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What corporate communicators can learn from Shaq and the NBA

Recently, we’ve seen two NBA players tweet during halftime: Charlie Villaneuva and Shaquille O’Neal. My friend Warren Sukernek blogged about Villaneuva’s halftime tweet last week and the comparison between the NBA’s “command and control” approach by making players available to mainstream media right before halftime and a player expressing his own, personal views via an online medium.

This is an interesting story for a number of reasons, but the parallel I find most intriguing is the comparison with corporate America and its use of social media in the workplace.

In essence, Villaneuva and Shaq were tweeting during the game. From a coaches and owner’s perspective, that’s not a good idea. Even thought it’s halftime, players should be 100 percent focused on the game. After all, they’re paid millions of dollars to play basketball–and produce results. How can they do that effectively if they face an endless stream of distractions (like hopping on Twitter to update their status) during the game? But, to Warren’s point, aren’t NBA players obligated to participate in media interviews before and during the game? Isn’t that the same kind of distraction? What’s so different about tweeting or blogging or posting on Facebook?

Here’s the interesting parallel with corporate America: As social media tools become more ingrained in the way we, as employees, communicate with our coworkers, our friends, our family and our customers, is it OK to engage on company time? Isn’t that essentially what Villaneuva and Shaq did?

Many organizations right now are struggling with this issue. Surely, there are many companies (like Zappos) that completely encourage–and, in fact, outright promote–social media use during the workday. These organizations clearly see the value in encouraging their employees to serve as brand ambassadors who can actively shape conversations about their brand online.

On the flip side, other organizations see social media tools like Facebook and Twitter as a complete waste of time and a distraction to employees who should be focusing 100 percent on their work activites (hmm…sound familiar Mr. Villanueva?). These organizations often block social media sites and actively discourage employees from participating in conversations online during the workday.

Where does your organization, or the clients you counsel, stand?

* Do they condone the “command and control” communication model? Or, do they look at it in a different way and attempt to influence, persuade and engage customers?

* Do they see social media tools as distractions from work activities? Or, do they see leveraging these tools as an opportunity to engage one of your biggest assets–your employees–and open up a two-way conversation with customers that can help you further your brand and improve the brand experience?

* Do they believe they control the brand through ads, marketing collateral and Web portals they create and push out? Or, do they think their brand is what their customers say it is and attempt to influence the perception of that brand in the marketplace?

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Follow Friday: 6 PR pros to follow–and why

Over the last few months, I’ve participated in the “Follow Friday” trend as a way to share connections and promote others over the Twitter airwaves. But, I’m going to steal a page out of my friend Sonny Gill’s playbook here and provide a little more context behind my Friday Follow suggestions on a weekly basis.

Here are my six Follow Friday suggestions for the week of March 16:

* David Mullen (@dmullen). One of the first folks I connected with on Twitter–boy, was I lucky. David is responsive, smart and funny (for a NC guy). And a tremendous advocate for the PR industry–learn more on his blog: Communications Catalyst.
* Danny Brown (@dannybrown). One of the great PR Twitter voices. Danny’s a busy guy. Whether it’s helping kids by donating a Wii to a local hospital or assisting starving children around the world through his 12Kfor12 initiative that he jumpstarted earlier this year (just raised more than 13K in 12 hours yesterday!), Danny keeps a pretty tight schedule. Oh, and he also manages to blog daily. But, he’s always willing to help. If you’re lucky, you can catch him on #journchat Monday nights, too.

* Scott Hepburn (@scotthepburn). The Chris Rock of Twitter. Scott’s tweets have made me spit up my coffee on more than one occasion. Huge ‘Cuse fan (don’t hold that against him). Smart PR guy. And always looking to engage in conversation. You can follow his thoughts and views on his blog–Media Emerging–where he discusses the intersection between PR, social media and journalism. Following Scott’s a no-brainer.

* Allan Schoenberg (@allanschoenberg). I only met Allan two months ago, but in that time he’s helped me develop multiple blog posts, advised me on professional decisions and collaborated with me on a soon-to-be-unveiled B2B project. This guy knows PR inside and out and he leads the corporate communications function for the largest financial exchange in the U.S. Oh, and in his “free time”, he’s an adjunct professor at DePaul University at Loyola University-Chicago. Why wouldn’t you want to follow him?
* David Spinks (@davidspinks). He may still be in school, but David’s as smart as they come when it comes to the social media/marketing/PR space. And he’s going to make some organization very happy in the near future when he graduates and accepts that first job. For now, he keeps an active blog full of advice on social media, creativity and marketing/communications. He’s also a big sports fan (we connect here–even though he is from NY) and an artist.

* Amy Mengel (@amymengel). World traveler, PR and social media junkie and fellow Bell’s Beer fan, I took a shining to Amy right away. Plus, she adds great value through her blog, Mengel’s Musings, where she discusses corporate communications, B2B PR/marketing and a slew of other topics. Always engaging and willing to share her thoughts, I’d highly recommend following Amy.
Who are your Follow Fridays today and why?

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PR Rock Stars: A conversation with Nicki Gibbs

You only get so many chances to work with someone with the skills, personality and leadership abilities of Nicki Gibbs during the course of your professional career. For me, that opportunity came nearly three years ago when I joined the team at Beehive PR, a small agency in St. Paul. And believe me, when I tell you she’s a rock star, that’s actually an understatment.

Nicki’s one of those rare PR pros who can write, consult, plan, lead and coach–all without missing a beat. Needless to say, that’s not an easy combination to find. But, she serves her clients–and partners with her colleagues–in all those capacities on a daily basis. Flawlessly. OK, so I’m a huge Nicki Gibbs fan. For those of you who have worked with Nicki in the past, you know what I’m talking about.

Enough lavish praise from me–let’s here from this PR Rock Star herself.

Q: You’re a group director (VP for all intents and purposes) at Beehive PR in St. Paul and you have two kids that are involved in a number of activities during any given week. Juggling agency life and a small family can be demanding, but you manage to find balance in the face of chaos—what are your secrets?

I wish there was a secret recipe, but if there is, I haven’t found it yet. I think everybody has to find a plan that works with individual career and family goals.

There are three things that work for me most of the time – prioritizing commitments, managing expectations and being present and focused on what I choose to do.

It is hard to do everything and do it well, so I try to pick the things that are most important, whether it a professional or a personal commitment.

It took me a long time to get comfortable saying no to things, but if I can manage expectations (yes, I can do this, but only this much, or no, I can’t do this, here’s why), it makes my schedule more manageable and keeps me on the up and up with the people who matter most.

I also try to be very mindful of what I chose to do so that I can really focus and give it my best effort. Let’s be honest, my clients don’t want me if I am distracted by my kids sports practice any more than my kids want me if I am distracted by my Blackberry.

It also helps to work in an agency that recognizes the benefit of letting employees work where and when it is best for them, for the team and for clients. Having the technology to support that flexibility is a gift.

Q: I had the privilege to work with you a couple years ago. One of the things I valued most about you was your strong leadership skills. Instead of taking the traditional top-down tack, you seem to favor a flatter, collaborative, more team-based approach. Who were your influences from a leadership perspective as you came up through the ranks? And what about those folks made a lasting impression?

I loathe office politics. In PR we are so often working on tight deadlines and facing other outside pressures that it is fatal to waste time playing the hierarchy game. One of the best ways to avoid it is to surround yourself with smart people and recognize that good ideas come from all levels of an organization or agency.

I have been very lucky in my career to be surrounded by great leaders and great teams who are more interested in great work than silly ego games. At the risk of this sounding like an Oscar acceptance speech gone wrong, here are a few folks who really influenced me, either as leaders or teammates: Cindy Matson, Sara Gavin, Chris Werle, Joe McGrath, Jorg Pierach, Lisa Hannum, Ayme Zemke, Kelly Puspoki, Rebecca Martin, Matt Hanson and Allison Resner.

The thing I loved most about working with each of them was the exposure to different styles, different strengths, and to be candid, different weaknesses. I think it helped me realize that one of the most important leadership skills is flexibility. If you can meet people where they are and keep an open mind about how to approach any particular challenge, nine times out of ten you will come up with a stellar solution. Of course, it helps when your team expects kick-butt results and will accept nothing less, something my influencers all have in common.

Q: Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some outstanding writers. I’d put you right near the very top of that list. Since PR professionals, as a group, continue to struggle in this area (in my opinion), what tips and tools could you offer up to younger PR professionals for developing and honing this critical skill?

One of my favorite pieces of writing advice actually came from my high school English teacher, “Choose your words deliberately, but don’t love them so much that you can’t kill them.” This is a great filter for clear, concise and persuasive writing. It also helps keep things in perspective when somebody takes a red pen to your work.

Another thing that can help you develop your writing style is to read – a lot. And read all kinds of things – newspapers, trade publications, blogs, business books, novels. You get a great sense of how to tell an effective story just by knowing what you like to read.

I think the last thing is to practice writing everyday. Writing is just like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you will be. And don’t be afraid to ask somebody to take a red pen to your work. Feedback is essential, as long as you take it in stride.

Q: You’ve mentioned to me a few times that one of your dreams is to write a book/novel. I’m curious, what would be the subject and potential title of that future New York Times best seller?

There are two books I want to write. One is a cookbook. The working title is “No Reservations”. It would be a collection of my favorite family recipes and adaptations of meals I’ve enjoyed eating out. The idea is that you don’t have to go to a restaurant to enjoy a great meal. You just have to take a little risk, try something new, and if it doesn’t work out, be okay with pancakes for dinner.

The other book I want to write is some kind of historical fiction. I have not formulated the plot yet, but I know I will enjoy doing the research if I can ever pin down the storyline.

Q: Over the years, I’m sure you’ve submitted your fair share of PR award entries. I know this is the first year Beehive PR has entered the awards scene locally. Your shop has already won “best in show” (Pinnacle Award) at the MN IABC Bronze Quill awards. Now, you’re up for a handful of MN PRSA Classics Awards next week. In your opinion, what elements are essential to a winning award entry?

I think agencies have a love-hate relationship with awards. They are great to win, but it takes an incredible amount of effort to submit a strong entry. Again, if there was a secret recipe, I’d love to have it. As it is, here are a few things that have worked out well for us:

Start early – When you start a new project, start thinking about it like an award entry. Keep an electronic file of all the supporting elements an entry ne
eds, like plans, research, copies of clips, anecdotes from clients and other stakeholders. It is much easier to keep the file as you go than to try to go back and find everything at the end of a campaign. I am dating myself here, but back in the day, I used to have a whole bookshelf of three-ring binders overflowing with paper copies of everything we needed to enter an award. I killed a lot of trees. So glad there is a more efficient way to go now.

Be selective – Entering awards is time consuming, costly and sometimes stressful. You can keep it more manageable by being really critical on the front end. Is the entry really award material? If you decide to enter, are you entering in the right category? Would it fit another category better, or is there one with less competition? Doing a really great job on fewer entries can increase your winning percentage. That’s the whole point – nobody enters these things just for fun.

Tell a good story – Remember, award entries are judged by other PR people and communicators. They can see through your PR-speak and corporate jargon and frankly, it gets boring after about two entries. If you can tell a good story about your project that makes the judge think, “I wish I had worked on that program” you are half way to hardware.

Demonstrate results – We are challenged as PR people to demonstrate results. There is a difference between measuring the effort (like number of clips, circulation numbers, ad equivalency, etc.) and measuring outcomes (how did key stakeholders respond, did they answer the call to action, are there measurable business results). In my experience at Beehive and elsewhere, what sets winning entries apart is demonstrating that the work really made a difference to the client’s business.

Be memorable – Judges look at mountains of entries. If your entry stands out in tone, style and design, you are very likely to get a second look. If a judge thinks your entry looks interesting enough to read past the two-page summary, you probably just went the last half of the way to hardware.

Q: Unless things have changed drastically in the past year-and-a-half, I’m guessing you’re still doing yoga and pilates a couple times a week over the lunch hour at Beehive (one of the many perks of working at Beehive PR). Why do you continue to take time out of your busy schedule each week to do this and how does it help you stay healthier?

I love our yoga and pilates classes. I don’t get there as often as I would like, but I can tell a difference in my day when I do. I feel more relaxed and more creative when I get back to work. Since this is often the only time I get to work out, it is a benefit to my overall health – mental and physical. Around here you are likely to hear somebody say “only one workout away from a good mood,” and there is truth to that.

(Note: Photo above–the Beehive PR team accepting the Pinnacle Award at the 2009 IABC Bronze Quill Awards)

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Best smart phone for PR? The iPhone/Blackberry/G1 debate rages on

Technology changes quickly these days. Just think, a few years ago, we all thought a flip-phone was revolutionary. Today, our mobile devices are much more advanced. Heck they’re practically handheld computers (the future is right around the corner). But there are so many choices out there–Blackerrys, iPhones, Google phones, and a slew of others. How do you compare and contrast? And more importantly, if you work in PR or communications, how do you find the smart phone that will best meet your personal and professional needs?

Introducing David Erickson, Lauren Fernandez and Jennifer Mitchell. Three PR pros who use their smart phones in their day-to-day professional lives. Each will examine the pros and cons of the phone they use, discuss helpful applications and talk about how they use the phone on a daily basis.

Device: iPhone

Price: 8 GB $199; 16 GB $299; AT&T; Exclusive Carrier

Reviewer: Lauren Fernandez (@cubanalaf), Marketing Coordinator, American Mensa, Ltd.

Review: Three features I dig:

Social media applications (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, WordPress). Hands down, the application store on the iPhone goes above and beyond any other. I am able to customize applications to my needs and information is updated in real time. I can handle multiple Twitter accounts, respond to blog comments and check our Facebook fan pages with ease. The Application Store also makes it easy to install programs from either my laptop or the phone. With social media constantly being integrated in our daily lives, it is important to have applications to best fit the needs of a PR professional.

E-mail. E-mail is probably the one thing that I believe the iPhone can improve on, and where my BlackBerry was actually better. PR professionals are constantly on the go and need to be able to receive and respond to emails in a sufficient manner. Unless you are able to constantly hit the refresh button, my iPhone email will only update itself every 15 minutes. When I had my BlackBerry, I received emails on the spot. I was also able to manage all of my email accounts from one place, where the iPhone makes you go from account to account. I have a friend who works for a technology magazine, and his advice to me was “If you are buying a phone solely for email purposes, go with BlackBerry. You need an iPhone for everything else.”

Sidenote: If you use Exchange, make sure to have IMAP enabled so that it will be compatible with the iPhone.

Web browsing. I like checking for clips and reading the New York Times from my iPhone. The Web browsing on my iPhone is much better than my Blackberry, and the speed at which my phone goes from browser to Web page is much quicker than the Blackberry. Also, the ability to touch the screen and zoom into a Web site makes reading much easier. The Blackberry Storm can do this as well, but I found it wasn’t as natural as the iPhone. Safari is also able to display complex Web sites easier.

One thing I love that was not mentioned above: The sleek design of the iPhone makes it easier for me to carry it around than my bulky BlackBerry.

Device: Blackberry Curve

Price: $299 (depending on discounts and rebates)

Reviewer: Jennifer Mitchell (@jenmitch), Owner, JMPR Communication

Review: My Blackberry Curve is the best investment I’ve ever made for my business. I pay $120 a month which includes 2,000 shared minutes with my (non-chatty) boyfriend and unlimited data.

I purchased my Curve two months ago. I chose it over the Storm on the advice of a sage salesperson who suggested I needed a bit of patience for the Storm. Great advice. I wanted to use my phone now, now, now! My learning curve (pardon the pun) was zero.

Within thirty minutes my e-mail account, TwitterBerry and Facebook were live on my phone. (These are my do-or-die applications.) FYI- a Blackberry can handle up to five e-mail accounts.

My Blackberry does everything I need it to do for public relations purposes. I am always-on with my clients now, which gives me great piece of mind. Last weekend I replied to a reporter inquiry at 9:30 on a Friday evening. I can access Twitter 24/7 or get some social fun on with my Facebook friends. I am also able to view and edit documents. (This was a big selling point for me.)

My Blackberry’s Roxio media manager has become one of my favorite applications. I can hook in a USB port, boot it up and transfer photos/videos (any media) from my phone to my computer. This means that I can take pictures anywhere I am and utilize them on my blogs later. I find that I pay attention to my surroundings more often now and think: how could I use this later?

If you don’t have a navigation system on your phone, you’re missing out. I often have to navigate to new places in town for client meetings or networking events. My trusty Verizon Navigator came “traffic enhanced” on my Blackberry. I now know if I am going to run into a delay before I leave the house or while I am en route.

The Blackberry is not without its flaws. I find it amazingly annoying that there are character limitations on text messages. I’m sure my friends find it equally annoying when I sent “text blasts” when I have more than 160 characters worth of subject matter to share. And I’m not really sure why the default setting orders every e-mail I send (on my computer or phone) to go to myself on my computer AND phone. As the pack-rat I am, I can’t bring myself to change that setting. But it seems excessive, no?

All and all, my Blackberry reminds me of a miniature computer. It’s clearly not nearly as powerful but I’m always connected. For me, that means I’m always available for my clients and that’s the kind of service I aim to provide.

Device: G1 (i.e., the “Google phone”)

Price: $179

Reviewer: David Erickson (@derickson), Director of e-Strategy, Tunheim Partners

Review: I was torn. I am typically a first-adopter, despite the lessons I should have learned along the way. Still, the inner tech conflict I was experiencing was should I get the pretty, pretty iPhone now or should I wait for the more utilitarian G1?

While the iPhone was cooool, there were a few things I couldn’t get beyond: The virtual keyboard and the absence of copy and paste. I tested out the virtual keyboard on a friend’s iPhone and took an immediate disliking to it; I couldn’t type accurately. I’ve had full QWERTY keyboards for my last two phones, so maybe it’s just personal preference. I might’ve gotten used to the keyboard but ultimately I could not do without copy and paste functionality. I do a lot of work on my phone and I would not be nearly as productive without the ability to copy URLs and email them. That was the deal killer for the iPhone.

The G1 costs $179 through T-Mobile with your regular calling plan plus a data plan of $25 or $35/month. Google services are built right into the phone: Search, Gmail, Docs, Contacts, Calendar, Reader and, very cool, Google Voice Search. HTC designed the phone, so it works beautifully.

First and foremost, the thing works as a phone. Reception is clear and consistent. The speaker phone is loud enough to hear people in my noisy Wrangler. And the slide-out QWERTY thumb-board works wonderfully. The only thing missing from the touch screen is the iPhone’s pinch-gesture interface. Internet access is fast and rarely drops.

Another very strong consideration was that the G1 uses the open source Android operating system and, as such, allows anyone to develop applications for it. In the long run, I reasoned, there would be many more options and features than Apple’s proprietary system would offer. Ultimately, if there was an application I absolutely needed, I could always pay someone to develop one. Looks like my reasoning was sound: A new In-Stat survey projects that Android phone sales will overtake Apple’s in the coming years.

Essential PR pro apps:

ous Bookmarks – Easily save links to your Delicious account
Voice Recorder – Save and/or email recorded voice notes
StreamFurious – Listen to live radio through MP3 streams
Touchdown – Microsoft Exchange app

There you have it. Three smart phones. Three perspectives. Which one do you find more useful for PR purposes? Share your thoughts so we can all learn from your experience.

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6 things to do on Twitter before you die

We all have our “life lists.” 10 things we want to do before we leave this earth. It usually includes incredible trips to far-flung destinations like Australia or Tahiti and serious challenges that you would normally never consider. Think sky-diving (OK, so maybe that one’s not on Peter Shankman’s list).

Life in the online world’s a little different. But, I would argue it’s somewhat similar in that there are a number of things I think every Tweep should do before they pass on to the next life.

Here’s my short list. What would you add to this Twitter “bucket list”?

1. Participate in a Twitter hashtag conversation. Specifically, I’m thinking about Sarah Evans’ and her immensely popular Journchat on Monday nights from 7-10 pm CST, but really any chat will suffice. I recommend Journchat because of the collaboration and sharing it fosters between PR pros, journalists and bloggers. But, I also recommend it to many who are new to Twitter for the “experience.” I mean, the first time you try to follow Journchat (I recommend using an application like TweetChat), it can be insane. Your eyes glaze over. You can’t follow the conversation. You may even get a little dizzy. But, then you start to figure it out. You begin to follow the threads. You may even post a tweet or two. Next thing you know, you’re hooked. And then you’re participating every week and encouraging your colleagues to join the fray (and Sarah’s legion of Journchat disciples continues to swell!).

2. Live tweet an event. Attending a conference in the next month? Bring your Blackberry or iPhone along and tweet right from the event. For you, it’s a fun way to relay useful information to your followers, friend and colleagues. And for those following you, it’s a great way to glean useful nuggets of information from an event they may not have the good fortune to attend. Right now, this is relevant as I, and many others, would love to be in Austin at SXSW. But, since I can’t, I’ll be sure to follow Mack Collier, Beth Harte and others who are in Texas and relaying the best practices, tips and interesting stories along the way. Over the last few months, if you’ve noticed, I’ve also enjoyed live tweeting Gopher basketball games (lately @dfolkens, @mnheadhunter, @rpmaus and @ryanmathre have joined in the action)

3. Raise money for a good cause. Think Danny Brown and 12for12K. Think David Armano raising more than $16,000 for a homeless mother of three in just a few days in early January. Twitter can be a powerful tool to help rally your community around a common cause.

4. Have fun with your avatar. Chris Brogan seemingly changes his avatar once a week (closed circuit to Chris: I like the one with your daughter in the pic). Others have swapped out their avatars to demonstrate support for causes or charities (the various 12for12K avatars, for example). Whatever the case, let your hair down. Have some fun. Live a little.

5. Help someone get a job. Heather Huhman and Sarah Evans are the leaders in helping connect job seekers with employers in the PR area, but really, anyone can lend a hand. Send PR job openings you hear about to these two and they’ll RT them to their networks (2,400 for Heather, 15,000-plus for Sarah). That’s some serious reach. Or, make personal connections among your friends and followers. You might know someone who’s hiring–and a few people that are out of a job. Broker an online Twitter introduction. And change someone’s life.

6. Be a virtual mentor. Many Twittizens mentor in their “real lives”. However, that doesn’t mean you should pass on the chance to mentor someone virtually as well. It’s easy and doesn’t require a ton of time. Just passing along a few good pieces of advice to younger pros can help immensely. And make sure to tag your posts–use the #pradvice tag so everyone can benefit from your pearls of wisdom. You’d be surprised how far your message, tips or insights might travel.

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