Get Down to Business and Just Ask

I’ve watched this clip  of Vanderbilt student Michael Pollack and Billy Joel a dozen times and it just does not get old. In case you haven’t seen it, Billy Joel conducts an intimate Q&A session and performance at Vanderbilt University. During the session, Pollack confidently stands up and asks the legendary singer/songwriter if he can come on stage and accompany him on piano to the song New York State of Mind.

An audible and uncomfortable gasp is heard from the crowd as it registers the audacity of such a brazen and ludicrous request. Joel thinks for a moment and says, “Okay.”

I don’t know Michael Pollack, but I love him. Here is a person who knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to ask for it – directly. No dancing around the subject, hinting, hoping or skirting. He just asks, “Can I accompany you?” That’s pretty straight forward, and awesome.

Wouldn’t it be great if the same was always true in business? If people honestly shared expectations, hopes and goals no matter how crazy they sounded? Too often, we don’t say what we really want. Instead, we hedge and soft shoe and hope our point is received.

The bravery of asking a direct question is that you’ll (usually) get a direct answer. It’s the difference between thinking and knowing; the difference between giving away control and taking control; the difference between a yes and a no. The ultimate difference between hoping you get what you want and getting what you want.

How you ask the question is extremely important. For example, what if Pollack had said:

“I love your music. New York State of Mind is my favorite and it would be an honor to perform with you.”

There’s a chance Billy Joel would have replied, “That’s great. Come on stage!” and there’s an equal chance Joel would have said, “Oh, thank you, that’s so nice to hear.”

With Pollack’s direct approach, there was no ambiguity and no mistaking what he wanted. Most importantly, he was ready for the answer. The next time you are inclined to dance around a difficult or awkward question, remember Michael Pollack and just ask it. The answer may very well be music to your ears.

Posted in Business | 9 Comments

Pictures are Pretty & Other New Paths for PR

Pretty pictures

Massachusetts is putting real muscle behind supporting its creative economy. We even have a Creative Economy Industry Director, a statewide position and industry resource to amplify the industry’s voice. Our creative economy stretches from firms like HB to colleges, technology companies and associations. As FutureM, the annual fall event focused on the future of marketing, often showcases (and rightfully boasts), the greater Boston area especially is a hub of marketing innovation.

This week, Boston.com has been running a series called “We are the Creative Industries” series, providing a glimpse into the perspectives, people and organizations driving creativity. Why? It’s simple. The creative industry is a vital part of Massachusetts’ economy, with $1 billion statewide impact and more than 100,000 employees in the field.

I had an opportunity to contribute to this series. My piece, “PR: A Clean Slate,” showcases the public relations industry’s ability to learn from past oversights and finally deliver a communications experience that incorporates the many tools at our disposal today: media relations, SEO, content marketing and more. As an agency, HB is living on the cutting edge of what’s possible for its B2B PR clients. And the message to agencies in general is grow or fade away.

Please read the article here, and share, comment or disagree.

Posted in B2B Technology, Content Marketing, Design, Hart-Boillot, Media Relations, Public Relations | 3 Comments

Focus is happiness – what I learned from Ikea

Ikea

Ikea prides itself on “functional home furnishing products,” building a massive business and in-store experience in the United States since 1985. Some of its most successful products include storage systems that organize anything from office supplies to baby clothes into well-designed compartments, buckets, and racks.

But here’s the thing about well-conceived storage: you get the most ROI on your purchase when you need to organize and store many items. As useful as it may be, Ikea storage works at its highest capacity when its products are full or near-full.

Humans are different. We work best when there’s less storage, less clutter, and less stuff. Humans operate better when they focus.

Daddy issues

Since becoming a father less than a year ago, I’ve needed my share of Ikea storage to contain the explosion of toys that litter my living room. More significantly, I’ve certainly struggled with time management and focus.

Focus goes a long way in parenthood, too. Time spent with my daughter – when my responsibilities are solely to love and nurture her – results in her improved motor skills and increased smiles.

Similarly, when I spend time writing or designing at home, my best work is done when my wife is spending her quality time with our daughter. This allows me to concentrate on a single task for maximum output – even for a short period of time. No email, phone calls, or web surfing allowed. And, as delightful as it could be, no parenting interruptions.

Do what you love

Through my struggles with time management, I’ve learned that focus can be applied to big-picture thinking in addition to small, task-oriented activities. Rian van der Merwe, an expert in sociology and technology, explains the value of building a platform statement as a guiding proclamation. My first draft looks like this:

“I build digital experiences using art, design, and simplicity.”

If ever I’m off-track in my thinking or creating, I go back to my platform. It helps get rid of the clutter and doesn’t require any Swedish storage. The platform will change over the years, but the purpose won’t: to guide and focus my work beyond my current challenge, life situation, or job.

Rian sums it up best when he ditches old goals and moves on to new, focused ones:

“Just like we’ve moved on from the idea that the big office is a big deal, we have to let go of the idea that a big enough title is equal to a successful career. Much more important is that we figure out what it is that we want to spend our time and attention on — and then working at our craft to make that our platform.”

Encountering purpose

Now I’ve not only brought more focus into my life, but it’s slowly becoming a purpose – the reason for my life’s work. The platform helps push away the clutter and provide a clear path for success and happiness. From this, I learn to nurture not just my offspring, but my daily work. In Karen McGrane’s uniquely-titled post on A List Apart, she closes with a bit of advice in “Give a crap. Don’t give a f*ck:”

“Care deeply about your personal values and live them fully in this world. Don’t get caught up in worrying about other people’s checklists to tell you what good work means to you.”

In short, I concentrate on my values, goals, and work and what it means to me. I can see how this will result in better work, as well as increased success and happiness.

Just do it

So I’ve scheduled time, have a platform statement, and purpose for my work. How do I actually accomplish something? Now I arrive at commitment and concentration.

Christopher Penn, Vice President of Shift Communications, recently shared his thoughts in “How I get more stuff done:”

“Today, I manage almost exclusively by my calendar. I block off time for each task that needs doing, and during those times, I do those things and nothing else. Client work gets repeating windows as needed, and everything else gets time as needed. The secret is this: during those time periods, one and only one thing gets attention, nothing else.”

The big change here is in the workflow – Penn doesn’t allow his email to guide his day, but his calendar. During key time blocks, Penn’s attention and focus reside with one task which he is able to accomplish through commitment and concentration.

Chris Brogan, CEO & President of Human Business Works, shares a similar example to folks who need to get more done:

“Shutting out the craziness of other people’s lives for a while will empower my own choices. Knowing what matters to me and my day and also to those who I serve is a great first set of instructions to consider.”

The craziness that Brogan speaks of is that daily clutter – nonsensical and empty posts on social media, an unimportant clip on YouTube, or a pesky email clamoring for immediate help.

Get happy

Through understanding, planning, purpose, and commitment, we can all better focus and become more productive – and happier – human beings. By removing the junk from our lives, we don’t require all that Ikea storage – as beautiful as it is – to guide our purpose, values, and goals.

Clear your stuff, book some time, and crush your work. Your smile will thank you.

Posted in Culture, Design, Hart-Boillot, Writing | 3 Comments

13 Ways to Adjust Your Content Marketing Dial

If you are like me, every year you set good intentions with regard to your health (you know the drill: eat right, exercise, and drink water). What happens? Life gets in way. But don’t give up. While the calendar might read March, it isn’t too late to make changes.

blog13_march

It’s 2013 and HB is blogging the 13th. We recommend using the 13th of each month as a trigger to assess, reset, and change direction if necessary. I can’t help with your health commitments, but there’s always time to adjust your content marketing dial. Share, debate, and add to these 13 ways to keep your content fresh.

  1. Be bold. I routinely hit my Sunday spin class, but struggle to try new moves. Explore creative and unconventional approaches this month. Take an action today that will motivate you to get outside your comfort zone.
  2. Use authentic stories. What shows success? A success story. Go beyond publishing a quote on your web site. Provide your customers an easy-to-engage outlet to profess and help share their love for your brand.
  3. Less about you. Successful thought leadership programs position you as an expert in an area that supports your key product or service. Rather than tout specific features and benefits, the cogs in your content marketing wheel must communicate that you are an industry leader that prospects and customers want to work with, stat.
  4. Color outside the lines. Between our professional and personal lives we all have an extensive network of contacts. Find a smart, useful way to pull more of your personal contacts into your business world.
  5. Invest in mobile. Period.
  6. Know your reach. Do you truly understand the catalysts that influence your customers’ purchasing decisions at every stage of the experience life cycle? Establish touch points from discovery through engagement to create mavens for your brand.
  7. Set metrics. I aim for eight glasses of water a day. Having a specific number in mind helps me envision the end. Keep a close eye on what works and what doesn’t and course correct with light speed.
  8. Know the answer to “why?” Be certain that your customers truly understand why your product or service is relevant to them, and tailor your messaging to fit each audience. Go deeper than the “it’ll protect your bottom line” pitch. How will a prospect’s decision to go with your solution change his/her life?
  9. Check out the competition. Seeing the cool things that others do at the gym gets me going. Don’t plan on mimicking the competition, but keep an eye on those ahead of you, and behind, to understand where you fall in the industry landscape. Studying the competition enables you to identify opportunity gaps that may work to your advantage.
  10. Be habit-forming. Research shows that new habits take two to three weeks to form. Give yourself the flexibility and time to build profitable habits.
  11. Get a buddy. In my weight-loss efforts I often seek group support via my network of friends and family. Consult a colleague or your team to provide an additional layer of clarity to your strategy.
  12. Build the muscle. One trip to the gym won’t give you big guns. It takes time to get it right. Make a commitment to working on your marketing muscle every day.
  13. Fill in the blank. This list is just a start. Tweet your #13 to me at @perrinmcc.

Posted in Blog the 13th, Content Marketing, Public Relations, Writing | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Ain’t nobody fresher than my click

If you’re constantly tweaking and tailoring your website for natural search success, doesn’t it also stand to reason that this diminished focus on your website’s users creates an environment that isn’t enjoyable or interesting for real people?”

In a recent Search Engine Journal article, author Sujan Patel argues that fundamentally sound SEO and increased clicks can also make for good user experience, but he neglects the true importance of a website: design. In fact, the word “design” never appears in his post.

Google domination

Google Search completely transformed the website landscape several years ago by manipulating websites to accomplish certain tasks in order to more likely appear at the top of a search string. These tasks include appropriate use of:

  • keywords, site descriptions, and meta data;
  • amount of content; and
  • uniqueness of content, amongst other factors.

Sites quickly learned that the way to appear high in organic search was to follow the Google Search commandments… or perhaps no one would find your site! Gasp!

Let’s not forget about the dreaded “clicks.” Patel talks about adding microdata to a site:

Not only does this extra data help users to make more informed search decisions, these enhanced displays have a notable impact on SERPs click-through rates, increasing the likelihood that a search user will wind up on your page over a competitor’s.

Again, in an article about user experience, Patel has failed to mention design. Rather, he stresses the importance of data, search, and clicks.

With a heightened importance on search combined with analytics, data became an increasingly popular way in which to build – or dare I say, design – a site.

Balance

Over the past several years, the building and developing of websites has been unbalanced – too high of a concentration on proper code and SEO and not enough on design and creativity.

It’s design, not SEO, that:

  • delivers stories and content in a visually-striking manner;
  • creates an engaging digital experience;
  • requires a deep, human interaction from the viewer;
  • makes the world a more beautiful place.

Design is critical to user experience – in fact, it’s the most important part.

Trends are cyclical

Like anything else, trends tend to work in cycles. Towards the beginning of the commercial internet, amazing things were built with great design. Over the past few years, the data and measurement revolution changed that.

Regardless, I believe we are seeing a movement back towards the necessity of artistic design as the key factor in user experience and the building of websites. Digital news consumption and the minimalist aesthetic result in sites embracing the beauty of white space and legibility. Mobile sites and apps require a simple, pleasing design in order to succeed. And the rise of the designer/developer is helping to put design at the forefront.

And that, as Patel says, is “enjoyable and interesting for real people.” In short, it’s a beautiful thing.

Posted in Design | 1 Comment

Building Social Community Around Clean-Tech Initiatives – The Social Tactic Acid Test

Note: this was first published by AgencyPost and can be found here.

If you’re in business, you understand the concept of adding value. You evaluate every action in terms of whether it adds value to your business’ goals or bottom line. So how do you evaluate community-building initiatives?

The Conundrum of Social Community

In our business, we regularly hear from companies that built strong Facebook followings only to realize that they can’t figure out how the “community” adds to their bottom line. Yet they are deeply aware of how communities could take away from the bottom line and how a single bad experience could lead to a brand-destroying social media explosion.

Yet social communities cannot be avoided. Whether you’re in B2B or B2C, your customers and prospects want to know more about you and want to connect with others in your circles. And while the challenge used to be around which tools to use, now it’s about how you make the community valuable. We believe the question should be turned around: Ask not how your community adds value to your business, but how your business can add value to your community.

This is where clean-tech companies have a great advantage. Unlike many businesses that leverage subjective values for differentiation, clean-tech companies can leverage in-house expertise and experience to make a material difference to their communities. For example, apparel companies such as Lululemon and Life Is Good create communities around corporate social responsibility initiatives. Yet what they do best is make clothes and selling those clothes is how they make money. In essence, they run two businesses to make the apparel business successful: a clothing business and a social business. For a clean-tech company, the relationship between what makes money and what adds value to the customer is naturally much closer. Continue reading

Posted in Clean Tech, Hart-Boillot, Public Relations, Social Media | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Emotions of a First-Week PR “Newbie”

Transitioning from a career in healthcare marketing, I am now one week into my first public relations job, and there are so many thoughts and emotions running through my head. Over the weekend I realized that I’m essentially a newborn in this wild, ever-changing world of PR. Last week was a roller coaster ride of emotions and boy did I have a lot of feelings.

The first week in a new position is overwhelming no matter what job you’re starting or how long you’ve been working. Whether you’re the new editor at a media outlet, teacher at a school or barista at Starbucks—anyone can feel overwhelmed at times.

I’ve documented my thoughts during my first five days on the job. It’ll be fun to look back on them someday when I am deeper into my PR agency career, though I realize I’ll be a “newbie” for a while. Hopefully my newbie rants will bring you down memory lane to your first week in a a PR role. Walk with me through my first week in PR…

Monday - Wait, what just happened? I’m excited about this new work environment and great company culture but feeling confused–definitely confused. Am I supposed to know all that stuff already? Should I know all of the leading publications in the high-tech industry? Whoa. Okay. Calm down Julia. Was I awkward today? Boy I hope not. I hate being awkward. Especially being that awkward new girl. Shoot. Stop over-thinking. You’ll be fine.

Tuesday - I’m not as nervous about the awkward new girl-ness. Feeling even more excited, but still learning the acronyms our clients are using. I feel like Lucy from I Love Lucy in the chocolate factory episode when she and Ethel look terribly out of place and start eating all the chocolates off the conveyor belt. Yikes. Maybe I should go eat some chocolate. Deep breath.

Wednesday - Excited. Very excited. Maybe I finally took that deep breath or maybe I just had a better night sleep but I felt like a fire was lit under my you-know-what and my first day jitters seem to have disappeared. I’ve been told that it will probably take three months for things to really click but now I feel less intimidated by the transition period from newbie to three-month-I-know-what-I’m-doing person.

Thursday - I am beginning to make connections between the names of client contacts and what each client actually does. A very rough, broad, grasp of what each client does. But hey, progress! Keep reading everything you can and you will learn this stuff. And then read more. Keep soaking up as much info as possible. Onward!

Friday - A blizzard is coming. Must get enough food and water (and alcohol) in case I’m locked inside for a week. Today wasn’t a standard day in the office so we’ll have to check back next week but overall today went well. Was involved in searching for editorial calendars and spent more time reading about various clients. Feeling good and excited to start my second week on Monday!

Emotions aside, I have soaked up a few substantial takeaway points over the past five days and I know they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

  1. Always be honest with clients. If you don’t have the answer to their question then tell them. Politely state that you don’t have the answer at the moment and you’ll get back to them ASAP once you have it. Then do it. Your follow up is critical.
  2. Be the expert. While it is important to receive feedback from your client and work together to seek out new opportunities, they hired youto be the leader in their PR or marketing initiative. Be confident and specific in your suggestions and recommendations.
  3. Team camaraderie within the office is a must. We are all here for the same reason: to help our clients succeed. We are better at our jobs when we function as an optimistic and respectful team than a group of individuals who do not have the same goal in mind.

Was your first week as a PR professional similar to mine? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter at @jewelsbucchi or shoot me a quick email at jbucchianeri@hbagency.com.

Posted in Hart-Boillot, Public Relations | Leave a comment

L is for the way you…. LOVE Public Relations

Six months into my first public                                                                       relations job  and I am still learning.                                                                     The public relations industry is definitely not something that can be learned overnight. The term “sink or swim” was definitely crafted with this profession in mind.

For a successful long-term relationship with PR, I encourage newbies to keep LOVE top of mind:

L is for the way you Listen

Listening is the best way to learn, regardless of where you are on your career path. Absorb as much information as possible from everyone around you and really think before you speak. You may get the answer to the question in your head by simply listening to others.

O is for Organization

The number one way to succeed at public relations is to have an amazing organization system set up for yourself. I can’t tell you the best way to stay organized because it’s different for everyone. It takes time combined with good ol’ fashioned trial and error.

V is for Very Very Extraordinary

Be voracious! Go above and beyond what is expected of you. Don’t punch out at five when it’s “time to go home.” Make sure you finish what you’re working on and assist with anyone else in the office that needs help so they can go home too. “A happy wife = a happy life” and the same goes for your work environment. “A happy team = a happy everyday dream team!”

E is for Even more attention to detail  

The devil is in the details when it comes to public relations. With the combination of internet and mobile devices, there are more eyes on what you’re putting out there than ever before. You can proofread something a million times and there will still be mistakes. Ask a trusted co-worker to take a look at your work before you send it out to an editor or client just to ensure you’ve covered everything and you haven’t made any grammatical errors.

Stepping into the PR world and becoming great at it isn’t a one night stand, it’s a long-term relationship!

Posted in Hart-Boillot | Leave a comment

The Flacktrack

By Dawn Sullivan, PR Strategist

Thanks to services like Songza and iHeartRadio’s “Perfect For”, customizing music to fit your mood or “activity” is a snap. But, for the modern PR agency professional, tunes designed for “working” hardly cut it. Our job is a constant state of flux – ups and downs, frustration and adulation, fire tamping and blue-sky thinking. It’s no surprise “PR professional” is one of the top five most stressful jobs on the planet. To help us get through it, we need a soundtrack that bobs and weaves right along with us.

As part of HB Agency’s Blog the 13th 2013 blog series, here are tunes for 13 common PR situations. The rest of the soundtrack is up to you…and I hope you’ll share it with me!

Go to HB Agency’s GrooveShark page and Hit PLAY for:

1.       Brainstorming an explosive idea – TNT by AC/DC

BONUS TRACK: Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, Mozart

2.       Writing a press release – Chariots of Fire, Vangelis

3.       Calling a reporter – Eye of the Tiger, Survivor

4.       Recovering from getting turned down by a reporter – Fighter, Christina Aguilera

BONUS TRACK: Mean, Taylor Swift

5.       Celebrating a piece of amazing, on-message, earned media coverage – Walking on Sunshine, Katrina and the Waves

6.       Needing some light at the end of the tunnel – Somewhere over the Rainbow, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

BONUS TRACK: Red Solo Cup, Toby Keith

7.      Finding Inspiration – It’s a Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong

8.      Winning a piece of business – You Can’t Touch This, MC Hammer

9.      Losing a piece of business – I’m Gonna Find Another You, John Mayer

10.    Thanking colleagues for always having you covered – Umbrella, Rihanna

11.   Receiving client praise – Can’t get enough of your love babe, Barry White

BONUS TRACK: Give Me All Your Lovin’, ZZ Top

12.   Tending to a fire – Rolling in the Deep, Adele

BONUS TRACK: Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire, Jimi Hendrix

13.   Having a happy client – Just Like Heaven, The Cure

What’s your Flacktrack? Tell me @dawnsullivan or dsullivan@hbagency.com.

Posted in Blog the 13th, Media Relations, Public Relations, Writing | Leave a comment

No Snow Job Needed

The recent snow storm once again caused power disruptions across many towns in eastern Massachusetts, with notable areas concentrated along the South Shore, an area where I live. Although the snow itself was ultimately manageable, the resulting damage it caused to power lines led to several days of no electricity and cold homes for hundreds of thousands. The two companies responsible for restoring power to these areas have made very visible efforts this time in communicating to their customers, providing a toll-free line to speak with a live person to report downed lines to or request further information (if your phone works…), near real-time updates via their corporate websites showing where power outages exist and when affected customers can expect restored power, and regular statements from their senior executives regarding the status of their efforts.

First off, thank you to my power company for this, a tremendous improvement over prior efforts during Hurricane Irene, where the lack of consistent and straightforward, unspun communications left many in the dark, both figuratively and literally. Both companies now provide interactive maps and ETA for restoration of our beloved electricity. In the past, we might have seen messaging a bit off the top-line.

Making an honest effort to inform customers and avoiding much of the detached, self-congratulatory back-slapping that plagued past communications is critical to ensure customer trust. We’re in the same boat — the roads were in rough shape for all of us, weather was terrible and conditions far from ideal. And since I made it to work along those same roads, along with tens of thousands of others, you want empathy and information, not needless spin.

In times like these, how about directly cutting to the point – offering a strictly customer-centric voice to your communications – i.e. when is power expected to be restored, and where will this occur. For executives and companies that face the difficult task of updating customers and shareholders in times of crisis or those faced with conveying bad news, the best policy is often “just the facts,” without softening context and spin. Customers and the general public have a vast capacity to forgive and forget, and expect these challenges. Companies, executives and the professionals helping manage their public relations should also understand that in the era of immediate communications where customers can verify the veracity and accuracy of statements, a “just the facts” policy, whether those facts are either encouraging, or more of the same, makes the most sense.

Posted in Current Affairs, Public Relations | Leave a comment