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How to Grow Personally & Professionally in 3 Simple Steps

 

February is an interesting month. It’s squeezed between the excitement of a new year and the anticipation of spring. It’s also the month my daughter turns 18.

While she is now old enough to vote, I worry she may not be ready to govern her life at college next fall. These thoughts keep me up at night, but I’m learning to embrace change because, ‘what’s the alternative?’

The same is true in business. When I birthed Candor in 2012, I never imagined my “baby” would become a fully-integrated agency. Heck, I won my first client sitting in my gym shorts and flip flops while chatting on a flip phone in my guest bedroom.

Needless to say, we’ve come a long way. Today, Candor is one of the fastest growing firms in Oklahoma. We’re housed on historic Film Row near downtown OKC — which is, perhaps ironically, one of the fastest growing districts in the city. We even have a cool building! Before being converted into an office space, Candor was the home of an old Pabst Blue Ribbon ice house.

Recently, we took a big leap of faith and added a 2,000-square-foot video production studio. The space includes a Facebook Live set in addition to a full edit suite. Video has become increasingly popular as a social media tool — and it’s not going anywhere. Here are a few things we know:

In addition to our building expansion, Candor recently had triplets. We added three new professionals to help with content creation, social media and video production. Adding new team members is always exciting, but it can create challenges with office space, onboarding and company culture.

So, what have I learned through the growing process?

  1. Control is an illusion.
    Being an entrepreneur is a lot like being a first-time mom. You want to control everything, including your well-meaning friends and family who tell you to relax and let go. But here’s a not-so-surprising secret: Business can’t grow until leaders relinquish some of their power. I’m pleased to say I’m no longer afraid to ask my colleagues to change a dirty diaper or two.
  2. Surround yourself with good people.
    Relinquishing power becomes a LOT easier if you start with this rule. At Candor, we hire folks with a can-do spirit. That may sound hokey, but it works. We simply don’t have room for entitlement. Good things happen when everyone works toward the betterment of others. Remember: You can’t spell Candor without ‘can do’! Okay, that definitely sounds hokey.
  3. Get out of your own way.
    Are you sensing a pattern? Sometimes you just have to let your family or coworkers do the heavy lifting. Whether dealing with a client deadline or a college application, real growth can’t happen if one person is always in charge.

Will someone please remind of me of this rule when my kid pulls out of the driveway for her first solo trek to college?

Keeping It Real on Social Media

Did you see the story recently about coffee shops shutting down Wi-Fi to force people to interact? What about the memes of people glued to their mobiles in front of great works of art? Have you heard high-school dances are going extinct because teens would rather just Snapchat each other?

Everyone bemoans what mobile technology has done to personal interactions. But who would really give up their devices? Our pocket computers provide many advantages – including deepening our connections with loved ones – and someone without a digital connection would miss out on too much of the modern world.

The desire for connection creates challenges and opportunities for brands. When brands try to reach an audience, they must compete with millions of other companies, celebrities, friends and loved ones, cute animals, mainstream news sources and verbose politicians.

To break through, successful organizations need to find ways to make emotional connections with the audience, rather than just providing information.

One great way to make sure content – especially on social media – feels authentic is to imagine speaking to a real person. When I worked in internal communications, a conference speaker reminded people not to write for a generic group such as “fellow employees.” She suggested picturing someone specific, like Carol in accounting, or John from IT. Writing as if I were sending an email to a coworker helped me keep things simple and clear.

Brands must also remember what the audience wants. People who have already taken the time to like a Twitter account or follow on Facebook have demonstrated an interest in a product or service. They want information about upcoming events and new offerings. But to build trust and loyalty, users must sense a real person on the other side of the screen with real emotions – and perhaps a sense of humor. Nobody wants to read dry, corporate copy; so don’t write it.

Listening truly sets people apart on social media. Traditional media relied on “we say, they listen” communication; the technology required it. Too many organizations act as if things still work that way. They Tweet or post on Facebook without a plan for the next step. Anything interesting online draws shares, likes, comments and reviews. We recommend group organizations designate a person, process and culture for responding quickly and consistently. It’s the key to being seen as more than self-promotional.

Candor doesn’t believe any of this is easy. Making every follower feel as if they’re the center of attention may be the greatest communication challenge we have. But when organizations set authentic connections as the goal, they take a huge leap toward generating a loyal, passionate audience.

Rough Landings Made Right: Don’t Leave Your Audience Up in the Air

Coming home from a vacation in paradise always hurts a little. On a recent trip, poor corporate communication made it worse, until a quick-thinking flight attendant eased the pain.

After spending several days in the pool and on the beach south of the border, the flat concrete expanse at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport felt like the last place I wanted to be. I just wanted to get through customs and get home to my dog.

Then the pilot took to the intercom.

“Well, folks. It looks like there’s still a plane at our gate,” he said. “So we’re going to wait here a few minutes.”

I groaned. People around me shook their heads and muttered.

Then a flight attendant picked up the mic.

“Ladies and gentlemen, because our flight was faster than expected, we’ve arrived at the gate about 20 minutes early, so the gate isn’t available. We should still have you off the plane on time.”

People nodded. Shoulders relaxed. Visions of sprints to connecting flights evaporated. Thumbs flew over keyboards as everyone updated friends and family.

I give the pilot points for trying to get information to the cabin quickly. But if he had taken another moment to carefully consider his words, he could have left people with a positive impression, rather than giving passengers one more reason to grumble.

The pilot and the flight attendant, employees of the same airline, delivered essentially the same news: Passengers were going to be trapped with each other for a few more minutes. But they took different routes and got very different reactions.

The scenario carries three lessons for communicators and companies:

  1. Transparency matters. When companies explain WHY something is happening, not just WHAT is happening, people are more likely to view the position kindly. That’s especially true if customers face inconvenience.

  2. Messaging matters. The words communicators choose can play a decisive role in whether people cringe or cheer.

  3. Every employee is part of a brand. Organizations must make sure any potential representatives are on board with messaging and understand communications are critical.

At Candor, we’re always ready to help organizations craft messages to improve how people receive them, even when the news isn’t all good.

Aligning the Walk and Talk

Sometimes threats to reputation arise from unexpected circumstances. Sometimes they don’t.

Wells Fargo’s recent troubles didn’t suddenly appear due to a few rogue employees. They were the result of poorly crafted compensation incentives. Volkswagen’s legal and reputation issues weren’t due to overbearing U.S regulations. They were the result of missing compliance controls in their software implementation process. In addition to horribly damaged reputations, the losses these companies face is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

PR professionals are often placed in the position of trying to salvage reputations damaged by management or operational dysfunction. In such crises, most PR firms can do little more than deflect attention, slow the bleeding or ease the pain. At Candor, true to our brand, we advise our clients to communicate transparently, and we help fix underlying problems.

Candor started as a traditional PR firm. But we soon realized our experience in business consulting allowed us to help businesses get to the heart of what makes their organizations function, and help them fix problems before damage is done. So we opened a subsidiary called Candor Performance to provide business consulting services — to help our clients better walk their talk.

These kinds of problems can be traced to a misalignment between two or more of the following areas of the organizational body: strategy, structure, people, processes or culture. And much like a patient in need of a chiropractor when the body is misaligned, adjustments can alleviate the pain and return the patient to a state of organizational health and wellness.

In this manner, we have served companies large and small in almost 50 industries. And we believe we offer a unique value to the clients we serve.

10 Questions to Ask BEFORE Starting a Design Project

Your supervisor just came to you with a great idea for a new collateral piece. Now what? Where do you start? Do yourself – and your designer – a favor by asking these 10 questions before embarking on any design project. It will save your company valuable time and money.

1. Budget

The very first thing to decide when considering any design is budget. Budget will determine everything from the size, shape and weight of your project. That annual report your boss wants mailed to customers? Consider splurging on great photography to create an online annual report rather than purchasing expensive postage for mailers.

2. Deadline

As a general rule, items such as brochures, mailers and posters need three to five days for design and another week for printing. However, large projects and custom pieces often need up to three weeks for design and two weeks for printing.

3. Audience

Take a moment to envision your target audience. Is this project for a younger or older audience? Male or female? Adjust details on the desired outcome. A brochure for a senior living community might require a large font, while a fact sheet for the zoo would include bright colors and graphics.

4. Brand

Design should ideally adhere to an organization’s established brand standards. Your designer will need this road map to ensure they use the right logo, fonts and colors.

5. Purpose

What is the desired result of your design? Clearly defining a call to action provides the designer creative freedom to artistically illustrate an emotion or idea. We often see this rule play out in political ads which use colorful graphics in red to encourage a “no” vote.

6. Medium

Will this design be created for print, web, email or a mobile app? Each medium has rules. Knowing the intended channel immediately gives the designer an understanding of the size of their canvas and how to format color (see #9) and fonts (see #10).

7. Style

Choosing the style of a design is relatively easy once audience and purpose are determined. Should the piece be formal and elegant or artsy and whimsical? Should the finished design be sleek and glossy or plain? It’s important the look and feel of the design match the overall message.

8. Graphics

Knowing your budget will help determine whether to hire a photographer or buy stock images. Limited budget? It’s time to get creative with use of color, shapes or readily available photos.

9. Colors

Color affects mood and tone, so it’s important to understand the research of color psychology. To really confuse matters, there are also Pantone colors and web-safe or HEX colors.
Side note on color for print vs. web: Designers work with color modes referred to as CMYK and RGB. Anything designed for the web (or anything with a screen) is in RGB (red, green, blue) mode. Anything dealing with printed material is in CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) mode.

10. Fonts

Finding the right font is challenging, but it’s often the final touch that brings the piece together. When selecting a typeface for young children or the visually impaired, sans serifs are preferable. Its simplified letterforms are easier to recognize.

Additionally, not all fonts work well for web or email. Each computer has a different operating system with certain fonts installed. There are a handful of web safe or “universal” fonts that should be on every computer – so the way it’s seen on the screen is the way your audience will view it as well.

Asking these 10 questions before every design project will ensure an efficient and cost-effective product. By thinking through the logistics (printing, paper, distribution) and desired results you can avoid costly revisions or a failed campaign. The last thing anyone wants is to spend weeks fine-tuning a beautifully designed piece and then find out you can’t afford to print it.

Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover, sums it up like this, “If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.”