Six Tips for Staying Productive During the Lazy Days of Summer

Beach ParadiseHere in New England, we’ve enjoyed an amazing stretch of summer weather and all the fun that comes with it. With summertime distractions beckoning, I’ll be the first to admit it’s sometimes a challenge to stay focused on my work. Fortunately, working in a virtual environment, the folks at PerkettPR pretty much have productivity down to a science. In fact, our team has been sharing their tips over on our Facebook page, and below we’ve compiled some tried and true suggestions to help you maintain focus, improve your productivity and find time to enjoy the dog days of summer.

  1. Manage your inbox – In the modern workplace, email has taken over as the primary mode of communication. Information is shared, requests are made, assignments are given, status is provided, notes are taken, and countless other workplace activities are all captured and managed via email.  Sure, there are numerous ways to search and filter email content to find what you need, but highly productive – and effective – people almost always practice the inbox-zero method.

    Here are five simple tips to reign in your inbox:

    • Group emails by discussion to organize and reduce the appearance of all those separate emails in your box.
    • Read email from the bottom up (older emails first) – and if you’ve grouped emails by discussion, you only need to read (and save) the most recent email, which includes the entire thread.
    • Take action on every email immediately upon reading it: file it, respond to it, flag it for future action, or delete it.
    • Create a filing system and use it. You can file by account, project or people. For me, it’s one for each account then subfolders for each program delivered for that account.
    • Aim for zero-inbox, but if you can’t get there, treat your inbox like an action list – only keep those items you are currently working on. Once they are completed – file or delete them.
  2. “Employ thy time well, if thou meanest to gain leisure.“ – Benjamin Franklin
  3. Get up earlier – I am NOT a morning person. But, I have to say, when I do get up early, I almost always have a more productive day. Try setting the alarm 15 minutes earlier. If you can add 15 extra minutes to your mornings, I’m willing to bet money you’ll feel more energized, less stressed, and more productive.
  4. Take breaks – No matter how busy you are or how lengthy your to-do list, it’s important to give yourself a break. Your mind just doesn’t function effectively or efficiently when you’re tired. Take at least three short breaks a day.  We highly recommend taking every opportunity to get outside as well. Go for a short walk, eat lunch al fresco, make a coffee run, anything that gets you some fresh air and vitamin D will help break up the day and invigorate your body and mind.
  5. Limit distractions – We’re constantly juggling distractions at work: from people stopping by your desk to phone calls to incoming emails, IMs, Facebook notifications and more. Luckily, last month we featured a Q&A with Robert Strohmeyer author of PCWorld‘s Simply Business, a popular business productivity blog. In his role, Robert routinely researches and writes about productivity tools and techniques and tests them out himself. Robert shared his top productivity tips with us.
    “Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” – Paul J. Meyer

    He notes that his biggest productivity killer is distractions. To combat this, he relies on the Pomodoro Technique, which requires the removal of all distractions (turn off IM & email, mute your phone, close the door) and total focus on one task or assignment for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break. He then repeats this cycle throughout the day. I’d never heard of this technique before, but I’m intrigued. In fact, to develop this post, I’ve instituted the Pomodoro Technique and so far it’s working! ;-)

  6. Organize your tasks – One of my favorite tips comes from our own Jennifer Hellickson, a veritable productivity guru at PerkettPR. She suggests, “Chunk out like-minded tasks together. Set aside time to make calls, and do them all at once. Schedule times during the day to check your e-mail, update social media accounts and do other things like writing or research to avoid splintering your attention too much.” Simple and brilliant.
  7. Organize your day – I, and several of my colleagues, are Franklin Covey devotees, but even if you use a plain old notebook or generic planner to write down and prioritize your tasks, it’ll make a word of difference.  Especially in the agency world where reactionary activity is often the norm, you need a way to record and monitor your priorities to help you stay on track with your deliverables. Plus, once you write it down, you can achieve the simple, but uplifting sense of accomplishment every time you cross something off your list.

Regardless of seasonal distractions, maintaining a high degree of productivity is always a challenge. Try some of the tips above and let us know how they work out for you. Or, if you have a favorite tip we missed, please share it in the comments. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get – there’s a hammock with my name on it out there!

When Is Your Product Ready to Launch?

Space Shuttle LaunchMany of our clients are passionate entrepreneurs and CEOs with brilliant ideas and products. Our role (or process for?) in bringing products to market begins as soon as we engage with a prospect. Below are five of the typical questions we ask each of our clients before we set a launch date and begin planning. If you are thinking of launching in the near term, ask yourself these questions to ensure you are fully prepared, before you make the investment in a launch and open the flood gates on PR activities:

  1. What is the value you offer to customers/users that no one else can provide?
    When launching any product the media and influencers covering the market will want to know what makes you unique. Be sure to do your market research and have at least 2-3 differentiators you can point to that set you apart from the competition.
  2. Who are your competitors? (Note: everyone has them)
    Competition comes in many forms. Direct competitors like Microsoft and Apple are to each other for example, and indirect competitors that are in a position to capture your market. These may be smaller players entering the space, with similar products, or larger players like Google that have a potential to erode your market share with a future offering currently in development. Reporters will ask and if you don’t have competitors in mind, they will find them for you. Be sure to know your position in the market and defend it with your differentiators.
  3. Have you beta tested? What references/user benefits/highlights can you talk about?
    Reporters and influencers will be interested in hearing about your product from your company spokesperson, but they will want proof that your product serves a real customer need. Hearing actual use cases from your customers adds needed credibility and increases your chances for positive coverage. Be sure to build positive relationships with your customers and have 2-3 in your back pocket that you can offer to the media as needed.
  4. Do you have an articulate spokesperson?
    Media training is an essential component to ensuring your launch messages are heard and understood. Be sure your company executives are well trained and prepared for media interviews and can convincingly articulate key messages concisely, enthusiastically and consistently. If not, consider holding a messaging session to refine messages, followed by media training for your key spokesperson. This should take place well in advance of the launch date.
  5. Can you confidently demo the product to media?No matter how articulate your spokesperson is, if the product has bugs in it and isn’t ready for primetime, your media coverage will certainly suffer as a result. Be sure to build a solid demo, highlighting the strongest features of your product, well in advance of launching. If your product is difficult to demo in a short time frame, consider building a product video demo/or screencast that can be sent to media to insert into their posts or articles.

Were these tips helpful? Are there any other questions you would add to the list? We look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.

Image Credit: cosmobc

Brand Loyalty, Apologies, Best Buy and More

I like positive customer experiences, but who doesn’t? It’s nice when a brand or company understands you and your needs. It’s refreshing when that same brand or company takes it a step further and reaches out to you—engages you. Simply put—it makes you feel valuable. And with the advent of social media, it’s a no-brainer for brands and companies alike to use powerful social networking sites (ie: Facebook, Twitter, etc) to help build brand loyalty, create conversations, or increase transparency and authenticity. There are numerous other important reasons why the integration of social media is beneficial, but as Christine Perkett, CEO and Founder of PerkettPR, wrote back in 2009 (yes—2009, that’s just how on the forefront PerkettPR is and continues to be), it’s Beating a Dead Social Media Horse.

ZapposWhile some brands are smarter and more savvy than others (@Zappos and @VirginAmerica I’m talking to you), there are still some brands that don’t get it. Brands need to go beyond simply having a Facebook and Twitter account. This is obvious. In fact, brands need to go beyond the infamous social media catchphrase “engagement.” Talk with me, not at me. Engagement is crucial but once achieved, what’s next? Well, social networking has redefined the consumer—and has clearlycreated a new breed of brand advocates. Studies show that at least 40% of a brand’s consumers are advocates and Virgin America90% of consumers trust recommendations from advocates (Zuberance, 2011). Brands need to start turning their social consumers into their loyal brand advocates. It’s one of the most powerful ways a brand can stand out.

This now brings me to my recent consumer experience with Best Buy. Before this experience, I have to admit, my interactions with the retail giant were pleasant. Sure, no brand-consumer relationship can be entirely perfect, but it was nonetheless positive. In fact I considered myself as someone who usually liked and was loyal to shopping at Best Buy (I’ve bought a washer, dryer, and two televisions there). And after much research, thought, and consideration, my husband and I purchased a wall mount for our television from Best Buy.

Without being too long-winded, a quick recap of the events that followed

  • We bought the mount, brought it home, and then a couple of days later Geek Squad came to install it.
  • Upon installation, we were told we had purchased the wrong wall mount (the wall mount we were instructed to buy). We’d have to buy another, more expensive one. Lucky for us, Geek Squad has one on their truck.
  • During installation we were told we would need an electrician to put the electrical cord through the wall, which was the first we had heard of this throughout the process. Didn’t someone at the store tell you, you would need one? Nope.

Even at this point, I felt okay. Things happen. People get confused. It’s fine. We’d figure it out.

It wasn’t until I lugged the old wall mount back to the store to return it that I ran into some issues. There were some financing and coupon issues that made the return tricky. The customer service associate who was very nice made photo copies of my receipts, credit card, and took down my number saying his manager would call me back once it was all straightened out.

Great. Sounded good to me.

Best BuyI waited all day. No call. I followed up that night at 8:00 pm. I waited on hold for 15 minutes before I got a “live person” at the store. She transferred me to customer service where the phone rang, and then I was transferred back to the same person. She transferred me again. And then I was on hold. Again. At some point I hung up and called back. Got the same “live person.” She transferred me. Again. On hold. This cycle lasted for nearly two hours. I finally hung up and tried calling back. The store was closed.

Now I was frustrated. Not only did I waste cell phone minutes, but I wasted my night trying to follow up to see if the billing situation was taken care of. I wondered when it became okay to ignore customers? I tweeted my frustrations to @BestBuy and got a response from @Coral_BestBuy saying she hoped the store picked up and answered my questions. And then the following day, I got a tweet from the actual store @BestBuyDanvers blaming their phone systems, which I didn’t fully believe. Upon receiving this tweet, I called the store and spoke to the person who had tweeted to me from the store. I then had to re-explain the entire situation. He apologized. Said the “live person” I spoke to was new. And that they were understaffed. He said he would call me back in a half an hour with some answers.

In less than half an hour he called me back, said sorry, and put me on the phone with another customer service agent who then sorted out the situation. Issue resolved.

The whole experience left me feeling used and annoyed. A “sorry” just didn’t feel good enough. And when I finally did speak to that person from the store the next day, re-explaining the situation, I pointed out to the associate that up until the night before, I appreciated how nice everyone at Best Buy was to me.

Even when I had to return the wrong mount. Even when no one told me about needing to hire an electrician. Even when the sales associate couldn’t fully process my return. Even when no one called me back. Even when I waited on hold for almost two hours. Even after all the missing information and empty promises, I did appreciate the kindness of the gentleman who sold me the mount, the Geek Squad technicians, and the customer service associate who tried to do my return.

But to my surprise, the associate told me it didn’t matter how nice people were, because these events during this transaction should not have happened.

He was right—they should not have happened. Although I did appreciate Best Buy’s quick response to me on Twitter and “engaging” with me, I did tweet back saying I’d have to rethink other retail options for future purchases, to which I got a reply:

@BestBuyDanvers

It was yet another “sorry” which, I didn’t respond to because I was ready to move on.

But a couple hours later @Coral_BestBuy tweeted me—she wasn’t about to give up on me as quickly:

@Coral_BestBuy

I sent her my email. And we’ll just see what happens next.

I understand companies, large and small, are going to disappoint their consumers at times, but it’s how the company reacts to those failures which ultimately determines which consumers will stay loyal and which consumers will go.

So my fellow social consumers— I want to know about your negative retail experience and how a company successfully handled it?  How did they win you back? What did they do right? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

UPDATE:

@Coral_BestBuy called to follow up with me. She appreciated my tweets and blog post about my shopping experience. Coral asked me if she could use them to share and educate the Best Buy corporate team about how to handle future transactions and issues that may arise. I, of course, agreed because after all—the purpose of this outreach was to help Best Buy while alerting my fellow social consumers.

She then offered me a $75 Best Buy gift card which is a nice sentiment, considering it will force me to have to enter Best Buy again and make another purchase. Or maybe, just maybe– I will save myself the frustration and gift it to someone else.

5 ways social media has changed PR

social-media-poststamps In celebration of Social Media Day today, we decided to take a retrospective look at some of the ways social media has had an impact on the public relations industry. Not only has it changed the way we communicate with each other, but as it gains acceptance and usage among executives, it will play an increasingly-important role in our scope of work on a daily basis as PR professionals.

According to a report from eMarketer, a whopping 63.7 percent of internet users in the U.S. will use social networks in 2011, creating quite the desirable pool of prospective customers (and advocates, ideally). The firm also reported estimates that four in five U.S. businesses (with at least 100 employees) will take part in some sort of social media marketing this year, up from just 42 percent as recently as 2008. This number is expected to continue to rise, especially in light of related surveys that have revealed that as much as 63 percent of small businesses feel as though social networking makes a “significant” impact on their sales and revenue.

So what does this mean for us? Well, not only has social media infiltrated nearly every industry, but PR pros will be expected to ramp up their strategies in order to best engage audiences using the social web. And as much as the occasional rogue Facebook post or off-color Twitter rant from the public can keep us up at night, we’ll be seeking to embrace this form of communication more and more as a mechanism for not only sharing information with key audiences, but also listening to and connecting with them like never before.

Read on for our take on how social has already made its mark on PR:

  1. It’s a two-way street – Not that jumping on your soapbox and simply blasting a message via megaphone was ever effective, but now more so than ever, PR practitioners are connecting with audiences on a human level and inviting conversation. Receiving this invaluable feedback allows for real-time refinement of strategies and tactics, making brand connections with consumers and constituents that much deeper.
  2. 24/7 Engagement – Gone is the traditional 9-to-5 schedule because social media conversations never stop. Now that consumers can connect directly with a brand at any time, it’s up to us as PR pros to play host or hostess at the party, keeping the conversation going, encouraging a good back-and-forth and making new introductions to facilitate constant – and consistent – engagement.
  3. Increased demand for digital Pros – Forget about ‘keeping up with the Joneses’…if you’re in PR, you’re more concerned about keeping up with the latest Facebook feature or location-based app. The advent of social media has shown us that the most successful (and in-demand) PR people aren’t afraid to explore and embrace new technologies, continually adding all sorts of new technologies to their repertoire.
  4. Navigating the new landscape – As this article in Mashable points out, social media has blurred the line between paid, earned and owned media – not only altering their definitions, but also posing the PR challenge about how to integrate all three forms for the greatest success. By focusing on a balanced mix, PR professionals can help spread customer touch points across all functions within a company, and it’s this new approach that will have the greatest lasting impact.
  5. Evolving definition of success – Yes, some of us may have entered PR thinking it was the furthest field from anything math-related, but the fact remains that metrics have been – and continue to be – a PR pro’s best friend. And thanks to social media, we’re continually redefining the measure of success: Whether it’s friends on Facebook or daily of Tweets, we know that quality reigns over quantity, and that a long-term approach garners the most powerful return on investment when it comes to making connections.

What else would you add about how social media has changed the PR industry, and how do you expect it will further change our industry in the future?

The staff here at PerkettPR is also having some fun on Social Media Day by creating a series of videos explaining how Social Media has changed each of our lives and/or what our favorite social media tools are. We will be posting them to the PerkettPR Facebook page throughout the day, so be sure to check them out and leave us a comment!

The Secret to Selling

I never thought of myself as a sales person but as a business owner, you are always selling. You sell your ideas, your products, your people. your culture, your leadership. I often get asked about the new business process and what our secret to success is. Of course there are a variety of elements that go into winning a prospect – relationships and chemistry have a great deal to do with it – but the one thing I’ve found that always works is simple – ask questions.

So many people go into a new business pitch thinking they’re supposed to have all the answers (and you should know your stuff, of course) and that asking questions is a bad thing. I find that asking questions accomplishes two things:

- It shows you are interested in the person/company you’re talking to

- It makes the prospect feel important and gets them talking

And when people talk about themselves or their company, and they feel they are being heard (hint: ask more questions based on what they say), they are likely to feel a stronger connection to you. They are likely to think you are brilliant. And they often walk away from the meeting feeling really, really good.

So go ahead, next time you’re trying to win a new client or prospect, ask questions. Let me know how it works out.