What are you afraid of?

The days get shorter. The nights get chillier. Pumpkins appear on porches. All across America, spider webs are strung and ghoulish figures flutter in the breeze. It can mean only one thing.

Halloween is upon us.

’Tis the season to revel in all that is spooky and dreadful — culminating in one great national night of fright. Estimates suggest 172 million people will collectively celebrate the holiday on October 31st with candy, creepy costumes, haunted houses, and jump scares. Halloween is an American institution.

And it’s not just for kids. Halloween has become an increasingly popular holiday among adults. As sociologist Linus Owens has noted, “Halloween, with its emphasis on identity, horror, and transgression, can tell us about who we want to be and what we fear becoming.”

Festival of Fear
While the scary spirit of Halloween is generally good fun, the observance is based on something most people are pretty uncomfortable confronting.


Psychology Today explains that “fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger” with strong roots in human evolution. Our innate fight-or-flight responses aided us in mastering dangerous environments, avoiding harm, and ensuring the survival of our species.

A healthy amount of fear still helps us stay safe and motivates us to manage life’s difficulties.

But there are many manifestations of fear — and not all of them are beneficial.

Since 2013, Chapman University in Southern California has annually conducted a national Survey of American Fears, reporting last year that the extent to which Americans are afraid, in general, “appears to be on the rise.”

Clinical fear disorders can cause serious health damage in numerous ways, but even less-lethal fears can take a pernicious toll on personal development and quality of life.

Fear Factors
According to sociologist Margee Kerr, “The biggest source of fear is often related to the workplace.” This type of fear can manifest in excessive focus on avoiding failure or making mistakes; aversion to public speaking, networking, or contributing during meetings; reluctance to ask for help; or even relinquishing vacation or sick time.

What we fear is being vulnerable to judgment, ridicule, rejection. The result is unnecessarily self-limiting behavior that can prevent you from acquiring new skills, experiencing greater fulfillment, and reaching your full potential.

Facing Fear
It should come as no surprise that fear is the subject of numerous TED Talks, the global clearinghouse of inspirational speakers presenting their powerful ideas. One of my favorites on dealing with insidious work-related fear is author Tim Ferris discussing why you should define your fears instead of your goals.

define your fear

Ferris advocates for Fear Setting exercises aimed at recalibrating your perception.

The exercise is pretty simple: For whatever it is that you’re putting off or are afraid of doing, he proposes creating a “What if I….” list. Define what you fear will happen, determine how you might prevent the likelihood of each negative outcome, and imagine how you could repair damage if it did occur.

Next, make a list of the benefits of even partial success at doing what you fear. For example, could it build your confidence or help you develop a new skill?

Finally, sketch out an answer to the question: “If I avoid this action or decision, what might my life look like in 6 months, 12 months, or 3 years?”

Fear Setting is designed to strip inhibiting fears of their power. And perhaps most importantly, it encourages shifting focus to the cost of inaction.

As Ferris says, “Humans are very good at considering what might go wrong if we try something new…what we don’t often consider is the atrocious cost of the status quo — of not changing anything.”

With Halloween approaching, it’s the perfect time to question what scares you and whether it is holding you back. It just may give you the courage to speak up about your ideas, ask for that promotion, or finally try something you’ve always wanted to do.

Canine culture coup

At Sterling, where we revel in an uncommon devotion to tackling tough challenges and breaking down barriers, a flourishing company culture is vital to our work. In the search for a Chief People Officer, we needed a leader who not only understood our purpose, but could elevate our true passion for communication, storytelling, and translating ideas into world-changing brands.

We are thrilled to announce that we have expanded our incredible team to include not one, not two, but THREE new Chief People Officers. Buster, Kaya, and Pachi bring a combined 18 years of experience in nurturing, enabling, and empowering individuals to achieve their highest potential. Most importantly, each new hire aligns closely with the core values that are the heartbeat of our company’s identity: teamwork, helpfulness, curiosity, accountability, flexibility, passion, and fun.

With these exciting additions, our executive team is nearly 50% canine! The results have been unfathomable — our company culture is thriving and our team is more engaged than ever before. Without ever uttering a word, Buster, Kaya, and Pachi consistently deliver three simple, yet indispensable lessons:

1. Your energy is contagious

Buster at Sterling Communications

You may understand we are all social creatures, but are you putting it into action? As Buster, half Chihuahua, half Pekingese, sprints from desk to desk, our stern, focused faces melt away. He translates his positive energy into festive fun. Ask yourself: What influence are you having on those around you? Whether you work at a boutique PR agency or a huge corporation, every single team member makes an impact on the collective workplace culture.

Simply put — your presence influences the people around you, of that you have no choice. But each day we decide how we are showing up. And how you contribute to your community is just as important as what you contribute. What Buster does effortlessly, we humans must do intentionally.

Own your presence and shape your impact.

2. Remember to paws pause

Kaya at Sterling

How can you fuel creative energy in others if your own well is running dry? It’s easy to recognize the value of taking a break, but it only becomes a precious life skill when you put it into practice regularly. German Shepard Kaya practices the art of rejuvenation with expertise. She leads by example — her leisurely socializing, afternoon naps, and delight in frolicking among the wildflowers remind the rest of us to revitalize ourselves with strolls outside, mid-day stretches, and lunchtime potlucks.

Much of your intellectual capacity remains untapped if you are always working on auto-pilot. A five-minute break in your routine can refocus a chaotic day, enhance an idea, and improve your state of mind. Make time to rejuvenate and the work will get done with less resistance.

Replenish yourself and thrive.

3: Communicate with radical transparency

Pachi at Sterling Communications

Pachi, like most pugs, excels at making himself heard. He sets an unparalleled standard for honest communication in the office, revealing his mood and feelings openly and clearly.

It’s a bit more difficult for humans to practice the art of communication with such purity.

Pachi reminds us that verbal clarity, skilled listening, and acute awareness of nonverbal messages are essential in connecting with others.

As demonstrated in the nuances of his canine vocabulary — whines, growls, barks, and yips — we can improve our communication with others by listening to their tone of voice, tuning into their body language, and offering our undivided attention to their transmission of words and emotions.

Communication is an art worthy of mastery.

Three superlative lessons for humans imparted by three canine authorities, who could ask for better work advice! If you know of any canines interested in board positions, please send them our way. Oh, and Happy April Fools’ Day from all of us at Sterling Communications!

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.