Thanks, Michael.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.  Members of Facebook, Twitter and bloggers of all types are taking a moment to reflect with their friends, followers and readers on what they’re thankful for.

So I join their number and declare, I, too, have much to be thankful for.  Naturally, there is the urge to reflect on the immediate past.  Yes, I am grateful for my family, friends and my ability to do what I do and how I do it.  Yes, business could have been better this year.  It’s always seems to be the case, no matter what the economic conditions.

No, I thought of a former boss, mentor and friend whom I’ve privately thanked for many years for the attention he provided that enabled me to stretch my abilities.

When I met him at my first agency gig in Northern New Jersey, Michael Bratnick, without fanfare or ego, diligently went about serving his clients with dedication to quality, fairness and responsible advocacy.  He brought his scientific training as a meteorologist and oceanographer (among many other talents and experiences I found out about much later) to bear on the agency’s technical clients.

I was assigned to help Michael with a chemical company.   I quickly discovered that my communications and PR degrees didn’t prepare me for dealing with high level of technical knowledge needed to accurately and expressively discuss the ins and outs of sulfuric acid, calcium chloride and soda ash.  And those were just the commodity chemicals.

Upon taking on the responsibility for every aspect of a critical corporate newsletter that had intense management and subsequent shareholder attention, I found myself spinning my wheels.  I had eaten up a majority of the writing budget and produced copy that, well, stunk.

After reading what I’d written, Michael pulled me into his office and said, “Your performance is uneven.  But you have potential.  With most people, I wouldn’t care, but you?  You I’m going to help.  Up for it?”  With that, he handed back the edited copy and told me to try it again.

Over the course of two weeks, I worked practically every night at the office until 10:00 p.m. to make up for the time I burned.  During the day time hours, Michael repeatedly handed back my copy saying, “Do it again.”   Frustration and fatigue began to show.  I heard a co-worker say to Michael, “Bob is getting pretty pissed.”  Michael simply responded, “It’s good for him.”

And it was.  With newly learned writing abilities, at dead line I handed off what I knew was good, clean copy.   It was a turning point.  Two years later I moved on to a global agency in New York and then Chicago.  Michael left to start his own agency.

After a break of about five years, I again worked with Michael.  Despite me being in the Midwest and him in New Jersey, the work kept on flowing.  After thanking him one day for a new assignment, Michael remarked how difficult it was finding good, local professionals to work at his level.  “I just hand this stuff over and you get it done,” he said.  “You know I don’t like to hold hands.”

He’s right.  He didn’t hold my hand.  He beat me over the head.

That’s when I asked him.  Why did you help me?  He chuckled and explained that he was very close to being fired from his first agency job when his boss did to him what Michael did to me.

Michael died of cancer nearly two years ago.  Yet I’ll always remember the words he said on more than one occasion.  “Everything I know I learned from someone else.”

We all have someone who went out of their way to help and kindly beat us over the head… to believe, teach, guide and trust.

Here’s to you, Michael.  And thank you.



Got Klout?

Kout logoI just registered myself on Klout, the analytical tool that measures the influence of Twitter users across the social web.  Klout allows users to track the impact of their opinions, links and recommendations.  Once Klout puts your Twitter stats through its algorithm, it plots you on a quadrant chart and delivers a number of statistics.

I plugged in my Twitter ID, RAReed, and before I saw the results, I already knew where I’d likely end up: border line Casual/Climber (the lower portion) and not Connector/Persona (upper portion).  Bottom line?  I need to be a much more active.

So, it got me thinking. How much does a person need to tweet and what should they tweet about?  Not a new thought, but with so many people signed on to the service, what is a healthy, valuable point of engagement?   The study conducted by Pear Analytics suggests that over 40 percent of Tweets came under the “Pointless Babble” category.  That may be true, but pointless babble scored “shitmydadsays” a CBS sitcom deal.

For the Twitterarti, you know what’s working for you.  For the rest of us making the climb or just getting started, here are some suggestions to either reign in or ramp up your visibility on Twitter.

1. Organize your daily tweets.  Do it in the morning or the previous evening.  I usually take 15 minutes at the end of the day (before I head to bed) to jot down the items that need my attention, so for me, this is a good time to assess what I want to Tweet about.  I typically look at some of the 70 some-odd feeds I subscribe to for inspiration.

2. Pick your tweet times.  To get actual work done, I look at Twitter when I look at my e-mail — morning, noon, quitting time and evening is a sane approach to sharing what’s catching my eye with my followers.

3. What to tweet. I use Twitter for business.  I tend to be more content driven, so retweeting interesting blog posts; posting relevant PR and social news stories; of the day and posting available updates to this blog are the underpinnings of my Twitter engagement.  Depending on the business you’re in, post announcements and events that could be pertinent.  You can also ask questions, but until you get enough followers, don’t expect all that many answers.

4. Mix It Up. Drilling your followers with business-related data with links to longer articles can get a bit ponderous. Recommendations from other PR and social marketing pros are to mix up your Tweets between business and personal.  I’ve learned I need to throw in some balance, such as interesting stories. Honestly, the stuff that turns me off is the near breathless updates of what someone is doing.  One of the people I follow went on about the pending acquisition of a new BMW.  Save it, please.

5. So what’s the count? By looking at the Twitter over users and underachievers through my follow list, it looks like a good daily target is between four and eight tweets per day, depending on your day.  One way around that is to deploy one the available Twitter schedulers that can send your tweet when you’re unavailable.

Like anything else, a good plan should produce good results.  I’ll let you know when I achieve some Twitter clout.

Faster on Your Feet for 2010 with Scenario Planning

From JISC infoNet, a JISC Advance Service

From JISC infoNet, a JISC Advance Service

What could America’s companies have done to fare better in the economic downturn?

Scenario Planning a strategic method for preparing responses to imagined changes in conditions. 

 The art of scenario planning is making a comeback from its early days as a military tool, to a popular management practice in the 1970s.  Addressing different scenarios as part of the annual planning process enables companies to be ready with identified action steps before a crisis or opportunity hits. 

It is credited with many seemingly prescient decisions – including the New York Board of Trade’s 1990s decision to build a second trading floor outside of the World Trade Center.

This year, companies that saw the warning signs early and prepared in advance fared better, some even continuing to generate cash despite double-digit sales declines.  Those that are suffering lament that they made changes later than they should have. 

Regardless of how well they weathered the storm, many companies are now reporting increased productivity, despite fewer employees, with a relatively low percentage planning to re-hire anytime soon.  That’s a negative for the unemployed, but a positive for the companies.  It means they’ve found ways to work smarter not harder (a silver lining?).

How Well Do You Plan For the Good, the Bad and the Ugly?

Scenario planning is a world unto its own, with complicated methodologies and potential dangers (such as constructing scenarios based on too simplistic a difference, i.e. optimistic and pessimistic, according to this Scenario Planning Corporate Strategy Model*.  

Having survived 2009, you may decide to do more future thinking.  Here are some quick questions you’re likely already asking:

• What’s working, and not working, as a result of any changes made this year?

• What should be continued?

• What could use further improvement?

• What wasn’t looked at, that should be?

• How about new opportunities or market trends on the horizon?  Can your company get ahead of the New Year with aggressive effort now?

Planning of any kind takes time and focus.  Planning for multiple scenarios, even more.  But this is planning season.  Whether the business climate improves as predicted, tanks further or stays the same, prepare to act quickly!

* For more detailed reading on the subject, see:

How scenario planning can significantly reduce strategic risks and boost value in the innovation value chain

Future-Proof Your Organization, CEO Journal, Oct. 2008

The Secrets of Successful Scenario Planning, Forbes Aug. 2009