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American Idol had it all wrong by asking contestants to sing Billy Joel tunes this week.  Even though he was 24 years old when The Piano Man was released, Billy Joel was not your typical 20-something – certainly not like this year’s Idol contestants.  By then, he had earned his stripes as a lounge singer, healing his wounds from a first album failure.

Plus, you have to consider the idea that Billy Joel’s ’24′ is not the same as yours and mine – that dude is an old soul with a lot of layers.  Which is perhaps why Garth Brooks performing New York State of Mind with Billy Joel and Barry White’s take on Just The Way You Are works…

Aside from wanting to share some old footage of Barry White, there is a marketing communications lesson here: don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole.

American Idol tried to make its contestants (square peg) sing songs that just weren’t (in my humble opinion) suited to their strengths (round hole).  These contestants have some very strong voices – something that may be better suited for the likes of Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Marc Anthony and the like.  You don’t need a powerhouse voice to perform a Billy Joel song – his music doesn’t require vocal gymnastic.  I believe that the more you add on, the less ‘Joel’ you get.

As a marketing communications pro, you should never try to fit your square peg into a round hole – epsecially if you’ve delivered at a  certain level on other projects.  Case in point: when I was in New York, I worked with this one guy who could write just about anyone under the table – he was fast, smart and very creative at re-working dull copy.  The one time we let him speak to the client was enough to give him the opportunity to decline future meetings – the dude was sweating, stammered his way through a few sentences and looked shifty.  He was so nervous that it just presented an inaccurate portait of his strengths.

Squre Peg | Round Hole.

This is not to say that you should stay in your square peg world.  Nay Nay.  You should definitely try new things and strengthen what weaknesses you may have.  But to put yourself out there as being able to perform at the same level with *everything* that comes with the gig…is…a…mistake.  Know when to ask for help; seek advice; get a mentor; and lean on your team.  That’s what they are there for!

So, when was the last time you saw a ‘square peg in a round hole’ situation?  Have *you* ever put yourself into a ‘square peg | round hole’ situation?

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I remember the time I went through my first fire drill. I was finger painting in kindergarten and having a good ole time.  No doubt I was probably doing what I thought to be a rendition of Hong Kong Phooey or the Lone Ranger(both great heroes in their own right, in my humble opinion).

I was so shocked by the noise and the flurry of activity that I began to wipe the paint on my clothes to hurry myself outside. And of course, then came the questions from my mom: “What happened to your clothes?”

Fire drills are important – they get kids used to the idea of orderly exits in case of an emergency and ultimately aim to keep them safe.

In the business of communications, the need for a “fire drill” can be equated to needing a crisis plan in place. Although not quite as simple as school’s fire drill, having a crisis plan serves the same purpose: to keep everyone in the company (including its reputation) safe.

Not everyone agrees with this… before it hits the fan, that is.

Tiger Woods took things into his own hands by saying NOTHING when he had his accident not too long ago. He avoided the press, refused to make a statement and just stayed out of sight. This kind of attitude BEFORE this incident made him come off as mysterious or unattainable – like a hard-to-get kind of prospect. Not realizing that his circumstances were quite as big as they were, this same demeanor made him look like he was hiding something…

…or guilty of something.

You can also see this kind of attitude with the current housing crisis. A lot of builders went into duck-n-cover mode – quite a PASSIVE move if you ask me. Especially since this kind of climate serves as a great opportunity for homebuilders to identify themselves as homeowners, reconsider their plans and RETHINK their efforts – not pull back. The smart brands kept their chips in: they stayed in the game with different messages, new incentives and, ultimately made themselves part of the conversation.

I can go into other examples, but… you get the point.

Keeping all this in mind, following are my top tips for whenever you have to develop a crisis management plan.

1. Prepare contingency plans – like we did as kids with the fire drills, we have to

  • Know what to do.
  • How to do it.
  • When.
  • How to behave.

2. Move swiftly; unlike Tiger and BP, this is no time to hide out or “ride the storm.”

  • Take charge of the situation by making yourself the focal point.
  • Speak with the press.
  • Use your online presence.

3. Adapt & change; keep yourself loose and flexible. Things happen, and change, in times like these: long hours…emotions.

4. Give accurate & correct information.

  • Don’t provide “shades” of the truth.
  • Keep it real.
  • Be a resource.

5. Be yourself – people and the press respond to a human being that is both emotional and rational. Plus, it immediately humanizes and puts a face to the situation.

What other tips would you recommend?  How have your “fire drills” helped your clients?

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This post was cross-posted on Waxing Unlyrical – a blog that is owned and operated by the wonderfully savvy and smart Shonali Burke.


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As you may have read in a previous post, I recently completed a Triathlon…and although it was great to have actually completed this feat, it brought out more of my competitive spirit that had not been seen since I made All State in High School Soccer (yes…soccer).  One of my cohorts told me that if there was any type of competitiveness in me, doing a TRI would certainly bring it out!  Sure enough, I’m prepping myself to be stronger, faster and more focused this next go-round.

Which brings me to this big point that I want to share: one of the biggest things I learned about myself in that race is that I need to keep it mental.  I know this because I ran into issues with

  • The Unknown: it was my first race.  And regardless how many books I may have read, advice I received from seasoned athletes, training I had under my belt, it was all new.  Transitions, the amount of people in my way, bubbles underwater during the swim – although it was great, it was unchartered territory for me.
  • Intimidation: hey, it was my first race…This rarely happens to me as I’m one to do everything I can to get myself prepped.  But seeing these athletes with their bikes, cool looking tri-tops and (let’s face it) triathlete-looking physiques.  I’m no slouch, but certainly not going to gracing any magazine covers (yet).
  • Pacing: come on now, it was my first race…!  Excitement and nerves got the best of me in certain spots – I lost good form, my flow was a bit off and I let little things get the best of me too often.  Had to keep reminding myself to stay calm and carry on to reach my happy race place.

For some, getting mental means getting in that zone where you have everything set and prepared.  For me, it means that I’ve prepared enough to stay loose and be flexible with whatever may come my way…

Be it in a race or with business, it pays to keep it mental.  You will always have moments where things are completely new to you; when you’re not the smartest person in the room; or when you’re so nervous that your hands get clammy, you start stuttering or speed through to the end of a presentation.

Get mental. Do your prep work. Find out who’s going to be in the board room and get some background info on all the players. Breath.  Pace yourself. Breath some more.  Find your ‘loose + easy Homer’ place and keep it all in perspective.

What do you do to keep it mental? How do you handle the unknown?

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Music…Sweet Music.

Whenever I think of chamber music, I think of Haydn, Beethoven or Mozart – beautiful stuff, but something I *really* have to be in the mood for.  Don’t get me wrong – their compositions have everything I look for in music: passion, depth and that element of surprise.  But you’ll be hard-pressed to find me say something like, “Hey, the Dallas Symphony is going to have a chamber music series this year – we should check it out!” It’s just not my vibe.

Nay Nay.

Then I ran across Project Trio.

Three guys from Brooklyn that bill themselves as “passionate, high energy chamber music ensemble.”  Since one of the guys is a Dallas native…AND…since we spent a little over seven years in Cobble Hill (yes, Brooklyn), I thought I’d give em’ a look see.

Aside from the obvious, here’s why I like em’…

  • They’ve taken their music to a whole new type of audience – the kind people that can jam with and appreciate the street musicians in New York City.
  • They’ve introduced chamber music by serving their own brand of jelly to the masses.
  • They look like the blue man group jamming when they play – especially in this video.

Moreover, their music has hit me on a personal level.  And, quite honestly, isn’t that what we want music to do?

Here’s the Thing: Business communications can do just that. Just because you sell supplemental insurance, it doesn’t mean that you have to ‘sell’ supplemental insurance.  Look at what AFLAC has done with that darn duck…what Nike does by just doing it…jeez, looks at what Apple does with……just about everything.

They’ve reached new audiences, introduced new ways of looking at their products and created an identity that is hard to forget…all because they realized that it’s not a product that they’re selling – it’s a brand.  A brand that has a sense of humor, runs, jumps & jives. A brand that represents companies full of humans – not products.

Let’s face it communicators: at the end of the day, we don’t really have to help our clients become an American Idol for the masses.  Our job is to help them deliver a great song for their audiences.


What kind of music are you making today?

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This concoction was cross-posted on Waxing Unlyrical – a blog that is owned and operated by the wonderfully savvy & smart Shonali Burke.

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This past week, I gave a presentation to the Dallas IREM group about the importance of giving the implementation of social networking a second look.  Before I set foot at the place, I knew that the crowd I was going to speak with would be

 

  • a bit more conservative

  • a bit more skiddish about getting involved with social networking

  • a bit more unaware (than the ‘average bear’) on how this tool can potentially help them

  • a bit older than the average audience I’m used to speaking with

But I knew that they’d be open to hearing me out and taking notes……cautiously. 

 

So, I did what I knew: I told them that one of the best ways to tap into social media could be done by channeling Jimi Hendrix (you can see a copy of the unanimated version here).

 

At first glance, you’d think I was crazy for trying to do such a thing for this kind of audience.  Quite frankly, it got me a little nervous presenting this information in that kind of way.  But my experience and instincts told me 3 things:

  1. Music is a great way to help the social networking medicine go down.

  2. Using Jimi Hendrix as an example would get ME revved up.

  3. Using Jimi Hendrix would (hopefully) get THE AUDIENCE revved up.

 

And it paid off: not only was the audience engaged, but they really began to grasp what I was telling em.’  Go figure. 

 

So what does this all mean for you?  Whether you’re writing materials for a new client, gearing up for a new business pitch or hammering out some facts for a presentation to your peers…

 

Know Your Audience: the fact that they were there to hear some dude talk about social media points to the obvious fact that they are at least curious about it; so there’s room for being a little ‘different.’  I also knew that I was going to be part of one of the last presenters for the day, so I had to punch up the presentation.  Given the fact that the audience was a bit older, I bet on the idea that they would not only know who Jimi Hendrix was, but (at the very least, even if they didn’t like his music) that there was a certain amount f respect for what he did.

 

Know What Works For You: the idea of presenting to an audience about how his music inspired me  to think a little differently in business got me excited – this led to an energy and enthusiasm to ‘get it right’ in a way that naturally seeped into the slides.  I wasn’t going to talk analytics or measurement (Shonali Burke, Chuck Hemann, K.D. Paine or Don Bartholomew would be better suited for that) – I was going to hone in on showing the value of a person using ‘their own swing’ when they go up to bat in social networking.

 

Know Your Stuff: as you get ready to speak with a client; present an idea to your peers; or talk about why you believe why using something like Foursquare may be just the ticket for an event, you want to have some back-up right?  Because people are going to ask questions.  Why do you think this will benefit us?  How are other organizations using this?  Do you have any stats or research to back this up?

 

Because at the end of the day, you don’t have to be a rock star like Jimi Hendrix to have that kind of influence – even if it’s on a ‘small’ scale.

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This post was cross-posted on Waxing Unlyrical – a blog that is owned and operated by the wonderfully savvy and smart Shonali Burke.

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Just yesterday, the always irreverent and uber creative guys from DEVO released ‘Something for Everybody’ – their first studio album in 20 years.  You can hear these frolicky, biting and catchy tunes at ColbertNation.com or at Spinner

What I really dig about these guys is that they are a prime example of artists that didn’t even approach the idea of homogenizing their look, sound performances to reach a ‘mass audience.’  In a time when, across the board, album sales are lagging and record execs are trying to get their next ‘American Idol’ to cash in on (even if it’s just for a limited amount of time), it’s great to see someone hit the ground with a DEVOlutionized thud.

Whether they got help (from their creative team, their fans, etc.) on any of these ideas or not, DEVO reeks of fringe-spirit and originality…

  • They had a ‘cat party’ yesterday to celebrate its new album
  • The Everybody Face masks are cool…and kinda scary-looking
  • They launched an ‘Official Song Study’ for the album. The band posted portions of each of the tracks they recorded for the album and asked fans to rank and vote about which songs would appear on the final full length.
  • DEVO released yesterday the first in a five-part web “reality” series that documents the making of the album, a few live performances and their flirtation with corporate marketing culture (among other things)

My point in all of this is that creativity comes in many, many forms.  And it can come at any time.  Open yourself up to being a little creative in work – especially if you think you’ve found a way to make things a little better.  Push a little harder for your idea – the worst thing ‘the man’ can tell you is no.  And don’t let something as limiting as ‘age’ or fear hold you back from exploring the new.  It works in music; it works in art; and it certainly works in business. 

It could be that one thing that leads you to something so fresh.

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Not too long ago, the illustrious and ever-so-kind Tim Gunn was on the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson promoting the newest season of Project Runway. Among the ‘usual things’ they chatted about (fashion, the new contestants, Aqua Man), Tim touched on something that really has application for just about every type of business: The Monkey House.

Tim & Craig joked about how (and I am paraphrasing here) staying too long in the monkey house can make you believe that the foul odor you’re smelling really isn’t all that bad. Now, yes, they were joking about how some folks in the TV industry can be a little smarmy and not the most up-and-up sort of business men and women (hello, Conan). But what they brought up rings true in communications, financial services, technology, whatever.

Truth is, we all have our monkey house moments …

  • times when we compromise our standards for the ‘greater good.’
  • the occasion when you shook your head when some knucklehead blurted out something tasteless or just dumb in the boardroom.
  • the instant you find yourself defending some crap move that an executive made.

There are so many things out of our control and way too many variables that come into play when it comes to business. HOWEVER, the way we conduct ourselves and how we respond to such monkey house moments speaks volumes on our character. I’m not saying that you should start packing up the moment you smell the ickyness getting flung around in your office.

 

But you should be part of the solution that reduces the smell, stops the flow or hauls it out.

 

When was the last time you had a monkey house moment in your office? What do you do to keep the Monkey House away from your team?

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Filmmakers come and go – some have the staying power to make a real career out of it, while most fizzle out after a few films.  As a lead player in cinema, until you’ve earned some street cred in the business, studios and executives look for any kind of upward trend in your work – even though you were well-received in your last feature, you could very well tank (hard) in your next flick.  This is why veterans always tell newcomers that you’re only as good as your last picture. 

One filmmaker that has earned his stripes (and then some) is Martin Scorsese.  He has not only made a career out his cinematic ventures, Mr. Scorsese has made his name synonymous with brilliant movies.  And even though he’s got some interesting eccentricities like never really wanting to go to Central Park and is listed as one of 50 people barred from entering Tibet, Martin Scorsese can teach us a thing or two in PR.

Martin Scorsese is

  • a consummate student – his knowledge of films is encyclopedic and his mastery of various techniques is remarkable…the guy served a tour of duty at NYU and taught the likes of Oliver Stone and Spike Lee.  Moreover, Mr. Scorsese’s love of films has led him to establish The Film Foundation to promote the preservation and appreciation of film history.

Regardless where you may be in your career, there is ALWAYS time to learn something new in PR.  Yes, you have to stick to the basic tenets of public relations…and, yes, you have to be a strong writer…but there will always be a new way to skin that communications cat – it’s our job to find out how we can leverage their power for our company / client(s) and be smart about using these tools…wisely.

Be it from our clients, bosses, colleagues, whatever – working in PR can be a bit stressful.  There’s a lot to handle and it has to be done in a timely manner – now more than ever.  Who the heck has time to breathe…?…YOU DO.  This is not rocket science and it’s not like we’re working on a cure to end world hunger.  Yes, it’s important, and yes, there is a great deal of value that we bring to the table; but the work we do is not so imperative that you can’t take a break or get some perspective by having a laugh or two at your own expense.

  • always trying new things in his work – from directing Michael Jackson’s Bad video, to a film like The Age of Innocence and then onto Casino takes a tremendous amount of stretching…not only from the dynamics of the actors he had to work with, but from a storytelling perspective as well. 

Hold fast to the tried and true methods of communicating your ideas, both internally and externally; but explore these new social media devices that are well within your reach.  Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, CrowdCampaign – they are easy to use, manageable and effective in communicating your client’s / company’s message.

 

So go out there and be the ‘Good Fella’ in your PR team.  Keep refining your methods & approach… never get ‘too big for your britches’ and keep yourself in ‘sponge mode’ – there’s always more to do in the Scorsese School of PR.

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This post was cross-posted on Waxing Unlyrical - a blog that is owned and operated by the very savvy and smart Shonali Burke.  I want to thank Shonali for opening up her readers to some Method + Moxie, as well as sharing some ‘real estate’ online.  I look forward to working with her again (in any capacity) in the very near future.

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sell-out peanut butterI wasn’t even 11 years old when MTV went live…this was back when it actually played music videos 24/7.  The fact that it launched on August 1, 1981 did me no good, as it was the latter part of Summer in San Antonio, TX – it gets HOT in San Antone in August, ya’ll.  So I was glued to the TV set, watching (and in most cases, memorizing) videos from artists like Pat Benatar, Adam Ant, Talking Heads and Blondie.

 

And even though I had already grown to appreciate (what I consider) good music, this new music channel ‘amped up’ my fondness for a solid song and the players that made me tap my toes and, at times, bang my head.  I mean, these were songs with the people who actually cut the records performing (sometimes ‘acting’) for the cameras…..24 hours a day.

 

How Cool Is Was That?!

 

But by the time the mid-80’s rolled around, I had come to realize, right about the time I was 15, that while some bands ‘evolve’ with their music, other’s SELL OUT.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong - some people really like this song and video.  It’s a good song…and they seemed to have gained more fans because of it; but it’s certainly not what the band built its reputation on.  Cause you can’t tell me that from where the Crüe began with this and this, that they weren’t just doing it to get more money and airplay.  It was a harsh reality for me to face: people and their vision (if they’re open to this ‘idea’) can be bought, repackaged and made ‘more edible’ for consumers.

 

Street cred is something that cannot be denied – and the Crüe lost a bit of it when they went down that path.  These days, brands like Motrin, Pepsi and KFC lose their street cred because they try to play ‘Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room’ when they should be jamming to ‘Live Wire.’  When trying to take a bigger share of the market with a new idea/product/look interferes with your judgment, you’re in for some trouble.  It’s good to venture out and develop something that adheres to a company’s principles – heck, it’s advisable.  Look at what Apple has done with just about all of its products – when you hold true to your brand’s foundation, you can build just about anything on it.

 

sellout teeAnd as communications professionals / consultants / advisors, we need to be ready and willing to tell our clients when they start to experiment with a new idea that jeopardizes their brand’s character and esteem.  When is the last time you’ve witnessed a client trying to ‘Smoke in the Boy’s Room’…?  What can you say to a client if/when they begin to sell out for popularity or money?

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led zeppelinI’ve been thinking a lot about how so very exciting it is to be a communicator these days – with the proliferation of new ideas and methodologies (be it from Brian Solis & Deirdre Breakenridge’s new work to Richard Laermer’s 2011, or Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff’s Groundswell) in this new millennium, this 21st Century network known as social media has only enhanced and extended the reach of these kinds of ideas.

 

Moreover, it’s pretty much opened up the idea (even though it was always there) and likelihood of multiple practices in communications to work together for one common goal.  Who knew…?  Changes are a comin’…quite frankly, it’s been a long time comin.’ 

 

But there are still some people that insist that we have this one-off approach where camps are sectioned off and people are ‘brought in at the right time.’  Seems like more ‘process’ than real action to me.

 

Funny enough, though, every time I think about this 21st Century version of collaborative communications, I think of a 20th Century band – Led Zeppelin.

 

 

Of course, I’m a little biased, but I see it this way:

 

Robert Plant (Lead Vocals) – Taking on the role of lead vocals, public relations can help define and lead the charge of a communications effort.  Like Robert Plant’s vocals in the beginning of Immigrant Song can help sound the charge of a new effort. 

Jimmy Page (Lead Guitar) – Like Jimmy Page, social media is helping to change the way things are being done in communications.  Engaging, fun, compelling – all cornerstones of a good social media campaign…and true descriptions of Señor Page.

John Paul Jones (Bass) – Gritty, driving and in-your-face, guerilla marketing can help move people in new ways to discover a product or idea.  Like John Paul Jones, this marketing tool is particularly versatile.

John Bonham (Drums) – Led Zeppelin’s drummer was a key element (both emotionally and in their sound), providing the solid foundation and backbone of the band.  Like advertising, his powerful beats and distinctive ‘feel for the groove’ made their sound that much more unique and impactful.

 

Now, this is just four tools in the marketing toolbox.  What other tools/practices would you include in this 21st Century scenario?  What other music acts would you compare collaborative communications to?

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