Work-Life Integration v. Balance – Panacea or Pandora’s Box?

March 17, 2015

I have noticed a lot of business articles and social media posts lately touting the “new” way to achieve life nirvana through the newly coined “work-life integration,” as opposed to the work-life balance of the early 2000’s. Everyone from CEOs of large tech companies to my friends who head small, local businesses, talk about the beauty and benefit of integration over balance. As one who absolutely abhors and eschews trendy business ideas, I first had to understand what exactly they were talking about. What do they mean by integration versus balance? What’s the difference between the two? Is this a semantics argument? What I learned is that this all depends on how you feel about your work, and when you truly understand what integration means, it may have you changing your mind.

The meaning of these terms is not as important as the interpretation of them. And interpretation depends upon who you ask. For most, integration refers to the “all-in” approach whereby the lines between work and life are fuzzy if not gone altogether. Empowered by technology, you are not constrained by the binary construct of work-life balance, and you can instead integrate everything, and get work done from anywhere at any time, enabling seamless shifts in focus from family life to work and back again. You work at home, on the beach, at Panera, wherever you need to be. You also have the freedom in this approach to volunteer at your child’s school, attend doctor’s appointments and wait for the cable guy without taking actual leave. Sounds utopian, right? Could be, in particular, for people who LOVE their work. For those who have found their life passion, and would be perfectly content to do the job for free, integration is indeed the sweet friction point enabling them to let out the clutch a little as they shift gears and accelerate into another area of our lives. To integration proponents, balance, on the other hand, is constricting, and draws a thick line between the two worlds of work and life blocking them from full enjoyment of either. For better or worse, balance connotes a fully focused presence in one world or the other, whereby one area of your life is not overtaking the other, and you “turn off” from work to be home and vice versa.

For many, the terms could be interchangeable. It’s a tomayto, tomahto situation and most don’t care what you call it so long as they have the freedom to move about their lives in the way they want. But I take issue with it, and caution you with the interpretation of integration. When you listen to some business leaders talk, integration implies a never-needing-to-turn-it-off, all access, all-the-time approach, which is great for employers wanting to squeeze more production out their workforce. And, it’s great for those who absolutely love their work. But I don’t believe most people fall into this camp. Were just not all lucky enough to have found our life passion yet, and so we are in j-o-bs, or even careers, that don’t enthuse or inspire us, but they pay the bills and keep us going. So, for the rest of us, does integration really work? The devil is in the execution.

You really need to fully understand your employer’s interpretation of integration before you sign on. The ironic and obvious danger is the loss of true balance. When technology enables the employer and employee to ditch the standard 8 to 5 work day, you may think on the surface this is great because you’re not tied to a daily schedule – the grind as they say. But, the tradeoff is, they can reach you evenings, weekends, on vacations or at your child’s birthday party. Think about that for a second. Sounds great when you’ve been chained to your desk for so many years, but in reality, are you sure that’s what you want?

I have worked as an independent consultant from home and as a full-time employee with varying levels of integration and I am here to tell you, the Emperor Has No Clothes. He is stark raving naked as a matter of fact. Trust me, balance – not integration – has been, is, and will always be, the Holy Grail, in particular for people who are, shall we say, not living the dream. Yes, technology enables a more mobile, “work from anywhere” approach. It yields freedom – from a physical location, but it certainly doesn’t yield freedom from the work. If what you want is what I want, and I think what most of us want – a true balanced approach to life, where when you are with family, you are 100% focused on them, and when you are at work, you are 100% focused on work, then you need what I call bounded integration, meaning, you take advantage of technology to let you work from wherever as opposed to the confines of an office or daily schedule, however, you set thick DMZs, zones between work and life outside work, so that you can be assured you are fully present, in whichever box you’re in at the moment. For me, that means, working from home independently, but setting limits to my availability. I don’t answer emails between 7 pm and 7 am or from Friday night at 5 pm until Monday morning at 7 am, unless there is an emergency (remembering that your failure to plan does not constitute an emergency for me). Then, and only then, will you hit that life nirvana.

So, if balance is what you crave, and you think integration is the answer, just be skeptical. Ask questions. Find out what it really means for your employer and ask friends all along the continuum of integration how they like it. Integration means and implies different things for different people. For single men and women, it could be fantastic. For working parents, it may be okay at times and a nightmare at other times. For families with one working parent and for single parents, it could go either way. And, most important, it really matters whether you love what you are doing. The point is, don’t let the shiny exterior of integration dazzle you too much. Integration is not the panacea you may think, but rather a Pandora’s Box. And once it’s out there, you really can’t put it back.

11 Things About Boys Redux With A Twist

September 25, 2014

I read a blog post on Huffington Post Parents today titled, 11 Things Only Parents of Boys Understand, thinking, as a Mom of two boys, here’s something I will truly get a kick out of. But with only one exception, where the item was a fact in our house (farts are funny), none of these 11 Things rang true for my boys. No disrespect to Shannon Ralph, the writer, who originally wrote it for The Next Family blog, but it made me a little sad – not that I felt left out, but that here was yet another blog about boys that perpetuates all the stereotypes. On the other hand, I also felt good, because it means I have a couple of boys on my hands that are breaking from the mold. Here’s a snapshot of the original list, and the difference at casa de Villegas:

1. Star Wars is akin to religion. Star Who? Not here. The only religions we pray to in this house are the Divergent, Hunger Games, Minecraft and Plants Vs Zombies kind.

2. Simultaneously hating and being grateful for the privilege your son will have as an adult male. Not exactly. I never for a second believed my sons will have an edge. One is very, let’s call it, “metro” to use the latest term. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that makes Middle School or High School particularly easy, and I hope life between now and adulthood isn’t so taxing for him that the spark is distinguished before it can even get popping.

3. Boys give the best hugs. Very true, they do, though Ms. Ralph claims her boys hug without agenda. Not so for mine. Some hugs are pure, I’ll admit. But many of them are laced with undertones of quid pro quo: pizza, fro-yo, stay up late, etc.

4. Farts are funny. Yes, for one boy farts are INDEED very funny. As are burps and other bodily noises and boy body parts. As for my other son, I have never heard, or smelled, a peep out of him. He is all gentleman.

5. Everything will be covered in pee. Gross. Can’t say we have that issue. Maybe as they were learning, but at 7 and 10, we’re all under control here.

6. Anything can, and will, become a gun. Not here. I can’t say I can honestly recall either of my sons ever pointing so much as a finger at anything and making a gun-like noise. It’s just never happened.

7. Boys are physical. I guess so, but no more so than the neighborhood girls. In fact, there are some girls that we have over where we actually have to lock shit up so they don’t wreck it. Sure my guys wrestle with each other and me and their Dad. They play dance party, and monkey in the middle and they don’t always sit for a complete meal. But, they’re kids for Pete’s sake. I can’t say this is a son only item.

8. Boys don’t listen. Sorry Ms. Ralph. I don’t have this issue either. You mention they don’t pick up Legos when you tell them to? The first time I stepped on a Lego and very ceremoniously threw it out because it was on the floor, was the last time I had to step on one. If anything, I’d say their Dad is the one with the listening issue. He’s the one who doesn’t seem to remember when the appointments are, the birthdays are, when to pick up the milk, or mail the electric bill.

9. Marvel versus DC. Pick one. Pick one early. Who versus what? Not here. Don’t even speak that lingo.

10. Clothes mean nothing. Hate to sound like a broken record, but, are you kidding me? If I had a dime for every argument we had over what could be bought, worn, washed or kept, I’d be a wealthy woman. It’s the first argument of every day and really the last thing I want to draw a line for, so I don’t. Fashion is VERY important to my boys and so I stay out of it. I buy them what I can afford, and they buy the rest with their own money. One guy wears the same ratty sweatshirt every day, the other wears Uggs. It’s their thing. I stay out of it.

11. Boys love unconditionally. They do. I believe most children do. But Ms. Ralph, try not to suggest that only girls throw emotional and dramatic tantrums, give the silent treatment, and scream back at you. Try not to suggest girls don’t just love you too. You love your children unconditionally and they’ll do the same. And they might still pull a drama on you.

My boys never go to bed without saying sorry. They kiss me in front of friends. They care what they wear and choose dancing and swimming over sports played with balls. They’ve never watched a George Lucas film. One of my sons has two American Girl dolls and is saving for more. He’s made clothes for them, designed furniture for them and subscribes to American Girl magazine, because he enjoys the content. He loves a splash of color, especially teal. He is my fashion consultant, my hair stylist and my go-to-guy for romantic comedies. We cried together watching “The Fault In Our Stars”.

I love listicals and blogs and sharing parenting with others. I love to hear about other Moms’ funny kids and their touching moments. But this post just begged for an alternative viewpoint. My boys are boys alright, but they’re not the “boys who will be boys” of yesteryear. It’s not all pee and frogs and farts and Star Wars. And while those are all wonderful things for some boys, I am glad it’s a little different here.

Leap of Faith: Are You Ready For Independent Consulting?

April 28, 2014

There were two great articles recently from PRSA offering advice on breaking out on your own. One was in the Strategist, by Joseph Curley, and the other in Tactics, by Stu Opperman. Both provided very different guidance for people thinking about starting their own consultancy. Both offered tips and checklists that I think are helpful to a degree, but what I felt was missing from both articles were passion and encouragement about the decision. Reading them both, I am definitely more in the Opperman camp, as my goal was simply to practice independently as opposed to starting a firm. But if I had read Curley’s article before making the plunge myself, I never would’ve jumped, and consequently, I would never have achieved the true balance of work and life, or felt the happiness and job satisfaction I feel now.

I think while it’s important to consider all the aspects of independent consulting, or becoming your own boss, it’s important to underscore Opperman’s point that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and you really can’t know how you’ll do unless you try. So, if I were to give a third alternative bit of advice – if this is something you really want to do – don’t overthink it. Go for it. There is no failure in trying to make a go of it, even if it doesn’t work out for you in the long run. The only failure to be had is not even trying. When I made the decision to go out on my own, I met none of the requirements in Curley’s article. I had no savings, no business plan, no certainty about my vendor networks or networks in general, uncertainty about my level of discipline or productivity, and no funds to hire a lawyer, or other vendor to help with invoicing, taxes or paperwork. But, what I did have was twenty years of experience and faith in myself. If I learned just two things in the last two years of independent PR consulting, it’s that there’s plenty of work to go around, and some people will just want me specifically (even if others are more qualified). The rest is just negotiation and courage.

In terms of equipment and supplies, you don’t need to rent office space. All you need is a computer, a surface to put it on, a chair, an internet connection, a phone and a printer. When you are just starting out, not everyone needs a lawyer, a bookkeeper, a company name, or a business plan. Some may initially, but many don’t. I created a company name and registered it with the State Corporation Commission only because my first client required SCC registration. A friend of mine began by consulting under her own name. It really isn’t that important when you are starting out, and much of it is a matter of scale. You can always increase your scale, but it’s much harder to scale back if you start big. I didn’t need a bookkeeper when I started out, but now, after two years, I’ve hired one.

My advice about going out on your own is much simpler than Opperman’s or Curley’s. It is this: forget about lawyers and plans for a minute and be completely honest with yourself about what you want, what are you good at, and what you are willing to do. Ask yourself those three questions and pay attention to the answers – they will tell you if consulting is right for you. It’s not whether you have money saved, a stomach for uncertainty or a business plan. It’s what you want, what you know how to do, and what you are willing to do. If you want to choose your clients, your work, your coworkers, your vendors, your price, the hours and the days you work, then consulting may be for you. What are you willing to trade for it? What I wanted was the freedom to choose my work hours and work days, clients and coworkers, topic and price. What I am willing to do is, work evenings, nights or weekends, travel just about anywhere anytime, and never turn on out-of-office assistant. The only time I am not available to clients is when I am sleeping or on a plane. If this sounds unreasonable to you, then consider this, almost every time I talk to a client, I make money. When you are salaried, you likely resent working weekends or on vacations. When you are a consultant, it’s a different mindset. If I get a call for work while sitting on the beach (and this has happened to me) I don’t bemoan it. I think, “ka-ching,” because I am going to actually make money on vacation. When you are salaried, you likely resent giving up an occasional weekend. When you are a consultant and a client calls on Friday with a task she wants done by Monday, you think, “bonus, I am going to make some money this weekend,” and you do the money dance. It’s a whole different attitude. I never sweat Sunday nights anymore because I never book a busy Monday. I go to the gym on weekday mornings after the rush. I hit Costco when no one’s there.

But it’s not all roses, I’ll admit. As Opperman points out, one of the other trade-offs for this freedom is an irregular pay schedule. But don’t let it scare you away. Remember I had no savings when I started and there were months when everyone was 45 days past due. It can be stressful and scary. But, I threw a few bills on a credit card, and had faith it would soon work out, and if it didn’t, I knew I could always go back to working for someone else. Remember, you are just turning off the beaten path, you are not driving over a cliff. Nearly two years after I hung my shingle, the checks from some of my clients now keep me going until the checks from other clients come in. It’s different, and there’s no rhythm to it, but it’s the same pay for much fewer hours and much less stress, so for me, even if the pay comes late or not on a schedule, it is worth it.

Your confidence plays a big role. If you are self-confident and self-assured, enough that you can convince a client to hire you, and counsel them against something they really want to do, then consulting may be right for you. Humility plays a critical supporting role. Be honest with yourself about what you can and are willing to do. When I started out, I offered every service I had ever done. But, I found that when clients asked for some services I hated providing (or was not great at), it sucked the joy out of my day to do them and I put them off, or did them reluctantly or sloppily. It wasn’t serving my reputation or my clients to do the things I hated doing or wasn’t that good at. So, what did I do? I used my network. Now, when clients ask for things I don’t like to do or am not great at, I sub them out to freelancers I know who are interested in the work and are good at it. The Independent Public Relations Alliance has been instrumental in that respect, because it’s a large network of talented independents like me who have diverse senior-level skills and are nimble enough to take on a few hours here and there, when I need them, without a lot of red tape.

While both authors provided some good advice, the idea of going out on your own can seem overwhelming if you try to take all the advice at once. The fear can be paralyzing. Don’t let it, though. If you have ever thought about being your own boss and leaving your job to consult, go for it. Try it out. Don’t let fear, or lack of money, or lack of knowledge about the process, or anything else stop you. Like Opperman said, you likely know a few folks who are doing it already. Ask each of them to lunch, and ask them how they did it. Bring your long laundry list of questions about how they got started, the process, their story, and then go home and start your own story. Make some mistakes, learn from them and move on, but don’t let fear of the unknown stop you.

Which Good Wife Girl Are You?

To say that I am a HUGE fan of The Good Wife would be an understatement. All week I look forward to Sunday nights and all during the show, I grow more and more anxious that the hour will soon be over, and I’ll be left waiting Lord knows how many weeks before I get the chance to see them again. Invariably, while I watch, I compare myself to Alicia Florrick, the show’s heroine.

It’s complete and utter flattery that I let myself make the comparison, for I haven’t the education, skills or beauty of Ms. Florrick, but a girl can day dream. I’ve begun to consider the show professional development, because I come away each week feeling inspired, not just by Alicia, but by many of the show’s female characters. Each woman wields such power, grace and control. Ordinary women like me have much to learn from them. So in your work or personal life, which woman of The Good Wife are you?

Alicia Florrick – (Calm) The wife of a disgraced state’s attorney, Alicia is the very definition of cool under pressure. You almost never see Alicia cry, but don’t think she isn’t hurting or full of doubt. Despite her pain and insecurity, Alicia always seems to find a way to get what she wants in work and in love, while being true to herself and the law. Alicia never loses her cool or composure in front of people, and to take the time to plan what she’s going to say so that she can deliver the precise message that’s needed, at the right time, with the best impact.

Elsbeth Tascioni – (Spoof) Elsbeth is a quirky woman that you think couldn’t be a good lawyer. Don’t be fooled. Elsbeth may lose track of the conversation, be ridiculously distracted by background noise, and not present the polished package you’d hope or expect from a litigator, but she’s the real deal and knows her stuff. Elsbeth uses her quirks as her weapons to confuse, discombobulate and disorient her opponents. Elsbeth’s quirks are, in effect, her strengths. You’re standing there scratching your head, while she’s already knocked your strategy into pieces and on to her next victim.

Kalinda Sharma – (Guts) Kalinda is a private investigator who is also fiercely private herself. Though petite in stature, Kalinda packs a punch, literally. The girl can fight and she’s not afraid to. Her one weakness is that she doesn’t trust anyone, but that’s what also keeps her on her toes and ready for anything. Kalinda teaches us the power of the poker face, and that physical strength can be very sexy. She uses her strength of silence to protect her heart and her physical strength to protect her bod. Thigh high boots don’t hurt either.

Diane Lockhart – (Spirit) Diane is a senior partner at the firm and a fierce competitor. She makes the tough decisions, delivers the unpopular news, and enjoys the heat. She will stop at nothing to win. Diane puts the be-“yuch” in boss. She has the uncanny ability to love and hate you at the same time, and fight and support you in the same breath. Watch out. Has she just promoted you? Or has she actually kicked you to the curb? You have no idea, but you walk away feeling good about it.

I think what draws me most to these women is that they are all flawed, but also very strong and effective. It makes me believe that despite my shortcomings, my strengths can carry me. Though I like to think of myself as an “Alicia,” I think we’ve all got a little of each of them in us: the calm, the spoof, the guts and the spirit. Rock on. Be your own Good Wife Girl.

Mike Jeffries, You Ignorant Slut

August 26, 2013

So Mike Jeffries, clueless, narcissistic CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF), is at it again. Abercrombie saw a 33% profit loss this past quarter and he’s blaming it of course on the economy. That’s right, the man who spent the first and second quarter of this year alienating teens everywhere with his grotesque comments about who’s cool and who isn’t, blamed his colossal loss on the fact that the recent uptick in the economy hasn’t trickled down to teen buyers yet. Oh really? Is that so? Hmm. Then how does he explain the profit increases in that same period by competitors Urban Outfitters and The Gap? They’re targeting teens, too, so what gives?

Well, let’s see…let’s roll the footage so to speak. Here’s one memorable thing he said recently, in case you don’t recall. Maybe this has something to do with it:

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

What he’s saying here is that alienating large swaths of teens is a deliberate activity. He’s intentionally insulting the masses. Why? Because he wants to excite us and I guess it’s too vanilla to be nice. And, he somehow thinks that in doing so, he will generate sales and profit from a tiny, exclusive group of beautiful American teens (whatever that means) – and might I add rich too – (see: A&F washed denim shirt, size youth medium $70).

But, don’t you see Mike, that when CEOs offend large groups of people in their comments, people stop liking the company and stop buying from it (see also Chick-Fil-A)? Perhaps your latest quarter performance is your fault not the economy’s. The uncool kids (and make no mistake they are the majority) have spoken. They are showing you just how they feel about your comments with their wallets.

It’s bad enough they have to worry about whether they’ll fit in at school. You are assuring them that even at the mall – a traditionally “safe” teen haven – there’s yet another place where they also don’t fit in. Good job, and, as a Mom of a precocious, prepubescent tween, thanks a lot.

You fool, thinking that by catering to an elite group, as defined by only you, you will carve out some crazy profit-making niche. Just the opposite my foe. For in the real world, where the rest of us live, it is cool to be real. It is cool to be naturally yourself and to care about people beyond their clothes, their bodies and their skin. Even teens get that. So you keep up your crusade to only clothe the cool people, and the rest of us Gap-clad geeks will watch while your empire falls. That will be really cool to see.

Photo Credit: Agata Ryszkowska via Compfight cc

What Birth Control and Recycling Have In Common

Funny thing happened to me at the library today. I have been working there a lot lately, now that it’s summer. I usually work from home and though I do have a sitter for my kids, it’s still quite loud and distracting for me to be home when they’re there. So, I’ve been packing up my laptop, files, mouse, notebooks and other supplies, and setting up shop in the library each day. Usually, I pack some small, quiet, neat snacks and a water bottle so I can stay there for long periods of time without leaving. Today, after packing up my files, papers, pens, mouse, and laptop, I grabbed my empty water bottle and headed out. On my way, I passed several waste cans, and even some paper recycling bins, but no bins to recycle my water bottle. I peered into one waste can and saw three or four empty plastic bottles. Most people would see this, think nothing of it, and move on.

But I couldn’t ignore the irony that I had just spent the better part of two days working on a project to improve recycling in the local community, and there, in my neighborhood library, not ten feet from the chair where I sat toiling over how to do just that, recycling was not happening. So, I went to the information desk and asked about it.

Me: Hey there, I see you have paper recycling bins. Can we put plastic bottles in those too?

Them: No, they are just for paper.

Me: Do you not have plastic bottle recycling bins for the library or are they somewhere else?

Them: Well, no. The thing is, there is no drinking in the library and we don’t want to encourage drinking by providing recycling bins for plastic bottles.

Me: [a completely blank stare]

I am dumbfounded. I have an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. I am reminded of sex education and the argument against giving teens condoms, because it might cause the sex to happen.

Providing plastic bottle recycling bins isn’t going to encourage drinking in the library any more than providing a condom will cause the sex to happen. Providing the bins prevents the placement of a perfectly good commodity in a landfill for thousands of years. Just like providing condoms prevents the pregnancy.

Did I mention there is a soda machine (that serves up plastic bottles) on the same floor where I was working, right by the bathrooms?

So, the library will be happy to take your money for the drink in the plastic bottle, but they don’t want you to drink it there, and if you do drink it there, they will not enable you to recycle it.

Not great for an institution of learning.

Library – 1 Recycling – 0

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Please Take the PR Pledge With Me

Media relations. Sigh. For many PR people, it’s the core of what we do. For many others, it is but just one strategy out of many we use to get the job done. I am in the latter camp. I use it sparingly, when it is the right strategy for what my client or company is trying to accomplish. I believe that too often, media relations – the practice of working with members of the print, broadcast and digital media, to place a story – is the “go to” strategy companies use when they want to get the word out about something, or raise their profile in the public’s eye. Rarely is it the right strategy for them. For one, it’s like hoping you’ll get hit by lightning while in line to buy a lottery ticket. The chance of placing a story, due to the incredibly vast competition for air space and ink, is so slim; it’s often not worth the time invested. But more importantly, it’s usually not even the right strategy for the client or company. By that I mean, in most cases, the target audience comprises only a tiny fraction of the audience of the media outlet, so the return on that invested time spent getting the story placed is not great.

Alas, many PR people still try. Boy, do they try. Many will stop at nothing. They hound reporters with their calls. They make long boring pitches. It’s embarrassing, quite frankly, for all of us to be in the same camp. With client demand to be in the news so often and cohorts killing the game with bad practices, what’s an intrepid PR professional to do?

I used to think that the Universal Accreditation Board’s accreditation (APR) for PR people was the answer. I had originally thought more than ten years ago when I became accredited, that this for sure was the answer. If we all followed the right school of thought, the right approach and strictly adhered to a code of ethics, then we could tamp down on the reckless use of media relations. Through this we would improve our success with clients and bosses, and improve our reputation with journalists. But I’ve found, unfortunately, that the APR is not the answer. It just hasn’t taken off within the PR community the way I had hoped. Not enough of the good folks have it. Many that don’t have it can’t earn it because they don’t have the right foundation of learning to pass, and many that have it still aren’t playing by the rules.

The best I can come up with is a pledge. For simplicity, I am calling this, The PR Pro’s Pledge. It lays out all the things I will not do for a client or boss in the name of smart and savvy PR practice. My thinking is, if enough of us sign this, and share it with each other, and more important, share with clients and bosses, than we may have a real chance at success, whether that success is for our clients, or our own reputations. United we stand against bad PR. Please join me. Sign this. Present it when asked to violate these rules and refuse to violate them. We can’t do it without each other, so let’s do it together. Take the Pledge:

The PR Pro’s Pledge

I, (insert your own name), being of sound and strategic PR mind, hereby swear before all my PR and journalism colleagues, to abide by the following rules for best practice public relations. Should I violate any of the rules contained herein, let me be shamed in a public forum of my peers, with nary a media call returned to me, so long as I shall practice PR:

  1. I will not spam journalists by sending multiple journalists the same, generic release or pitch in the same email or in separate emails.
  2. If I have to send a generic release or pitch because time is tight or there’s a gun to my head, I will at least hide all the addresses in the BCC line or send them separately with a personalized salutation.
  3. I will not call a journalist on deadline to see if they got my email.
  4. I will not try to pitch a journalist a story after the journalist has become a victim of an email blast where all other media outlets were visible in the email TO line.
  5. I will not turn off my cell phone after sending a release or pitch on a Friday about a weekend event.
  6. I will not pitch a story about a client or boss receiving an award, unless my client or boss is an A-list celebrity, a high ranking authority, or a truly remarkable individual.
  7. I will not pitch a story that is not news to anyone but my client or boss.
  8. I will not lie, stretch the truth, or even white wash information to make my client or boss appear better than they are.
  9. I will not purposefully hide information from, or circumnavigate questions asked by the media.
  10. I will not buy advertising with a media outlet in attempt to garner more coverage for my boss or client. I won’t even suggest it as a strategy.
  11. I will not pitch a journalist that I am not positive covers the topic I am pitching.

Samantha J. Villegas, APR

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Carnival’s Crisis of Character

A crisis is the most powerful opportunity a corporation can have. How a company handles a crisis solidifies for its customers, more than any advertisement, marketing collateral or public relations puff piece it creates, what its brand really is about. This one moment seals its lasting impression on consumers and therefore, its financial future like no other event can. Yet, still, year after year, companies get it horribly wrong. This time, it was Carnival Cruise Line’s opportunity. Two paths lay before them out of the darkness and, alas, once again, the wrong path was chosen.

Crisis communications, Step One: Get your leader and or leaders out in front of the public, quickly, to announce in their own words what happened, to show genuine care and emotion for the harmed or hurt, (or even just the inconvenienced), to show regret for the event and to tell, in detail, what you are doing to address the situation. Assure us that you have anticipated exactly this kind of emergency, have practiced the response hundreds of times and that you are currently following the appropriate and well-tested strategies at this time. Tell the public what those strategies are. Step Two: When public health is at stake, apply the full command of your resources to rectify it quickly and effectively. Money cannot be a factor during a crisis of public health and make no mistake, that’s what this was, for there is no community in America of 4,000 people where three to four days without basic sanitation, food and water would be tolerated. Step Three: Repeat Step One as frequently as you can and make updates of your progress.

This is not hard, yet so few companies get it right. Time after time, profits are put over people, in the short run, only to see this strategy backfire in the long run. Right now, polls are showing that regular cruisers are less confident and less likely to cruise again than they were after the Costa Concordia accident, which resulted and several lives lost. That is the impact of Carnival’s choice here. And Carnival’s CEO, calmly watching the game as his customers, staff and assets suffered at sea, will be the lasting brand impression. Not even Kathie Lee Gifford will be able to sing them out of this one. It’s Crisis Communications 101. Every company should know it by now.

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Breaking Up (With Your Employer) is Hard To Do

Everyone has had at least one bad breakup in their love life, or at least, if they haven’t, they should. Not that I wish it on anyone. It’s just such an important experience to have. Usually, it’s a catalyst for growth and self-reflection, which ultimately yields greater wisdom and maturity. The same can be said for breaking up with your employer. I have had the great fortune to have experienced all permutations of the business breakup in that I have been both “the leaver” and, “the let go.” In fact, I have experienced many types of leaving scenarios like the “let’s agree you should leave,” as well as the “I am leaving for greener pastures” and even the “I have nowhere to go but I gotta get outta here.”

Being the leaver is obviously very empowering, because in most cases, you have taken charge of a less than ideal, or even a failing situation. You have taken a very brave and necessary step in recognizing that something isn’t working and you’ve ended it. It’s a risk whether you have a job lined up or not. As the saying goes, the devil you know is always better than the one you don’t. Leaving is hard, though, even when a situation is bad. But it’s courageous and it makes you stronger.

What is surprising to me, however, is also how empowering being let go can be. Although, let me assure you, it did not feel that way when it happened. In fact, the empowerment phase came much, much later. Everyone talks about the financial implication of being let go unexpectedly. You hear about the injustice of it and the trials of searching for a job in a down economy, but you rarely if ever hear anyone talk about the emotional toll. I want to take a second here to share mine with you.

The opportunity that came before me in 2010 was the kind of career move you can’t pass up. Where I was a manager of communications for a smallish company with supervisory responsibility for one employee, this new opportunity was to oversee the PR function for nine separate subsidiaries of a large company, with supervisory responsibility for seven employees. Without trying to seem dramatic here, receiving that offer was one of the biggest accomplishments of my career and it changed my life.

This opportunity was more than a title change and a fatter paycheck. It was a validation of my past work history and a down payment on my future abilities – a validation and recognition that my employer at the time was never going to give me. I had not fully recognized how stagnant and underappreciated, as well as underutilized, I felt until the chance to move on in such a big way was before me.

At the new job, I was floored by the trust and respect for my judgment from the get go. I was asked to weigh in on heady, impactful decisions. They always wanted my input and advice. They trusted my instincts, my knowledge and gave me an incredible chance to rise to the occasion. Though I hadn’t been given the chance to work at this level before, they believed in me and I felt that I was holding my own.

I was let go just 10 month later, under a new CEO who knew that the quickest, easiest way to achieve higher profits was to cut costs, and they felt I was a cost they could do without. They assured me this decision was no reflection on my performance and to prove it, gave me a performance bonus for my ten months, plus an incredibly generous severance package. Maybe they felt bad about letting a good employee go. Maybe they felt they were at legal risk for doing so.

Despite the cash, which was extraordinarily helpful, I cried every day for about three months. No matter how often a colleague from the company assured me it was no reflection on me, I couldn’t help but take it personally and secretly I resented the friends and colleagues who were not let go. For months I recalled specific conversations I had with my team, my assistant, my boss and others and wondered whether I said something along the way that built a case against me. Did I meddle too much in decisions? Did I not meddle enough? Did they think my judgment was spot on or in left field? Did I not produce enough? Not engage enough? Was I too yes man? Too no man? They all assured me my judgment was solid and that I had made important contributions to the organization in that short time, but being let go plants a very persistent seed of doubt in you and I let mine germinate way to long.

For months I bargained with myself how I would approach things differently, were I given the chance to go back. I prayed for that chance to go back – like a lover longing to be taken back by an ex who wronged her. I played out conversations I would have, planned out different strategies I would take. I saw myself dazzling them at every turn, right into a promotion into top leadership. I was like Walter Mitty on coke. For a long time I believed I would go back if asked, certain it was something I did, that I could fix if given another chance.

This month marks 19 months since it happened. I have now been away from the job 9 months longer than I actually had the job, but it’s only now that I can finally say that I am over it and better off. I learned while talking to a colleague still at the company, that more layoffs had indeed happened, and more good folks were let go as part of their profits over people strategy, and it finally settled in that it indeed was not me, but them. I got off the phone that day feeling more relieved and settled and secure in myself than I had since initially getting the offer.

What I learned from this is the power of self-doubt. In the last year it had done a real number on me. I had foolishly let that job define me and my self-worth, so of course being let go meant I was somehow worth less. This feeling permeated through everything I did – writing a proposal, a cover letter or even counseling a client. I found myself downplaying my advice before it even left my tongue. It took me awhile to realize that I am still the same person who got the job in the first place and the layoff was not about me. Now I know that my experience and my judgment are mine and cannot be taken away or measured by who my current employer is.

My advice to anyone on the verge of a layoff or in the midst of one – is know that it’s not you, it’s them, and you are still everything you were when they hired you, if not more, plus a tad more humble and a little wiser.

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Out of The Mouths of Babes

This phrase, “Out of the Mouths of Babes” comes from a Bible passage referring to the surprising wisdom of children. We use it in everyday language to remark in wonder at what children – the young and inexperienced – sometimes say to us.

I am 41. About a year ago, someone more senior to me said this in my presence, referring to something I had just said. It pushed my buttons. Yes, this person was older than me. But I am not a child, and the use of the phrase for something I said at 40 years old felt incredibly condescending.

I have become a tad sensitive about this type of thing in the last couple of years. The comments I’d occasionally get from my elders about how young I am – how I wouldn’t get a reference to something “before my time,” has started to grate on my nerves. In my teens and 20’s I thought nothing of it. To be fair, they were right. But as I progressed through my 30’s, these comments that were tossed in my direction without much thought started to really bother me.

In the last 6 months, someone called me “kiddo” and another remarked several times within the same conversation, “you are probably too young to remember, but” or “one day you’ll understand this.” And, just today, someone made a reference to a very well-known icon, then suggested I probably hadn’t heard of her, and gave me someone more contemporary to soothe my ignorance.

I realize these things are never said with ill-intent. In fact, I think it’s probably just the opposite: they are said in an attempt to endear me. But let me tell you, it’s never felt that way. It’s just always felt like someone older was reminding me once again that I hadn’t reached some pinnacle of accomplishment, or some height of wisdom. It’s this imaginary line in the sky that keeps inching away from me as I inch closer to it, never to touch it.

To make matters worse, I look young. I am mistaken for being ten years younger than I am. Champagne problems I know, but I have actually wished for some gray hair and more laugh lines just to nudge people away from the assumption.

Throughout my career, people referred to the 20-year mark as being the sign of a true senior professional. This year, I rejoiced that I had finally hit that mark. Then, last week, how to define what a senior professional is actually came up in conversation and someone actually suggested that we define it at 30 years. My exasperation peaked. Come on, people!

What this has taught me is to be very careful about the way I speak to my contemporaries. I have vowed not to use the phrase, “you’re probably too young to remember, but” unless I am talking to a 14 year old, who probably is indeed too young to remember. I will not suggest to my younger colleagues that they “will one day understand” and I will aim to always make them feel as though they are my equal, now that we’re all officially adults.

Now, anyone know how I could get the folks on the other side of my age to commit to this as well?

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