The People That Help Us Show Up And Stay In The Arena – In Memory of Marc DesRosiers

Guy Kawasaki recently used his voice on LinkedIn to share Brené Brown’s, Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count. It caught my attention, as I see the link between vulnerability and a company’s willingness to market in a way that makes it possible to be seen.

Brown shares, “Without vulnerability you cannot create.” I could not agree more. Leaders must embrace opening themselves up so they can lead companies to show up, innovate and be creative. Playing it too safe takes you out of the game and weakens your business position and message.

If you are not familiar with Brené Brown, she is the author of the bestseller Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead. In her speech, she references Theodore Roosevelt’s The Man In The Arena, an excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April 1910.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Brown describes, brilliantly, the type of supporter you need if you want to live your life in the arena when she shares, “The other thing you’ve got to have is at least one person in your life who is willing to pick you up and dust you off and look at you when you fail, which hopefully you will because if you are not failing you really aren’t showing up. But is willing to look at you when you fail, and say, yeah, that sucks, it was totally as bad as you thought. But you were brave. Let’s get you cleaned up because you are going to go back in. And, this is someone who loves you not despite your vulnerabilities and imperfections, but because of them.”

Those words describe perfectly the support I received from my dear friend, Marc DesRosiers. This Sunday, Marc passed away suddenly. He leaves behind a wife and three young children. Marc was a positive and warm spirit with a hilarious sense of humor. I met Marc as a member of Entrepreneur Organization (EO). He was in my “forum,” a breakout group of the larger organization that meets once a month to discuss business ideas and challenges. As any entrepreneur or business leader knows, personal lives impact business and vice versa. So the conversations were often intense. The group was close.

EO is great for finding true, like-minded, supporters. Taking advice from people not in the arena can lead you to make fear-based decisions. It can lead you to retreat when you should be charging forward. You have to be careful who you take advice from as Brown says, “If you are going to show up and be seen there is only one guarantee, you will get your ass kicked.” She goes on to state, “If you are not in the arena, also getting your ass kicked, I am not interested in your feedback.”

When you have that right kind of supporters, it helps you lose focus on the critics. She shares, “We are hard wired for connection, when we stop caring what people think we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think we lose our capacity to be vulnerable. Not caring what people think is its own kind of hustle.”

Brown shares her thoughts on the alternative to life in the arena, “Yeah. It’s so scary to show up, it feels dangerous to be seen. It’s terrifying. But, it is not as scary, dangerous or terrifying as getting to the end of our lives and thinking what if I would have shown up, what would have been different.”

Marc was in the arena. For any business leader that does not have one or several people like Marc in their life, you need it. Go find it. Thank you Marc DesRosiers for being one of my supporters. I love you man.

3 Ways to Spot a Fake PR Agency

Has your company hired a fake PR firm? Many companies that label themselves as a PR agency, even some of the high-profile ones, are actually fake. For the US market, I define a fake PR agency as one that does not use real employees to execute client programs. Fake PR agencies hire freelancers.

Unfortunately, this business practice is common in the agency world for two reasons. First, there are low barriers to entry for the freelancer-based business model. Second, a large number of senior PR executives would prefer part-time freelance work to full-time employment.

Why should you be concerned about hiring a fake PR agency? Because agencies built using independent contractors cannot deliver what PR agencies were originally designed to do.

PR agencies, at their finest, deliver a team that collaboratively provides the full scope of strengths and skills required to consistently deliver PR campaigns that are both highly strategic and creative without losing steam at execution. With the freelancer model, you can’t have both. For example, even if your assigned senior PR agency rep is well rounded and has the right relationships, they will have their preferences on what they like to do. As a result, either the big picture strategic creativity or detail-oriented execution will pay a quality price.

For global marketing executives looking to hire US-based agencies, it is important to consider cultural differences in relation to loyalty, and also understand a few fundamentals of US independent contractor law. Independent contractors in London-based agencies are used as a standard practice. Using freelancers tends to works better in European markets due to labor law differences and the loyalty attitudes and expectations of the European freelancer.

A key difference in the US market is that US freelancers need to, based on labor laws regarding independent contractors, have other clients besides the agency they are outsourcing for on behalf of your company. Those other clients, perhaps direct clients, will take priority.

Independent contractors in the US are also required to use their own software and systems in the delivery of services to the agency on behalf of your account. This is not conducive to a systems-based, team-oriented agency infrastructure that can sustain creativity and consistently execute.

In a true PR agency, a team is committed, engaged and loyal on behalf of the agency’s clients, bringing the energy, passion and focus that will drive PR campaign success. Employees of a PR agency know their career is tied to the clients of the agency. The success of those client programs defines their career success.

How do you avoid being burned by an agency that is not selling based on reality? It can be accomplished by evaluating these three factors:

Beware of team spin

You may find yourself mesmerized by a team of senior talent that makes an impressive new business presentation. Remember that those people may be set up to fail in a bad PR agency business model that is not primed to deliver. It may also be possible that the agency has no intention of having those people work on your account with any degree of focus. 

  • Ask each presented team member if they are a “W-2 employee” or an independent contractor.
  • Check their LinkedIn profile to see if they are telling the truth. Unless you have a multimillion-dollar PR budget, it is better to have 3-4 smart, focused professionals on your PR team than a boat-load of people that will never actually pay attention to your account.

Realize “all senior talent” and “distributed team” are red flags

Know the two common ways fake agencies apply PR spin to their agency story. “We offer all senior talent” and “we have a distributed team” are the tell tale signs. You should read these statements as, “we are not investing in full-time employees” and “this agency business model will not provide me the consistency, efficiency and combined team talents that will lead to a long-term client/agency relationship.”

You actually don’t want all senior talent on your account. To be efficient, cost effective and sustainable, you want just the right number of senior people on your account, with junior people doing things that the senior people no longer want, or need, to do. This keeps your senior talent happy long term.

  • Check the agency web site for the “all senior talent” or “distributed” spin.
  • Ask for their office address, and ask if it is a real office that the team works in on a daily basis.

Check if number of agency employees is realistic based on number of current clients

Freelancers listed on an agency web site do not necessarily work that many hours for the agency. Or, the agency may not have tapped their talents for 6 months. Yet the biography remains.

  • Do some math. If an agency with 15 current clients paying $15K retainers and has 50 employees then something is not right. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure they really can’t afford that many senior people as full-time employees with those revenues.

With this empowering information, perhaps you will more easily narrow your PR agency search to a list of valid PR agencies with a solid business foundation.

The Inner Circle That Supports The CMO’s Role As #1

According to today’s Marketo blog post, the CMO is poised to play the most important role in company strategy. The post makes the case that customers are “reaching out to companies later and later in their decision-making cycle.” As a result, perceptions that impact buying behavior are made long before a company has any direct contact with the customer in the sales process.

This makes social media, digital, mobile marketing and PR key drivers in the customer buying decision and sets the CMO up to be in the best position to drive revenue. Sounds important to me.

With the CMO taking the role as the key customer advocate, who are the collaborative colleagues needed to drive effective strategy?

The Brand Methodology Consultant 

With brands now largely built and supported within the domain of the communications and PR world – social media, digital and mobile, the expertise of these professionals should be brought in early in the process. Conceptual brands that are built from the bottom up, with the depth needed to support meaningful micro-content, are the most likely to be successful when it comes time for execution.

Successful conceptual branding requires multiple layers in order to be useful by communications professionals. A brand methodology that supports real-world usage is important and is best facilitated by an outside consultant that has a refined process and methodology.

The Visionary

It is critical to consider the long-term vision and direction of the company in order to create brand materials that don’t compete with the goals of the future. As such, the CEO, as the keeper of the company’s vision, should be incorporated into the brand team.

The Competitive, Product & Technology Expert

Brand building requires reflection on the reality of the company and its capabilities to deliver — or the brand won’t stick. This makes the CMO and CTO partnership increasingly important. The CTO should take the role of understanding the reality of the product’s capabilities in relation to industry perspective. What is truly differentiated from competitors? What does the competitive offering look like? Where are the holes? What is our company’s strategy to build products that set us apart?

The Influencer & Industry Gatekeeper Expert

In some companies, the Chief Communications Officer (CCO) role is owned by the CMO. If this is a separate role in your company, the CCO is critical to developing the communications messaging and positioning structure that will break through the competitive barriers and set the company up for success. In the digital marketing world, structuring communication frameworks to support real-time usage is increasingly critical. In most companies of any size, there is also a senior outside communications and PR consultant that brings influencer and gatekeeper expertise to the table. Incorporating this team will make sure your brand can overcome industry noise. How will it be challenged? Will it be accepted?

The Front Line

The age-old competition between marketing and sales is sure to increase with the landscape moving the sales person’s role later into the sales cycle. Even if the CMO’s role is increasingly important, the front line is still responsible to directly interact with the customer and close the sale. Supporting the front line function will now require a more integrated effort between sales, business development and marketing with social selling and one-to-one social media engagement happening early in the sales cycle. Frontline feedback on first customer interactions can help determine how the digital programs are performing to open doors.

It is an exciting shift in times for CMOs seeking new challenges and any person with a role in the CMO’s inner circle. The companies that will compete and win in this rapidly changing environment will be the ones that quickly adapt to this new environment and engage all the key players in the new customer lifecycle engagement environment. Are you ready for the shift?

Taking in News Without Absorbing Negativity

As business, marketing and PR executives, it is imperative that we stay tuned to the latest happenings in the world. Unfortunately this news, whether found via your local TV station or through social media channels, can be depressing. Looping, sensationalized and negative reports of worldwide suffering has the potential to drain even the most callous soul.

An article in Psychology Today, The Psychological Effects of TV News, shares research that negative news broadcasts make you sadder, more anxious and can “exacerbate your own personal worries and anxieties.” Sound appealing?

This begs the question – how do we balance knowledge with maintaining positive energy and healthy thoughts?

The Huffington Post’s The Third Metric shares four tips to avoid this depressing fate in it’s recent post How To Follow The News Without Plunging Into A Bottomless Pit Of Despair. They are:

  • Just turn it off
  • Be empathetic, but not to the point of paralysis
  • Change your habits
  • Learn what works for you

With these tips in mind, I will share what works for me.

  • Take action

When something touches my heart, I try to make a difference in some way. I may donate time or money. If nothing else, a few minutes practicing lovingkindness meditation for the suffering. Check out Sharon Salzberg’s CD on the practice here.

  • Limit exposure

I find that limiting news too close to bedtime is wise for me. I prefer to prime my mind with positive thoughts as a habit to maintain a joyful attitude.

  • Create mental strength through healthy lifestyle choices

I make the conscience choice to exercise, eat healthy food, meditate, explore hobbies that bring me joy and surround myself with positive people. These choices impact my ability to build strength from within. With this strength, I am better equipped to withstand exposure to difficult situations.

  • Choose my thoughts

A mini practice I do when I need to mentally clear a negative thought is to visualize a bubble of white light that carries positive energy throughout my body. This practice resets my thinking. Create your own ritual to reset your mind.

What do you do to stay informed without sacrificing your positive outlook?

Customer Obsession – A Valentine’s Day Special

CMOs are tasked with creating cultural and operational aspects within their companies that build a customer obsession. This is central to business success in highly competitive marketing environments. We have evolved beyond customer-oriented and customer-centric goals to “customer obsession.” In honor of Valentine’s Day, I offer a few of my favorite tips to make it all about the customer.

Pick cultural fits

If given the choice, everyone wants to work with people they like. Working with people that you genuinely enjoy being around creates a foundation for trust. Create your own framework for customers. What are your must haves and must avoids?

Match the brand to the customer journey

If you want a long-term relationship, then the customer experience must match the brand. Once a customer buys and becomes a customer, design a customer journey that is focused on customer retention. Find out what they want and create a journey that exceeds their expectations with innovative, unique touches. Focusing resources on keeping customers is a better business investment than focusing on getting them.

Don’t talk trash

We have an incredible client portfolio with amazing client teams. This makes it easy to live by our rule at VisiTech PR that we don’t get in an us vs. them mentality. If you are upset with a client, you have three choices. 1) You can change it 2) You can accept it 3) You can leave the client relationship. Spreading negativity about clients is not an option. It does not help, and is usually a cop out to accepting responsibility.

Turn a mistake into an opportunity

No one is perfect. Every reasonable person understands this. A mistake is an opportunity to overcome the issue and continue with the customer in an even stronger position. Remember, it is not usually the mistake that loses a customer, it is how you deal with it.

Be on their team

Do you root for your customers? Of course, some business models dictate that you serve competitors and you maintain a Switzerland approach. Regardless, it is imperative to have your customer’s best interest at heart and show it consistently.

Share good energy

Who doesn’t want to have a good day at work? Be positive and enthusiastic. Make the customer feel good. Have some empathy for their human experience.

I wish you, and your very happy customers, a successful customer engagement.

The Value Statement Test – Four Questions to Weed out the Liars

One of the main reasons I love owning my own business is the freedom it gives me to conduct my business life in congruence with my value system. For example, honestly is a core value I live by and, in turn, a value that is expected within my company.

If a value is true for a company, it is non-negotiable. Unfortunately, claims of certain values are often not true. Because there is truth in all humor, this video clip from the movie Knocked Up, where Kristin Wiig’s character says, “This is Hollywood, we don’t like liars” is so hilarious.

Many companies share, or at least claim, a short list of common values. What is uniquely true to your company? I created a list of the most common words I see in companies value statements below. Although all honorable, it would be difficult for a company to truly live consistently by all these values.

On your values discovery mission, it is important to narrow down the two or three factors that define the core of your company’s values system. You have to choose. Review the list below and consider, what am I willing to sacrifice?

What do we deliver?

  • Examples: Quality, Accountability, Results, Profits, Growth, Efficiency

How do we treat the customers?

  • Examples: Relationships, Listening, Humble, Service, Support, Listening, Empathy

How do we operate as a team?

  • Examples: Learning, Growth, Diversity, Respect

What is our mode of operation?

  • Examples: Discipline, Passion, Energy, Diligence, Perseverance, Integrity, Honesty

How are we changing the world?

  • Examples: Innovation, Creativity

How do we give back?

  • Examples: Giving, World Impact, Community Service

What kind of culture do we nurture?

  • Examples: Fun, Serious, Positive, Family, Open, Hard working

Now that you have an idea of what your core values are, I offer four questions we ask our clients in our branding sessions. These questions force some deep thinking and sacrifice the me-too and not-true values.

  1. Does this value mean so much to you that you would temporarily lose money before you would sacrifice it?
  2. Would you fire someone for violating the value?
  3. Do people that do not embody this value hate working for your company?
  4. Do people that embody this value feel loyalty to the company based on this common value?

Take your company’s current values statement and run this four-question test. How does your values statement hold up to reality? As you consider your values remember that nobody likes a liar.

To Live With Integrity, Define It

You would be hard pressed to hear a person, or company, claim a lack of integrity. I am going to hypothesize that most people, and most companies, consider integrity a core value. So then, if integrity is such a given, why is it even discussed? Should it be a check box item for being a decent human being? Somewhere up there with not torturing animals? You don’t’ have to go around proclaiming that you don’t torture animals. Right?

It has been my experience that the definition of integrity may be quite different from one person to the next. Lets examine… Is integrity a value, or adherence to values or moral principles? I vote for the latter. This begs the question, “what moral principles and values?”

Given this thought process, I am going to throw out the idea that perhaps using the word integrity is not useful on its own. If we truly want to define our company’s core values, we need granular definitions in our values statements. Being a company of integrity means being a company that stands behind a core set of values. Define those values and you help your customers, prospects, employees and shareholders build a vision for what kind of experience they will have with your brand.

Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett makes a great effort to define the actions he defines as integrity. He even sends his senior managers a yearly letter reminding them of the company’s value-based behavior expectations. In his blog post, “3 Things Buffett Looks for in People,” he names the traits he looks for as “intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two….” In a CBS MoneyWatch post, “How Warren Buffett Defines Integrity,” he goes further and defines integrity as “the ability to say no.” That is pretty granular.

What does integrity mean to you?

B2B Brands – Research is Clear On Avoiding Mediocrity

When it comes to B2B brands, you can step out from the crowd or blend into the background. Due to fear, overly conservative thinking or maybe just a lack of direction, B2B brands can be the marketer’s contribution to curing insomnia. If you suffer from boring brand syndrome, or know someone who does, it’s time to wake up. Let’s look to the gurus and studies to show us the way.

Get to the point

You don’t have as much time as you think to make your sale. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking believes that customers use their unconscious in rapid cognitions, or instant conclusions, for most buying decisions.

Create an open dialogue

Content marketing and social media engagement may drive purchasing decisions more than company priorities may suggest. In a McKinsey & Company report titled, How B2B Companies Talk Past Their Customers, customers considered “honest and open dialogue” most important when ranking a list of themes. However, the 90 companies they studied did not emphasize this theme.

Dare to be different

Look at what your competitors are saying and say something different. The McKinsey & Company report also found that B2B brands “showed a surprising similarity among the brand themes that leading B2B companies emphasized, suggesting a tendency to follow the herd rather than create strongly differentiated brand messages.”

Forge emotional connections

Research shows that B2B purchase decisions are not purely rational. They are emotional. Maybe even more so than in B2C branding. The thinkwithGoogle post, From Emotion to Promotion, Connecting B2B Customers With Brands shares, “By getting personal, B2B marketers can get ahead — creating purchase intent, pricing power, brand advocacy and, most importantly, happy customers.”

It would be difficult to find a brand that commits to these four goals that is not standing out among competitors. What do you think will be your brand’s most important goal in the coming year given your industry dynamics?

Does Your Company Culture Have a Healthy Relationship With Time?

In almost 20 years of managing a professional services firm, I have learned a lot about time. I am in a billable business. We get paid for our time. I have learned to create a company culture that both respects time and keeps it in its proper place.

Inc’s article, The Best Way to Manage Time Wasters, has great management tips on managing the time wasters. Management’s job of prioritization, leadership’s job of motivation and human resource’s job of making sure the right person is in the right job all impact a company’s time-based productivity.

What I have found to be the most important factor in management is the company’s culture as it relates to time. What culture have you consciously created related to time? Do you know what your company’s underlying cultural beliefs are surrounding time? Do you place enough focus on outcomes or do you reward based on time spent?

I have led many types of people with a broad range of relationships to time. Productivity levels differ greatly from person to person. Some people have tendencies toward time wasting and procrastination While some people have a great deal of stress about time, others wouldn’t notice if they were abducted by aliens for 3 hours out of their work day. Because I have learned to measure outcomes, I have seen over and over again people that work 70 hours a week most surely do not deliver outcomes greater than the talented 40-hour-a-week person. The law of diminishing returns comes into play with burnout and a lack focus on the most important goals that comes with filling the time space that you allow yourself.

One interesting thing about time is the degree to which people want to be recognized for it, regardless of their outcomes. I believe this is a trap. Some desire recognition for being the first one in and the last one out of the office. It is a trap that will ruin the quality of that person’s life and take the focus away from what counts – delivering an outcome that matters.

The real truth is that time is not a measure of value. The outcome is the value. The quality, creativity and strategic relevancy of the outcome is what defines the real value. It is up to a company’s leadership to create a culture that puts time in its place.

The Conceptual Brand Test – Do You Have an Actual Brand?

Some define brand as a company’s look and feel, a visual viewpoint. Perhaps some define it as a company’s method of operating, a viewpoint that captures a company’s true nature and brand promise. Others see it as the unique selling proposition, a customer-centric brand. I offer my opinion as yes, yes, yes, and I would not stop there.

I present the ultimate goal of the conceptual brand — the brand concept that rises above the visual, operational and customer-centric brand to capture all that and more.

A conceptual brand defines the building blocks of a company’s essence. It is the authentic articulation of the company’s promise and the connotations that the brand will hold in the customer’s mind. Conceptual branding is what gives a company its personality. It lays out why a company’s prospects should embrace the brand and believe in the company. It is a framework to back up the company’s claims. It changes perceptions. It makes the prospect feel compelled to purchase. It engages both mind and heart, and insights action. It is beyond feeling yet emotive. It provides the background of credibility and expertise. It provides the solid backbone to meet the challenges of the market and competitive environment head on. It has the strength to win without fail. It goes beyond the business goals and operational charge, yet it creates a framework to support each.

A five-question test can tell you if your brand needs work to reach the level of a conceptual brand. You may use and share this infographic of VisiTech PR’s conceptual brand test.

VisiTech PR's five questions   to check your brand's strength

VisiTech PR’s five questions to check your brand’s strength

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