PR Rock Stars: 3M’s Heather Cmiel

I can’t really remember the first time I met Heather Cmiel. Which is kinda odd. Because Heather isn’t the kind of person you forget. In fact, I would think most people remember the first time they met Heather quite well because she’s a big personality and a very warm person. The kind of person most people feel very comfortable talking to–even if they don’t know her all that well.

I do know I’ve known Heather for the better part of 10 years. I’ve watched her in action during some of her very best achievements (I would think founding Alphabet Bash would be right up there), and I’ve watched her handle some pretty difficult situations, too. And, while I don’t claim to be BFFs with Heather, from afar, she seemed to handle both pretty darn well. This year, Heather starts her stint as president of MN PRSA–a big leadership spot. I–along with many others I’m sure–am expecting big things. Let’s hear what she has to say.

You’re the current MN PRSA president–and it’s been a long-time coming. I remember working with you when I was on the board in the mid-2000s! Why have you chosen to invest so much of your time and energy with this organization over the last 10+ years?

I have been involved since the first day I joined in 2003 – 14 years ago (I am starting to realize I am old). PRSA has played a significant role in both my professional and personal life. Professionally the organization has helped me grow skill sets and build a reputation in this community. It has aided me in shifting careers, while providing me a sounding board to continue growth.

Personally, it’s the people. I have met so many amazing people through PRSA. People who have mentored me. Laughed with me. Cried with me. Supported me. Loved me. Challenged me. Helped me. Stood by me. Some of my closest friendships are because of my involvement in PRSA.

But why stay involved for such a long period of time? It’s simple. I am a big believer that we are all put on this earth to share our gifts and talents. PRSA has helped me grow into the professional I am today, and I want to give back to this community that has given so much to me. And for me that is manifesting itself into building a PRSA that is relevant in 2017.

 

You’ve always reminded me of our mutual friend, Gail Van Cleaf, who was president back when I joined the PRSA board years ago. Back then, Gail really shook things up during her presidency by introducing new programming options and really shifting the thinking within MN PRSA. I see you potentially doing the same thing. Any big new ideas we can expect from MN PRSA in the year ahead?

To be compared to Gail is insanely flattering for so many reasons – her leadership abilities, her guts, her killer fashion sense. I could go on and on and not just because she is my dearest friend, but because she simply kicks ass. You are right – Gail shook things up in so many ways. Gail was unafraid to try new things. She was the primary reason I was able to start the Alphabet Bash because she was unafraid. Unafraid to try things. Unafraid to take risks. Her trust in me when she was president has stuck with me all these years later.

So *warning* long answer ahead but I have a valid point  – I promise.

Walking into 2017, I had feedback from 71 people (you included – so thank you for helping me learn) from people within my network who were honest, real, raw and helpful.  They shared with me perspective on two questions – “what do you think about Minnesota PRSA?” and “how can we be relevant to you?” Feedback and answers from all of you validated many things I had been thinking and feeling.

In order to grow, at least in my opinion, you need to take an honest look at places you can improve. Minnesota PRSA has a great legacy but is struggling to be relevant. The world has changed. Demands and priorities are different and ever changing. I don’t believe we really compete against other organizations (since I think we all have something to offer) but rather we are competition against something far more precious – time.

Time with family. Time at work. Time at kids sporting events. Time traveling. Time with friends. No longer are people distinguishing work and professional development from personal responsibilities. Everything blends. Every place a person places their time is now weighed and considered. But if you build something people see value in – they make time. So that is where I am focused. How and what are we building? Here are few examples:

  • Classics has been revamped. We brought in new categories, removed some others and broke out some categories by size of the organization.
  • We are also revamping the way we do Classics. If you know me, you know I like a good party (Remember the Alphabet Bash?). We are changing the format to be more Oscar-esque (without the best picture screw-up) with a promise the food will be fabulous and the bars will be accessible. Not a finalist? Come for the networking and entertainment!
  • For the first time since I can remember, we have a locked programming calendar for the year. A calendar that is pulling in voices you haven’t heard from before. February’s food transparency panel featured Bertrand Weber from the Minneapolis Public School District and our May influencer marketing event will include the one of the driving forces behind Cats of Instagram, which has 7.7 million followers.
  • I also plan to launch a Facebook live series in March to explore the issues impacting communications professional – seems to be happening daily…

And I am game for opinions, comments, questions, thoughts – whether you are a member or not. Seriously. Email me! hjcmiel@gmail.com

 

With the political climate and the advent of “fake news” and “alternative facts”, it’s an interesting time to be in the PR field. How can PRSA help better support the “free flow of information and ideas” as that seems like it might be minimized during this administration’s run?

Oh where to even begin on this question. PRSA has a code of ethics. And while I want to believe that all communicators live by ethical principles, I think documented principles that can be referenced, shared and help guide decision making today is more important now than ever.

I think PRSA has two responsibilities (locally and nationally) given the state of where we are as a nation and given the daily discussion around this administration.

First is elevating the code and making it understood that ethics matter. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But look at what is happening daily in the news. So many principles in the code that are being debated and discussed by businesses, by media and by President Trump. A few examples?  Free Flow of Information, Conflicts of Interest, Disclosure of Information.

Second, we as an organization need to be unafraid to talk about things that are heated and charged. We need to talk about why ethics matter now more than ever. We are exploring how Minnesota PRSA can share insights, various perspectives and have some real discussions around what is happening in our world today.

 

A while back you took your first big corporate job with 3M–big change! Now that you’ve had time to acclimate to the role and company, what have been some key learnings in working for a company with the size and complexity of 3M?

Walking into 3M two years ago was terrifying. It is a complex, matrixed organization. When looking at it from the outside, you could find yourself asking how can you drive change and be nimble when the company is so mammoth. I wrote a blog when I first joined 3M about what it is like to jump the fence. I think a lot of it still holds true two years later. The biggest one for me: Be You. I was doing some real soul searching walking into 3M. I was questioning how I needed to adjust my thinking, my approach, my style when I started. But then it dawned on me – I need to show up as me. I am who interviewed. I am who they hired. That is what my team hired. I need to be me. And I am embraced in every way – from the way I think, to the way I challenge and to the way I make sure we all laugh.

 

You recently made this post on Facebook: “When I joined 3M, my only hope is I’d work with good people. I never would have imagined I would be challenged, inspired and developed by some of the most brilliant minds in the business.” You have the floor. Who, specifically, at 3M has challenged and inspired you over the last two years?

I just cannot name one person. I was so lucky to come into 3M and be surrounded by a team that wanted different. I was given permission, in fact I was expected, to do something different. All of these people are the reason I have been able to do some powerful things at 3M and elevate the role of communications. So, yes, here is a list of names (how Academy Awards), but I cannot just thank one person because there is just so much support and belief for the functions communications to make an impact.

  • Leslie McDonnell, Danette Andley, Stacy Schueller, Sarah Wolff, Andy Pollen, Brian Ksicinski, Evan Paskach, Jemma Fullerton, Ann Yates, Peter Berens, Scott Mitchell, Matt Fryxell, Mel Wong, Ana Hawkins, Cassie Jacobson, and Jon Ross

 

What would you consider your biggest achievement in your professional life to date? Why?

If you know me at all, you know the most important thing in my life is relationships. I am so astounded by the amazing connections and network I have built over the last 13 years. This group of people have supported me during the lowest time of my career and have celebrated with me during my greatest achievements. I am extremely blessed to be surrounded by so many who really care about me and Trevor. It is humbling to have this amount of love in my life and I do not take it for granted at all. And all these people know I would do anything for them.

 

So much talk of trends this time of year (I just spoke to Social Media Breakfast about this very topic!)–what 1-2 trends do you see, realistically, impacting the PR industry in 2017

You had some great insights when you spoke. Totally agree with you that organic is dead and investment in paid needs to increase. I have discussions pretty frequently about the importance of paid investment needing to fuel consumable content (to me there is a big distinction between content and consumable content).

While I don’t consider myself a trendspotter, I will share the lens I am looking through with my team – everything needs to be seen and created through the eyes of the customer. CDJs are becoming so critical to how we frame content and connect to our core audience. What information are we giving them and how are we offering something they care about when they need it? For example, I tell my team all the time that our website isn’t about us. Sure, it talks about 3M but if we aren’t giving that visitor anything of value, why the heck are we putting it out into the universe?

I know you may be thinking “customer-first thinking isn’t new.” While that is true, I think many communicators have been so focused on really intrusive ways of connecting (display, pre-roll, etc.). It is hard for companies to not talk about themselves all the time. But people don’t want to marketed at – they want to be engaged, informed and know you want to help them. They want to work with (and buy from) companies they see personal value in.  We are in the business of influence and we need to really raise the bar in how we motivate and inspire.

Something else that I believe will remain of utmost importance for us as communicators is the art of storytelling. Again not new but something I think we all need to recommit to as a profession. From my perspective —  Emotions influence decisions. Stories influence emotion. Stories have a tremendous amount of power.

 

Little known fact (actually, very well known fact for some): You’re a huge foodie. What’s the one Minneapolis/St. Paul restaurant you’ve been dying to get to, but just haven’t yet?

I do love my restaurants in this town! First, let’s get one thing straight. While Minneapolis does get the majority of love from reviewers and diners, I think the St. Paul restaurant landscape continues to do some killer things and make some big changes – good and unexpected (my heart is slowly repairing from the news that Strip Club is closing this summer).

My biggest conundrum is that I have fallen in love with so many places it is hard sometimes to not be a repeat visitor but there are still so many places I want to try! Top of the list is to visit the reborn Lexington. Josh Thoma and Jack Riebel have had so many twists and turns turn to get these doors open, I am curious to see if it lives up to the hype. Plus it is on my side of the river.

Since I want to give the sister city some love, I also want to pay a visit to the new Bad Waitress NE location. Not a totally new place since they have a location in town but I need to go cry in a Johnny Michaels handcrafted cocktail since this new endeavor took him away from running a fabulous little cocktail lounge in WBL – the Alchemist.

 

Finally: We’re not leaving this blog until you recognize that the Woodbury Royals (go class of 91!) are vastly superior to the Tartan Titans in every way, shape and form. Do you yield?

Well we are going to be here a long time…

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