The great lean in/lean out debate

I’m restarting my blog after taking a year off for maternity leave. I’m so grateful to be a mom in Canada where we receive one year off versus women in the US who only have a few weeks to recover from childbirth and adjust to life with a baby. And in my case, adjusting to life with a busy daughter and all of her activities while raising an ever growing son.

So as I’m slowly starting to look at switching from singing “Baby Beluga” every day to working with organizations on improving their media relations skills, I find it interesting the debate circling around motherhood right now is whether to lean in or lean out. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, is advocating more women need to Lean In to their careers, citing her own personal experience of climbing of the corporate ladder. The Globe and Mail has calculated she pays roughly $96,000 a year for the support team that allows her to dedicate so much time to her career – through nannies, daycare and other domestic help.

The media has dissected how many women are in CEO positions (not many), how many women with MBAs are working full-time 20 years after graduating (less than half) and why many women are leaving full-time jobs. While I’m not a follower of Sandberg’s approach, the discussions that have developed have been interesting. Feminists from the 1960s have said they never anticipated professional career women CHOOSING to be stay at home moms versus continuing the climb up the corporate ladder.

At the end of the day it is up to each individual woman to choose what works for her and her family. For some it’s leaning back, stepping away from the workforce while their children are young. For others it’s leaning in, getting help from others in the child caring department. And then there are those of us swaying in the wind – committed to our professions but also devoted to motherhood and all that comes with it.

I’m hoping the conversation results in organizations seriously looking at work-life balance, not just putting the words in their HR materials without any real concessions for working parents. I also hope it makes women realize the choice is personal and there is no right or wrong answer.

With that, I have returned to my blog. I am committed to updating it regularly, but how regularly depends on bedtime schedules and whether or not anyone has croup. Some days I may be leaning one way more than the other, but I’ll do my best to make sure I’m swaying towards who needs me the most.


Reputation management – reacting to the St. Patrick’s day riot

It’s been almost a week now since over 1,000 youth rioted in London, Ontario. What was the issue they were rioting over? Freeing a wrongful accused prisoner? Advocating for the rights of the less fortunate? No – it all had to do with the fact it was a warm St. Patrick’s Day.

While the images of a television van bursting in flames with youth throwing items onto the fire went viral, emergency, City and Fanshawe College officials coordinated their response.   Happening less than a year after the now famous Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver, BC, the officials in London were wise to implement lessons learned from the west coast incident.

The response from the London Police and City of London was quick and terse. Official didn’t mince words – calling the actions disgusting and disappointing. They used language most people following the story would have in conversation with friends. They promised to take swift action, and officials at Fanshawe College quickly set up an email address for people to provide photos, videos and tips.

When a crisis hits, it’s important to get out infront early on. In this case, police responded while the crisis was occurring – showing their involvement. In the days following, officials from the police, City and college consistently presented a united front. They tackled tough questions head-on and had consistent messaging.

While the events of the night are regrettable, tarnishing the image of a great college, the collective and swift response shows the importance of crisis communications in managing an issue and calming public concern.

Canadian take on US television

Auditions for the Canadian version of The Bachelor are now underway. While this has many women in their 20s lining up for their 15 minutes of fame, it also begs the question – why do we need a Canadian version? After all, Canadians and Americans are pretty much the same. Right?

Wrong. Smart advertisers and marketers have long known the needs of Canadian and American consumers are quite different. American magazines have discovered just reproducing their magazine in Canada with only a few minor changes has not been well received. Rather, Canadians are a patriotic bunch, preferring to subscribe to mediums that have a Canadian-focused message.

The Bachelor is just the latest US-based television show making a distinctly Canadian appearance in Canada. We can thank Jillian Harris (former contestant as well as Bachelorette) for drawing the show’s attention north of the border. During her season, she brought the men to Canada, for a distinctly Canadian experience in British Columbia and Alberta. In addition to providing great tourism exposure for her country, it also created pride and excitement amongst Canadian viewers seeing their countryside featured to millions of people.

Creating a distinctly Canadian product is a smart move by ABC. It expands upon on popular format, providing new advertising revenue opportunities in Canada (which has faired better in the recession than the US). And who knows, maybe true love will prevail – for contestants, the tourism industry and advertisers.

Crisis communications – learn from others’ mistakes

Most organizations’ worst fear is being thrust in the media spotlight due a crisis. For some this could be a board member resigning while for others it could be a cruise ship hitting a reef. Whatever the size or scope of the crisis, the basics on how to respond are similar.

When developing crisis communications plans, I always recommend to clients they pay attention to events in the news to see how organizations handle their crisis. After all, it’s much easier to be an armchair quarterback and learn lessons from the safety of your office without having to defend the reputation of your organization.

Here are some crisis communications basics to look for when evaluating an organization’s response.

Get out early – Even if you have little to say, make it clear who the spokesperson is and that he/she is available. If you don’t do this, others will fill the void (likely less reputable people).

Be open, honest and transparent – There is no such thing as a spin doctor. Don’t try to manipulate the media. They will see through it and you will lose any credibility.

Provide regular updates – This shows you are on top of the situation – even when you have little to say. It also shows a commitment to sharing information.

Don’t hold back information – It will all come out eventually, and it delaying release often makes things worse (think of Bill Clinton denying he had sexual relations only to admit his involvement with Monica Lewinsky six months later).

Keep your stakeholders informed – Provide regular updates so they aren’t getting their information from the media. And be prepared for these updates to be made public.

Social media is your friend – Facebook and Twitter are major sources of information during a crisis (not to mention blogs, online news…) Update your social media sites often and engage in conversation with your audience.

Being an armchair quarterback isn’t such a bad thing if you take the time and relate the lessons (and criticisms) to your own organization.

Lululemon ad dares to mock its customers

As I sit in my Lululemon pants writing this blog, I do so smiling having watched the online ad by Lululemon which makes fun of its traditional yogi customers. Based on the popular video series, Sh*t Girls Say, Lululemon’s version shows a one-sided conversion from a yogi, spewing stereotypical comments from this unique demographic.

The question going around the internet is does this ad work? I would say yes. Having spent more than my share of time walking down Robson Street or sipping a latte in Kitsilano (original home to Lululemon in Vancouver) I can relate to the video. Yes, I wear Lululemon. No, I do not live off wheat grass shots, have my aura checked regularly or lose my voice from saying ummmmm. And this is where the average Lululemon customer can relate. We don’t fit the stereotype. We are moms who are chasing after toddlers, outdoor enthusiasts going for a hike or simply women happy to have comfortable clothing.

What I love about this video is how it has started a new conversation about Lululemon. With over 1 million hits on YouTube (and likely thousands of blog entries), Lululemon has found a creative way to bring attention to its brand – to both customers and non-customers. This is what effective marketing is all about. Breaking through the noise and starting a conversation about your brand.

While it’s a fine line to walk, mocking the people who pay homage to Lululemon, or at the very least fork out $100 for a pair of pants, formatting the video on another popular video (Sh*t Girls Say) softens the blow. It allows us to laugh at ourselves, and realize we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

I’m now inspired to go to a yoga class. This is a big change from the usually workout I get in my Lululemon pants – chasing my three-year-old daughter.


A new year to get your message heard

At the start of a new year many people look to make a new year’s resolution. While often this is a personal resolution, what about making a professional resolution? One that will improve the way you communicate to your coworkers and your key stakeholders.

Here’s some advice to help get you started.

Remember your target audience. Avoid lumping diverse groups into one audience. Instead, think of the individual groups that make up that audience and their needs. Tailor your communications to them directly instead of a one-size-fits-no one approach.

Develop key messages. What are the three most important things you want to communicate? If you aren’t clear on your key points, your audience will be left not knowing what is the important information.

Be clear and concise. This means no rambling sentences, long stories. Get to the point before you lose your audience. This also means no jargon or acronyms which can confuse people.

Be personal. No one cares about products, services or programs. They care about people and how your services will impact people. Don’t forget the end user is a person!

By following these simple steps you can be a better communicator and keep your resolution to communicate clearly throughout the year. At least it’s one resolution you can keep.


The value of PR…just ask RIM

Many communicators have a hard time explaining the value of public relations – especially in issues management where much of the work is behind the scenes, never seeing the light of day. However, the recent troubles of RIM serve as a great example of what happens when PR is not involved in a crisis.

Last week, Blackberry users around the globe shook their devices in frustration hoping to wake them up from what seemed to be a deep slumber. Sadly, no amount of shaking or cursing would get their inbox to start working again. This was due to. Hmm I’m not really sure what it was due to.

Why? Because RIM wasn’t talking. That’s right – during a major user issue of a company fighting to stay alive, the executives chose not to communicate. Never a good idea. The first rule of issues management is – be open, honest and transparent. Rule #2 – Provide updates in a timely manner. Finally, Rule #3 – Admit when you don’t have answers but commit to communicating answers when you have them versus waiting until the problem is resolved to communicate.

In contrast to RIM, Apple has done an amazing job communicating to its users. Every day when I turn on my imac, my home webpage is Apple, letting me know about a new product or service. And when there was some criticism about dropped calls on the iphone, Steve Jobs personally explained the problem – not only on the iphone but also on competitors’ products.

Hopefully RIM will learn from this experience on the value of PR, before trust in the company further declines in the eyes of consumers.