What’s your story?

Solid business planning involves setting goals and hopefully building a cache of accomplishments. As companies large and small do great things every day, why do we only hear about a very small percentage of these great works? Even an organizations’ own employees – a group that should be company ambassadors – often have a general lack of awareness. Why do some companies grab the spotlight while we never hear about others? Why does it feel like no one knows?

The difference is often in our ability to weave these accomplishments into a meaningful narrative. Telling a story that illustrates success and makes people care can influence. Rather than just saying you accomplished a goal and hoping that is enough, businesses need to be able to understand how they achieved success. What were the critical factors that contributed to success? And what was the impact – on customers, on staff, on the community?

Understanding the answers to some of these basic questions can help translate even the most complex or specific business objectives into a story or anecdote that has real staying power.

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What’s your story?

Recharging the soul

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I’m fresh off a long weekend in Lake James and I’m feeling optimistic and recharged. Ready to tackle the deadlines, challenges, schedules and tasks that lie ahead. It is amazing to me how a peaceful and beautiful setting – paired with great company – can energize the soul. I feel grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends, forge new relationships and, perhaps most therapeutic, spend quality time reminiscing past anecdotes while creating stories that I’ll share in the future.

When you are fortunate enough to have solid childhood connections, even if adulthood pulls you in very different directions, gaps in time can disintegrate when you gather. No one knows you like your childhood friends. Childhood is such a time of experimentation, learning through trial and error. You may be shaped by life events, but you are not so consumed by the pressures that come from growing older. Pressure to fit in, to find the right person, to be self sufficient and (hopefully) successful, to be happy with the right person, to have children, to have children with manners, to raise responsible children who become self sufficient adults before 30, and so on.

No, the people who knew you before those pressures existed are the people who really know you. They can call you a nickname that your adult self would never allow. They can make you squirm as a 40-year-old when they rat out your childhood secrets in front of your mom. And they can make you remember what that time of life was like…because we so often forget what it was like to be ourselves, only younger.

For me, that was like wrapping myself in a warm blanket of forgotten memories. And even as reality sets back in with commitments and calendar dates looming, I still feel sated and grounded. It’s important to remember where you came from, to remember your loved ones – so that you appreciate them more today or remember with fondness the ones that are no longer around.

When I get caught up in work, it seems daunting to step away. My get away reminded me that getting caught up in fun and relaxation can actually help clear your mind and be an even more effective professional. How do you recharge?

As I reflect on our all-too-brief reunion, I smile when I think about a familiar meal that took everyone back to the 1980s, or that moment you recognize a dear friend in her 8-year-old son (it was like she just spit him out). I’m so grateful to have shared it with my family. Because even with the distance that time and geography can place between us all, we come together in love and laughter and support and we all walk away better people for it.

Recharging the soul

Check your job description at the door. Why the modern communication professional needs to get comfortable with ‘gray’

When you tell people you work in public relations (PR), the next natural question that is often asked sounds something like, “So what do you do, exactly?”

Many people (my family included) have never really understood what it means to be deliberate about how we communicate. Only like-minded professionals really understand the impact that words can have and thus, the harm that can come of the misuse of them. I get it. And when businesses or executives find themselves in hot water, they usually get it too.

But PR is not (or should not be) simply reserved for crisis. Just as marketing, PR, media relations, social media and the like are not all the same…don’t get me started.

Or do get me started.

When we think about communication as an umbrella term, we can say that it is really all about conveying a message. When we begin to look at the profession of communication, then we have to factor in so many additional variables. What’s the purpose of the communication? Who is our intended audience? Who’s the best spokesperson for the message? How can this be conveyed in the most appropriate way? What do we want people to take away from the communication? Is there a call to action? And so on.

There used to be a much clearer divide between what was considered “earned” media and “paid” media. If you earned media, you worked in PR. If you paid for media, you worked in Marketing. Not simple, but at least defined. In every case, you needed a specific set of skills to perform to your very best. But times have changed and the new normal has way more gray than black and white. We use words like content and engagement to mask the blurring lines that leave traditionalists (both PR and marketing) scratching their heads as they try to navigate a whole new world.

Here’s what I know: news media are increasingly stretched for resources; while news outlets and media channels are looking to generate revenue in new ways. Even businesses are learning how to speak directly to customers and the public by circumventing the media altogether. Times are changing and the earlier PR, marketing and other professionals adapt, the better.

The good news is that this changing landscape creates the perfect opportunity to learn, to be creative, to experiment. Successful strategies today blend more traditional practices with new channels and approaches. When that happens, gray practices lead to the most colorful communication.

Check your job description at the door. Why the modern communication professional needs to get comfortable with ‘gray’

Keep it simple, but original

I’m a self-professed word geek. I love to discover new words or combinations of words. I’m always eager to find out which new terms have been added to the Oxford Dictionary, thereby cementing a casual or fabricated word into our everyday lexicon. Words convey messages that can challenge us, inspire us, and reveal emotions and secrets. They hold great power and I, for one, can never get enough of them. Some of my most proud parenting moments have come when my children weave a sophisticated word like ‘ambiance’ into a conversation without missing a beat. *Sigh

Of course, there is a very fluid nature to language and a phrase or word that seems clever or insightful today can quickly become overused. I think we need to be very careful about this in business settings, as terms that are meant to instruct or inspire can instead seem dated and unoriginal. This post from PR News illustrates this concept in a funny, but very fitting way. They developed a bracket of the most overused words. And the winner is…thought leader! A quick review of the bracket illustrates several widely (over)used words and terms.

Full disclosure here: I am an offender too, as many of these words have made their way into my causal and business communication. But it did get me thinking. What terms would you add to the list? What phrases get on your nerves? I mean, if I have to read another personnel announcement that begins, “It is with mixed emotions that I announce…”

I also think we need to be careful about making references that are so obscure the meaning is lost. Social media and the hashtag revolution have taken us to a whole new level of communication and not all of it belongs in business communication. What’s a BAE you ask? According to my pre-teen it means “before anything else” and its appropriate application can signal anything from a best friend or significant other, to a really good hamburger (if you’re hungry).

Successful business communication is most often simple, well-defined and concise. That’s not to say you can’t be clever or have fun with language, but be careful that the intent remains clear. Keep references relevant to the audience you are trying to reach. After all, you never want to be like that uncle who tries too hard to be cool.

Keep it simple, but original