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Archive for August, 2008

Three Dog Night nailed it: One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.

Many who decide to leave employment to fly solo in communication/PR/IMC often find it lonely. One day you have the camaraderie of fellow workers; then you are on your own with no one to talk with or to share ideas and/or approaches.

I believe that the potential loneliness and feelings of isolation among independent consultants, sole proprietors, and/or solo practitioners should be considered before a person decides to pursue entrepreneurship. I have had many conversations over the years with friends and colleagues who feel the same way.

I left corporate America in 1998 to start Les Potter Incorporated, my consulting practice.  LP Inc. was chartered in the Commonwealth of Virginia as an S Corporation, or a sole proprietorship. That means I was it. If I did not attend my staff meeting, then 100 percent of my employees were absent.

As many who strike out on their own, I did not want the expense of an office at first. I worked from a well-appointed home office to save money. In so doing, I spent hours and hours alone. I am fine with that, a monk working alone in my cubicle with only classical music from my Bose Wave radio breaking the silence.

But others are not. There are many aspects of running a business successfully that entrepreneurs must deal with. But I believe that potential solo practitioners must take into consideration the lack of interpersonal contact that comes with the territory.

If you decide to go it alone, then allow me to offer some lessons learned to help you cope with the loneliness.

First, examine what you need to be fulfilled in your career. Are you mentally and emotionally prepared to go it alone? Can you truly stand to work alone away from day-to-day collegiality? If so, then proceed.

Some suggestions for those who decide to go it alone:

  • If you have not already, join IABC and/or PRSA and attend monthly meetings. That not only gives you regular social interaction with fellow professionals, but also is valuable for networking and business development.
  • Volunteer for IABC/PRSA committees, functions, etc., for the same reasons as above. Plus, it builds your credibility and expands your resume.
  • Become active in civic groups for the same reasons that it is advisable to be active in professional associations.
  • Volunteer for a nonprofit organization, a cause-related entity that is doing good in your community. Not only will you get the satisfaction of helping advance the human condition, but you will have social interaction, valuable networking, and possible business development.
  • Find a place away from your home office at which you can work around people. For example, find a wired Starbucks or a pleasant restaurant and hang out there. Make it your remote office. Get to know the barristas, staff, and regular customers. You’ll have a sense of community that rivals any corporate atmosphere. But, coffee shops and restaurants are really in the real estate business — they sell space. If you hang out there taking up valuable space, be fair and support them with meaningful purchases.
  • Social media is great for helping with loneliness and feelings of isolation. There are a zillion communication/PR/IMC blogs in which you can be part of a community, learning and giving and sharing all along.
  • Social networks like PR Open Mic and MyRagan are ideal for building a sense of community. Plus, these networks are excellent for connecting with other communication/PR/IMC professionals and sharing knowledge for continuous professional development.
  • Our little pal Facebook is great for keeping in touch, too. I love it for just that reason.
  • And don’t forget email and telephone calls. Reach out to others when you feel lonely or isolated.

Reminds me of another song. Take us home, Carole King.

When you’re down and troubled
And you need some loving care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
You’ve got a friend

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The Washington Post ran an article today about the growing popularity of home circumcisions. The traditional Jewish ceremony for eight-day-old boys called brith milah, or bris, performed by a trained mohel is well-known.

But there is a rise in the number of Christian families who opt for a “holistic circumcision” performed at home rather than in the hospital.

Ouch!

Immediately, a disturbing image came to me. I saw the the dark-bearded, falsetto-voiced pitchman for all manner of esoteric cleaning, grooming, and maintenance items, Billy Mays.

That’s scary enough, but what if Billy catches on to this newest trend in, well, home invasion?

“Hi. Billy Mays for OxiKut, the home circumcision kit. Why spend $500 or more on a mohel when you can perform circumcisions at home with our inexpensive kit?”

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Towson’s fall semester begins September 2. Syllabi for my four classes are printed. Class rosters are ready for the first roll call. For weeks now, I’ve been planning lessons that hopefully will help my students learn to be competent communication/PR/IMC professionals.

But I also feel obligated to prepare my students for the “real world” of work and life in general. I wrote about this in the post below, “The Olympics has winners and losers, just like real life.” To effectively face that reality, students and practitioners alike must learn to make wise, ethical, and responsible choices. We all must do the right thing at all times. We must accept responsibility and be accountable for our actions. In so doing, we develop integrity.

Why is integrity important? Integrity, or probity, is all-important to living life responsibly, successfully, richly, fully, and eventually, as a self-actualized individual.

We have codes of ethics from IABC and PRSA to guide us in our work. Many of us have values that we derive from our spiritual beliefs to govern our personal conduct. And in the end, we must accept responsibility for our actions. That takes integrity.

How does this play out in the real world?

  • Students — study hard, follow instructions, do assignments on time, correctly, with attention to detail, show up on time to all classes ready to participate in a meaningful way, and do not cheat or plagiarize. Students who do this, who accept that they are responsible for their success, should achieve course objectives and score high grades.
  • Practitioners — devote themselves to continuous learning and professional development, do their assignments on time, correctly, with attention to detail, show up on time and participate in a meaningful way on the job, and practice ethically and morally. Practitioners who do this, who accept that they are responsible for their success, should achieve desired results and will earn higher salaries, bonuses, promotions, perks, and career advancement.

Common denominators with both groups are accepting responsibility, being accountable, and acting with integrity. These are fundamental ingredients for success.

Joe Gibbs, the famous football coach and owner of the NASCAR team, Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), provides us with a great lesson to support this thinking. NASCAR recently suspended seven of his crew members and stripped his drivers Tony Stewart and Joey Logano of 150 points each for cheating after last week’s Nationwide series race in Michigan. Two of JGR’s crew chiefs were suspended indefinitely and fined $50,000 each.

A man of integrity, Gibbs accepted the ruling and said he would not appeal the penalties. He apologized to all concerned, taking “100 percent” of the blame for his team. He also said he would take further disciplinary action against his team members.

Gibbs said that in 17 years of NASCAR racing, no representative of JGR ever knowingly acted outside of NASCAR rules. Gibbs is a man of honor and never would knowingly condone cheating to win. He does not need to. Gibbs’ cars have dominated the Nationwide series this season, winning 14 of 25 races.

Lessons learned: Gibbs runs his team and his life with integrity and accepts the responsibility and accountability for its and his own actions. So must students and practitioners (and instructors, too).

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Word stir-fry, part two

“Oh my god…I was like…then she was like…then I was like….”

“Then she goes…and I go…then she goes, but then he goes…..”

“Oh…my…goddddddd! I’m like…and she’s like….”

“Then he goes, like….., and then I go…”

“Can you BE LEAVE this????!!!!!”

“Like…then she goes…and I’m like….”

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It seems that every time I turn on the TV to watch the Olympics, beach volleyball is on. I had never before seen this event. But I have become a fan of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. I want them to win gold medals.

In essence, I want them to succeed, like I always wanted my employees to succeed, and now, my students.

Watching the Olympics, the point driven home to me with all the force of a Misty or Kerri shot is this: The Olympics is a metaphor for life, especially work/careers. There are winners, and there are losers. Students must get used to it, for as anyone working today knows, that is the way it is in the workplace.

 In the Olympics, the best get either first, second, or third place. Everyone wants the gold, but there can be only one gold medalist.

On the job, I believe that most employees want to record good performance doing meaningful work in jobs that matter. Study after study proves this. My own 30-plus years of experience in Corporate America as both a manager and later as a consultant have shown this to be true.

Yet, I am seeing a disturbing trend among my Millennial students. Many have an unreal set of expectations about course performance that I fear will hurt their ability to make it in the workplace. In every class, an alarming number of students appear to believe that they should make only “As” no matter what. It appears that some simply feel entitled to As.

News flash — you earn “As” just like you earn job offers, promotions, and bonuses in the workplace. I have no problem with awarding high grades to students who earn them. I never had a problem with rewarding my employees when they deserved it either.

What disturbs me is the attitude when a student gets less than the coveted “A”: “But I worked so hard in this course! I tried so hard. It’s not fair!”

This is a meaningless argument. We are all supposed to try hard all the time. Life requires our strenuous efforts just to make it. It is not a question of fair or unfair. It just is what it is.

What if you heard a silver or bronze medalist whining, “But I tried so hard!” He or she probably did, and all the world saw it. We expect no less in the Olympics. Trying hard is a given; but there will be winners and losers.

Truth is, instructors and employers expect no less of students and employees, respectively. And there will be winners and losers in the classroom and workplace, too.

The individual has the power to affect outcomes in the classroom and the workplace. Just as Olympic athletes prepare themselves for competition, students and employees must prepare themselves to compete as well. That means training, discipline, and mental toughness.

The best prepared will succeed, and many times that includes those who work and try the hardest. These select individuals will “win the gold” whether that gold is an A grade or a job offer, promotion, or bonus. Others will not.

When we enter the classroom or the workplace, we are not automatically entitled to the “gold” just by being there. We all must prove ourselves worthy. There is an old expression heard frequently in business: “What have you done for me lately?” It means that we must continually prove our worth.

Unfair, you say? Perhaps, but it’s the truth. But the good news for both student and employee is that in both settings, there can be more than one gold medalists — more than one student can earn an “A”, and more than one employee can earn a job offer, promotion, or bonus. All it takes is the right attitude, a strong work ethic, and discipline.

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The news of John Edwards’ affair once again calls into question the integrity of newspapers like the New York Times and The Washington Post.

It took what these institutions of faded glory like to call a “rag”, the National Enquirer, to break the Edwards story. Good for you, National Enquirer. You now have credibility that the Times and the Post do not. Those two, with all of their resources, either were clueless to the obvious or so bent on covering up the scandal that they let the National Enquirer scoop them.

Either way, it is not acceptable. Honest and ethical public relations professionals have to work with these media types who all-too-frequently look down their haughty noses at us, too.

More With Les does not cover politics, and this is not about politics. It is about the sorry state of what passes for journalism these days.

But who cares? Biased, agenda-driven media like the Times and the Post can only watch as their readership numbers and ad revenues continue to be in free fall. The New York Times’ stock is one cut above a junk rating, Bloomberg reports. The outlook for the Post is grim, too, as it recorded a second quarter net loss due to steep advertising revenue declines, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The ascendancy of blogs and other Web-based news sources is well-documented. Daily newspapers shrink in both newsroom employees and influence as their ad revenues and subscription rates fall. And all the while social media is on the rise. The days of news filtered by “gatekeepers” like the Times and the Post are gone.

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I want to be public relations director for a plant.

That plant is kudzu. I believe that kudzu is the next great bio-ethanol. All this imported vine needs is effective PR counsel.

There is precedent. Look what good PR has done for grape vines that produce wine or for industrial hemp (cannabis).

Kudzu, native to China and Japan, is a woody vine that grows ridiculously fast, gaining as much as 60 feet in a single growing season. Its roots can grow to the diameter of a man’s forearm. It was introduced decades ago into the Southeastern U.S. to help control soil erosion.

Trouble is, kudzu is extremely hard to control and virtually impossible to eradicate once it gets going. In the deep South, I have seen it cover acres of land, including trees, and even abandoned vehicles and houses. When kudzu takes over, it covers everything like a green leafy snow. It soon smothers out the native plants.

But what a heck of a way to use this nasty, worthless vine. Make bio-ethanol out of it. Mississippi alone could fuel the world with its kudzu-covered acres.

Racing Corvettes are already using cellulosic ethanol made from sawdust, wood chips, and agricultural waste. I’d love to see a kudzu-powered ZR1 lapping Porches at the Nurburgring.

Yep, good PR is essential to help this much-hated pest give it up for the greater good of preserving the planet’s environment. I’m in.

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