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Navigate Communications, PR, and Social like a Bawse

Category: Communications

Writing for Others? 5 Ways to Avoid Being a Sucker for Words

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If words are your bread and butter, you gotta learn how to cook. What I mean is if you write for money, anything from writing as part of your daily job function to freelancing, pinpointing the scope is paramount.

If you aren’t adept at asking the right questions to make sure at the outset you and your intended client are on the same page–there will be blood. Dramatic? Perhaps. But, it’s easier to plan for a worst-case scenario up front. This as opposed to being driven to rocking back and forth in a corner either seething, crying, or both because a project has exceeded its worth (oh, that’s just me?). As I have, you’ll collect valuable lessons from your mistakes and be a better writer-for-hire for it. But… if some are avoidable–why not?

Ask the write questions

That’s no typo. To write well for another person, you first need to understand the what and why. Whether a commentary, a blog post, a white paper, a media release, or marketing copy, you need a full understanding of what outcomes the client hopes to achieve. Collect available supplementary materials. This includes bios, earlier pieces of work, a full rundown of the event, key messages, and more. Understand the power of an actual conversation. Sometimes a quick call with the person will fill in the unspoken blanks that can trip you up later. Set up a line of communication where you can reach out for clarification as you go. No question is dumb. It’s better to understand upfront and as you go than to receive an edit-riddled draft that requires you burn what you’ve already done. To write in someone else’s style and voice you need to understand them. Asking key questions will save you time, gray roots, and much-needed sodium (see above crying reference).

Set mutual expectations

Your client needs to trust you, and you need to trust them, and then you need to trust yourself. Agreeing on the outcome of a piece is the key to a successful partnership. It’ll allow you to manage expectations and produce a piece that makes everyone happy. There have been a few instances where I’ve received feedback and/or edits that turned a delightful piece into a sad sack of potatoes. You’re on the project because the client likes the way you write. So, if you have counter-suggestions to keep the person from appearing boring or saddled with copy that won’t resonate–tell them so. Explain why you’ve made the edits or changes. It may shock you to find that once explained, the client is not only accepting but grateful that you’re looking out for their best interest.

Set a timeframe

Set a realistic timeframe that accounts for feedback, edits, and rewrites. If you need more time, make a case for what you need. Be sure to track your time. Consistent tracking improves your ability to estimate project parameters. Either use your phone timer or tracking apps to help. Toggl is one of my favourites.

Determine your value–then ask for it

Come close and lend your ear (ok I get you’re reading this but you get the point). You are worth it. Worth what you’re charging–and likely more. Good writing translates into real value. Understand that others know the value too–but they may not always want to pay for it. Asking for more money can seem gauche or downright scary but learn to be unafraid to ask for what your work is worth. Keep in mind you’re trying to make a living. Many wonderful resources exist to guide you through calculating what to charge, and how to negotiate. It gets easier; promise.

Let go

Take your joy from writing for your own endeavours. On your personal blog, site, social channels, journalistic articles, and that novel–these are where your own voice sings. Those spaces are where you get to highlight what’s uniquely you. When writing for others, best to keep it ‘church and state’. This is what will allow you to write in many voices, genres, and forms. You’ll meet clients who aren’t sure what they want–or who have such strong opinions you’ll wonder why they didn’t just write for themselves! Exhale. You do your best to produce great work that represents your client well, making them happy and coming back for more. On the flip side, you’ll also learn what you’re not willing to sacrifice, such as your ethics. Become ok with letting go, and you just may find a bit of that joy anyway.

6 Low or No-Cost DIY PR Tools

 

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When you’re starting, growing, or maintaining a business or your own brand, it’s a constant balancing act between hard and soft costs. Space isn’t free and peeps need to eat foods other than ramen (you fancy, huh?). It can be a real dance deciding how to distribute available funds. As a result, finding a budget for social media, communications, or public relations support is sometimes a tough sell.

Just because the money may not be there (yet) for everything your heart desires, it doesn’t mean you can’t access tools to help get you to the next level. The good thing is, today’s market is chock-full of great, low or no-cost options. But we talked about the time you don’t have, didn’t we? Lucky for you I’ve slogged through a few and I’m here to share my faves. Here’s a list of 6 handy social, communications, or PR tools worth their weight in white truffles.

1. ProWritingAid

If we’re being honest, we want to write better. If you had an editor to comb through every piece you pen, helping to avoid poor grammar and spelling, clichés, and just tighten and make it more pleasant and engaging to read, how much more confidently and often would you publish? Welcome to your very own trusty and salary-free editor, ProWritingAid.  Paste or upload your document, and in seconds you’ll have a comprehensive overview of your piece. The report can be tough to swallow and take some time to fix, but it’s worth it to have pieces you’re proud to share.

Cost: Free, with paid membership levels offering additional features available

 2. MyGuestBlog

You may have heard a great way to get your name out and develop thought-leadership is to guest blog, and it’s true. Guest blogging can expose you to new audiences and help establish you as a trusted voice. It’s also a solid tactic to drive traffic back to your own blog and site. But knowing where and how to make it happen is daunting. MyGuestBlog is here to help by connecting bloggers, journalists, and content creators for opportunities to share high-quality content on each other’s platforms. A high tide floats all boats as they say.

Cost: Free

 3. HARO

Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is a tool used by journalists and sources to find each other. Published 3 times per day for email subscribers (early morning, midday and evening), it lists journalist requests for sources on specific stories. As part of your media relations efforts, keep your eye out for requests relevant to you and respond promptly and per the specific instructions. A journalist may quote you or feature your product in an article, invite you to be an interviewee, or you’ll prove yourself a quick, reliable source–which they’ll use again. Journalists are looking for you this time, which feels a lot like a right-swipe. Even on days when none of the requests is a fit, it’s a great gauge of news trends.

Cost: Free

4. Google Alerts

Unless you’re a bot, keeping up with all news, all the time, is a deeply unrealistic goal. The best way to try is to automate certain tasks. Here’s where Google Alerts comes in handy. Google Alerts is an automated service that scans the web for content based on keyword criteria you set and delivers them to you. Set up alerts to catch mentions of your company, spokespeople or executives, storylines, industry trends, competitors, and more.  You’ll never miss an opportunity to brush your shoulder off or look insanely smart again.

P.S. As a bonus tip, I’m currently trying TalkWalkerAlerts, an alternative to Google Alerts, that’s also free. So far, so good as a slight tweak in terms of style and functionality from the search giant.

Cost: Free

5. PRLog

If you’re still using press releases to share your message, you’re aware distribution services can be costly. Enter PRLog, a free press release distribution service that delivers to contacts in your desired industry sector or genre. It’s no frills, easy to use, and it works.

Cost: Free, with paid membership levels offering additional features available

6. Feedly

I’m on a constant mission to have less than 18 Internet Explorer tabs open at once. Here’s the scene: you come across a great article or blog. You open and bookmark, subscribe, or add it to your longer-than-a-long-weekend-border-crossing of a reading list and think ‘I’ll read that in a bit’. Over the course of days and weeks, this optimistic declaration degrades into ‘Tomorrow, for sure’, ‘Once I finish this fourth coffee, probably’, and finally, ‘Sometime this millennium, fingers crossed’. Following several resources helps you to stay on the pulse of your industry, generate fresh ideas, and learn more every day, so what to do? Feedly is like an online library system. It collects from the sources you want to follow and puts them in a single feed of your own design, saved and ready for you to peruse at your own pace. You can even set up several feeds by say, topic or keyword to keep things organized. As a bonus Feedly integrates with a few social management platforms, making sharing content crazy easy.

Cost: Free

Add your cost-effective finds to the list!

4 Crisis Communications Tips – From Paw Patrol

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Yes, that Paw Patrol. The crazy-popular kids’ program chronicling the zany stories of a quiet seaside town with a neurotic and useless mayor who depends on a pre-teen and his band of humanly talented puppies to save the town citizens from every disaster. Kids everywhere, including my own, eat this show up like a dog on a bone (insert groan here) and, trust me on this, it’s actually pretty entertaining. Just ask anyone who’s suffered through even a single segment of The Power Rangers.

During an episode where the town was overrun by popcorn (very serious), it dawned on me – the Paw Patrol really know how to handle crisis communications (I mean, besides excellent life lessons for kids)! Things go wrong, it’s part of life. It’s the way those wrongs, mistakes, accidents and oversights are handled, and subsequently resolved, that separate the stars from the dumpster fires.

So, from the mouths of cartoon dogs and babes to you, here are 4 real-life tips for crisis communications.

1. Own It

The town’s mayor might be useless, but she isn’t shy about accepting ownership for the mess of the day (and then calling on children to help). Taking full ownership of a problem will both change the way it is perceived, and how long it lives on in the memories of your audience, and the abyss of the internet. The faster you own it, and move to the next steps, the less negative impact it will have in the long run. Take responsibility and then…

2. Apologize

Sometimes it’s the problem-perpetrator, sometimes it’s the canine rescuers themselves after a failed plan, but someone always apologizes on the show. Think of the last crisis you heard about in the news. How differently did you perceive a company if they blamed others and/or refused to apologize, sometimes until outed, versus one that that straight up took responsibility and said ‘we’re sorry’? Just as in real life, an empathetic and sincere apology goes a long way. Calculate the entire scope of the problem to understand the full impact and all that are affected. Then make sure the apology is issued on the multiple platforms your audience frequents to ensure it is seen and repercussions are understood – especially concerning any action that needs to be taken.

3. Lay out the plan to do better – and then actually do it

Once you’ve taken responsibility and apologized, it’s time to make things right. On the show, each pup has an area of expertise, and they are called on when their special skills are the best fit for the situation. During a crisis, bring in your experts. Seek and listen to the advice of those best suited to remedy the situation and make a plan. You’re asking the question – how do we stop the flow and change course? Be fully transparent – this is key. Pull the post, inform the public of the danger, get your CEO out with answers or the plan to get them, whatever action it takes. To be clear, this isn’t a window into how not to get caught next time – it’s an opportunity to do and be better.

4. Analyze

Truthfully, a crisis plan should be put into place before a, well, crisis. The very act of figuring out what to do during a red-alert situation can help you avoid one altogether. At the very least you’ll be prepared. The exercise forces you to think of worst case scenarios and to put preventative systems in place.  It reinforces your company’s code and reminds everyone to always keep it top of mind. The result is  a plan that anticipates or avoids errors and a blueprint for how to mobilize quickly when something does go awry.  If you don’t have the luxury of drafting a plan in advance, after a crisis take the opportunity to analyze what happened and how it was handled. Pick up and take stock of valuable feedback from all relevant parties, and most importantly, use all of that intel to design a clearly defined, well thought-out plan.

Who knew an animated boy and his talking dogs could teach us all a thing or two about managing high-pressure situations, huh? What are your experiences with crisis communications?

When bite, bites back (or, how not to do transparency)

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I’m turning 40 this year. All that means is I know the sand in my hourglass of eat whatever, do whatever, sleep very little, eat-some-more-and-bounce-right-back, has very much run out. Oh, you can still do all the things you love to do, it’s just it shows now is all. It shows in your hair, your body (every part of it), your skin. I’ve been lucky-ish thus far, not needing to do too much skin-wise, since I have some of the oiliest variety this side of Kuwait, and it’s (only) now paying off (not today wrinkles). The difference now is I know my time of sometimeish skincare was running short and I needed to start some sort of proper regimen, stat.

Enter The Ordinary, the skincare and beauty brand that pegs itself as The Abnormal Beauty Company. It’s perfect for someone like me. Someone who wants top quality stuff, for low-quality prices. Their skincare line is a beautiful array of just that. High quality ingredients developed for all that ails me (honestly, it’s like they’ve been in my bathroom and my head) – hyperpigmentation, anti-aging, oil and acne control, and all for a fraction (and sometimes a fraction of a fraction), of the price of similar products on the market. Seriously, most of it is under $10. Plus, their tendency to make power-duos out of key ingredients means I’ve been able to streamline my regimen. It’s a parade I’ll wave a flag high for.

So imagine my chagrin when this mess began. In a nutshell, Brandon Truaxe, the co-founder and CEO of the brand’s parent company Deciem , has gone…. messy. Back in January, he decided to take over the brand’s Instagram account. He would, from that point forward, post, comment and interact with followers, all by himself. Take a long lunch marketing and communications department. Seems cute right? In theory, yes.

Everyone is constantly saying that brands need to be more transparent, more personable, more accessible, and simply more human with their customers, especially in this digital and social age. So what better way to do this than for the CEO her/himself to hop online? Many others such as Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Mary Barra do an amazing job of somehow running Fortune 500s and fantastic social accounts at the same time.

Not so with Brandon. Instead, what ensued after his decision to take the wheel, was a nightmare of a downward spiral (still going by the way) that spawned commentary, backlash, Twitter explosions, and far worse (as in people threatening to stop buying  the brand altogether) just about all around the world. The drama has also caused a slow panic of brand loyalists that this fiasco could end with the demise of the brand itself.

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So, what the hell happened? To be clear I do not have any inside track and so I can’t say for certain, but what I would bet the return of Niacinamide to available inventory  is that Brandon decided to go against the better judgement of those very folks he hired to provide guidance in the area of the ever-important communications strategy front. He said as much, using one post to explicitly state that he had excused the team formerly responsible for running the account.

The difference is that those folks I mentioned earlier who are killing it on social is – They. Have. Help. Each understands their personal brand and identity is directly tethered to the brands they run. They know that business core values must stay front and centre, and that the things they say and do have an enormous effect and ripple, for days. I’m not suggesting someone is holding their hands across every rock in the pond.  These are brilliant, highly experienced people who have a clear grasp of how social works and how to bloody use it – well. But you can be sure that they have the input, guidance, advice, and probably inherent safeguards, from equally brilliant communications/PR/community relations people at their disposal.

The job of such people isn’t to sugar-coat, sweep under, or mislead the audience, it’s to do the exact opposite. Either Brandon misunderstands the value of his own team and the expertise they bring to the table, or he found them wanting, and rather than replacing them with better skilled and perhaps more ethical staff, he decided he could handle it. Now I am not a CEO of a highly successful international conglomerate but I’m guessing if I was – I’d have bigger fish to fry. My job would be to set the overall tone, culture, and vision of the company. To make 10- year plans. To hire people whom, I could trust to disseminate that mission throughout the land, and who in turn would hire more awesome people to carry out the strategies and tasks their management put before them. It’s intensely presumptuous to think that anyone of us can do it all, and even more so – do it well.

How does whatever move you make serve the greater good of your company? What’s the larger purpose of your business, and the value it brings? The core of any strategy is to be useful to your audience. Do you entertain, help, educate, celebrate? In short – how do you solve their problems? If your reasoning to take over social, start a blog, make a speech, write a book, or whatever other way to amplify your own voice doesn’t answer that question, either at all, or jive with what everyone you work with agrees to, just don’t. Silence really is golden and its perfectly ok to employ it sometimes.

Make a plan, trust the people whose expertise helped to craft it and to guide it, then stick to it. And if you have any personal epiphanies, that’s great, some of the best ideas are born this way – just, do everyone a favour and run them by someone who’s got an honest ear ok? Happy social-ing.

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