sacrifice, and continuous conversation.

David Maister might suggest that this advice is the equivalent of telling someone to stop smoking, stop drinking, exercise more, and eat better as a means to start you down the road to better health. While Edelman's and Maister's advice are spot on, they'll have all the teeth of a new years resolution without a change in values and priorities and a commitment that is longterm.

As Maister points out in his book, Strategy and the Fat Smoker, you may get healthy for awhile, but if you're not committed to longterm life change, then your newfound fitness and health will be short lived.

If you think it's hard to lose 10 pounds again, then try regaining someone's trust.

The entire study is packed full of information, so I encourage you to read and/or reread it. If your organization has the courage to follow Edelman's advice, then do so with an understanding of your values and priorities, and an eye toward real longterm change.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Real Marketing Genius

Pardon the total self indulgence here, but I thought I'd share a few marketing spoofs that I hadn't heard in awhile. They make me laugh as much today as they did when I first listened to them several years ago. I thought it would be a fun way to start the week.

You'll be quite familiar with the campaign that these are based on, believe me. For agency people who've experienced these very scenarios, then have a good laugh, and if you've been the guilty client, then you should enjoy a laugh too.




Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sound Familiar?

In a recent post by Sherrilynne Starkie titled Quality PR on the Cheap, she offered this video from YouTube featuring conversations I found hauntingly familiar. How about you? Share your story!


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Character, Values & Integrity

I've spent a great deal of my career counseling clients in the area of crisis communication - both in the preparation phase and in the heat of dozens of crises themselves. While it's always interesting to look at the various to-do-lists which attempt to offer guidance for managing a crisis successfully, I've found that what separates the best from the worst in crisis responses comes down to character, values and integrity.

When I was a kid, I remember someone describing integrity as what you do when no one else is watching. For example, would you cheat at solitaire and tell others you'd won even though no one could ever prove you wrong? What I've learned is that integrity isn't about what you'd do when no one is watching, it's what you will do when everyone is watching - your employees, the news media, shareholders, etc.

In 1943, before Johnson & Johnson went public, Robert Wood Johnson authored the famous credo that serves to define J&J, not in terms of what they do, but who they are. More recently, Michael Dell spearheaded the drafting of a document titled The Soul of Dell, which sends a clear message that "how" Dell achieves success is just as important as realizing success itself.

If you really want to prepare for crisis, take a close look at the character, values and integrity of your organization and its leaders. While it may be politically more inviting to offer a checklist of "what to do if...?", resist the easy route and take a page from Jim Collins' book Good to Great - look at WHO before WHAT!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Human Nature And Trust

In my last post, Basic Human Nature. Good or Bad?, I suggested that how we feel about this basic question can have enormous implications on our approach to client service and relationships in general.

In Edgar Schein's book Organizational Culture and Leadership, he describes values as "open to discussion", but core beliefs or "basic underlying assumptions" as non-negotiable. These are the assumptions we develop over time based on our experiences (ones we may not always espouse publicly), but they drive our behavior.

I encourage you to read the complete answers people have so generously contributed on LinkedIn. You'll find everything from, " My personal belief is that most people are basically bad" to "Basically human beings are GOOD." You'll also find the inbetween such as "Individual people, however, are neither good nor bad by nature, only by choice" or one of my favorites, "So if I had to choose a species I would choose being around dogs the truth is all in the tail wags!" Each makes their argument quite eloquently by the way.

So given our most basic assumptions about human nature, it leads us to the comment Ruth Seeley offered which reads in part, "The yin/yang symbol you've used to illustrate this post is very appropriate, I think. While I hate to take the simplistic 'dualism' approach, I have found that there are really only two approaches to trusting people: either you're a person who trusts everyone until they give you reason to do otherwise, or you're a person who trusts no one initially and makes everyone earn your trust."

In thinking about Ruth's response, I discovered these trust models by HR consultant Robert Fisher which speak to her point:

As Robert sees it, people fall into one of four categories:
  1. Suspicious still. Don't ever trust anyone, even after they have done something nice.
  2. Suspicious until. Don't trust anyone until they prove themself.
  3. Trust until. Trust people until they screw up.
  4. Trust still. Trust people even after they make mistakes, sometimes even when they hurt you.
These trust models emerge from basic underlying assumptions we hold about people and their nature. You should ask yourself where you fall in this model, and based on your beliefs, how it impacts your approach to client service both positively and negatively.

Just a little food for thought for the long weekend! Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Basic Human Nature. Good or Bad?

The other day I read an article in Harvard Business Review titled Leadership, Managing In A (Permanent) Crisis. When I reached the end, I thought, "here's yet another basic toolkit for leaders." The problem is great tools only work for those who can truly embrace their utility. Leadership is about who, not just what. A leader will never use tools effectively, for very long, or rely on them during a crisis if the tools don't fundamentally align with you they are.

So let's put it in the context of client service. When we talk of client service, we are referring to people serving people. This blog, or any other resource for that matter can offer all the ideas and tools you could ever need. In the end though, your fundamental beliefs about people and basic human nature will serve among the biggest influences on your behavior. It occurred to me that between CSI Season 1 and Season 2, I 've written about 500 blog posts related in some way to client service.

While I've consistently advocated adopting a client service mindset versus a more prescriptive approach, I've never once talked about the most basic question: How do you really feel about people in general? Are they basically good, or do you always have to watch your back? Or is it a simple case of yin and yang - "seemingly disjunct or opposing forces that are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, giving rise to each other in turn."

I'd like to explore this concept in my next few posts. In the meantime, I plan to post the question on LinkedIn, and I invite your feelings on the subject as well. Thanks!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Can't Ghostwrite A Blog? Why Not?!

I received an e-mail morning from Ragan Communications regarding a Blogging Desktop Learning Series. The title of the first tutorial is: "You can't ghostwrite a blog—and other rules for launching a senior executive blog that employees will read AND respect." As much as I love the work Ragan Communications does, I'm afraid that unless the content of tutorial #1 offers some leeway on its "can't" ghostwrite a blog stand, then I'll tell you what I told them:

Regarding your description of tutorial #1, I completely disagree. As a CEO, you can have your blog ghostwritten, as long as you're upfront about it. There's nothing wrong with a CEO stating that (s)he is being assisted in the writing of the blog in an effort to engage with company stakeholders on a consistent basis - that the content reflects the CEO's position and that (s)he reads all comments and responds personally as time allows. It's not only acceptable, but even more transparent than the typical CEO speech. When was the last time you heard a CEO give a speech and preface the remarks with, "I didn't write this!" Teaching communicators that there's a no ghostwriters rule for blogs would be a disservice.

Granted, I'd prefer that the CEO, or other senior leaders in the organization, author their blogs personally, but what's so wrong with a ghostwriter as long as there's full disclosure? Thoughts?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Winning New Clients In A Down Market

About three months ago, I had a lengthy phone call with a friend of mine who'd been charged with growing the client roster for a struggling PR agency. The firm is not located in the city where it wants to expand the client base; the agency offers no unique skill set or industry expertise (at least one it's willing to stand behind), and had no particular plan for how to help anyone. It's an agency that wants fees (fairly steep ones I might add) upfront in an effort to ensure its own survival. I remember listening to this, offering some suggestions (which I was quickly told the agency president would never consider), and wishing him good luck.

Yesterday, I got a call saying that he hadn't picked up one new client. Surprise, surprise. In fairness, my friend agreed with me upfront and knew he was fighting a losing battle if the agency wasn't willing to face up to the realities of the marketplace. Despite the lack of new business success, the agency is still not willing to change its approach, and it's likely my friend is done fighting with the agency leadership.

Well, just because my friend's agency is intractable doesn't mean I shouldn't share some perfectly plausible strategies for others during these difficult times. None of this is necessarily new (or rocket science for the matter) but have a look and introduce your own thoughts as well.
  1. Approach prospects in a vertical industry segment with which you've had proven success. Study your prospect's business and offer some specific ideas for helping them achieve their near-term goals.
  2. Approach prospects with a very specific communication expertise that you believe differentiates you in the marketplace among other competitors and has demonstrated tangible business benefits for other clients. It not only offers the prospect a reason to hire you, but should optimize your chances for earning trust and providing other services down the road.
  3. Approach prospects with a short-term plan, not a longer term engagement. Be willing to help them with the situation at hand. If you're successful, you'll earn the longer term gig.
  4. Approach prospects with ideas, not qualifications. The only thing that will truly differentiate you from the thousands of competitors who do exactly what you do (either just as well or possibly better) will be your thinking against a prospect's specific needs. Look at the client service excellence quote at the top of this blog. You don't have to be superhuman or even better than your competitors, you just have to be willing to do what others could be doing, but just aren't.
  5. Borrow a page from David Maister, Marshall Goldsmith and the other uber-consultants out there who actually stand behind their work. Present your ideas, set near-term goals, and tell the client that you don't expect them to pay you upfront in the hope that your approach is successful. Explain that they'll only have to pay for your time if the goals are achieved, or as David Maister structures it, "pay me what you think I'm worth." If you really believe you can help the prospect, then have the courage to stand by your work.

I look forward to your comments on these five points and to receiving other ideas you may have on the topic!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What's Your Mindset?

It's an extremely important question because your mindset serves as the foundation from where you operate. It's your guide for how you view the world. It helps you shape your priorities and values, and it drives your actions both personally and professionally.

In a video I posted recently from Toni Louw, Toni explains that as a presentation trainer, he doesn't teach voice modulation, gesturing, making eye contact, etc. Why? Because if you're communicating, you'll do those things naturally. Once presenters care more about their audiences than themselves and truly want to share through communication, they become better communicators. Toni teaches mindset, not bullet points because bullet points are just illustrations of what you should do, mindset is an expression who you should become.

Among the most popular blogs posts are those that offer 10 ways to do this, or five ways to accomplish that. While the tips are often helpful, it's the mindset driving these recommendations that is more important. If the mindset is not evident, challenge the author to offer it.

Most recently, I wrote a post titled, Want To Be A Better PR Professional?, and I offered five recommendations for how to better serve your clients. The five points are admittedly incomplete (as is the case with most such lists), but I hope the core principle is clear. If you want the client to see your value, then be passionate about being valuable. Once you do that, you'll naturally seek ways to do so.

I received some great feedback on this post, not only in the comments, but through e-mail, Twitter, etc. While I took a swipe at APR accreditation, the larger point was to get people thinking about their clients rather than themselves. And they did. I received some wonderful additions to the list such as the importance of listening, the critical role of creativity, and the value of understanding communication disciplines other than PR.

By understanding mindset, you will naturally build on specific recommendations in a manner that will help you improve - not just in the moment - but for the long haul.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Want To Be A Better PR Professional?

Then spend your time focusing on subjects other than PR.

I've been reading quite a bit lately about people preparing for their APR exam, as if that's going to magically transform them to become better PR professionals. Newsflash: It won't. It's the equivalent of Scarecrow receiving his diploma at the end of the Wizard of Oz. (Scarecrow's transformation had nothing to do with the piece of paper.)

That said, while I don't dismiss APR preparation as being a valuable professional development tool, the credential is meaningless. We've all met great APRs and incompetent ones. We've also worked with professionals without the initials who are brilliant at their craft. Great PR professionals, with APR training or not, are those who view their profession as larger than themselves. They are educated well beyond the limits of public relations.

As much as most PR pros don't want to admit this, PR in and of itself, is not complicated. I could teach the fundamentals of PR to anyone in a day. Knowing what to do is the easy part. Knowing what to do depending on your client, industry, and audiences is where the rubber meets the road. It's what separates the PR greats from the wannabees. So before you embark on APR preparation, or if you're already an APR, here's a few thoughts for you if you want to be excellent at your profession and offer real value to your clients in good times and in bad:
  1. Take time to truly understand your client's values and priorities. If you don't really crawl inside where your clients are coming from, then you'll never be able to help them connect with their audiences. Moreover, you'll be useless during a crisis. The great responses to crises have not been situational in nature. Great responses to crises come from core values - from who they (your clients) are, not simply how they contrive a response in the moment. Unlock this key, and you'll have a better relationship with your client and be a far more effective advocate on their behalf.
  2. Become an expert in your client's business beyond the topline. Those who are not experts in their clients' business typically resort to measuring PR on PR terms, not on business terms. This is the fundamental reason PR pros cry about being underappreciated. If you want a seat at the table; if you want to be respected as a business person, then take time to understand your client's business. Your client's trade pubs should be your Bibles. This will not only help you connect the dots regarding the value you bring, but also open up a new world of PR opportunities for you to explore.
  3. Be fanatical about staying attuned to your audiences' hot buttons. Consider tracking polls in political campaigns. Public opinion can shift like the wind. Client centric messaging that doesn't connect with the changing attitudes of customers, shareholders, employees, civic leaders, etc. can cause much more harm than good. Become THE authority about your client's target audiences.
  4. Become an expert in the legal matters that pertain to your client. How many of you have been in the room when an attorney takes command of the conversation because (s)he understands the relevant legal issues of the day. If you want to take the attitude that you're not an attorney, then you'll have to live with being run over in front of the CEO. Don't allow it. Understand the law. You don't have to go to law school to acquire this valuable knowledge.
  5. Take time to study the fundamental challenges of leadership. I don't believe you can offer real counsel to leaders without understanding the fundamentals of leadership. I'd recommend reading The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner to get you started.
For the PR profession to be regarded as truly valuable in the marketplace, we need to focus on adding value, not initials. During tough times, clients have to believe that they're better off with us by their sides than on the sidelines. To do so will require knowing much more than what APR can teach you.

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