Tom Murphy – Murphy's Law

Tom Murphy blogging about PR and other things since 2002…

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Get your life balanced and productive

December 17th, 2013 · Marketing, Public Relations

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.


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.


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:

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You can be creative about anything…

November 15th, 2013 · Marketing

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.

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Is the quality of our (PR) work judged by our standards?

August 27th, 2013 · Public Relations

I have always been a big believer in the important role that professional bodies play in the world of Public Relations.  Promoting a common set of standards across this reputation-challenged profession is a good thing. 

However, with no common enforced regulations, perhaps the quality of our work can by judged by the standards we set for ourselves?

There was recently a great guest post by Jean Valin and Daniel Tisch on the PR Conversations blog discussing the Melbourne Mandate (and this week For Immediate Release posted an interview with Jean and Daniel on the Mandate), which aims to define a set of roles, responsibilities and principles for PR practitioners.

From the website:

Today, unprecedented public access to communication presents new challenges and opportunities for organisations – and for global society. This presents a new mandate for public relations and communication management: a set of roles, responsibilities and principles hereby endorsed by delegates to the 2012 World Public Relations Forum in Melbourne, Australia.

The new mandate

Public relations and communication professionals have a mandate to:

  • define and maintain an organisation’s character and values;
  • build a culture of listening and engagement; and
  • instill responsible behaviours by individuals and organisations.


I’d strongly recommend you to take some time to review the Melbourne Mandate and see how it applies to the work you’re doing.

The Global Alliance for PR and Communication Management is behind the Melbourne Mandate. It’s an organization that represents many of the world’s largest PR professional bodies and is also involved in the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles, a set of proposed standards for measuring Public Relations.

Given the changes taking place in the world of communications this is a good thing.  As I’ve said before, as long as PR agencies are using proprietary measurement as a competitive differentiator we’re in trouble.

Bonus: Read Andy West of Hotwire PR on the importance of supporting the measurement debate

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A view of the changing face of journalism and PR from a motorsport perspective

August 16th, 2013 · Off-topic

I should preface this post by pointing out that I spent many of my childhood weekends surrounded by racing cars.  When I wasn’t watching my father trackside, I was watching the sport on TV.  While my brother has continued the family tradition, these days, besides the annual trip to Le Mans, my motorsport habit is mostly sustained through traditional and social media.

Maurice Hamilton is a veteran journalist who has been covering Formula 1 since the mid-seventies.  In the video below he talks about how he got started in journalism in the 1970s and how that world has radically changed over the intervening decades.

For anyone with an interest in motorsport it’s recommended, for others, well your mileage may vary Smile.

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Great communications is built on the basics..

July 18th, 2013 · Public Relations, Social Media

I recently had the opportunity to review a ‘report’ by a social media guru analyzing the ‘social strategies’ of a number of household brands. The report had some lovely visuals, some interesting examples of tactical executions, but overall it was a great example of what is too often missing from discussions on social media and often PR.

The report had many opinions but was light – read non-existent – on how these programs were tied to clear business objectives and more importantly how well the campaigns actually performed against those objectives.

In other words, in the real world, where a marketing or communications professional is building programs to drive against business objectives, it was value-less.

This is often where I find the industry of social media punditry fails.

Of course, social media is important, but before you get to the interesting, execution, you have to stop, understand your business, your industry, your  objectives, your competitive challenges, your internal challenges, your audience, your resources, and when you have a clear understanding of those elements, then you start planning.

If this is obvious to you, that’s great. If you’re not taking this approach, then there’s a real opportunity for you to significantly increase the impact of your work.

Let’s extend Mr. Ogilivy’s thesis – 50% of advertising is useless but you never know which 50%- to the world of social media and Public Relations. If we’re looking for what’s useless, I’d be willing to start with programs that aren’t tied into a set of defined business objectives.

Measurement can be a thorny subject – though at least there’s beginning to be some consensus – but executing campaigns not tied to business outcomes is at best madness and at worst negligent. Communications requires a balanced scorecard that encompasses a range of measurements from the basic inputs, outputs and results, to qualitative measures over time. And this work all starts with the business objectives.

These processes don’t mean you can’t experiment or move quickly – or indulge in ‘real-time marketing’.  Actually it’s the complete opposite.  If you know your business, are clear on what you need to achieve and are actively measuring outcomes then you’re in a better position to experiment and in a better position to learn and evolve your execution.

We may live in a troll producing always-on, always-connected world, but engaging with people, building relationships and trust takes time.  There isn’t a shortcut. In fact, as people become more sophisticated in how they use media and struggle to manage the ever increasing volume of information they come across every day, the process takes longer and is indeed more difficult.

There isn’t a silver bullet, but there are some tried and tested things that help us frame communications campaigns and put us in the best possible position to not only have impact, but to demonstrate that impact.

On a related topic, I strongly recommend you read Alastair Campbell’s speech at the Center for Corporate Public Affairs Annual Oration in Melbourne. In my opinion he does a great job explaining why objectives, strategies, and a commitment to long term thinking are so essential in the changing world of communications:

But you do it (communication) within a clear strategic framework, you engage the public in a much more sustained way, and you run co-ordination systems that work, so that over time your messages get through, over time your changes are understood and they deliver, and over time people become much more reasonable in their analysis. What you do is more important than what you say, but how you say what you do will help you if you are doing the right thing. Every time you say or you do, you land a dot.

While social media may appear immediate and tactical, successful social media, like the rest of communications, requires planning, insight, strategy, measurement and commitment.

That’s the starting point for great communications.

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PR blogging–what are you reading?

July 2nd, 2013 · Public Relations, Social Media

I’ve always been a big advocate of the productivity benefits of RSS.  It’s a simple technology – though not always understood – that is an incredible aid for anyone who needs to keep on top of vast swathes of content whether it’s breaking news, updates or online opinions. 

The death of Google Reader has many of us RSS users trolling around for an alternative way to keep our RSS feed consumption synchronized across our various devices.  (Personally I’m still in mourning for the untimely demise of FeedDemon by far my favorite RSS reader.  The good news is that you can still use it – and I will – but the lack of support for updating feeds across my PCs, phone, tablet etc. reduces it’s utility somewhat.)

So in preparation for this change I’ve been reviewing my RSS feeds and specifically the PR blogs I’ve been tracking and reading over the past 10 years.  I’ve built up a list of about 120 PR-related blogs. 

It’s interesting to note how many of those PR blogs, like this one, are dormant or dead. (For the record this one isn’t dead but definitely could be mistaken for dormant).

So that begs the question, what am I missing? What active and useful PR blogs are you reading? What should I by adding to the list?

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Moving on in North Carolina…

April 26th, 2013 · CSR, Public Relations

I’m in beautiful sunny Charlotte today to speak at the third annual conference of the Center for Global Public Relations at the University of North Carolina, which this year is focused on the Millennium Generation.

I gave an overview of Microsoft YouthSpark – our initiative to create opportunities in education, employment and entrepreneurship for 300 million young people around the world over the next three years.


Henry Doss, Brook DeWalt, John Paluszek and Dr. Alma Kadragic discussing the global challenges facing youth at the conference today.

There are a great collection of people here today and some fantastic hallway discussions.

This is a nice and indeed natural end to my time working on the Citizenship team at Microsoft.  From getting formally involved in our Citizenship efforts when I joined Microsoft in Ireland in 2005, to moving to the United States in 2009 to take on a global communications role for Citizenship, I’ve had a fantastic opportunity to learn, work on amazing projects, with amazing partners and of course an amazing Citizenship team at Microsoft.  And there’s been a lot of fun on the way.

All good things must come to an end, so in the past month I’ve taken on a new role joining our Windows team, where I’m leading a wonderful team of creative, smart people working on PR and storytelling for consumers, commercial customers and application builders.  Today’s event is a great way to mark a new phase in my working life.

If you were attending the session earlier today here are some useful links and resources I referenced:

And don’t forget for all the latest news you can follow Microsoft Citizenship on Twitter: @msftcitizenship.


I’m also looking forward to attending the UNCC PRSSA Region 7 conference on Saturday.

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Why I’m (not) leaving <insert social media channel>

March 12th, 2013 · Social Media

The Pew Research finding that the reaction to an event on Twitter is often very different to actual public opinion isn’t a big surprise is it? It seems to me that spending any time on your chosen social media channel – and specifically Twitter – makes that fact self evident.

It’s one of the great things about social media, anyone has a voice, and also one of the drawbacks of social media, anyone has a voice.

From a marketing perspective social media often resembles a big virtual medicine show. Along with news, humor and sane views there’s a universe of self-styled gurus peddling their miracle cure to your personal or organizational ills. It’s easy to spot.

Whether it’s the  wizard who offers advice on how social media will drive organizational change for example in HR, even though they’ve never worked in HR; or the endless Monday morning quarterbacking on other people’s work, when the quarterbacks often have absolutely no experience of dealing with the issue they’re dissecting or no insight into the specific issues the company is dealing with.

These people are better known for words than deeds. In Ireland there’s a great old adage that captures this: ‘show us your medals’.

So this week when I read about two such ‘thought leaders’ leaving one social media tool or another for a multitude of reasons which included things like ‘doesn’t match my personal values’ I sighed.

In a good way.

Social Media companies, on the whole, are in business to make money or get a juicy exit. That’s how the capitalist system works. Most of you are not willing to pay for it (look at the limited success of with 11,000 backers) up front, so these channels will make their money through advertising and the advertising is based on, surprise, surprise what you do and say on social media. There are privacy concerns of course, and most of the sites have to be up front on privacy and how you can retain yours, but you know what? Nobody seems to care a lot.

So normal people use these social tools, as tools. They find information, share information, connect with people, keep up with breaking news and issues. It’s not rocket science. It’s social media.

The findings from Pew Research point that marketers would be well advised to focus on understanding who and where their audience is, and spend less time worrying about the hot air.

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Epic Video Storytelling

February 2nd, 2013 · Public Relations

My colleague Steve Clayton shared this video from McLaren F1 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the team being founded.

In my opinion it’s a wonderful production.

It’s atmospheric and it’s epic and all in under four minutes.

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Reality Check: All views are my own

October 19th, 2012 · Social Media

It’s interesting to see how many people add phrasing like: “all views expressed here are my own and don’t reflect the views of my employer” on their Twitter biography.

It’s especially interesting to see PR people including it.

Why is it interesting you may (rightly) ask?

imageWell because nothing is further from the truth.

If you’re a Public Relations practitioner (and you could argue any employee) and you’re tweeting, then it’s all on the record.

I’m not debating if this is right or wrong, I’m just pointing out the reality.

Next up: Why adding “RT isn’t an endorsement” to your bio makes no sense, because a RT is an implicit endorsement (unless you happen to add some sarcastic commentary – and in that case refer to the first point).

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