What Is Public Relations?

I came across an article I had torn out of a magazine entitled, “What Is Public Relations?” a while back. It’s an excellent question and – since you’re here on my Marketing focused site – bears expounding on to explain.

Public Relations, commonly called PR, can be defined in a few ways, all based on the core of communicating the companies message to the public and managing those relationships. I like how the article stated it:

“It is the deliberate, planned, and sustained effort to establish and maintain communication and mutual understanding between an organization and its public.”

Marketing opportunities are complemented by public relations

Marketing opportunities are complemented by public relations

PR is its own animal – just as marketing is its own, advertising too – as well as sales. They are all different and need some defined parameters so we don’t mush them all together, which sadly happens too much.

When I was speaking with 2 different audiences last week about marketing, I didn’t even think to bring up PR. Maybe because I separate them to begin with. Marketing is communication. It’s the pull you want to generate to bring people in, to attract them to you and your work, brand and goodies. Advertising is a push; you put together information and send it out into the world, never being able to tell where the ad seeds land – it’s a big leap of faith (Happy Leap Day, by the way). Sales is the results of all of these together – marketing, advertising and public relations.

Here’s a good video on What Is Advertising and another on the Difference of Sales & Marketing. Lisa’s an excellent resources for this arena as well.

It’s important to know the difference and then execute them as such. Keep the lines clear, even though they certainly can and do (happily) overlap. As long as the overlap isn’t a total shadow of one to another – they should complement each other.

Knowing the differences, as well as overlapping synergies, are important for you to make progress with all your endeavors.

So enjoy your Public Relations. It’s a great way to put a face to a company, brand and organization that may otherwise remain cloudy for your constituents.

The Power Of A Yellow Sweater

Yesterday I gave a talk on marketing yourself to a room full of college students, faculty and guests. It was the last in a series of Tech Talks at SOU partnered with SVTG, designed to give students valuable real world insight post programs & graduations.

Mine differed from the core of the series, though my hosts clearly believed the topic to be worth while: Once you’re done in our classrooms, how can you go forth and dig into the world around you?

It was with great pleasure I delivered How Do You Meet The People You Want And Need To Meet To Be Successful? When I was greeting everyone as they came into the room, I found that many were there solely for extra credit from other instructors. While I first laughed at this and felt it trivialized the series, I quickly realized what a great endorsement this was to the talks, and was happy to have ‘extra’ guests.

I covered ground on defining marketing, advertising and sales. I talked about some specific tactics and the why behind the efficacy of those ideas and how to apply a few. Handshakes, business cards, and in person encounters. We covered a lot of ground.

One of my signature elements of this talk is the introduction and sharing about my yellow sweater. I want to share it with you right now.

Last year I was at a conference, in Chicago, IL, USA. There were likely 300 – 400 people in the large ballroom awaiting the morning keynote so I settled into a mid to forward room table, facing the stage. Once the speaker began, and I was listening, he stated that there were two microphones in the room, gestured to them and invited us to step up at any time to ask a question.

Opportunity favors those who step up.

Marketing was knocking at this invite. So while I hadn’t intended to ask him a question, I immediately recognized the opportunity at hand. I quietly formulated what I wanted to ask, stood up, made my way to the mic, and patiently waited my turn.

The yellow sweater.

The yellow sweater.

In short order, he did in fact call on me. What I asked was somewhat unimportant to my goal in stepping up to the mic. I chose that time to, yes, ask the speaker an inquiring question. More importantly I was wearing my rather vibrant yellow sweater, got to stand and state my name and business, thank the speaker for letting me ask, ask, and then awaited his response.

A few birds with one stone, if you’re counting:

  1. The speaker invited people to ask questions. When a speaker does this they generally want people to do so. I was helping.
  2. I was able to stand in a noticeable piece of clothing, state my name for the entire room to hear, and ask an intelligent query.
  3. Instead of a direct question, I asked him for his thoughts on some such related idea, therefore not stealing his spotlight and asking him to expound on his thoughts. It’s always good form to be polite to the speaker who invites you to participate.
  4. I lingered for a moment after my words were out, thanked him for his answer, and made my way carefully back to me seat. The yellow sweater on the move.

After the speaker was done, it was lunch time in that same room. People rose, started working their way back to the buffet tables and chattered. And guess what else happened?

A number of people approached me, recognizing me from my yellow sweatered question, and engaged in a conversation. A few friends who didn’t know I was there mentioned later in the week they had seen me – in that yellow sweater. And overall I achieved what I wanted: to help the speaker, get noticed, and start conversations. I was marketing myself successfully, simply, and easily.

In telling this story to the room yesterday, I was in fact wearing that sweater. It’s a perfect entre into The Why it’s important to realize you, as your brand and own entity, make impressions all the time. By purposefully wearing that yellow sweater, I deepened my impact at the event. The sweater was a “pull,” as I call marketing – it pulled people in, giving them a reason to approach. We have that permission anyway, though some have to wait to be compelled or get their own internal green light to do so. I was trying to make it easier as well.

Throughout the remainder of the conference, and especially that day, I had people approach me, just as I approached others who caught my eye. It worked – that simple yellow sweater.

Like it or not, how we look is how we are first judged. Be aware and thoughtful to your garb as it makes a tangible difference in how we get noticed in the world around us.

So….do you still have one of those boring black luggage bags that everyone else also owns? Maybe it’s time to find a yellow one. I guarantee it’ll start conversations.

“Your Feedback Is Very Important To Us…”

So why, then, do I feel so unimportant?

United Airlines sent me a notice this morning to update my security clearance stuff. While I am in full agreement with reasonable safety measures, the questions they asked me to pick then provide an unyielding answer to in order to get into my own account are silly.

This is bad marketing (yes, it’s a facet of marketing since it’s communication).

So I sent them a comment stating as much. Why should I have to pick to answer what my “favorite fruit or vegetable was as a kid”? How on earth would that even be remembered by many of us a few or more decades into life is beyond me, unless you have a pineapple fetish or couldn’t get enough blueberries in season. My favorite breed of dog…?? Well, since I love all dogs, I’d probably end up locking myself out of my own account, trying in vain to remember which one I picked to keep myself safe. Rather a ridiculous situation if you are, say, trying to clear up something to catch your next flight. “Now, what did I choose….Lab? Dachshund? Cockapoo??” Not a good scenario….

The friendly skies would be better with on-the-ground real time service

The friendly skies would be better with on-the-ground real time service

I suggest they let the consumer pick the security question they want answered. How about the first of something – like 1st grade teacher or first airline flight or first kiss? That stuff you remember. Those are more pivotal and memorable to most. Our favorites change, they have less permanence so that’s a bunch of shifting sand I’d rather not have to sift through when I’m traveling by air.

I don’t have anything against United, they’re simply the example and inspiration this morning.

Once I sent the Customer Comment (“other” category in drop down menu), I got this auto reply:

Your feedback is very important to us. Your perspective is important to shaping the future United experience.

Our Customer Care team will address your email and respond back to you shortly. Response time is generally within 7-10 business days.

  • Please use Case ID number 11393030 if you need to contact us about your inquiry.

If your email is about general information, an upcoming trip, baggage delay or MileagePlus, here’s information you might find helpful.

We appreciate your business! We know it’s the experience of flying United that matters most and want to make sure we provide you with the travel experience you deserve.

-United Airlines Customer Care


This is an automated response confirming receipt of your email.


If I’m so important, how is this totally faceless and impersonal email 1. any kind of reply (it’s not – it simply makes them feel like they made me feel like I perhaps mattered, which I don’t.) 2. making me feel Very Important? It’s not. And their version of ‘responding to me shortly’ is 7 – 10 business days – wait, what??? That’s not short, that’s as long as it takes to get snail mail so there’s nothing short about it. Short = 24 hours – and in today’s ever faster world, that’s even slow by some standards.

All companies need to get on the ball with an evaluation of their customer interactions. I sure wouldn’t call most of what we supposedly call ‘customer service’ to be anywhere close.

Here’s how to fix this so-easily-fixable problem:

  • Live-person your phone
  • Use real people in real-time to reply to emails
  • Publish an easy to find non-phone tree phone number for the company
  • Get back in touch with the fact we are all humans and we all need and deserve real human interactions.

You’ll gain way more new customers and customer loyalty by doing so that you will ever possibly regain from the frustrated I’m-not-going-back-for-that-kind-of-hassle people.

Flywheel is a good example of a recent interaction I had in the positive. They have an easy to find phone number (right at the top corner of their homepage), a recorded message and the ability to leave a voice mail. When I first got the recorded voice, I was understandable skeptical, though I was polite & hopeful as I left my message, name and number to call me back. And call back they did – within an hour. A live person left me a “sorry to miss you, please call us back” message. So I did and got my live person and got my questions quickly, professionally and completely answered. That’s service. I know my calls are important to them now and they’ll continue to earn my business as long as that’s still part of the deal.

  • The Customer Experience is what you get: I’m not getting a good experience from United here.
  • Customer Service is what you give: I don’t feel well or authentically served either.

I feel like I don’t even matter to United – no name is given as a reference person who will be helping me, there’s no service to this. It’s simply rote busyness in my inbox, serving me no purpose. Maybe it makes them feel good – maybe they feel like I’ll be pacified with this empty message in the meantime…if there ever is any sort of reply at all. I’m not holding my breath.

There are loads of live people the globe over waiting to be hired to make us all feel truly Very Important. These people build solid, great brands. It’s still true that the #1 Investment any organization can make is in its people.

For the record I won’t be buying any sort of excuse that it’s not possible to live-staff phones and email centers. That’s bunk. Everything is possible for those who want to make it happen.

And by the way, I love flying Alaska.

And vs. But

One of the very best lessons I have ever learned is to replace “but” with “and.” With a deep bow of gratitude to Jack Anderson, my former colleague and mentor from my Ace Hardware days, I have implemented and changed my thinking entirely with this simple and effective tactic. Here’s how it changes lives for the better.

  1. ‘But’ is used, in large part, inaccurately. ‘But’ negates the previous part of the sentence which then begs the question – should you have stated the first part of the thought anyway? Better yet, break the thought into two separate sentences. If one negates the other and it’s useful and purposeful, keep it in there – if not, get rid of it.
  2. ‘But’ contradicts and should be used only where applicable and very carefully even then.
  3. Using ‘And’ immediately changes the outcome for the better. And is a positive directive – it wants to join with other words to make progress.
  4. ‘And’ is more fun to say – again, the positivity therein leads you forward, instead of holding you back as ‘but’ does.
  5. ‘And’ can more accurately be used, liberally and often.
Dan & Edie, far left, me, far right at TEDxNapaValley 2015

Dan & Edie, far left, me, far right at TEDxNapaValley 2015

When I read magazines, newspapers, websites and other written material I’m often confounded by the misuse of ‘but’ where something else should be and would be better. The simple action of pausing to consider your words before you write them down and say them in the case of ‘and’ and ‘but’ will definitely move your forward.

A classic improv comedy technique is to build on the moment of comedy with a partner by saying “yes, and…” It reverses the “no, but…” which is absolutely what we want to do. Here’s an excellent article featuring Charlie Todd, founder of the freakin’ brilliant Improve Everywhere (tip: subscribe to their stream).

One of my TEDx classmates gave a talk on improv and how to do comedy successfully. It was really cool and interesting to hear what he shared and then his acting exercise with his fabulous wife, fellow comedian Edie, during his talk. Here it is for your enjoyment and education as well. It makes me think and laugh every time I see it.

And is a word of coordination and togetherness, something we all need and want.

Replace your ‘But’ with an ‘And’ and we’ll all be better for it. I think jack would approve.

Why Did You Start Your Business?

While there are many answers to this query, I’d venture a strong “to do what I really want to do” fits for many.

If that’s the case, are you doing what you set out to want to do?

Ours days are numbered, aka Perishable. Do what you really want to be doing, hire out the rest.

Ours days are numbered, aka Perishable. Do what you really want to be doing, hire out the rest.

Said another way, are your days filled with the passion part of your reasons? Do you wake up able to jump right into the Thing You Love about being in business?

If this is true, who are the pros you’ve hired on as your support team? What contractors and specialists have you hired to do what they do best to help you do more of what you do best?

Becky’s right when she asks her clients, “wouldn’t you rather be doing what you love?” As opposed to getting mired in other tasks/crap/jobs you don’t want to do? Seth nails it here too, specifically related to marketing.

Take a look at your business. Refresh your memory of why you’re doing what you are doing and make the conscious decision to help yourself be better and better at what you’re already good at. Hire the right pros to complement, enhance, and build you & your efforts. Slogging though a task you don’t like to do is counter productive.

Besides, you started your business so people would hire you, right? Then hire the pros you need to help you be you.

I’m hear for your marketing help when you’re ready.

Who’s Helping Who?

My Fine Husband recently contacted a shoe company per a concern; he’s a brewer and needs safe, non-slip and waterproof footwear and the pair he had been wearing (happily) developed a premature flaw. He’s really good at figuring out what needs to happen, reading all the necessary (or at least provided) information the company shares in their Customer Service protocols so he did his diligence in jumping all the hoops to inquiry about a solution.

The company sent him a curious reply per his inquiry of a warrantee concern:

“Re: Consumer concern case number: XXXX

Good day and thank you for contacting [Whatever] Shoes.

We are pleased to inform you that we have resolved your case in your favor.

Your replacement product will be sent to you shortly.

We appreciate your continued loyalty to our [wahtever] family brand.”

Larry, clowning around in his work boots.

Larry, clowning around in his work boots.

Notice how the wording was like a lawsuit – ‘resolved your case in your favor.’ Seems very odd to me and we at first laughed it off. Then I started thinking about it and how it can be interpreted as slightly, well, off.


The idea of Customer Service is rife with opportunity to shine just as it’s ready to disappoint. One of the best service pros I know anywhere is Paul. He’s a career server and trainer and is proud of his profession. I bring him up since he’d surely like a go at this, in a nice way, to ask the company why they chose these words.

I think it’s good they were succinct, they thanked him and indicated appreciation. Why then would they kind of back-handedly word this to make the buyer feel like they’re in court…..Not sure.

He got his replacements last week, though they weren’t the exact same model. We could say ‘oh well’ here, yet it’s not quite all well.

Think about the words you use, where you use them, and how they can be interpreted. Think about them from your customers’ vantage point. Don’t get mired in the minutia but do take time to think about them, especially pre-publishing like in this case.

Words are powerful and useful when we can employ them as such.

Speaking of words, is it whom or who in my title??

What Good Marketing Is

Marketing is communication. With that definition, everyone is marketing. Marketing = communication, communication = education, education = progress, movement, sales and all the rest. It’s a good M word.

Marketing sometimes gets a bad rap.

Here's an example of good marketing - Comfy, useful, carefully executed wearable (sweatshirt from my friends at Ninkasi).

Here’s an example of good marketing – Comfy, useful, carefully executed wearable (sweatshirt from my friends at Ninkasi).

It’s truly too bad when this happens since I believe, as a member of the professional marketing community, much of the criticism is misguided and misunderstood. Marketing isn’t advertising, it’s not sales and for sure it’s not a bad thing.

Today I want to cover some ground on what Good Marketing is.

  • Good Marketing is communication. It’s determining who your audience is and learning how to best address them, when they want to be addressed, how they want to be addressed, and frequency of contact.
  • Good Marketing is being gracious and thoughtful, respectful of the audience and their time and values. It’s about them, not you.
  • Good Marketing is investing real-time and effort into educating yourself about your market. I think it’s called “market Share” because customers are sharing themselves with you, be kind & respectful.
  • Good Marketing is standing tall on your talents, promoting the good, ignoring the detractors and selectively ignorant, moving forward with your abilities and gifts you have to share with your audience.
  • Good Marketing is accurate. This is perhaps the biggest piece of the important pie: to be accurate. Passion will only take you so far and it usually isn’t a customers’ passion for a business proper which engenders brand loyalty. Know the difference.
  • Good Marketing is clever, fun, appropriate, funny, and directly tied to that which it is communicating.

Does your marketing emulate all of these facets? What else does your marketing have that you find of value? What else can you share – ne, communicate – with all of us on how you think marketing works?

Be in touch.

And be sure to read this worthwhile piece by Kirstyn Barnett. Here’s another. I’d expand on her thinking: while many people think they are marketing experts, many are not. They are armchair critics, suggesters and the otherwise advice giving unqualified.

So repeat after me: Marketing Is Communication.

Know it, use it, see the fruit it bears.