“Tidying Up with Michael Smart”

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There’s something hypnotic about the new year that makes you want to “tidy up” your life.

That’s why Netflix waited until Jan. 1 to launch the now-ballyhooed “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”

If you don’t recognize her name . . . Remember a few years ago when it seemed like half your friends kept going on and on about the new method for decluttering your house? How you keep only those items that “spark joy” – and to all the other stuff that’s hard to throw out, you hold it, say “thank you” to it, and then toss? That’s Marie Kondo (her book was a hit worldwide in 2011)

Haven’t watched the show yet (my wife is way ahead of me). But over the Christmas break I was obsessed with cleaning out my closet. Did it at 9 pm on a Friday one night!

That urge to “edit your life” comes from a good place. You know that being overwhelmed is not the natural state you were meant to be in. But you – like I did for so many years – tell yourself that “Things are different in PR – we’re in a service business after all.”

You’ve told yourself that it’s normal and natural to either be at your keyboard or have your phone in your hand all day. That everyone checks their phone first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

But not really . . .

A quiet groundswell of knowledge workers – including and especially PR professionals – are taking great strides to “tidy up” their lives by editing out meaningless digital distractions. They’re having productive conversations with bosses, coworkers and clients about how they can do their best work for them.

And they’re getting killer results without killing themselves mentally by being perpetually distracted.

I’m going to introduce you to these pros, and tell you how they do it, on a free webinar TODAY. I’ve never taught any of this outside my paid programs before.

Work Smarter, Not Harder, in 2019: Get Beyond the Daily PR Grind to Get Better Results Without Being Tethered to Your Phone 24/7

TODAY, 3 ET/2 CT/1 MT/noon PT

Register now.

See you there!

P.S. The recording will be up for a week, so go ahead and register if you can’t make it live.

Work smarter (not harder) in 2019

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A while back – but not anymore – when I’d ask a PR person about their job, they’d usually start with what they liked. “I like using creativity and storytelling. I like completing intellectually stimulating activities at work. I like building relationships with new people.”

But now, most of the time, they start with how busy they feel. “I always feel rushed. I feel like my mind is always racing. I feel like I’m perpetually behind. I’m always worried I’m missing something.”

Is that how you feel, too?

What if, in contrast, you could feel like your mind is clear? Have that be the new normal. What if you could feel like you’re doing your very best work at almost all times? What if you could feel certain you’re on the correct path with the daily work you choose and your career direction?

I know people who feel like that. I know how they act and think differently than the typical PR person.

You can feel like that.

But you have to let go of three false beliefs about working in PR:

This is a service business, so my job is to carry out orders and meet requests.  

False. That servant mentality may work for restaurants and flight attendants. But this is a creativity business. Your job is to be the expert, and to do that you sometimes need to ignore distractions and turn down requests.  

Because I carry this phone/text messaging machine/email inbox all the time, I therefore need to check it and respond to it all the time. 

Dig a deep hole and bury this thinking forever. Any recent college grad can be “responsive.” Your job is to be effective. And you can’t be effective when you’re constantly checking your digital tether.

I’ve got to finish all these things everybody wants me to do. 

Not anymore. In the information age, it is impossible to process every input and complete every request that comes your way. You have a bigger challenge – you need to use your mind and carefully evaluate and prioritize all the incoming you have. Accomplish the vital few tasks that really matter, and have the knowledge and confidence to ignore the rest.

And now you’ve got these questions:

“What about clients or bosses who expect me to be responsive? What about missing inquiries from media? If this stuff is true, why does everybody I know act and think the opposite? That rings true to me, but where do I start?”

Good questions. I’m doing a complimentary training that will clearly walk you through the specific answers. I’ve been teaching these principles to paying clients for the last three years – this is the first time I’ll discuss any of these tips and takeaways in a public webinar or conference.This will be entirely different than the free webinar I did in the fall – totally different content, totally different style. Unless you are one of my paying clients, you have never heard me teach any of these techniques and principles.

Join me next week for: Work Smarter, Not Harder: Get Beyond the Daily PR Grind to Eliminate Distraction, Get Better Results, Please Clients/Bosses WITHOUT Being Tethered to Your Phone 24/7

You’ll learn:

– Scientific research that proves the conventional approach to day-to-day work in PR is the absolute opposite of what works best

– How to change others’ expectation of you from “responsive” to “effective”

–  Specific phrasing for your emails and conversations with others to set boundaries in a way that builds respect, not annoyance

– Free or inexpensive software tools that shield you from incessant digital distraction

– Ways to create space for the creative side of your brain, which is why you got into PR anyway!

Attendance for this complimentary live webinar is limited to the first 500 attendees, so register now and log in early to secure your spot.

Having fun doing PR

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This week between Christmas and New Year’s is often a “fun” time of year, so here’s a message about having fun doing PR.

There’s a family in my neighborhood with three teenage sons who have a terminal disease that means they use wheelchairs to get around. Their dad has to lift them, one at a time, from their wheelchairs into the cab of his pickup. Then he loads each of the three heavy power wheelchairs on a flatbed truck. Takes 30 minutes to go anywhere.

Some other neighbors decided to step in and do something to help. They wanted to get the family a large van equipped with a mechanical lift system. They worked with a local auto dealer who told them if they raised $25K, he’d make sure it was enough to get them a great vehicle. They organized a GoFundMe campaign – shot a video, wrote a moving description, and got the word out via social media. Their charitable enthusiasm was infectious, so I wanted to get involved.

A few phone calls later, a local TV station was at their house, covering the campaign. Working with that reporter was different – he was personally really into the story. Made sacrifices and efforts that journalists don’t usually make.

His piece was awesome. So were two newspaper articles we got. The publicity re-ignited the campaign and pushed it past the goal.

But by this point I was hooked. This was fun! I called the dealer to talk about how to present the vehicle to the family in a media-friendly way. He was humble about it, but I insisted.

It came down to the wire, but he got the vehicle just in time. And we had a great Christmas Eve story to offer the local media. You know how you feel awkward or torn about follow up phone calls? Not me, not this time. I was going over people’s heads, talking directly to editors, whatever it took, because I knew this was a great story. And all the journalists thanked me for it.

I don’t know about you, but my experience has been that media are almost always late to events. I showed up thirty minutes early, and the first TV crew had already been there shooting for a half-hour!

I’ve never felt such a positive spirit at a car dealership :). Watching the boys react to their new vehicle was incredible – this TV story does a great job of capturing it. Definitely one of the best Christmas experiences I’ve ever had.

Do you have fun doing PR? Maybe your employer sells ball bearings or obscure financial instruments or something you find equally un-redeeming. If so, you probably don’t get media showing up early or working on their days off to cover your ideas.

But if you want to, you can lend your rare and valuable skills to a cause you believe in, pro bono. They’re all around you. And trust me – it’s really fun.

An ingenious feel-good story

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The articles I post the Thursday before Christmas every year is my favorite one to write. Because our hearts tend to be more open to messages of deeper meaning than how to earn more media placements.

But today’s is the best of both worlds. Tuesday I witnessed something inspirational. And there’s a great PR lesson in it, too!

My wife and I were walking in downtown Salt Lake City, and we came across the most unusual vending machines you’ve ever seen. You put in your credit card, and then you punch in the number of your “item.” But instead of getting a soda or a snack, you bought an eye exam for an underprivileged child. Or soccer balls for kids in a refugee camp. Or a goat for a single mom outside Syria.

They have these “giving machines” in Manhattan and London and Manila, too, as detailed in the London Daily Mail.

It’s part of a giving campaign by my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and its charitable partners.

Pretty cool idea, huh? And it incorporates two frameworks that you can learn from to draw attention to your favorite causes.

The challenge here is that pretty much everyone thinks it’s good to donate to charity, and most people do, and this time of year there is a ton of competition around that message. So how did this campaign stand out?

– Contrarian imagery. They took a practice that’s synonymous with superficial “taking” – grabbing something from the vending machine – and flipped it to meaningful giving.

– Changed the “process” to create novelty. The typical charity story focuses on outcomes – “Your donation will go to help these people . . .” So this one shakes things up by focusing on the methodology of your donation.

There’s one more thing I love about this campaign. It highlights the positive influence of expertise in public relations. When you hone your craft honorably, you are exercising your power to prompt others to do good in the world.

And that’s why I take it as a great honor that you’ve chosen to read these posts this year. My warmest wishes to you and yours for a wonderful holiday.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for more holiday-tinged messages, last year I wrote about defeating inner demons holding us back. The year before that was refuting what the business media and success literature say about how to treat people.

Some of the best writing I’ve ever seen

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This is the time of year when you start seeing collections of “the year’s best business writing” or “the best journalism of the year.” As a former journalist and news junkie, I love that stuff.

But let’s face it, that’s not really the year’s best writing. Much respect to those journalists, but they usually get to pick the stories they pursue. And they have one primary purpose – to inform and/or entertain their readers.

The REAL best writing of the year comes in employee benefits newsletters. And software content marketing. And hotel news releases. PR writing is the best out there. Not all of it – of course not. Most of it’s robotic drivel. But when skilled and motivated PR writers apply themselves to mundane topics and succeed, that’s real beauty to me.

Because you, the PR pro, don’t usually get to pick and choose what to write about. And you need to grab and hold the attention of a usually skeptical reader, and deliver a persuasive business message.

Like this line hospitality PR pro Lashley Pulsipher wrote a couple years ago that still resonates in my mind. She was promoting a job fair, of all things, but still dug deep and came up with: “The echo that reverberates across the empty lobby of the new luxury hotel is an audible symbol of the biggest challenge facing (hotel brand) today – the shortage of a key natural resource in Africa: employees.”

How do you know when you succeed as a PR writer? When a reader who had zero intention of learning about whatever your topic was finishes the piece you wrote and didn’t even realize they’d been sucked in. You achieve that with:

– heavily reader-focused headline and opening graf

– disciplined succinctness with zero unnecessary words

– accessible flow that ignores outdated grammar “rules”

I truly believe that high school and college English teachers are the primary cause of most of the common flaws in PR writing today. Most of the stuff they taught us is anachronistic, and it backfires when applied in the real world.

I’ve researched and studied and tested and practiced how to teach PR people to break out of their bad habits and write like Lashley did.

She wrote that release after completing my Definitive Guide to PR Writing online course. I updated it this year, so we are running a 25 percent off promotion that ends tomorrow.

Grab your discount code and research the course further here.

But if you decide to leave behind bad writing habits and strive for real excellence, be sure to do so by tomorrow so you can take advantage of the promotion. We won’t be doing this again any time soon.

I thought this was a Tom Cruise urban legend

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In honor of this week’s video release of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, I bring you this tale of an urban legend that wasn’t and what it reminded me about creating truly great content. (No, this post is not sponsored by Paramount Pictures, but I wish it were 🙂

A few weeks ago my brother and I were talking about Fallout, and he claimed that Tom Cruise learned to fly a helicopter and actually flew all the helicopter sequences in this movie. I immediately scoffed and declared there is no way that could be true – flying helicopters is ridiculously hard, and that chase scene goes through canyons and the choppers are right next to each other. (This is not a spoiler because clips of this part dominate the trailer – you can safely keep reading if you haven’t seen it yet).

He then delivered the strongest comeback possible when you’re arguing with a former journalist/current media relations professional: “I’m positive – I read it in the New York Times.”

Sure enough, Cruise trained 16 hours a day for six weeks to learn how to fly a helicopter for the movie. On second look, they shot it so it’s clear he’s actually flying it himself.

Not only that, but the parachuting sequence in the same movie? Cruise did the jump himself, from 25,000 feet. And the director wanted it at dusk, so they could only do one jump a day. And it took ONE HUNDRED AND SIX JUMPS to get the three takes the director wanted for the actual film.

Think how busy someone like Tom Cruise is. He set aside a total of five months just for these two scenes of this movie, which could have been done with stunt doubles and/or special effects.

Well, you say, he gets paid to do it. Not directly – he’s an executive producer on the film, which means he gets paid a cut of the profits. He risked five months of his earning power for just those two scenes. He could’ve been doing another movie. Shoot, he could’ve made more signing autographs at ComicCon over those five months than you or I will make in our lifetimes. In this case, that risk/reward paid off big-time.

First PR lesson I learned from Mission: Impossible – Fallout:

You probably don’t create only one piece of content a year. You should create a steady stream. But every so often – once a year . . . quarterly . . . depends on your resources and responsibilities – you should go all-in to create something awesome. The shareability and memorability will pay off – at the end of the year when you look back on your achievements, that’s what will likely stand out as having made the most impact. Not the accumulated total of your steady stream.

Second PR lesson I learned from Mission: Impossible – Fallout:

When you find a content concept that works, you can keep going back to it again and again and again. Cruise and his production team took a washed-up TV show from the ‘60s that had two things going for it – a catch-phrase (“should you choose to accept it”) and an earworm theme song – and turned it into a six-installment film series that has grossed $3.75 BILLLION.

Enjoy the movie this weekend, and consider whether your commitment to great content measures up to Cruise’s.

Here’s the NY Times article.

Why PR needs to be in the room

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You know that feeling when you find out something your organization or client is doing, but it’s too late to take full advantage of it from a PR perspective? I hate it when that happens, so I’m sharing an inspiring example to help you avoid it.

A PR person needs to be in the room whenever the organization is deciding when and how to pull the trigger on a new development. Sometimes, to be the voice of reason and explain how it might backfire. But more often, to advise on how to get the most attention possible for the new venture.

That’s what happened early this past summer during an internal meeting at Duolingo, the company behind the #1 language-learning platform in the world. (I’ve earned four crowns on German).

Senior PR Manager Michaela Kron was meeting with colleagues who were discussing which new languages to add to the app.  Among those they were considering were Navajo and Hawaiian.

Michaela recalls: “I just threw out the idea of how cool it would be to launch them on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

The team agreed, and all buckled down to get the courses complete and ready to launch on that day, which was Oct. 8th.

The strategy paid off big-time. The time element Michaela conjured dramatically enhanced the newsworthiness of the announcement, and better still, gave journalists a deadline by which they’d need to cover it for greatest effect. That’s the best way to motivate them to take action.

The announcement earned coverage in TIMEABCNBCFast CompanyTravel+Leisure, and lots more.

For this to work, Michaela needed two things:

– A knowledge of contemporary culture and the media agenda. That’s why she’d recognized the growing movement to “rebrand” Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and how much media like anything tied to “new” or different holidays. That was her responsibility as a PR pro, and she was all over it.

– To be in the room early enough in the development of the new initiative to be able to influence its completion date. Now, contrary to what you might think, that was ALSO her responsibility, not the responsibility of anyone else in the company. And she met that standard for success, too.

If you or your colleagues keep finding out about stuff too late, that’s your opportunity to insert yourself earlier into the discussions. Demonstrate how you can add value to the process – you’re not there to nitpick or naysay, but boost the impact of the idea that your colleagues are cultivating.

Frustrated because you’ve tried and keep getting shut out? Use this example to rekindle the conversation about looping you in to new initiatives. Once you get your own success story, run that up the chain so executives can spread the word that PR needs to be in the room.

I got to know Michaela as one of the most dynamic and engaged members of my Inner Circle group coaching program. In addition to teaching pitching techniques to our members, I talk often about specific ways to earn credibility for our profession and respect for our expertise. Check it out and join in.

When a buzzword can be okay

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A software company down the street from me got acquired Sunday for $8 Billion. And there is a great lesson in this success story that’s quite contrary to conventional PR wisdom.

I’m still trying to get my head around this. Qualtrics was just another growing company in the community. People you’d know would get hired there. You’d run into the PR team at networking events. Starting in 2012 they’d make some announcements about big investments from fancy venture funds that valued them around $500 million, and then things would go back to normal.

Now, overnight, billions will be flowing into our local economy via all those stock options and inevitable philanthropy that will result. This gigantic increase in value flows from a key strategic decision they made a few years ago.

At its core, Qualtrics allows its customers – businesses and researchers – to deliver fancy online surveys. You might be more familiar with a competitor, SurveyMonkey. SurveyMonkey just went public a few months ago, and its market value is a “paltry” billion or so. What explains the difference?

Qualtrics stopped describing itself as a survey company.

Instead, they coined their own phrase for what they do, something no one else was using. They are an “experience management” company. “XM” for short, because all useful tech company phrases need a non-intuitive acronym :).

So their press releases, their pitches, their conversations with journalists, would all be riddled with this phrase. Back when they first started doing it, you might have called it jargon or a buzzword.

But it wasn’t. It was a deeply entrenched strategic decision top management made to create an entirely new category of software. Their tools tell companies how their customers and employees are feeling, and that allows the companies to “manage their experience” better. There is obviously big $$$ in that if you can pull it off.

Instead of shying away from that term because of its unfamiliarity, the Qualtrics marketing and PR team took on the challenge to educate journalists and others why the term makes sense. They succeeded.

Your takeaway: Continue to zealously guard against using the same buzzwords everyone else is when there are more clear alternatives. But when your employer is going all-in to create a new position in the minds of journalists and their audiences, rise to the occasion and figure out how to make it stick.

This week nobody in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street is snickering at the phrase “experience management.” They probably wish they thought of it first.

Have you mastered this yet?

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As a PR professional, there are many skills you must master to achieve the highest levels of success.

One of those skills is your writing, which, if it isn’t good enough, makes everything else in your career suffer.

There’s no part of PR that is not directly impacted by your ability to write well.

Excellence in PR writing is extremely important, if not THE most important skill you have.

To be clear, we’re not talking about “business writing.” We’re talking about writing in a way where you use facts and transparency to move people to action.

That’s what PR is about: Action. Response. Impact.

And to help you kick off 2019 with the highest chance of success in your career, I’m heavily discounting my freshly updated online course for you, The Definitive Guide to PR Writing (25% off).

Not ready to commit to the entire course?

Grab one of the four modules and still benefit from the 25% discount.

I’m only giving out 100 of the 25% off codes, so get one here to use during the sale. (You’ll have until December 14th to redeem it.)

PS – Put these writing strategies to work in your PR efforts and you might get a result like Teri’s:

“I’m so glad I enrolled in this course! It is super practical and very relevant to our specialized pitch writing requirements at my school. Since completing the course I placed a story in the New York Times that you can see here. Highly recommend it to keep mastering the PR craft.” — Teri Bond, Director of Media Relations at ArtCenter College of Design

There’s a TV show about that?

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A friend of mine told me about a new show she’s started watching and it’s going to sound fake, but I looked it up and I promise it’s real.

Tanked is about competitive aquarium design. Did you know there was a world of competitive aquarium design? Because I admit, I did not. I’ve seen shows focusing on the cutthroat world of fashion design, house flipping and professional baking, but I was unaware of the fish tank design niche.

Of course my first thought was, who would watch this, and why? Well, my friend for one, (who to protect her from teasing by everyone but me shall remain nameless).

And the why of it doesn’t really matter, except that people are connecting and relating to more and more niche topics when it comes to TV shows.

This is instructive to us as PR folks because the same trend carries over to media outlets. More and more people are passing over mainstream outlets and spending time on niche outlets with content catered just to them.

That content may be specific to readers of a particular hobby, profession, sports team affiliation, or dietary habit. There are as many niche outlets as there are types of people. Which makes things harder for lazy PR pros, but much easier for those of us willing to do some research.

Of course outlets like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are still relevant and will be for many more years. But it’s no longer enough to pitch your story to a “mainstream” media outlet and assume it is reaching your target audience. Those who continue to do this will remain puzzled why they are not achieving the results they expected and used to get.

Those who take the time to get to know their target audience – not the reporters but the actual people they want to reach – will find themselves creating a whole new media list.

Keep your list up-to-date by identifying the outlets that matter most to your audience now, not just the ones that worked two years ago or sound impressive. Once you dive into this, you’ll be surprised to find outlets you’ve been missing that are a great fit for your client or company. And the good news is, many other PR pros have overlooked these same outlets, making your path to placements a lot less difficult.  

And once you’ve completed your stellar media list, treat yourself to a night of binge-watching Tanked. I hear it’s a great show.