Category Archives: Communication

The Art of Being Assertive

I got married in August – which is why all my dreams of reviving this blog were, yet again, pushed aside in favor of catering coordination, bridesmaid management, and marriage counseling. Sorry for that.

We were engaged for 9 months prior to the wedding, and it took almost as long for me to learn just how I should plan a wedding. You see, when you get engaged, everyone has ideas about how things should be done – everything from who should be in the wedding, what time the wedding should be, the kind of meat and beer served at the wedding, the easiest way to decorate tables, how long the waitstaff should be expected to stay. It’s endless. It’s awful.

I’m not a timid person, but throughout the wedding planning process, I have had THE WORST time filtering these outside opinions so that they make sense to me, and lead to decisions. Whether or not these people are important to me, their opinions have become expectations in my mind. Fearing an uncomfortable situation with future-in-laws or friends, I’ve enthused: “oh, wow, what an awesome idea!” when I’ve inwardly cringed at their suggestion.

Don’t get me wrong – most of the suggestions have been truly helpful, but the best advice I got came in a question posed by my mother: “Meg, what do you want?”

It occurred to me that what I’d always counted as one of the attributes of an outgoing person, is actually an acquired skill – assertiveness comes with practice. And since this epiphany, I’ve realized that my days are fraught with opportunities to sharpen this skill. And in working remotely, this skill couldn’t be more important. Making sure that you’re understood, informed and confident is elemental in telecommuting for two reasons:

  1. So the work gets done efficiently and correctly, and
  2. So you’re taken seriously and your ass is covered.

Details

In emails, it comes in the form of clarifying details and situations, and making sure that what you want or need from someone is always on the table at some point. In emails, you can finesse the language of the “ask” or “clarification.” On the phone, it gets a little harder.

Whether I’m on a call with a client or my team, or even a recent call working out the parameters of a campaign with a promotional partner, I need to speak up if I feel like there’s some confusion on my part or overall. You can look a little less poised if you’re asking for info you may have missed, but I’ve learned the hard way to get my questions addressed on the phone rather than “off-line” with a teammate (who 50% of the time also likely missed the detail I’m looking for).  It’s doesn’t look good if you get off the phone looking buttoned up, and then send a email illustrating the opposite.

Impressions

Besides details, being assertive gives teammates, clients and media an important impression of the remote worker. This, in my opinion, is the most important aspect of it. I’m a relational person and need the people I work with to take me seriously. So I make it a goal to speak up, ask a question, chime in with an idea on every call I’m on (that isn’t a media briefing). It’s important because it communicates an element of control and let’s the other participants of the call know that you have some stake in the conversation.

Assertiveness = Balance

It’s a delicate balance to strike on the social spectrum between passive and aggressive. There’s always the temptation to be polite and refrain from voicing concerns, but this is a passive way to communicate, and people will walk all over you. On the other hand, an aggressive nature will give the call a tense dynamic and people won’t want to work with you – they’ll feel run over and defensive.

Here’s the bottom line: when you’re remote, your emails, voice and ideas are frame your colleagues’ impressions of you. It lets them know whether to trust you with a partnership negotiation, pitching a curmudgeon journalist, or presenting a plan to a client. Good work gets done when people can communicate openly with each other, and being assertive is your best shot at making sure that happens.

And making sure that there’s NO IVY in your wedding bouquet.

Details, details… Why You (as a young PRo) Need To Be Nit-Picky NOW.

picture-1I am not the most detail-oriented person. Not by a long shot. I am more what you’d call a “Big Picture,” conceptual person. Which is why, in the first months of my job, I struggled a lot with not seeing the value in details and not grasping for a while just HOW MUCH I needed to harness those details on all of my teams.

If your work environment is anything like mine, you’re on multiple teams and it’s very collaborative. Everyone does everything until the job gets done. It’s nice to see the managers of accounts chiming in and even sometimes drafting pitches and releases.

These are wonderful things to be able to expect from your teams and and managers. However, bear in mind what is expected of you at the bottom of the totem pole:

1. You are the gate-keeper of information. Your account managers will often be overseeing all of the high-level activity in several accounts, not just yours. It’s up to you to be on top of every single detail and moving part within your account so that if they need to know if a client has sent their feedback on a release, you can update them right away.

2. You are the task master. If someone’s been assigned a new Washington Post target, you need to check and make sure they’ve been pitched. You need to be sure of everyone’s pitching progress at any time. You need to know everyone’s progress on everything at all times. Don’t be afraid to manage up on this one.

3. Your clients probably care. Client-facing emails, especially with small companies aren’t uncommon for the young AA or AAE. Typos (and believe me, I am THE WORST with typos, just read some of my past blogs) look so bad to clients. Doesn’t matter if it’s a short, logistical (“Please use the usual dial-in”) message or a large, content-heavy correspondence. Same for client deliverables – PR reports, tracking sheets, whether hard copies, PDFs or Google docs, these need to be flawless.

4. Your teams DO care. They definitely care if they can’t trust you to send simple messages that are error-free to clients. Especially avoidable errors. Spell-check and have them proofed (it’s a killer to your writer/communicator’s ego, but worth it when you start to pick up the nuances of client communications). Never send a client email without letting your team know, or CC-ing them (once again, please learn from MY mistakes here).

5. It kind of becomes second nature. At some point you just learn how to do it without thinking about it. And you’ll find that as your organization increases so does your productivity. So it’s definitely worth the extra care and time that you put into it now.

6. Important: If you let them, disorganization and small mistakes WILL run the way you do things and define you as a professional. Small mistakes that go unchecked can quickly brand you as sloppy and unprofessional and will even faster become habits and harder to manage and rid yourself of.

This has been one of the most aggravating things to learn as I’ve gone out into the “real world.” Do whatever it takes to incorporate this into your work habits even if you’re cursing those detail oriented, anal-retentives who sit next to you. Eat some humble pie and learn from them.

*Organization tips to follow. Photo courtesy of Details magazine.

CEO 2.0

courtesty of directnews.co.uk

courtesty of directnews.co.uk

On one of my accounts, the CEO has become pretty obsessed with Twitter as of late. I’m  happy that he was into it because I’m all about engagement and transparency and other great perks of swimming in the Web 2.0 ocean, and I’m not yet very good at convincing clients that a 140-character blurb every now and then is worth their time, so I’m glad that not a lot of prodding was needed on my part. Also, it was nice because, while I manage and maintain the Twitter activity for the company feed, when people have issues with a product, I often don’t know enough about the technology behind it or the industry itself to answer these properly – the CEO, though, can do it very well. It’s an awesome combo – CEO personal Twitter used in conjunction with the company’s…

I was asked, however, to create a little guide for his Twitter activity and realized — People, this is the age of CEO 2.0. What have we progressed to when the CEO is no longer a suit behind closed mahogany doors and on executive planes and golf courses? When they actually interact with the users, no matter how influencial, to trouble-shoot, discuss the product and the industry, or respond personally to reporters. It’s a beautiful thing.

That said, I wanted to pass along this outline for your CEO to start his very own feed. Below are some tools and examples of a Twitter feed done WELL (some of these are review from an earlier post -@JetBlue, @MightyLeaf)

+++

Tools

Desktop app: Twhirl

  • Gives you the updates on the feeds you follow, and functions like the Web page.
  • You can follow, send messages, @replies.
  • The nice thing about Twhirl, though, unlike the traditional service which only lists the @replies that are in the beginning of posts, Twhirl, lists all @replies that are called, no matter where they are in the post.

Search: search.twitter.com
Scheduled Posts: Future Tweets let’s you schedule Tweets ahead of time.
Regional Interest
: http://www.twitterlocal.net
Conversation/Thread tracking: Tweader.com
Trends on Twitter: http://www.twitscoop.com/


Successful Business Twitter models:

Jet Blue: https://twitter.com/JetBlue

  • Their 7,500 followers are resulting from updates about their flight schedules, flying/travel tips and steady responses to customers and other Twitterers.
  • A steady flow of updates keeps you on the feeds of those following you.

Mighty Leaf Tea: https://twitter.com/mightyleaf

  • They’re not tech, but they come up with useful ways to discuss their products over Twitter and currently have nearly 1000 followers.
  • They post “relevant” issues and articles and are engaged in their industry beyond just their product, engaging in current events and eventually bringing it back to them.

Comcast: http://twitter.com/comcastcares

  • This feed is devoted solely to addressing customer concerns and directing them to new services and solutions.
  • They’ve got 18,000+ updates which illustrates that this is their new customer care model.
  • “Can I help?” is a common @reply to some customer’s venting their concerns.

Evernote: http://twitter.com/evernote

  • Evernote is a great example of how a small company can leverage Twitter, though their model is more centered around updates and announcements rather than industry news and they don’t engage with with @replies. They probably Direct Message everyone who starts following them. Another great way to engage without crowding your feed with @replies.
  • They have over 6,000 followers because they incorporate need-to-know information in their updates so that users can maximize their use.

PLEASE NOTE: Comcast is an extreme model, but it’s the truest when it comes to customer engagement. JetBlue and Mighty Leaf engage with customers, but they also focus on industry news as well. JetBlue even features a “Tech-travel Tuesday” weekly tweet devoted to how technology is having an impact in travel.

Executives On Twitter

Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com: http://twitter.com/zappos

  • This is more of a daily log of activities, interactions with other journalists, and daily goings on at Zappos. But it does a great deal to humanize the company and they have nearly 20,000 followers because of it.

David Sifry, Chairman of Technorati: http://twitter.com/technorati

  • He recently did an interview on his Twitter engagement: I subscribe to lots of people who say interesting things, and I listen [and] read a lot. I find that these people become a sounding board for ideas, and I learn a lot from them.”
  • Many CEOs are finding this a good window into current events and insights into their industry.

It’d like to reiterate that, it does help if you garner some of the nuances of Twitter, blogging and other Web 2.0 engagement tools for your personal use – SEO, Web presence, visibility before you attempt to do the same for your client.

Have at it.


Cinematic Savvy: Cool Hand Luke

Thought I’d get your attention with Mr. Paul Newman.

“What we got here is a failure to communicate.”

This observation from the road crew captain in the film brings to mind several instances where this very truth has caused havoc in my personal and professional (or pre-professional) life. Whether it’s laziness, disdain or sheer ignorance that’s ruptured the flow of healthy verbal relations, it always means another failure is in store.

Relationships – duh. Oprah and a host of highly-qualified psychological professionals say we need communication for our relationships and if it isn’t there, relationships sink.

But in the professional environment, maybe you don’t get emotionally wounded, but lack of communication means your team, and ultimately your client, takes it right in the gut.

I’ve experienced this on both sides. There was an instructor who failed to clearly communicate expectations, due dates and functions of each task assigned and remained unapproachable. This led to a lot of struggling and eventual dissent from the class members who left the class confused about what was assigned, much of it very important to our careers. The one lesson I’ve taken from this example is that you can’t always trust the people you work under to lay it all out for you. I guess.

On the other hand, in leaving town on a planned trip one week, I left my team high and dry without knowing it and accidentally skipped out on a huge deadline because we failed to properly communicate under the urgent circumstances. Luckily, the client was still provided with information they needed in a timely fashion and no bridges were burned.

Now, it would be easy for me to say: this is what happens when there is a failure to communicate. But it can get much worse. When communication is sacrificed, other things are tossed out too: trust of team members and clients, reputation among colleagues and networks and most importantly, the ability to hold yourself to a standard of having decent respect for those you work with and the things you work for. These are big losses.

I hope my examples illustrated that it isn’t always a lack of timely or dependable communication that’s the problem- when I’d gone out of town, my team had attempted to reach me by e-mail rather than phone – but sometimes it’s the quality of what’s communicated that causes a problem. Sincerity, consideration, and professionalism are always appreciated.

Honesty will also score high.

The Cinematic Savvy series is designed to explore themes and ideas from certain films. Inspiration can be drawn from characters, their quotes, their circumstances, historical approaches depicted – it’s my blog, I’ll take it where I get it. I love film and I love PR. Let’s see how they influence me.

*Image courtesy of /www.johnmariani.com