Google Website Translator Gadget

Monday, February 14, 2011

Silence is Golden

I came across a news item this past weekend that thoroughly surprised me. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has gone four complete terms, dating back to 2006, without uttering one word in any of the cases heard before the land's highest court. Not a word. Not a peep.
Rather, Justice Thomas prefers to sit back in his chair, rub his eyes, stare at the ceiling and listen to the proceedings. In the past 40 years no other Supreme Court justice has gone an entire term without saying something, yet Clarence Thomas is likely to make it five straight years with this coming session.
Some observers say Thomas appears bored. Other say he looks disinterested and almost irritated that he has to sit behind the bench day after day listening to the most complicated and challenging cases in jurisprudence.
Thomas, in his defense, says that when cases are invited to present before the Supreme Court the justices, at least from his perspective, should be quiet and listen to what both sides of the case have to say, rather than interject with numerous questions or insert asides that reflect personal opinion.
Whatever his reason may be for remaining silent, Justice Thomas may be onto something.
All too often in life, and especially in our business of public relations, people feel compelled to fill every empty space with words. I've been in meetings where high-powered PR execs speak in long, rambling sentences filled with so much jargon and hyperbole that when they finally do take a break to catch their breath, one is left numb, searching to find a single nugget of actual wisdom or useful advice.
It may be that many PR pros feel the need to talk incessantly because they believe that if they remain silent their clients may wonder if they have anything useful to contribute. Sure, there are times when a spirited colloquy is required to provide necessary counsel, but all too often PR people talk without really having anything important to say.
Years ago, I had the privilege to work at the PR agency Copithorne & Bellows. One of the aspects of the principals' approach to business that made the agency one of the most successful firms in the industry was their ability to listen. "If you ask the right questions and then listen, clients will inevitably outline their current situation and guide you toward an ultimate solution," they preached. And it worked.
Over the years I've learned to ask probing questions to clients, actively listen to how they respond, and then play back for them what they said intermixed with my personal observations. Nine times out of 10, this approach leads to a workable solution to almost any communications challenge faster and more effectively than coming to a meeting armed with preconceived ideas of what a client needs to do, and then bombard them with advice that they didn't ask for, and most likely don't need.
What's your experience? Do you have horror stories of PR people who just can't stop talking? Have you found value in listening? We're waiting to hear from you.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Valentine's Day: Celebrate it the Easy Way, or the Hard Way

This blog usually tackles a range of subject areas the team at 3Point are passionate about: mobile platforms, cloud computing, digital privacy, marketing strategy, social media, and public relations.

But with Valentine's Day literally around the corner (yes, it's Monday!), and in light of the seemingly incessant reminders we're getting from marketers via our favorite media outlets, I thought you wouldn't mind if "Beyond the Arc" took a temporary detour to share a few thoughts on THE romantic holiday.

For most of us (and I'm talking about guys), it's the same deal every year.  How much of a fuss should we make out of Valentine's Day.  Most guys over think this most famous of lovers' holidays.  And it doesn't matter if your newly dating or been married to the same person for 25 or more years.  Us guys definitely feel the pressure and our significant others definitely measure our treatment of Valentine's Day with the progression of the relationship.

My advice?  Relax.  Take a deep breadth.  Try to not read too much into this holiday. After all, it's meant to be a fun, romantic holiday.  You remember, fun, right?

Ok, I admit that what follows isn't so much my advice.  I'll leave relationship advice up to those who are "expert" at dishing it out and make their living from it -- like Dr. Phil and Dear Abby.

But as an infoholic (probably much like yourself), and as a public service, I've digested and then sorted out some of the best professional and informal (from a poll I did with friends on Facebook) advice on how to spend Monday. 

So here goes:

Many of the articles and promotions I've seen encourage us to dine out on Valentine's Day.  For this reason, many restaurants will be jammed on Monday night and you'll wind up waiting for your table -- reservations or not.  Actually, without reservations, I wouldn't even bother.

To be honest, I don't think dining out is for everyone on Valentine's Day. For example, if you're in a new relationship, you might reconsider your plans to dine out because a Valentine's Day dinner is brimming with pressure and future expectations.

Instead, consider a movie.  There are a number of "couples" movies playing at your local AMC Loews Cineplex.  Check out "Country Strong," about a rising country-music songwriter who falls for a fallen star.  Or "The Kings Speech," with 12 Oscar nominations, is sure to provide the fuel for your after-movie conversation at your favorite coffee shop where you can exchange movie insights over a caramel machiatto or other refreshment.

For the more adventurous and if you and your date are reasonably athletic, consider an ice-skating date.  Here's a listing of rinks in your area.  Or a bowling alley that offers food, refreshments and fun. A good option is Lucky Strike, a chain of upscale bowling alleys with lane-side food service and lounges across 12 states, plus an alley in Washington, D.C. and one in Canada (Ontario). 

For those of you who, like me, are in a serious relationship (longer term dating, engaged or married) remember that you don't have to save Valentine's Day to treat your special someone in a special way.  A friend of mine (he's recently divorced, so perhaps he's teaching us all something) said, "Always assume it's your first year of marriage and that EVERYTHING matters."

Dinner out is almost always a good idea on Valentine' Day when you're in a longer-term relationship.  You don't need to re-mortgage the house and dine at The Ritz, but wherever you decide to go, use OpenTable to make reservations.  It's fast and easy, you don't have to look up a restaurant's phone number and you can read what others are saying about previous dining experiences.  

Like so many of our holidays, Valentine's Day has been commercialized to excess. Companies who stand to gain a spike in Valentine's Day sales -- purveyors of sweets, flowers, jewelry and now smartphones, etc., --  have turned to social media and digital marketing in addition to traditional channels in an attempt to guilt us into spending more than necessary.

I for one am not falling for it.  However you decide to spend Valentine's Day this year, and maybe it's just dinner at home then plopping on the couch in front of the TV with your girlfriend, fiancĂ©e or your wife -- just remember to have fun.  

Cupid wouldn't want it any other way.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Redux: Worst Things Your PR Agency Could Tell You

Apparently, the number of worst things your public relations agency could tell you doesn't stop at 10.  Not even close. Not that I thought 10 was the limit to begin with.  But I'm getting the feeling from the "Tech PR" group on LinkedIn that the list of worst things a client could hear from their PR agency numbers in the hundreds, perhaps even in the thousands.  Perhaps to infinity and beyond!

What I am sure of is this: no matter who you talk with, there's always at least one more thing that can be added to the list.

A couple of months ago I shared a post -- "The 10 Worst Things Your PR Agency Could Tell You" -- with the "Tech PR" group on LinkedIn. Today, this group enjoys a global membership of more than 2,700 professionals. It would be great to see membership grow to 3,000 before the group celebrates its third birthday on April 28.  So if you're a tech PR pro, check out the group and sign up!

At the time of the post, several members of the group weighed in with their own suggestions while a few others commented on the original list of 10, especially this one:  We can't get any coverage for you if your customers won't speak to the media.

Here's what they had to say about that:

"When companies partner with PR firms that leverage a PR measurement solution, the 'we can't' excuse becomes difficult, if not impossible.  With data and charts at their fingertips, clients can see how much coverage the competitors are getting and whether or not customer references are making up the majority of that coverage. As you know, it's likely the competitors will have coverage that doesn't include customers."

"An activity without a result usually falls short in terms of deliverables to the client or company."

"You need a benchmark - as PR is always comparative."

These other comments and suggested additions to the list may be helpful to your business, whether you're on the client or agency side of the house.

"Worst thing your PR agency can tell you?  'We can measure our success by Equivalent Ad Value.'  This was never relevant, today even less so, yet incredibly it still gets said by some."

One of my personal favs:  " 'We have the right contacts....' Not always true and having the 'right' contact means nothing without a good story, analysts to back up your claims and customers willing to speak."

"Agencies that are so filled with hubris, laziness or sloppiness that when asked why a client left, respond with, 'Oh, we were doing a great job but the client just moved on.' .... The real answer is that the agency wasn't doing a great job, they are more involved with themselves than with the client, and they just weren't listening." Ouch!

One contributor suggests that one of the worst things your PR agency can tell you is their address:  "I always got a kick out of the 'downtown' agencies -- the ones that think they need a midtown Manhattan or Boston/Cambridge address. ...  Are you paying for results or the view from the conference room, or worse, the office of the CEO?  When was the last time he/she pitched a story?"

Another contributor, a chap from the U.K. with a most appropriate name (at least 'surname') for a PR pro -- Chris Measures -- offers this as among the worst things your PR agency can tell you:

"Simply saying 'yes' to whatever you ask them as a client - that's not providing consultancy or any added value."

Dead on, Chris.  Simple and to the point.

If I've left off a few, please let me know.