Archive for the ‘Personal Reflections’ Category

All good things must come to an end. And Great Things must begin!

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017
Sean's career in summary

What a long, strange, wonderful PR trip it has been!

For eight wonderful years, I rode the wave of the entrepreneur. Communication AMMO is my second-longest tenure of employment in my near 30-year career in Public Relations and communications. Beginning next week, CommAMMO becomes part of True Digital Communications, a Greater Cleveland-based communication agency, that focuses on the digital world, including advertising, marketing, PR and content.

In my new role, I will lead the education practice that Communication AMMO and True Digital have partnered on for several years, and will also establish a new internal communications practice, which will include the Face2Face Communication Learning Program that CommAMMO acquired two years ago.

I’m thrilled to have the chance to cross-train people on conducting both the Face2Face and AMMO programs. As part of the firm’s leadership team, I’ll also have an operational role for True. As an educator, helping others learn is a critical part of who I am.

This is a terrific opportunity — only such a great one could get me to move on from CommAMMO — and I’m looking forward to working even more closely with True’s principal, Chris Baldwin, and being part of the True team!

This post also appears on LinkedIn. 

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Remembering a friend

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Eleven years ago, my high school friend John Voland died. He was the first of my contemporaries to pass away, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. He was survived by his mother, Jean, brother, Mark, and his daughter, Hayley, then 14.

John wasn’t a particularly health-conscious person. He battled weight for years (he was 6’4″ and big), and his death from a heart attack was in some ways not surprising.  We hadn’t spoken in years, not out of animus but lack of proximity; I’d moved to Seattle and then Cleveland, he’d remained in L.A. freelance writing.

The last time we saw each other was a little rough.  My wife and I met John at DuPar’s on Ventura Blvd., a regular haunt following poker games, for lunch, and John was agitated and distracted. We talked at the time about how much we loved living outside of Los Angeles, and he denigrated our decision as moving to “the sticks.”  His behavior was rather off-putting, and so we quickly wrapped up the visit and went our separate ways, as it turned out, forever.

I thought of him often, wondering how he was, worried he might have some problem that perhaps I should have helped him with.  When he died several years later, I felt guilty, like I had failed him somehow.  I also worried that others in our coterie of pals might also be struggling. We’d been a tight group — Josh, John, Ken, Bill, and David formed a fairly regular six-some for poker or hearts or playing music or whatever. And of these, I’d lost touch with just about all of them.

Now, Josh and I are Facebook friends; Ken, following his usual pattern, was back in touch for a brief time; David and I corresponded a bit, and Bill disappeared.

I’m not sure what made me think of John today — maybe it was running across news of his brother’s death again (in 2010), or the impending 40th high school reunion next year, or maybe just finishing graduate school prompted a reflective mood.

I find that I wonder what he might have written, whether we might have regained our friendship, whether we had enough in common to stay in touch.  One thing is for sure – once, we were great, close friends, and that memory is something to keep close.

I’m so grateful for my friends now, so thankful they’re in my life — Jon and Patty, Janet and JJ, Lori and Jamie, Jim and Jodie (wow, lots of “J’s”), Heather and Brian, Greg.  We are only on this earth for a certain allotment of days, and none of us know how many.

If there are people in your life who mean something to you, be sure to let them know.

 

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I’m in a reflective mood, and thankful

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Seanwilliams-tieNext week, five years of part-time graduate school culminates with my defense of my Master’s thesis, “Beyond Klout®: An exploration of online influence.”  This has put me in a somewhat pensive mood, and a number of things are on my mind as I prepare for the defense and graduation from Kent State University.

First, when someone sets a goal, attaining that goal can bring a bit of a let down, an anti-climax. It happened to me when I went to work for Joe Williams Communications, leading the Face2Face Communication Learning program. I’d attended Joe’s Dialogue in the Desert workshop on strategic planning, and had kind of dreamed of working for Joe. it became a reality, and over the course of  two-and-a-half years, I worked with about 15 clients, taught communication skills to more than 5,000 managers, facilitated strategic planning workshops and generally learned a ton about myself.

It happened again, when I decided I wanted to lead internal communications for a global company, and joined The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in that role. I supervised the internship program (and what a great internship it was – a year-long, 20-hour per week gig for two students), and got introduced to the great people at Kent State.  I left Goodyear and went to National City Corporation, where I realized another ambition — to create a public relations measurement program from the ground up.

I had, for years, had the goal of becoming a teacher in university when my corporate life was through. For that, I knew I needed at least a Master’s degree. As it turned out Kent State had a need, I was available, and they let me come in to teach without one. My first class taught was a graduate class in PR Theory. Over the past five years, I’ve taught that and many other classes both in-person and online. I even created a course — PR Measurement and ROI — that is a smash hit.

I also had goals about writing and speaking, and have published four scholarly papers and presented them at the International PR Research Conference.  I speak 4-5 times per year at industry conferences. I’m finishing the thesis.

So, now, comes the realization (G-d willing!) that yet another life goal is on the cusp of being realized: I’ll have a Master’s in Journalism/Mass Communication.

This has made me very thankful this Thankful Thursday.  Here’s a short list of people I’m thankful for, who have helped me attain these life ambitions, and who sustain me.

Sandy – my wife.  I dedicate my thesis to her in gratitude for her love and faith in me. She has had to put up with my building a business at the same time I take graduate classes and write and present and teach and…You get the picture. Thanks hon.

Then, in alphabetical order:

  • Janet Gaydosh, Patty Vossler, Heather Marks, and their husbands, JJ, Jon and Brian, respectively, and Jamie and Lori Owen. Your friendship is the most amazing gift! Thank you.
  • Robert T. Gill — Rob was my boss in Seattle at KeyCorp, first as my supervisor when I interned during the management associate program, then as my manager when I became first employee communication manager for Washington, then for the Northwest Region. He taught me about responsibility, dedication, and deadlines, and about what the heck PR is all about. And also about the need for open communication and avoidance of “Reindeer Games,” his phrase for talking trash about your boss. Hard lessons, but essential.
  • Dennis Long — Formerly the head of Retail Banking for Key in the Northwest, Dennis taught me humility and the delicate art of asking questions rather than making sweeping pronouncements. It was my first lesson in consulting. A quote from Dennis: “There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and you’re crossing it.” Yipes.  Thank you.  He’s now the CEO of a bank in Western Washington.
  • Bill Sledzik — Professor, colleague, friend. He had faith in me and took a risk to have me teach. He now heads my Thesis Committee, and I am grateful for his wise counsel. I’m also grateful for the quality of student Bill and the Kent PR program produce!
  • Joe Williams — Joe, a Fellow of IABC, a pioneer in strategic planning for communicators, a veteran entrepreneur of more than 30 years, is an inspiration. I got to chat with him and his wife, Barbara, last year in Toronto at IABC. He has meant the world to me, not only because of his wisdom and talent, but also because of his imprecation to me: “Trust yourself!!!” It’s a long road to heeding that instruction from the depth of low self-esteem, but I’m finally about there!

There are more, and I could go on, but I’ll stop there. My heart is so full! #ThankfulThursday

 

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Many conferences, many objectives

Monday, October 20th, 2014
PRSA's big dance kicks off

PRSA’s big dance kicks off

During the past 12 months, I’ve spoken at six conferences and attended three others. That’s a lot, no? Yes, a lot. Several were communication conferences, Ragan’s measurement conference, IABC’s 2013 Heritage Region and their International Conference, PRSA’s Connect ’14 employee comms conference and just a week ago, it’s big shebang, the International (#PRSAICON).

Plus, I went to Fusion 13, an IT service management conference; the National Association of Independent Schools conference, the SSATB conference for independent schools admission officers and (my favorite) the International PR Research Conference.

For the most part, all of these were, at least, good. I confess that at this time in my career, the comms related conferences are a mixed bag. That’s not a dig at the dais or planners; it’s hard to put these things together. I’ve done it for Heritage Region and for Connect, and you’re serving five different masters. You need content and speakers who will drive registration (the famous or nearly famous, the veteran speakers who have their fans, the striking, surprising people who will make people say, “OK, her I have to see!”)

You also need content for different levels of experience, from newbies to crusty old coots (present company excepted…) That can mean that at any one time, 80 percent of your audience won’t be happy. “Why is HE here again. She’s an idiot! He’s a moron!”  So I come not to bury Caesar but to praise him!

IPRRC is all academic research that boggles my mind in the best way. The Schools and IT conferences are business development opportunities. The Connect conference is my responsibility as Chair of PRSA Employee Communication professional interest section, and the Heritage conference is my comfortable IABC slippers. The internationals are another thing entirely. In some ways, they are merely about being seen among the crowds, though Twitter (and conference apps) give opportunities to stand out (I still didn’t make the top 20 posters in the conference app. Blame my lousy battery!).

IABC was in Toronto, one of my favorite places, and it had been since it was last there that I had been there. With all that has transpired to damage IABC’s brand over the past few years, I felt invested in the organization enough to go.  PRSA I had attended only once before, and as my Section leadership position requires a level of visibility and participation, it was a good thing to be there for Saturday’s general assembly and the many leadership-related meetings that the international conference includes.

Another reason to go is the need to identify speakers who’ll fit in other conferences. Let’s face it, you can’t be a good speaker without seeing good speakers anyway, and since we’ve got PRSA Connect ’15 in May upcoming, why not go see a few and have some firsthand experience of their abilities to go along with the cold paper of their proposals?

Sooooo…. what about the PRSA conference? Hey. 500 words of preamble – it’s a CommAMMO post. Wait for part two.

 

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Is it energy, will power or caffeine?

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

WorldHQI just ran across this list: 61 best social media tools for small business. Good gravy. I know of or have used five (5). This kind of discovery gets repeated frequently at the beautiful World Headquarters of Communication AMMO.  What I’m wondering is how in the world anyone keeps track of this stuff.

Yes, I’m aware of outstanding tools like a pen and paper for such matters, but really. Is my deficit attributable to a lack of high-test coffee? I gave up caffeine some time ago, relegating myself to the wilds of what’s the point Coke and Decaf (Letterman: “It’s what they’re drinking in Hell.”)

Or is it a question of not caring enough to take the time? Maybe my cynicism about social media overcomes my professional desire to be The One Who Knows Everything.  It could be a suffering from comparisons — I’m not as smart as the cool kids who drop these names like elderly debutantes (True story: She: “You’re from Seattle! You must know the Weyerhaeusers!” Me: “We ran in somewhat different circles.”)

It could also be a deficit of energy — I’m busy with clients and now with research for my thesis and shortly with writing the darn thing and defending it. I also have friends, family, home, cats and books to read, movies to watch and music to play and listen to. I don’t have the energy to “live social,” darn it. I like to sleep and do offline things (see above.)

So Mr. Google (and Mrs.Twitter, Ms. Facebook, Monsieur LinkedIn and the occasional Herr Pinterest) will have to do.  I just have to wean myself off the idea that I can be the font of all wisdom in that space. Instead, I’ll keep pushing for quality over quantity, for probity and wisdom over transience and faddism, for support and positivity instead of snark and self-aggrandizement.

How about you?

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The perils of pricing

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

I don’t know about you other #solopr folks, but trying to figure out pricing is tough. When I started Communication AMMO five years ago (holy mackerel!), I set pricing based on the agency SVP/Partner model. Some friends at a couple of agencies reviewed my CV and said that would be where they would bill me, were I working there.

The squishy thing was, a) there was a wicked huge recession on, and b) the whole “hourly” billing didn’t really apply to the initial project work. I did some math (one day planning session and $X, plus Y hours of writing the plan and Z hours of back-and-forth) and realized to make anything close to a living, I’d need a lot of planning sessions.

So I started thinking about value, the value of more than just the time, but of the years of experience. I looked back at when I’d worked for Joe Williams and what he billed for my time, and billed accordingly.  Then, when I started teaching, I learned my value was about $0.30 an hour (but I love it and am grateful for it!)

Ha-HA!

So, now there’s a chance I’ll be teaching a couple of days of master classes, and trying to figure out that billing has twisted my little grey cells into a knot. I want to do it, it’s a not for profit sponsoring it…

Thoughts? Thanks!

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Feeding mind & soul at PR research conference

Monday, March 10th, 2014
Dr. Vincent Hazleton, Prof. Michele Ewing & Dr. Dean Kruckeberg

Dr. Vincent Hazleton, Prof. Michele Ewing & Dr. Dean Kruckeberg

Many of my colleagues in public relations quail when I tell them I make a habit of attending the International PR Research Conference.  It’s an academic conference that features scholars presenting papers they have written (or soon will write) in 15 minute blocks. Half the time they explain the main points of the research, and the other half we listeners get to ask questions and make suggestions. That works great for me, and beginning in 2014, I’m now a member of the IPRRC Research Advisory Board, so will have a chance to be more involved.

For a lot of these papers/presentations — which are requirements for Ph.D.s and doctoral students — there isn’t a direct connection to practice. That doesn’t mean discussing them is not useful, and I admit readily to being enough of a geek that I appreciate the deep mental stretching that the more esoteric topics bring forth. Among the more usual questions I ask: “So what?” Most of the time not quite so bluntly (though one longtime friend of the conference, a practitioner who passed away last year, Jack Felton, felt no such reticence), and always with the desire only to understand the research’s impact on our practice.  We need more of the usual PRs to delve into this stuff, because the academics need our feedback, and we need to be there to give it!

One of my favorites was among the most academic. Denmark-based professors Finn Frandsen and Winni Johansen of Aarhus University are exploring a general theory of intermediaries in PR. That’s trade unions, trade associations, the news media and others as stakeholders on their own account. Finn and Winni pose that there’s a trifecta of reputations at stake — the industry represented, the members of the intermediary organization, and the organization itself might be sharing reputation in a commons of sorts. Made my head hurt a little, but in a good way.

There were several other presentations that made a strong impression. Here’s the first few I took note of. 

Place

Dr. Shannon Bowen listens to Dr. Katie Place

Dr. Katie Place of Saint Louis University, presented on ethical decision-making in public relations. She is seeking to understand how professionals evaluate or reflect on their decisions. Dr. Place has started a qualitative study on the topic, and finds that there are few constants in process, with relying on one’s “gut” one of the few.  It’s a highly personal and rather eclectic mix, she finds, and that matches with much I’ve read on the topic.  We need more research on this, especially as PR Ethics is so often considered an oxymoron.

Doctoral student Arunima Krishna of Purdue University explored a “big 4” accounting firm’s unauthorized Facebook “Confessions” page, exploring whether the passion, vigor and dedication associated with highly engaged publics (groups of people) who are negative toward their organizations present particular challenges to our practice.  She posits that engagement — frequently assumed to be positive and desirable — might have a dark side. Stay tuned, and look for your organization’s Facebook Confessions page ASAP.

 

Holley Reeves, doctoral student

Holley Reeves, doctoral student

Holley Reeves, a doc student at University of Georgia, looked at corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs as contributors to organization public relations activities. She conducted interviews with PR pros to determine what they thought of their org’s CSR, and sought to determine whether the CSR was primarily used to accomplish PR goals. It’s early, but the preliminary findings are encouraging for those who a) believe CSR is the right thing to do regardless of its business or PR value, and b) that CSR is no replacement for confronting and solving organizational problems and issues. 

There are more to review — look for another 3-4 in the next post, including the offering from my Kent State University colleague, Prof. Michele Ewing!

 

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Summing up: IABC Heritage Conference a Winner

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Conf_BrochureI’ve given serious thought in recent months to letting my IABC membership lapse. With all the drama earlier this year, it crossed my mind more than once. But then, I attended the Heritage Region Conference, Oct. 13-15 in Indianapolis.

The IABC International is huge — 1,500 isn’t out of the question — and its venues, large hotels in big cities (New York, Toronto, etc.) makes for a spendy trip for the likes of a sole proprietor. But the regional conferences are more compact, are in smaller cities, and yet offer terrific programming.

This year was no exception.

I’m a little biased, as I had the chance to speak once again, but the quality was wonderful — Jim Lukaszewski held court for three hours, evangelizing on the concept that communicators need to be much more business-centric than communication-centric, particularly in times of crisis.  We know that we get more popular when it’s time to sweep up after some sort of conflagration, but too often, Jim averred, we see communication as the solution to every problem.

Case in point at my own expense:  Jim asked why the CEO of BP — Tony Hayward, of “I’d like my life back” fame — lost his job in the wake of the oil platform explosion that killed people and brought the US gulf coast to its economic knees.  I piped up instantly — blame-shifting, insensitivities, cluelessness

Jim said I was wrong – it’s just how things are done. The disaster happened on his watch, and so he paid the price. He’ll be OK, Jim added, because these guys get paid no matter what. But he’ll never lead as large or important a company as BP.  Jim’s point: we communicators need to better understand how business operates, not just the role that communicators play in it. There’s more, of course, including Jim’s gentle good humor, phenomenal stories and exceptional insight that comes from doing this work for 40-odd years.

Tim McCleary of The Involvement Practice keynoted Monday morning, offering not only a valuable speech, but a couple of fun exercises demonstrating how we can move from informing to involving people.  Establishing the central objective, then helping people understand it through real dialogue, then immersing them in the world of the new so that they own that objective and finally activating the power of the internal network (the What, Why and How of communicating change), was clear, intuitive and actionable.

Kent Lewis of Anvil Media, and serial entrepreneur, talked social media analytics — but not in a dry, statistical way. He shared stories of how to measure effectively — key performance indicators, metrics and goals for each platform, content strategies, etc. — that resonated well with attendees. Two big reminders for me — YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine, so having content on that platform is critical; and that SlideShare adds immeasurably to both search performance and sharing content effectively. One more from Kent — LinkedIn is essential in B2B, and one’s company page needs to be robust, clear and urgent.  I need to get on that right away!

That’s just a couple of examples.

The point is that about 150 attendees really got the chance to network. I met at least five people I’d not met before, and I reacquainted myself with dozens more.  The seven-person dinner Monday night at the Dine-Around was terrific, even if Harry and Izzy’s shrimp cocktail blasted my head (and everyone else’s) into a tear-streaked paroxysm of anguish and bliss.

IABC might be struggling to right itself, but they might have kept me in the fold thanks the Heritage Region team’s great work.  Check out the Twitter stream at #iabchrconf.

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PR measurement: 3 reasons for hope

Friday, September 27th, 2013

A couple of years ago, I wrote that with so much BS in measurement (particularly in social media) that I was wearying of the chase. Now I’m more hopeful, not because there’s less BS, but because people are getting a bit more wise to it.

Here are three reasons why I’m feeling good about measurement:

1. The social media measurement standards coalition:  There now is a document outlining professional standards for measurement in social media! Thanks to MANY people — Katie Paine at the top of the list — and the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), Council of PR Firms (CPRF) and the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) — and the #SMMStandards Conclave, plus the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Chartered Institute of PR (CIPR), Federation Internationale des Bureaux d’Extraits de Presse (FIBEP), Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, Society for New Communications Research (SNCR), Digital Analytics Association (DAA) and Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).

2. PRSA’s “value of public relations” project: David Rockland of Ketchum spearheaded the effort to enlist the U.S.’s main professional association for PR, and the academic community, in a conversation about the value that public relations brings and how to prove it effectively.  The very conversation was off limits when I joined the PR measurement world just 9 (!) short years ago. Goodness.

3. Classes in Measurement making it into college PR programs: I built a Measurement/ROI class for Kent State in 2011, and have taught it now three times for grad students in-person, and twice in the online masters’ program there.  People who take this class have better, deeper, more cogent and more effective final projects than those who don’t, according to the school.  Strategic thinking and planning changes among these minds as a consequence of taking merely an intro course in measurement.  These are the future leaders of our profession, and among the greatest achievements in my professional life is contributing that class to the curriculum.

I’m more hopeful now, even amid the continuing battle for social media’s soul between the “marketers” and other communicators, than I’ve been in years!  How about you?

 

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I miss blogging

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

OK, I’m kind of lying. I don’t miss the blogging I did four years ago. You know, the blogging I did because I didn’t have a job or clients and needed to do something productive.

I talk to people “in transition” frequently. I try to say “yes” as much as possible, because I remember what it’s like. Communication AMMO still has just one employee, and it only now seems like it’s going to allow me to earn a living for a while. But it’s a darn site better than the waiting many of our colleagues have gone through for the past few years.

Blogging is a little bit of an ego trip, so obviously, I’m not doing it right. The frequency of posting is way down, and so to is the number of people reading my fevered musings. I’m not feeling very fascinating these days. I’m putting most of my energy into work for clients, work for classes taught and work for volunteer opportunities.

I DO feel like I still have something to say. So, don’t be too surprised if I’m a little more visible than in recent months in this space.

In the meantime, if you are in position to hire people, don’t turn your back on folks who’ve been out of the game for a while. If you can use an extra hand, reach out to a colleague working on launching their own gig. Be generous as you can be, even if only with your time, your support, and your coffee.

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