How to Be Social

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Every communicator – and every leader – has to be social.

It’s not a matter of IF you’re going to engage with social media, but of HOW.

To be effective, to be relevant and to have influence, you need a personal social strategy. Just as organizations need a social strategy.

And while your personal strategy is just that, by linking it with your company’s efforts you’ll maximize the impacts.

“Learn by doing” is a great guiding philosophy.

One of my superstar team members, Tyler Jacobson, shared this with me when my family made a college visit to his alma mater, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Students were involved in hands-on learning in whatever department we went to on campus, from agriculture to engineering and from business to communications.

It’s the same with social media. What you learn by doing in your own social involvement you can apply at your company. And you can teach others from your experience. Learning is the main reason I started this blog.

Begin with your company’s social media policy to learn the rules of the road. My comms team is responsible for company policies. So with leadership from Michael Ambrozewicz on my team, we created the company’s first social media policy a few years ago, collaborating with key stakeholders.

And we made sure to comply with the National Labor Relations Act‘s protection of the rights of employees to act together to address conditions at work.

It’s important to disclose your affiliation with your company, make it clear you aren’t an official spokesperson (unless of course, you are), and state that your opinions are your own.

Being “light, bright and polite” is a good idea. I realized I was following this mantra myself when Josh Ochs spoke to parents at our local high school this week about helping students engage appropriately with social media.

As a side note, this is an example of how I try to integrate my work life and my personal life, rather than attempt the impossible feat of balancing them. I think about how I can apply something I learned at work at home, and vice versa.

Another great speaker at my daughter’s high school this month was Tyler Durman. Although he spoke about parenting teens, his advice applied to any relationship.

He reminded me that when you want to build rapport, negotiate or solve a problem with someone, sit next to them rather than across from them. This validated a great research-based Harvard Business Review blog on presenting effectively to a small audience.

Everything interconnects. And it’s the same with social media.

In our community we’re blessed with great public and private schools. A few years ago I served as a trustee on the Peninsula Education Foundation, where we raise money for our public schools.

When our president asked me to spearhead the creation of a new strategic plan, I learned by doing. I put into practice my grad school study of Michael Porter and what I was learning in a McKinsey-led “Strategy 101” course at DIRECTV.

A key question from the course was, “what problem are you trying to solve?”

This can be the guiding principle to create and evolve a social strategy.

Some of the “problems” I’ve been solving through social media involvement are:

How do I . . .

  • Advise our CEO on launching a blog?
  • Find great speakers for leadership gatherings?
  • Help tell our corporate social responsibility story?
  • Improve my photo and video skills in our visual world?
  • Build a network of interesting and diverse people?
  • Pursue lifelong learning in my career?

Last year my colleague Michelle Locke asked me to succeed her as president of one of DIRECTV’s employee resource groups, the Women’s Leadership Exchange.

Its 1,000 members focus on building a culture that enhances the experiences of female employees. The group provides learning, networking and mentoring for both women and men.

One of my first tasks was to work with the steering committee on our speaker series. Our research yielded a wish list of people.

One of them was Gwynne Shotwell. She’s the COO of SpaceX, the innovative company that manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. SpaceX is shooting to enable people to live on other planets, such as Mars.

DIRECTV is also in the satellite business with the delivery of a premium video experience, and we’re a corporate neighbor of SpaceX in the South Bay of Los Angeles.

Both companies are encouraging more students to pursue STEM careers (see Gwynne’s TEDx talk, Engineering America, and the corporate citizenship work of Tina Morefield on my team). It seemed like a perfect fit.

The only problem?

I didn’t know Gwynne. And I didn’t know anyone who did.

Until I turned to LinkedIn. I searched for Gwynne’s profile. And saw we had 9 connections in common. One of them was a DIRECTV colleague, Phil Goswitz, our SVP of Video, Space & Communications, and Design Thinking.

An email I sent to Phil led to an email invite from Phil to Gywnne. Based on their connection, we heard a yes within hours. The only detail was to find a date.

That date was this week. That’s us with Gwynne in the photo – from left, Heesoon Kim, me, Phil, Gwynne, Katie Jenks, Lisa Pue Chinery and Laurie Lopez.

We had to bring in extra chairs for the unusually large group. Gwynne inspired us with her fearless approach to pursuing her passions – engineering and space.

Coworkers I see in our cafe, courtyard and conference rooms are telling me how inspired and energized they were by Gwynne’s talk. Even people who didn’t attend are buzzing about it.

And it happened in part thanks to social media. A topic I’ll explore in upcoming posts.

Internal = External

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An encouraging economic sign is the number of senior-level communications roles available at big companies.

It seems a week doesn’t go by without one or two CCO, SVP or VP level communications roles appearing in social media or email.

The position descriptions show how the reputation and impact of corporate communications have grown in recent years.

Common characteristics are “key member of the leadership team,” “contributing to competitive advantage” and “creating growth and sustainable shareholder value.”

One aspect that puzzles me, though, is the continuing demarcation between internal and external communications.

Position descriptions describe responsibilities such as “telling the strategic narrative of the company internally and externally,” “handling internal and external communications” and “focusing globally on all internal and external communications.”

Perhaps the intent is that there’s extensive integration between internal and external stakeholders – with employees on the internal side and customers, consumers, shareholders, government leaders, community members and more on the external side.

Yet it almost feels like a traditional church-and-state separation between employees and customers at a company or between editorial and advertising at a news outlet.

Oh sure, there are plenty of references to integrated communications among internal and external audiences, or stakeholders. And the lines are blurring between stakeholders, given the transparent and tech-enabled world we live in.

But I would argue that what’s internal is external. And what’s external is internal.

There is no longer any line, any barrier or any boundary separating them. There is no way to message only to a single stakeholder group.

All audiences must all be considered in developing an integrated communications plan. And while one audience may take precedence over another in any given sub-plan, they all must be assessed, considered and prioritized.

When a leader holds a town hall meeting with employees, it’s an internal communication, right? Well no, actually, if employees are tweeting content during the meeting or posting event photos on Instagram.

When a leader does an interview with a major news outlet, it’s an external communication, right? Well no, actually, because employees will be listening and reading too.

The natural reaction would be to focus on the negative implications in this.

What if an employee is tweeting sensitive company information during that town hall or posting inappropriate photos of it?

What if a leader is talking with a media outlet about business strategy that may come as an unsettling surprise to employees or customers?

And while those things could certainly happen, they can be and usually are mitigated by considering all stakeholders in those communications.

Beyond that, there’s a tremendous amount of upside potential in the convergence of stakeholder groups.

Employees can be the company’s greatest advocates and brand ambassadors outside the company.

They can attract new talent with their passion about why the company is an amazing place to work. They can share feedback on recruiting sites like Glassdoor, which posts an annual list of CEOs who are the most highly rated by their employees. And they can tell current and potential customers from firsthand experience what a great product or service the company provides.

Coverage in traditional media and social media can reach well beyond the primary audience too.

Employees are consumers of news and social media just like any other audience. They set Google alerts, watch news and form opinions from a variety of external sources. And they are content creators and reputation builders as well through their participation in social media. This can either help or hurt your company’s reputation and its ability to grow and create a competitive advantage.

One holiday season when consumer orders spiked and UPS had a hard time delivering packages on time, a driver posted a response to a customer complaint on Facebook. He talked about how hard he was working to get packages to people on time.

In the process he put a human face on the company and connected with customers in a compelling way. That humanization of the company is also apparent in its marketing – its wishes delivered campaign being one example

It can work in the opposite direction, showing the transparency with which we all work. Who doesn’t remember the infamous cable company call, when a customer recorded an employee’s egregious attempts to retain the his business?

This underscores the importance of building trust with all stakeholders over a long period of time, one interaction at a time. It speaks to the primary purpose of corporate communications to build a strong and positive corporate reputation, based on a balance of the best interests of those stakeholders.

It’s also important to remember that feedback can come from a variety of places – from practically anywhere these days.

Driving home from a family dinner this weekend, my daughter was checking out Yik Yak as we were near my office. Yik Yak is a geography-based social network, where you can see what people within a few miles of you are saying.

She read a comment from an employee at my company, who said they weren’t aware of a big external event the company was involved with.

It was a timely reminder to me to be thinking more broadly and more expansively, all the time, about what’s newsworthy from an employee perspective, and how we bring “external” messages to our “internal” audience.

Sure, staffing resources and such determine a certain priority to communications plans and messages. But by taking a fully integrated audience approach to planning and messaging, the positive impact of communications can by multiplied many times.

News Rituals of a Communicator

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Should you check your smartphone the minute you wake up?

As a communicator, absolutely.

And while it’s not a good life hack for most people, as a communications leader my smartphone is on my nightstand every night. The ringtone is on for calls, and sounds are off for everything else.

This is because crises don’t confine themselves to business hours (whatever those may be these days). As communicators we have to be available 24/7 if needed. And I’m happy to say the unexpected calls are very few and far between.

When I wake up in the morning, there’s a 15-minute ritual I follow.

First I tell my new Fitbit I’m awake. And see how many restless minutes get subtracted from my total sleep time. It’s been disappointing to realize I have to spend more than 7 hours in bed to get “full credit” for those hours.

Then I see what texts and emails have come in. Just a quick scan to ensure nothing’s urgent. Otherwise, no email processing first thing in the morning.

Anthony Martini on my team at DIRECTV inspired a great habit of setting Google alerts via email – for our company, key people and other timely topics.

Then it’s on to the headlines.

First I’ll look at top stories in The Wall Street Journal, and the Business, Tech, Markets and Life & Culture sections after that. (Being in the entertainment business, I look forward to the episode recaps of my favorite TV shows.) It’s valuable to observe how various reporters are covering different topics in the news.

Then onto The New York TimesI love the Your Daily Briefing every weekday with a roundup of key headlines. If I only have 60 seconds to scan the news, this is perfect. Then on to Most Emailed (for what’s trending and resonating), Business and Technology. I’ll look at Sports, too, if I’ve missed big games over the weekend.

After that I check out my Twitter feed to see what’s happening. I’ll peek at a few of the DIRECTV feeds, like @DIRECTV, @DIRECTVSchools, @DIRECTVCareers and @DTVBlimp.

And I’ll look for an interesting story from the headlines or from DIRECTV to tweet about @caroline_leach. My topics are #corpcomms #change #leadership and #CSR. And our CSR hashtag, #DIRECTVgivesback. Opinions are my own.

It was encouraging to learn that WSJ, NYT and Twitter are the top 3 “daily ‘must-reads'” of global CCOs (chief communications officers), according to SpencerStuart‘s CCO V report focusing on the changing media environment.

As the day goes on, I check out blog posts on @HarvardBiz, for quick tips and insights on strategy, leadership, comms and more.

My office TV – a great perk of working at DIRECTV – bounces around between various news channels and DIRECTV’s Audience Network. I especially love seeing our headquarters campus and colleagues in the background shots of The Rich Eisen Show.

On evenings and weekends I’ll catch up on longer-form reading with a variety of books and magazines. Whether I’m working out on the treadmill or waiting in line somewhere, I have something to read on my phone or tablet.

My relevant screen shots are in the opening photo, not including my books and blogs. I try to read from a wide variety of sources. I’m fascinated by a diversity of viewpoints and the themes and patterns that run across many outlets.

Our household went 100% digital with our news three years ago, so it’s all on our smartphones and tablets. No more waiting for printed papers to arrive with the cold morning air, encased in plastic and creating recycling bulk that has to be hauled outside to the appropriate bin.

We still get plenty of printed magazines on a wide variety of topics. As I shared in one of my Who Am I? posts, I’m a bit of a magazine and book addict.

I’d love to hear from you. What other news rituals should I consider?

 

 

The Art of the Acceptance Speech

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Being in the video entertainment business, it’s especially fun to watch the awards shows.

Beyond checking out the red-carpet looks, I’m intrigued by the acceptance speeches.

There’s an art to saying something profound, entertaining and tweet-able, all while weaving in a few carefully chosen words of thanks.

Bruce Feiler summed it up well last year in his New York Times piece, Saying Thank You in 45 Seconds. According to Bruce, that’s about 65 words, or two tweets. And he goes on to give some excellent advice.

Watching the Golden Globes this month, I was listening for great speeches.

And I was especially touched by Common and John Legend’s acceptance speech for best original song for Glory in the film Selma.

It was such a classy, optimistic, inclusive, real way to highlight the film’s core messages of equality, humanity and continuing to work toward making our world a better place for everyone.

Check it out if you want to brighten your day, learn to be an inspiring speaker and do what you can to improve the world.

Looking forward to more great words at the Academy Awards in February.

How to Give a Great Speech

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“What’s your process for writing a speech?”

That was an unexpected interview question several years ago. An energetic organizational development professional with a Ph.D. at a large corporation sat across the desk from me awaiting my response.

“Process?” I racked my brain as I tried to stave off panic. “I just sit down and do it,” I thought.

Because I’m on the intuitive end of the Myers-Briggs preferences spectrum between intuition and sensing, I prefer patterns and future possibilities to an over-emphasis on process.

However, a response was required.

And here’s my process, whether I’m writing a speech for a C-level leader or myself – like in the photo above that Shel Holtz took of the social media general session at the 2013 IABC World Conference.

As I reflected on how I prepared, I came up with a 12-step process. Here are thoughts on each.

Planning. What are the objectives for the speech? What do you need the audience to think or do differently? Beyond that, assess the format of the speech. Is it a keynote? An interview? A panel? Decide if the selected format will enable you to best meet the objectives. If not, make a change.

Analyzing the audience. Who is the audience? What are their key characteristics? What do they believe and what do you need to change about their beliefs or actions? Consider ways you can make an emotional connection with your audience.

Ideating. Sketch out ideas on paper, ask others for input and set times to “think without thinking,” a concept inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. Consider what you want to accomplish. Then set it aside and go for a walk, take a nap or do other work. The ideas will flow later as your subconscious mind generates them while you walk, sleep or work.

Researching. Create a thesis statement. What are you trying to prove? Or disprove? Then do some research for facts and figures that support your thesis. Bring a critical eye to the online sources you choose. Will they carry enough weight with your audience? Do they add variety? Do they help you present your subject in fresh, unexpected or humorous ways?

Outlining. Create a rough outline from everything you’ve done so far. Start with a compelling opening. A dramatic statement. A startling question. Or a keen observation. Then make sure your information flows in a logical progression. Find the surprise in your material for the ending. Give the audience a “so what” to summarize. And leave them with a strong call to action of what they should do next. Start thinking about accompanying visuals. What photos, images or videos could enhance your message, add humor or bring emotion to your subject?

Writing. Now it’s time to write the first draft of your speech. But first you’ll have to get rid of the inner critic. What works for me is to “write sh**.” Just “write anything” to get words on the page. No judgments about whether they’re good or bad. Just put words on the screen. Because they can be shaped later in the editing process. That’s what I do with this blog. The real art comes in the editing, eliminating and refining.

Refining. Set your draft aside. Ideally for a day. If you’re short on time, even an hour will help. Then look at your draft with a fresh set of eyes. You’ll probably find that it’s better than you thought. And you’ll have some perspective to start editing and refining it. Does the opening grab the audience right from the start? Does the material flow in a logical way? Have you used simple words and short sentences that you would actually use in conversation? Have you triple-checked all of your facts?

Developing visuals. What visuals will enhance your talk and bring your key points to life? Consider your medium. Will you use Prezi, PowerPoint, SlideShare or a SlideDoc? Your visuals aren’t your speaking notes, so don’t cram them with a lot of words. Think about the visuals that can help tell your story. A photo or a video clip, perhaps. Watch TED talks for ideas and inspiration.

Rehearsing. Memorize your speech, or at least the key points, so you can deliver your talk in a friendly and relaxed way. I record myself giving the speech on my iPhone, and then I listen to it during drive time to memorize and refine it. Arrive early and rehearse on the stage where you’ll give the presentation. Know who will introduce you, how you’ll enter the stage and where you’ll stand or sit. Move around the stage – and even among the audience – if you can as you speak. Magic Johnson did this once at a conference I attended. He literally jumped off the stage, walked up and down the aisles, took selfies with audience members and generally spun speaking gold.

Promoting. Promote your speech before before and after you give it. Promotion before will encourage more people to attend. There are the usual ways, such as the conference website, social media channels and news releases. Tap into your own social media, whether it’s LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or others. Make sure the audience knows your Twitter handle and the conference hashtag. Right after your speech, jump into any conversations in social media – to retweet observations that amplify your message, make new connections and extend the reach of your talk. Post a video of part or all of your speech in YouTube.

Presenting. Here’s where feedback on other speeches can help you. Whenever you speak, see if it can be recorded. As painful as it may be, watch the recording. Identify what you did well and what you would improve. Ask others for feedback. Act on it. Sleep well the night before your talk. Eat a good breakfast. Wear something that makes you feel great – especially bold solid colors that will stand out and contrast with the stage. Do the Amy Cuddy Wonder Woman power pose right before you speak. If you’re nervous, remember the audience is rooting for you. Be human and relatable. Pretend you’re having a one-on-one conversation with someone in the audience. Make eye contact. Smile. Breathe. Enjoy.

Getting feedback. Stick around after your talk to answer questions and ask others what they thought. See what the buzz is in social media. Watch the video of your talk. Check out the conference evaluations, if there are any. Just like in your life and your career, strive to get better each time you speak.

Many people have inspired me as I’ve come to love public speaking. I listen to TED talks during drive time – to learn something new, pick up speaking tips and identify thought leaders I may seek as speakers as corporate leadership events.

Chris Anderson who curates TED is writing a book called Talk This Way, out in spring 2016. In the meantime, some of his thinking is crystallized in How to Give a Killer Presentation in Harvard Business Review.

And Nancy Duarte is one of my favorite thought leaders in presenting with panache through storytelling – in her TED talk, LinkedIn blog and website.

This week I spoke about self-awareness to high-potential leaders at my company. Using the process above, I hope I’ve helped inspire colleagues on their development journeys. Based on some of the feedback, I’m hopeful and inspired that I did.

Is Accreditation Worth It?

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Is it a good idea to earn a bunch of letters after your name? ABCAPR and CPRC, to name a few.

As with many decisions, it depends.

First, what are these letters?

They’re the accreditation programs offered by various professional associations for corporate communications and public relations.

IABC offered the Accredited Business Communicator designation through 2013 and is moving to ISO certification. 

The Universal Accreditation Boardof which PRSA is a participating member, offers the Accreditation in Public Relations designation.

The Florida Public Relations Association offers the Certified Public Relations Counselor designation for senior-level professionals.

Second, should you want them?

Earlier in my career, I pursued accreditations to help establish credibility and confidence in my capabilities as a communicator. They were part of the evolution in my journey of demonstrating my professional knowledge. A logical next step after my PR certificate and my M.A.

Right after I hit the required five years of work experience, I earned an ABC. Shortly after than came an APR.

As my work expanded into Human Resources, I added an SPHR, or Senior Professional in Human Resources.

But here’s the thing. I was motivated to prove something to myself, not to others. I wanted to show myself that I had mastered a body of knowledge. That I had reached a certain level of expertise. And that I had what it took to contribute at the next level.

It was intrinsic motivation. I was internally motivated to add to my knowledge bank – for the sheer joy of learning something new and applying my new-found knowledge to my work.

And to continue learning through the recertification process every few years. Lifelong learning is what enables you to thrive in a rapidly changing world. It gives you more confidence in your abilities to handle whatever comes your way.

Leonard A. Schlesinger and others make a compelling case for this in a Harvard Business Review piece about the information explosion and continually retraining and relearning for the future.

When I hear people talk about accreditation, the underlying rationale is often extrinsic motivation. There’s an expectation of an external reward. Could be getting hired, getting a raise or getting promoted.

From my perspective, there are more effective ways to make the case for those external rewards. Things like sharing your best work, showing the results you achieved for your organization and giving insight into how you think and solve problems.

This may be why accreditation seems to have fallen out of favor in recent years. Fewer people are pursuing accreditation, perhaps because they don’t see the rewards or a return on their investments. Associations are stepping up their marketing efforts in response. And so the cycle goes.

Like with most things in life, you’ll go further with intrinsic motivation. Do things because they’re important to you personally and you derive satisfaction from them.

This has implications for leadership as well. Creating the conditions for people to be internally motivated will lead to greater performance, after the extrinsic needs such as salary have been met.

Someone will go the greater distance because of a burning motivation within. Our job as leaders is to provide a sense of meaning and purpose that speaks to our team members and fuels an inner passion to excel.

This means investing time in getting to know each person as an individual. What are their passions? What are their aspirations? What’s most important to them?

Once you know this, you can structure your team for maximum impact and tailor your leadership approach for each person.

Third, what do you do with them?

Do I list my accreditations in my LinkedIn profile? Of course. Why wouldn’t I showcase my dedication to lifelong learning?

Do I include them in my email signature or on my business card? Absolutely not. I want the focus to be on my name. On my personal brand.

Should you get accredited? Probably not. Unless you love learning and want to prove something to yourself.

Work on your social media presence, your speaking ability and your strategic agility. Bring new ideas and fresh thinking to your job every day – all topics of upcoming posts.

Who Am I? (part three)

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When you’re going for the good stuff in life, give yourself an advantage by competing only against yourself.

Figuratively this means don’t compare yourself to others. That’s a fool’s errand. Compare yourself only to how you’re getting better every day. How you’re learning and growing. What you’re contributing to the world.

Literally this means to look for situations where you really are competing only against yourself.

Here’s an example.

After four years in aerospace corp comms, I was ready for the next step. The entertainment world caught my eye. But I had no idea how to make that move.

In an unrelated development, I called an IABC acquaintance to get the new phone number of mutual contact.

Jeff Torkelson happened to be the SVP of corporate communications at DIRECTV, an offshoot of an aerospace company that launched an all-digital, national TV service. As the original disrupter to cable, it was growing fast.

As we talked it dawned on me that he was asking more about my work than a casual social conversation would usually entail. Then he said he’d been looking, unsuccessfully, for a new communications manager. Would I be interested in exploring it?

Uh, yeah.

One thing led to another, and a few weeks later I joined DIRECTV. (And here’s where I tell you the opinions expressed in this blog are mine.)

The lesson? Your network is important. Invest in meeting new people in person and in social media. Keep in touch. Help people out. Introduce them to each other. Pass along job leads.

The other lesson? The power of not trying too hard. Check out A Meditation on the Art of Not Trying.

While I wasn’t managing people (yet), I was responsible for employee communications and executive presentations, both internal and external.

But after a week on the job, I realized I’d made a big mistake.

While the people were friendly and the TV service was exciting, the environment was like a start up. People running around with their hair on fire. Long days that stretched into long nights. Some people never seemed to go home.

It wasn’t like I hadn’t been warned. “It’s really busy here,” Jeff said during our interview. “Do you think you can handle it?”

His words came back to haunt me during those first few crazy days. But I wasn’t about to quit after a week. I decided to stick it out for a year. Then I could move on to a better fit.

But something magical happened. I discovered I could thrive in that crazy environment. That it actually energized me. That I felt alive with the possibilities about what the future could become.

I got the green light to hire my first team member. And then my second.

And I figured out how to make it all work. The real secret was a lot of early mornings when I found quiet time for heavy thinking work – whether it was comms planning or speech writing.

When I started at the company in 1999, we had 5 million customers in the U.S., 1,200 employees and two locations.

Fast forward to 2015. We have 39 million customers in the U.S. and Latin America, close to 30,000 employees and well over 150 locations.

The lesson? Join a company that’s growing, with leaders who inspire you and values that move you.

And become comfortable not only with navigating change but with leading it.

During my tenure so far we’ve had four corporate owners and six CEOs. My comms team has grown to 44 people in nine states. (And the picture above was taken at DIRECTV in 2011 for a USC Annenberg alumni promotion.)

The consistent theme in working and growing at DIRECTV is that we entertain the future. We’re in the business of transforming TV.

In my last post I shared my zeal to establish myself early on with a number of industry awards. I also said how we’re measured as communicators has changed over time.

While some of it has to do with becoming a senior-level communicator, most of it has to do with our rapidly changing world.

Awards focus on what you did in the past.

But in the present it’s about how well you’re contributing to the company strategy. How you shape your corporate reputation to attract more and better customers, employees and shareholders. And how you give back to the communities where you do business.

And more than ever, it’s focusing on the future. How do you make products and services that people will love? How do you create a workplace where you can attract great people? And how do you consistently generate growth to attract investors?

And that gets back to why I launched this blog. Which will be the subjects of many future posts.

 

Who Am I? (part two)

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Once you find your dream career, how do you get a foot in the door?

That became a three-year career change process for me. And it had three parts – getting an advanced degree, building a portfolio of comms work and creating a new network. (Yes, I’m a planner. Probably to an unnecessary degree in this case, but it ultimately worked for me.)

An advanced degree. First I went back to my alma mater and enrolled in the Public Relations certificate program through UCLA Extension.

Then I thought about grad school. Once I discovered corp comms, though, I abandoned plans for an MBA.

Ironically, an undergrad degree in economics worked against me early on. Hiring managers wanted communications, journalism or English.

Only recently has econ turned into an advantage. Now we have to be well versed in business strategy and operations.

I next set my sights on journalism and applied to the University of Southern California.

But I didn’t get in.

Undaunted, I applied to the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

I took two evening classes a semester, learning about organizational comms, the diffusion of innovations and comms research from luminaries like Janet Fulk, Peter Monge and Sheila Murphy.

While I was at Annenberg, the journalism and communication schools merged. So I ultimately became a graduate of the school that turned me down.

The lesson? Rejection is part of chasing your biggest dreams. And sometimes life can surprise you in interesting ways.

A portfolio of work. My masters work helped me build a portfolio of communications, because I could tailor projects to my areas of interest.

I also joined a professional association in my field at the time, the National Contract Management Association. As the chapter’s comms chair, I edited the newsletter, wrote news releases and served as the group’s spokesperson.

Today there are great ways to showcase a portfolio on the web and through social media – a quantum leap from the big book of publications and press clippings I used to lug with me to job interviews.

A new network. The best way to make a lateral career move came from building a network in my new field.

First I joined a professional association. IABC, the International Association of Business Communicators, took me as a member before I had a job in the field.

A local chapter invited me to join their board. It was the perfect opportunity. I invited senior communicators to speak at our meetings. It gave me access to people in way I could build relationships.

When I was asked to be chapter president, it was a fortunate coincidence that I finally landed my first job in the field. Later I become a district director, international executive board member and world conference general session speaker on social media.

My network was valuable in two ways. First, I did informational interviews. Following the Richard Bolles path from part one of this series, I met with people in the field and asked them about their work.

I asked how they got into the field. What they did every day. What they liked and didn’t like. What they looked for in new hires. How the field was changing.

Second, my network became a source of job referrals. I decided a good way to make a lateral move was within the 10,000-person aerospace unit where I already worked. That way I could leverage my knowledge of the company and the industry while moving into a new functional area.

However, the company was so big that to its communications team I was an outsider. But a professional association gave me an in. I met people on the comms team and learned about job openings, often before they were posted.

That led to a series of interviews. And a series of rejections. It became a familiar refrain. The hiring manager liked me, but another candidate was a better fit.

Job opportunity #5 was for a graphic design position. By that point the department was almost as eager to hire me as I was to join. But the position didn’t use my strongest skills, so I declined to pursue it.

I told myself something better would come along. And it did.

A few weeks later, the same hiring manager called me with job opportunity #6. One of his writers had just resigned. Would be I be interested in the job?

Uh, yeah.

A body of awards. Early in my career I tried to establish credibility quickly, to make up for lost time. Awards carried career currency then.

A “with distinction” notation when I passed my master’s comprehensive exam. The outstanding young PR professional award from the Los Angeles chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

A TRW Women of Achievement Award (that’s me, second from the right, in the opening photo). Communicator of the Year from IABC/LA. Several IABC writing awards.

Seems almost silly now, how eager I was to prove myself.

Today our value is measured in new ways. And that’s the subject of my next post.

 

Who Am I? (part one)

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When the universe gives you signs about what you’re good at, pay attention.

I learned this the hard way. Or the long way. Save yourself some time and follow the mantra to do what you’re good at. What you love.

When I was five, my uncle gave me a used typewriter. It was a cherished childhood gift. I’d happily type stories, letters, calendars. Anything, really.

The same year, I started kindergarten at Crow Island School. My family had just moved from the San Francisco Bay Area, where my sister and I were born, to Winnetka, Illinois.

As my mom tells the story, I was ready to drop out of school after day one. Apparently I was disappointed we wouldn’t learn to read until first grade. (Yes, this was a dramatically different era in public education, especially given what came next.)

So my mom went to talk to my teacher, a 23-year-old named Miss Rabeiga. She hadn’t taught anyone to read before, but she said she’d give it a try.

She asked her 19 students who wanted to learn to read. Six of us raised our hands. She invited us into her office during lunchtimes to teach us. I still remember the thrill of sounding out the hardest two-syllable word in our book, “some-thing.”

In high school my mom signed me up for a career counseling course, full of aptitude and interest tests.

With my abilities in school and interest in business and the arts, the report recommended several entry-level positions, many of which did not require a college degree. I wonder if the recommendations would have been different if my name was Carl instead of Caroline.

To be fair, though, I didn’t explore the ideas that better combined business and the arts – advertising specialist, marketing analyst and employee development trainer.

Following in my parents’ footsteps (they met at Berkeley in the 60s), I went to the University of California, albeit a different campus. I was there about six weeks when I realized I’d made a mistake. The school was not for me.

So I transferred to UCLA. And I fell in love with it. There was something for every interest – academics, athletics, activities.

The lesson? Don’t be afraid to make a change if something isn’t working for you.

It was hard to pick a major. My dad suggested English. “You love to read and write,” he reasoned.

“But Dad,” I countered, “what kind of career could I have? How will I become financially independent?”

So I chose economics, the closest thing UCLA had to an undergraduate business major. It seemed practical.

And I kept missing signs along the way. My professor for the economics of entrepreneurialism said I got the highest grade in the class because I was the best writer. Same thing with a business writing course, which I loved.

After four fun years at UCLA, all I knew was I wanted to work in the business world. So I signed up with a temp agency. On my third assignment, with a real-estate development firm, I was offered a job in their accounting department.

After less than a year, I moved on to aerospace procurement. I bought hardware for satellites and worked with suppliers in exciting places like Paris, Heidelberg, Gainesville and Joplin.

When aerospace crashed in the 90s, it wasn’t like my parents hadn’t warned me not to go into it. Layoffs were announced for 25% of the workforce. Every day I wondered if I was going to be let go. If only I’d realized I was a bargain as an entry-level person.

There was a silver lining, though. I finally focused on what I wanted to do with the rest of the my life. (This phenomenon now has a name – a quarterlife crisis.)

I dusted off my copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles, which my parents had given me several years earlier.

And I actually did the exercises. Seven stories about solving problems. Then underlining the verbs. And plotting them by skills with people, info/data or things. Mine were all with people and data. Not very good with things (maybe that’s why I don’t like cooking).

This turned into a flower exercise of my favorite fields, people, skills, working conditions, salary and places to live, capped with my purpose in life.

From there I matched my flower petals with potential careers. And that was the first time corporate communications came across my radar.

Finally, a field that combined business and the arts, just like my career counselor suggested.

People would pay me to write all day? Nirvana.

But how to make a change? That’s the subject of my next post.

 

Figuring It Out

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What’s a great way to learn something new every day?

That’s the question I’m pursuing through this blog.

More specifically: through the practice of corporate communications, what are the best ways to delight customers, engage employees, wow shareholders and contribute to communities? And how will those approaches change and evolve over time?

One thing I’ve learned about learning is that it requires a good degree of humility. When you’ve reached a certain point in your career and your life, the expectation is that you know everything. Or that you should know everything. And be able to figure it out if you don’t.

After unsuccessfully giving something your best attempt, it takes courage and confidence to ask someone else for information, ideas or inspiration.

As advertising exec Court Crandall said in his TEDx Manhattan Beach talk in November, “as a creative person, your expertise is tied to your self concept.”

He talked about the growing gap between the world changing at an exponential rate and the human brain’s unchanging capacity (Stanford’s Carol Dweck might beg to differ with her concept of a growth mindset, but that’s the subject of a different post).

Court’s solution? Focus on learning, and turn each day into a paid internship. Hey, it worked for Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in The Internship, right?

But Court is on to something. In today’s world, no one has all the answers. Everyone comes to the table with different information, different ideas and different perspectives. It’s in the melding and shaping of those ideas that diamonds are formed from the crushing pressure of the business world.

Drawing on Socrates, Court advocates being a great facilitator – asking good questions, listening to ideas and embarking on a collective quest for knowledge.

John D. Wagner described this in a humorous piece for The New York Times, Learning a Foreign Language Called Public Relations.

A writer with an M.F.A. in poetry, he was surprised to land a senior role in corporate communications at a startup. “I spent each workday in full wing-it mode,” he began.

Yet he mastered the art of corporate improv – taking what was thrown at him and pivoting toward a brilliant yet simple solution, time after time. He asked great questions and acted with common sense. And when the startup crashed, he realized he’d learned to tell meaningful stories that motivated people.

And that master storytelling is one of the important things that corporate communications is all about.

It reminded me of a recent conversation with Smooch Reynolds, a luminary I met early in my career as a communicator. She was describing the importance of being able to navigate an FIO environment.

Because that’s what we’re all doing every day – figuring it out.