For the past several months, Randy and I have been organizing our upcoming move from Pennsylvania to Arizona. At a bon voyage party last week, a wise friend confided, “Every time I move, I learn more about who I am.” That resonated with me like a siren in an echo chamber. You may have noticed that I haven’t published this newsletter for a couple of months. I’ve been busy discovering, sometimes abruptly, who I am. As it turns out, I’m not who I thought I was. And I’m darned glad about it.
The me I’ve known for the nearly 60 years I’ve lived in Pennsylvania loves order and abhors change. Me is a packrat; you never know when that little gizmo might come in handy. Me keeps score in quantities — of reserve paper towels, cans in the pantry, bottles in the wine cellar. Possessions mean a lot to me; they are mine. Me prefers rationality over emotionality. Me likes to upgrade things, like kitchens, lawn tractors, TVs and landscaping.
So, since around May, the me I knew has been coping with sorting through the accumulation of 16 years in the same home, lightening the load well below the mover’s estimate of 17,000 pounds, preparing to move to a smaller, “builder’s grade” home 2,800 miles away, while most of our stuff goes to storage. Then we’ll start searching for our “forever home.” Things won’t be “normal” for many months.
I approached this process with more than a little trepidation and, I don’t mind telling you, with plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth. But, when forced to lighten the physical load, I’ve found myself literally “lightening up,” too. It didn’t take long before I started looking for something else to give to a friend or a charity, sell at a garage sale, or just toss. (Lesson: keep a supply of $10 bills handy on trash days.)
It’s become a game. It’s fun. I’ve plunged into the disorder and chaos, glad that we gave away our dishes so we can exhaust the supply of paper plates I’ve hoarded. I knocked on the door of the house where I grew up from 1952 to 1970, was invited in by the owner and took a top-to-bottom tour down memory lane. When saying goodbye to dear friends, I have to carry tissues. The nearly empty wine cellar means that we’re finally drinking — and sharing — all of the good stuff we’ve saved “for a special occasion.” Finding a new healthcare plan was a challenge to win against “the system.” The mess in the garage means I’m breaking through, moving on, releasing. Laughter comes easier now. A me 2.0 is emerging and I really like the guy.
The Pennsylvania Dutch say that “we get too soon old and too late smart.” I can’t do much about the old. But I’m happy to re-discover that it’s never to late to do something about the smart.
I’ve just returned to Phoenixville, PA from a four-month stint as a “snowbird” in Phoenix, AZ. The contrast between the Sonoran desert landscape and the lush, green, rolling hills of Pennsylvania in the spring couldn’t be greater. It’s not just the difference between the flora and fauna that are so very different. The pace and style of the two places are like night and day.
Much of it was summed up for me when we had dinner with a former Philadelphia-area client and his wife, who moved ten years ago to Scottsdale, AZ. “You dress too Eastern,” he told me. Now that I’m back in Pennsylvania, I can see that I may think and act “too Eastern,” too. OK, OK, I do. The realization is causing some soul-searching on my part and goes a bit deeper than the “Western” wardrobe I left behind.
Now, I’m well enough trained and experienced in self-actualization to know that “I am not the weather” and that it’s me who creates my own experience of the world. Blah. Blah. But I did find myself being slower, more relaxed and, well, nicer in a place where there were exactly two cloudy days and one rainfall in four months.
Maybe it’s the large Mexican influence and the mañana sensibility of the place that seemed to lower my Eastern quotient. I don’t know for sure. But I can tell you that I honked my horn at another driver only once, when he was veering into my lane. After three days here, I can feel the pressure rising and see widespread evidence of it everywhere. Trust me, in Phoenix it’s not necessary to wear a crash helmet when maneuvering a shopping cart through a grocery store. Here, yesterday, I was nearly decked in Dairy, dinged in Deli and mangled in Meat.
I’m approaching the end of my sixth decade on the planet. (I know, I know, I don’t look a day over four decades, thank you very much.) In the past two weeks, I’ve had friends aged 55 and 63 die suddenly. My dad passed away at 69. The proverbial bus could be around any corner. So, no matter where I end up living in the coming months and years, I’m going to do my best to smell the roses, cacti, palm trees or penguins. In fact, there’s a pear tree blossoming a few yards from here. I have some smelling to do.
Every once in a while, a communication campaign comes along that grabs the world's attention. Perhaps none in recent memory did so with the speed and volume of the Kony 2012 campaign by the organization, Invisible Children. Unless you were unconscious and on life support in the past few weeks, you could not have avoided the campaign, which is designed to draw the world's attention to African warlord, Joseph Kony, with the intention of bringing him to justice.
The campaign caught fire when the group released a 30-minute video on the Internet. Within two days, it had 30 million viewers and became the talk of politicians, pundits, prognosticators and plain people. On the one hand, the carefully planned, sophisticated communication strategy from which the video grew, provides a case history that brings gasps of admiration from the likes of us who make a living thinking about such things. On the other hand, it brought intense scrutiny to the organization, in ways that may or may not derail its very purpose.
Whether you were moved to contribute to or to boycott Invisible Children as a result of this campaign, the lessons to be learned from it are profound, especially to people who plan and executive communication programs, like many of my readers. I hope you'll set aside 30 minutes to view the video. Then, dive into the collection of articles I've pulled together in this issue, from sources that are rich and varied. If you'd like to share your thoughts, add them below or use the Facebook plug-in to share your thoughts with your friends.
Just before Christmas, we made a cross-country sojourn from our home in Pennsyl-vania to our new winter home in Arizona. We packed our Camry with everything it could possibly fit, including our 12 ½ year-old, 120-pound Great Dane/Boxer, Buster, and Zippy, our three-year-old, 22-pound bundle of Jack Russell. For six days, except for one day spent holed-up in an awful hotel in an even worse town because a blizzard was blocking our Westward route, we drove 500 – 600 miles a day, dutifully stopping every two hours to give everybody a break.
It was no mean feat, especially since Buster was literally on his last legs, suffering from a progressive condition that was causing him to have difficulty supporting himself on his back legs. But he was happy, bright-eyed, playful and hungry as a horse. So we were happy to give him the extra space and attention he needed to make the journey with us.
When we arrived in Arizona, he and Zippy took to the new yard like a pair of puppies, playing with each other like nobody’s businesses, barking at all of the new sites and sounds, rolling on their backs and snuggling together on a “muttress” in the sunshine.
Just six days into his retirement in the desert, Buster woke up in a good deal of pain. We rushed him to the local vet to see what steps we could take to give him some relief. Nothing could be done and we made the difficult decision to euthanize him right then. It was a sad and difficult decision, as any animal owner knows all too well.
But when his remains were returned to us a few days later in a neat white container, we didn’t receive them with a lump in the throat or a tear. I was surprised, so I reflected on my reaction. Am I really that cold and unemotional? Or had I learned a new lesson? It was three lessons, actually, about building effective relationships — with pets or people — that never include regrets:
#1: Keep your agreements. When we rescue an animal, we make a written agreement with the rescue organization to return the animal if we can’t care for it. We make an additional agreement with our animals: we’ll take good care of you for life and make sure your life is long and happy. You’re with us, buddy, no worries. When Buster’s life was long but no longer happy, we kept our agreement with him, in a way that was painful for us but perfect for him. Building effective business relationships often requires keeping your agreements, even when it hurts.
#2: It’s not about you. We could have used the space Buster occupied in our car to transport more “stuff” to our new digs. And, frankly, it was no walk in the dog park hauling him in and out of the car many times each day. But because of the pledge we had made to Buster (see #1), focusing on his well-being was our first and unselfish priority. Any business would do well to remember that it exists because of the relationship it has with its customers and that they are #1.
#3: Keep communicating. Focusing on the other guy and keeping your agreements go a long way toward building relationships that are free of blame, shame, guilt, resentments and regrets and filled with trust, respect, loyalty and, yes, even love. But that’s not enough without constant communication, which is a two-way, mutually beneficial activity. With a dog, we listen to barks, whines, yelps, pants and quizzical looks. We speak with gentle words, pets and scratches, healthy meals, playtimes, walks, car rides and visits to the vet. In return, we get loyalty and unconditional love.
In business, we listen and respond, in just as many ways, to our customers. In my business this is called “two-way symmetrical communication. In any business, it’s the key to building effective relationships.
I haven’t darkened the door of a barber shop in nearly four decades. But recently my live-in barber took an extended business trip, and I found myself needing a haircut. I live in a highly developed suburb of Philadelphia in which there is every manner of hair manipulating establishment under the sun within minutes of home.
Frankly, I didn’t know where to start.
Figuring I’d be more comfortable at and old-fashioned barber shop rather than a “salon” or “day spa,” I turned to Google and found the most highly recommended nearby barber.
The place was barebones and the experience was pleasant enough. After about three minutes with the clippers, the barber pronounced me finished, took my $16 and I was on my way. I didn’t give much thought to the process, other than to wonder to myself if the cut would “last” until my next out-of-town client trip.
For the past couple of months I have been developing a new workshop about referral marketing. I have been immersed in that subject and looking at my own experiences with a microscope. The common thread in the literature about building a referral-based business is that you must first be referral-worthy (with apologies to Elaine Benis of Seinfeld fame.) To build a business by referral, you have to give your customers an outstanding experience, every time, repeatedly and sustainably. When you wow your customers, they come back. They give you more business. And they recommend you to others because, among other benefits, it makes then look good and feel good.
As hair is wont to grow, I needed another haircut yesterday. I spotted a new place on the way to the gym, SportsClips, and stopped in. I was greeted graciously at the door. As soon as we established that I was a first-time customer, I qualified for the super-duper treatment (shampoo, haircut, steaming towel and shoulder massage) at the price of the basic haircut. I’m not sure what the barber found to do up there, but she labored over my locks for 15 minutes with three kinds of clippers and scissors-over-comb. The warm shampoo, hot towel and shoulder massage were a great bonus. Then she spotted something she wanted to “refine” in my coif. When I checked out, she gave me her card, a loyalty card, four coupons and the link to a satisfaction survey, which led to another dollars-off coupon. And I can stop in any time for a free neck trim.
I was surprised and delighted. The experience was so well planned and executed that I now plan to start going to the barber again, not just any barber, but this one. I am now a loyal customer of SportsClips. I recommend it to you enthusiastically. Remember now, that for all intents and purposes, I am as bald as an egg that occasionally sprouts fuzz. But because of one experience with a referral-worthy business, in a service category that I don’t really need, I have changed a 40-year-old habit. And I’m telling you about it.
Is your business referral-worthy? Have you wowed a customer recently? If you're not certain, maybe it’s time for a haircut.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been working from the new Western office of thePRguy in Chandler, Arizona. We have family nearby and it’s been a real treat spending time with them. Last evening, I was given bedtime storytelling privileges with my nine year-old niece, Emily. She selected a book about Pablo Picasso, from a series about individual artists. That was my first surprise.
About three pages in, she interrupted me with, “That’s a simile.” (I don’t know about you but I struggled until, well, yesterday to nail the difference between a simile and a metaphor.) So I asked her, “What’s onomatopoeia?” She shot back with, “That’s a word that imitates a sound, like buzz or snap or meow.” A moment later she chirped, “That phrase used alliteration.” She then shared the mnemonic device she uses to remember her figures of speech.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. (I bet Emily knows that’s an idiom.) And that’s not a hyperbole. I thought that the craft of writing was on its last legs. There’s plenty of evidence for that point of view in the daily barrage of emails, websites, ads, blogs, and TV shows — even in state slogans. (You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania. Seriously?) And I can’t tell you how many emails I receive from PR students seeking my “career advise.”
As much as I dreaded it at the time, I am forever grateful that the good sisters taught me the fine art of diagramming a sentence and drilled me on tense, person, word classes and poetry meters. The 12 years I spent studying Latin gave me precious tools, too. I’ve used these tools to build a career.
For years I’ve been concerned about the receding heir line (pun intended) for the next generation of people who will wield the words that will inform, entertain, motivate and inspire us. Emily has given me hope that there’s a Future Perfect ahead.
When I started in this business, the IBM Selectric typewriter was state-of-the-art. I could choose from three different typefaces! The first telecopier (aka fax) machine I used required placing a sheet of paper in a plastic sleeve, clipping it to a large metal drum that rotated while a stylus crept along the page. But I could send a whole page somewhere else in the world in less than five minutes — over the telephone! My first cell phone had an external five-pound battery pack with a shoulder strap. But I could call people from anywhere! And it was a leather shoulder strap.
We’ve just acquired a vacation home in Arizona, where we hope to become “snowbirds.” So I’ve been planning the technology I’ll need to do business there as easily and efficiently as I do in my home office. The hardware part is simple: a laptop computer, a wireless all-in-one printer, a cell phone and an Internet connection. Software is another story, so I’ve been taking inventory of my programs, licenses, and Web-based services. Of course, I’ll load the laptop with the standard-issue tools of my trade like the Microsoft Office Suite, the Adobe Creative Suite and Quickbooks.
I’ve been surprised, however, at how dependent I’ve become on a number of specialized applications and online services that make my life easier and my work more efficient. Some are free, some require a purchase or a subscription. Here’s a list of my “must haves:”
The online service is free. This paid service adds a set of icons within Outlook that allows you to send large files through this online service without leaving your email. It automatically recognizes files that are too large to send through normal channels and offers to send them via YouSendIt.
This free service synchronizes with your Outlook calendar and publishes your available times. It makes it easy for anyone to schedule a meeting or phone call with you.
The basic service is free; an upgrade with key functions is paid. The program, "Inbox" spelled backwards, does a superior job of searching your emails, keeping track of files and messages you've exchanged with others and bringing social-media information for every email sender right into Outlook. The latest Outlook (2010) has added some of this functionality but Xobni beats it, hand-dwon.
Google Products and Services
Free and indispensible for directions, bird's eye views of the world and street-level views for many locations.
A free photo-album package, it synchronizes your computer's photos with online albums (or not; you choose). The most amazing feature is facial recognition. Just identify each person in your photos one time and the software will identify every other picture of the same person, whether in a group or alone. It's uncanny and very helpful.
A free service that lets you use your current phone number or a establish new one to add all sorts of functionality to your life on the phone. For example, I have a phone number at a remote office that, when called, will chase me down at my other phone numbers, depending on where I am and how I've set it. It also transcribes voice mails and emails them to me. It's a great way to have a telephone presence in any area code you choose at no cost and never to miss a call.
This free Internet browser is far superior to Internet Explorer in so many ways. I find the all-in-one address bar to be a big time saver: just type a web address or a search term in the bar. The only problem I've found is that some online services don't play well with Chrome. For example, a website I manage through a content management system won't show any content with Chrome. So keep a standby on hand.
This free social-networking service is growing like kudzu and will give Facebook a run for its money. Right now, it's populated by 25 million geeks and early adopters like me. But as the rest of the world discovers how much it can do that Facebook can't, there's bound to be a mass migration.
Other Online Services
This paid service allows even tiny businesses like mine to do email marketing with a level of sophistication and tracking that were once only the province of huge corporations.
There's a free version with limited functionality of this sophisticated online survey service. The professional version adds an array of design, logic and analytic features. For anyone doing opinion research, it's a must have.
This paid service is worth whatever they charge! It completely removes spam from your inbox. (Except for the occasional Nigerian attorney representing an incredibly wealthy widow.) The formula is simple: if you receive an email from someone who is not on your white list, Spamarrest sends the person a "challenge" email that says, basically "If you're a human being with legitimate business, click here and we'll put your email through." I forward all of my email addresses to Spamarrest. It scrubs out the junk and I collect the good stuff only.
This miraculous music (and now comedy) service, free with periodic commercials, $1 month for no commercials and better sound quality, grew out of the Music Genome Project, an ongoing project through which human beings are methodically tagging the "genomes" of millions of songs from among hundreds of options. So a given song might be instrumental, with background violins and dominant piano, classical, Baroque, 32 beats per minute and so forth. Pick a song and the database creates a custom "channel" of music that matches the genomes of the song you selected.
Another free service, this provides just about all of the functionality of expensive screen-sharing/teleconferencing services like GoToMeeting. Share your screen, or share others', in conference calls, webinars and other gatherings. The conference call functionality is free, too.
Free videoconferencing that is nothing short of astounding and earth shattering. No wonder Microsoft just acquired it. You know all about it. Just start using it.
Windows Live Skydrive
This free service is similar to GoogleDocs, a service that allows you to share documents and other files with multiple users. I prefer it to GoogleDocs because it's so well integrated with the Microsoft Office Suite and, well, that's the way of the business world. If you're weary of endless email exchanges of files with ever-expanding names like "new release with Joe's comments in red," run, do not walk to Skydrive. (If you need more than the amount of free storage provided, you can purchase more space.)
This paid service is the best off-site backup service I've found and, believe me, I've tried a bunch. For $5/month, everything I create on my computer is automatically backed up to "the cloud" and I can access it anywhere. Need I say more? One nifty feature is a system of color-coded dots placed next to every file that lets you know that it's already been backed up or is pending backup.
If you use the same password for every site you use, shame on you. Get Roboform. I did when I was a one-password-fits-all kind of guy and my PayPal account was hacked. That led to some major scrambling. Never again. Roboform generates unbreakable passwords for you and remembers them for you. The free version remembers them on one computer. But the paid version keeps all of your passwords in "the cloud" and synchronizes them with any device on which you'll loaded the Roboform software, including mobile devices.
A free, excellent social media dashboard that allows you to track your social media activity in one place. It's no wonder Twitter just acquired it.
This paid software supercharges the "print screen" function built into Windows and includes a photo editor. You can capture a scrolling screen, a section of a screen, onscreen video with audio and many other options. It has a great editor that allows you to annotate your screen captures with text, arrows and other symbols and to apply a range of photo effects.
It's paid. Full disclosure: I use it so much and recommend it so frequently that I became an affiliate. It's the best all around Twitter manager I've found, with an array of features for following and unfollowing, searching for other Twitter users based on keywords in the their profiles and Tweets, automating Tweets and re-Tweets and a more.
DVD Fab Decrypter
Simple, uncomplicated DVD copier and converter that works like a charm, better in my experience than some of the high-priced suites like Roxio and Nero. Make a back-up copy of a precious video in your collection or convert a video you own to an iPad or iPhone version. Buy annual licenses for just the functions you use.
A few days ago, I was looking for something on the Web, landed on an error page and burst out laughing. The page read, “Oh, snap! Something went wrong.” Would you rather do business with this company or its competitor with the “Error 404, page not found” message? Thought so.
That laugh-inducing error page is a perfect example of what I call person-ality. Too many organizational communications are missing exactly that — a person behind the communication about the brand or the organization. Some organizations insist on speaking with us as if there’s no body home at either end of the message, using passive voice, impenetrable jargon and insightful executives statements such as “We are pleased about this good news.” When I receive an email that speaks to “some of you out there,” I know that nobody in there knows who I am.
I conduct a variety of communication skills workshops for executives. Most participants arrive wanting tips, tricks and techniques — formulaic rules for giving a speech, handling a question, navigating a crisis, narrating a PowerPoint presentation. Don’t get me wrong: the social sciences have given us many useful tips for all sorts of communication situations.
But effective communication is authentic communication, in which the speaking or the writing is aimed at building a relationship of mutual understanding, respect and trust. Try accomplishing that while picturing your audience naked because you’re trying to “overcome” your fear of public speaking. But when a website says “Oh, snap!” to me, I know that someone has given some serious thought to our relationship.
Authentic communication comes from a commitment to authentic relationships. It’s not so difficult to figure out what that means. Just think about the relationship you have (or want to have) with your spouse, your kids, your parents. When that relationship of trust and respect is present, communication occurs. When it doesn’t, you’re probably acting like most corporations.
So here’s a free tip: lighten up. Speak and write from people to people. Try the first-person singular. Take a break from the superlative adjectives. Pitch the passive voice. Forget the executive quote. Put a name and face on it. Speak from you to me. Give it a try and, oh, snap, something will go right.
Anthony David Weiner, the U.S. Representative for New York's 9th congressional district, has been in the news of late. I‘m flabbergasted that a guy with a name like Smuckers would do anything to associate himself with the particular body part that shares his mis-pronounced surname. (For the record, “wein” in German, meaning wine, is pronounced “vine” not “veen.” The “er” means “of the,” which may explain his poor judgment). In his stage act, the drag comedian, Dame Edna, picks a woman from the audience and says to her, “Oh, my dear. You have obviously given a great deal of thought to that outfit. What were you thinking?” Oh, my dear, Mr. Weiner.
To students of crisis management, this guy has offered up a perfect case -history, videos and dissections of which will be common in PR and MBA programs for decades. The lesson is simple: don’t do anything he did after he did what he did. The crisis, you see, was not the discovery of pictures of his body parts in the hands of nubile nymphs across the nation. The crisis, entirely of his own making, began when he lied.
A couple of years ago, I participated in a seminar with Bob Woodward, who has been chronicling, since breaking the Watergate scandal, the stupid behavior of powerful men. (See TIME magazine’s recent piece, The Caligula Effect: Why Powerful Men Compulsively Cheat for some fascinating reading on the subject.)
Someone asked Woodward, “As a reporter, what do you want to hear when a company or public figure makes a mistake?” “The only acceptable answer,” he replied: “We did it, we’re sorry and we’ve taken steps to make sure that we never do it again.” An earlier author who went by the name of John, said it another way, “The truth will set you free.”
Eastern philosophers (and Werner Erhard, as I recall), expressed the concept underlying modern-day crisis management in two principles: “resistance causes persistence” and “re-creation causes disappearance.” Resistance in a crisis situation can take many forms, such as not answering a reporter’s questions or denying something in plain evidence like, oh I don’t, say a picture of you in your underwear. What happens when you don’t answer a reporter’s question? Why, the question persists until it is re-created, that is, answered. Once answered, the question disappears. /p
Crisis management, as it turns out, is really very basic, a lesson that bears re-visiting from time to time. Tell the truth and fix the problem. Yes, my dear Mr. Weiner.
Osama Bin Laden is history. That’s a fact you could not have missed even if you lived, as he was presumed to, in a cave. Whether you witnessed our national chest-thumping with bemusement and embarrassment or you participated enthusiastically in a flag-waving-USA-shouting-we-got-him-at-last street party, this particular perpetrator of mass murder is gone.
The information he left behind showed him to be a venal hypocrite, dying his beard to record rants to his followers and flipping channels to get a glimpse of himself. Someone was actually in charge of delivering the quintessentially American Coca-Cola to his million-dollar compound! (Note to every CEO on the planet: walking the talk builds credibility.)
Amid the 24/7 news reporting, which still consumes more airtime than the unfolding disaster along the Mighty Mississippi, you may have missed one small detail that every professional communicator and corporate executive should note: Sohaib Athar, “an IT consultant taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains,” live Tweeted the helicopter flyovers and explosions that were part of the raid on Bin Laden’s hideout. He was none too pleased with the ruckus, writing in one Tweet, “I guess Abbottabad is going to get as crowded as the Lahore I left behind for some peace and quiet. *sigh*”
By now, every person in business who has a heartbeat recognizes that social media such as Twitter have permanently changed the very nature of communication. To many, the unfolding Arab Spring is also known as the Twitter Revolution. Yet in an ongoing (and decidedly not scientific) poll on my website, fewer than one-half of those responding say that their organizations use Twitter as part of their planned communication activities.
Not employing social media as part of an organization’s ongoing relationship building is almost a forgivable sin, compared with using these powerful tools clumsily or without purpose. Not a day goes by that I don’t encounter a company that is ready to start Tweeting away with no objective in mind, in ways that offend the very communities they hope to enfranchise.
Here’s an example I use in many of my training programs. Every gym has a culture of its own, with social behavioral norms that are different from place to place. Is it cool to drop your dumbells with a thud, or not? Is grunting a sign of hard work or bad manners? Do people “doing a circuit,” take priority over users of one machine in the circuit? Do you wipe down your treadmill with sanitary wipes or not? When is it OK to refuse a request to “work in?” Yet when the folks that gym rats call “The New Year’s Resolutionaries” appear in early January for their fleeting stays, most never bother to learn the cultural norms of the gym and blunder about making everyone else crazy.
The current issue of my Update newsletter includes links to several sets of homespun advice on the subject of social media norms. If you have a role in your organization’s social media planning and execution, consider reviewing them before you … ahem … work out the details of your social media program.