• You Won’t Get Answers, But You Need Questions

    In Opinion, Social Media on

    By Doug Haslam, PRSA Boston member

     A version of this article originally appeared on DougHaslam.com.

    I have long been fond of the phrase “(Social media ‘guru’ name here) is Not Smarter Than You” as a way of encouraging folks to create their own content and get their own thoughts out there, rather than be intimidated by those who have gotten more public notoriety as thought leaders than they have.

    I still believe that you, or I, are no less smart or able than the PR veterans and – ugh- “gurus” who show up frequently on industry podcasts, blogs and webinars. Why are they there and you are not? It likely has more to do with the need to hustle and stay visible to get consulting clients and the like than much else (OK, they need to feed egos too – why not?). You probably see podcast or event panels with names of “industry leaders” attached and think “those people are smarter and know more about the business than me.” If that were really true, why would you bother?

    Here is why you should still bother:

    This is not about cutting down people because they are good at self-promotion – it is, however, about the rest of us believing in our own abilities to strategize, consult, execute and think on issues.

    This is about figuring out how to listen critically and still learn from anybody rather than considering it a waste of time to pursue industry reading and listening from people who, in reality, are your peers.

    This is about valuing the questions and not (necessarily) the answers. I reminded myself of this recently as I listened to an episode of the marketing/advertising podcast Beancast, a weekly panel hosted by Bob Knorpp. I don’t always listen through depending on what is going on early in my week, but a recent episode had a segment on “Tackling Anemic Organic Engagement” that I thought would be relevant to my own current thinking and work. So I listened – were the answers enlightening? Some yes, some no – none were bad that I can recall, but I was struck by the questions: First some that I was thinking of and hoped would get asked, then by others I hadn’t thought of.

    Another recent tech podcast featured a well-known technology pundit to whom I normally listen, but on this occasion he clearly wasn’t prepared on the topic, so I moved on. It happens to everyone. I choose to think that does make people less smart, but as a sign that sometimes you have as much to contribute; fallibility is no excuse for staying quiet.

    It wasn’t the answers I needed. It was the new questions.

    So it’s OK to think you’re as smart as everyone else. It doesn’t even matter if you’re wrong about that. It also doesn’t mean you can’t learn.


    Image Credit: Oberazzi on Flickr

    Post Author

    Doug Haslam Doug Haslam is a Senior Consultant at Stone Temple Consulting, and a member of the PRSA Boston Board of Directors as well as the chapter’s Vice President of Social Media. He can be found, among other places, on Twitter (@DougH) and on his blog, DougHaslam.com

  • IPN Corner: Secrets to Hiring a Freelancer

    In Opinion on

    This post was originally published on July 24, 2014 on PRSA’s PRSAY blog.

    Welcome to the gig economy. Take a seat and meet your virtual team.

    The gig economy, as we’re now calling the world of contractors, freelancers, self-employed solopreneurs and employees-on-demand, is poised to potentially become 30 – 50% of the American workforce in a few short years.

    So there’s a better than 50-50 chance that you, sometime soon, will join the gig economy as either hired talent or as a client doing the hiring. For many of us, we’re already there. Raise your hand if you worked on a project in the last year that had at least one contractor or freelancer also on the project team. I thought so.

    It wasn’t always this way. Cast your memory back to the old economy, the one that had cruised along for decades and offered predictable career paths, sensible job titles, escalating pay grades and daily office commutes. Today’s workplace is more fluid. You have to be ready to negotiate pay rates and terms, and fend off client attempts to impose ‘pay for performance’ clauses.

    The gig economy means something to us in public relations because, suddenly, all of us need to know how to tap into the pool of short-term talent, or position ourselves to be talent. In my case, I do both. Solopreneurs like me are out there networking to find partners of our own that we can bring to the table for the next gig. We build networks and make no bones about being social media’s biggest boosters because we use it to find talent, too.

    Why hire outside talent

    Let’s start with a common workplace scenario. Your boss hands you a project you’ve done before — a product launch in three U.S. cities — only this time it’s bigger, with more moving parts, and it’s got the attention of senior management, so expectations are high. You have the authority to hire a contractor, and a budget that’s perfect for a single person.

    Do you hire a contractor, a freelancer, or a consultant? Do titles matter? How did the PR industry come up with three names for the same thing?

    Contractor. The heart of a contractor’s work is a set of specific deliverables, like a press release, or media tour, or a product launch. Large companies tend to hire contractors and rely on contracts to formalize the arrangement and to protect their interests. The federal government keeps a shortlist of contractors called the GSA schedule that most PR contractors would pay to join.

    Tip: Take a page out of the contractor’s manual and enter into a contract with your hired talent. It will protect your interests and theirs.

    Freelancer. The most common work for public relations freelancers is writing and media relations. A typical freelancer is a former journalist or an independent public relations professional who has gone out on their own and has made writing or publicity a cornerstone of their business. Freelancers are hired guns, as it were, willing to step in with their lance, or pen, to get the job done.

    Tip: Hire a writer if you want top-notch content, and a publicist if you want media coverage, but hire a PR professional if you want to change stakeholder behavior.

    Consultant. If you want strategy, go to a consultant. They occupy the higher end of the talent pool, often coming up with programs that support marketing, sales, branding, and special projects, like crisis communications and change management for companies going through an acquisition or C-suite leadership turnover.

    Tip: Consultants have the advantage of a positioning that senior management tends to understand, but if you hire one be sure she’s willing to roll up her sleeves to do the work.

    There’s an old saying about hiring outside talent that I occasionally quote but find ultimately  misleading. Consultants get paid for their heads, whereas freelancers and contractors get paid for their hands. Titles aside, I’ve met plenty of good and bad outside hires in all three groups. The good ones bring their hands and their head to the job.

    The secret to hiring the right talent comes down to project type, outcomes expected and personal chemistry. Once you get past the screening questions — do they know my business? do they work with organizations like mine? Can they reach and engage my stakeholders — be sure to sit down and cover the project specifics to make sure your talent truly knows how to work in a gig economy. Because at the end of the day, it may be a gig to them, but it’s a job for you.

    Post Author

    Dan DentDan Dent is owner/principal of Dent Communications. He is a member of the Independent Practitioners Network (IPN) of PRSA’s Boston Chapter. He can be reached at dan@dentcomms.com and followed at @dandent1.

  • The Corporate PR Perspective: Working with Outside PR Firms

    In Opinion on

    This post was originally published on June 26, 2014 on PRSA’s PRSAY blog.

    One big advantage of the corporate PR practice is the ability to “have the best of both worlds”, practicing in a corporate setting while engaging an external agency. I’ve often heard marketers wondering out loud why an internal PR group would need to retain an external PR agency. The arrangement provides several advantages:

    1. Immediate access to supplemental talent, skills, and specialties. As corporations develop new capabilities and explore new communications platforms, the media relations staff may not immediately have the expertise to execute, and the need for long-term expertise is not certain. An example may be a Hispanic Mom Blog tour or a customized communications platform for the vice president in charge of diversity. An agency will likely have available experts as well as experience in that area through work with other clients. In addition, when need for PR services is at its highest peak, rather than risk burning out staff or hiring untested temporary help, the agency can step in to get clients through these high-demand periods.
    2. Validation of approaches. Corporate PR departments are generally rather small, and members may desire the opportunity to bounce ideas off of other PR professionals to test them and talk through potential details and pitfalls. An outside PR agency can serve as a “sounding board” for these approaches, and as discussed in No. 1, may be able to provide the expertise needed to help get a new, experimental approach off the ground.
    3. Fresh thinking as a result of the agency’s experience with other clients and new technologies and media. Outside agencies can provide valuable counseling based on their experiences with other clients. Simply providing a Point of View document on a proposed media partner or awards program can prove helpful to corporate PR departments to develop long-term strategy.
    4. Access to journalists through broader relationships. As previously mentioned, internal corporate PR departments are generally compact and lean. Each professional brings his or her own established media contacts to a position, and as part of the function, works to forge additional media contacts to most efficiently do the job. Add the media contacts of an outside PR firm, and a very good cross section of general and specialty media can be approached to achieve maximum coverage of the brand.
    5. Dedicated focus on critical initiatives. All practitioners know that it is very easy to become consumed by the day-to-day details of our work, yet major initiatives that drive the company’s business strategy still must be addressed. With an outside PR agency as a partner, corporate practitioners can focus on these strategic initiatives and help drive the company’s business, a key activity to enable the PR department to have a seat at the corporate strategy table.

    Along with these advantages, and they are significant, one warning must be presented to corporate PR departments working with an outside PR agency: In order to ensure that the relationship is successful, remember the old adage, “Garbage in, garbage out.” An agency can only work with the information that is provided. Don’t piece-meal background information and send extraneous information. Take the time to go through all directions and input and package them simply. Being simple and direct will ensure a fruitful relationship between corporate and agency PR partners.


    Post Author

    Karen Lavariere-SanchezKaren Lavariere-Sanchez is director of public relations at the life insurance and financial services company Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), specializing in multicultural, diversity, and research-driven media relations. She can be reached at klavarieresanchez@massmutual.com.