Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Effective CEO Communicator

While the job of a chief executive officer (CEO) is multi-faceted, he or she tends to be judged from the self-interest of each key stakeholder group.  Investors judge a CEO based on financial performance. Employees judge their boss on managerial style or perhaps whether and how often they see raises and bonuses.  The public and the media may judge a CEO on the public persona created through community involvement or even celebrity status.

That’s not to say CEOs are loved and admired everywhere they go, and more than a few CEOs will be the first to tell you this.  Some recent studies have suggested that some CEOs suffer from narcissistic personality or other psychological disorders. 

Forbes magazine recently did an online feature called America's Top 20 Favorite Bosses.  To be sure, Forbes is more likely to judge a CEO based on business results, but according to the feature, the top picks were based on ratings from employees. 

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook topped the list with an approval rating from his employees of 99 percent.  On face value with stories like this, it’s quite common to assume Mr. Zuckerberg’s management style deserves all the credit, but the company’s initial public offering in 2012 and the financial windfall that accompanied it may have had something to do with employee satisfaction with leadership.

Other companies' employees that rated their CEOs highly were SAPMcKinsey & Company, Ernst & Young, and Northwestern Mutual to round out the top five.

But what does it take to be an effective CEO communicator?

In my experience, CEOs who connect with all of their major constituencies take it beyond simply the self-interest of the stakeholder.  Investors, for example, want a  CEO to be more than one who delivers financial results, but also who understands everything from product development and branding, to creating a vision that the work force can follow. 

Employees want a CEO whose vision provides a future for them and their families, a workplace that makes them want to come to work, and compensation that enables them to achieve their personal dreams.

Others, such as customers, vendors and the larger community, want a CEO who has a handle on corporate social responsibility, cost management, competitive pricing and much more.

And yet, while all of this is important, it can mean nothing if the CEO can’t communicate on these levels so effectively that targeted stakeholders find a connection with the organization.

That is what it takes to be an effective CEO communicator and why it’s so rare to find a CEO that can do all of this and do it well.
Fred Smith, the founder and longtime CEO of FedEx is one I had the opportunity to see in action.  He has proven to be a model for CEO communication.  Here is a 9-minute interview with him on his company, its evolution and its future.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Quit Being a Dumb App: How to Keep Your Smart Phone from Screwing Up Your Relationships

By Lloyd Corder, Ph.D.

Recently, I got this note from an entrepreneurial client and friend of mine who started a metal powders company that makes high tech parts for spaceflight companies like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin:  

I have to tell you, that I think of you more than you realize I'm sure.  Every time I'm going into a meeting with someone, I pull my phone out and turn it off or to vibrate.  You did that one time we met and I never forgot how I felt "Wow, he's taking this very serious and only wants to concentrate on me while we're meeting."  Very powerful stuff.

That made my day.

I’ve spent my professional career helping others become better communicators.  It may be called marketing research, ad testing, strategic marketing planning, leadership communications or even university teaching, but it boils down to figuring out how you can be better today than you were yesterday.  Slight, continuous improvements lead to big results over time.

In working with hundreds of clients over the last 25 years, I’ve come to believe that the most profound gift you can give someone is your time and complete attention.

Within in your grasp—every day and at multiple times—you have the power to show you truly care…you are a great listener…you can accept someone for who and where they are in their life…you can show and be loved…and—most importantly—you can make someone’s life better.

But giving your time and complete attention is darned near impossible if you’re spending all your time fiddling with your phone.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my smart phone.  I can reply to clients faster.  I can delegate projects instantaneously.  I can update my social media status like no body’s business.

But smart phones have a dark side too:

·         Smart phones are the single biggest distraction in our lives.  For many of us, instead of us being “all in” when we’re meeting with someone we know is important—like our friends, family members, coworkers and others—we are only partly paying attention.  We may be there physically, but mentally and emotionally we’re thinking about emails, texting someone miles away, surfing the Internet or wondering how many likes we’ll get from our latest post.  Our smart phones make it seem like we are afflicted with some form of attention deficit disorder.

·         Smart phones mess up our eye contact.  We trust people who look at us.  It’s tough to read someone when they are constantly looking away or at their phone.  It suggests they would rather be somewhere else or doing something different.  Smart phones are seductive.  They trick us into thinking that I’ll just look away for a moment, and then I’ll be able to refocus.  Forget it.  You’ll want to check your phone every few minutes.  It will become such a force of habit that you won’t even realize you’re doing it.

·         Smart phones make us feel like we have more control, but we actually don’t.  We have so many new communications tools available to us.  But are we any better communicators?  Are your relationships better now than they were five years ago?  Does it really matter to you that you now know the minutia of other peoples’ lives through their barrage of posts?  Wouldn’t you rather understand the big picture of the people you care about?

Well, what should you do about all of this?  Especially if you’re younger and have spent your entire life online, taking a break from your phone may be an out-of-body experience for you.

From my vantage point, you have two basic options.

First, you can go on letting your smart phone be the boss of your life.  Bring it everywhere you go.  Never turn it off.  Let it distract, seduce and control you to your heart’s content.  If you chose this path, don’t worry.  A lot of people are on it.  You’ll blend in fine and most people won’t notice the difference anyway—since they will be on their smart phones doing the same thing.

Or, if you dare, you could decide that maybe part of the purpose of your life is to help make the world you’re living in a little better place, if just for one moment or one minute or one hour or one day.

You can do that by sharing your time and complete attention with the people you’re in front of.  Forget about your smart phone for a minute.  Silence it and put it away.  Be totally in the moment.

If you’re in a business meeting, require that everyone put their “screens down” and give their attention to topic at hand…especially if you’ve spent a fortune getting them to the meeting.

What I’m suggesting may sound like it’s easy to do, but it’s easier not to do.  You will struggle.  Your smart phone will tempt you to pay more attention to it than who you’re meeting with.  But don’t you do it!

Just try getting through one meeting without your phone.  If you falter, forgive yourself and try again with your second meeting.  Like any important change in your life, it will take two or three weeks of diligent effort, then it will start to seem totally natural to put away your phone and get focused on the conversation at hand.

You will also quickly find yourself in the top five percent, separated from your competitors and everyone else…and being noticed by important people and people who are important to you.  You’ll seem like a natural winner.

And at that point, you may just find that your influence, impact and life are exponentially better than they were when you were playing with that dumb phone all the time!

About the Author

Tim O’Brien has worked with Lloyd Corder, Ph.D., on several projects.  Lloyd is founder and CEO of strategic marketing research firm CorCom, Inc. and teaches at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.  He is a frequent keynote, convention and motivational speaker, and he has appeared on business-oriented radio and television programs.  Lloyd’s studies have been published in more than 500 magazines and newspapers.  For additional information and resources, please visit or contact him at  On Twitter: @CorComInc 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Every Kid Needs a Cape

Halloween is just around the corner.  I know a little boy who is getting a cape. And it will change his life.

He won’t need instructions.  He will know immediately what to do with it. He’ll put it on and become invincible.

Suddenly, he’ll be able to fly.  He’ll be able to jump higher than any kid around.  He’ll be strong and brave.  His cape will make him run faster.  He will see further and better.  He will be impervious even if he doesn’t know what impervious means.

Author's son Halloween 1992 -
His secret identity is kept safe here.
That’s what capes do.

I had a cape when I was a kid.  Actually, I had several. They were white, and blue, and yellow and sometimes they had a floral print on them. All were made of terry cloth.  How they looked depended on what was in my mother’s towel closet at the time.  I had used an old safety pin from one of my brother’s diapers to fasten my cape around my neck.

When I wore my cape I was Superman, and I could fight the imaginary bad guys and win every time.  I could fly and jump high.  Bullets from invisible bad guys couldn’t hurt me.  Capes are good.

I don’t know how many men had capes when they were boys.  But I do know that if they did, they’d never forget the feeling of wearing one.  Capes feel good.

Those of us who had capes put them away sometime before we were ten.  After that, when we really needed them, we had to rely on our imaginary capes.

A tough guy taking lunch money in the school cafeteria?  Sure could use that cape.  The day they make basketball team cuts?  Cape could come in handy.  First crush breaks up right after the movie?  Need that cape.

I felt like I was wearing a cape the day I passed my driver’s test, and again when I climbed the fence to night swim at the pool after the lifeguards had gone, and once again when I saw that quarterback fumble the football…after I hit him.  Capes are cool, especially imaginary ones.

Think about it. Think about all the times in our lives when we donned capes. 

Remember the day the cape looked and felt more like a graduation gown?  Or that wedding day when people clapped just because you entered the room in a rented tux and an imaginary cape, of course.  What about the day your kids were born?  I watched mine arrive as I wore a set of blue scrubs and an imaginary blue scrub cape.  I remember flying.  Capes are fun.
Author's younger son Halloween 1996 -
That's a tall building he just leaped over.

At some point after we’ve embarked on our life’s work, we may have become the go-to-guy for something.  And that’s when we dusted off that cape once again.  In PR, we deliver communications solutions to difficult problems.  We wear PR capes. The people around us just don’t know it.

And then at some point, people close to us – or even strangers – may find themselves counting on us, and it’s important.  They sure hope someone near them is wearing a cape.  Every day, there are no shortages of capes in the streets, in hospitals and emergency rooms.  I’ve seen them.  Capes are real.

I know a little boy who is getting a cape, and it will change his life.  Because like everyone who wears a cape, he will change the lives of others. 

Every kid needs a cape.

You can make a difference.  Check out this organization that helps give kids super powers through capes.  Capes for Kids - Child Cancer Patients

Monday, October 21, 2013

Is Your Brand’s Jared Fogle Out There?

Your Customers May Be Your Best Story Tellers

By Dan Keeney, APR

In this age of celebrity obsession, when every utterance of a Kardashian and every spat involving a member of the cast of Glee gets front page attention, it may come as a surprise that the best restaurant pitchman is an everyday Joe.

An everyday Jared to be more exact. Jared Fogle. Also known as Jared the Subway Guy.
He is not a chef of Gordon Ramsey’s stature or a sports hero, but instead a customer.

I had a chance to work with Jared a couple years after he started working with Subway when we organized the Subway Challenge after Men’s Fitness declared Houston, “America’s Fattest City.”
He is a genuinely nice guy. Humble with a good sense of humor and a just a sprinkle of charisma. And make no mistake, his TV time has made him a full blown celebrity. During our meal together in an upscale Houston restaurant, he was constantly approached by people thanking him for being an inspiration, and he politely granted requests for photos and autographs.

     WATCH: USA Today Visits with Jared at Subway Restaurant

According to the study, "Perceptions of Restaurant Advertising: Consumer Assessments of the Leading Chain Brands," Jared has made Subway the most effective advertising brand in the restaurant industry.
The survey of nearly 79,000 respondents ages 18 and over measures chains on three attributes for advertising:

·         Has memorable advertising;

·         Has advertising I can relate to; and

·         Has advertising that makes me hungry.
Restaurants generally rated low on relatable advertising and memorable advertising, but Subway scored a 75.1 percent on the relatability attribute and its memorable advertising score was 78.5%.
The reason? Consistency and authenticity.

It would be interesting to know whether people even remember the origin story now that we’re 13 years into Jared’s run with Subway. A lot of Subway customers weren’t even around in 1999, when Jared lost 245 pounds on a diet of Subway sandwiches. Over that span, Subway hasn’t wavered in showcasing Jared in various ways – most recently matching him with athletes.
In PR, we call this message discipline. It is a core principal of branding, but it is among the most difficult to accomplish, due mostly to egos among executives who want to prove their value by constantly tinkering with what is said and how. The fact that Subway has resisted dumping Jared for a new approach speaks volumes about their strong, confident leadership.

Another key to his success as a pitchman is Jared’s authenticity. He wasn’t the result of some PR brainstorm. Jared was out there doing something extraordinary without Subway even being aware of it. As recounted in this Houston Chronicle article, Subway learned of Jared from a franchise owner who saw Jared mentioned among ‘crazy diets’ in Men’s Health.
The lesson here is that there are enormous benefits to latching onto those things that are real and authentic, and also align with your strategy – and then staying the course.

In 1998, Subway had already launched its campaign touting six sandwiches under six grams of fat as a way to capitalize on increasing consumer concerns about health and distance it from other fast food. That strategy without Jared is just good positioning. With Jared it became a rocket ship.
Nation's Restaurant News estimates Subway more than tripled its U.S. sales to $11.5 billion in 2011, from about $3.1 billion in 1998, the year before Fogle started with them.

Your brand’s Jared may be out there right now, doing extraordinary things with your products and services. It is definitely worth your while to keep looking.

About the Author
Dallas-based Daniel Keeney, APR, is a longstanding colleague of Tim O’Brien.  He is the president of DPK Public Relations. He can be reached at 214.432.7556 or  His Twitter address is: @dpkpr

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Word of Mouth: Generating referrals

The subject of media, media relations or publicity often gets the lion’s share of the attention in PR, but in the end, public relations is about building relationships. And the most fundamental level on which relationship-building dynamics are at play is the word-of-mouth referral.

While organizations of all sizes rely on word-of-mouth to build their businesses, some are more reliant than others.  For example, a Fortune 500 company that sells soap products to millions may spend millions on advertising, but ultimately, it makes its revenue projections on whether more people are brand loyal. 

Perhaps your parents bought the same soap, and now you do.  Maybe someone at your kids’ school touted a particular soap for removing grass stains from soccer jerseys. So you give it a try. Or maybe you saw a nice review for the product online.  In each of these cases, it was a testimonial and a form of word-of-mouth referral that caused you to buy. 

Still, the same company increases sales through coupon promotions and powerful ad campaigns that go direct to consumer.

But then there are other firms, usually professional service firms, that live and die by referrals.  Lawyers, accountants, architects, doctors, hair stylists, dentists, to name a few.

I have a client I’ve helped recently build up a basic process for trying to stimulate referrals. 

The key is to recognize that your network is your sales force.  Everyone in your network is more than likely a potential source of referrals.  So what motivates someone to refer you to others?  Here’s an overly simplistic summary:

·         They like you and want to help you.
·         They like their other contacts and want to help them.
·         They feel by giving your name to someone, they are helping at least one of you (but hopefully both).
·         In the end they feel better for helping, or perhaps they feel that by helping others, they will be helped at some point.

So, how here is a quick summary of the steps involved in creating a proactive system for referrals:

1.       Identify your network and those who might give your name to others.
2.       Pay special attention to those who know you and how you work as opposed to those who simply know you as a person.  While your mother may love you, she may not be able to adequately describe how you solved a business problem for her.
3.       Reconnect with those on your list with whom you may have lost touch.
4.       Compile your network into an easy-to-use database.
5.       Get permission from people in your network to send them information from time to time.
6.       Reach out in person and through various forms of communication to stimulate referrals.
7.       Commit to an ongoing education process to inform your network of your recent activities or capabilities.
8.       Give yourself deadlines and timetables.
9.       Recognize and thank members of your network through cards, notes and appropriate gratuities should they do something that helps your business.
10.   Maintain a commitment to ongoing outreach and contact with your network.

Of course, this is just a quick summary.  If you have any other ideas or would like to discuss, just get in touch. Thanks.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Media Interviewing: Don't accept the premise of every question

There is an old example I’ve used, and I’ve heard others use, in explaining how to respond to certain types of questions from reporters.  It's an exaggeration to make a point.  Here’s how it goes:

So, how long have you been beating your wife?

It’s one of those no-win questions.  If the person who was asked such a question says anything to the affirmative, obviously it will get worse from there. 

But to deny the allegations implied in the question, no matter what, the responder looks defensive. 

Before getting to the strategy required to handle such questions, let’s break the issue down.  It’s not uncommon for reporters to build an allegation into a question.  Sometimes those allegations reflect the personal attitudes of the journalist conducting the interview. Other times, the allegation is built into the question because that’s what some vocal critics might be saying.  In this way, the reporter can best get the response he or she wants.

If the interview is conducted on camera for television, keep in mind, a key objective of such questions is to capture your non-verbal reaction to the question.  Quite often, the photographer will make sure to have the lens zoomed in to magnify your facial expression to the question itself. 

So what to do?

First, don’t expect questions to be asked the way you want.  Expect the very premise of some questions to be accusatory.  With this in mind, control your facial expressions and reactions to outrageous questions or comments from interviewers.

Know that even if you make a certain facial expression to an innocent question, a studio editor can later juxtapose that expression with another segment of the interview so that it looks like a spontaneous reaction to a totally separate comment or question.

But here’s the meat.  Don’t accept the premise of every question.  Before you proceed to answer every question, assess whether or not the premise of the question is accurate.  If not, you need to point this out, or structure your response so that it clearly and quickly dispels that premise.

When it comes to answering questions where the premise if off target, the best response is two-fold:

1.       Explicitly and unapologetically address the validity of the premise of the question.  The key is to do this as constructively as possible.  It’s never a good idea to become combative or defensive in a media interview.

2.       Deliver the key points you need to make to address the issues involved with the reporter’s question.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What is it About Baseball?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, I know I’ve spent more than enough of your time on sports-related topics of late.  While I try to tie the issues involved to a PR topic, sometimes, I’m more successful than others.

Don’t count today’s blog post among those successful attempts.

The fact is I’ve been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan since I can remember.  In terms of sports, which for a young boy in the 1960s represented dreams, heroes, childhood, friends and family, the ball club was my first love.

Some of our most vivid childhood memories adhere to us the rest of our lives.  Some of mine involve family get-togethers with my dad, uncles and grandmother on her front porch on steamy summer nights with the ever-present radio playing in the background, the voice of Bob Prince providing a backdrop to my childhood. 

I spent the days leading up to those nights imitating Pirates’ second-baseman Bill Mazeroski on the sandlot with my cousins and my friends.  I even filled my jaw with Bazooka Joe bubble gum to imitate the wad of chew the Maz always seemed to have in his cheek when he came up to the plate at Forbes Field.

That’s where we used to go by “street car” to see games.  When we actually had tickets, we’d watch from right field, nearest to Roberto Clemente, who had no trouble ignoring our calls for his attention the entire game.  They didn’t throw souvenir balls to the fans in between innings in those days.

Other times, if we did fairly well in school, they’d give us “Knothole Club” tickets which meant we’d be admitted to the bleacher section right behind the opposing team’s bull pen along the left foul line.  While you were close to the action, you had to sit on old wooden bleachers, surrounded by cyclone fence.  That meant for us boys, we couldn’t sneak into the field box seats in the later innings.  You were sort of in the ball park, but not really.

On occasion, we didn’t have tickets, so we’d stand outside the outfield wall between the ballpark and Carnegie Museum. We’d wait for a homer and then in a scramble we’d chase the bouncing raw hide through the parking lot, in between cars.  I remember we usually had a lookout in a tree who could see the game and would tell us when one was coming our way.

A few years later, I worked for KDKA, the station that broadcasted the games, and many times I had the opportunity to do my job from the confines of Three Rivers Stadium or in conjunction with Pirates’ players and representatives.  I used to run the station’s “Rainbow Machine,” a mobile broadcast studio we took to festivals and community events.  The original Pirate Parrot, Kevin Koch, came to rely on me and my Winnebago as a changing room and a place to hang out.

I remember producing the live feed from home plate the day Willie Stargell retired.

The Pirates and I intersected once again when I worked for Ketchum Public Relations.  I handled various PR matters for the team’s management for ten years.  During that time, it seemed more of the action was happening off the field than on it.  One thing that I was gratified to be a part of was the PR effort surrounding the campaign to build a new ballpark.  PNC Park has met its promise and more, as far as I’m concerned.

All of that brings me to today.  The Pirates are in the fifth game of their series against the tough St. Louis Cardinals.  Win it, and they move on to the National League Championship Series and a chance to play in the World Series.  Lose, and they will go home with the first winning record and playoff appearance since 1992.

Either way, the fans are already grateful for what the Pirates did for the city on the field this season. 

But that’s not to say those of us who’ve supported the Pirates this season didn’t have their doubts before this.  And it’s not to say we’re giving up now.  Neither is true.

Given the recent history, I had my doubts going into this season but did what I’ve always been compelled to do, watch the games, listen to the games, read the news stories about baseball.  The Pirates did what I’ve always hoped they would do and knew they could do.

They brought in a good mix of ballplayers.  They have a great farm system, a good manager and good coaching.  Then they let the team alone.  And it won, 97 times and counting so far this season. October baseball has its own feel, and it’s a good one.

They have what they need to keep it going into next year.  But of course there is the small matter of tonight’s game.  They can win it. They should win it, and I expect them to win it.  Like so many others, I’m not a fan who is just happy they’ve gotten this far, because I know they can go as far as the World Series. 

Still, if that doesn’t happen, it would be foolish to label this season as any less than a success not only for the team, but in delivering to us fans whatever it is that drives us to care - in some small way - what a group of grown men do on a baseball diamond over 162 times per summer.

Go Bucs!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Plain English Always Works

Someone recently posted a question on LinkedIn that caught my attention because the issue is so common yet rarely discussed.  The question that was posed centered on whether communications people intentionally over-complicate things, sometimes doing so through language or jargon.

I chimed in with agreement.  Yes, all too often, people in PR intentionally used contrived language to make what we do sound more lofty.  My point was and is that if your plans and strategies are well thought-out, and the communication is clear, it will all work together to achieve a high level of value.

We don’t need to introduce to our clients and others language they don’t understand and don’t appreciate.  I’m talking about terms like, “earned media,” and “mind share.”

I will cut to the chase and make my point, then follow with my support.  My point: Plain English is always the best way to communicate.  If you can communicate complex concepts and ideas using plain English, you will effectively connect with your audience.  And that’s all that matters.

Now here are my three touch stones to help flesh this out.

A Literacy Program
Years ago, I had the assignment to help a client transform its internal communications so that the majority of the work force could understand company communications.  This was important because the work force had a high level of illiteracy.  We did many things to accommodate the audience, but a few of the major lessons that I took away and carried forward to today are:

1.       Use pictures and visuals whenever possible.
2.       Use simple language whenever possible.  What constitutes simple?  A one-syllable word is better than one with two.  It’s that simple.
3.       Use face to face communication as much as possible.

Strunk and White
My copy of Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” is old and dog-eared.  I still refer to it when in a pinch.  Here are a couple of excepts from the book in defense of plain English:

·         “Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a 10-center handy, ready and able.”

·         “In this, as in so many matters pertaining to style, one’s ear must be one’s guide; gut is a lustier noun than intestine, but the two words are not interchangeable, because gut is often inappropriate, being too coarse for the context.”

Harry Truman
Harry Truman is one of my favorite presidents, mostly for how he maintained the Office of the Presidency while connecting with regular people in his plain speaking style.  Here are few of his gems:

·         “All the president is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing and kicking people to get them to do what they’re supposed to do anyway.”

·         “It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job, it’s a depression when you lose yours.”

·         “You want a friend in Washington?  Get a dog.”

·         “I never did give anyone hell.  I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.”

So what’s the lesson here?  When it comes to communication, there is no substitute for clarity, and when it comes to clarity there is no substitute for language everyone can understand.  In this country, plain English is never a mistake.
Here is actor James Whitmore's take on the former president: