PSA: Objectives, Strategies & Tactics…

There’s a surprising amount of confusion out there about the differences between an objective, a strategy and a tactic. I’m amazed how often I see tactics mixed up with strategies in plans and proposals.

As part of my on boarding process when I started my first PR job back in the early 1990s, they provided a simple but effective way of remembering the differences:

Objective – a description of the end result:

  • I want to go to Ireland for a vacation starting on Monday

Strategy – how the objective will be achieved:

  • I’m going to travel by plane – it’s faster than going by sea

Tactics – specific actions to be taken:

  • Check expedia.com for the best flight prices
  • Book a room in the Shelbourne hotel in Dublin
  • Hire a car for the trip from Avis

The truth teller

If you follow social media – and this probably relates more to blogs and Twitter than the other channels – you know there’s a lot of opinions on marketing and PR out there. 

Now, on the whole, this is a good thing, but at the same time, there’s often a lack of good, honest discussion of some of these opinions and memes.

So when someone provides a contrarian view on one of the sacred cows, it’s always worth a listen.

Designer Stefan Sagmeister addresses the question of “storytelling”…

You are not a storyteller – Stefan Sagmeister @ FITC from FITC on Vimeo.

Source: Darren Barefoot.

Get your life balanced and productive

You may have seen the story about Mita Diran, a young copywriter in Indonesia, who died soon after tweeting about how she had worked 30 hours straight.  Now I don’t know if there were complicating factors, but even if there were, it’s a timely and tragic reminder that we all need to take responsibility for our work-life balance.

It’s an understatement to say the world of work has changed since I started my first job back in the early 1990s. I did have a computer, but no email. I had a phone, but no voicemail. No mobile phones, no Skype, no text messages, no instant messaging, no blogs, no RSS feeds, no social media, no Internet, did I mention no social media?

On the downside researching a new business pitch back in the early 1990s meant driving to the local library with a bag of 10p coins to feed the photocopier.

Today by comparison we face a dizzying variety of channels, and the volume of information being pushed through those channels is incredible. That’s before you think about interruptions, calls, conference calls, meetings and unexpected distractions.  Load on the growing expectations of your clients and co-workers and the ability of technology to keep you connected wherever you are. Now try and balance all these competing demands while trying to find some time for family, friends and yourself.

I see two core issues here.

Firstly, we need a better way to manage all this ‘stuff’ while remaining sane. I’ll come back to that a little later in this post.

Secondly, we need a wakeup call on our priorities.

I’ve read a number of tweets and blog posts recently, where ‘being always on’ is some sort of badge of honor. Seriously. People not only brag about it, they claim it’s non-negotiable.

What a complete canard (and I’m not being bi-lingual here).

Let me tell you something. The quality of work you produce and how well you meet your commitments, is far more important than how many hours you spend online.

End of story.

Working in PR or marketing, I’m sure we’ve all had times where we have worked for weeks on end with no break – perhaps months. Actually Mira Diran’s story isn’t that shocking to many of us. But it should be.

But besides the physical impact of this effort, there’s something else you should remember. Long before you hit ‘the wall’ of exhaustion you can be sure that the quality of your work and your decision making has dropped.

That I can guarantee you.

Whenever I’ve talked with executives I’ve found they all share a common trait.  A clear understanding that they must balance hard work with rest, exercise, balance and productivity.

The reality is that if you want to be a creative, effective, productive, high achiever, then you need to ensure you’re getting mental and physical rest. You need to be looking after yourself, exercising, resting and giving your brain downtime. That’s how you perform effectively – and ultimately come up with your best work.

Many years ago I had personal experience of burn out. After overworking for months I had a serious fright. It made me re-assess my approach to work. It motivated me to explore best practices in terms of performance, productivity and work life balance. While my wife would readily point out I don’t always get the blend right, she’ll also admit I’m much better at balancing what’s important while still delivering great results at work than I was.

At work I have the great privilege of working with a high performing team. My job is simple, help these folks  do their best work while ensuring they are achieving balance. They’ll all happily tell you I bore them to death by telling them they’re no good to me if they’re burnt out :). We work hard, but I try and ensure we also have balance.

Take stock of how you’re working, learn how to get more productive (see below), make time for what’s important from your personal health to your personal life.

This is your responsibility not your employer’s. A smart employer will understand and support you getting this balance, because they’ll understand that’s how they get the best results.

If your employer doesn’t get it, then find one that does. I can assure you that not only is it a better place to work, but they are probably delivering better results.

You are (I’m sure) primarily measured on outputs and results not inputs or how "hard" you worked.

Ensure you can do your best work by getting the balance in your life right. What are your professional and personal priorities? How are you going to achieve them?

There’s no panacea, it’s an ongoing struggle. I don’t always get the balance right, but at least it’s something I am acutely aware of. There’s one thing I can tell you, it’s not about being ‘online’ all the time.

So.

How can you more effectively manage all the stuff you have to deal with, how can you keep a focus on the results that matter?

A couple of weeks ago I had an exchange on Twitter with Stephen Waddington, Sean Fleming, Sally Whittle, and Mark Pinsent that began about the evils of e-mail.

My view is that email is simply a tool. Used correctly it’s incredibly useful, but of course in reality many people abuse it.

So how do you manage not only your email but all the rest of the information hitting you on a daily basis while keeping on top of your commitments and deadlines?

A few years ago – after the fright I mentioned earlier – I quickly realized I was drowning in information and as I got clear on my personal and professional priorities, I also started looking at my own productivity.

How could I more effectively manage everything that was crossing my desk while staying focused on what’s important?

I quickly discovered there’s a lot of processes and systems for keeping yourself organized and focused on managing all the demands you have.  I also discovered that there’s no one size that fits everyone, it’s all taking some pointers from these systems and applying what works for you.

Probably the best known workflow is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. (You can find a huge amount of content around the web on GTD.)

In summary, Allen provides a framework for thinking about managing all the stuff in your life from emails, post, to bills, a thought, an article, a tweet, a project, a commitment or an objective. He argues that unless you capture and process all this different stuff (and process can mean creating a reminder, or a new project, or just deleting it) it creates distractions which ultimately waste time and make you less productive and less focused.

He provides a framework that can be summarized as:

  • Having a system you trust to capture everything in your world. This ranges from incoming emails, tweets, drive-by meetings, phone calls or ideas you’ve had in the shower.
  • Process all these items and make decisions about them. For example, you have an email from a colleague, is there an action you need to take? If no, then do you delete it, file it for later reference, or if you can’t do it now put it on a list? If yes, what is the action? Is it a new project? Do you need to delegate it? Can you do it in less than 2 minutes? Then do it.
  • Organizing all this information into a system you can trust and use.
  • Regularly reviewing your (personal and professional) lists, commitments, goals, objectives and schedules is key. It’s how you keep the system live and relevant.
  • Taking Action. The whole point is to actually get stuff done.

Of course, like Stephen Covey’s ‘Sharpen the Saw’ you need to stop and invest time to get your system up and running, but in my opinion it’s worth the investment.

Here’s a question for you: How often do you get your email inbox empty? Every day?

Why not grab a copy of Getting Things Done and give it a read.

As we wind down 2013, it’s a great time to take stock of where you are in your personal and professional life, think about where you can make changes in the year ahead and get the balance between those lives back in check.

Remember life really isn’t a dress rehearsal, so is checking tweets at 11.55pm really the best use of your time on the planet? Probably not.

Technology is part of the solution, but only when it’s combined with clarity on your priorities and a system that helps you be more productive.

I’d love to hear about how you manage.

Update:

If you’re interested in more information about how you can use technology to help with your productivity – once you’re clear on your priorities – here’s are some recent posts on the subject:

You can be creative about anything…

There are a number of things I love about this video. 

It is very smart, well shot, and it’s surprising, entertaining, and memorable.

The other thing is that it’s a really compelling and creative way to demonstrate a pretty mundane (to me) product feature. 

You may argue on the ROI of this video, but then neither of us have any idea of the objectives or the measures of success.

So instead, let’s just enjoy it. 

I first saw this on Thursday and it had 40,000 views, in less than a day that jumped to 8.7 million (and growing).

It’s so good, I even forgive them using Enya for the soundtrack.

My takeaway?

The steering on those Volvo trucks is – thankfully -  magnificent.

Thank goodness for that.

Are you a communications professional or a pundit?

The recent ‘conversation’ on the death of blogs forced me to sit down and write a blog post.  It takes a lot to encourage me to blog these days,  but then upon reviewing my wise, well written draft, I realized I didn’t want to post it.

Last month marked a full decade that I’ve had a blog. What started with an explosion of posts about everything PR-related, has matured into a trickle of rants and opinions mostly due to the increasing demands of family and work. The prioritization hasn’t been difficult.

Over the past ten years there have been incredible changes in marketing, PR and communications. New tools and channels have emerged, we’ve seen people finding and sharing information in new ways. But there’s also a lot of hot air.

Too many people have a predilection to declare the ‘death’ of something, or the compulsion to add the word ‘social’ to every noun in the dictionary, or the desire to critique things without any knowledge or insight.

This is where I see the difference between professionals and pundits emerging.

Professionals think about their objectives, their environment and audiences, their goals, their strategies, their tactics and their measurement.  They think about the return on the investment from their programs and campaigns.  They have to marry pragmatism with creativity, to balance costs with invention.  These are challenges they face every day. This group includes educators and academics who invest time, energy and insight into reviewing the real impact of social media.

These people don’t focus on the tactic, the tool, or the navel gazing. 

That’s the pundit’s job.

There’s a place for pundits.  We need people looking beyond the day to day grind.  We just don’t need so many.

When you think it can’t get any worse you read this:

image

If true, this only serves to confirm there are a lot of villages out there missing their idiots and perhaps some of their pundits too.

Klout is the perfect example. It’s simple to understand (in theory), doesn’t require any significant investment of time to analyze, and because it can be inherently gamed it’s useless as anything other than a measure of someone’s noise online. It’s like when you come across a ‘marketer’ you’ve never heard of with 75,000 followers on Twitter.  Sure you do. No really. Sure….

Ten years on, I’ve never regretted starting a blog or embracing social media. I’ve met some incredible people I probably would never have met without social media. I’ve reconnected with long lost colleagues and friends and I have a better view of what’s happening around the world than I’ve ever had before.

From a professional perspective social media has opened exciting new opportunities. It’s encouraging more creative ways of communicating, it’s revolutionizing our focus on storytelling and it’s enabling us all to engage and have conversations.

It’s just a pity there’s so much fluff and hyperbole inside the echo chamber.

C’est la vie.

PS: For the record, blogs are a tool.  They offers a range of benefits for many organizations, but they are a tool not a strategy.  If you’re not getting the appropriate return on your investment in blogging (and to know that you are of course measuring it) then you should absolutely reinvest your resources where you will get a greater return.  It’s not about death, it’s about professional decision making.  There’s no drama here no matter how much some wish there was.

PPS: If you’ve gone all old school and are – god forbid – thinking of starting a blog, two pieces of advice.  Firstly don’t underestimate the commitment and secondly for the love of all things holy put some thought into a compelling and memorable first post….

image

Good marketing is hard but not necessarily expensive

If you ventured out on the internet today there’s probably two things that popped up in your feeds, namely Kony 2012 and the Dollar Shave Club.

I first heard about the Dollar Shave Club through a tweet:

image

Well I had to click didn’t I?

Needless to say I wasn’t disappointed. 

It’s the combination of a clever business idea and a clever creative marketing execution. It’s  well scripted, well targeted and a great example of effective (and humorous)  storytelling.

The website draws on the same humor:

image

Will it be successful? Who knows? Success will depend on a wide range of factors, including the business model.  But over 700,000 views of the launch video is a good start.

Regardless, it’s a good illustration that creativity doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money, and great storytelling that’s relevant to your audience is a winner.

And the answer to the question you’re asking yourself right now?

Yes.