By now, we all know the fate of Cecil the lion and the Internet firestorm that followed. As The Guardian put it last week: “Nous sommes Cecil”.

The one quote that stood out from the many hundreds over the past week was from Zimbabwe’s Acting Minister of Information when asked about Cecil. Her response, “What lion?” And press reports confirmed that not all Zimbabweans were familiar with Cecil.

The meaning of her words were quickly interpreted by the Western press – many of whom took the comment as a callous remark or an affront.

In public relations terms, the story was getting out ahead of her fast. And just like in a road race you want to close that gap as soon as possible and overtake the story if you can.

So what was missing?

Context. It was an education moment if there ever was one. Zimbabwe has been wrestling with serious economic issues – conditions that most in the West could not believe or relate to. Passion overtook the reality of Zimbabwe’s economic conditions which if you peel back the layers of this onion, was a significant, long-term contributor to Cecil’s demise.

Understanding the near immediate, seismic shift in publicity. In many ways the Government of Zimbabwe has been handed a global platform to highlight the disparity between the reality of every day Zimbabweans and the Zimbabwe of those who visit or experience through images and documentaries about their wildlife.

Transforming that platform. An opportunity still exists for the Information Minister to get her message out by telling the story of Zimbabwe through everyday Zimbabweans and their vision for the future. And to make the country a global cause for the West to get behind – for the sake of Cecil’s cubs and other lions – and for the people of Zimbabwe.

When was the last time you took a hard look at your communication channels and compared the message and experience with your communications strategy? Are they aligned?

Most of us use analytics as the litmus test for communications campaigns to prove return on investment. The downside of which can make us quite micro-focused, losing sight of the overall messaging and experience. And in a global context, with different staff managing different channels, this is where drift can come in over time – undermining your efforts to support your company’s goals long-term.

Here is a checklist to help your realign your day-to-day efforts with your strategy:

Revisit your strategy, as a team: Review your current strategy with your team and compare it to your company’s strategy. Are they still aligned? Have there been changes in your market due to competition or a disruptor? Is there a need to make adjustments? Then review your communications strategy and goals against the reality of what has actually been happening to ensure you are on track.

Create a strategy culture: Hold regular meetings around the strategy with your staff. Create buy-in by assigning ownership of quarterly goals, either through KPIs and/or by team agreement. Encourage staff to be more cognizant of the long-term and reward them for it.

Implement supportive technology. Do you have a dashboard that reflects your overall strategic goals or are they campaign based? Are you using annual editorial calendars matched to your strategic goals? Audit what you and your team are using on a day-to-day basis and ensure they are aligned to your strategic goals.

Engage your customers. Have you been engaging directly or indirectly with your customers (or stakeholders) lately on your channels? Conduct some Google Hangout focus groups with a cross-section of your customers as a message and experience check-in. Make this a regular habit.

Deciding to launch a personal brand into the marketplace can be an exciting moment and one that also comes with some anxiety and apprehension.

The urge to stay in the safe phase of researching (or conducting due diligence among your peers) is powerful and many never move out of the research phase to actually launching their personal brand.

Here are four questions to help you assess whether you are ready for your brand reveal:

What will your audience gain from interacting with your brand? What is your audience most concerned with day in and day out – fulfilling their own needs. Think of your day today and how many times what you wanted was the priority – from choosing your morning coffee to deciding what music to listen to as you walked, biked or drove to work. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Talk to your potential audience and follow influencers in your field to develop an understanding of what is and is not appealing to them.

How is your brand unique from what is already out in the market? You know you are on the right track when you sense a market need that no one else is filling in a way that is unique. And it’s rare when that happens. It can either be how you approach an issue or challenge, your expertise and knowledge or who you are as a person.

Why you and why now? Life does not exist in a vacuum. Trends develop in industries constantly and public sentiment is along for the ride – watch the news in your field, speak to experts and your potential audience. This will give you an indication of when entering into a market would be most timely with the most long-term benefits for your brand.

Are you relatable? Probably one of the more difficult questions to answer and one that will involve external assessment whether from a public relations professional or an informal focus group. What is being measured is your likeability factor, which directly correlates to expertise. If you are able to back up an approachable brand image with a deep knowledge of your industry and the issues within your industry, you will have a winning formula.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who runs an agency in the UK on the challenges of accurately identifying the right target market for campaigns. Whether the US, the UK or India, knowing your market today – not last year or three years ago – and what their needs are can make or break your campaign efforts.

It’s seems obvious but often times that involves some deep soul-searching with your senior leadership to determine what the challenge or opportunity is that you are trying to address. What your leadership or client’s leadership perceives may not be what the market perceives.

Here are a several tips to help you zero in on your market:

Go back to the drawing board. With your senior leadership team, determine what it is that you actually offer today whether a product or service. How has the market responded to that product/service? What shifts have occurred within your company and within the market that you may need to adjust for? What are competitors offering and what markets are they targeting?

Let the data speak. If your leadership thinks your market is the same as it was two or three years ago, you may want to conduct primary research to confirm those assumptions. Primary research includes focus groups, questionnaires, surveys and interviews. Do not be afraid to bring to the table those that may not always agree with the product or direction of your company.

Look towards the future. Identify where the opportunities for expansion are. Analyze your quantitative data on your product/service to see any patterns that are emerging and/or shifting. Work with in-house market researchers or hire a firm to help you delve into those trends further to determine future potential.

Managing a crisis is never easy and requires very strong leadership to lead everyone to a safe harbor. It also requires a close-knit, respectful and fully aware crisis communications team.

Here are some quick tips for creating a crisis communications team that is technically well planned and is prepared for any breakdown in communication:

Create a crisis communications plan. You may already have a comprehensive plan for your organization; however, you will need a simple and straightforward plan for an actual crisis. Make sure you have both on hand and that they are up-to-date and accessible quickly.

Determine your team before a crisis hits. Preparation is key. Within your crisis communications plan, you should have outlined – and have executive agreement on – who among senior leadership will sit on the team and who will chair the team during an actual crisis.

Choose a leader who is ready and able to lead. Crises can become very difficult. Choose a leader who has the wherewithal to lead the team to the finish.

Keep your team to a maximum of 5 members. This is crucial. Research has proven that a team larger than 5 can become ineffective in a fast-moving crisis. Each member should represent one of your key operational divisions within your organization.

Practice. Run mock drills at least once a year with the team. These drills should be as real world as possible and preferably run by a crisis communications expert.

Monitor behaviors during the drill. Use the drills as a learning experience and review with the team their interactions and decisions made throughout the drill, highlighting areas that could be potentially harmful in an actual crisis.

Whether you want to sell a product to a client or sell an ad campaign to your boss, storytelling is the single most powerful way to capture your audience’s attention and to make the not yet tangible real in the eyes of others.

So how do you do it and how do you do it well?

Break it down into simple parts. Remember those story books from your childhood? Why where they so appealing? They were simple. A photograph here, one or two sentences followed. To be effective, you must break your story down into digestible parts. Even if you think it is simple, go even further.

Believe in it yourself. You, the storyteller, need to believe in your story or no one else will. Be passionate about what you are portraying and keep your energy up even if it is the 20th time you are telling your story. Remember that, for your audience, it is the first time they are hearing the story.

The all-important protagonist. Every story has one. Your story needs one too. If it doesn’t have one, you can reference a member of the audience and interlace them into your story so that they become the protagonist.

Set the scene. Create visuals that help you tell the story but do not take away from you telling the story. They should enhance the story you are telling be it a few PowerPoint slides, photos or videos. Sometimes a single photo will do the job.

Know your audience. Do your research and try to put together what the motivators will be for the audience you are telling your story to. This will require that you tweak your story as you go to fit each audience. Don’t be afraid to alter the script.

Watch the body language in the room. As you engage in storytelling be very observant of the body language in the room. Is the audience leaning forward? Has their expression changed? Both are good signs. Leaning away or checking their phones every several seconds; not a good sign. But don’t give up. Adjust your efforts – including inserting them into the story by mentioning their first name – to see if you can engage them.

Practice. Create practice that works for you and makes you comfortable. I tend to mentally run through what I will present in broad themes beforehand. This gives me the flexibility to create as I walk the audience through the story live. If you are not comfortable with practicing and get nervous presenting, contact your local theater. Most offer acting for non-actors and can help you get comfortable as a storyteller.

Your CEO on Social

June 15, 2015

Recently, Weber Shandwick released their Socializing Your CEO report which audits the online presence of CEOs globally. The audit found that CEOs are starting to engage and feel comfortable on social media.

Your CEO can be a powerful addition to your social media strategy. The key is to integrate your executive’s social media presence within the overall brand’s social media strategy. By doing so, it will help prevent one from overpowering the other.

Even though your CEO might be an established brand within his industry offline, social media will potentially reach a much wider segment of your audience globally, therefore, you’ll need to start building your CEO’s credibility out of the gate.

One approach I have used is to create a dedicated CEO account on Twitter as the channel of choice for their voice. The dedicated account is used to express personal opinions, theories and expertise to lead and guide the social discussion within the brand’s issue area.

Crossover with the brand would occur with the sharing of content on the organization’s Facebook page and Twitter account during high visibility events, news or project/product launches.

To start engaging and leading the discussion from the dedicated account, consider the following tactics:

  • sharing organization research, news, updates and new projects;
  • speaking at a conference: share salient talking points, impressions, and highlights;
  • participating in a panel discussion: engage with other members pre and post panel, sharing thoughts and insights;
  • curating other research, news or statements from organizations in the same industry, and
  • starting the discussion by asking direct questions of other leaders/organizations on trending topic areas.

Ideally your approach will be a mix of the above. As you and your CEO get more comfortable, the more you can curate content and start to push discussion on issues or issue areas that may not have entered into the social conversation.

By pushing the envelope and being seen as an initiator and innovator of content and discussion, you will attract more followers and will increase your overall social media engagement over time.

Last month, as a keynote speaker at CSC’s 2015 Conference, I spoke to an audience of teachers on how to harness the power of social media to build their own personal brand. Although their students are active on social, they had yet to really maximize their own potential to expand and share their knowledge. With Facebook now reaching 1.4 billion users worldwide, Twitter 288 million and LinkedIn 347 million the possibilities are endless no matter your age or profession. Below are a few tips to help you harness the power of social media:

Start by defining your area of expertise. Many find this one difficult. Start with your profession and work from there. You may have many interests. The goal is to try to narrow it down to one thing first and expand from there.

Choose what social platforms you will focus your energies on. Determine who your audience is. Is it fellow teachers or professors or maybe researchers? Discover where your potential audience spends their time on social and establish your presence there. Do not try to be on every social platform. It will dilute your efforts and leave you stressed out trying to manage all your profiles. Start with one or two.

Create new profiles or update your existing profiles. Reinvention is the name of the game here. If you already have profiles, re-engineer them to focus on your expertise. You can do that by updating your profile or by sharing content. If you are just starting out, explore the social landscape within your industry first. Follow influencers to learn how they interact, how often they share and what types of content they share.

Start by sharing content. Share content in your industry that you find interesting. If you find it interesting, others will as well. Get into the habit of doing so daily or every other day until you feel comfortable with it.

Spot trends and start trends. Look for interesting conversations, challenges or solutions that you can share on social from your everyday experiences related to your area of focus. That’s trend spotting. Overtime, this will create buzz. Eventually, you will want to also share your own points of views and experiences either through blogging, publishing on LinkedIn, Medium or in industry publications.

While having lunch with my niece last week in Boston, she had asked me many questions on entering into a communications career. Having just finished her first year of college, she asked for tips to help her develop a film career.

Below are six tips for those just starting out in communications:

Find a mentor who is an expert in the field. It could be a professor or someone you have admired for their expertise and the work they create. Do research to find out who best exemplifies what you would like to become in your career. Reach out and ask them to help you create – and navigate – a similar career.

Experiment with your craft.  Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try on different skills to see how they feel to you. Start doing this in college. Is it filmmaking, advertising, producing or writing that interests you the most? Be honest with yourself.

Hone your skills overtime. You may not reach your goals overnight. It may take 5, 10 or 20 or more years. Get comfortable with this. Stay focused and realize the pay off will come in the end through your dedication and commitment. In the meantime, enjoy your journey.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Failure leads to success overtime. It’s part of experimenting. It may show you where you need to adjust and approach your goals in a different way. And even though its cliché, it does build character and creates humility. We are all just human and mistakes are par for the course.

It’s probably the last thought you have – to create a personal brand strategy for yourself.

But the world of work has changed and expanded beyond your office and your personal circles. Establishing a platform to extend your expertise beyond your sphere of influence is essential to establish yourself firmly in your career as an expert with a unique point-of-view.

Is it hard? No, but it will take a shift in perspective that you may not be comfortable with – turning the magnifying glass on yourself and finding out what your value proposition is. It will also require an ongoing investment in terms of time, focus, and resources.

Can you do it all on your own? You have the skill sets, the tools of the trade and the experience, but you will need at least one trusted adviser, preferably not a friend or colleague, who can be honest with you and whose opinion you trust and respect. It can be a coach or a strategist – someone who has a vested interest in your career development.

Here are some quick tips for getting started:

Establish what is unique about you. Before you start, sit down and write out three to five career attributes about yourself that are different from others in your field. Think about your overall experiences and what others can learn from you.

Determine your audience. Is it professionals in your field? Or professionals in a certain industry? Determine beforehand whom you are targeting and where you need to make an impact.

Create a platform. A platform consists of your online presence. Start with a blog and choose a mix of tools that will most effectively reach your audience (i.e. Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn). If you have existing accounts, you may want to establish new ones under your brand name.

Join the conversation. Establish a following by joining in the conversation through “curating” articles, retweeting and commenting on opinions, and re-blogging. Bring your own personal spin to the online conversation.

Remember that content is king. Great content will create interest. Focus on developing stories that will appeal to a large audience with tips and advice to convey your overall skills and expertise.

Don’t forget the offline world. A great way to extend your brand is through speaking engagements. Develop a speaking proposal and pitch yourself at conferences in your field.