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Establishing a Vision and Then Getting Your Team to Buy Into It

As I wrap up my first week in Chicago, I’ve fully realized the advantage of working with the same people for years – they knew exactly how I thought about PR, social media, communications, and branding. They knew what I looked for in their work, what questions I would ask, what points I wanted them to make. Over the years, they had heard me say the same things so many times that they had all bought into the same approach to our work. This wasn’t because it was mandated or because I beat it into them (I don’t have, what you might call an intimidating presence), but because we were worked together to form these axioms and bought into them collectively.


The “Follow Me” statue in Infantry Hall at Fort Benning, GA

This past week however, has been a bit of a trip back in time for me as I again have to not only share my unique approach to our work, but also get my co-workers to see the value in the way I do things and buy into that approach. This is one of the differences between management and leadership. Can I get my new team to buy into my approach not because they have to (they don’t) or because they’ll get fired if they don’t (they won’t), but because they believe it’s the right way?

That’s one of the big things I’ll be working on over these next few months. So what are those things? Here are a few of the things my old team probably heard me say a million times:

  • Ten actions that will define how you look at PR – Too many PR practitioners have become so focused on the message that they have totally forgotten the relations part of public relations. Let’s not fall into the same trap.
  • It’s not about the technology, it’s what the technology enables – Something I’ve said ever since I started using social media. All the bells and whistles and new features are great, but don’t get distracted by the latest tools. Stay focused on our clients’ goals and objectives and if the latest tech will help achieve that, then great. But don’t try to use Pinterest, Highlight, Path, and Google+ just because you saw some social media nerds saying it’s the “next Facebook!” Use them if and when they can help your clients achieve their communications goals.
  • Be you and be you all the time – Don’t try to act/dress/talk like someone else just because you think that’s what you need to do to get promoted or to be accepted. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses and be confident in your unique abilities.
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks – If it’s been more than a few months before someone had to pull you back from an idea or you got scolded for pushing the envelope a little too much, you’re probably not doing your job as well as you could. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks, but don’t be reckless. Have a rationale for your decisions and try new things. I’ll trust you and provide you with the top cover to take those risks.
  • Don’t become a social media ninja – use social media to become a better… – Social media technology offers tremendous tools for PR pros, and yes, I think we all need to be aware of their impact on our industry. However, I have no desire to create a team of gurus and ninjas. Instead, I want my team to understand how to best incorporate social media into their PR strategies and tactics. Social isn’t the be-all, end-all of communication.
  • Don’t forget that you’re a human being so remember to talk like one – The Cluetrain Manifesto said it best – “In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.” Remember that your goal is to develop and strengthen relationships with actual people, not just to sell something to a faceless, nameless customer.
  • Let’s not look for “established best practices” for our clients – let’s create the practices other people call best practices – You should absolutely continue to research what other companies and agencies have done or are doing. See what you can learn from their successes and failures, but don’t identify a best practice and then try to replicate it. Use these best practices and lessons learned as source materials and then come up with your own idea, an idea that no one’s ever thought of before. Sure, maybe 90% of your ideas will end up on the cutting room floor, but that one idea that makes it will be ten times better than if you had taken the easy route and followed the best practices laid out in the PR person’s handbook.
  • Be a trusted adviser – Your relationship with your client should be a partnership, not a dictatorship. Learn how to do more than just do what your client says. Build your relationship with them so that you can be candid (both positively and negatively) with each other.
  • Nothing is more important than your people – If you need something, I will get it for you. If you’re interested in something, I’ll do my best to give you those opportunities. If you ask me a question, I’ll get you an answer. If you send me an email, I’ll reply as fast I can.

I’m sure there are many more that I’ve forgotten here (if you’ve worked with me before, what else would you add?), and many more that I’ll learn along the way. I’m excited to find out how these views fit into the culture here, and how they might adapt over time. Until then, I guess it’s time to go annoy a whole new group of co-workers with my little sayings :)

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Andrew Krzmarzick

This ties into a mantra of mine this year: “people first.” I think heretofore, I’ve been pretty task-oriented. But in 2012 I’ve decided to prioritize the projects and actions that are coming from others – even if I have a pending deadline on something else that’s also urgent/important, I’ve been trying to bump up those items where someone else is waiting on me. I think this management shift connects to several of your points, Steve, but especially the last one. Thanks for these great tips.

Judith Lindenau

Excellent advice…particularly about technology. What is meaningful about technology is capacity building for the user…

Doug Tharp


Thanks for this message. Although I’m not working in PR, I think you’ve identified many of the areas I need to address as I try to lead my team through some major changes in the way we think about and conduct training in our agency.

Scott Span

Be you and be you all the time” is so important, great to see it on your list. When working with leaders I often stress the importance of authenticity, transparency and accountability…all related to being who you are and admitting sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know. Without this, I find it’s very hard for leaders to “Be a trusted adviser.” Great list.

Cary Africk

Excellent piece with great advice! As a National Sales Manager in high tech I believe you’ve hit the nail on the head!

Javier Porras

Excellent plan to becoming a more effective leader. I especially like…”Don’t be afraid to take risks…” In today’s challenging business environment we all need to look for new and different ways of doing our job and its not going to happen unless our leaders encourage us to take calculated risks.

Alex Moll

Steve, great post. I can identify with one of your litmus tests: “If it’s been more than a few months before someone had to pull you back from an idea or you got scolded for pushing the envelope a little too much, you’re probably not doing your job as well as you could.” That’s an interesting metric.

Paul Eric Davis

Terrific insights, Steve. Thanks for sharing them. The “partnership” aspect with clients is vital. There must be the ability for frank give-and-take for communications to truly succeed.

Steve Radick

@Alex – I’ve always been a fan of that one. I’ve used it for a years now and is one reason why I’ve never been scared to take some risks, because I’ve always considered that part of the job (for better or worse).

Steve Radick

@Javier – I’d much rather have people on my team whom I have to pull back than try to get people to step up. It’s a much better problem to have.