PR agencies could learn a lot from the Warriors, says a Celtics fan

Look, I don’t care about the Golden State Warriors.

My Boston sports blood runs strong and I’ll be a Celtics man ’til death, even though I live and work in the sunny Silicon Valley.

That said, my friendly neighborhood Warriors proved unstoppable once again this year. Led by a front office willing to invest in success, the Warriors have appeared in an amazing four straight NBA Finals, winning three, sweeping the last. I don’t care if LeBron goes for 70 against them, they just can’t lose.

They are a wonder to behold and there are some great business lessons a PR agency can learn from them.

1. Teamwork

Have you seen the Warriors pass the ball? They’re selfless.

Golden State’s league-leading 29.3 assists per game this season means everyone on the floor is engaged in supporting each other’s opportunities.

Most public relations agencies are bogged down in structure and definitely don’t want just anyone taking a big shot. By all means, have your Kevin Durant go for a jumper from the key when you need a bucket, but is it too much to ask for everyone on an account to have permission to speak with a client during the normal course of business? No, it’s not!

The Warriors show that when everyone’s getting touches, the team tends to be set up for an open look or slam dunk.

2. Helpfulness

Stepping up, even when it’s not your game, is essential in a run to glory.

It’s a backup player being thrust into the limelight and thriving in an unfamiliar role. It’s a coach moving a player to a new position, or asking for “less shots, more rebounds.” It’s the opposite of Malcolm Butler refusing to play slot for the Patriots in the last Super Bowl (I’m still salty, leave me alone).

For the Warriors, asking players to be helpful on the defensive end of the floor has translated to an efficiency rating ranked in the top third of teams in the league. Nobody on the team exemplifies this value more than Draymond Green, a defensive utility tool who has covered every single position on the floor. He’s an animal, I love it.

PR pros should be Greens, not Butlers. If an account lead justifiably asks someone on the account to inject some utility into their life, everyone else on the account should support that person in taking on the role adjustment.

The team is the thing. Always.

3. Curiosity

This is probably the first time that a basketball team has even been characterized as inquisitive. But the Warriors are as curious as George.

Consider Steph Curry’s constant stream of “imaginative” bank shots, runners, floaters, crossovers, and assists. Consider Steve Kerr’s openness to exploring, “What if I let the players’ coach for a game?” Consider Joe Lacob coming off a Game 7 loss to the Cavs in 2016 and thinking, “What if we took two of the best shooters in the game and then added a third,” then signing Kevin Durant.

PR agencies can foster a spirit of curiosity by encouraging employees to stretch and really dig into the industries of the accounts they cover with open minds. Hold discussions on why things are the way they are, and then work backward to see how a client might fit into that world in an unexpected way. Challenge the status quo to see if there’s actually a better way to deliver a company’s message. We’ve all heard the “adapt or die” mantra.

The Warriors show PR teams how to “explore and thrive.”

4. Flexibility

Flexibility in action for the Warriors is a low-key “next man up” attitude, where players like Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell were inserted into the lineup in the absence of injured mainstays and continue to help the team win.

The Warriors have had their share of injuries during this golden era, missing Curry, Durant, Andre Iguodala, and the departed Andrew Bogut for significant chunks of time, but there’s always been a player to fill in and keep the engine running. If you notice a crossover with the second Warriors principle, you’ve identified a Captain Obvious statement: Being flexible is helpful to everyone.

Similarly, PR agencies should understand that it’s a two-way street with clients, especially when it comes to activity volume, monthly retainers, or unexpected shifts in messaging needs or goals. Understand that no client fits perfectly into a cookie cutter mold, and maintain an open dialogue to ensure that your activities meet the real needs of your client as circumstances shift.

5. Passion

Passion for the game of basketball is the odor that gives “Roaracle” arena its funky smell. It’s embedded in the sweat of guys like Curry and Green, and literally makes the entire venue reek with its potency. There’s no way to fathom Steph practicing his circus shots as long as he does without acknowledging how much he obviously loves the game.

PR agencies should be passionate about the work they do, too. Passionate employees have that Roaracle stench about them, and clients can smell it.

6. Fun

Is any team having more fun than the Warriors on the floor? I know winning is fun, but take a look at the sheer joy on display when Steph does a shimmy or bernie. The Warrior commitment to fun explains why killer reputations survive things like the China Klay incident, why JaVale McGee is on their bench, and maybe even why Kevin Durant came on board.

Imagine work that feels like play. Wait, you’ve heard that one before? Me too, the Warriors embody it.

And PR agencies would do well to copy their winning playbook and encourage a culture of fun — where accomplishment is shared, camaraderie is cherished, and champions flourish.

*This article was originally published on Muckrack here.

Failing to Prepare = Preparing to Fail

In the tech industry as in all things, disaster is always within the realm of possibility: Be it earthquake or flood, product malfunction or sudden stock slide. Measured and timely communications during crises are often key to mitigating damage and sustaining company mission.

Having an established crisis communications plan “in case of emergency” is simply sensible. It requires establishing situational awareness within your organization and outlining how your company is going to solve problems quickly as a team. Who needs to make decisions? What is the process for response or outreach? What will determine resolution? A crisis communications plan is like an emergency preparedness kit — you may never have to use it, but you’ll be glad you have it if disaster strikes.

Here are three tips excerpted from my PR Daily article on how to stock your crisis communications emergency kit.

1. Assemble the team.

Effective crisis communications hinge on activating the right team members. Response team documentation should clearly identify decision makers and supply contact information, note approval hierarchies (and back-ups), and assign spokespeople (and back-ups).

A typical enterprise critical response team may be comprised of the entire c-suite (CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, CMO), as well as legal counsel, the HR lead, head of corporate communications and product and/or regional leaders, as appropriate.

Back-ups are key. Remember you are planning for a crisis; it’s fair to assume some team members will be unreachable.

2. Appraise the response.

Communications audits are great preparation for crafting crisis plans. Trust departmental instincts to identify experts and knowledge bases within key groups and seek their input. Be sure to poll outside partners about their concerns in the event of a crisis and exchange emergency contact information.

Response time in a crisis can be crucial, so developing pre-drafted and pre-approved communication materials will give you a head start when you need it.

3. Plan of action.

Your course of action when dealing with a crisis event will address an issue spectrum (a list of between 6 and 20 areas where the company is potentially vulnerable). When developing an issue spectrum, always begin with the most likely and most potentially damaging.

For example, if you are a cybersecurity firm operating in Miami, your top two crises on the spectrum might be getting hacked and getting hit by a hurricane. Even something as simple as a pre-written online statement, such as “We’re aware of a problem and will keep everyone posted as we gather more information,” should be ready to launch.

More comprehensive action plans will include detailed messaging, an FAQ, holding statements, a press release or media alert draft, a landing page, customer/partner communications templates, and sample social media posts for each issue on the spectrum.

A word of caution: Companies tend to focus heavily on obvious dangers and overlook important, but less conspicuous, potential crises. For example, commercial airlines have well-developed crisis playbooks for responding to a plane crash, but some carriers seemed ill-prepared in the face of customer service calamities.

A great way to ensure you aren’t neglecting to prepare for a solid issue spectrum is to analyze what has happened in the past to other companies — particularly competitors — and model how you’d respond in similar instances. While most organizations won’t need to engage in exercises as drastic as The New York Times’ recent crisis simulation, it is helpful for response teams to periodically engage in a little role-playing. You can also monitor media coverage of how other organizations deal with a particular crisis, note things that help or hurt, and practice running through some scenarios.

No two companies are completely alike, but everyone can learn from others’ experiences.

Truth Matters

One of the simplest definitions of truth is “the property of being in accord with fact or reality.” Unfortunately, you can’t scan the headlines these days without noticing that there is no longer anything simple about the concept.

We have algorithms that amplify outrage over veracity, provocation via abuses in programmatic advertising, mistrust of science, charges of fake news and citations of “alternative” facts — even AI that can learn to falsify video. Reality seems a little less real and finding the truth gets trickier by the day.

In tech PR as in all professional communications, we all have a part to play in defending the truth. This isn’t a problem that will be sorted out in search engines or negotiated in newsrooms. It extends to what we all post on our blogs, share on social media, choose to include in OpEds, PowerPoints, whitepapers, press releases…you name it. Here are three tips excerpted from an article I wrote for MuckRack on standing up for truth —both in tech PR and in life.

1. Be honest
Authenticity is priceless. If your client hopes to do or be something, go ahead and say so. But be transparent about where they are in that pursuit. Don’t inflate or misrepresent the situation just to spice up a story, advance a brand objective, or win some pageviews. A bent toward hyperbole is an affront to truth and can easily snowball into catastrophe. (Theranos, anyone?) Conversely, feel free to tout real value and successes far and wide. Openly share vetted and verified data and hard-won experience. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with staking a claim, so long as you back it up with facts.

2. Check your sources
Pause before you cite or share “found” content on social media or search engines: Do the links trace to valid data? Who are the sources? Where did referenced statistics or images come from? Assertions from screamy red-faced radio hosts and Macedonian teenagers may be entertaining to some, but that doesn’t make their screeds true — and their pronouncements most certainly do not carry the same weight as analysis from Gartner or Gallup or Pew. We can no longer rely on the notion that if anything seems too weird to be true, it probably isn’t. But if you come across something astonishing that the international press corps has somehow overlooked, Snopes it before you share it.

3. Do your duty
If you are a subject matter expert, please stand up. And if you work with an expert, nudge them into the debate.
Our world would be poorer if Carl Sagan never eviscerated pseudoscience, Marc Andreessen never suggested that software is eating the world, or Clayton Christensen never asked how to measure a life’s work. We need real research, real expertise, real analysis, real discourse.

In the words of Louis Pasteur, “knowledge belongs to humanity and is the torch which illuminates the world.” Do not let the flow of information fall to trolls and bots and no-nothings. Contribute genuine knowledge to the conversation and you are contributing to the cause of truth.

Why Charting Your Course Matters

Three Keys to Charting a Virtuous Course: Values Fuel the Mission Built on Vision

Most folks are familiar with the concept of a vicious circle, wherein actions form a feedback loop that ultimately returns to the starting point without any benefit having been achieved. Conversely, there is the virtuous circle (more aptly described as a virtuous “spiral”), wherein positive feedback serves to elevate ensuing action toward ever more favorable results. Vision, mission, and values protect us from pointless spinning and enable that virtuous journey.

Without a vision, you cannot manifest that which you hope to build. Without a mission, you have no goals upon which to build. Without values, you have no tools with which to build. Communication is essential in forging all three keys, so that you may know what you are trying to achieve, what you need to do to get there, and how you’re going to do it.

The more time and effort you put into communicating your vision, mission and values, the more likely you are to feel passionately about your work and thoroughly enjoy your career journey. At Sterling, we strive to ensure that every employee understands all three and that our team operates in lock step (healthy debate notwithstanding).

For those who don’t know Sterling, this is our vision:

To help shape a brighter future by creating awareness and preference for technologies that deliver positive societal impact.

But penning a statement is not sufficient: A vision also requires group alignment.

We foster alignment around Sterling’s vision by seeking out clients that work to address pressing societal issues with cutting-edge solutions. Ideally, they’re tech companies capable of changing our world for the better in areas that really matter to members of the Sterling team. Sometimes it’s a matter of professional interest; other times, the interest is highly personal.

For example, one of our clients has created a solution to enhance diabetes management. My brother has diabetes, as does a Sterling employee, so this technology is highly relevant to us at a very personal level.

Several Sterling employees have elderly parents/grandparents who stand to save time and money (and reduce exposure to contagions common in waiting rooms and pharmacies) via the efforts of another Sterling client — a company that has developed a telehealth platform to radically improve access to common prescriptions for recurrent health issues.

We also have a client creating advanced technologies aimed at protecting people, structures, and communities from floods and earthquakes. The vast majority of our employees live and work near the precarious California coast, so that one is near and dear to all our hearts.

I could list several more examples, but you probably get the picture by now.

Group alignment is sustained by communication. We spend significant time at our annual Sterling Summit talking about our vision, and we actively encourage employees to be on the lookout for interesting companies working on issues that resonate with them personally. Not every client we work with fits neatly within our vision parameters, but the majority do. And when we’re looking at potential new clients, we always ask ourselves if we could get passionate about promoting the technology solutions they’re developing.

As for defining the mission, here is Sterling’s statement:

Our mission is to help our technology clients stand up, stand out, and stand for something.

You can see how our mission directly feeds our vision of “helping shape a brighter future by creating awareness and preference for technologies that deliver positive societal impact.”

The way we achieve our mission is to design and deliver high-impact communications programs that compel not just interest, but action — unique programs and campaigns that generate great ROI and leave a lasting, positive impression.

Our Sterling values have proven very helpful in keeping us “on mission” and attracting candidates who will thrive at our company; they guide the way everyone who works at Sterling relates with colleagues, clients, and partners. The entire Sterling team collaborated to cement our core values, which was a very fun and valuable exercise. To keep our values top of mind at all times, we’ve woven them into our hiring process, included them in our performance discussion documents, and listed them on a huge graphic that covers an entire wall in our open office.

Activating a virtuous spiral isn’t complicated. Define what you hope to build. Make your goals clear. Seek alignment and reward behaviors consistent with your values. Do everything you can to keep your vision, mission, and values top of mind.

We’ve found that at Sterling, charting a virtuous course—by communicating vision, mission, and values across the entire organization—begets satisfying partnerships…and builds a team full of passionate, enthusiastic colleagues who actively contribute to a fun and vibrant workplace.

 

 

 

There Is No ‘I’ in Project Management

All the project management jokes I see indicate that project managers are universally hated. You hear a lot of complaints about nagging emails, endless meetings, spreadsheet worship, inflexibility, indifference, and general inhumanity. Only evil people could possibly fill such a role, right? But the definition of project management is simply “the discipline of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria.” That’s not exactly evil, especially if you agree that the operative words are “team” and “success.” And this definition outlines skills that most people will have to acquire and use during their careers — regardless of whether they ever carry an official “project manager” title.

Personally, I'd wish for projects that managed themselves. ;)

Personally, I’d wish for projects that managed themselves! 🙂

One of the things I’ve learned in my PM role for Sterling Communications’ creative department is that lots of folks serve as project managers in disguise. No matter your official title, if you train yourself to be communicative, proactive, detail-oriented, and organized, every team you work with will benefit greatly from your contributions. Here are some “evil-free” project management tricks of the trade to help you and your teams succeed: (more…)

Unleash Your SlideShare Marketing Ninja: 10 Steps to An Awesome SlideShare Presentation (Part 1)

In this two-part series, we’ll walk you through what it takes to become a SlideShare marketing ninja. In our first installment, we’ll highlight 10 steps to creating a great Slideshare presentation. In the second installment, we’ll show you how to actively market that great presentation to generate quality leads for your company.

SlideShare marketing can generate quality B2B leads.
SlideShare marketing is becoming increasingly important to B2B marketers.

SlideShare is quickly becoming a “must have” lead generation tool for B2B marketers, and already more than 40% of B2B marketers use SlideShare for marketing. We have clients who generate more leads from SlideShare than any other source. SlideShare now averages 60 million unique visitors a month and is the 120th most visited website in the world. If SlideShare is not part of your marketing mix, you may be missing out on what could be one of your most valuable, and cost-effective, marketing channels. Here are 10 tips on creating a great SlideShare:

(more…)

Silicon Valley: Ideas “R” Us

"Silicon Valley" premieres on PBS on February 5th.

“Silicon Valley” premieres on PBS on February 5th.

At the Sundance Film Festival last week, one of the most buzzed-about screenings was that of the new Steve Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher. With a second Jobs movie in the planning stage, scripted by Aaron Sorkin from the Walter Isaacson bestseller, Silicon Valley is becoming an entertainment locus for stories as well as the new digital technologies changing how movies are made.

Sorkin kick-started it with The Social Network. Who would have thought a movie about the Internet could be so captivating? Geek culture is suddenly glam. Bravo tried a really bad (in my opinion) “reality” series called Start-Ups: Silicon Valley although most of the 20-something entrepreneurs worked and partied in San Francisco. Mike Judge is currently casting a comedy for HBO called Silicon Valley, which I imagine will have a sensibility similar to that of Office Space, his cubicle-dweller classic.

These shows have dipped a toe in fact but were primarily fiction. If you want insight to the true stories of the pioneers of Silicon Valley —and why they still matter— you have to go back in time much farther than Zuckerberg or even Jobs, to the late Eisenhower era of white button-down shirts, skinny ties, and square black-framed glasses.

On Tuesday, February 5th, PBS will debut a new documentary as part of the American Experience series called —you guessed it— Silicon Valley. It’s the story of the engineers working in the valley’s first semiconductor companies, the ones who put the silicon in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley is a hub of immigrants. I know very few second-generation residents, let alone third-generation ones. Most people who live here know only the barest historical facts about the place. They know of the Gold Rush and the Beats and the Summer of Love in San Francisco, but not the details of how a valley of fruit orchards transformed into office parks in just a quarter-century. They may have heard of the HP garage, but not the Shockley lab or Fairchild Semiconductor — the centerpieces of the documentary.  The reason this is important is that 55 years after the “Traitorous Eight” abandoned Shockley Semiconductor to set up Fairchild, Silicon Valley remains the center of innovation. New data from the Brookings Institution shows that the metropolitan area covering San Francisco south to San Jose, including both sides of the Bay, achieved over 16,000 patents per year on average from 2007 to 2011. The next runner up was the New York metro area with fewer than 7,000. Ideas “R” Us, indeed.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, you can watch Silicon Valley on KQED-TV (Channel 9) at 8:00 p.m., followed at 9:30 p.m. by the 2011 documentary Something Ventured: Risk, Reward and the Original Venture Capitalists, which sheds light on the development of a parallel industry without which the start-up culture could not flourish.

I frequently hear people lament they’ve missed a TV show and then query if it’s available on Netflix. Because Silicon Valley is broadcast on PBS, you’ll be able to catch it at least six times this month on multiple PBS stations (KQED repeats its programs on at least three different channels). Most American Experience documentaries are eventually streamed in their entirety via the PBS website, too, although currently only the 16-minute first chapter is available.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the high tech industry and some of its colorful pioneering personalities, I strongly recommend Robert X. Cringely’s classic Accidental Empires in both its 1992 book and 1996 PBS documentary forms. Cringlely will shortly begin a “reboot” of the book by serialization on his blog, as preparation of a new annotated edition and eBook. I read the book and watched the TV series 15 years ago, when I was planning my move to Silicon Valley, and it got me excited to visit Mountain View and Menlo Park. Yes, really!

Lisa Hawes can be reached at lhawes@sterlingpr.com. Follow Lisa on Twitter @lisakayhawes.