Archive for April, 2014

Mentoring: Marvels, Lamentations, Revelations

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

28What is a mentor?  In the business world, it is typically someone who takes the time to help others learn their craft, further their career, find their way.  Sometimes, that mentorship can turn into friendship, when built upon mutual respect.  But to work for the long haul, it must go both ways.

In 1991, I attempted to leave radio behind and enter the world of public relations. There was, you’ll recall, a recession in full force at that time.  Having moved to Detroit only a few years previously, I was armed not with industry connections but, in a pre-Internet world, an encyclopedic Adcraft Roster book.  As I cold-called area PR firms to inquire as to possible employment opportunities I consistently heard what was to become an all-too familiar refrain: “There are qualified PR professionals out there who are out of work. Why would we want to talk to you?” And so I persevered – and sought out mentors – in a sea of doubters.

One was Al Sebastian, then Director of Public Affairs and PR at Little Caesars, today Director of Communications & Philanthropy at The Guidance Center.  When no one would take my call, he took the time to listen and advise, helping set the groundwork for relationship building in the field. It meant the world to me then and still does today. I told him so again this week. In 1993, still in radio, I met another generous soul – Barb Palazzolo, then a top executive with Brogan & Partners. She actually met me for breakfast and provided additional guidance. The following year, she was instrumental in helping me finally break into PR.

That was 20 years ago this year. The selflessness of those two individuals helped set the tone for how I would operate in years to come as I continue to take the time to speak, connect, mentor both new professionals and those more seasoned. It is important. It is the right thing to do.  Yet, at times, I question whether I care too much.

In recent days, an individual whom I worked to mentor and advise for some time – someone who was a decade out of college and trying to find their way – took, I felt, advantage of my efforts and goodwill. Communication, responsiveness, appreciation for my time – all were not reciprocated. This despite a friendship, a kinship based on a mutual love of music. In turn, I felt disbelief, confusion, even hurt.  You take the time to try to be there for someone and that person should be grateful or at least respectful, right?

In the end and at the core it all comes down to treating people the right way.  It is something I demand – of myself and others. Recession or no recession.  Boss or employee. Mentor or mentee. Because life is a long two-way street. And the golden rule is always the road best traveled.

Without A Plan, The PR Firm May Be Ripping You Off

Monday, April 21st, 2014

1012660_paper_rolls_plans_iStock_000015484829LargeSometimes, it can be embarrassing to work in the PR agency business. One of those times is when shortsighted, cash-hungry firms only see a short-term billing prospect rather than one of the most intriguing opportunities we are privileged to experience – a chance to help a potential client start a communications program from scratch and build a long-term relationship.

As we have written before, the old agency business development playbook of “sell them on your capabilities, promise the world, sign them up and worry about it later,” which for decades led to dysfunctional agency-client relationships, still rears its head. We saw it first hand last week.

Often, clients come to us looking for very specific work. The communications needs are obvious to them and/or us and they will hire us for short-term or medium-term projects, with necessarily narrow scopes of work. On occasion, clients know they need a full scope of services, based on past successes and/or failures and there’s a match from the beginning, so we begin a long-term relationship. But, frequently, and more often than ever post-recession, potential clients are now thinking about inventing a new communications program to support their business strategy.

In those situations, as we saw last week, we know that some firms are presenting essentially capabilities proposals and asking for the largest ongoing fee arrangement they think they can get away with, following only a one-hour introductory meeting. Sometimes, they can really sell and “wow,” even hypothetically, and the client bites. Often, the first phase of a proposal is not a due diligence phase. It took nearly a half-hour to explain to the potential client, a well-established professional services firm competing in a new industry environment, why a full proposal, at that point would make no sense for either one of us.

Instead, firms should be looking at the specific needs of the client and, if it’s a first-time professional communications program (like the one explained to us last week) or the revival of a long-dormant program, the first step, in the best interest of the client, should be the development of a communications plan. Just like a professional financial plan or legal strategy, firms should be compensated for the plan, which, when complete, becomes the property of the client. Only in a planning process can the firm really get to know the client’s business plan, culture and resources. In these situations, only through a planning process can the agency match its capabilities with the clients’ needs and audiences. Through this process, a plan becomes a work of non-fiction, rather than a sales pitch. It doesn’t have to take dozens of hours and multiple months. Sometimes, in-depth, focused conversation based on realities, not assumptions, can make all of the difference.

If you work hard to craft a business plan, why would you trust a PR proposal that is either simply a sales pitch or boiled-down notes from a brainstorming session? The ripoffs in this business may never end, so instead, invest a small amount of money and time in a strategic communications planning process, designed especially for your business.

Total Recalls Necessitate Comprehensive Actions

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

iTunesArtwork@2x1Pardon the pun, but can any of us recall a time when more automakers were issuing more recalls to consumers?  Reporter Paul Eisentein posed that question this week in The Economist in the wake not only of the current GM debacle but more recent recalls from Chrysler and Toyota.  A total of more than 13 million vehicles are affected by the GM and Toyota actions alone.  In 2013, 22 million autos were involved – 20% more than the previous year. This despite the fact that quality and reliability rating have never been better.  So what gives?

Eisentein writes that, according to industry analyst David Cole, today’s high-tech vehicles can portend more things potentially going wrong.  Add in the fact, he says, that many OEMs, in an attempt to stimulate economies of scale, often share technology and manufacturing between models.  That means that when a part goes awry in one make it can affect other models; as such, what might in the past have been a recall of tens of  thousands of cars can instead become one with ramifications for millions.

There is also no denying that the major auto companies are learning their lesson in light of GM’s current woes and those past from Toyota, who, in recent weeks, was fined $1.2 billion for problems with acceleration going back to 2009-2010.  What once might have been a service bulletin, instead now becomes a full-blown recall, just in case. I was asked for the piece to comment about public perception regarding these spates of action:

“Transparency is important,” says Don Tanner, a reputation specialist with Tanner Friedman, a consulting firm in Detroit. “Hiding a defect will eventually come back to haunt you.” And where recalls were once seen by the public as a major sign of trouble, Mr. Tanner adds, they’ve become so common that they are usually little more than reputational speed bumps today—unless they become weekly occurrences or, worse, are revealed to have been delayed more than decade (as happened at GM), because a carmaker decides to put costs ahead of customer safety.

It’s a different world out there.  Sometimes dangerous, always litigious, there is simply no room for error – in communication with customers, dealers and the federal government and in taking swift corrective action aimed at safety and long-term customer trust and loyalty.

Detroit Reverberates With Calls To Do The Right Thing

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 2.43.01 PMTwo major stories gripped not only our area but also points distant this week; both predicated on unknown individuals doing something grave and lives either hanging in the balance or lost.

On Capital Hill GM CEO Mary Barra appeared before the House and Senate for hearings investigating faulty ignition switches and, quite possibly, an internal cover-up of same.  As Tanner Friedman opined on WWJ, WXYZ-TV Channel 7  and others, what will be important for the embattled automaker moving forward is do everything possible to demonstrate transparency, accept responsibility and take permanent corrective action.  Most likely, that will mean those acting to keep the problem under wraps will be determined and terminated and families of those who lost loved ones compensated.  GM must do everything in its power to regain trust and credibility worldwide.

On the streets of Detroit, meanwhile, tree trimmer Steve Utash, while checking on the status of a 10-year old boy who had run into the street in front of Ultash’s truck and was struck, was severely beaten and robbed at the scene by a a mob of thugs.  At this writing, Utash is fighting for his life at a Detroit hospital.  It is a senseless act of violence that is thankfully being decried publicly on many fronts.

Perhaps more important and meaningful than Mayor Mike Duggan’s call for calm and healing, the Rev. David Alexander Bullock, pastor of the Greater St. Matthew’s Baptist Church in Highland Park, is working to raise funds to help Utash’s family with mounting medical bills.  His efforts will include, according to Reporter Katrease Stafford’s story in today’s Detroit Free Press, reaching out to a group of area churches to hold a benefit concert.  In turn, rather than expressing a disdain for the city or wish for vigilante justice, Utash’s family has been taken with community sympathy and support.

Doing the right thing.  Sometimes it happens of its own volition. All too often, however, the road best travelled is taken only in the aftermath of watchdogs and whistleblowers.  One must have faith in the general and inherent good of our fellow man/womankind.  This week, however, one is also left to wonder.