“Just the Facts” Is Not Going to Cut It

Your Customers Rely On You For Expert Counsel, So Deliver!

This is from a guest post I wrote for Erica Moss, one of my favorites from my Detroit years. Like me, Erica was a journalist before transitioning to public relations and marketing. She is the social brand manager for Semester Online at 2U. A version of this post appeared on her personal blog earlier this year.

Slow Down by shmooth
Slow Down, a photo by shmooth on Flickr.

Throughout your career (and your personal life), you’re going to run into some not-so-nice people. Thankfully, the overwhelming percentage will be nice, but you have to be ready for the nots.

I admit I can be a little thin-skinned. I’ve come a long way, but sometimes, if I get a particularly abrupt email, I take a a few minutes before responding. We all know that email can erase tone, so you need to be careful you’re not misinterpreting how the message is intended. Often a quick call will provide all the clarity both parties need to stay on-track.

My skin was still pretty thin when I had a supervisor who had pretty poor communication skills among her staff. She could be very cold and dismissive, and many of our meetings were miserable. However, working for that person made me much stronger. I was able to take away the best things she taught me, shedding the negativity that often surrounded those lessons.

One of the biggest takeaways was this: When something blows up, big or little, don’t just alert your client. Reporting the facts quickly and accurately is necessary, but you can’t stop there. Make sure you’re delivering good counsel. What do you suggest as the next steps?

This is embedded so deeply in my professional DNA, I don’t even think about it, but I realized recently that it’s not the case for everyone in marketing and communications industry.

Someone posted a negative comment on one of my client’s social media channels. I realized as I talked through the situation with the SM manager that my golden rule was not on his radar yet. He shared what he planned to tell the client, and I talked to him about the value of his expertise — the client didn’t have the SM knowledge he had, and needed to hear his suggestions.

He and I had a very positive conversation, and his follow-up to the client was well-written. The client accepted his advice without hesitation. I was excited he got that great feedback. I hope this means he’ll make this one of his golden rules, too.

When things are flying hot and heavy, we can get caught up in quick email or text conversations with our clients and throw out information without contributing our real value as communications experts. It’s worthwhile to slow down and make sure we’re talking solutions. That’s why they hired us!

How LinkedIn Are You, Really?

Brenda Meller Head Shot

Brenda Meller, LinkedIn Guru

Recently a high school boyfriend I haven’t talked to in 20+ years invited me to connect on LinkedIn with nothing but the canned invitation.

I’ve voiced my objection to this in the past. Someone once told me it’s because some phone apps don’t allow you to include a personal note with the invitation. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t fly.

With this LinkedIn complaint already rolling around in my head, I was fairly dismayed to spot this profile image of a random guy making a group comment: A photo of him hugging his wife. OK for Facebook. Not for LinkedIn.

With that, I decided I needed to call in the big guns, so allow me to introduce my favorite LinkedIn expert, the fabulous Brenda Meller, assistant vice president of marketing at Walsh College and self-proclaimed social media ambassador. Read on as Brenda drops some of her extensive knowledge about the vast, but not TOO complicated, world of LinkedIn.

Tip for Beginners

Personalize EVERY invitation you send on LinkedIn. Seriously. This tip alone will increase the rate of your invitations being accepted. Include a salutation including their name, a frame of reference, your request to connect. If you’re savvy, you’ll want to offer them your assistance, then a closing including your name. Like this:

Dear Jennifer, it was great seeing you at the Inforum Troy breakfast at Walsh last month. Let’s connect on LinkedIn. Let me know if there is anything you need. Sincerely, Brenda

BONUS: Invite Brenda to connect with you: www.linkedin.com/in/brendameller

Tip for Intermediates

Review your profile and make updates once per quarter. To remember to do this, set a calendar reminder. Check your current job description and add any recent achievements. Make sure your profile photo still looks like you (women with frequent hair style changes, take note). Spend a few minutes scanning your profile. Does it look interesting? Have you missed anything?

BONUS: Identify a few industry leaders you admire and look at their profiles once per quarter, too.

Tip for Advanced Users

Try to find yourself in an advanced people search using keywords only. Try just a few keywords at a time. Is it easy to find your profile? Or are you relatively hidden? (Keep in mind, if people can’t find you on LinkedIn, you might need to freshen up that profile.) In the process, check out profiles of others who come up in searches. Why are they ranking higher? Let their profiles inspire you to make updates on your profile.

BONUS: Google yourself. What do you mean, you’ve never Googled yourself???

Brenda oversees Walsh’s marketing strategies and tactics for the College’s award-winning “Live. Breathe. Business” campaign, serving the Admissions, Alumni/Development, Career Services, Walsh Institute, and all campus locations. Her areas of responsibility include advertising, marketing, branding, public relations, social media, and web / digital media. She loves her job and thinks you should, too.

Brenda hosts the Walsh College social media webinar series and periodically speaks on social media for associations including Automation Alley, the Troy Chamber, Toastmasters, the Institute for Supply Management – Southeast Michigan, HRAGD (a local chapter of SHRM), and MichiganWorks!. In addition, she authors three blogs: Meller Marketing, 15 Minutes a Day on LinkedIn, and Marketing and Social Media for Walsh College. In her spare time, she’s pursuing a Walsh MBA. She credits her motivation to coffee and the occasional slice of pie.  

The Art of Organization, Part I

It’s Monday, and you have a meeting Friday. You need an agenda and a few slides. Have you started working on them? Will you do them Thursday night? Or somewhere in between?

I’m closer to Monday than Thursday. Overall, I feel pretty good about my organizational skillz. That’s until I talked to my sister. I talk to her every day, so I was surprised when she dropped some interesting new insight into her professional life.

Trish started showing me the way early in life ...

Trish started showing me the way early in life …

First, though, I must insert that she is amazing just by herself. She’s the assistant commissioner for mental health at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. That’s pretty badass, and nothing proves that more than the badge she has. Yeah, she has a badge. Of course there are dumb pictures of me flashing the badge, and they will never see the internet.

But back to her big reveal, and the theme of this post: While she was telling me about her workday, she ran through her closing rituals. Every night, before she leaves, she:

– Cleans off her desk.

– Pulls all the files and prints all the materials she’ll need for the next day’s meetings.

– Writes in her work diary. Just 100 words. What’s a work diary, you ask? It’s where she captures when inspired or frustrated her, and on what she needs to focus.

I was impressed and wanted to know more. She explained that this routine is about a month old, and “I suspect it will slide again; it always does!” However, it’s pretty inspiring. The story behind it is unfortunate, but this is what happens sometimes: My brother-in-law got sick. And their dog got sick. And Trish couldn’t work 60 hours anymore. So then she was cramming 60 hours into 40, and “I realized my life was out-of-control. I had to recommit myself to being focused.”

It’s true that it often takes something major to knock some sense into our work-life balance, so it would be worthwhile to try some things that make both sides go more smoothly before it’s an emergency. I know it would be SO worth my time to do a work diary. But I also know that when I decide to knock off work, I’m so excited to have the rest of my day with Doug and the puppies, I don’t do much more than review my to-do list.

Think about how nice it would be to roll in to work and not have to do anything about the meetings you have but show up. And how helpful it would be to keep an eye on your work ups and downs, and how much it would benefit your professional development.

For those of you who are already like my sister, you rock! Tell us what your organizational rituals are. For those of you more like me, want to try some of Trish’s techniques with me? Which ones? I’m on the work diary. Go!

Capturing Hearts and Minds at the Trade Show, Part I: Three Signage Don’ts

Ahhh, trade shows. Booth contents lost in the mail. Sensible shoes. Long hours. People who have no idea what your company does and don’t care, they just heard you’re giving away cool stuff. Who among us hasn’t partaken of the wonderful, wacky world of trade shows?

 

photo by maebmij

photo by maebmij

I’ve assisted lots of different clients with lots of different shows, and back during my chamber of commerce days, I was in charge of putting on trade shows. From how to set up your booth, to capturing visitors, to booth assignments (nothing to say here; it is IMPOSSIBLE to please everyone), I’ve pretty much seen or done it all. The bottom line is that we’re all trying to get people in the booth to see if we can make a connection. I’m going to keep it simple here and talk about your signage. There are lots of ways to illustrate your brand. Here are three no-nos:

1. Don’t get too wordy

A banner or sign with a lot of copy is just going to look like a big, grey blob to people walking down the aisle. If someone has to be standing right in front of your sign to get it, it’s not effective. Are you trying to simply brand your space, or draw them in the booth?

You can draw them in with a key sentence or two, but anything more is asking too much of someone walking by. Make the copy as big as possible, and put as much space as possible around it.

2. Don’t get too fancy

Keep it simple. No extra colors, no groovy graphic treatments with boxes and bars and fonts. A client with a lot of quality research was eager to illustrate it. He had great stuff, but a banner is not the place for an elaborate bar graph showing eight difference performance scenarios. We stripped it down and blew up two bars: One without his product and one with his product, showing a much taller bar. It’s colorful (in his brand color) with an easy-to-see difference. It’s something you can see across the aisle, and it’s a simple story to tell to booth visitors.

3. Don’t forget who you are

Is it in your brand colors? Is your logo present? Your tagline? Your URL? It sounds simple, but you’d be amazed at how many companies get caught up in the booth or show theme, or the products in the booth, and forget to brand the signage.

We’re just scratching the surface on trade shows. I’ll come back to this subject soon, and I’m happy to discuss with you in more detail anytime. What part trade show life would you like me to address next? Any tales from the front? I’d love to hear them.

How Do You Power Through?

Today has been a day.

Yeah, one of those. You know what I’m talking about. Someone got the mogwai wet, they found the pantry, and the gremlins attacked.

Gremlin

Hi! I have come to sidetrack you and cause irritation and stress.

It started innocently, like it always does. I was having a regular day when I ran into this series of unfortunate events:

– I wasted an hour trying to diagnose and fix my printer. Not only am I bad where I started, I think I called some shady 800 number posing as HP, and let a man I couldn’t understand access my computer, who told me it’s chock-full of viruses, while

– Accidentally insulting a colleague in a Facebook group, while

– Having a difficult conversation about a project, while trying to

– Be available to my sister, who needed to talk to me and

– Get to an appointment.

It’s always a struggle to perform under pressure.  All you can do is be positive and professional, prioritize and push forward the best you can. I am blessed with great clients and wonderful peers, as well as great consultants, so today wrapped up OK. I just want to throw this out there because I know you have days like this, too. Three things:

1. When the gremlins attack, you are not alone. It always shakes out the way it’s supposed to. Take deep breaths and keep going.

2. How you power through crazy days? I might take a 10-minute break to take the dogs outside, read a chapter in my book or clean up the kitchen (Another proof point of the beauty of the home office!). What are your best tips? Please share!

3. Britney

Thanks to Buzzfeed for this Britney poster and this list of how to make it through.

P.S. I apologized to my colleague and she was amazingly gracious, the conversation about the aforementioned project went about as well as it could have, I finally talked to my sister and I kept my appointment.

Keep your fingers crossed on the computer thing!

 

Let’s Eat Grandma, Because She Doesn’t Know How to Write

It’s been very windy in Texas this week, and apparently it is heralding the winds of change … to writing as we know it.

I spend a lot of time writing and editing. I probably spend as much time on dictionary.com as I do on detroit.tigers.mlb.com. APStylebook.com is a distant third. I rely on these sites. I make mistakes; we all do. But I try REALLY, REALLY hard to play by the rules, and they help keep me in line. So I find the links below amazing and scary.

First this infographic, via my friend and fellow public relations chick Kim Eberhardt. No surprise, but seeing this data is troubling. That it’s shared by talking cats is more troubling.

Then my favorite grammar police chief Beth Concepcion found this little gem, starring a former teacher. Quote of note: “Punctuation isn’t important.”

Thank goodness this popped up on Facebook to make me feel better:

So, fittingly, this headline wraps up a week of wonderment: Man tries to blow up misspelled sign with pressure cooker.  I’m disappointed by all this, but not enough to be headed in this direction. If you are, call me and I’ll talk you down.

As for my title*, Grandma’s probably the only one among us we CAN write anymore, because she likely sat through hours of grammar and spelling lessons, including diagramming sentences (remember those?). The youngsters are the ones who only know how to communicate via emoticons. So, let’s eat grandkids!

Have you seen anything lately that hurts your writing sensibilities? How about something that lifts your writer’s soul?

*If you don’t get the title, here:

via becomingmums.co.uk

Fun with Customer Service, and I Mean That Sarcastically

The customer might not always be right, but at least give him or her a chance to be wrong.

Infinite Target Registers

Photo by Patrick Hoesly

1. My mom was wrestling with a baby registry at a popular superstore:

An employee was walking through the department. Mom asked, “Can you help me?”

Employee: “I’m busy right now.”

“Can you page someone to help me?”

“Is it an emergency?”

Mom said, “Never mind.” She looked around without success, and gave up. On her way out of the store, she stopped at the service desk and shared that exchange. The employee said, “I’m sorry.” Pause. Mom said, “OK, I just wanted to let you know.”

2. My husband and I overestimated our ability to take the heat at a local restaurant:

Manager: “How do you like it?”

Me: “It’s spicy.”

Manager: “Not too spicy, right?”

Doug: “Too spicy for me.”

The manager smiled and backed away from the table.

3. I had to take my dog to the vet for a follow-up:

The next day I got a postcard from the clinic that said my dog was due for a shot. Wouldn’t it be great if the software had alerts, or the employees manually check a field every time you’re standing in front of them?

They’ll say, “Oh, by the way, she’s due for a Bordetella shot, so let’s do that, too.”

You’ll say, “Wow, you’re making it very convenient for me. Thank you!” and we all live happily ever after.

So when I called, after making the appointment, I said, “Can I offer some feedback?”

The defensiveness in her voice came through loud and clear: “About what?”

All these experiences were, in a word, poor. The first one in particular makes me very sad, because I LOVE that store. Sigh.

I did a lot of time in restaurants and retail, and was trained that the customer is always right. My husband works in the hospitality industry, and it wasn’t until he gave me some examples of guests trying to work the system in some very shady ways that I realized that’s not always the case. However, the customer ALWAYS deserves respect, and you have to hear them out. Yes, they might be in weasel mode. But you have to start from a positive place.

Even if the pace is between frazzled and crazed in my office, when the phone rings, I will take a minute to take a deep breath and go into calm mode before I answer. And I smile. You can hear it through the phone! It helps me focus on the call.

I’m not saying that you need to give your customers a free dinner or hold their hand every time they come in the store. We all get so busy and distracted, it’s worth taking a minute to remember how awesome it was when that employee you encountered greeted you so warmly and was very focused on helping you. We CAN do that.

What’s your customer service story? Whether it’s a plus or minus, I’d like to hear it!

P.S. The customer isn’t always right, but you don’t have to go totally insane about it, Samy and Amy! See:

The most epic brand meltdown on Facebook ever