Inputs and Outputs

You need to change what you’re doing if you expect different results.

It’s simple, really.  Change the inputs and  you’ll get different outputs, right?  Or, keep doing things the same way, and you get the same results.

Ideally, before changing inputs to achieve a different, desired result, you’ll research your new inputs and have an understanding of what kinds of results can be expected.  You can’t just mix up some ground coffee and cinnamon and expect a cup of tea. 

The same is true of a communications program.  You can’t just do what you always did if you want to achieve different results. You can’t just go after traditional media publicity hits and place some TV and print ads and suddenly expect to reach the audiences you’ve been slowly losing over the past decade.  You have to change up the inputs because, unfortunately, your audience is a moving target and what worked yesterday isn’t going to work today. 

SO, you have to research where they’re at.  Then you have to create a plan for how you’re going to reach them there … and figure out how to do so in a cost-effective manner.  And now you learn something new!  This new way of talking to them isn’t just a “one-and-done” deal.  You can’t just drop a value proposition tag line on them and move on.  They … talk … back!   AND they expect you to respond!  But … we don’t have a script to respond to their unexpected questions! 

The rules have changed and you need to understand your organization and your products and be able to have extended conversations with people about them.  And since there may be a lot of people with questions, you may have to train a few friends to also have those conversations on your behalf!

I’ve been dealing with various clients who are at different developmental stages along the communication highway.  Some are stuck somewhere on the plains on Route 66.  Some are in the right neighborhood, but caught up on a sidestreet.   Getting on the right highway requires a map or, better yet, a good navigation system.  A plan.  It requires some expertise and knowledge.  The rules of the road.  It requires a good vehicle.  And it’s gonna take some time.

These same rules govern careers, too.  You’ve got to change up what you’re doing if you want different results, right?  Actually, these days, you have to change up what you’re doing just to keep your job!   There can be no complacency if you want to stay employed. 

And all of this is very unsettling. Lots of people don’t deal with change very well. I have to admit, my new, independent career is very unsettling. It requires different muscles than the ones I flexed within the corporate walls of Amway.  It requires me to go out and sell myself … and not just clients.  It requires me to manage time differently.  I’m learning these skills and getting a lot of great advice from people on which inputs I need to change to achieve the results I desire.  Am I on the superhighway of career success?  I don’t know about that, but I think I’m moving in the right direction!

Dirty Jobs

There are dirty jobs, and there are dirty jobs. I’ll take one, and leave the other.

I’ve had the privilege of counseling lots of students and young professionals over the years, advising them on how to break into the public relations profession or progress in their career. In fact, I have the joy of doing this for my own children now, with my daughter Amanda completing her sophomore year at GVSU (seeking internships toward her tourism and hospitality program) and my 16-year-old son Conner looking to earn some bucks toward college and gas for the car. 

I love talking to young people with their whole lives ahead of them, with lots of empty pages yet to be filled. There weren’t a lot of people giving me career advice at a young age. My dad encouraged me to work hard at whatever I did, but didn’t really tell me what I should do.  I think my mom secretly hoped I’d be a teacher, but didn’t really push me in any direction. They were both immigrants and didn’t have the opportunities their sons did. One by one, they saw their boys off to college and into various professions — a chemical engineer in a nuclear plant, a project manager for a large construction firm, a VP of a national industry association, a PR professional.

Frankly, they would have been just as thrilled had any of us gone into construction like my dad, or into farming, or run a local store.  It’s all good work, you see.  It *is* good work. I know that from experience, having done a lot of different jobs over the years. Some of them were very dirty jobs. 

My first work was as a newspaper delivery boy. I delivered both the weighty Toronto Star as well as the tri-weekly Trentonian, a much smaller paper.  That job gave me an achy back and blackened fingers.  Little did I realize the foreshadowing, as I’d later go into journalism and create the words and pictures requiring all that ink!

In high school, I caught chickens.  There were multiple ways and reasons to catch chickens. On one farm, I’d work with crew of young guys to catch young pullets so they could be inoculated against diseases and debeaked (so they wouldn’t peck each other to death). On that same farm there was the process of stuffing young layers into cages as part of a living “egg factory,” and there was the process of removing those same chickens from those same cages many months later to be sent off to the soup factory.

I also was a member of a crew that would catch the chickens that end up in grocery store meat sections or your restaurant plate. These big, heavy birds were caught past midnight, in the dark, when they’d stand still and remain calm. We’d snag one leg of each chicken, holding four in each hand, then haul them to an opening in the barn where we’d hand them off to men loading crates on the truck.

These chicken jobs were *dirty* jobs. We wore masks to keep from breathing in the dust, but I’d still cough up nasty stuff the next day. The dust was, well, dried chicken sh*t. The birds would crap all over us. Plus, my wrists were criss-crossed with angry red scratches from those chicken claws.  But it was very good money for a high school boy.

I worked construction with my dad and for a few other companies, and that often involved digging in the muck, mixing cement (and becoming somewhat encased in it), roofing in the blazing heat, laying in itch-inducing pink insulation, and numerous other strenuous or uncomfortable tasks.

One summer I worked with a crew for the parks department, operating a weed whacker as we maintained various area parks. Many of them had poison ivy and the weed whacker did a great job of creating a fine spray out of the rash-inducing leaves, stalks, and sap.  For that job, I’d wear long sleeves and long pants in the blazing heat, or risk being covered with uncomfortable rashes.

I’ve run the front desks of a lumber yard, a swimming pool, and a video rental store. I’ve vacuumed, mopped, washed windows, served food, washed dishes.  And, yes, I was a journalist, a photographer, and a public relations professional. 

The jobs I’ve done might have made me physically ache or become quite dirty. But it was all good, honest work.  That is something I will continue to strive toward in my professional career and with my own business.  It will be honest, open and transparent work. The work I do today isn’t as likely to make me physically dirty, but I must safeguard against anything morally dirty as well. 

You can wash your clothes and you can remove the dirt from beneath your finger nails, but you cannot as easily throw your conscience or your reputation into the washing machine.

Clients

I’ve been too busy to blog. But that’s not a good excuse. So, here you go!

One of the pieces of advice I always give to clients is that if they start a blog, they regularly need to attend to it, keeping content fresh.  There are a few reasons for that. For starters, it keeps people coming back to hear what you have to say next. It also provides greater SEO value — the Google spiders like to see new content!  If your page gets stale, the Google believes it is less relevant for your key words.

So, it is with great remorse that I find myself violating one of my own rules!  There are, however, good reasons for my lapse!  Chief amongst them: clients.

In the past month I’ve landed as clients a leading Congressional candidate (Steve Heacock), a leading Christian publisher (Zondervan), a new furniture company to be launched (announcement coming soon!) and, very likely, a leading health policy non-profit in West Michigan (also to be announced, if it happens!).  I’ve still been writing about The Rapid for RapidGrowthMedia.com, and writing profiles for Grand Rapids Magazine. There are a couple other proposals out there that look promising, too!

At the same time, I know that with each of my clients there are end goals in sight, even if they are a few months off, so I cannot stop reaching out to potential new clients.  As President of the West Michigan chapter of PRSA, I have a number of built-in networking opportunities per month.  I also have been quite active in going to events sponsored by organizations like the Econ Club of GR, aimWest, RapidGrowthMedia, and more.  It is my sincerest hope that anybody looking for quality representation by an independent PR practitioner will consider me. If they’re not considering me because they don’t know about me, I need to network even harder!

So, because of all that, I’ve been a little lax on the blogging front.  But, here I am.  I promise to do better!  Meanwhile, are you looking for PR help?  If not me, call me anyway because I also know lots of other great pros who can help you out!

Street Talk

Sometimes PR people are in the news. This time it was just a former employer having a little fun.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the Steve Heacock for Congress campaign to lead communications efforts.  After meeting the candidate and the team, I accepted the role.  The same day I joined the campaign team, Rick Treur was brought in as Campaign Manager, a role he filled for Vern Ehlers previously.

In addition to developing a communications plan for the campaign, one of the first tasks was a news release announcing Rick as the new campaign manager. A couple outlets picked it up, including the Grand Rapids Business Journal, which mentioned the release in its “Street Talk” column.  It wasn’t quite the “pick up” I was expecting however.  Typically the PR person remains behind the news, not in it.

The problem is that I used to work at the GRBJ.  Back in 1990-91, I was a reporter covering manufacturing, banking and the economy.  Shortly before I left I was approached by Seyferth & Associates which, at that time, was Grand Rapids’ leading PR firm. After a couple of meetings, I accepted their offer of a job. At the time, I was a young guy with a young wife and a little baby girl trying to pay off college debt and live on the meager earnings of a reporter. I worked nights at a video store to earn extra cash.

Along comes a PR firm offering me a significant upgrade. Of course I took the job, even though in my heart I still was a journalist at that time. My Editor, Carole, took me to Teazers, a bar down the street, and bought me a couple beers while she tried to talk me out of taking the job.  That’s what led to the following portion of the column:

“…the news came in a release distributed by Robin Luymes. The Business Journal clan knows Luymes well from his start as a fresh-faced reporter with the BJ.  No amount of adult beverage at the time could keep the pride of Canada from traveling down the path that now has him stumping for political types and other interests as an independent PR pro. We tried.”

I was flattered (although embarrassed) to be the focus of Carole’s comments, because the real news was Heacock and the Treur announcement. But I’m thankful for my start with the GRBJ because it was my work there that earned the notice of Seyferth which led to my PR career. Ironically, I never did go to work at Seyferth.  Before I could finish my “two weeks notice” I was approached by Amway.  I interviewed and they offered me a job too (one representing a significant upgrade from Seyferth’s offer). 

The rest is, as they say, history.

Owning it

Tiger Woods taking ownership of his issues in interview with The Golf Channel.

I’ve blogged here before about Tiger and hope to not do so going forward. He’s announced he’s coming back to the tour, and I’m sure the media will be ruthless in its pursuit of him.  But I’m impressed with the interviews he’s conducted as part of his “re-entry,” especially the one with Kelly Tilghman of The Golf Channel.

In it, he answers tough questions and admits his faults. He doesn’t dodge questions, but he also doesn’t provide details that he’s said all along he will not provide. Good for him. The worst thing would be if he starts to provide any of those details or hints at it even. Because with that little bit of blood in the water, the media would be relentless. 

Many of the comments following stories about Tiger are becoming much more sympathetic to him. Many question why this is a story at all. As I’ve said earlier, the sooner he gets on the course and starts winning, the sooner all the questions will go away.  But I totally respect him for taking his time and dealing with his issues through therapy. Hopefully it will save his marriage. Hopefully it will save him, too.

Marriage: A team effort

My wife is part of who I am, and any success I have in my career can be equally attributed to her and how she supports, encourages and inspires me.

I am thankful for my wonderful wife and all the ways she has supported and loved me over the past 21 years. Today we celebrate our wedding anniversary and I pause to consider what it means to be with the one who was meant for me.

There have been many wonderful times where everything has seemed just right, and there have been times where Kari has had good reason to be disappointed in me. God has blessed us, however, with good people who have provided support and council, and we can look back on our time together and be thankful for the wonderful children we’ve raised and the life we’ve built together.

In recent times, especially, my wife has been a wonderful support and a source of strength. Leaving a job and the security that 18 years of employment provided was scary, but Kari was there to encourage and push me and she put in extra time at her job to ensure we could pay all our bills.  Even now, as I begin to land clients and we can see light at the end of the tunnel, we know there may be difficult times ahead and are prepared to work through them, together.

I know there are many examples of entrepreneurs who succeeded without the support of a spouse, but I’m not sure I’d be one of them. My wife and my family are part of who I am.  They are among the key reasons motivating me to succeed, and they are among the key sources of strength and inspiration.  My wife forces me to lighten up when I’m too serious, and to become more serious when I’m taking it to easy. She jumps in to handle family matters when my work calls me away, and she is a great soundboard for ideas that are bouncing around in my head. If it doesn’t pass the Kari test, if often doesn’t see the light of day.

I’m thankful for the past 21 years with Kari, and I’m looking forward to what God has in store for us in the months and years ahead!

Spring in the Air

Recap of the last two weeks

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve last posted here. I’ve been very active, you see! Lots of networking, going to events like the Addy Awards and the aimWest Tech Trends event and WMPRSA’s “Meet the Media” event and so much more.  Plus I’ve had lots of meetings with people.  Some were people I worked with a long time ago but with whom I had lost touch. Some were people who have offered to help me in various ways.  Some were students I’ve offered to help.  And a few were even potential clients.

After a long cold winter, this week has seen a thaw in West Michigan. Snow is melting away in the balmy 40+ temperatures. Spirits are lightened as Michiganders head outdoors in their t-shirts. :-)  People around here rejoice as America took home the top haul of Olympic medals. I took special pride in Canada’s top haul of 14 golds and, in particular, the men’s hockey gold. After losing to the U.S. in an earlier round, I just knew the Canada squad wouldn’t let themselves lose another game.

And my prospects for new work are also very good. Today I accepted one assignment that will likely keep me busy through November.  Two other projects I bid on seem very possible and, if I get that work, I will be very busy through the summer.  I have agreed to join the Festival of the Arts communications team as a volunteer, which also will be very fun. And, of course, I’m still writing for Grand Rapids Magazine and for RapidGrowthMedia.com

When you add in serving as president of West Michigan PRSA, serving as secretary of the deaconate for my church, and writing assignments for the New 2 You Shoppe (my wife serves on their board), there’s not a lot of free time!

So, that’s my excuse for not blogging the last few weeks.  Next week begins the “Nine Days of Celebration” in the Luymes household. First it’s my birthday on the 9th, then my wife’s birthday on the 14th, and then our wedding anniversary on the 18th (21 years). So, maybe I’ll be too busy partying down to blog. Or too busy working (which is just one more reason to celebrate)!

Tiger’s Path to Recovery

Tiger has apologized and asked for forgiveness. Will you forgive Tiger?

A few months ago I blogged about Tiger “doubling down” on his personal and professional crisis by not being honest, open, and transparent. I was watching closely today to see if he would be able to pull out of his steep dive and begin to right his course.

I was asked to join Terri DeBoer and Rachel Ruiz on the set of WOOD TV8’s “eightWest” morning talk show to provide live commentary about Tiger’s address to the nation. Not only was Tiger’s address nearly unprecedented, since media were not permitted any questions, but it also was an atypical morning for eightWest, normally taped a few hours before its broadcast at 11 a.m. Thank you to everyone at WOOD TV8 for your professionalism and the opportunity to chat with Rachel and Terri.

Last night, preparing for my stint as analyst, I thought about what I wanted to hear from Tiger and created my checklist. Of course, everyone wanted to hear he was sorry.  I wanted to see emotion from Tiger, who normally can be quite stoic. I wanted to hear him express concern for Elin and his children. I wanted him to acknowledge that he was viewed as a role model, and that he had failed in that regard. I wanted to hear him apologize to his fans and to golf and to his sponsors.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

I think Tiger was prepped well by his handlers to hit all of these marks. He did show some emotion at the beginning, and the embrace of his mother at the end was nice. Although he was a little stoic for the latter tw0-thirds of his speech, you could tell he was uncomfortable. With good reason.  He was standing in front of tens of millions of people admitting infidelity, poor judgment, broken values.

My wife sometimes says you have to “own” your decisions — good or bad. I think Tiger owned his decisions today. He placed blame only on himself. He had made the bad decisions. He was wrong. He had gone against the values he’d been taught.

Elin, he said, had been nothing but graceful in her handling of the situation and deserved praise, not blame. He acknowledged he also had let down his family, friends, “business partners,” fans, and children who had viewed him as a role model. He acknowledged he had broken the rules, somehow thinking he was above them.

And he asked for our help, to “find room in your heart to someday believe in me again.”

It is an important first step in the right direction. I don’t agree with those who believe he should have allowed media to ask questions. He actually provided a lot of information and answered most questions that should have been asked. If there were questions beyond what he shared, they would either have been inappropriate or not questions Tiger desired to answer.

As a public person who has received truckloads of cash to endorse products (of estimated $110 million he earned in 2008, only $6 million were golf earnings, according to Forbes), the public does have a right to know when that person isn’t what he says he is. It’s kind of a truth in advertising thing. You can’t be held up as a shining symbol of dependability and success when, in actuality, you are cheating (by taking steroids, or taking shortcuts, or taking liberties that are not generally accepted).

BUT, that does not mean Tiger has to answer every question the media asks. He does not have to share his conversations with Elin or details of his affairs. His PR people probably scoured the web and prepared him well to address the biggest and most pertinent concerns out there.  And the media will still get their opportunity to ask Tiger questions, but at this time he is a recovering addict and is not ready to have that kind of dialog.

The brand of Tiger may never recover the full value it once enjoyed, but I believe he’s on the right path.  If he returns to his winning form on the links and avoids future salacious sandtraps, he will be forgiven. He just needed to ask for it.  And now he has.

Conner @ 16

Conner, my oldest son, is 16 today.

My oldest son, Conner, turned 16 today. Happy Birthday son!  I remember driving my wife to the hospital that night so many years ago.  The Lillehammer Olympics had started a few days earlier, just as the Vancouver games started a few days ago this year. The gold medal that year went to my wife, delivering all 9 lb 14 oz. of my boy. The famous quote from my mother in law, as Conner fully emerged: “He’s HUGE.”

Conner @ 16
Conner @ 16

He’s not so huge today, physically, although his personality most certainly is larger than life. A natural musician, a runner, a good student, an awesome friend, a follower of Christ, and a young man with a huge heart for others. Conner will always be the one who empathizes with others’ joys and pains. When people celebrate, Conner celebrates the loudest! When they are grieving, he comes alongside and sheds tears of sympathy.

This young man will go on to do great things. As I write this, he’s out running with high school cross country teammates.  This past year he knocked three minutes off his personal best times and I’m sure his dedication to the sport will be rewarded again next season. He spends hours learning new music on his guitar, piano, and drums. His birthday present, a new acoustic guitar, will be well-played.   Happy Birthday Conner!  You’re a great kid, and a wonderful son!

Are you at your Town Hall meeting?

I did a guest post at Jen Fong’s blog about the need for companies to jump into the online dialog about their brands.

I blogged about the need for companies and brands to check out what’s being said about them over at Jen Fong’s blog.  Essentially, the point I’m making is that companies and other organizations would make a special effort to prepare for and attend town hall meetings where they were being discussed.  The same needs to be true and, unbelievably, there are still company executives holding back from diving into the dialog about their brands.

Jen is a great social media resource, especially to the direct selling industry.  Last year I was on a panel with her at the Direct Selling Association’s national conference. She also was super active in round table sessions about web reputation that I led at the conference. When I first left Amway last September, she was one of the first to talk to me about being in business for myself, and I am very grateful for the advice and help she’s provided since then!

Check out my post at Jen’s blog and, while you’re there, check out the rest of the great content she and guest bloggers have created!