Thursday, August 2, 2018

Look mom, I’m on TV

I have been a spokesperson for non-profits and a Fortune 500 company for more than 10 years. In my previous roles, I handled countless media interviews. However, up until recently, the bulk of those interviews have been via phone or off camera for newsprint. I have recently had to flex my on-camera interview muscle and step out of my comfort zone. While I feel strongly that I am a seasoned public relations practitioner, on-camera interviews – especially, live interviews are still very new occurrences.  In the past several months, I have had to do several and I’ve picked up a few tricks of the trade that I will share below.

  • Makeup should be camera ready. While I wear makeup daily, makeup on camera and especially for live TV should be heavier than what you would wear day to day. I normally wear nudes and light pink lipsticks but those are not good color selection for on camera. Richer, bolder colors work better. 
  • Solid colored shift dresses that aren’t black look better on camera. For my first two live interviews I wore black blouses. They didn’t look as good as the color options I selected for later interviews. A few weeks ago, I wore a royal blue cardigan with my company’s logo on it and it did the trick. You want to wear clothing items that don’t call attention to you. Keep in mind, if they are looking at what you have on, they are not paying attention to what you are saying.
  • Wrinkles matter. Wear clothes that do not easily wrinkle. In one of my earlier interviews, I wore a skirt that crinkled up after I had been seated for a while. The television news process is a whole lot of hurry up and wait and while waiting, you may be sitting, so, be cognizant of that when selecting attire.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice. If you are like me and not always the subject matter expert on the topic that you are serving as a spokesperson for, it is imperative that you rehearse. Draft talking points, review them before your interview and practice with family or friends. You want to sound informed and knowledgeable on the topic, however, be careful not to memorize your talking points. Never state them verbatim because, well… that is boring. Allow yourself room to go off script and show your personality.
  • And, lastly, speak in sound bites. Get to the point and cover your most important points first. If you do that, you will have a better chance of ensuring your key messages are covered.
If you are reading this, you probably have an interview soon, so, good luck with that interview!

Friday, June 15, 2018

How to better position your non-profit to receive corporate funding

One of the questions I have received most since I stepped into the corporate philanthropy world is, "How can I get my (insert event, program, non-profit name) sponsored?" Every company is different, but, I have come up with a few tips that should be universal.

Be clear in your request.
When requesting funds or a donation from a company, it is imperative that you are very clear in what you are requesting. Ambiguous requests require more emails/follow up calls and delay your request. So, if you are asking for a product donation of 500 whatnots, be specific and ask for the 500 whatnots. If you are requesting a $50,000 sponsorship to fund X program, say that as well. Because of the number of requests most companies receive, you will want to make the review of your request as easy as possible.

Follow directions.
If the company requires you to submit your request online, or include a copy of your organization’s tax paperwork or the history of donations that your organization has received from the company, follow directions. Company representatives could be receiving hundreds of requests daily and while you may think that an extra phone call or email will get you to the head of the line, more than likely, it will slow down the process for you and everyone else who has made a request.

Be creative.
Corporate partnerships with non-profits can and should be mutually beneficial. The payment for sponsorships are made with a reasonable expectation of receiving some sort of commensurate return. Sponsorships are a business relationship in which both the sponsored organization and the company should benefit. So, when thinking about a sponsorship, think about current company initiatives and how your program, partnership or event fits into that goal. Be creative! The sky is the limit.

Be prompt in your response.
It should go without saying, but, if you are requesting a donation from a company, be responsive if the company representative reaches out with questions, needs payment information or is working to organize a donation pick up. It can be time-consuming for the company representative to have to send multiple requests for the same thing and ruin your future relationship with the individual or the company.

Be flexible.
If a company is willing to donate product or funds for your upcoming event and request that you pick up the product or check from a location, go and pick up the check or product. Be easy to work with. It goes a long way. And, you will get bonus points if you reach out for promotional materials to display at your upcoming event or to hand out to program participants.
Be knowledgeable of your company’s program offerings.
When requesting a donation, be knowledgeable of your non-profit’s programs and services and develop a proposal in advance of attending a meeting with the company representative. Do some research on the company’s goals and try to align your mission with those goals. Determine what programs/services you feel are the best fit for funding and ask. Take notes during your meeting with the company representative and adjust your proposal as needed. Be realistic in your request, but, also, don’t aim low. You never know what funds are available to help your organization and the organization's clients.

Say thank you!
After your event or program is over, send a thank you email or card, include a recap and photos. Photos that show the company’s brand included in collateral materials are most memorable and will better position you to receive future funding.
Good luck with your request!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Blog Update

When I first started my blog more than a year ago, I was working as Director of Communications for a municipality. I had been in that role for five years at the time and felt that I wanted to use the blog, my social media pages and my website to share communications and marketing information that could help someone else – especially those working in local government or for non-profits. Fast forward a year and now, I am no longer in that role. I am back in the for-profit world and have a role that encompasses internal communications, corporate video, media relations and corporate giving.

As you might imagine, starting a new job can be all consuming and for that reason, I have not had a lot of time to draft blog entries, but, my “biggest fan” also known as my boyfriend of 2.5 years suggested I update you all. His advice, which I believe to be good advice, was that I take you all along on my journey as I learn my new role. So, while some of my posts will continue to highlight my previous experience and cover tips and advice as it relates to marketing and communications, moving forward, I will also share challenges I face in my new role and learnings. So, please expect a good mix of all of that moving forward. I am still drinking from the fire hose and soaking in all of the information of my role, but, I do look forward to sharing that with you all. While, I by no means claim to be an expert Corporate Affairs Manager, I can certainly share my journey and in fact, I am looking forward to it!

Happy Thursday and thank you for following this blog!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I hate goodbyes, so, “See you later.”

After six years serving as the Public Affairs Manager, then, Communications Manager and currently, the Director of Communications, today is my last day as a City of Pearland, Texas employee. It has been a pleasure to serve the residents of this amazing City. While I am excited about my new endeavor, I will miss so many of the friends I have made. I’ll reflect fondly on the times I have shared with coworkers like Debbie Schielke, who has been my rockstar and right hand on this journey and the other members of my team, Robert (who says I’m the best supervisor he has ever had 😊), Michael and Mike. I’ll miss you all. To members of the management team who I have worked alongside, especially Dan, Matt, Jennifer, Johnny, Chris, Joel, Cynthia, Roland and so many others, it has been my privilege to work with you! Melissa & Tracy, my fellow Pearland communicators, you both are amazing. I cannot leave out those employees who I’ve enjoyed working with who are no longer with the City like Pam, Mike Leech, Lata and Bonita. And, to the councilmembers who have truly kept my Monday nights interesting, thank you for all that you do. I appreciate you.

I always say, “The true test of success is if you have left something better than when you found it.” Someone told me that is the Girl Scout way; I’m not sure about that part since I was a Girl Scout dropout! But, I can safely say that after production of the City’s first ever 5-year Strategic Communications Plan, six State of the City events, marketing and promotions for countless City of Pearland special events, two website redesigns, creation of six social media pages, three resident newsletters, development of citywide brand guidelines, countless media interviews and a relentless effort to improve Pearland TV offerings, that I have. I am proud of the accomplishments of my crackerjack Communications Department and am glad to have been at the helm.  I look forward to continued success from the group. I hate goodbyes, so, to my coworkers, “See you later.”

Monday, January 8, 2018

As a PR practitioner, your thoughts are not your own

I’ve seen public relations professionals post the disclaimer “my thoughts are my own,” in the about me section of their social media profiles and I am always perplexed. I wonder what they hope to accomplish by adding it. I’ve personally never posted that language and here’s why.

First, in the day of social media, everything is public. No matter how much you lock down your social media pages or refrain from connecting with coworkers, what you say matters. And, as a representative of your organization, you are a representative at all times – whether you like it or not.

It is for this reason, that I limit my online political banter, though I have very strong political beliefs and stop short of offering opinions on many other controversial subjects.  This is because I know whether I like it or not, I am always a representative of the municipality that I work for. It’s for that very reason that I also refrain from coloring my hair some of the wild and fun colors that others enjoy and why my dress is typically more conservative.

In short, because I go on camera and on the record representing the municipality I work for, my behavior reflects the organization. I don’t just speak for Sparkle Anderson even when I am posting to my personal social media accounts and posting the “my thoughts are my own” language doesn’t free me from that responsibility. I would argue that public relations professionals should be held to a higher standard when it comes to social media because if anyone should understand the power of social media, it should be a public relations/communications practitioner. And, while there are many benefits to its use, it does have its share of pitfalls and it is very easy to become lax in what is posted to social media.

I can think of horror stories like Justine Sacco, the former communications director of the New York-based internet empire InterActive Corp. who tweeted insensitive comments that linked Aids with race or James Andrews who after just 16 months of joining Ketchum’s KIC division posted to Twitter, “True confession but i'm in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, I would die if I had to live here” regarding a FedEx account. When I read stories like this, I always have this moment where I shake my head and ask myself, “What were they thinking?” However, these stories are cautionary tales.

Long story short: online and offline behavior (think Juli Briskman) can get you fired. Is it a burden to bear? Yes. Is it fair? Absolutely not. But, it comes with the territory. So, no, I’m sorry… your thoughts are not your own.                                                               

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Reflecting on 6 years in local government communications

Next Tuesday, Jan. 9, will mark 6 years of employment with the City of Pearland. As I look back on the past 6 years, I can reflect fondly on my work and how drastically, the Communications Department, and more importantly, I have changed over the years. The true test of success is if you have made a place better than when you started, and I can safely say that the City of Pearland Communications Department is better than when I started. I don’t say this to brag, but, I say this as a testament to what hard work, dedication and drive can do.

For years now, I have served as a member of the Senior Leadership Team providing direction and vision to shape City of Pearland communications. That vision has resulted in the receipt of more than 30 local, regional and national awards. When I think of the 6 years of utilizing my analytical skills to diagnose and devise viable solutions to business problems, I can’t help but be proud. The development of communications plans tied to City initiatives such as “Don't Block the Box,” Fire and Police Department recruitment and the Waste Management Route Change, have truly been some of the highlights of my work.  

The launch of two new City websites with more than 800 pages of content; Pearnet, an employee intranet, designed to improve employee communications and further employee engagement and the oversight of the installation of video equipment that allows for recording and live streaming of both City Council and Planning and Zoning Meetings and the development of City of Pearland Brand Identity Guidelines are some of my accomplishments over the years.

When I first came to Pearland, City Departments had a variety of marketing collateral without a unified voice or common look and feel. Building from the brand knowledge that I acquired from my time at both CenterPoint Energy and Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star, I focused on enhancing the brand by developing guidelines to ensure that every communications piece produced by a City Department met established quality standards. While not always the most popular because of my efforts to track down collateral pieces that did not meet brand standards and redo them, I worked diligently towards the goal of ensuring quality communications.

In my time working for the City, I have revamped the offerings provided on Pearland TV. When I arrived, Pearland TV was a rotating slideshow with limited video. I researched and supervised the installation of a new operating system and worked to find additional avenues of which the City could provide video offerings to residents. Now, the City receives video from multiple sources and has an on-staff Videographer/Editor. And, soon, with the completion of the City Hall remodel, we will live stream directly to social media and have our very own studio, which in itself will allow for even more programming opportunities.

In 6 years, I have created, defined and advanced the City's social media presence. Prior to my arrival, the City of Pearland did not have a social media presence. I created each one of Pearland's six social media pages with targeted messaging for residents. It always makes me laugh when community partners request use of our social media pages to promote their programs/services because I know that it wasn’t long ago that we didn’t have those outlets and it also speaks to the success of our social media presence. In the past 2 years, I completed an in-depth social media audit, which provided tangible insight that will now take our social media platforms to new heights.

Emergency communications is also something I can now think about. Hurricane Harvey was one of the first real tests of communicating in an emergency that I had with the City. And, while there is always room for improvement, overall, I believe that the City of Pearland Communications Department was well equipped to communicate with residents because we had all the tools, an emergency communications plan and trained staff in place.

When I first joined the City, I had one direct report, but, now, I have four. I've watched as the Communications Department staff have gone from providing limited marketing and communications support to now serving in fully functional communications generalist roles. Not only has the department grown, I have grown, and that growth is reflected in my completion of the program at Texas Christian University's, Bob Schieffer College of Communication to become a Certified Public Communicator. The output of the program is a 3-year strategic communications plan that has guided the direction of communications for the City.

And, more recently in the receipt of my Accreditation in Public Relations. To achieve the APR certification, public relations professionals must be seasoned professionals with five or more years of public relations experience and pass both a two-hour oral presentation panel and a four-hour computer-based examination administered by the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB), which is an alliance of eight national and statewide professional associations dedicated to furthering the field of public relations and the development of public relations professionals.

So, it’s been a long, but successful 6 years and one can only guess what the next several years will bring, but, I am certainly up for the task. Cheers to 6 years and the path forward. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Make the case for a staffing increase

One of the questions I get often about managing a small communications department is related to staffing. More specifically, I am often asked, how did you grow your team from two to five in four and a half years? My answer is always, I justified the need for additional staff with senior management.

I first began by looking closely at every line item in the department budget. This allowed me to see where I could find funding for contract staff. Because I manage a department that is responsible for a municipal channel, I new we needed a contract videographer. And, because we didn’t have brand guidelines when I began work for my current employer, nor any of the core policies that most communications department already have in place, I knew we needed graphic design support.

After careful review of the budget, I had a small contract budget for both videography and graphic design work. I used a contractor for nearly two years before I made the request to senior management to add a videographer on staff. In the request, I highlighted the successes of the contractor, which included more local programming, heightened presence on social media and an increase in the participation of our target audience in programs and services. Those tangible successes, led to the first addition of a staff member to my small communications department. We were then, a team of three, with a full time Videographer/Editor on staff.

About, six months later, we had new leadership of the municipality I work for. He had previously served in a communications role and understood the importance of good, solid communications. So, I guess my second piece of advice is, “Find your advocates.” Because he understood the role of a communications department, he supported my efforts to increase staff. There was a marketing position in another department and in an organizational restructure, he moved that position to the Communications Department, completely centralizing our communications structure, which increased our team by 1 more full-time staff member. And, shortly after, we added a part time position to increase our team to 5. Another thing I would point out, is that you must survey your current organization and look at individuals already doing the work. It could make sense for those individuals to be on your team. This will, however, depend on your current structure and how much time they are currently spending doing communications work. 

So, in short, it takes a little work to get more staff, well actually, a lot of work. But, make the justification, find your advocates, be able to show your successes and of course, do good work and you will be well on your way to getting the staffing support you need.