Back to the Future: Life Lessons that Stand the Test of Time

You never know who the next hero is going to be. Jean Mackin’s story, “11-year-old saves choking friend with lesson learned from dad,” is about how a boy used the Heimlich maneuver on a girl who was choking on a lollipop. father son hands

It was a life-saving skill that his dad taught him, and it reminded me of what my father taught me. What he told me may not save someone’s life, but it could save someone’s reputation, and even business. Here are five ways that my father positively influenced me, which I’ve applied in my own life and share with others:

1 – Send a handwritten thank you note. I grew up in a generation where a note wasn’t optional, but a must. My father really emphasized the importance of the personal touch. So much communication nowadays is digital, and some people don’t even take the time to thank others at all. So when people do take the time, it really stands out. For instance, in Toledo, someone even gave a policeman a handwritten note during his patrol shift, expressing the person’s appreciation of his hard work. He and the department were so glad to get the note, they posted it on social media. It seems like a minor action, but it really makes a difference

2 – Give gifts. My father was big on tangible gifts. Of course, he believed that a thank you is good, and a gift is even better. When someone does me a big favor, or if I want to show my appreciation for their work, or recognize the importance of our relationship, I send them a card with brownies. The note is nice, and the brownies are usually quickly consumed.

3 – Make a phone call. My father didn’t have email, which was a good thing, because he liked to meet people in person. If that wasn’t possible, a phone call was the next best thing, especially if someone lived far away. Usually people prefer to text rather than call, and it seems easier. However, a phone call is a great way to follow up with others and can also prevent misunderstandings. For instance, just setting a date for a business meeting can lead to long email threads that could bury the date or location, and you could forget to include some important information. Phone calls can be brief, yet ensure questions are answered.

4 – Focus on everyone. You never know who can help. It’s good to pay attention to all kinds of people when you are trying to reach decision-makers. When my father was taking care of my mother towards the end of her life and had to take her to the doctor, or when he visited her in the nursing home, he wouldn’t just pay attention to “important” medical staff. He would talk with all kinds of people and often bring cookies and other treats to the doctors, nurses, and helpers. He considered everyone as offering crucial support, and made sure no one was overlooked.

5 – Bless others when youve been blessed. As a child, I never really understood why we had to give money to the church every week. When I asked my father about it, he said, “Look how God has blessed us.” Chances are, good things have happened to you this year, and there are many ways to “share the wealth.” As a result, helping others is not only good for them, but can help your reputation as well.

Just as we can pass on blessings that we’ve received, we can also pass on wisdom that we have gained not just from our parents, but our clients, friends, and colleagues. So take a moment to think about who has influenced you and what you can share with others. There’s a lot to be thankful for, especially our reputations.

This was originally posted at Westmeath Netsortium of experts: creating programs to help enterprises perform better.

Did Trump Use the Right “Matchmaking” Advice with Russian Officials?

With all the complexities with the Russian scandal in the White House, it seems like President Trump should not have delegated his Russian relationships to his son. However, delegating tasks seems to be the trend, not just in politics, but in business as well. delegate

The BBC’s Catherine Snowdon describes how companies have set up ways to take over tasks that people don’t want to be responsible for. One company sends texts or emails for people who don’t want to deliver the bad breakup news themselves. Another company has invented a machine that can write notes for someone when they want to avoid using a pen and paper. And if people don’t want to stand in line for tickets, they can hire others to do that as well.

It seems like people are paying good money to avoid responsibility, allowing companies to take over their relationships. However, there are three reasons why it’s not such a good idea, even if you’re giving them permission to do so:

1 – Relationships are important. Whether they’re romantic or professional, close relationships require real interaction, even if the relationship is being terminated. In business, valued customers require honest communication. Even if an outcome is not favorable in the short-term, the personal touch can have positive long-term benefits. If the breakup is handled tactfully, the door can be left open.

2 – Your voice is your own. There are many Elvis Presley impersonators, and people who haven’t heard the real Elvis might be fooled. However, fans who know him understand that the impersonators are just imposters. So even though a fancy machine can write notes in your handwriting, it’s still not the real deal. Important contacts in your network would know that a note did not come from you, so the communication would not be genuine or foster a closer relationship. Basically, a copy isn’t as valuable as the original.

3 – Failure. No one wants to experience failure, but cutting corners can make it happen faster. Maybe businesses can save money by hiring others to take over mundane tasks. After all, what executive has the time to stand in line all day? Or deliver bad news, and be put in an awkward situation? However, companies have to be careful about what they delegate, and to whom. A well-known example is the Chicago Tribune, which outsourced work for the Blockshopper site to offshore writers who created stories under fake names. When the deception was uncovered, the Tribune was caught, and their reputation for journalism suffered. If they’d checked the company they’d farmed out their writing to (which also included writing generated by computers), they probably could have avoided the problem.

Basically, it’s important to think before you act, especially when handing off responsibilities to someone else. Prioritizing is key. While Donald Trump probably could trust his son in many matters, he should have re-thought what could have been delegated as he was pursuing the White House.

This was originally posted at Westmeath Netsortium of experts: creating programs to help enterprises perform better.

Don’t Blow Up Your Publicity Plan

When we’re going to have a baby, we love to tell people about it.
However, when was the last fireworkstime a baby announcement could land you in jail?
Alastair Lawson reports in the BBC News that a man shot an exploding target to announce his wife’s pregnancy. It sent billowing blue smoke into the air and created a boom that could be heard miles away. The man thought he was doing something clever, but it was illegal, and scary to his neighbors.

Hopefully, a business wouldn’t want to create a frightening promotional stunt, but everyone still needs to be careful. Here are 5 lessons that you can keep in mind when promoting your brand:

1 – Make sure it is legal. The man bought the explosives in a store, so he assumed it was okay to use them. However, he should have made sure he had the required permit. Whether you need a city permit or want to simply use a copyrighted photograph, make sure you find out what you need to do, or shouldn’t do, for your promotional campaign.

2 – Put it in context. A publicity stunt is more effective when you incorporate it into a promotional package that could be more valuable for media coverage. It’s about quality, not just the “wow” factor. The man was proud of the blue smoke he was creating, but in the bigger picture, it caused problems. If you’re thinking of doing something spectacular, make it part of a plan that has long-term effects.

3 – Consider your audience. The man’s neighbors were upset, even though he was having fun celebrating good news. It’s important to pay attention to what message you are communicating, and be conscientious about the details. For instance, WGN-TV picked the wrong star while reporting a positive story about a Jewish holiday. Instead of using a generic Star of David, they used an image of a star that was worn in a concentration camp. While it wasn’t an attempt at publicity, the mistake was broadcast and written about throughout the world. The embarrassment could have been avoided if they had paid attention.

4 – Focus. This is a follow-up to point number 3, because the man’s mistake was not the right message for his audience. By choosing to broadly broadcast his joy, he was off target. He was happy about the baby, but he should have communicated with people who would truly appreciate the news. Had this proud papa-to-be invited friends and family over for fireworks in his backyard, it would have been appropriate. When promoting your own story, remember that media outlets range from hyper-local to national. Therefore, consideration has to be made for the right media, message, and scope of audience.

5 – Don’t go it alone. To prevent problems and misunderstandings, consult with a team of people who fall into three categories: the CEO, who will ultimately be the spokesperson whether things go well or badly; your in-house legal expert; and communications professionals.

As Thomas Paine said, “Character is much easier kept than recovered,” and with careful planning, your reputation can be preserved if you implement a wise publicity stunt that will get the right kind of attention.

Avoid the Fake News Cycle

There is a famous saying that came out of Chicago’s City News Bureau: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Unfortunately, not everyone follows that advice. magnifying glass notebook

A story on National Public Radio by Cory Turner describes how students are being trained to spot fake news. They look at viral stories and ads, and they have to decide if they’re real or fake. What is interesting, and confirms what public relations professionals are often saying, is that social media plays a huge role in how young people get their news. Many of the students in the story never watch news on TV or read a newspaper, so they have to be careful about believing stories that are shared on Facebook and on their phones.

I’ve even used the concept of checking out a source just to see what kind of person someone is, especially if they’re trying to sell me something. For instance, my wife and I were approached by a friend of hers to purchase some insurance. I was curious about the person’s professional image, so I looked at their Facebook profile. I was surprised what I saw there, and I wasn’t really impressed. I usually assume that if someone is in business or wants to develop a successful career, they would be more careful about what they post and who they’re friends with online. Instead, the salesperson we encountered did not seem very professional, and I wondered if it impacted other potential clients, too.

Basically, checking out a source is not just about being a responsible journalist or about discerning what real news is. It’s about checking out what kinds of people you want to do business with or associate with professionally. This concept is also true about how we present ourselves to others. People think business professionals only see what they look like on LinkedIn. However, even a personal Facebook page affects your professional reputation. Therefore, not only should you consider your sources when looking at other people, but consider your own sources for when others check you out.

The bottom line is that we need to put aside our personal preferences and seek the truth.

3 Lessons Learned from a “Superhero” Who Isn’t So Super

Attorney Jordan Margolis thought he’d come up with a great gimmick that would help his reputation, but it ended up becoming a sad joke when he got into serious trouble. superhero

Steve Schmadeke described in the Chicago Tribune how Margolis created a book about a comic superhero called “Excuseman.” He even donned a cape to look like Excuseman, as he claimed to get “those who mess up to ‘fess up’.” His publicity plan included online videos featuring his character, and he seemed to be building something that people would remember. However, he ended up losing everything when he was indicted for stealing over one million dollars from his clients.

At least his situation isn’t totally useless, because his downfall provides business owners with these three publicity takeaways:

1 – Promote a respectable hobby. Margolis’ character was quite silly, and it made him look much worse when he was charged with 36 felony counts. Schmadeke says Margolis wants to be a screenwriter, and even if he does succeed at that new profession, people will see negative stories connected with his name. Business owners should get involved in projects that enhance their professional reputation rather than detract from it.

2 – Harmful actions will catch up with you. What Margolis did was illegal, and an online search for his name results in very few positive stories. However, you don’t have to be indicted to get bad publicity online. For instance, if your clients are dissatisfied, they can post bad reviews on the Internet. Then an online search for your name will bring those reviews to the top of the search results.

3 – Be proactive. To prevent potentially bad reviews from prominently showing up, set up social media accounts and consider a monitoring tool (Social Mention is free). Make sure your website is updated, and post consistently to your blog. You can also claim your business on Google maps. In addition to posting your own articles or helpful links on your personal LinkedIn account, create business LinkedIn and Facebook pages as well. It is also beneficial to position yourself as an expert by contributing to trade publications (which are usually posted online) or participating in seminars and workshops (your name will probably show up online for those, too).

Overall, business owners should think before they act, and be aware of how they are affecting people around them because anything about you can be posted online.

A version of this blog post first appeared at the Law Firm Consultants Network of Chicago.

10 Ways You Can Celebrate the Pro-Life Movement’s First Legislative Victory

In 1976, Republican Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois successfully barred the use of federal Henry Hydefunds to pay for abortion in most circumstances, and the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Hyde Amendment was on September 30th.

Here are 5 ways that life advocacy groups can use the opportunity to build awareness about the law:

  • Host an informal Hyde-themed coffee, brunch, or dinner for board members or core volunteers.
  • Create a series of social media posts for the anniversary week, including quotes by Hyde or facts about the Amendment’s impact.
  • Submit an op-ed piece to a local media outlet.
  • Add Henry Hyde’s book, Catch the Burning Flag: Speeches and Random Observations, to your staff’s reading list and consider gifting a copy to a local library.
  • Gather outside an abortion clinic and sing spiritual songs, pray, and read aloud Henry Hyde’s Plea to Override President Clinton’s Veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban (taken from the Congressional Record, September 19, 1996) – text found here.

And here are 5 ways organizations can use the opportunity to remember important landmarks and events:

  • The founding date of the organization or birthday of its original organizer
  • Anniversary of a group success, such as the closing of a local abortion facility
  • A somber recognition of a heinous incident, such as a death via a botched abortion, or an annual memorial for all local victims
  • Recognition of a particular accomplishment, such as largest protest or longest vigil
  • Local events, practices, or traditions that celebrate life

When Horsing Around Works


Public relations solutions can be simple. Reporter Chris Lusvardi illustrated this point in the Herald & Review newspaper when he described how a man used a low-tech mode of transportation to get to a courthouse in Decatur: he rode a horse.

Attorneys can take away three principles from this man’s resourcefulness (which ended up getting lots of publicity).

1 – Technology is not always necessary. Lawyers assume that they have to use all kinds of digital tools to get publicity for a case or attention for their clients. However, sometimes a situation doesn’t require any technology at all. One way to be simply proactive is to thank a colleague or client with a handwritten note. A notecard with a message written by pen (instead of a computer) stands out and shows others your concern because you took the time to create something more personal.

2 – Show more than tell. The man rode the horse to the courthouse because his license was suspended, and no one was available to drive him to court. Even without that explanation, just the image of him with the horse spoke for itself, and was easily shared throughout social and broadcast media. Attorneys can also think about how to use images to get attention for their cases. One example is a police surveillance video connected to a court case that can be made available at a firm’s website for the media and public to access.

3 – Think beyond the story. The man’s solution to his transportation problem got him attention, but it also helped his reputation. Chris Lusvardi reported that “an investigator with the Macon County Public Defender’s Office” said that what the man did was inspirational. The investigator also said “It can be a lesson…Some guys can’t seem to make it, and they live two blocks away.” So the next time you create a publicity plan, look at the possibilities beyond your immediate tactics. Whatever you decide, think about how it’s affecting your reputation.

A version of this blog post first appeared at the Law Firm Consultants Network of Chicago.

A Publicity Crash Course

You shouldn’t have to wait for a public relations crisis to create an effective publicity plan. You can develop a successful public relations strategy anytime, even when there doesn’t seem to be any breaking news. Here’s a “crash course” of four tips you can start working on right now: crash course

1 – Ask yourself these three questions:

  • What are newsworthy items at my company (such as promotions and new hires, recent product developments, survey results, volunteer projects)?
  • In what areas is my business the most trusted?
  • At my company, who is the best source for the media?

2 – Be an expert.

Let journalists know what issues you can comment on, and give them some helpful information such as links to resources, articles, and even other people who can help expand their knowledge.

When you want to offer a media professional insight on a topic that is developing, you can send an email such as this:

I saw your article about [insert topic]. I actually have experience with such a situation because I do [specify your specialty]. If you need further information or would like to include some comments about it, please contact me at the email address or phone number below. I also know someone who has experience with [something relevant], and I can give you their contact information as well.

3 – Press releases aren’t always the only solution.

Some people spend a lot of time on a press release and send it out to several contacts, assuming the media will automatically respond. If your press release sounds like you’re trying to sell something instead of communicating a story, they probably won’t be interested. A press release should have useful, concrete information about a relevant topic, especially one that is connected to current trends. Basically, press releases should fit with other parts of your publicity plan (such as social media, articles, videos) instead of being the only trick in your bag.

4 – Create your own content.

I touched upon this above–you should write articles for publications or websites that relate to your area of expertise. You should also look for outlets where your potential clients “hang out.” On your website, offer useful information that people can read or download. For instance, you could provide advice for common issues, or offer a “how to” guide that people can save as a PDF. If you’re using social media, share links to articles that you or others have written, which can help your current and potential clients.

In today’s diversified media climate, it’s important to think creatively to stay top-of-mind, whether events seem major or minor. After all, public relations is no longer about sending out a press release or holding a press conference. It’s about how you can communicate your message most effectively on a variety of platforms.

A version of this blog post first appeared at the Law Firm Consultants Network of Chicago.

Lawyers Measure Their Words (and Need To Also Measure Public Relations Efforts)

measuring-your-pr-successIn the Washington Post, it was reported that social media is no longer a fad in the legal industry. The story referred to a study that found “about 40 percent [of law firms] said blogging and social networking initiatives have helped the firm land new work.” Recently, a study at the American Bar Association revealed more than 60% of large firms surveyed have a blog and use social media such as LinkedIn.

With all that social media use, in addition to getting press coverage in more traditional media outlets, it can seem challenging to measure how well your publicity plan is doing. Here are tips to help you get started:

The biggest. It’s helpful to break down the kind of coverage that you are measuring. There are three categories: owned media, earned media, and paid media. “Owned” is content that you produce on your website and blogs, in your newsletters, and on your social media channels. “Earned” media is what others say about you, whether it’s through comments on other websites or social media, or what is printed or broadcast by journalists. “Paid” media is money you spend on advertising. Continue reading

Attorneys Can Break Through a Crisis with Effective Communications

crisis-communicationAre you ready for a crisis? Even if you think you’ve done nothing controversial, serious allegations or a lawsuit leaked to the media can put you or on the defensive. It might not matter if you are innocent, the negative publicity along the way might ruin your reputation.

In one example, Lumber Liquidators went to court to respond to an investor class action lawsuit. The company said the plaintiffs’ complaint is based on negative publicity. Even if the company is correct, its name has been tarnished. Lumber Liquidators has had to deal with government investigations and more litigation after “60 Minutes” broadcast a story about its products. Increasing problems have forced the company to respond in the media, as well as the courtroom.

Even if you’re in the safe zone now, you should create a crisis communication plan including:

1 – Assessment. Look at your current cases and clients to see if there are any potential problems, and think about what could happen as a result of a crisis. Develop a “scenario” plan to assess how your case could become harmful or controversial.

2 – Team. Choose someone to be a dedicated spokesperson if a problem occurs. Your team can include your firm’s partner, a communications expert, outside counsel, and anyone who is close to the issues.

3 – Audience. Think about who would be affected or concerned about a crisis related to your firm or a client. Your audience is internal and external, and includes employees, government agencies, vendors and suppliers, clients, and the media.

4 – Website. A part of your website should have a section that is not public, which can go live during a crisis when you need to communicate with the public. Sections could include statements, links, special contact information, and relevant court documents.

5 – Media contacts. Have a list ready of business and legal media outlets, including “traditional” and digital ones (such as prominent bloggers or social media influencers) that have already covered your case, or will probably cover it. Relationships should be established before the crisis hits, so think of ways to productively communicate with journalists.

6 – Personal inventory. Not all crises are related to cases. They could just be about individuals in your firm, or your own life. Make sure that people’s social media accounts and blog posts are free of any embarrassing, divisive, or controversial content.

Media is more fragmented than ever before, so be aware of the messages about you and your firm. By using Google Alerts and other monitoring tools, you can be ‘proactive in your messaging.