Raising your Company’s reputation, one employee at a time

Your organization has a hundred employees and you get 10 co-workers to volunteer for a day building a house for Habitat for Humanity. Do you consider that a success? Optimists would say absolutely yes; pessimists instead would point out the remaining 90% of employees who didn’t participate.

Does that mean 90% of your employees are heartless community haters? Of course not! In fact, many of those employees in the 90% group likely volunteer outside of work sponsored events. They may volunteer through their church, a local pet rescue organization or as a mentor or Big Brother or Sister to at-risk kids.

Wherever they donate their time, it’s obviously personally important, often passionately, to them.

The better question is — how can your company receive credit for the personal volunteer efforts of your co-workers while they receive the recognition of performing good deeds? Once you figure out this riddle, you’ll accomplish several things.

  • Your employees will be happier as you recognize and appreciate what the good they do outside of work hours.
  • Potential employees will like seeing the commitment and encouragement to be community involved.
  • Potential customers and decision makers in the community will credit the company for supporting and encouraging the personal efforts of your employees.
  • You’ll have a lot of no-cost media opportunities to promote and brand your organization through the amazing people who work for the company.

The best part is that you don’t need a lot of money to succeed (I’ll share some ideas how to stretch your budget later in this column). First and foremost is a decision to spend the time and energy to learn what your co-workers are already doing in the community.

Start with a simple survey to all of your employees asking:

  • To what organizations do co-workers volunteer their personal time?
  • Do they serve on any non-profit boards and what volunteer titles they hold (Board Member, Chairman, etc.)?
  • Do they volunteer anywhere (little league coach, religious school teacher, food kitchen, etc.)?
  • Where have they volunteered in the last 12 months — even if just once?
  • To which charities do they donate their own money (church, pet rescues, cancer society, etc.)?
  • How many volunteer hours do they perform each month?

I promise you’ll be amazed to learn all that your co-workers do in the community.

Now compile the collected information into the following lists.

  • All the organizations mentioned
  • All of the boards/community groups of which your employees serve
  • A total of all the volunteer hours for the entire year (if individual surveys say they volunteered 10 hours a month, multiple by 12 to show a total year average)
  • A total dollar amount of personally donated dollars by employees

Draw a line under each list and add company coordinated or sponsored organizations, donated cash plus in-kind dollars and any in-kind donated hours (free standby’s, etc.).

Now you’ve got an impressive list to promote! All you need to do is qualify the stats. Instead of saying “COMPANY donates more than X dollars to the community,” now you simply say “COMPANY and it’s employees donate more than X dollars to the community.”

Don’t hide the origin of the full list — highlight it. Take credit for hiring amazing people who not only do a great job for the company, but for the community as well!

Place the list on your company website and marketing materials. Even include the list in proposal bids to retain or expand service. This strategy is especially effective for companies that are unable to donate a lot of time or money as an organization in the community.

Over the years, I’ve helped many companies create philanthropic donation programs to help build their community image. The key is to start with a budget number and create a donation strategy that fits your marketing goals.

Let’s say you have $20,000 total to donate. Are you better off donating the entire amount to one organization or giving $500 to 40 different organizations? The answer may depend on the community image you wish to create.

Are you trying to make a significant impact on solving a single problem? For example, if making sure every kid has a bike helmet to prevent head injuries is your focus, you can buy a lot of helmets with $20,000.

You can then spend the rest of the year passing them out at events, schools, etc., while collecting media attention along the way. Your organization can OWN this issue.

Or does your company gain more by having 40 community organizations send you “thank you” letters? You can distribute 40 press releases or hold 40 events where you hand over check you write so that local leaders view your agency as a true community partner and supporter.

Here’s another strategy — I once put together a successful program where each employee could choose where to designate a $50 donation from 25 to 50 pre-approved charities. The program was extremely popular with employees, led to great media coverage and ultimately only cost the company about $5000 — less than they expected.

My point is that it’s not about the amount spent, but about the impression created. Yes, it feels good to be involved in your community. It feels even better to get credit as a company for that involvement, all while creating a positive image and reputation for your agency or company.

Does your company use another strategy? Share it in comments so we all can learn from your example!

When you need PR ideas, turn to your co-workers

When I was a Public Information Officer for a private ambulance provider, I used to speak to new employee orientation classes. Of the 30 minutes I was allotted, the first 25 minutes were spent explaining my role, process and policies related to why employees can’t talk to media, etc.

But for me, the last five minutes were the most important. It’s when I asked the group what public relations and community involvement programs they liked that a previous employer did or what ideas they might have that their new employer should consider.

Most suggestions were ideas we were already doing or had considered, but decided not to pursue for cost or other reasons. Once in a while, an idea can become a real gem — if you’re willing to hear the suggestion and open to considering ways to implement it.

My favorite example is one I originally rejected. Toby was new to our marketing team and one of his personal passion projects was about the Safe Baby Haven law. Safe Baby Haven laws exist in many states across the country. A new mother can drop off her newborn child (72-hours or younger) to any hospital or fire station and absolve herself of any future responsibility for the child, no questions asked. The idea is to make sure that the newborn isn’t abandoned in a dumpster.

Toby was part of a volunteer group in the state that was promoting the law and trying to educate the public. He suggested that we place large Safe Baby Haven logos on the sides of all our ambulances and make the ambulances drop-off locations.

I’ve always been wary of putting too many logos and decals on an ambulance — we aren’t stock cars and the more logos added the fewer people see — but that’s a column for another day. Initially, I thanked Toby for the idea but mentally rejected it.

To Toby’s credit, he kept asking so I took another look at the law in Arizona. It stated that in addition to hospitals and fire stations being official drop-off locations, the law said that the baby could be handed to any uniformed Paramedic or EMT and the crew must accept the infant, no questions asked.

I was still against the idea of putting “drop off location” logos on the ambulances, but since the law already said we played a role, why not make sure everyone knew it? Working with Toby, we partnered with the Safe Baby Coalition, who had already secured a proclamation from the Governor declaring Safe Baby Haven Day.

We held a press conference at one of our facilities with numerous ambulances behind us as the backdrop to announce that the public should view all of our ambulances as Safe Baby Haven “locations” when the newborn is handed to an uniformed Paramedic or EMT.

You caught that last part, right?  It was already the law! We weren’t really announcing anything new!

And, now, for your moment of serendipity: During the press conference, where there was a full set of television cameras, reporters’ cell phones began ringing. It turned out that a baby was found in a dumpster — at the same time of our press event.

All of a sudden, our low level “C” story became the day’s lead story. Every mention of the baby in the dumpster included how preventable it could have been had the child been handed to an ambulance crew. We had 43 news mentions within 24 hours.

Example of TV Coverage:

Within a few days, fire chief’s in other major cities announced that they were making their ambulances drop-off locations too.

These turn of events, which stemmed from an idea that was initially rejected, happened because of a quick question thrown out at the end of an employee orientation speech.

How to solve the ‘impossible’ problems; Chipping away at the small issues will make solving the big ones easier

Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated by impossible problems or lost causes. Over the last 20 years, I’ve developed a theory on how best to tackle such issues.

First, you need to view the impossible-to-solve problem as a giant cube stuck in the middle of a long trail, with your desired result at the end of the path. Pushing or pulling the cube is a waste of time, because it’s simply too big and heavy.

But, if you start methodically chipping away at the cube’s corners, you can slowly turn that cube into a giant sphere. Chip away enough and that sphere will start rolling after a good push. Eventually the now-rolling sphere will build momentum and hit something along the trail, causing the once immovable cube to break into pieces. And, poof! The once-daunting problem is no more.

The biggest mistake companies and agencies make is failing to chip away at the corners of a big, long-term problem. Instead, they take one big whack to try and solve a problem in one week and then give up, or they simply refuse to try at all as the problem looks too daunting. As a result, the problem remains unchanged, serving as an anchor stopping you from achieving your long-term goals.

To solve big problems, start by grabbing hold of the low hanging fruit. Here’s an example. Let’s say an Emergency Department in a city with multiple hospitals has a particularly bad reputation among patients and first responders. Because of this, ambulance crews choose to take their patients to other nearby facilities when given the option.

That reputation, earned or not, is costing the hospital a lot of money because of fewer admissions. Hospital administrators notice this kind of thing, especially new administrators as they are brought in to a facility to fix problems. So the new hospital administrator meets with the local agency Chiefs and says on a Monday that starting Tuesday, all the problems that occurred in the past will be fixed.

Will the ambulances all of a sudden start coming back on Tuesday? Of course not.

The ambulance crews want to see and experience the change before they’ll believe what the facility says. But it’s a catch-22 since the crews no longer stop by the facility and they’re unlikely to see if the changes promised have actually occurred.

The Emergency Department has to take numerous steps to win back first responders. The first question is to identify changes that first responders are most likely to notice and appreciate.

Is there a comfortable area for ambulance crews to do their paperwork? Are crews fed by the hospital, given snacks or cafeteria discounts? Do facility staff treat crews as peers rather than as a FedEx Delivery person? How quick and easy is the transition from medic to nurse allowing the crew to get back in service?

If the Emergency Department puts actions behind their words, and demonstrate changes that first responders can see, in time the ambulance crews will not only come back but would likely choose that facility over others.

The same principle works in reverse. Why should a community or care facility support an ambulance provider and their crews that operate with arrogance?  You don’t win community support by showing up at occasional council meetings.

The key is tackling the obstacle slowly and methodically, chipping away at the problem. To do that, you need to know the real problem. In most cases, it’s multiple problems that all fit under one broad umbrella that is called reputation.

Here are some suggestions on how to start solving impossible problems:

  • Start by making a list of the perceived problems. The more problems on your list, the more things you can solve… and in time show that you resolved.
  • After making your list, put the problems that are easiest (and cheapest) to solve at the top of your list. Those are the problems that you start chipping away at first.
  • Keep working the easiest to solve problem on your list, which will keep getting shorter as you cross items off. You’ll likely be surprised to find that the next problem on your list is easier to solve than if you had tried to solve that problem first.
  • Celebrate each solved problem internally among your staff, and find a way to announce change publicly. For example, in the Emergency Department example, if the Hospital sets aside space for ambulance crews, they should try to make a news story out of it by hosting a ribbon cutting where providers are invited, etc. They don’t need to say WHY they created the special area or point out the problem to those who didn’t already know about it. They just should announce the area and highlight the partnerships and how much respect they have for the ambulance crews, hence why they found the space.

It’s also worth noting that you’ll likely find that many of the biggest problems are perception oriented, rather than service oriented. Writing a check alone won’t solve all problems. That’s where a good, long-term public relations plan is essential. Public Relations isn’t just about reporters, it’s also about communicating with your customers, peers and your own employees and co-workers.

One of the best ways to help people to change their mindset is to change what they see every day. For example, when it comes to management showing its own employees that they care, the first step to getting employees to notice the efforts is to put a new color of paint on station walls or by rearranging/adding new furniture. Now that you have their physical attention, they’ll be more receptive to what you say and how you act. Maybe I’ll expand on this concept in a future column.

To recap, don’t give up on immovable problems. Ignoring problems only make them harder and more expensive (in cash and time) to overcome. By chipping away at the easy to solve problems and complaints, you’ll help change the reputation and help you achieve your goals.

Media relations: Why you should never burn your bridges

It’s okay to admit it: If you work in EMS, you’re likely inbred.

This realization hit me at a State ambulance association conference a few weeks ago where I was leading a session on how ambulance providers should use the media to make their agency stronger. As soon as I arrived, I saw former colleagues now working for different agencies. Some left on good terms; others, well, let’s say not so much.

It made me respect some people more than I did before. I felt sorry for others as they had to move and uproot their family to find another job in the profession. Yet, after it all, the same people were still in the room as before, just wearing a different logo on their shirt.

It reminded me of the importance of not burning bridges. I can personally vouch for the benefits of not burning bridges. I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to return to an employer a few years after leaving. Believe me, I was more surprised than anyone when I was asked, and am still grateful.

The trick to not burning bridges is really pretty simple. First, don’t slam a former employer on the way out the door, even if you have an opportunity or even a reason to do so. Second, keep in touch with the former coworkers you liked and respected while working there. If asked for advice, provide your honest opinion to help that friend succeed.

As it relates to burning bridges, it’s the same with reporters.

How many times has a coworker come to you after a story has run, demanding that you need to call the reporter or the editor and complain because they were misquoted, or they didn’t like something that was, or wasn’t mentioned in an article.  Should you call to vent your anger or to complain?

How would it make you feel if a reporter called your boss to say that you were bad at your job because your press release had typos? It’s the same thing as if you had complained about a reporter and make them look bad to their boss. All you’re doing is burning a bridge to someone you desperately might need on your side down the road.

Are there times when you need to call and ask for corrections? Absolutely. But those times are rare, so don’t waste them on minor items that really don’t matter. Also, try to be professional about it, not whiney. Most reporters really don’t have agendas. They just want to tell the story as simply as possible so they can move on to their next story. If you tell them of a substantive change, they want to correct it.

Let me throw out another idea. When was the last time you called or emailed a reporter to tell them you liked a story they wrote? It doesn’t even need to be about your agency. They don’t even need to respond. But there’s a good chance that they will remember that you complimented them without expecting anything directly in return.

You’ll remember it when they do the same to you. I still have the cards I received from a few reporters just days after serving as the spokesman through a line-of-duty death. It was the hardest week (professionally and emotionally) of my career, but two reporters took the time to send me notes thanking me for doing such a great job during the tragedy. They did it not because they expected something, but because they meant it.

That made it mean even more to me. And yes, over time they likely got a few extra exclusive stories as a result.

So, my fellow inbred siblings, I guess there are two lessons to this column and they both apply to your employer and the media. The first lesson is to not burn bridges. The second is to build those bridges stronger.

Talking to reporters: How to reach your true audience; Tips for getting the message out to the right people

It’s amazing how many PIOs and senior management have trouble answering this seemingly benign question, especially when the image and reputation of your agency hang in the balance.

The key is to quickly identify your TRUE audience. The “real” audience is ultimately who you want to understand and accept what you’re saying. The reporter isn’t your true audience; the reporter is just a filter to communicate to your true audience.

The trick is “seeing” your true audience when talking to the reporter. Confused? Let’s say a 25-year-old reporter asks you about health tips for seniors.

When answering the question, “see” your grandparents, not the 25-year-old reporter. The answer you give will come out differently, and when the reporter quotes you, the older readers will hear the answer in a way they understand that appeals to them.

It’s also worth noting that you may have more than one audience. Who do you believe are the true audiences in the following scenarios?

1. You’re hosting a media event where a patient wants to thank the paramedics, EMTs and firefighters that responded to their emergency. Your agency likely has several true audiences, all of which you can talk to at the media event.

If you’re an ambulance provider that contracts with a municipality, the fire department is clearly one of your audiences. Holding the event without first asking and inviting the fire department to co-host and participate would likely create a major headache for your agency and would hurt your relationship.

Local elected officials and regulators are another set of audiences, and so are your employees. It’s rare for EMS to be recognized, so coordinating an event like this is generally viewed as a compliment and acknowledgement to all EMTs and paramedics, not just the crew who literally cared for the patient.

2. Your agency is teaching CPR to a classroom full of 8th graders.  Is your audience truly the students themselves? Is it the teachers at the school? Sometimes they are.  However, other times you perform the training because you were asked to do so by a local regulator or decision maker in the system.   For the training itself, you will talk directly to the students and teachers.  You also need to make sure your other TRUE audience knows what you did.

Identifying the true audience is even more important during a crisis or negative story. What if your agency had a poor response time that resulted in a bad outcome?  Your true audience is your regulators and elected officials, along with people in the general public that might fear you’ll have similar response time issues should they have an emergency.   Envision these key audiences, and talk to them, not the reporter.

The reporter might not like it, but they can only quote what you actually say, they can’t control how your true audience interprets your answer.

Here’s a final trick that will help.  Whenever possible, “view” someone you know when answering the question.  It’s a lot easier to talk to someone you know, than a stranger. You’ll come across more friendly and you’ll talk at the level your true audience expects.

What’s your agency’s “Christmas Story?” Whatever it is, it’s got to be visual!

How many Christmas transports resulted from red rider bb guns?   How many transports due to bad eggnog?

What unique thing does your agency do to celebrate the holidays?

The key to creating a good “Christmas Story” for your ambulance service is to pull together two key images in to one story.

Image one is something intuitive that everyone knows is connected to the holiday.   This could be something with Santa, Christmas lights or menorahs, or wrapped presents.

Image two is something unique to your agency or industry.   For example, using the actual ambulance, crews in uniform, or a gurney is a visual that you can provide that a retail store of office cannot.

Now you need to do an image mash-up.  How do you combine an iconic holiday image with something uniquely ambulance?  Once you figure that out, the images will create an excellent potential media story or event.

Want an example?  Let’s say your agency is collecting presents for needy kids or food for the hungry.  Rather than having a box in your office like just about every company on the planet this time of year, collect them in the back of the ambulance and invite media to be present as you deliver them.  Unloading the ambulance full of toys or food creates a great visual- and for media to report the story the ambulance is essential to be included—giving your agency some extra positive publicity.

Another example:  Do you have data from past years of what types of holiday related accidents or calls are most common?  Media love statistics, so share the numbers along with some safety tips provided by a Paramedic in front of an ambulance at a media event.

Looking for yet another example?  Then let me share a story that still makes me feel good years later.

Several years in a row I had a Christmas date with a local TV news videographer.  After a few years of our “dates” she told me that she requests to work on Christmas, knowing that we’d spend it together.   I even invited my wife to join us, my young kids, even my parents came along one year.

Wondering where my story is going?  While serving as PIO of an ambulance company, I introduced a program called “Home for the Holidays” where we would transport a sick child or elderly parent from a hospital or care facility to the home of family members for a few hours so they could spend the holiday together.  We’d then invite a local TV station along for the ride.   It’s a story only an ambulance agency could create, and it “mashed-up” a holiday image with the ambulance and crew image perfectly.

While creating a newsworthy “Christmas Story” was the initial impetus for the event, the true power of the yearly even hit me one year around February.  I received a card from the daughter of a woman we transported who wanted to thank me one last time.  Her mother died the day before, and she wanted to make sure I knew how grateful she was that she’ll always remember their last Christmas together.

Another special memory came several years later where we transported a young Spanish-only speaking child with cancer home on Christmas for a few hours.  I vividly recall her young cousins gathering around her gurney and the girl reaching out to grab the arm or hand of anyone she could reach.  When the cousin she grabbed got uncomfortable and squirmed away, she’d simply grab the next person she could.  The relationship we build with her and her family led us to do a few additional transports for her before she eventually succumbed to the cancer.

As ambulance providers, your agency has the opportunity to create its own Christmas story.  Any story worth retelling, means there was a media opportunity as well.

Note:  A variation of this post also appears in my “PR Medic” column at www.ems1.com

Ambulance providers should “tie one on” for media coverage in regards to drunk driving

Paramedics and EMTs have a unique perspective and credibility to educate the public on the importance of preventing drunk driving related crashes.

We see first-hand the 1000 people killed each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. We care for thousands more that are injured, and we witness the impact it has on family members.

So, if given the opportunity, would you use news coverage to help reduce drunk driving crashes while creating a free opportunity to promote your agency as a community partner? (Guess what I’m about to write next…) Well, you can!

Several years ago, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) created a program called “Tie One On for Safety.” The program encourages the public to tie red ribbons on vehicle antennas as a reminder to others to designate a sober driver.

A great opportunity for ambulance providers is to place ribbons on your entire fleet.

Setting up a media event to announce your effort is actually easier than you’d expect. Start by contacting your state or local MADD chapter and offer to co-host an announcement. A few days before the event, invite media and tell them what they can expect if they attend the event.

Tell reporters if they attend that they can record/photograph:

  • Paramedics and EMTs placing red ribbons on the antennas of your vehicle fleet.
  • Interview medics and EMTs that have responded to DUI crashes who will share their perspective and talk about how frustrating it is to respond to such calls knowing that they are 100 percent preventable.
  • Interview representatives from MADD who can talk about drunk driving statistics and how this time of year is especially dangerous.
  • Interview a victim advocate (family member of someone injured/ killed by a drunk driver) who can share their personal story.

A formal press conference with a podium is not necessary, as media will appreciate being able to conduct the three unique perspective interviews one-on-one, plus the ability to record/photograph the ribbons being placed on units. If you don’t have a local MADD chapter or they are unavailable to participate, you can still host the event on your own.

You might also want to involve other public safety or community partners who can also place ribbons on their vehicles. Plus, every community has local advocates against drinking and driving.

Make sure you have someone attend who can speak from the victim perspective as well as your crew members. The more interview angle options you promote to the media, the more likely they will choose one to cover.

Additional considerations:

  • Hold the event in the days following Thanksgiving to increase media coverage rather than waiting until mid-December, which often becomes cluttered with Christmas-related stories. A secondary option would be the week between Christmas and New Year’s as this is often a very quiet media week with reporters looking for stories to cover.
  • This is a no-cash media event, as MADD is likely to supply the ribbons at no cost. If you do need to buy your own red ribbons, the cost is still minimal.
  • Employees often request ribbons for personal vehicles in addition to the ambulances so you will want to have some available after the media launch.
  • Even if you don’t host an event or if the media don’t attend, take pictures of crew members placing ribbons on their own ambulances and send the pictures with a caption to local papers and media outlets. You’ll be surprised how many outlets (online or in print) post your picture and caption.
  • You should internally publicize a date that ribbons should be removed (i.e. January 5), as the ribbons become tattered and unreadable over time.

Finally, please let me know if you host such an event or get any coverage. I’d love to share it through my network to show others how a simple idea can have such a positive impact.

QTS of Arizona Driver Luis Gomez places a red ribbon on his van to remind the public not to drink and drive this holiday season

Note:  This post also appears in my “PR Medic” column on the www.EMS1.com website

Don’t be afraid of a Sugar High when Planning Public Relations Efforts for Halloween

Kids love Halloween because they get to dress up and collect candy.  Adults love it because they get to act like kids.  Don’t be scared to seize this once a year opportunity for your company to be creative and develop some great visuals for the media.

Identifying a media friendly visual opportunity for Halloween is probably easier than you’d expect.

Step one is to pick a visual that immediately identifies your company and your core business.  A great example would be a physical ambulance for an EMS/ambulance company or a Fire Department.

Step two is to tie that visual into Halloween.  No, showing kids and the media blood and guts inside the ambulance is not what I’d suggest.  Instead, how about making a costume for the actual ambulance?  Envision a bed sheet or two covering the front of the ambulance from the top lights down with cut-out eyes as if it’s a ghost or jack-o-lantern?  You could show it off to media at a press conference where you can educate the public about Halloween safety and why it’s important that kids wear reflective clothing that is fire resistant.

Another inexpensive idea would be to buy some bags of candy, and position the ambulance in a residential neighborhood the night of Halloween as kids are walking to houses.  The ambulance crew can hand out candy as the kids walk by and offer tours of the inside of ambulance.   Media can be advised in advance of where the ambulance crews will be handing out candy.  It’s possible that some media may even come out to the neighborhood as part of their Halloween coverage.

Be sure to take pictures on your own to post to social media sites and to send to community newspapers with a recommended caption.  Email pictures to us here at 10 to 1 Public Relations as well– we’d love to see them!

Need additional ideas for your company?  Just let us know!  Together, we’ll come up with some scary great visuals that media and the public will love!

Networking Tips for the Rubber Chicken Circuit

I admit it.  I enjoy walking up to strangers at networking events, happy hours and the chicken dinner circuit.  While I’ve never been considered the coolest guy in the room, I do feel confident that I hold my own even if I don’t hold court.

My technique is pretty simple, and I encourage less comfortable networkers to give these tips a try.

1)      Arrive early and avoid the people with whom you will be sitting. When I worked on the corporate side, I would always become disappointed when my co-workers would arrive late or huddle together and only talk to each other during the mingle time prior to sitting at the table.   Take advantage of the time before you’re forced to sit and speak to people you already see at work every day!  The time before dinner is where you can meet new people, and make sure that decision makers know that you’re in attendance (see tip #7).  Waiting until after the dinner won’t work, because people bolt for the door after the presentations are complete.

2)      Network like you’re Snorkeling.  This tip comes from Dave Sherman (@davespeaks1 and www.daveshermanspeaks.com).  I recently heard him explain how networking is like snorkeling.  New snorkelers or tourists on a dive often swim out as a group looking for fish—only to instead scare the fish away!  Instead, he goes off on his own and finds a piece of coral.  He holds still and before long, the fish come to him.  Dave suggests when networking, you do the same thing.  Plant yourself at a waist-high bar table in the traffic flow of the room and let people walk around and up to you.  Ultimately, you’ll see everyone in the room walk by and you can stop and talk to the people you’re looking for.

3)      Target the people standing by themselves at a table, along the wall or off to the side.   While Dave’s tip #2 is excellent for events where you already know a lot of people in the room, when you don’t know a lot of people I have an alternative suggestion.  Seek out the people who look lost or alone.  You’ll often find them along the walls or off to the side watching people walk by or at a table staring off in to space not talking to anyone else nearby.  These are often the easiest people to meet because in many cases they’re hoping someone will walk up them and start a conversation because they are unwilling or afraid to walk up to strangers themselves.

4)      KISS: Keep it simple, stupid!  You’re not in high school trying to get a date, just keep it simple when it comes to an opening introduction.  Hi, my name is… works fine.  Have a simple back-up question ready, like “have you attended this event before” or “are you excited that football season starts this week” to try and get the conversation started if needed.  Don’t talk about your work.

5)      Focus on making a connection, not selling a product.  No one is going to buy what you’re selling at a networking event.  Your goal is to make a connection so that if you follow-up after an event the person will remember you and the conversation.  Let them talk as much as possible.  The more you learn about them, the more likely you’ll make a connection.

6)      Offer and accept business cards selectively.  There are no prizes for handing out or collecting the most cards.  You’re looking for the cards of people you made a connection with, or those that you think may be potential business contacts.  After you take a card, write down some reminders of your conversation on the back. Examples are if they indicated a favorite sports team, or grew up in an out-of-state city near you.  When you follow up by email, or you see them at a future event, you can use that information to further build upon your connection.

7)      Shake hands with the important people.   You don’t need to have a conversation, or even say your name.  But it’s important that you walk up to elected officials and key decision makers and shake their hand.  Just walk up as they are talking to someone else, put out your hand and say that it’s nice seeing them at the event and walk away.  They’ll assume you’ve already met in the past.  Over multiple events, they’ll come to recognize your face.  The pay-off comes when you eventually need to go to them to discuss something important.  They’ll remember you from attendance at community or charity events—if not completely how or why—helping them view you as more than a stranger just asking them for something.

Last things to remember:  No one ever refuses to talk to a stranger at one of these events.  Nor do they walk away when approached by someone they don’t know.  When the conversation dies out, or the person isn’t the right fit for you to chat with, simply tell them it was nice to meet them and walk away and walk up to someone new.     And finally, smile when walking up to people!  You’ll be surprised how many people smile back before the first words come out of your mouth.

The secret to winning awards: Apply.

Josh Weiss at the Copper Anvil Awards presented by the Public Relations Society of America’s Phoenix Chapter on 8/23/12 where he co-accepted two awards with Liz Merritt from his work last year at Rural/Metro Corporation.
Josh Weiss at the Copper Anvil Awards presented by the Public Relations Society of America’s Phoenix Chapter on 8/23/12 where he co-accepted two awards with Liz Merritt from his work last year at Rural/Metro Corporation.

Josh Weiss at the Copper Anvil Awards presented by the Public Relations Society of America’s Phoenix Chapter on 8/23/12 where he co-accepted two awards with Liz Merritt from his work last year at Rural/Metro Corporation.

It amazes me that more PR pros and company spokespeople don’t take advantage of an easy way to generate free, positive news coverage that improves a company’s brand and community image. 

Awards serve as credible, third-party validation to target audiences.  Awards also provide an opportunity for your company leaders to accept recognition for excellence in front of peers and competitors and can serve as a point of pride for employees. 

During the past 15 years, nearly half the awards I’ve applied for on behalf of clients or companies have won, been named a finalist, or received an honorable mention.  I’m not trying to brag, I’m trying to make a point.  Few companies apply for awards.  Even fewer understand what to include in a nomination. 

Here are some suggestions for new nominators: 

1)      Take advantage of annually presented awards.  Someone has to win, even if the entries aren’t that strong.  You’re not competing against past winners who truly may be worthy of receiving the award again, you’re competing only against the other nominees that same year.  Often only a handful of nominations are submitted, giving you great odds to win or at least be named a finalist.

2)      Read the eligibility requirements.  Don’t waste your time submitting if you’re just going to be automatically disqualified.  Selection committees can look the other way for a lot of items, but selection committees can’t award you the prize for prettiest cat when your nominee is a dog.

3)      Give them what they want.  Most nomination and eligibility forms state exactly what the selection committee will be looking for in the winner.  Make a list of each item that the selection committee is reviewing, and write your nomination to directly answer those questions.  Make it easy for the selection committee.  In boldface type, highlight the keywords that answer each of those items, ensuring that the selection committee can find and properly score your answer for maximum points.  A great way to test your nomination is to have someone else read your submission and check off each of the items the selection committee is seeking. 

4)      How would the awarding organization benefit by your win?  Remember, many awards are presented during a ceremony that also serves as a fundraising event.  If you win, will the presenter sell more tickets—either from your organization or organizations/individuals that support the nominee? 

5)   Have you been approached by the awarding organization about becoming more involved in other aspects of the organization?  Most selection committee members are made up of board members.  If the awarding organization is trying to get your company more involved, what better way than to present an award to you in order to try to entice your organization to do more?

6)      Does your location give you a leg up? If the organization presenting the awards covers a wide geographic area, the organization may need to spread out the location of the winners.  For example, I’ve been told in the past that while the organization wanted to present us with the award, they had too many local area award winners in other categories and had to find an organization to win in another area instead.  If you are located outside a major metro area, your location might be viewed as a positive when applying for statewide or regional awards. 

7)      If at first you don’t succeed, apply again.  Just because you don’t win the first time doesn’t mean you shouldn’t re-apply the following year.  I’ve experienced cases where the awarding organization was so desperate for a quality candidate that I’ve been called after a deadline has passed and asked to resubmit a nomination from a previous year.  Needless to say we won the award that year. 

8)      Ask why you didn’t win.  If you don’t win, don’t be afraid to ask the awarding organization how you can improve upon your nomination next year.  They may tell you what was missing from your nomination, or why they chose another winner.  You’d be amazed at how honest and helpful the response likely will be and how it will improve your chances for success in the future. 

9)      Take advantage of the PR opportunity!  Several organizations choose to announce award finalists weeks before the awards ceremony, only to name the winner the night of the event.  Put out a press release days prior to the ceremony stating that you are a finalist.  If you win, you can always send another release afterward.  You can also add it to your company website and company collateral.  It really doesn’t matter if you win the big prize, you still gain independent third-party credibility simply by being a finalist or honorable mention.

10)   Must be present to win.  Make sure a leader from your organization attends the awards ceremony and is prepared to speak when accepting the award—and make sure they are willing to stay until the end because group pictures of winners are often taken after the event.  Don’t throw away a great opportunity as the organization presenting the awards is likely to share the picture and promote the winners separate from your PR efforts.   

Good luck with your submissions.  See you on the rubber chicken awards circuit!