Thursday, December 20, 2007

Is PR by invitation only?

Here's a couple of takes on the role PR plays in an organization, from two perspectives.

The first is from Jon Harmon, VP of communications at Navistar. Jon's take is that PR's stature as a corporate strategist is earned, and the PR team forms the corporation's approach to strategic communication. "Public relations professionals bring value not only through effective and purposeful internal and external communications, but by earning and keeping a “seat at the table” in bringing the voice of reputation to the business operations’ decision-making process. ...To function well in this role, PR professionals need solid business acumen and understanding of the inner workings of the company and its industry. ...Simply put, when PR is functioning at its highest level, it makes each of the other staff functions more effective."

Similarly, Mark Phelan of The Detroit Free Press writes about the role of communications in the new-era Chrysler. Mark's view differs slightly in that his premise indicates a successful corporation must have a pre-disposition to PR, and invite strategic communication into the discussion. "Communications must have a seat at the grownups' table, with direct access to Chrysler's bosses as the company develops and executes its turnaround strategy. Somebody in communications must be able to walk into the CEO's office and say "There's a crisis. Here's what we have to do," and the boss must trust that person enough to listen."

It's a chicken-and-egg scenario. Do companies value PR because it has brought them success, or has PR brought them success because they value it? Do PR execs have a seat at the table because they've proven themselves, or were they able to prove themselves because they had access to vital information because of that seat at the table?

The most successful companies we work with are those that recognize PR as a strategic tool, rather than a tactic. They understand that they will either have an impact on their reputation, or their reputation, left unchecked, will surely have an uncontrollable impact on the organization.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Wisdom of a College Grad

Seems like so many blogs get a little sappy this time of year. 'Reflect on the year's blessings,' and 'examine the true meaning of the season' type of stuff. Well, I can be a bandwagon sort of fellow, so I sat down to pour it all out...but it seems our intern Bethany has, as they say on call-in radio shows, stolen my thunder. Her December 18 entry in our Speakeasy blog puts it all in perspective. Well said Bethany. One question Bethany...what's wrong with sounding '1968-ish'???

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Who you callin' a pig?

Drew Winter puts some perspective on global warming. Interesting comparisons.

Details schmetails

Flew into Detroit Metro Airport Monday night. That evening, the airport flipped the switch on a new payment system in its parking deck. The payment kiosks were completely new, as was the software, method of payment and ticketing process. Signage was proud and prominent. Brochures and collateral explained how great the new system would be. A flashy, informative animated video and press release explained its incredible benefits. Even a few brightly painted vans were decal-ed to the hilt to celebrate the new arrival. Seems they did a pretty good job planning the communications and roll-out of the new system.

One small problem in the details: all those flying in that night didn't have tickets for the new system...our tickets were from the old one. And these tickets didn't talk to the new system. This meant all those with old tickets would have to go into an exit lane that had a parking attendant on duty, rather than the much-quicker automated lane. No big deal. Except that a couple more details were overlooked: there was only one open lane with an attendant; and the system in that lane had been replaced by the new system.

After 45 minutes of waiting to get out of the garage, without much movement at all, drivers started getting, well, unhappy. Horns. Yelling. Long, growing line of cars up that stretched onto other levels. At least one incident of a car hitting another.

Finally, a manager came out of nowhere and literally ripped the 2x6 arm off the parking gate and yelled "just let 'em out!" I applaud him for making the move, no doubt at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars.

The communication plan for this changeover appears to be pretty solid. The airport began its pre-change PR as many as nine months ago. The message was simple and the supporting materials were thorough. The actual execution failed miserably.

It reminded me of a theory which applies perfectly to PR, but also to just about every sector of business (and life, if you think about it):
Great strategy, poor execution = failure.
Poor/no strategy, great execution = likely failure (you can get lucky once in a while).

Monday, November 5, 2007

Collaborating...or cheating?

I'm a big fan of collaboration. When people truly collaborate, the results can be profound. It's one of the few instances where 1 plus 1 is more than 2. And I've never heard anyone say they are against the premise of collaboration (hmmm, maybe it's the ability to share blame across several people that makes it attractive?).

It's a simple concept, in theory. Gather up your best ideas. Share them without prejudice or pride of ownership. Get others to add their great ideas to make yours even better, to completely change directions, or to find a totally different application altogether.

But it must not be all that simple a concept. Google 'collaboration' and you get 128 million results. Search 'collaboration in the workplace' and more than 2 million results come back. A search for 'collaboration' in the book section at returns 142,000 entries, over 26,000 of which are related strictly to business.

It never occurred to me the difficulty our society has with the concept of collaboration until last week, during a Vistage meeting. Mike Murray delivered one of the most usable, practical and common-sense talks about listening and communication that I've ever heard. In it, he spoke briefly of collaboration. The gist of what he said:

  • In business, when we take what we think is the answer, share it with coworkers, experts or consultants with the premise that they improve upon it and offer guidance, it's called collaboration.
  • In school, when we do this, it's called cheating.

After most of us spend 16+ years in school, it's no wonder we need millions of books, web sites and facilitators to teach us how to collaborate and, more importantly, that it's a good thing.

I give schools credit - many of them seem to be working hard to address this issue. They're pursuing multi-age classrooms, uncovering opportunities for teamwork and team projects, and actively cooperating with outside groups and other schools.

As for the rest of us, it's got to be a constant effort to encourage collaboration. Our firm is in the midst of designing new office space with an intense focus on teamwork and communication. It'll be interesting to see how our team reacts when going from a traditional office/cubicle set-up to a space void of walls and filled with open workstations, breakout areas and, hopefully, buzz.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's not you, it's them. (But it's probrably you)

A coworker shared this (thanks, Schanel) and it reminded me of a conversation several of us had yesterday...there is a gap between PR people and the people they (we) serve. True, this isn't an earth-shaking discovery; in fact it's been talked about for as long as I can remember.

What was different about this conversation is that we were able to very easily point to many situations, all within the last week, that presented opportunities to close this gap. In each case, the PR person did a disservice; no, not to our esteemed profession, but to their respective companies.

Soapbox moment: at the very basic level, our responsibility is to educate. Might be about a product. Or a service. A technology. A company. A cause, a crisis, a brand (though I disagree with this one -- but that's a topic for another day), a decision, a get the idea. Good PR people aren't out to put perfume on a pig. Good PR people are out educating people on things that can make their lives better, and finding ways to resonate with the end customer. And that's where things break down. For the PR department, who is the customer? The internal client who pays for a portion of the budget; or the guy buying your gizmo, service or info?

(I'm broad-brushing here. I apologize for that.)

It's a catch-22: people outside the PR department don't understand PR and therefore make unreasonable requests, typically bringing in the communications expert at the 11th hour; the department itself caters to these requests to satisfy their "customer." In the end, the real customer suffers, frustrations build, effectiveness declines, opportunities are blown...and the gap widens.

The solution is simple (in theory), albeit tiresome: take that knack for education and apply it internally. If you're a communicator, do people you work with really understand what you do? As PR folks, we need to take our own advice. Tell our story through examples, over and over and over. Float brief case studies, PR Week, war stories and explanations about why a particular clip or blog is beneficial, under the noses of those who impact communications within our companies. And live the Rule of 7 to make your point heard through all the other brainwave-requiring issues.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I work with comedians

This greeted my return to the office following a week away. After careful deduction and investigation, I've identified the perpetrators. Any suggestions for a swift, convincing, irrational retaliation?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Engineers vs. Marketers

The auto industry has a long history as an engineer's domain; the engineer who creates a repeatable, sustainable product wins.

Today, it's a marketing game. People want a ride that's customized, personalized and uniquely them. To consumers, 'repeatable' is vanilla. Solid engineering is the price of entry. Generation X and Y don't typically care how it's made or how it works. They just want it to work, to their preferences, right now. They've grown up in a world of personalization. Companies that adapt to their needs will win. Starbucks. Nike. Coke. Apple. Toyota's EVP Jim Lentz talked about this at a conference in Traverse City a few weeks back.

Carmakers are scrambling to customize their approach to this new brand of consumers. That's a tough task in an industry rooted in mass production and mass marketing.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Life in a Cube

Our office space is pretty traditional: hard-walled offices surrounding a sea of 8x8 cubicles. About 5 months ago I moved out of my office and into one of the cubes...I'd forgotten what it's like sitting in a fish bowl and wanted to experience it again. Some coworkers thought I was nuts (actually, more nuts describes it better). Here's what I've learned so far:

1. When I was in my office, it seemed like I had frequent 'private' conversations. That frequency has dropped significantly, to almost none. My theory is those conversations happened out of convenience, not necessity. Open conversations are quicker, healthier and less messy.

2. I don't need nearly as much "stuff" as I thought I did. I left most of my files, books and other items I've collected over the past 15 years in my old office; whenever I need something, I grab it and find a place for it in my cube. Turns out, I don't need 80% of the stuff I had.

3. The office made me lazy; I could hide behind email, the door, the phone.

4. The loudness of a conversation is conversely related to the attention it garners. Two people standing 6 feet away talking loudly to each other is far less noticeable than two people whispering a conversation in an office 10 feet away. Are they talking about me? The company? Why are they whispering? I wonder if a cube makes you naturally paranoid?

5. A well-aimed, well-timed koosh ball can ease a coworker's tension without giving away the identity or location of the trouble-maker.

6. There is a natural superior/inferior connotation that happens in cube conversations. If you're sitting in a cube and someone stops by to talk, you're trapped and you can't escape. The person standing over you has the natural upperhand. We'll be changing our cubicle configuration in the coming months to help.

It's been an interesting lesson so far.

Monday, July 2, 2007

If you want to be happy, act happy

I love this. Seth Godin is one of my favorites because he takes over-complicated problems and applies under-complicated thought to it. So simple.

I’m a half-subscriber to the theory that we are a product of our environment. I agree with the premise, but I think it’s half-right (or, for you pessimists, half-wrong). What’s missing is the impact we have on our own environment.

Earlier this year, our firm was in a funk. In a meeting with our leadership team, there was an undertone of negativity and general crabbiness. So we challenged ourselves. For the next week, we agreed to leave that mood in the parking lot. Walk in with a smile. Greet each other with a friendly ‘hi.’ Be overly positive. Supportive. Even if we had to fake it, the forced-happiness test would last a week.

Guess what. By week’s end, it wasn’t forced. It was genuine. And it spread through the firm. It lead to better ideas for clients, greater productivity and a stronger sense of urgency. And a lot more laughter.

So, are you a product of your environment? Or is your environment a product of you?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Whatever Happened to 2-way Communication?

I stopped by my first-grader’s end-of-year picnic last week and found myself in a conversation with another parent about her disgust with the school. Seems she feels the administration hadn’t sufficiently punished another child when she hid this woman’s kid’s crayons one day. As a result, the parent was no longer speaking to the administrators. Then, I was talking to a neighbor last night who ran through her list of contractors and neighbors she was no longer speaking to because she wasn’t satisfied with their work or their yards or something else petty to most others.

What’s with the epidemic of over-sensitivity? Not everything is a personal affront. Sometimes, it’s just human error, an honest mistake, or plain old miscommunication. But at least it’s communication.

I work and play mainly with Generation X and Yers. Not sure if there’s anything to it, but it seems to be lately that it’s the Gen Xers with the delicate feelings, while the Ys are able to move on with life. Take things at face value. Realize not everything and everyone revolves around their happiness. Made me wonder if there’s anything to it, and I stumbled on this (

My dad always taught me, you want to be happy? Then be happy. You want to be miserable? Then be miserable. It’s that easy.

You’re free to disagree. And I’ll still speak with you afterwards. That’s a promise…or is it a threat?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Let’s Start in the Middle

When I write a speech, I always start with the ‘guts’ – the middle portion of the speech that delivers the message. Next comes the conclusion. Lastly, I write the intro. If I try to create the intro first, the remainder of the script becomes captive to it and there’s no wiggle room…I like wiggle room.

Maybe that’s why I’m struggling with this first entry. So many ideas, points and possible topics are floating in my brain, most of them loosely focused on challenges, solutions and life at a B2B marketing agency. Perhaps I’ll come back and write this intro entry after a few months, because it’s been staring blankly at me for far too long.

Let’s just get some preliminaries out of the way:

Technorati Profile
Name: Tom Eisbrenner

  1. Guide the direction of the incredibly talented team at our firm, while trying to stay out of their way.
  2. Dad to 3 funny, energy-infused, eternally curious, individually unique little girls (K.C. – 7; Mary Beth – 4; and Adison – 1).
  3. Try to keep up with my idea-generating, full-of-life, matter-of-fact, beautiful wife Holly.

And beyond:

I’ll never have enough tools in my garage or basement. A perfect day would include 2 hours at Lowe’s. I’m an avid fan of all things Spartan. I’m a cheerleader for the City of Detroit. I can hit a golf ball 300 yards…unfortunately only 150 yards of it is straight and the other 150 is due east. Go Tigers. Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatic – all equal favorites. And I have an intense appreciation for over-the-top practical jokes.

There. An intro that leaves me pretty much open to ‘whatever.’ I can work with that.