Kicking The Shit Out of Option B

kick the shit out of option bBy Julie Wright, President

What’s your ability to adapt to stress and adversity?

How prepared is your team to respond to obstacles or crises?

Adversity is a fact of life and of business. Things won’t always go your way. In fact, every once in a while, things will go horribly, irreversibly wrong.

Resilience. It has to be the most powerful quality a person or a company can possess.

I was overwhelmed reading Sheryl Sandberg’s message on Facebook earlier this month that described her grief after suddenly losing her husband.

Her conclusion was one I could relate to for mourning just about anything, from the loss of a loved one to the loss of a financial nest egg, a job or a dream.

“I was talking to one of these friends about a father-child activity that Dave is not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, ‘But I want Dave. I want option A.’ He put his arm around me and said, ‘Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.’

Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B…”

That is the essence of resilience.

Kicking the shit out of option B.

I don’t want to talk about how to mourn life’s big stuff. Read Sandberg’s post if you want to learn how to do that right.

I want to take inspiration from her post and apply it to our business lives.

How do you behave when your big campaign doesn’t achieve results, your company becomes the subject of a lawsuit or financial scandal, a disgruntled employee does something awful, your CEO quits or a regulatory authority doesn’t approve your project or product?

Do you look for people to blame and find excuses for failure? Or do you analyze what went wrong, what could have been done differently and what processes or systems need correction? Do you rush for explanations or give yourself time to make a thorough assessment?

Sandberg took 30 days to gain her perspective and share what she had learned.

sherylThat introspection is a key to resiliency. You can’t adapt and succeed in the face of setbacks if you’re not taking the space and time needed to learn from them. Whether you need more or less than 30 days, the point is not to rush this process or communicate with a knee-jerk response. A little distance and perspective can help you see the true problem, understand your own reaction and help you determine where you go from here.

In a crisis where a company is expected to make a statement immediately, don’t rush to provide answers. Rush to provide comfort and instill confidence. Let people know you care, are taking action and will share information and next steps once they have been carefully evaluated.

Just like introspection, leadership is key to a company or team’s resiliency. Leaders need to re-inspire teams with a renewed purpose and readiness to kick the shit out of option B—whatever option B might be: a new or rejigged campaign, a leadership transition, a fresh product development plan or company-wide safety initiative.

Sandberg is a leader, well-spoken and exceedingly capable of selling her ideas. I have no doubt, after reading her post, that she will kick the shit out of option B.

Another feature of her resilience is her support system. She has her mother to help and a close network of confidantes to comfort and advise her.

In fact, her epiphany about option B came through the words of a supportive friend. And, at the time, it wasn’t where her heart was pushing her.

A good friend who had more perspective on the issue than she did was able to speak this truth to her.

That’s the role of trusted advisors during your corporate tragedy. They’re your support system and can help you find option B, as well as figure out how to kick the shit out of it.

You need outside points of view and the input of people who are experts in their fields and true professionals who can view the situation objectively and speak the truth when it needs to be heard.

Do you have those relationships? Do you know who you can turn to for counsel—who will help you find your option B? And are you open to hearing hard truths and listening to ideas and solutions that might cause some discomfort in the short term?

Like Sandberg, have you shared your vulnerabilities with those closest to you? Hiding the truth from trusted advisors or faking it with them will not build that mutual trust, nor will it allow their best advice and support. You have to let them in. And you have to be open to listening and valuing objective, outside experience and advice.

So be prepared for setbacks and losses in business, just as in life. And, when they happen, be ready to kick the shit out of option B. Give yourself and your team the time and space to gain perspective and learn the lessons to guide your new direction, use your leadership to restore enthusiasm in the new goal and call on the support of objective and valued consultants to ensure you have looked at the issue from all angles and without judgment.


Check out our related posts below:

Your Competitive Advantage is Being Human

In Communications, the Constant is Change


Hashtag Flawless: The #CallMeCaitlyn Transformation is PR Gold


By Erica Schlesinger, Communications Strategist

By now, Bruce Jenner’s announcement that he has been living more than 60 years of his life as transgender, and his subsequent debut as Caitlyn Jenner, isn’t breaking news. However, Jenner’s transformation is sure to keep the public and media buzzing for months to come, and not because of the most obvious reason – but because Caitlyn and her camp executed a darn near flawless rollout of her story. abc_jenner_sawyer_2_wy_150424_16x9_992

From Bruce’s one-on-one with Diane Sawyer to Caitlyn’s introduction to the world on the cover of Vanity Fair just a couple of months later, everything was calculated – and in this situation, I mean that as a compliment. Jenner’s primary publicist has helped other big names including Mel Gibson and Rob Lowe navigate PR issues, and also worked with Jenner as far back as the 1980s. When a reporter came across Jenner dressed as a woman and had a story in the works – at the peak of Jenner’s heyday – the same publicist helped defuse the situation, eventually convincing the reporter to stay silent. With the exception of a few whispers here and there in more recent years, nary a word was heard until Jenner split from longtime wife Kris and appeared to be taking the steps to transition into Caitlyn.

According to reports, Jenner and her PR team have been orchestrating Caitlyn’s debut since last year, and media were vying for a piece of the story from day one. The New York Times and Vanity Fair, where Caitlyn eventually said hello to millions of readers worldwide, were among publications initially put on pause due to “TV commitments.” Whether this was true at the time or not remains to be seen, as “an ABC insider” says Jenner and her camp only began seriously talking details for the Diane Sawyer interview in December 2014. However, it seems Sawyer was the only reporter Jenner wanted, despite the fact that her home network, E!, is owned by NBC Universal. It’s a credit to Jenner’s PR team that they held their ground and stuck with ABC – it’s likely that going with an E! affiliate would have been seen as more of a PR stunt to drum up ratings for “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or Jenner’s upcoming docuseries, “I Am Cait,” in turn diminishing the positive sentiment the public had toward Jenner after watching the interview.

vanityfairSoon after Jenner inked her agreement with ABC, Vanity Fair was locked in as well. It can only be assumed Jenner and her team had their pick of outlets to publish her first photos, ranging from news-oriented magazines like Time to pop culture options like People. Vanity Fair makes great sense for several reasons: It’s the perfect blend of celebrity stories – without the unflattering twist of the tabloids – and savvy news coverage mixed with high-quality, ultra-professional journalism. When a celebrity wants to make a life-altering announcement while earning respect and awareness for a community they care deeply about, an exclusive with a publication like VF is a wise choice. Other outlets will obviously cover and insert their own opinions – a fact that will never change with stories like these – but for controversial or “big news” stories, exclusives allow a certain amount of control and comfort. The magazine was also able to call upon the magic of famed photographer Annie Leibovitz and the well-matched reporting of Buzz Bissinger, who not only authored sports-centric Friday Night Lights, but faced his “own issues of shame (with) gender struggles.”

There are a number of people who feel Jenner is just playing the Kardashian “look at me” game – pointedly opting for a “C” on a name that could start with a “K,” baiting the public with snippets of information in her Sawyer interview that had to be followed up with the Vanity Fair story, filming an “about me” series with E!, even announcing her official transition right before Kim Kardashian announced her second pregnancy with Kanye West. They’re not wrong.

Of course Jenner wants attention, and of course she’s hired a top-notch team to help her get it in the best possible way. However, although she’s certainly not being left high and dry financially, let’s take a moment to remember a man named Bruce who didn’t feel like himself for more than six decades. Bruce felt he had to stay silent, and Caitlyn wants to speak, wants to share her story to help other transgender people feel comfortable in their skin and feel empowered to live the life they want. Although today’s society is certainly more accepting than that of even 20 years ago, it’s pretty amazing how receptive people have been to Caitlyn. When it became clear Bruce had made the decision to transition, even the toughest of guys painted their nails and posted pictures to social media showing their support. When Caitlyn appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair and on Twitter that same day, men and women alike reacted with tweets like, “Caitlyn Jenner looks incredible. So happy for her” and “I am in AWE of @Caitlyn_Jenner. She is stunning in her debut cover story.”

If Caitlyn is helping advance social acceptance and self-acceptance for a huge population of people, and through a kicka** PR campaign at that… power to her.


Check out our related posts below:

Why PR is Becoming a Visual Game (and How to Win)

5 Essential Elements of Every Community Outreach Plan


Your Competitive Advantage is Being Human

Photo via Fast Company
Photo via Fast Company

By Chance Shay, Communications Strategist

IDSD Recap – Keynote Speaker, Brian Kramer

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t familiar with Bryan Kramer before I signed up for Interactive Day San Diego. I did a quick Google search and found out he speaks a lot about social content sharing and is the author of Human To Human and the soon-to-be-released Shareology. Walking into the Sapphire Ballroom at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, I figured Bryan would have some good stuff to say, but when he walked out to The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up,” I knew he was my type of people.

Now, I don’t know if he came up with the H2H, or Human to Human term, but Bryan was the first person I’ve witnessed provide context as to what is at the heart of brands who understand they need to communicate H2H.

The three main H2H pillars are:

  • Simplicity
  • Empathy
  • Imperfection

Thinking of simplistic brands, IDSD attendees threw out Apple, Starbucks, Nike and a few others. Not sure Nike fits there, but we’ll go with it. Empathetic brands make customers feel like the brand cares about them and their wellbeing. Brands like Charmin, Southwest Airlines, The Honest Company, Toms, Dove, Amazon and Nordstrom. What I found was consistent with all of these brands is that they make it seem like they are the same as the customer. That relatability is a consistent connection to empathy. I also noted brand imperfections – think those seen within Fox News, Exxon Mobile, etc. – can work in their favor.


Again, the relatability factor: being flawed is a hugely human characteristic. That humanity will appeal to customers. The more brands embrace their relative humanity, the more likely they’ll be trusted.

What Bryan pointed out was that no brand combines all three. Disagree? Leave a comment with a brand you think meets all three criteria (Google doesn’t count).

Other key pillars brands can embrace include:

  • Connection/Love
  • Significance
  • Variety/Uncertainty
  • Certainty/Consistency
  • Growth
  • Contribution

It’s been shown that applying three or more of these to a campaign increases the potential for positive impact.

There are also a few main tones people use to communicate, including:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Disgust
  • Joy
  • Surprise

These make sense, right? Rarely do people share content that has a tone of boredom or basic satisfaction. Brands have to share in these emotional tones because that’s human, but also because when you share in these tones, most people will respond with the same tone. Sharing something with joy is met with engagement with the same tone. This doesn’t work with trolls, but that’s probably not your target audience.

Understanding we’re in a human to human economy and that human characteristics are key to effective communication leads us to one final question:

Why do we share?


5 Essential Elements of Every Community Outreach Plan

community outreach

By Chance Shay, Communications Strategistcommunity outreach

Community outreach is a unique discipline within public relations.

For public agencies trying to change consumption behavior, developers wanting to inform a neighborhood of a change or non-profits hoping to gain support, the challenge is to influence the community as an outsider.

Along with posing additional communication challenges, the major difficulty for community outreach—and its differentiator from other forms of public relations—is that your target audience is typically not interested in what you’re trying to say.

Think about it.

People seek products or services to solve immediate pain points. If there’s no perceived problem, there’s no need to seek a solution. Community members going about their daily lives typically aren’t:

  • Proactively looking to change their behavior
  • Hoping to become informed about something they aren’t aware of
  • Picking up another cause to support

community outreachIn short, the people you’re trying to communicate with don’t know about your project and don’t care.

Clearly, the main goal of community outreach is to make the target audience care, but the “how” is where some organizations miss the mark.

As with all sound communication plans, there is no silver bullet to achieve program objectives. Instead, organizations must develop a strategy that leverages the right content, across the right channels, at the right time.

It’s easier said than done, but to ease the process, here are five crucial elements to developing an effective and efficient community outreach plan.

  1. A good understanding of the target audience

Rule #1 of good communication: Know your audience.

What this really means is to know what unifies the community and what’s important to them so you can effectively tailor your outreach.

Once you know what the community finds important, you’ll be able to communicate how your project aligns with those values. The community is going to ask themselves, “so what?” to any new information thrown at them, and your outreach should always answer that question.

  1. Be proactive

Since you know the community is going to question the information you’re trying to convey, be proactive in explaining what’s in it for them. Seize the opportunity to control messages that will make a first impression. If you don’t, the door is open for detractors and the ill-informed to steal your thunder or create turbulence that will compete against accurate information.

Proactivity is necessary across all channels where conversations in the community are happening. Make sure journalists covering the beat are informed, have a website and social media presence to push information and identify other touch points to utilize. The more information you provide, the more you empower the community to be involved in the process.

  1. Community partnerships

partnershipFind creative, mutually beneficial ways to partner with organizations already serving the audience you want to connect with. These groups have built trust with their members and those they influence, so a partnership serves as third-party validation of your organization, the project and its mission.

The best partnerships are with groups whose purpose aligns with the goals of your project. Determine how your project is complementary to their mission because you don’t want to compete for the same attention.

  1. Engage in-person

The old saying, “advertisements don’t sell products, people sell products” is true for community outreach. Make creating face time with the community a priority in your strategy.

People are skeptical. Face-to-face meetings are important for removing that skepticism and creating personal relationships. Even better, get influencers involved in creating a solution early on so that they become ambassadors for the project and its goals.

Always remember that communities want to be a part of the process, not have something thrust on them.

  1. Be responsive

Being part of the process also means dialogue should flow two ways. Some community input should find its way into the plan. Too often, agencies bring a 95% developed solution to a community and don’t leave room for responsiveness.

The engagement must be early enough in the process to allow for stakeholder input. If you know a component of a project is a perfect fit for the community, engage them in a way that allows them to “discover” that component as a solution. People always love to support their own ideas.


Of course, the most important part is presenting a project that is valuable to the target community. Once you’ve identified the value, there are many different techniques and strategies to communicate it effectively. However, you only get one shot at a first impression, which is why it’s always best to call on the communications experts for support.


An Ode to AP Style










By Molly Borchers, Sr. Communications Strategist

As an ode to Associated Press (AP) style, I thought I would write this lovely haiku:

What is red, white and…

Every journalist’s best friend?

The AP style guide

Bad haikus aside, more than two million AP Stylebooks have been published since 1977, and for good reason. AP style provides guidelines for newswriting and is the de facto standard for newspapers, magazines and other media. Originally, it was intended to offer short-form advantages to save scarce print space, such as dropping the Oxford comma (don’t hate) and using figures for all numbers above nine.

ap styleAnyone who works in a journalism related field, public relations professionals included, should be familiar with AP style. You know this already, but unless you curl up with the AP style guide every Friday night over a glass of wine, I bet you could use a refresher.

Here are the most common AP style mistakes we see in press releases:

socks in sandals

  • Capitalizing job titles after a person’s name – that’s a big no-no. AP style dictates that you only capitalize a title used before a person’s name, not after.
  • Using two spaces after punctuation (seriously, if you’re still doing this, stop immediately!)
  • State abbreviations: Did you know that California is Calif. and not CA? If not, you do now.
  • Using Oxford commas – give them the boot!
  • Percentages: To spell out, or not to spell out? According to AP style, write out “percent” in news releases, but using the % symbol is OK in financial tables.
  • While we’re on the subject, the word “okay” should be spelled as “OK.”
  • Numbers: Write out numbers one through nine. Use numerals for 10 and higher. Also, always write out numbers when they begin a sentence.
  • Time: Time should not be spelled out, except for noon and midnight. Using :00 for on-the-hour times is not necessary. Finally, use a.m. and p.m. lowercase.
  • Do not hyphenate a compound modifier when using adverbs that end in -ly, such as a beautifully-decorated cake. It’s correct to say “a beautifully decorated cake.”
  • Dates: Keep it simple – there’s no point in writing “Wednesday, May 13th 2015,” when “May 13” will do just fine.
  • Months: Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec., and spell out when using alone or with just a year.
  • Seasons: We don’t see much of winter or fall in San Diego, Calif. Yet, we do see seasons capitalized all too often. Although months are capitalized, seasons should not be.
  • Addresses: St., Ave. and Blvd. are abbreviated when referring to a specific address. Road, Court, Drive, Lane, Way and other forms of addresses are not abbreviated.
  • Dimensions: Spell them out. Depending on your choice of measurement, a football field is 100 yards, 300 feet or 3,600 inches long.

A Few Tricky Words

  • dictionaryToward: The car comes toward you, not towards you. You can walk forward, upward, backward and downward, but never forwards. If you’re following me, these words do not have an “s.”
  • Farther vs. Further: Farther refers to distance, while further refers to time or degree. “I walked farther in order to further my geographical studies.”
  • Email: This word recently changed spelling, but if you’re using a computer, you should know that “email” is no longer spelled “e-mail.”
  • WWW: The Internet and Web should still be capitalized.

I don’t have room in this blog post to list all the rules, but hopefully these helped you correct a few mistakes. If you want to master writing for the media, dust off your (up-to-date) AP Stylebooks for a refresh!


Dear Journalists, We Can Explain: Things PR Pros Want You to Know

letter to the editorBy Erica Schlesinger, Communications Strategist

If you’ve been in the media relations game long enough – on either side – you’ve seen many a blog, article, and social media post lamenting the mess-ups of PR professionals. There are different ones here and there, but most tend to center around incessant follow-ups, not understanding beats, mass emails and the dreaded… dun dun dun… follow-up phone call!

follow up callNow, don’t get me wrong, journalists – those things are annoying, misguided and a mark of poor (or no) research. So I assure you, I feel you. But I also assure you that for every off-base pitch or umpteenth follow-up you get, there are more carefully-crafted notes from PR pros trying very hard to make you happy. We read your media profiles, we catch up on months or even years of your articles, we make notes about your beats and interests in our media lists and we set ourselves reminders in our calendars to follow up a sane amount of times over a reasonable timeframe.

I asked my conscientious colleagues, some of whom have multiple decades of experience in the field, to share their top things they want journalists to know. Here’s what they had to say:

“PR people are accountable to their clients and/or employer and have a job to do. Part of our job is avoiding speculation and hypotheticals being printed in the media. Another is respecting confidentiality, which might include personnel issues, financial data or a legal matter. We want to provide timely and accurate information to reporters but do sometimes have to hold back. In most of my interactions, the media do understand that and are also just doing their job. We also spend time crafting our pitches to target a reporter’s beat and interests. We are not blasting off topic story ideas, and we welcome feedback from the media to help us improve. We know the media get a gazillion pitches per day, but we crave your feedback and value your time.” – Julie Wright, President


“I think a lot of journalists assume we want to insert ourselves or take over their process when we just want to be sure they’re getting everything they need. Journalists often want to talk to the client, but the client is busy running a business and doesn’t have the time to send images, headshots, product fact sheets, etc. Our job – and desire – is to make the journalist’s life easier. Journalists also tend to assume we just want our clients to spew talking points that mean nothing but sound great. The reality is, our clients are passionate about their product. They live and breathe it. We know the best interviews are when they convey that passion in an authentic way, and that’s what we try to help them do. The only difference is during crisis management when showing hot-running emotion – compassion being the exception – isn’t the most helpful for anyone involved.” – Chance Shay, Communications Strategist


“I think one thing everyone in the industry forgets is that a lot of PR people were once media and vice versa. So, many of us do ‘get’ what it’s like to be a journalist and what they need to make a story a good one. Also, most of us get the benefit of a good relationship and will often go out of our way to help a journalist. PR people can help with leads or connections that can prove useful and often have their finger on the pulse of what’s hip, new and trendy in a number of industries. Smart media professionals can use their PR contacts as solid resources for story ideas.” – Shae Geary, Senior Communications Strategist


“PR pros and journalists need each other. In the age of information overload, we can help journalists do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. And I promise, some of us do have interesting and intentional things to say! It’s really hard for me to see Tweets disparaging PR people when I just finished writing an entire article for a journalist because he was too busy to write it himself, or saying we can’t meet basic deadlines when I have a whole system in place to ensure I always do just that. I get it – when you see a cringe-worthy mistake, it can put a bad taste in your mouth. But most of us do put effort and care into what we send you.” – Molly Borchers, Senior Communications Strategist


“If we don’t hear otherwise from you, we’ll assume our pitches work for you on some level. If the approach doesn’t, but you’re interested in the news itself, let us know. I’ve received emails simply saying, ‘Hey, this is cool, but my deadline is always X day – can you send to me another day of the week next time?’ or ‘My lead time is a little longer than most monthlies – in the future, get the info to me four months in advance.’ It’s quick feedback that’s appreciated, and we’ll take heed. And if you’re not interested, let us know. We won’t follow up. But I’ve had media people on many occasions say, “Yes, I love this idea, I’ve just been swamped – thanks for reminding me” after circling back. We don’t want to annoy you. Oh, and unless the situation truly calls for it – I won’t call you. Promise.” – Erica Schlesinger, Communications Strategist

journalistBoth media and PR experts are under lots of pressure, day in and day out. There are deadlines to meet, pieces to write and people to please. So no sympathy needed, no snark involved – let’s just keep it copacetic and make great stories happen, together.

PR pros, what would you add to the list?

Journalists, what do you think? Do you find most PR pros you deal with are worthy of a bit of a break – or still don’t get it?