FDOC*: social media learning curve

It didn’t matter that I’m the instructor, yesterday I had first-day jitters for my social media course. This was amplified a bit when, at 9:05, I looked around the computer lab and no one was there (we start at 9 a.m.).  Turned out the class was listed in two rooms and the students were doing the same thing as me: patiently waiting and wondering what was going on.

Once we got settled, we reviewed the course outline and I talked about social media in general and the things we’d be covering and from the questions and looks on some faces, I remembered again how new social media is to most people.

It’s so easy for those of us who have been involved in social media for several years or more to take it for granted and assume it’s as commonplace as a news release, when in fact it isn’t.

And whether we’re talking to students, clients, bosses, colleagues or friends, we shouldn’t make assumptions. We should define the terms clearly and simply, explain how the various tools work and what their benefits are and answer questions with patience and good humour.  Those of us conversant in social media need to step back and realize that, as with anything else, there’s a learning curve.

I know I had it – have it, really, because one of the things I like best about social media is how it’s still evolving and there’s so much for all of us to understand.

And really when you get right down to it, aren’t we all students of social media right now?

*FDOC: first day of class

Air Canada…I give up

I fly fairly regularly – not enough for the perks of super-elite status, but enough to be bumped around through the maze of disappointing service that is Air Canada.

Sometimes I’m surprised by a staff member who is helpful or friendly. Mostly it’s a mildly irritating experience at best.

However, I’m tired of complaining about the airline as they don’t listen or seem to care. So, this will be my final gripe. After that, I’m resigned to accept that lacklustre service is part of the brand.

But…on a recent visit to California, a couple of small things stood out as further examples of AC’s failure to communicate.

The first happened at the Toronto airport when the airline ‘changed equipment’, we discovered we’d lost our seats and, like many others, were no longer guaranteed a place on the flight.  I pleaded for clemency as I was part of a wedding party and would have missed the ceremony if they didn’t let us on.  In the end, a kind young man stepped forward and offered his seat. But much of the angst might have been avoided with a quick email informing passengers of the situation, the potential SNAFU and our options – we know they have our email address.

On the way home we were on-board and ordered snacks. The menu advertised a 10 per cent discount on purchases over $10 in June and July. However, when I got my receipt, it was for the full amount. Now, we’re not talking a lot of money here, but when I mentioned this to the flight attendant, he said  the machines must have been reprogrammed and wouldn’t allow the discount or a refund, but he could make up the difference in snacks.

This seems like a case where the AC bean-counters turned a  promise into something as worthless as a ‘hill of beans’ (that you could probably buy from them for $3).

A little later, the FA said AC almost never informs staff when equipment is changed and they only find out when passengers grumble. Here’s a thought: how about spending a little more effort communicating with flight attendants and front-line reps; empowering them with information that they, in turn, could share with the passengers.  Pretty basic stuff.

I’m just glad to hear Virgin Airlines is now flying out of Toronto. Thanks to Klout, I get a chance to sample the service later in the month. From what I’ve heard, this will be a welcome change. I can’t wait.

A brand new PR energi…

Are you ready? I’ve got some really exciting Palette news.

On July 1 Palette PR, the agency I co-founded with Louise Armstrong, is merging with Communications MECA to form a brand new agency – energi PR – we’re calling it Canada’s PR and digital/social media powerhouse.

And we are jumping up and down thrilled!

Today we told staff and clients. We’re posting a news release on our respective sites and on our new site – which really is ‘under construction’ till early July.  And tomorrow morning, we’re live on the wire.

So what does this mean?  All Palette and MECA staff is coming to the new company and everyone will have more opportunities to work on new projects and take on fresh challenges.  We’ll be an independent, national and bilingual agency with offices in Toronto and Montreal.  Palette will be move into MECA’s Toronto office. And I’m really looking forward to getting to know and working with all my new colleagues.

We’re specializing in PR, social media/digital and corporate communications and building traditional and new PR/social media into our agency right from the start so we’ll be able to seamlessly integrate the two.  I’m going to be the Toronto managing partner and will lead the firm’s digital practice.

I’ve known my other two managing partners, Esther Buchsbaum and Carol Levine, a long time through Counselors Academy, CCPRF and from working together on projects.  I have long admired Communications MECA, the firm they created, their approach and industry leadership. They’re smart, talented and have a lot of business savvy and most important, the fit is right!

I have one other piece of news and that is Louise is stepping away from the business to spend more time with her kids and on her writing. This is something Louise has been thinking about for a long time. We built Palette together and I want to wish her all the best. I’m going to miss working with her! And, if she wants, there will always be a place for Louise at energi.

To everyone who helped and supported Palette over the years, including staff, all our wonderful clients, our industry partners and friends I want to thank you! I hope you’ll all come along for our energi-filled ride (OK, I’ll try to keep the puns to a minimum).  We’ve got lots of amazing plans!

Watch for more news leading up to July 1 and beyond.

I’d love to hear from you, but may be a bit difficult to reach on Wed and Thu – I’m teaching a two-day social media for business course at McMaster from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

And please bear with me as I update all my social network profiles. That may take a little time…

What’s that blanket doing under the kitchen sink?

I actually found one not too long ago and wasn’t sure why it was there. (There was a good reason, though I’m not going to get into it.)

But it made me think that no matter how hard we try to be organized, humans are drawn to clutter.  Or perhaps clutter is drawn to us.

We seem programmed to accumulate, collect and save. We want so we get. And we continue on this path ad infinitum.

Except for one thing: storage is ‘finitum’ – at least in this world!  And pretty soon we run out of org space, switch into cram-mode and reach a tipping point where we just start putting things wherever there’s room. And that’s when stuff disappears and/or pops up in bizarre spots (like under the kitchen sink).

It doesn’t matter if this is at home or at work. In real or digital worlds.

Many people tackle the finer points of de-cluttering IRL.

So instead I’ll offer a few tips on how I ‘minimalize’ (as opposed to minimize) all the junk on my computer:

  1. Organize and label folders for projects and then file appropriately. Periodically check to make sure that things are where they should be and delete unused folders and docs.
  2. Save over documents especially when you’re working on multiple drafts. Then go a step further and rename the file by adding the current date. Think of how much looking time you’ll save.
  3. Clear out your temp and cache and that weirdly named folder where PC attachments get stored after you open them. Defrag every couple of months at least (and if you don’t know what that is, you’re either a Mac user or really need to do it).
  4. Put the date on each draft document. This is important for something that’s being revised or updated. (And while this isn’t really related, please remember to paginate, too.)
  5. Spring cleaning should happen more than once a year. Start with your desktop. How many draft documents, spreadsheets and jpgs that you no longer need are just sitting there?  Trash them.

If you can do this on a regular basis, you’ll be able to quickly access most of the things you need, make fewer mistakes (since the likelihood is you’ll be working on the most recent version) and not bombard your brain with all that useless stuff. Who knows, you might even clear enough room for that great idea or insight (or even a middling one, which is better than nothing).

PR and sales – cut from the same cloth?

I think we are. And I say that with complete sincerity. (Pause for the sound of people throwing things.)

I actually think our profession has a lot more in common with sales than with marketing.

For the record, I grew up in sales. My dad owned a couple of fabric and drapery stores in Winnipeg. And watching him go about his business, I learned that the best sales people, like the best public relaters, are all about two-way relationships. Listening. Helping. Telling a story well and truthfully. Being social. Engendering trust.

Now that’s not to say we’re completely altruistic. Like any business we’re goal-oriented. But we don’t create visuals that do nothing but dazzle, sweep you off your feet with sweepstakes or deliver direct mail directly to the circular file.

Sure there are stereotypical images of high pressure salesman – hucksters – who see you as nothing more than a commission. The same holds true for certain PR people – call them hypesters – who’ll stoop to anything to get their client’s name ‘in the press’. Both types give their respective professions a bad name.

But have you ever sat in a room full of great sales folks and listened to them swap stories? You really get a sense that they like and respect their customers/clients, and will go out of their way to help.

And if they’re really good, they know they won’t always win or hear the answer they want. But that doesn’t matter. They’re in it for the long haul.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it.

So… sales and PR – cut from the same cloth, as the son-of-a-fabric-man might say. What do you think of that?

Do you complify instead of simplify?

At Palette we have a promise (to our clients and ourselves) that our relationships and work will be based on three pillars: simplicity, energy and integrity.

It’s at the heart of everything we do.

But lately I’ve noticed that for some people and organizations simplicity has (simply) gone awry.

And instead of making life easier, we make things more complex: we complify.

Here’s what I mean. In the course of a workday, you notice something you’re doing is cumbersome and has too many pointless steps. You think, we should come up with a way to fix this.

But instead of cutting through the crap, egos get involved. And then an old process is replaced by a newer process, a few extra levels are added (in the spirit of collaboration, of course) and all of a sudden something that wasn’t working very well to begin with (the devil you know) has been transformed into something that doesn’t work at all.

Congratulations. You’ve just been complifed.

So how can we avoid getting into this trap?

Here are three (simple) steps:
1. Ask yourself if an improvement is truly needed and if so, will people buy in.
2. Strip down the activity to its base elements, assume nothing is sacred and cut, cut, cut. (Pretend CTL-V does not exist.)
3. If your solution involves more than a couple of moving parts…abort! Remember what you’re goal is.

Sounds simple? Sure. But I can tell you in no time, it wouldn’t be hard to add a few more steps to this plan and complify.

Fixing what’s broken between journalism and PR

On Inside PR #173, my ‘-30-‘ comment, the short POV remarks we’re using to end the show, dealt with a few of the things we need to do to start fixing the pretty much broken relationship between journalism and PR.

This is something that must be done. And I think it’s up to our industry to take the lead and try improve the way we interact with each other; build trust, credibility and respect on both sides. I think the same applies to bloggers and other influencers, as well.

Part of the problem lies with the way our profession functions: trying to place stories, traditionally in MSM, for clients or organizations. We often feel under a lot of pressure to deliver results for which we have virtually no control.

Fine. That’s our reality and no one forced us into it. I’m proud to be a PR practitioner and this uncertainty is one of the things we just accept.

There are many media with whom I feel I have a good professional relationship. I define that as being able to approach a journalist/blogger with an idea they might be interested in, showing them why/how it works in a quick, efficient manner and having them say either say yes or no (or sometimes saving it for a future story).

However, I think that over the years we have made many repeated mis-steps that hurt the industry and our collective reputation.

And now, with social media and two-way conversations being embraced by both sides, this seems like a perfect time to make the change.

Here are 10 steps the PR profession can take right now:

  1. Always read a journalists or blogger’s past stories (and not just from last week). We need to do our research and know who’s covering or interested in which subjects.
  2. Know the difference between hard and soft news and position a story accordingly. It may seem big to us (or our client), but we have to step back and realize where our news fits into the grand scheme of things. I mean really fits.
  3. Be transparent and tell the truth.
  4. Stop writing in corporate-speak
  5. Strive to be helpful, not a pest.
  6. Understand that while our clients are a top priority for us, the reporter has many other priorities and we need to empathize more with them.
  7. Stop making media lists from databases. Go to the source: newspapers, broadcast outlets, blogs, online publications. See who’s writing about what. If we’re not passionate about media, why are we in PR?
  8. Never blast out an email to a large (or small) bcc list. We’ve all done that in the past. And some are still doing it. Really, this was a bad idea from the start. It turned us into broadcasters, something we’re not.
  9. Leave our PR egos at the door. It’s up to us to reach journalists. Stop griping if they don’t always call back when we want them to.
  10. Help journalists and bloggers understand the new FTC rules/principles so that we can continue to work together in a mutually beneficial way.

It sounds simple but we’ve got to make the first move.

What do you think?