Three Tips for Controlling Your Reactions

Gut reaction. Emotional response. Whatever you call it, it shouldn’t be a stretch to find a time when you’ve experienced it. Encountering an event of displeasure often causes a flood of immediate reactions derived from a place of thoughtless spontaneity. Unhelpful, to say the least.

As Jonathan Haidt illustrates in The Happiness Hypothesis, we are the rider on our elephant’s back. It can be a lofty challenge to control the quick and powerful swings of the elephant’s movement but learning to take charge of our elephant is a gradual process. Here are three steps to get you moving.


It’s annoying.
You’re engrossed in finding type combinations, finding the perfect image and… *biiing*, you’re interrupted by a pressing email. Pushing you out of your attentive state (we’ll revisit this in #3), you now have to handle that project that was supposed to be due next Friday, this Friday. Before handling it, you emotionally react, “That’s so annoying!”

So what? To start, you personally being annoyed is much different than an email (1s and 0s) that is annoying. The email you’ve received is in most cases, unaffectable, and in all cases, inanimate. On the other hand, your reaction is very much adjustable. You have become annoyed because of the email and thus have the ability to reverse course. Being willing and able to accept you are the one who is causing your own annoyance allows you to adjust and resolve with a more effective trajectory. That email didn’t do anything wrong.

It’s difficult.
Whether you’re the new kid or a seasoned vet, receiving an overly difficult or complicated task can cause a rush of emotional distress. Almost instantly you spill out, “This is too difficult.”

Think about the things you do that seem to come to you naturally. What is it that you do exceptionally well? You know all the steps; you know all the possible outcomes. When you receive a seemingly difficult task, you really receive a problem without a clear path to completion. Instead of shuddering in the shadow of the task, plot your course. What steps can you take to clear out a path? Where can you apply what you know and learn what you don’t? The difference between a task you can breeze through and one you stumble over is clarity.

It’s boring.
It’s 2:15 p.m. Tuesday is droning on. You’re glazing over a monotonous project. Perpetually distracted, you can’t seem to hold attention to what you’re doing. “This is boring…”

The default perception of boring most likely coincides with dull. And you might be right. But we can find a common thread to the pesky (inanimate) email in how we react to it. Take a wider view and decide what is boring and who is bored. Don’t hinder yourself. Being bored isn’t about a bad project, it’s a lack of attention. Try seeking out a unique approach to the typeface you’re required to use. Involve yourself in finding a dynamic image to fill a lackluster placeholder. Finding a detail or an approach to the project that you can find actionable and involved focuses your attention and reduces boredom. Sometimes you need to create an angle that allows you to be attentive, and that’s OK.

In the end, it’s not about what happens. It’s how you react to what happens. Your elephant may jerk left, and then jerk right, but it’s up to you to recognize a misdirection and bring your elephant back to center. Roll through the punches with an approach you can control and you’ll be surprised how little you flinch.


How to Survive the Workplace as an Introvert

shutterstock_273946274Full disclosure: I am an introvert.

How do I know? In grade school, my participation grades consistently tanked, despite maintaining straight As. Small talk drains me. I thoroughly enjoy spending time by myself. Oh, and a stack of personality tests tells me so.

Living in a country that is obsessed with extroversion presents a few challenges, including some that arise in the workplace.

Introverts live in their heads. I spend a lot of time observing, thinking and analyzing, and not a whole lot of time talking. Of course I want to contribute, but my silence is often interpreted as indifference. So how can an introvert thrive in the office? Well, being self-aware about it is a good start (case in point: this blog).

Tip #1: Develop relevant questions and ideas before a meeting. I’m the all-time worst respondent when it comes to spontaneous questions that require thoughtful answers. Anyone who has ever been in a marketing class with me can vouch for that. I need time to analyze situations in my head before speaking. Anticipating discussion points and writing down ideas or questions before a meeting is incredibly helpful.

Tip #2: Make your workspace work for you. I understand that open office spaces are all the rage right now, but they’re cramping introverts’ style. Look for areas in or around your office where you can spend some time working quietly and without distractions.

Tip #3: Network in small group settings. I recently attended a PR awards show with fellow HBers. Before I left for the event, my intention was to network and meet a few new people during the reception before the show. And then I got there and my mature, pre-professional intentions went right out the window. There were 200 PR professionals chit-chatting away over cocktails and appetizers. For an introvert, it was a standard case of what psychologists like to refer to as overstimulation. Find smaller events that aren’t so overwhelming and are focused on networking rather than small talk. Big award ceremony? Maybe not. Connecting over coffee? More like it.

Tip #4: Set an intention to have several social interactions with coworkers or industry professionals every work day. Building up your relationships is important in the workplace, especially when the time comes for you to work on a team with your peers. Show them that you’re interested in more than just climbing the career ladder by engaging them in conversations that go beyond shop talk.

Tip #5: Set aside time after work or on weekends to recharge. Don’t wait until you’re burned out to find time for yourself. By scheduling in weekly time to yourself, you’ll remember to do it, feel less stressed and be more productive at work.

Tip #6: Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Avoiding every situation that might push you out of your introverted limits would make for a rather uneventful and unprogressive career path. Catering to an introverted personality doesn’t mean letting yourself off the hook every time you’re faced with a situation you’d rather avoid. Be ok with failure and never stop pushing yourself.

Tip #6: Read Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.” Or at the very least, watch her TED talk. I always felt quite inadequate compared to my extroverted counterparts until I read her book. She points out introverts’ skills that are often overlooked or underutilized and this made me realize that what I thought were some of my flaws were actually some of my strengths. Cain ultimately makes a case for why introverts are just important as extroverts to society. It’s worth the read.

Don’t Ask Unless You’re in Love: How to Get Out of the Proposal Business

First published at AgencyPost.


Writing, sending, and presenting proposals takes a lot of work. Too many people confuse this frenzied activity with winning business. In fact, only lovers should propose. Such proposals happen in moments of adoration and trust, when normally smart humans get stupid and give up all control over their destinies. They throw out a question and wait like nervous puppies for a positive response.

Agencies are asked to make proposals on a regular basis. These requests usually come from people with whom you’ve had:

  • Few or no conversations,
  • No opportunity to distinguish yourself from other candidates,
  • No exclusivity — clients will say you’re one of three or five when you’re one of 10,
  • No intimacy.

You are required to generate ideas and provide detailed descriptions about what your future might look like together, should the prospect choose you among several suitors. Finally, you’re asked to send in your best work but given little indication of when you might hear back with a rejection or acceptance. They say, “We’ll get back to you.” Who would propose under those conditions? Nobody, and neither should you.

So sit up, put your shoulders back, garner your courage, and get yourself out of the proposal business by consistently following a few key steps:

1. When you start the conversation, stop pitching — start catching.

You build trust by listening, so make sure that any calls or meetings that lead to the “proposal” are at least 70% listening. Your prospect will fall for you more easily, and if you listen well enough and ask the right questions, you might learn you’re not a good match, saving yourself valuable time and emotional investment.

2. No meeting? No proposal!

“Send us a proposal, and we’ll get back to you next week” is not a commitment. If you do put together a proposal, and they don’t get back to you, then you have no one to blame but yourself. How do you get around that? Insist on presenting your proposal in person. If they don’t want to meet in person, it’s a sign the prospect isn’t serious in building a long-term successful, collaborative relationship.

And, oh by the way, when you meet in person, don’t leave without a commitment to figure out the next steps. A commitment isn’t “we’ll follow up at some indeterminate time in the future.”

3. Only propose to the right people.

If the person in the room can’t make a decision, then why are you on your knees handing her a beautiful ring you hand-crafted over numerous hours? Get up, brush off the dirt, and explain that you will come back when all the decision-makers are in the room.

How many times have you found out, after the fact, that your proposal recipient wasn’t empowered to make a decision? Don’t do it again.

4. Build it together.

We often use in-person meetings to come up with the broad outline of an agreement and cost structure together with our prospect. It’s a great chance to get to know each other and come to an agreement on what needs to happen, when it needs to happen, and how much it’s likely to cost.

You might even realize it won’t be a good fit because of cost, decision-making, goals, or just a bad vibe. Be thankful: You just saved yourself some time!

5. Set the budget together.

How many times have you pitched a price that was too high or way too low? If someone says, “You tell me what it should cost,” don’t do it! They have a budget in mind, and you know it.

We usually use an analogy and ask for guidance. Suppose you’re hiring an architect and you say, “Build me a house.” How is the architect to proceed without any sense of the budget?

6. When you do meet, you’re not proposing.

You’re brainstorming. You’re sharing time together. You’re bringing ideas to the table and working together to shape the ideal agency engagement for the prospect. Either party may emerge from that discussion with the sense that it’s not a good fit, or that it is.

If you think of it this way and talk about it this way, you come together as equals.

7. It’s not a proposal. It’s a working agreement.

This is easy: Stop calling it a proposal. You’re both choosing whether or not to partner and work together.

Would you rather come to an agreement? Or do you want to be the one that says, “Yes. Please. We want it, and we’re willing to wait as long as you want for you to say ‘yes,’ say ‘no,’ or tell us we need to do more work before you decide.”

8. Be proud of reducing your free consulting.

Did some of these points make you nervous? Did you think, “But what if I take myself out of the race?”

Stop thinking of it that way because you’re wrong. Running after poorly qualified business doesn’t help you grow your practice. The most successful salespeople are just as talented at eliminating leads as they are at pursuing the ones that are qualified. Learn how to eliminate the bad ones and super-qualify the good ones.

You’ll free up a lot of time to do your best work when it’s likely to pay off.

– See more at:

Justine Sacco Will Make a 2014 Comeback

Justine Sacco's Notorious Tweet

Courtesy of Twitter via The Guardian

Shortly before Christmas, PR executive Justine Sacco sent out a tweet to her couple of hundred followers, then jumped on a flight to South Africa.

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

While she spent the next 16 hours offline flying from London to Cape Town, where she planned to see her family and spend a bit of vacation, her tweet sped around the globe. A horrified population jumped on the callous racism of it.

Articles were written, pundits weighed in, her name became a domain that redirected to AIDS charities, her own bosses denounced her actions, the hashtag #hasjustinelandedyet began trending on Twitter, just entering her name into Google brought up her flight information and one guy even interviewed Justine’s dad at the airport as he was waiting for her to arrive.

Sacco, meanwhile, had no idea any of this was happening. That is, until she turned on her phone and walked off the plane. Soon she was out of a job and the poster child for “how to mishandle your social media presence.”

Her career, however, must go on. She’s a relatively young woman who left a large scar on the internet. Will this very public, very despicable action cause Sacco to lose her public relations career? If she takes the right actions, probably not.

Sacco isn’t the first PR “princess” to find herself in a public mess. Remember Lizzie Grubman? Back in 2001 Grubman backed her Mercedes SUV into a group of people outside of a club in the Hamptons, injuring 16 people. Grubman earned herself 26 felony charges, including DWI, and caused almost $100 million in lawsuits as a result of her actions that night. Years later, Grubman retained her career and even got herself an MTV reality show.

PR executives need to be their own PR representatives, at all times. Like our clients, nobody is perfect. Some make inexcusable mistakes, like Sacco. While others perform less scandalous acts that can still cost them their jobs.

Here are some New Year’s resolutions Justine Sacco might want think about for 2014:

Apologize, apologize, apologize – and mean it

Justine Sacco did issue an apology over the weekend of the incident, albeit a weak one. Would she have issued a Twitter apology had her tweet gone unnoticed by the world? Probably not. If Justine Sacco really wants to apologize, she needs to do it with her actions and her words. Perhaps she should spend some of her newly freed time volunteering with a nonprofit to help them in their crusade to abolish AIDS. Maybe she needs sensitivity training. She might consider volunteering at an orphanage in South Africa where children affected by AIDS could use her help.

Since she doesn’t need to remind the public about her huge mistake, she can do this without telling the world. She should do it quietly and shared only with her inner circle, potential clients and employers. She needs to get on the road to public and private recovery and her actions will speak louder than words.

Use social media responsibly

There is nothing wrong with being edgy. I do it all the time, and overall have a very positive return from the technology community I work with every day. If you are not sure you can handle the responsibility of social media, you need to get out of PR. You are making the rest of us look bad.

Some things to consider when using social media:

• The internet is forever – Sacco quickly deleted her Twitter account, but that didn’t make a tweet go away. If you are saying it online, you are saying it for the world to hear and you better be comfortable with that. If you do something offline or even online privately, it can still find its way online. Act in accordance with what you want your public persona to be, for at some point the world may see it.
• Listen after you post – Posting on social media encourages engagement. When you are not online to monitor responses to your post you miss a potential opportunity. Imagine how different Sacco’s situation might be had she monitored her Twitter account for even 30 minutes after posting.
• Use the “Would my boss be upset at this?” rule when posting on your social media properties. If the answer is “maybe” or “yes” then do not post it. Is your online social network really going to lose out because they didn’t see your “awesome” drunk post from last night?

Remember your future employer

Public relations professionals know that some organizations and industries are more conservative than others. If a PR executive wants to work at a large, global company or a more reserved organization, like a school system or a political organization, then taking risky actions, whether they be on or offline, is a definite “no.” If someone wants more control over a risky public persona, they should work for an organization that will not be as affected should negative publicity hit their PR representative.

Worth noting: hateful, racist comments will put you out of a job at some point.

Find empathetic people and work with them

There are people out there who empathize with Sacco. I’m not one of them but certainly they exist. Sacco should consider keeping a list of those people and start to rebuild her tarnished reputation with the people who will give her the opportunity to do so.

Celebrities, athletes, politicians and other people of notoriety bounce back after public debacles. If Justine Sacco executes her 2014 comeback carefully, she will too.

What I Wish I Knew 20 Years Ago


Next month, Catherine Ahearn joins the HB PR department as an account coordinator. While this isn’t Catherine’s first job — she comes to us with experience working as a freelance editor — her new role prompted me to consider things that I wish I had known earlier in my career. It has taken me four employers and two decades to refine this list.

Pick a mentor, or three. In my nine years at HB, I have recognized that while all individuals bring a range of capabilities to the table, each of us have few specific skills that shine extra bright. Dawn, for example, can quickly assess a situation and immediately pose three questions that drive directly to the heart of the matter. While I work to channel my inner Dawn when asking questions, I try to emulate Christine and Molly when listening to the answers.

Know yourself and optimize accordingly. Anyone who has spent a workday with me knows two things: I am not a morning person and every day, like clockwork, I enjoy a 3:30 Diet Coke. Thanks to this combination, I often dig into a new project at 4:00 and come up for air around 6:00.

Get out of the office to network and learn. The magic doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Expose yourself to new ideas, perspectives and people as often as possible. A conversation at an alumni event or a fundraiser could lead to new business, or a fresh idea, for you, your client and your company.

Set goals to move forward. I like to walk; it’s fun and as they say, time flies when you are having fun. At the office, a month can whiz by and you haven’t moved the needle on an important, but not urgent project. Measurable goals ensure that I keep my eye on all important tasks, not just the biggest, and keep putting one meaningful step in front of the other.

Attitude. Attitude. Attitude. In the words of Cher, “If I could turn back time…” for a redo of the months that I wasted with a tainted attitude about my work environment (clearly, this predates my time at HB). In past chapters of my career, I found myself frustrated and let this attitude influence all aspects of my life. As corny as it sounds, “think happy, be happy.” Check your attitude and that of colleagues. Have a co-worker whose negative vibes form a toxic cloud? Help them turn that frown upside down. And be aware if you are bringing the toxins. Sometimes we get in a rut and never even realize it. Empower a colleague to be brutally honest with you. The HB Way, our company doctrine, guides behaviors internally and externally. One of my favorites is “we hold each other accountable.”

You need to ask. Speaking up — about your career path, a client challenge, a company practice you don’t quite get — is really the only good way to get answer. But before you ask a question, do your research. Do not make a move without checking with your friend and ally, the internet. Come across an acronym you don’t recognize? Not sure how to calculate something in Excel? Can’t get your video editing software to work? You will be surprised how much online content, including video, can help you move forward.

Any words of wisdom for Catherine as she embarks on a new adventure here at HB?

News from Shanghai – Why HB Chooses IPREX and Is Glad IPREX Chooses HB

David Croasdale, Managing Director of Newell PR, Hong Kong, describes the “layered approach” to doing business in China

David Croasdale, Managing Director of Newell PR, Hong Kong, describes the “layered approach” to doing business in China

During one May 2013 week in Shanghai for the IPREX annual meeting, I worked with fellow leaders of marketing firms from around the world. As we collaborated on partner engagement methodology and best marketing practices, I kept asking myself, “Why do we all believe that the IPREX network is more effective for clients than a single global marketing firm?”

So I asked my colleagues, who came to Shanghai from firms in the UK, India, Mainland China, Australia, Hong Kong, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Canada, Spain, Ireland, Finland, Norway, Singapore, Peru, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Malaysia, Canada and the US.

Here are the top five reasons I heard regarding why they believe IPREX is more effective than traditional global marketing firms.

  1. Global agencies with in-depth local market knowledge are better than global branch offices. Many agencies establish offices around the world, but those offices are branches from a single tree. While that might give clients some assurance of centrally located control and command, it often works against true local knowledge and strategic counsel. Our clients’ goal shouldn’t be great translation. It should be uncompromising localization.
  2. Partnership and membership are at stake all the time. IPREX isn’t the kind of organization where you write a check and they let you in. Competency examinations, financial stability requirements, organizational reviews, interviews and agency visits are part of a stringent vetting process. Poor performance in a multi-agency engagement can mean the loss of reputation or membership. IPREX polices the partner agencies’ professional standards. Many offices of global firms are not under that kind of pressure, and it can translate to lower performance.
  3. We work with the partner we choose, not the one we must use. An IPREX partner in India might have the right competency to advance an international campaign. But if it doesn’t, we can choose a different partner that is better suited to the work. We are not obligated to go through any particular channel or office, which means we can choose the right agency for the right job.
  4. Best practices, globally sourced. The world is changing fast, and the best ideas and practices for PR and integrated marketing can come from any country. Unlike global agencies whose capabilities stem from a powerful headquarters, IPREX best practices come from around the world and evolve every year as the global agencies collaborate and discover new ways to remain relevant and effective.
  5. This is the age of speed. With no institutionalized chains of command, IPREX agencies can often do in a few days what takes global agencies a few weeks or months. We have the case studies to prove it.
Mayte Gonzalez-Gil, CEO of poweraxle, Madrid, presents the international “St. Patrick’s Day Campaign” created with several agencies and the government of Ireland

Mayte Gonzalez-Gil, CEO of poweraxle, Madrid, presents the international “St. Patrick’s Day Campaign” created with several agencies and the government of Ireland

The firms I queried in Shanghai represent only a fraction of IPREX’s 70 global partners (with 100 worldwide offices and 1,500 staff), which brings up my top reason: IPREX offers high-quality operations in every major market worldwide.

The resources IPREX partners put into traveling and meeting with each other also dwarf what many international agencies do. This creates collegial peer-group relationships that lead to high-quality work and a lot of fun doing the work. As one IPREX member put it, “If we didn’t believe this allows us to do better work for our clients, why would we be meeting here in Shanghai? And by the way, will I see you in Prague this fall?” Yes, he will.

Five Reasons I Get Out of Bed in the Morning

Rise and shineOnce again, CareerCast’s list of the top ten most stressful jobs includes public relations executive (number five, after commercial airline pilot). Despite this “status,” I love my job for exactly the factors that do make it so stressful; most days involve a fire drill and I must be an expert in all my clients’ markets and product areas.

A few of the other reasons that I leap (er, roll) out of bed each day:

  1. No two days are alike. The movie Groundhog Day profiles the trials and tribulations of Phil Connors (played perfectly by Bill Murray), who finds himself repeating the same day again and again. Each day at HB Agency brings a new set of challenges to solve and stories to tell. No Phil Connors here.
  2. I see results in black and white. Media success hinges on building relationships between reporters and industry experts. The connections that I forge ultimately lead to “ink” for my clients and their business success.
  3. It rewards my organizational strengths. While a client services role requires top-notch business acumen, it also comes down to achieving the perfect balance of competing, yet equally important, demands. My organizational skills get put to the test daily as I continue to build and fine tune the systems that help me succeed.
  4. It keeps me fresh. I constantly need to push myself and the team to find new angles for existing topics and stories. This keeps me on my toes and fosters stellar creative thinking skills.
  5. I listen to smart people talk. In one day, I set up and facilitated six interviews for the CEO of a publicly traded company. These conversations led to stories in AdWeek, DestinationCRM and Direct Marketing News.

I can’t imagine a day without a solid dose of stress with a shot of result-producing adrenaline on the side.

Congratulations Graduate! Also, 9 Reasons Why I Will Never Hire You

Colleges and universities have by now had commencement and released their graduates into the real world. For grads, this means it’s time for career pursuit. For employers, it’s time to remember that not all grads are created equal. Read this list of tips for job hunters authored by HB’s Mark O’Toole and find out why dubbed it ‘bitingly hilarious.’ Better yet – check out all the reactions at the end of the post – and add you own.  

Most colleges and universities have by now had commencement and released their graduates into the real world. For you grads, this means it’s time for career pursuit. For us employers, it’s time to remember that not all grads are created equal.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve been in hiring roles and have received thousands of resumes from new college graduates just like you. I’ve interviewed many and done my share of informational interviews – these are the interviews we do when you happen to be the child of a friend, colleague or customer who asks on your behalf.  Sometimes I’ve hired people like you into entry-level positions. More often though, I haven’t.

Read more at BostInno

Why I get nervous when you call me an expert

In recent months, I’ve heard the following words too many times: “I’m relying on you to tell me – you’re the expert.” During the same period, I’ve been very lucky to:

  • meet with investors I highly respect to brainstorm on product differentiation in the fresh produce industry;
  • help a company figure out how to bring together a community in the medical technology industry;
  • be interviewed and filmed as I commented on how best to describe a cutting-edge higher-education program; and
  • be invited to Germany to lead a group of technology company executives in a multi-day session designed to hone messaging and create a direct marketing initiative.

In each case, one or more people called me “expert.”  It made me uncomfortable, because a little voice inside my head kept repeating Shunryu Suzuki’s words of wisdom in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

I have experienced the “expert” phenomenon both as the expert and as the one seeking expertise. As “experts,” my colleagues and I meet with clients who want definitive answers, and we work hard to provide such answers.

“Here’s what we should do, how much it will cost, and the results you can expect. Yes, this is the best way to make the most of your marketing budget.”

[Read more…]


In celebration of tomorrow’s leap day, all of us at HB thought about what we would like to do with this extra day.

We asked around the office – what’s on your leap list? Is there a project you’ve been putting off or something creative you have yet to try because you just can’t get around to it?

Here’s what a few HBers shared:

“I would like to write a short story, an activity that helps develop a skill while also quenching my thirst for creation.” – NB & JH

“With the extra 24 hours, I intend to clean my desk. Not just neaten up the stacks of papers, folders and unread magazines… I mean really clean my desk. If it hasn’t been touched in a year, I’ll throw it out. If it pertains to activities older than a year, I’ll throw it out. Now… my Rolodex… what to do about my Rolodex?! Keep it or toss it? That is the question!” – KH

“I want a day to read and delete old emails, do the tasks listed on the Post-It notes lettering my desk and start March 1 with an empty to-do list.” – MO

“If I had a free 24 hours with no obligations, I would sit outside and paint. I use to do this frequently, but no longer have the time to do so. It’s so relaxing to sit under the sun with a cool breeze blowing while laying a fresh coat of paint on a canvas.” – AJ

Now that we’ve shared some items on our leap list, HB wants to know – what’s on yours?

This Wednesday, February 29th, HB will provide half-hour marketing sessions in-person, via skype, or on the phone for anyone who would like free public relations, marketing and branding consulting.

Availability is limited so please email or call 781-893-0053 to schedule your appointment today.