If Everyone’s a Critic, Why are We so Bad at Accepting Criticism?

By Jennifer Kuenzer, TrizCom PR

"This is terrific, now here's everything you messed up..."

"This is terrific, now here's everything you messed up..."

No matter what industry you work in, you will be faced with criticism at some point. You've probably given some, yourself. Specifically, “constructive criticism,” but what is that exactly? And does it look and feel the same to everyone? Well, to answer question 1, constructive criticism should be helpful – specific suggestions that seek to inform and improve your overall performance. And in answer to question 2, absolutely not. Sometimes tone, word choice or overall manner can seem confrontational, rude or just plain mean, even when the person criticizing you doesn’t intend for that to be the case. Now, you can’t control how people deliver criticism, but you can control how you receive it. Here are some tips to not only help you make the most out of the criticism you receive, but also how to accept that criticism graciously.

1.    Is it negative? Or does it just sound negative?
Criticism coming from colleagues, clients, bosses or, in the case of the PR industry, media contacts, is intended to push you to learn and improve your process and performance, not make you feel terrible. It can be a valuable asset if you don’t get too caught up in the emotion connected to the criticism itself. The best way to do that is to remove the tone. Sometimes things just sound harsh. Repeat the criticism to yourself, take out any emotion connected to the criticism (real or imagined), dig deeper for the “why” of the criticism, find its value and accept it for what it is: a form of help.

2.    Treat it as seriously as you treat praise.
It feels amazing to be told how great we are at our jobs. If compliments were physical things, they’d be banners, tiaras, sashes, medals – things we can show off with pride or wear with honor. Criticism doesn’t feel good. You wouldn’t really want to wear it. It’s not comfortable. But it is exactly what you need to grow as a professional. If you take every criticism as seriously as you do praise, that means you value improvement. It means you value what you do and the people you work with.

3.    Know the difference between justified and unjustified criticism.
All criticism is not created equally. Some criticism is just an opinion. It’s irrelevant to the task at hand, or it has zero reasoning behind it other than “I don’t like this.” It is a form of criticism that is about the person giving it more than anything else. Unjustified criticism should be given no extra attention or argument, just move to the next item. Bear in mind, with rare exceptions this tip does not really apply to your clients or media contacts.

4.    Don’t take it personally.
This one is so much easier said than done. Everything above indicates the many ways criticism feels personal, doesn’t it? But the bottom line is that, particularly with professional criticism, everyone is on the same team working towards the same goal. When someone gives feedback that sounds negative, is clearly not praise, but is completely justified in terms of the scope of the client or project, it’s not about you. Yes, the idea may be yours, or the words, or the concept, but it’s not about you. It’s about the team. Which leads me to – 

5.    Accept criticism graciously.
This one is not as difficult as it may appear. If the criticism is delivered via email or even text, take a moment to consider the criticism, remove the tone and the emotion, and don’t respond right away. Take time to craft a short and pleasant response. If it happens during a meeting or a presentation, take a breath, consider the criticism, and respond positively. Don’t offer excuses or defenses when no one is asking for them. Take it all in, and say thank you. Smiling is a natural diffuser and a good way to communicate that you understand they mean to help.

Constructive criticism creates a stronger professional, and knowing how to accept it without getting upset will help you as personally as it will professionally. It feels good, knowing that people value what you do enough to let it inspire them to contribute to your success. When we can push each other to be better, we all win.

 

“So what do you do?” – A Glimpse into a Day in the Life of a PR Pro

By Katie Mudd, TrizCom PR Account Executive

As a good big sister and the dedicated family spokesperson, I was performing my sisterly duties and gave my brother a quick phone call during my lunch break to check in. We got to talking, and he mentioned that he was near my office around lunch time earlier that week and thought about stopping by to say hello “because I know where you work, but I am not actually sure what you do. I think I need to come in check it out for myself sometime.”

Katie and her curious brother Brad at a Texas Rangers Game.

Katie and her curious brother Brad at a Texas Rangers Game.

This got me thinking – even after sharing many stories with my family of the successes I have achieved at work, my brother still didn’t really understand what a day at the office was like for me. To shed light on what this might look like for my brother and for family members of PR professionals who might not be brave enough to ask “So what do you do?,” I’ve mapped out what a typical Monday morning looks like at the TrizCom office.

8:30 a.m. – Arrive at the office, check for any missed calls on the office line. Catch up on emails that came in overnight that were not previously addressed after-hours. Take a quick look at social media to see what is trending for the day and to see what is happening in the news.

9 a.m. – Prepare items to be added to the weekly staff meeting agenda.

10-11:30 a.m. – The entire team meets every Monday at the conference table to discuss upcoming action items and deliverables for our clients. Our firm does not specialize in a specific type of communications: our clients vary from nonprofit, healthcare, lifestyle and events to business-to-business. We are smaller than other firms in town but are stronger because the entire team, including everyone from the CEO to our interns, has a working knowledge of what is happening with each account – thanks to our weekly check-ins.

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. – Check email, and plan to grab a quick lunch – most likely from our newest client, Taco Bueno, which is conveniently located across the parking lot from our office. During lunch, I usually hop back on social media to make sure I haven’t missed any major news. We keep CNN on during the day and have push notifications set on our devices from national and local stations to prevent pitching new stories during breaking news.

12:30-2 p.m. – Check in with each client via email, providing a quick status update on pending deliverables, media opportunities and recent news coverage.

2-5:30 p.m. – Get to work on pending client deliverables! This means researching information and topics to be discussed in upcoming press releases and pitches that are mapped out in the PR plan. Write the releases and pitches. Find out where these items will be sent, to whom and when.

5:30 p.m. – Go home, and prepare to do most of it again the next day. No day in public relations is ever the same. Even though I’ve left the office, work often follows me home. I’m always on call – monitoring my email and phone to ensure that a crisis hasn’t popped up or an urgent media request hasn’t come in. You never know when a crisis will occur, but it’s almost guaranteed that it will happen when you least expect and will be after business hours or on the weekend.

Each day brings new challenges and projects that often come out of left field. To be successful in this industry, it’s important to be organized to stay on track. But there will be times when your best laid plans go astray – especially when the phone rings and a reporter is calling to set up a story that you pitched months ago, or a news story breaks and your client is the perfect person to provide their thought leadership as a source. It’s rare that you will find a day that isn’t interrupted with a media interview or client meeting – but that’s what keeps work exciting!

So, little brother, you’re welcome to stop by anytime during lunch to see what I’ve been up to, but in the meantime, maybe this will give you an idea. 

Don’t Just Pitch Stories, Pitch Sources!

By Jeff Cheatham, Senior Account Supervisor at TrizCom PR

As public relations ‘practitioners’ (a $20 word), we pride ourselves on our ability to pitch the media just the right story at just the right time. In doing so, we go through a mental checklist of suitability factors. Number one: is the story news and noteworthy? If you have to ruminate on this point, it probably isn’t. Can you make it news and noteworthy? Well, it is our job to find the angles…

When we approach the media in our outreach efforts, we like to do a little exercise where we put ourselves in our target’s shoes. When they get your emailed pitch, will it be greeted with a slow, approving nod? Or an eye roll, banished forever in the Deleted Items folder? We’re always aiming for the slow, approving nod. Hopefully followed up with an immediate reply or a call asking for more information.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper demonstrates the eye roll

CNN’s Anderson Cooper demonstrates the eye roll

Do you see what just occurred there? What we’re really trying to do is help the media. We want to make their jobs easier, which is no small task considering how many times they likely roll their eyes each and every day. And if we’re truly trying to help our friends in the media secure coverage for our clients, why not find new and inventive ways to do so?

Pitch sources, not just stories.

Is your client an expert on anything? If you don’t think so, maybe you have the wrong client. You need to find inventive ways in which you can pitch your client sources to the media. If successful, that’s the very definition of an industry thought leader, correct? Being able to feature a client of yours on the news or in the newspaper is an ideal way to attach credibility to their product or service. The source subject is almost always featured by name—and by company.

Source pitching works extremely well if you can attach your client to a breaking news story. If an issue or current event is at stake and your client has a valuable opinion on it, don’t be shy about sending a brief note to your contacts in the media. List out their areas of expertise and how they might contribute to the overall conversation.

What Breaking News looks like…

What Breaking News looks like…

We’re doing a little of that ourselves these days. Fortunately for us, the Trump Administration is the gift that keeps on giving. Their American Health Care Act and proposed budget cuts to Medicaid may end up being a banner day for our nonprofit client, Community Council of Dallas. One of the Community Council’s core missions is to advise and assist consumers in navigating the health care marketplace. If we can secure them as a viable source to break down the issues for viewers and readers, everyone comes out ahead. And we get a few more media hits to add to their online newsroom.

When you pitch the media a source instead of a story, you’re attempting to do them a favor. You’re basically saying, “We know your time is valuable, and you may be too busy to line up sources on your own. Let us to do the heavy lifting.”

That’s the true beauty of pitching a source. And the definition of a win-win situation.

 

A Bittersweet Goodbye to TrizCom

By Maelyn Schramm, TrizCom PR Intern

Maelyn in a completely casual, totally candid, hard at work shot.

Maelyn in a completely casual, totally candid, hard at work shot.

My time at TrizCom PR is about to come to an end. As the sun sets on the month of May, I will bid adieu to my nook in the little office that I made my workspace. It truly is a bittersweet moment.

Firstly, it’s bitter. I love working alongside such creative, like-minded individuals who have a passion for storytelling and a dedication to produce excellent work. I will miss playing – and ultimately losing – Yahtzee during lunch, and I will miss popping my head into Katie and Dana’s office to ask them about their weekends. I will miss hearing all of Jeff’s crazy stories and catching up with Jen about what her adorable family is up to. I will miss how Jo surprises us with sweet treats to reward us for our work. In many places, it’s hard to find a boss who acknowledges 1) interns and 2) your sacrificial efforts to complete tasks and meet deadlines. She says “thank you” at the end of every day, and as someone who cherishes words of affirmation, it means the world to me.

Secondly, it’s sweet. Over the past four(ish) months, I’ve experienced such exponential growth as a creative storyteller and human being. TrizCom pushes me to exert 100 percent of my energy and passion into every project I produce – this includes reports, releases, social media outlines and blogs. TrizCom equipped me to write stories about any and everything, with assignments ranging from Heroes for Children – a nonprofit that benefits families who have children battling cancer – to Healthway Education Systems, a medical marijuana continuing education program. TrizCom gave me an idea of what I’m looking for in future employers – to find companionship, to test my limits, to receive respect from my peers and superiors alike.

I’m about to leave, but this is not a permanent goodbye. I plan to stay in touch with every person I’ve connected with, to hear about TrizCom’s incoming intern class, and to shriek with excitement on the word of new clients. To leave behind an era of so much growth and refinement is bittersweet, but my time at TrizCom was nothing but sweet.

5 Important Things to Expect with Social Media

By Karen Carrera, TrizCom Public Relations

I begin this piece with a disclaimer: I am no social media expert. My specialties are media training and crisis communications. I know just enough about social media to be dangerous.

However, I do coordinate my clients’ social media needs with the experts – and make sure that my communication plans and content integrate with the goals of a robust social media plan. What does that mean? Basically, that the right arm is talking to the left arm. Your social media efforts should augment your PR plan, and your PR plan should align with the content and channels you’re using to execute your social media plan.

Just like on the PR side of the table, it’s important to manage expectations. If a client doesn’t want to post consistently but insists that an important posts gets shared and commented on a lot, that client is in for a big disappointment. Here are 5 important things I’ve learned that help clients know what to expect from their social media efforts (or nonefforts).

1)      Start with goals to guide your activities. Just like you would never send out a random press release or distribute a generic brochure, you don’t want to aimlessly post on social media channels. You can burn a lot of time and worse, lose the interest of the friends and followers you have. A social pro will help map out what you want to accomplish, recommend the best channels to accomplish those goals, and design content with a voice consistent with your brand. This is the chance for your brand’s personality to shine through!

2)      Growing your base takes time. Social media happens organically – it can’t be forced, and while technically you can buy friends and followers, people can sniff out phonies in no time. You want to attract and cultivate people who care about your service or product, and who will engage. Depending on your brand and the goals you’ve set out to meet, your target audience might be 1 million people…or it might be 100.

3)      Feed and nurture your followers and friends. Most of us have been on Facebook at one time or another and know about friends who are either over posters, under posters, or who post annoying content. A social pro will help develop bright, engaging content so people want to follow, comment and share.

4)      Changes are the only constant. As you probably found out the hard way, LinkedIn just did a major overhaul that pleased a couple of users but frustrated everyone else. Like all technology, just when you get used to something it’s likely to change. Social media experts are able to more easily track these “upgrades” and anticipate what’s coming.

5)      Be prepared for negative posts that try to distract or upend your message. I’ve worked with clients who demanded that their social media channels be taken down at the slightest whiff of crisis. To me, that’s like rearranging chairs on the Titanic. Today, many crises play out on social media. And because of that, you have to communicate through those channels as well. Instead of pulling the plug, make sure that dealing with negative responses is anticipated in a social media policy and plan. That goes for dealing with internet trolls as well who post contrary, inflammatory or distracting content. With a plan in place, you’ll be ready when they inevitably appear.

Seven Skills Every PR Pro Must Have to Excel at Storytelling

By Jo Trizila, CEO of TrizCom Public Relations & Pitch PR

This post orginally appeared on Spin Sucks

My undergraduate degree and graduate studies were in theater.

It wasn’t until I graduated that I discovered I did not have much talent for acting—but I did have the storytelling bug.

Theater to PR isn’t much of a stretch.

In theater, we have a script, a director, actors, audience members, and location.

In public relations, we have the story, the client, people who make up the story, audience members, and location.

Our firm writes everything very editorially—we treat each opportunity as a story.

With this method, we get predictable results.

Storytelling has been and always will be the single most valuable skill any PR pro must have.

Storytelling is an art.

A lot of uncommon skill sets go into storytelling. A good storyteller is…

A Detective (i.e., Mining for Stories)

Clients notoriously don’t know what makes a good plot line for a story and often we find stories in the oddest ways.

One of my favorite stories was with Massage Envy.

I was in the tranquility room waiting for my appointment.

As I was waiting, I saw a therapist come out of one of the rooms using a long white cane.

The franchise owner had four legally blind therapists on staff.

I “sold” the story to the Associated Press and to this day, it is still one of my favorite stories: Blind Masseuses Don’t Miss Seeing a Thing.

A Playwright’s Writer

You must be a rock-solid writer.

Not a lot more needs to be said here.

A Salesman

You need to be an incredible salesperson, both to the client and to the journalist.

This is a big one.

Just having an incredible story to tell is only one part of the equation.

You must have an outlet to tell it.

In the summer of 2014, we were tasked with developing a worldwide publicity campaign for Jeff Gusky’s The Hidden World of WWI.

This is a collection of black-and-white photographs of never before seen WWI underground cities.

Because these underground cities had never been photographed before, and because we could not reveal their actual location, the media didn’t believe our story.

We thought this story would sell itself, and the phones would be ringing off the hooks.

We were wrong.

It took a few weeks of heavy hitting before the wheels started moving.

However, at the end of our yearlong campaign, we had the client in virtually every major news outlet.

Here’s BBC One’s coverage: Underground Cities.

A Clairvoyant

You have an amazing opportunity for your client with an even more amazing story.

We know that unless it is national or breaking news, multiple features are unlikely—you must know what outlet is going to give your client maximum exposure.

It’s about analytics.

For example, I knew (with the above-mentioned story on blind therapists) I could get local coverage, but I also knew it was a national story.

I had my top three outlets printed out and went from there.

This happens with every story we pitch.

Also, sometimes the story is better told in print than video and vice versa.

You need to know this—just as a director knows if his piece is better suited for the stage, small screen, or big screen.

A Master Builder

Storytelling 101: Build your story/script.

You are the playwright here.

How do you want the client’s story to be told?

Who are the players?

What is the setting, how do you wrap it up?

It must be captivating with a very clear focus.

And for the love of God, keep the sales pitch to a minimum.

Go buy an ad if you are trying to sell something.

A Creative Director

The best compliment we get at our firm is when a journalist comes back to us and says, “Thanks for making my job easier.”

#Winning!

Think like the journalist.

What are they going to need to help them tell your story?

Is it video? Photography? Infographics? Statistics? A real customer testimony?

Have all these assets lined up prior to pitching your story.

Last, but most definitely not least, a good storyteller must…

An Award-Winning Marksman

The devil’s in the details.

We all know that a missing comma can totally change the meaning of a sentence.

We also know that specifying an interview in eastern/central/pacific time zones is critical, if a television shoot is live or recorded, etc.

PR is all about credibility.

If you miss or blunder on important details, you lose your credibility.

Storytelling is the Number One Skill Needed

In all my years in this profession (25+), storytelling is the number one skill I seek.

Most PR pros can check boxes: Writing—check; grammar—check; AP format—check; pitching success—check.

But if they can’t originate, locate, identify a good story, the above is worthless to my firm and to our clients.

One does not have to have connections in the media (although it does help) to pitch a great story.

A great story will trump connections anytime.

Tap, Tap, Tap … Is This Thing On? Tips to Nail a Radio Interview

By Dana Cobb, Senior Account Executive

We are constantly pitching our clients for radio interviews. All sorts of formats: news pieces, CEO interviews, product announcements, expert commentary, celebrity phoners … the whole gamut. While the concept of capturing a conversation on air seems simple, it is often not.  Just like being a Boy Scout, the key to having a successful radio interview is to BE PREPARED.

Prepare for an abrupt start. Most radio interviews are done by phone, not in studio, and most stations prefer to call you. Some producers call a few minutes before the interview begins, allowing you to listen for few minutes to get a feel for the program’s tone. But others wait until the last possible second, meaning you’re on the air within moments of picking up the phone. When you pick up the phone, be ready to go live on a second’s notice—or on no notice at all. You’ll hear the host over the phone line, so turn your radio off to avoid hearing a distracting delay.

Express passion. Sure, you’re on the radio. But listeners will hear it if you stand, move your hands and smile—so get a telephone headset and gesture away. Try to match or slightly exceed the host’s energy level to avoid sounding flat.

Sit close to the microphone (in-studio). New Radio 1080 KRLD’s David Johnson always tells our clients to “sit uncomfortably close to the microphone.” We can literally hear the distance when the interview airs.

Make the connection (in-studio). We suggest that our clients make eye contact with the host and speak with them as if they are having a great conversation at a party. Be confident, smile. The listener hears confidence. It’s absolutely acceptable to bring a few notes or talking points in studio, but never read them—glance down occasionally if you need to and try not to lose your connection.

Don’t depend on them to make the plug. You’re probably on the radio because you want to promote something—a new book, your website, your company. Although many experienced hosts are adept at “plugging” whatever you want promoted, some aren’t. We send the producer a short bio and key points in advance of the interview which many hosts use verbatim to introduce me on the air.

The truth is in the tape. Few people enjoy listening to tapes of their interviews, but doing so can help you identify and fix problem areas. This is where you hear those dreaded “uhs.”

When Was the Last Time You Checked In?

By Jeff Cheatham, Senior Account Supervisor at TrizCom PR

What checking in might look like…

What checking in might look like…

Every client is different, we all know that. And typically at some point in the onboarding process, you should find out exactly who your regular point of contact will be. You should also find out about their typical workload and preferable times to reach out to them. Always operate from the assumption that your client contact has a “day job” to complete. You don’t want to be seen as any type of a nuisance.

I clearly remember a new business meeting we had at the TrizCom offices over a year ago. A commercial real estate company in Houston sent two executives to meet with us, hear our proposal and see if we might be a good fit for their business. They were working with another PR firm, but they almost never heard from their account manager. When we showed them what our typical quarterly PR plan looked like, they were stunned. They told us they never received any advance plans, strategies, tactics or clip reports. Then it was our turn to be stunned.

What struck me the most is how little they interacted with their account manager. A long time ago, several jobs back, I began sending my clients what I call the “Monday Morning Check-in.” It’s simple, really – just a checklist of pending items, notating exactly where we stand on the different action items in our quarterly PR plan. If I am still waiting on approval for a press release, I re-attach the document. If there’s a pending interview, I’ll add a reminder. If I’m tracking a few current media wins, I let them know of the status. If something is urgent, it gets the ALL CAPS treatment.

As a PR firm, that’s the minimum you should be doing each week to stay in touch with your valuable client contacts. Once they’ve been trained to expect your updates, they’ll come to depend on them. I have clients that I email several times a day. I have others that I may only hear from twice a month. But they’ll be hearing from me. All of my clients can count on the weekly Monday Morning Check-ins. At TrizCom, that’s our way of reminding our clients that our relationship is valuable and shares a common goal to succeed in achieving our public relations goals. In short, our clients always know what we’re doing on their behalf.

What TrizCom clients are saying about us…

What TrizCom clients are saying about us…

In addition to the Monday Morning Check-ins, TrizCom is diligent in providing other updates such as quarterly PR plans, quarterly clip reports and immediate email notifications of earned media wins. If our clients have a pending interview, they won’t begin without first receiving our one-page talking points memos, specifically tailored to the media opportunity.

For us, these communicative efforts are a process not to be taken lightly. Communication is our business. And this is how we check in. When was the last time you did so?