Reigniting the Fire When You’re Burned Out

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By July 16, I was a puddle. After a very busy spring term, a move to a new home after five years in our previous abode, travel to Chicago for a week with five PR students, teaching summer classes and lots of client projects, July 16 was the final day of my first summer workshop. Even though it was just a blimp, a (very) small milestone, it felt like a much needed end. After I left campus, I barely got off the couch for two days.

I realized as I shook off some of the fog of that crazy busy season was I was totally and completely burned out. I didn’t want to teach, I couldn’t get excited about client work and everything I was supposed to do felt like a giant drag. I wasn’t sleeping well at night, but wanted to sleep all day. My normal productivity is pretty high, but man, it was hard to get anything done. I spun my wheels. A lot. It’s taken me most of the summer to feel like I’m even remotely back on track.

It’s helped to set some boundaries (“I’m not going to be on campus this week, we’ll have to meet next week.”) and enjoy my time with my family. I’ve been reading a lot of advice from others on dealing with this state of mind and here are some of my favorite tips:

Do Only Three Things. I love this idea from an Entrepreneur article with a handful of “lesser known” tips. A big to do list can be totally overwhelming and when productivity is nil, it is impossible for me to get going. But committing to doing just three things a day for the next two weeks feels good. And a little momentum can go a long way. (I also like the “watch cartoons” advice in this article… I love cartoons.)

Create Outlets. Zen Habits suggests finding an outlet – maybe a side project or a hobby that can clear your mind. For me, it’s horses. I’ve also recently gotten involved with Stella & Dot as something completely different than everything else for me to focus on when I need a break. Sometimes “totally different” is a good thing.

Be Assertive. A PsychCentral post says to say “no” and don’t feel obligated to offer an excuse. Oh man, I’m bad at this one. But I’m working on it. I am saying “no” more often, but I totally try to explain myself. I was talked to our director of student advising just today and she was giving me a total out on speaking at an event and I still offered an explanation.

So I’m headed into the new academic year not feeling very motivated and inspired, but at the end of the day, I love my job and that matters a lot.

How about you? Ever felt burned out? How did you cope?

Getting Busy People to Answer Your Emails

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Did you know that 247 billion emails are sent every day. This equates to one email every 0.00000035 seconds. Somedays it feels like half of those are delivered straight to my inbox. (Source)

An invaluable communication tool, email is probably the method I use most to interact with colleagues, clients, students and friends. However, I get around 300 or so emails a day. That, combined with a very full schedule means sometimes those emails go unanswered (or even unseen). There’s no way I have a corner on the lots-of-email-busy-schedule market, so I’m often on the other end — sending an email, trying to get a busy person to reply to my requests.

So how do you get busy people to respond to your emails? Some tips:

State your subject in the subject line: Your email subject line can make or break you in a couple of ways. If your subject isn’t clear, the recipient may not open it at all. If it has any kind of spammy words, it may trigger a spam or junk filter. Don’t be clever, be clear.

My friend Sherry says she puts the action needed right in the subject line. Something like, “Info to Share: Sherry’s Awesome” or “Approval Needed: Quote for Press Release.” Another friend, Amanda Ip (UO ’09) says if you’re networking and have a referral, put the name right in the subject. That helps get her attention and makes your message a priority.

Clear subject lines also make it easier for my email program to appropriately sort or thread your message and makes it easier to go back and find it later if needed.

Start on the right foot. Your salutation is your first chance to make a good impression.

“Hey, so-and-so” is universally panned as inappropriate and annoying, especially on first contact. It’s not friendly or casual, it’s immature and disrespectful. It’s not hard to do a bit of research and figure out how formal or informal someone is in their communications. Do some LinkedIn research or look for tone in Twitter content.

It’s safer to err on the side of being more formal at first. Ms. So-and-So or Mr. Blah-biddy Blah is usually appropriate and you’re not going to put anyone off. I will say, be careful about which honorific you choose, though. I hate (hate!) when people call me Mrs. Matthews. Matthews is the name I was born with and I’m not married.

In an academic setting Professor This-and-That is usually safe (the specifics of professor vs. instructor aren’t really interesting to anyone outside academia), but be careful about Dr. What’s-Her-Name. Dr. is a title bestowed upon those who complete specific requirements for their profession. In my case, I don’t have a PhD. Again, a little research will help you know what to use.

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Note: Mx. as a gender-neutral honorific was added to the Oxford English Dictionary this week. I’m not sure I’d use it with just anyone, it may look like a typo, but it’s definitely worth knowing.

Don’t bury the lede. You’ve been clear in your subject line, but make sure the body of your email is equally clear. Keep the introductory remarks to a bare minimum. You don’t want to be rude (and you want to be culturally appropriate), but keep it short.

Avoid the scroll. In a world where we often check our emails via mobile devices, consider a smart phone screen the ideal length of an email.

That’s about 115 words (the first two paragraphs of this blog post). If you can’t get your point in that space, you very well may have lost the battle. Busy people have a lot of things competing for their attention.

Another mobile tip: when you can, include the text of an attachment in the body of the email along with the attachments. Not all attachments open on all devices and you don’t want that to get in the way of getting a reply.

Make it skim-able. A big block of text is hard to read on a screen of any size. Breaking up the text into no more than two or three lines per paragraph makes it easier for the reader to see the point and take in what you’re asking. Making it hard to read your email is only going to slow the reply.

Try another line. If you have tried email and not received a response, you can try reaching out on Twitter or LinkedIn. Don’t be shy about resending the email. I call my email the Pit of Despair. Once an email slides off the first screen, it can be out of sight out of mind.

Sending a follow-up is not annoying to most busy people, as long as you’re professional, polite and gracious about how you do it.

Take it off-line. As several colleagues said when I asked this question via Facebook, sometimes an in-person meeting or a quick phone call is much more productive than a back-and-forth email conversation. Ask for a few minutes of their time and set a time that you can call them. You can work through multiple screens of emails in a short time and get more done.

But don’t just take my word for it. A handful of great blog posts and resources on this very topic:

How to get a busy person to respond to your email (Medium)

How To Write Emails To Busy People (Business Insider)

7 Tips for Emailing Extraordinarily Busy People (Inc.)

What tips do you have for getting replies from busy people?

PR & Riding Goals: Ready for More than Walk, Trot, Canter

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My Facebook “On this Day” feature this week reminded me recently that it’s been exactly one year since I decided it was finally time to make time to start riding horses again.

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It’s been a fantastic year, moving from relearning the basics of the walk, trot and canter to learning to jump for the first time.

Recently my trainer asked me, “What are your goals for riding?” It’s an important question. I could do what I’m doing for an hour a week for the rest of my life and be happy. There are an infinite number of tweaks and adjustments you can make to get better at the basics.

Organizations have to think about this same question related to their public relations efforts. Doing the same thing that’s always worked and getting decent results is easy. Send regular press releases, post on social media several times a week, host that event that everyone loves… walk, trot, canter.

As soon as my trainer asked me that question, though, I knew that wasn’t my answer. I also knew that saying, “I want to compete,” meant more work.

It means more lessons, harder workouts and more time and money investment. It means trying new things (and probably failing a bit). It means being uncomfortable. It doesn’t mean leaving the basics behind, but building on them to accomplish your goal.

What else does it mean? I’m not sure! But we’ve set a goal and my trainer will help me work toward it.

This is very much like the role a PR pro serves — identifying a goal and creating a plan to reach it. That plan can include new audiences, new strategies and untested tactics that feel uncomfortable at first.

But when approached strategically, you can find yourself (and your organization) in the ribbons.

 

Extraordinarily Tone Deaf Twitter “Promo” from Vanderbilt Football

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As a social media strategist or manager, it doesn’t take deep institutional memory of controversy or even a particularly sensitive ear to be a decent human being with some common sense.

Yet, here we are with another case study of common sense in short supply:

Vanderbilt University’s football twitter account has been hyping the 2015 season and today tweeted the above “promo.” Even if the team had a squeaky clean record, the language is cringe-inducing. The volume of the conversation on ending sexual violence on college campuses has increased nationwide and schools, departments, administrators and communication teams have to be listening.

However, Vanderbilt Football doesn’t have a squeaky clean record. Two of its football players were convicted of rape in January of this year.

So when the promo tweet went out, the reaction from social media was swift.

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Three minutes later it was deleted. Then the standard apology.

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Well, I think we all assumed you didn’t mean it to be about sexual assault…

Why do organizations of all shapes and sizes seem to not be able to see past the end of their noses and make mistakes like this?

My theory? No one is empowered to speak up and say, “that’s a bad idea.” Groupthink is a powerful force and if an individual feels like they’re in the minority, it can be hard to go against the flow and disrupt the perceived cohesiveness of the group.

Organizations have to foster a culture where the discussion about content includes asking and answering to, “what’s the worst that could happen?”

What does that take?

  • Creating a team that’s diverse and brings a variety of perspectives to the table. You can imagine a locker room talk scenario in the Vanderbilt social media team where this idea came up. As football “insiders,” they knew what they meant and didn’t have to explain it to each other. (Honestly, I’m not sure what they meant in a football context.)
  • Building time into the content approval process to think it through and consider the worst case scenario. I’ve been part of many teams where you’re moving so fast that it’s hard to find time to stop and think and it’s easy to make mistakes. That’s dangerous.
  • Leadership that’s committed to all of the above.

And, of course, a society that doesn’t condone and tolerate rape culture would be great, too.

Morning Mantras & the Importance of Consistency and Authenticity

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More than two years ago, in June, 2013, I started getting up early to work on a writing project. To be accountable, I would post a little quote or tidbit on Facebook to let my friend and writing coach know I was up when I said I would be (at my laptop by 6 am). The writing project is no more, but the daily posts continue.

do all things with kindness quoteI’m not what I would call “self-disciplined,” but this habit has stuck, not just for me but lots of you.

Anytime I think I’m going to stop — and there have been times — someone will send me an email or leave a comment on the post with something like, “are you in my head today? I totally needed this!” or just a “thank you for posting these. I look forward to them every morning.”

I choose the mantra every morning based on what resonates with me each day. I don’t save them or schedule in advance. Some mornings it’s easy to find a little saying that speaks to me and helps me start my day with a better perspective — other mornings it’s hard and it can take 20 or 30 minutes to find the right one.

What I’ve learned from 2+ years of sharing:

  • Give a damn. Give more damns than anyone. Consistency is important. I don’t post on weekends and I don’t post when I’m legitimately on vacation unless I feel like it. Otherwise, I try to post before 7 a.m. I never forget. It’s habit.
  • People are people are people. My insecurities, stresses, anxieties and issues are the same as everyone else’s. A little solidarity and “you’re not in this alone” goes a long way.
  • My personal values have crystalized. I see a few themes when I look at the 400+ quips, quotes and illustrations I’ve shared: gratitude, kindness, generosity, empathy, self-care (breathing, taking time for yourself) and encouragement. Turns out, those are all pretty important to me and I keep coming back to them over and over.
  • Authenticity is important. This isn’t like-bait or some sort of self-promotion thing, and choosing the mantra each morning is about me and where I am in that moment. It’s not always very deep or philosophical, but it’s authentic.

Continue reading “Morning Mantras & the Importance of Consistency and Authenticity”

Wow Moments & Social Media

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Why did this image (above) by Brian Davies “go viral”? Chris Pietsch, a multimedia journalist at the Register Guard, our local paper in Eugene, Ore. asked me just that question. I have to admit, I hadn’t given it much thought. I had watched the game and seen the photo, of course. I think I saw it when Brian posted it on Twitter. It seemed it was everywhere.

Chris was creating a multimedia piece for the RG and needed the “expert” view. Apparently, I’m the expert. As you know, I love doing interviews and I enjoy Duck Football, so of course I said yes.

My thoughts:

  • This is a great photo. Really the bottom line is that this wouldn’t have been shared so widely if Brian hadn’t captured a great photo. That’s not by chance or a “lucky shot.” Brian is a veteran photojournalist with tons of experience capturing great photos. If you don’t already, follow him on Instagram.
  • WOW! Chris asked me “What was your reaction when you saw the play on TV?” That first clip of me in the video (below) is it. WHOA! It captured on “film” what we all thought we saw watching on TV. Having access of a press photographer and being able to stand on the field and take photos is pretty rarified air. I’m not sure there’s a Duck fan that doesn’t wish to have that experience. Brian took full advantage of that access and provided an image that froze a moment, a feeling, an energy that was exciting to fans.
  • Social media. Social media lets us take a “wow” moment and make it our own. By sharing, retweeting, liking, commenting, we become part of the experience of that image and vice-versa. Without any barriers — we don’t have to be coders or designers — we can edit, modify, customize, filter the image to really put our own stamp on it.
  • The timing was perfect. Brian has taken thousands of amazing photos, but this one was the right one at the right time. Obviously the Heisman conversation volume was very loud by the time we got to the Civil War game. The photo of Mariota seemingly striking the Heisman pose added to the fervor and excitement. Fans were already talking about the Heisman, so this photo became part of that conversation with a big fat exclamation point.

So why did it “go viral”? It was a bit of a perfect storm of variables, I think. Congrats to Brian on recognition of his work and to Chris for helping to tell this story.

A Year-Long Plan for Senior PR Undergrads

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[Updated September 2014]

 “When should I start applying for that internship?”

“Where do I start with my job search?”

“Do I need to be sending my resumes out now?”

There’s a point of recognition where the senior public relations major realizes that yes, barring any major gaffes, chances are good that they’re going to graduate and need to find a job. And then the panic sets in.

Senior year both flies by in a blink and seems to drag on forever at the same time.  Benchmarking a few key activities may help you create your own plan for prepping for graduation.

A quick note: University of Oregon is on the quarter system – we start the last Monday of September and finish mid-June, so this calendar may vary based on your University.

Continue reading “A Year-Long Plan for Senior PR Undergrads”

Photos are important but you should relax

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This week I took about 80 staff portraits for a couple of different websites – the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO) is a client and I’m managing the launch of a shiny new website and I’m a long-time volunteer at HIV Alliance.

Taking that portraits in such short time frame brought up a couple of things that I thought I’d share.

My takeaways:

  • Man, we are uncomfortable in our skin. Too this… not enough that… “hope you brought an extra camera because I’ll probably break it.” Taking pictures always reminds me how beautiful people are. We have warm smiles and beautiful eyes, we’re friendly and genuine. Sure, we have a little gut, and our noses look weird at that angle, but who cares? 
  • It makes me very, very sad when say people haven’t had their photo taken in years. Biz portraits aren’t so important, but family/friend/life photos and capturing memories is. Your family and friends want photos of you. You will want photos of you. Document your lives! It’s nice to hire a professional once in a while to capture the great above-the-mantel portraits, too.

Continue reading “Photos are important but you should relax”

How did that tweet get there? It’s not magic and unicorns.

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As an intern or young professional, you may assume that because you know how to use Twitter that you are ready to step into doing so on behalf of an organization. However, strategic social media is a lot more complicated than personal social media and there’s no magic social media unicorn… 

This side of social is not necessarily intuitive and the learning the process is an important part of doing a good job for clients. We’re ramping up some social media work for a client right now and that has me thinking about the process I use and how to convey that to my team.

Continue reading “How did that tweet get there? It’s not magic and unicorns.”

Leadership & Life Lessons from an Investor Relations Pro

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ir futuresI’m not going to lie, as an undergrad, the idea of doing investor relations would’ve given me the heebie jeebies. Math? numbers? all those regulations? Blech.

As a professional, I’ve learned that not only are numbers and math your friends, they can be a lot of fun. And regulations? Everyone’s got ‘em. Communicating complex info in a clear, persuasive way while navigating the rules and regulations along with company culture and politics is pretty much what we do.

Had I had some mentorship or just some instruction in financial communication, I might have taken a different path. Or I’d at least had some sense of all the options for a career in public relations.

So I was pretty excited when, this spring, the PR sequence at the SOJC launched IR Futures, an investor relations-focused student club. We have a couple of stellar faculty who have expertise in investor relations and financial communications and this is a growing area of focus for the PR sequence.

Continue reading “Leadership & Life Lessons from an Investor Relations Pro”

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