Posts Tagged communications
I was recently interviewed by a budding PR practitioner for a college class. The conversation made me think about the pros and cons of the business, and what I wish someone had told me in the early years.
- A great variety of tasks ensures you’ll never be bored — from writing to photography to media relations.
- You get to do a lot of fun things. Top of my list? Taking courtside photos at a Boston Celtics game. I’ve also done aerial photography and handled media relations for an event that featured former Secretary of State George Mitchell as the keynote speaker.
- You learn a lot. About a lot of things.
- And get to hang with interesting people — celebrities, authors, elected officials, company leaders, and national media. One of my favorites was working at a Leon Redbone concert, and being in the Green Room after the show.
- The CEO knows your name and returns your emails.
- PR people have a seat at the table, whether in a leadership meeting or a crisis response.
- Along with the variety comes a high degree of unpredictability. Issues and projects have an interesting way of popping up at the wrong time.
- You’ll run across people who think they know your job and — often well-intentioned — tell you how to do it.
- Pressure. PR has been listed among the most stressful jobs.
- Lack of control – you can do everything correct and still not have the outcome you desire: rain washes out your outdoor event; a significant event bounces your story off the news, etc.
- 24/7 – Lots of things happen off work hours, from customer events to a middle-of-the-night crisis.
Your mistakes are often public.
Doing the Job
- Ask questions – If something confuses you, it likely has the same effect on your audience.
- Show common sense – Be the person who says, “This doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”
- Know numbers – A good business sense helps you understand your organization and boosts your credibility.
- Be quick – The clock is often ticking, so learn to write and think quickly.
- Act with integrity – It’s the right thing to do and you’re asking for trouble if you veer off course.
Your turn, PR people. What advice would you share with a hopeful practitioner?
I recently discovered ABC’s Shark Tank, a show that brings together entrepreneurs who ask a group of billionaire “Sharks” to invest in their product or service.
Even if you’re not an entrepreneur, the show is interesting and provides some good tips about business and finance:
Whether you’re interviewing for a job or applying for a loan, the person on the other side of the table will have a list of questions for you. Anticipate what they might ask, and be ready with responses — and data to back them. How? See the next bullet….
Know your audience
It seems as if some of the entrepreneurs on Shark Tank have never watched the show. For example, offering a 5 percent share of your company in exchange for a Shark’s investment pretty much guarantees a black mark on you ledger, yet it continues to happen. Before you walk into a meeting, learn as much as possible about the interviewer, client, employer, etc., to avoid making obvious blunders.
The Sharks can be harsh at times, but the entrepreneurs pitching their products need to stay on the high road. Rudeness often brings a quick dismissal from center stage.
Listen to experts
In addition to their financial investment, the Sharks bring a wealth of knowledge. Some entrepreneurs take their advice to heart; to others it sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. If a successful person offers a suggestion, listen carefully.
Be flexible and realistic
Entrepreneurs often walk away empty-handed after turning down a counter offer from a Shark. One man declined a multi-million dollar deal for his company. Understandably, he has a passion for the product, but $4 million is a big hunk of change to pass up. Think carefully before you turn down an opportunity because it differs from your original plan.
Your turn. What lessons have you learned from watching Shark Tank?
Seinfeld may have been a show about nothing, but its well-polished writing offers many lessons to help us improve our communications:
Create an image
Jerry compared the “man hands” of his blind date to the paws of wrestler George “The Animal” Steele. The reference to Mr. Steele made the segment even funnier by drawing this bizarre — but specific — reference. Our lesson: precision and details in communications help get your message across.
Tell a story
When Jerry’s pal George Costanza rescued a whale by freeing a golf ball from its blow hole, his recollection painted a vivid picture for viewers: “The sea was angry that day, my friends. Like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.” Much more powerful than simply saying, “The water was rough.”
Keep it simple
Each plot revolved around a specific theme or two, ranging from marble rye bread and a gassy horse, to an overzealous auto mechanic and President Kennedy’s golf clubs. This is an especially good reminder to limit the number of key points in a message, else you risk losing readers’ attention.
Be an everyman (or woman)
Seinfeld’s character was, in many respects, an average Joe. He played softball, cheered for the Mets, ate cereal while watching late night television, and sported a wardrobe primarily consisting of jeans and sneakers. The audience related to that character more than had he been, for example, an architect.
Leave your comfort zone
One of the show’s funniest episodes, “The Contest,” took viewers down a path that ventured far beyond a typical sitcom plot, as the four wagered who could go the longest without … yada yada yada. Kramer, of course, was the first eliminated— seduced by the vision of a naked woman in the apartment across the street. We later saw Jerry, who was in a relationship with Marla the virgin, singing children’s songs to keep his focus off the naked neighbor. Clever, funny, and out of the box.
Seinfeld featured a unique glossary of terms. Millions of people, young and old, completely understand references such as Library Cop, serenity now, and of course, “No soup for you!” Colorful phrases catch people’s attention, and are particularly helpful during presentations or media interviews.
Viewers never really knew what to expect each week, particularly given the odd behavior of the show’s characters. George learns his fiancée has died and immediately suggests getting a bit to eat. The four watch a robbery and poke fun of the victim. And Elaine showed us dance moves unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Look beyond your walls
Seinfeld regularly connected to an event or newsworthy item beyond its set, such as the Thanksgiving Day Parade, the magic bullet scene from the movie JFK, bathroom hygiene, and The J. Peterman Company. Good communicators know their audience has interests outside of the topic at hand.
Brevity is better
Some of the show’s most memorable lines were short, catchy phrases. For example, Jerry advised Elaine to “Look to the cookie,” for the path to racial harmony. Those four words were much more effective than a formal delivery, such as: “The black and white cookie symbolizes the synergy between people of different races, creeds, and background, and will serve as a foundation for our future …”
Other short, but effective phrases: “I choose not to run,” “Not that there’s anything wrong with it,” and “Bosco.” The lesson: don’t use 10 words when four will do.
What do you think the writers of Seinfeld did particularly well? If you can’t come up with anything, you’re clearly not Pensky material…