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Why you should create a crisis communications plan BEFORE you need one

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Summer is nearly here. How did we get here already? Everyone’s calendar is filling with plans for graduations, Memorial Day and other celebrations.

But, not everyone is celebrating.

The past couple of months has been anything but a party for several well-known brands. Pepsi. Delta. Adidas. And of course, United. All these brands have had major missteps that became headline news.

While we may cringe when we hear these tales of corporate missteps, there may be a silver lining. These mistakes present an opportunity to talk about how PR, specifically crisis communications planning, can help in times of trouble. Continue reading Why you should create a crisis communications plan BEFORE you need one

It All Started with a Flying Machine

As I celebrate 18 years of Garrett Public Relations, I’ve been thinking back to my very first client.

When I launched my business, I was in the Bay Area—one of THE places for entrepreneurs with great, if sometimes crazy, ideas.

As I was preparing to leave my day job to go full-time as a solopreneur, I was fortunate to be introduced to one of these entrepreneurs, an inventor. What had he invented? A flying machine. For real. It was called SoloTrek and was a vertical take-off and landing aircraft based on ducted fan technology. (The two-person model, the DuoTrek, resembled the flying car that’s been in the news this week.)

Continue reading It All Started with a Flying Machine

The quality of writing is on the decline – 7 tips to make you a better writer

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The quality of writing today is on the decline.

If you read any online publications or blogs, you’re probably noticing more and more errors (even in major ones). Why is this?

  • There’s more content—everyone is creating content. With the rise of content marketing, blogging, self-publishing and guest posting, the volume of content has increased dramatically. More than two million blog posts are published every day, while 72 percent of marketers are producing more content than they did the previous year[i].
  • There are fewer copy editors. There are about half as many copy editors today as 10 years ago. Copy editors have been sacrificed more than any other newsroom category[ii].
  • There’s a rush to get content out there. Some statistics claim that companies that don’t blog daily will be left behind. With that sort of a rush mentality, it’s no wonder there are more mistakes than ever in our writing today.

Whatever the reason for this decline in our writing, our standards are being lowered. This hurts our credibility as professionals. 81 percent of businesspeople in a recent survey agree that poorly written material wastes a lot of their time[iii]. It distracts the reader from the intended message. And, it just makes us look plain unprofessional.

Conversely, while the quality of writing may be decreasing, content marketing is seen as an increasingly vital part of a company’s marketing strategy. Content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads (Source: DemandMetric). It’s efficient, compelling and highly customizable, catering to virtually all businesses and industries[iv].

So, given all of this, what can we do to produce higher quality written content?

Here are seven tips to improve your writing:

1) The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect: Just get it down on paper…get the words out. You can go back to fine tune it later, but it’s important to get all the information out of your head and on the page first.

Some writers seem to be intimidated by the writing process. But truly, the first draft is just that—a draft. If you get the words down, you can always go back to edit them. Don’t be afraid to just start writing. Remember—you don’t have to show anyone your first draft—so who’s judging?

2) Write when the mood strikes you: I often see pieces advising writers to set aside a block of time each day to write. And yes, generally speaking, there are times of day that are better than others for most when it comes to writing in a focused manner.

But sometimes, an idea will just hit you—that’s the time to go with it. Run with that inspiration to achieve some of your best work. For example, I can tell you that writing a 500-word blog post is going to go a lot faster when you’re feeling inspired to write—versus when you’re forcing yourself to write.

3) Allow time for rewrites: I find that my best work is usually a product of having enough time. Sure, there are times when you just have to get it written and done. But, a much more effective process is allowing yourself a couple of days in which to write, walk away, and then come back to refine your work. You’ll be amazed at what you catch and can improve if you give it time to breathe.

4) Proofread your work: Of course, you need to proof your work. Many simple errors would be caught before publication if writers would simply review their work. A tip I use often—read your work aloud. This will help you catch errors you might otherwise glance over. (A side note: You may want to try this when no one else is listening…!)

5) Have someone else review your work: After you’ve proofed (and re-proofed!) your work, ask someone else to review it. A spellchecker is good, but it’s not the same as having another human review your work. This could be a colleague, or even a friend (or check a service like Fiverr to hire a copy editor at a reasonable rate). It’s just helpful to have another pair of eyes reviewing your work to catch the errors you (or spell check) may miss.

If you have no human to proof your work, you can try a tool like Hemingway App or Grammarly. There are even free versions of these tools, which help catch complex sentences and common errors.

6) Follow style guidelines when applicable: Not sure if a number should be spelled out? Ever wonder if a word should be capitalized? Style guides to the rescue! If you’re in the news or PR fields, AP Style is generally preferred. The Chicago Manual of Style is the guide for authors, editors and publishers of books, periodicals and journals. A full explanation of both is here.

7) Look to the pros for more tips: Looking for more advice? I always recommend Ann Handley’s best-selling book, “Everybody Writes.” And, sites like MarketingProfs, Contently and Copyblogger are great sources to glean more writing tips and tricks.

Those are my best quick tips. What works for you when you write?

A closing thought: Did you know that 64% of B2B marketers outsource writing? (Source: TopRankBlog) So, if you need writing help, get in touch.

Looking for more writing and PR tips? Sign up for my free monthly newsletter by clicking here.

[i] http://neilpatel.com/2016/01/21/38-content-marketing-stats-that-every-marketer-needs-to-know/

[ii] http://www.poynter.org/2013/asne-survey-there-are-about-half-as-many-copy-editors-today-as-10-years-ago/203244/

[iii] https://hbr.org/2016/09/bad-writing-is-destroying-your-companys-productivity

The quality of writing is on the decline - but how can you improve your writing?

The quality of writing is on the decline – but how can you improve your writing?

[iv] http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2016/08/content-marketing-stats/

 

Start Before You’re Ready

“Successful people start before they feel ready 3

Spring is my favorite time of year—the trees and flowers are blooming, and we finally get some warmer weather here in the Midwest. Another reason I celebrate spring is because it’s the anniversary of my business. This year, I celebrate 17 years of Garrett Public Relations.

As my business turns 17, I’ve been reflecting on how I got started. It was a dream of mine to strike out on my own, but when I was a younger professional, I knew I didn’t have the real-world experience needed to make a business fly. I needed to wait for the “right” time—whatever that meant.

So, I sought out opportunities that would give me that experience. I worked at a public TV and radio station. I worked for a large university. I worked for an IT company. And finally, I worked at an agency to round out my experience and learn the ropes on how to handle clients. There, I worked with major enterprise companies and startups.

While I waited for the “right” time, I learned all I could about how to run a consulting business. I talked to other independents and attended a group for freelance communication pros. Then, when the time seemed “right,” I hung out my shingle. I wondered if I were truly ready. “Ready as I’ll ever be,” I thought.

Even though I launched my business with three clients, my biggest fear, of course, was not having enough work. I figured the worst thing that could happen was that my business would fail—then I’d have to go back to get a job working for someone else. But, it’s never happened. Have there been ups and downs? Absolutely. Would I trade the ride? Never.

I recently read a quote I love, “Successful people start before they feel ready[i].” I had laid the groundwork for success, but in my heart of my hearts, I was still a bit afraid of taking the leap. Had I waited until I felt truly “ready,” I might never have done it.

17 years and many clients later, I still enjoy the freedom and flexibility that consulting brings. There really is nothing like working for yourself. Being an entrepreneur was my calling.

Launching your own business can be a scary thing. But not pursuing your dreams can be even worse. If you want it, go after it. Don’t live wondering, “What if.” Make a plan, find those who can help advise and inspire you, and go for it. If you wait for the “right” time, it may never come.

 

[i] http://jamesclear.com/successful-people-start-before-they-feel-ready

 

Soloists on the Rise: 6 Qualities of the Successful Solopreneur

This excellent piece by Minda Zetlin of Inc. resonated with me (9 Reasons There’s Never Been a Better Time for Solopreneurs). I’m a big fan of Zetlin’s columns and this one really struck a chord. It talks about the solopreneur (aka freelance) lifestyle and how our nation is moving in that direction.

“The self-employed will become a force to be reckoned with over the next few years, with our ranks swelling to 60 million by 2020 if Intuit’s famous prediction from 2010 holds true,” Zetlin says. Her article cites a book by Jacob Morgan, The Future of Work, which talks about how technology, marketplaces and economic trends are aligning to support the self-employed movement.

Here’s my question: Why wouldn’t EVERYONE want to be a solopreneur?

But, let’s back up. I’ve been on my own for more than 16 years now, so I may carry a bias. I wasn’t always self-employed. I held multiple “permanent” full-time jobs before I finally decided to make the leap. Some were OK, some were miserable. I knew there had to be something better.

I’d planned my escape from the corporate world in my head for years…just waiting for the right time. While I waited, I joined a group of freelancers who met monthly to discuss topics pertaining to running your own business. I talked to other soloists to find out how they handled finding clients, setting up accounting systems and organizing a home office. Most were encouraging and supportive.

When I actually launched my consulting business, I already had three clients in place, which helped immensely. From there, I never looked back. My business took off. I had to pinch myself because I couldn’t believe I was doing what I’d always dreamed of—working with great clients on my terms.

Of course, for all solopreneurs, there are ups and downs, leaner times and busier periods. But, as Zetlin points out, there are no sure things anymore. Even for those with “permanent” positions, there’s no job security. Companies downsize and they’re out.

Even so, going it alone isn’t for everyone. So what does it take to make it as a solopreneuer? Is there a “magic” formula? What qualities do you need to succeed in the freelance lifestyle?

Here are some attributes vital to success:

1) Ability to focus: You have to be able to avoid outside distractions—or at least overlook them—to focus on client work. This can be particularly tough if you work at home. But, it can be done. I’ve worked from a home office for the entire length of my consulting career. Are there distractions? Sure. But, look at it this way: If you’re in the office, people drop by your desk to chat. Or you get pulled into meetings. Or there’s a birthday party or a baby shower or you name it…. So, I’d argue that the distractions are at least equal, if not greater, working in an office.

2) Self-motivation: If you’re not a self-motivated person, you may struggle with freelancing. You have to be able to get up in the morning and have a plan of what you’re going to accomplish that day. You have to be motivated by creating success for your business. I happen to find the idea of avoiding going back to a corporate job VERY motivating! But beyond that, I’m proud of my business and the fact that I’ve been doing it as long as I have. Are there times when soloists think about going back to the corporate world? Is it tempting when someone calls you about a full-time gig? Yes–for about an hour! Then, if you’re like me, you gut will say, “Don’t do it!” You’ll think about how much you don’t miss the commute, the meetings, the politics…. That makes it’s easy to come back to how motivating working for yourself is.

3) Ability to wear all the hats: When you’re a solopreneur, YOU do it all—you land the clients, you do the work, you bill for the work, you promote your business—you wear ALL the hats. Of course, you can hire help for some of these tasks, which I recommend, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. If you’re not OK with that, flying solo may not be a fit.

4) A strong network: When I started out, nearly all my clients came from personal referrals. That’s shifted over the years to be more of a mix of those who’ve found me online (for example, through LinkedIn or a Google search). Even so, building a strong network before you strike out on your own is incredibly important. Not only will you look to your connections for referrals, but there are times when you’ll need to refer work to others, i.e. when it falls outside your area of expertise or when you’re just too busy.

5) Appreciation for the benefits of working on your own: I’m grateful every day that I get to work on my own, and I appreciate that I set my schedule. Not having to report in to 10 bosses when you have a personal appointment is a definite upside. And, what if there’s an event at your child’s school? Well, you can just add that to your calendar. As a colleague and fellow consultant told me early on in my consulting life, “Clients don’t have to know you’re at the school play. You’re simply ‘in a meeting.’”

6) Ability to remain calm: Freelancing requires a sense of calm, even if you hit a rough patch. Don’t panic. The wise solopreneur knows there will be ups and downs…and plans for those times by socking away some reserves when the work is flowing. If you run into a snag, you can’t just walk away. Stay calm, go to your network to remind them you’re on the lookout for projects, and soon, the work will come. You have to believe in yourself and your ability to ride out the rocky times.

There’s no feeling of freedom or fulfillment like freelancing. Professionally, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Yes, you need all those work experiences that may have come before to prepare for being on your own and to help you appreciate the solopreneur lifestyle. But once you get a taste of freedom, trust me—you’ll never turn back.

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Celebrating My Independence…Five Ways Starting My Own Business Changed My Life

Happy Independence Day!

To me, this holiday has a dual meaning. Yes, like many other Americans, I celebrate our country by attending a parade, having a picnic with my family and enjoying fireworks. But, this holiday is also a time to celebrate my independence as a businessperson.

More than 15 years ago, I “liberated” myself from the day-to-day grind of working for someone else…and started doing it MY way. When I launched my consulting practice, I believed I could:
• Find companies who needed my help
• Provide excellent counsel and execute to bring results
• Offer them services at a reasonable price
• And do it all on MY terms

What has this meant for me? Well, it’s changed my life in a number of ways:

• I now work on a schedule that fits not only my clients’ needs, but MY needs. Sometimes, that means getting up early, staying up late or working weekends. But it’s done on MY terms. I was doing this when I worked for someone else, but it no longer feels like a sacrifice, because it stems from my passion and commitment to my clients, to what I do and to making my business successful. It’s a completely different feeling when you’re so closely invested in the success (or failure) of not only your client’s businesses, but of your business.

• I also enjoy the collaboration with other independents. I love meeting and connecting with other consultants and then being able to offer my clients resources for the kinds of projects I don’t do (and no, I don’t try to do it all…there’s plenty of work to go around for all of us!).

• And, I believe I’m more productive on my own. Without the meetings, the commute and the office politics, I can actually get more done. I believe that doing the actual work to get results is more enjoyable—and really what serving clients is all about. I can work anytime, anywhere productively. The whole telecommuting movement is something I tried to get my bosses to agree to years ago…without much success. For some reason, they just didn’t believe that employees could work productively outside the office. After 15 years of working on my own from wherever I want, I beg to differ.

• Not to mention the wonderful clients I get to work with. I think I’m extremely lucky to get to work with smart, talented (did I mention very nice?!) people. It’s a pleasure to work with my clients because they truly trust me and are a joy to serve.

• Then, of course, there’s the personal pride I feel in helping my clients succeed. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting a media “hit” for a client or knowing they have new prospects or sales because of PR initiatives they undertook. It’s a true “high” that I still get whenever this happens.

So this 4th of July, I celebrate my freedom and the ability to do the work I love for clients I’m committed to serving. Happy Independence Day to all!

Handling Media Opportunities: Media Training 101

Everyone knows that media attention is usually a GOOD thing! But, what do you do if you’re lucky enough to get a reporter interested in your story? The truth is that many companies might not know how to handle a media opportunity if they were fortunate enough to land one.

Relationships with reporters require the utmost care. Here are some tips to help you make the most of any media attention that comes your way:

1)      RSVP! At the top of the list is a prompt response. If a reporter contacts you proactively or in response to something you’ve contacted them about, drop everything to respond. Even if you don’t have all the answers to their questions, at least let them know you’ve received the message and are working on their requests. If you wait, the opportunity may disappear because they’ll have moved on to the next source on their list.

2)      Provide what they need: Make sure you’re ready BEFORE reaching out to media by having your images, logos, customer references and any other information they may request ready.  

3)      Prepare for the interview: Do a little research on the reporter. Take a look at what the reporter’s written to get a sense of his style. Read his bio, if you have access to it. Think about what questions he may ask and what answers you’ll give. It doesn’t hurt to prepare a Q&A document to refer to, especially if more than one person at your company is speaking with the media.

4)      Listen more than you talk: During the interview, you want to make sure you don’t talk too much. I’ve been on media calls with clients who, despite coaching to the contrary, seem to do ALL the talking! OOPS! Not a good move, if you want to build a relationship with the reporter. Let the reporter drive the discussion. DO answer their questions and work in your nuggets (see next point), but don’t overdo it.

5)      Work in your “nuggets”: What are the top three things you want this reporter to take away from your interview? If they remember nothing else, what three pieces of information about your business—or nuggets!—do you want them to write about? Weave those in throughout the interview, as much as it makes sense.

6)      Wrapping up: When you wrap up the interview, make sure to ask if the reporter needs anything else—images, customer references, etc.  See #2 above so you’re prepared to send these over immediately after the interview. Also during wrap up, you should ask when the article might appear. You can then follow up to get copies, if it’s a print publication.

7)      Follow up: If the reporter did need something, make sure to get them the requested information as soon as possible. If they contact you with questions following the interview, get right back to them with the answers (or reply to say you’re working on getting them the answers).

8)      Promote Your PR: When the article appears, blast it out via social media, post it on your site and make sure to let your audiences know it’s out there!

Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to building a relationship with the reporter so that next time he needs an expert source, he’ll call you first.

And if you need help, consider hiring a professional to handle media outreach, requests and responses. Even if you can’t do it yourself, you can make sure someone is there to handle media relations with the care it deserves.