Marian Salzman on Agile PR

Marian Salzman is the CEO of Havas PR, U.S. Named one of the world’s top five trendspotters (bringing the term “metrosexual” to the world in 2003), Marian is one of the most-awarded female public relations executives in North America. Prior to joining Havas PR and the Global Collective, Marian was the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Porter Novelli, CMO at JWT Worldwide, and Chief Strategy Officer at Euro RSCG Worldwide.

Author or coauthor of many books, her latest (written with the Havas PR team): Agile PR: Expert Messaging in a Hyper-Connected, Always-On World is now available.

Next week’s guest is Ryan Foland, Managing Partner, InfluenceTree.

Why Mentoring Matters

A number of years ago, I received an email from Reesa Greenwald, the director of the Seton Hall University Career Center, asking me to be a mentor in a program called CHAMP (Communication Honors Alumni Mentor Program).   The program was actually launched in 2011 as the Communication Honors Associates Mentoring Program.  I am a proud Seton Hall alum and was also serving as an adjunct faculty member at the time.  The email was worded in a way that seemed to indicate that this was meant for people who lived in close proximity to the campus – as opposed to someone like me living in southern California.  Just before I hit “delete” (assuming this email wasn’t meant for me), I reread it and thought to myself, “I could do this remotely.  Maybe I’ll see if Reesa would be open to that.”   Fortunately for me, she agreed to give it a try.

According to Paul Ward, the alum who spearheads this program: “CHAMP was designed to bring together successful alumni with current Communication students to share tips and practical advice on navigating the many career opportunities a degree from Seton Hall can offer.  The response from the students and the mentors was overwhelmingly positive and the program allowed two generations of Pirates to develop both networking opportunities and great friendships. We’re looking forward to offering this program to even more Pirates as we move forward.”

Four years later, it appears our little experiment worked – especially for me.  CHAMP mentors are matched with one student per year.  I see to it that I meet with the student who is assigned to me in person at least once, but otherwise our conversations take place via Skype, Zoom, phone, email or text.  I went into this hoping I could give back to the university and help some aspiring communication professionals.  Turns out, I can say unequivocally that the benefits go both ways.   I share my experiences and perspective, while they share their aspirations and keep me current.

A few weeks ago, I attended a CHAMP event on campus.  I loved it!  There was a great deal of talk about how the students benefit from the many alumni who give their time and share their expertise.   While that may be true, I’m pretty sure the other alums share my sentiment about how much we all get in return.  For me, it’s one more example of how 1+1 can = 3.

Pictured above are two of the students  I was fortunate enough to work with and to whom I will be forever grateful and always available (l to r) Siobhan McGirl (Senior) and Sarah Auerbach (Sophomore), not pictured are graduates Phil Burrows and Mawuena Sedodo.  Mentoring matters – for all involved.

In the absence of communication, we fill in the gaps. Don’t!

I’ve been leading workshops for CEOs and key executives in recent months (23 workshops in all so far), where we talk about what it takes to be an even higher performing group or team.   As you might imagine, effective communication emerges as critical on two fronts.  1) My workshops inspire conversations that would either never take place organically or would never happen in the larger context of the health of a group or team.  Yet when they do take place, the resulting clarity that’s created often dispels erroneous perceptions.   2) When such communication doesn’t take place, it doesn’t leave a communication hole or gap because in the absence of communication, people insert their own narrative.  And when they do, the narrative often creates tension, and is too often dead wrong.

Here’s a brief example: You arrange to meet a colleague at a restaurant at 1:00 PM.  You’re waiting there and before you know it, it’s 1:20 PM – no call, no text, no communication.   You text and call your colleague and receive no response.  So what happens now?  You probably start to speculate as to why your colleague is late.   One of your assumptions is that (s)he simply forgot about the appointment.  The longer the speculation continues, the more likely your blood pressure starts to rise, as you become increasingly annoyed by your colleague’s forgetfulness, even though you have no proof that anyone forgot about anything.  You learn later that your colleague’s mother fell ill and had to be rushed to the emergency room – a bit more important than your appointment.   Now you feel terrible.   The hope here of course is that you didn’t go off on your colleague before (s)he had the chance to share what happened.

While this is a rather simple example, imagine the angst, misunderstanding, and resentment that can be caused when people fail to communicate with one another over the longer haul.  Among the five factors of high-performing groups or teams is valuable interaction – interaction that’s fueled by effective communication.   The solution:  Communicate more and, in the absence of good communication, fill-in the gaps less.   Resist your tendency to create your own narrative when one hasn’t been provided for you.  It will reduce the stress level for you and your peers, and will likely open new avenues of opportunity.

Name-calling and Our Pernicious Public Discourse

When I grew up, kids called each other names for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is they were not particularly equipped to do much else.  That’s how they covered for their own lack of knowledge and insecurities.  Most of us left this childish behavior behind.  Over time, society asked more of us – that we actually had to offer something that didn’t involve name-calling or ad hominem attacks.  We were expected to make our case on the merits in a fashion that inspired thoughtful debate.  Unfortunately, that’s all changed.

In 2016, we were introduced to “Crooked Hillary” and “Dorito Mussolini”.  More recently, U.S. Intelligence veteran Malcom Nance identified Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller as a “Baby Goebbels.”   Grown-ups are now behaving like 8-year-olds, and I’m pretty sure that today’s kids are modeling this behavior more than ever.  After all, it’s not like the name-calling is just coming from crazy Uncle Dave; it’s coming from the mouths of government leaders and political pundits on every media platform.  It’s only a matter of time before we’ll turn on CNN, FOX News or MSNBC to bear witness to a debate that is reduced to the Pee-wee Herman loop, “I know you are, but what am I?”

During the Year of the Peer, we have to expect more of our leaders.  Don’t we?  Check out James Hoggan’s book, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up.  He says, “The most pressing environmental problem we face today is not climate change. It is pollution in the public square, where a smog of adversarial rhetoric, propaganda, and polarization stifles discussion and debate, creating resistance to change and thwarting our ability to solve our collective problems.”

If we’re ever going to turn it around, Hoggan adds, “It is important to recognize that in a time when mistrust and polarization have soared to all-time highs, conversations aimed at injecting information into people in order to cure them of their misunderstanding will fail.”

Have a look at David Biggs’ terrific interview with James Hoggan and consider grabbing a copy of the book.  Maybe if we made it required reading for all leaders, they would actually start to act their own age.

What do you think and how can we fix it?


Millennials: Don’t Judge Them, Learn From Them

In an episode of Inside Quest from October 2016, Simon Sinek discusses millennials in the workplace.  As of today, the 15-minute video been viewed more than 5.4 million times.  In January, he recorded a 9-minute follow-up video called  More on the Millennial Question based on the feedback (positive and negative) that he’s received about his comments back in October.  To his credit, Sinek has also asked for more feedback, so here it is.

Full disclosure, I enjoy Simon Sinek’s work.  I’ve watched his videos, read his book Start with Why, and heard him speak live, where he was terrific.  That said, the more popular he becomes, the greater his reach and the more weight his words carry.  In my opinion, he needs to be more mindful of that.

In both videos, he makes important points about relationships, empathy, and leadership, which is laudable.  The reason the first video got so much traction, however, is not because of the points he made, but because he decided to throw millennials under the bus for a cheap laugh.  Sinek hit on all the stereotypes people have (particularly boomers) about millennials, and he reinforced a narrative that does more harm than good.  Anyone smart enough to come up with the golden circle could have made his points without doing it on the backs of a generation.

By doing this, Simon Sinek sent a bad message – one that makes it okay for leaders to point fingers and make excuses, because we all know how those “entitled” millennials are and how tough they are to “manage.”  Instead, he should have challenged leaders to dig deeper.  That they consider taking a pause to listen and learn for understanding – to be curious.  The more that leaders try to learn and the less they judge, the more likely they will discover the very best attributes of this generation and the individuals who comprise it.  Sinek always talks about how leaders eat last.  That’s fine, but that doesn’t mean the leader should poke fun at the employees in the food line.

Over the past few months I’ve recorded a number of podcasts with young people, all of whom are incredibly impressive.  They are wise beyond their years and doing well for themselves and good for others.  Now, I read their books and listen to their podcasts.  They inspire this baby boomer each and every day.  Meeting them and becoming more familiar with who they are and why they do what they do has been a gift.

On my podcast, you’ll hear from Vitaly M. Golomb (Feb. 16), Rahfeal Gordon (Feb. 23), and Bri Seeley and Thais Sky (March 30).  Vitaly Golomb is an entrepreneur, author, and global start-up evangelist for HP Tech Ventures, where in addition to his job, he is passionate about his work helping entrepreneurs create business models for their ideas.  He started as an intern in Silicon Valley at 13 and just released his first book, Accelerated Startup.

Rahfeal Gordon, who spent part of his childhood homeless, has written 14 books (including Skyscraper) and inspires people of all ages across the world, reminding them that their location is NOT their destination.  I met him last year in Portugal. We remain friends, and I can’t imagine having a more positive force in my life.

Bri Seeley and Thais Sky founded a company in Los Angeles called The Amplify Collective – each own their own company as well. Check out their Be Amplified podcast).  The Amplify Collective is dedicated to helping women come together at their un-networking events so they see one another as more than a title on a business card.  Bri and Thais help women engage on a level of who they are, not simply what they do.  Don’t be surprised if one of their events comes to your city soon.

All of them, each in their own way, are helping people establish the kind of deep, meaningful relationships that Simon Sinek said are so lacking among our young people.  (Deep and meaningful relationships are too few in all generations, by the way).  So if you watch Simon’s videos (or watch them again), I ask you to extract the good messages he has to share, and engage everyone in your life from a place of curiosity rather than judgment.

Image: Mirus Restaurant Solutions

Time To Start Listening

Whether you attended the inauguration on Friday or the women’s marches on Saturday, millions of people in Washington, DC, and in cities across the world, understood that their voices are louder and have more impact when they ring together.

Now it’s time to start listening. It just may be tougher than it sounds.

According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, people are “four times more likely to ignore information that supports a position they don’t believe in.” Meaning, if you watch MSNBC, you don’t watch Fox News, and if you’re a Republican and you have a friend who’s a Democrat (unlikely as that may be today), you can’t even talk politics without it devolving into a screaming match.

I declared 2017 as the Year of the Peer prior to election day because, regardless of the outcome of the presidential contest/reality TV show, we were destined to be a more divided nation. It was also apparent that trust in our institutions was clearly suffering. Here’s how I described the situation in October, 2016:

“Regardless of whether you’re a Trump or Clinton supporter, the tenor of the campaign itself has sunk to new depths. Yet when it’s all over, we’ll be reading about the importance of healing and uniting the country. Ironically, the same media that fueled the fire and aggravated the wounds will start handing out medical supplies.

“The problem is this: The deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal — the more likely it will leave a scar. The lower we go, the tougher it is to climb out of the hole. The harder is it to trust one another again. The tougher it is to make the transition from fighting against each other to fighting for one another. Regardless of who prevails in the election, we may be headed for one of the toughest recovery periods since the Civil War.”

As for the decline in institutional trust, it’s now been documented. As we look again to the Edelman Trust Barometer, institutional trust — including government, media, business, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — has plummeted.

Let’s look at government and media specifically. If you want to put government gridlock in historical perspective, consider that in 1948, Harry Truman campaigned against what he called the “Do Nothing (80th) Congress,” which passed 906 pieces of public legislation. The 112th, 113th and 114th Congress combined (our last three) passed 908 public laws. It’s no wonder the 2016 electorate looked outside the establishment to Trump and Sanders.”

Our political leaders, however, are not entirely to blame here. The media have turned politics into a blood sport. Attempts at collaboration and compromise breed serious casualties. It’s all about winners and losers, as someone is always vilified as having “sold out” or having “caved to the other side.” Conflict spikes ratings and readership, but it creates an impossible climate for our elected officials — it’s the kind of climate change we don’t talk about often enough.

I’m not knocking conflict. It can be a healthy byproduct of open, honest dialogue. I just think it may be time to get back to boxing and leave the bare-knuckle fights back in the steel cage. As long as everything remains a zero-sum game and those who collaborate to reach sensible compromise continue to be marginalized by the media (and the public), trust in institutions will continue to suffer.

The flash of good news from Edelman is that we trust one another (people like me) as much as we do academic and technical experts. Sounds to me a like a good place to start.

The Year of the Peer is directed at leaders who are challenged with preparing themselves and their many stakeholders for a future most of us can barely imagine. As citizens, I hope we channel all the energy and good intentions we saw over the past few days and aim it toward moving our society forward by listening for understanding, seeing the very best in each other, and finding areas of agreement to establish a foundation for doing good.

Together, we can accomplish anything. We just have to start listening.


Beware of Geeks Bearing Tips

I first wrote about “tips posts” in 2011, but I thought that as we start the Year of the Peer, it’s a topic worth revisiting.  The title, of course, is a play on the line, “Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts” which comes from the story of Troy and how the Greeks used a wooden horse to trick their way into the city.  Sophocles described it as, “foes’ gifts are no gifts; profit they bring none.”

For me, “tips posts” are no different.  They should come with a warning label.  While I don’t believe everyone who writes an article or blog post that offers 5 tips for this or 10 ways to accomplish something else is necessarily a geek or one’s enemy, I would suggest, however, that we consume such articles with caution.  They typically address symptoms rather than underlying causes.  And because they rarely provide the necessary background or root principles that lay beneath them, we’re left with one-liners that, while entertaining, will never by themselves help us transform our behavior in any meaningful way.  For that, we have to go deeper.

Can they be helpful from time to time?  Sure.  Do I read these articles just like everyone else?  Absolutely.  Heck, I’ve written a few, although I try to avoid it.  Let’s face it, any post or article that promises a simple, numerically organized way to address a timely, complex issue can be hard to resist.   That’s why writers write them and readers read them.  It’s link candy.  I’m just suggesting that a steady diet of these posts without something more can be bad for you.

So what are we to do?  Two things:  1) Next time, you read a really good “tips” article, engage the writer in the comments section and ask for a deeper dive.  Most of the people who write these posts really know what they’re talking about and are more than happy to share what they know.   The better you understand the advice, the more likely you will be to adopt it.  2) Read more posts that take you on a more meaningful journey.  Click on headlines that don’t give away what the piece is all about.  Explore more often and you’ll discover more frequently.   Your peers have a lot to offer you!

By balancing our “tips” fascination with a deeper dive into underlying causes and the mindset that drives our basic assumptions, we stand a good chance of converting short-term tips to life-long best practices.

How about this for a post?
Five Ways To Convert Short-term Tips To Life-long Best Practices!


The Case For Adopting #yearofthepeer in 2017

In 2017, I’m convinced that, together, we will inspire a positive change in the way we engage one another in business and in life.  If you contribute to the Year of the Peer in just one small way,  you’ll see how effective the power of peers, the power of “us”, can truly be.

Add LinkedIn to the List!

The good news is that contributing is easy:  1) Be on the lookout for positive stories and examples of the amazing peer-to-peer interactions that are happening all around us each and every day – in our schools, businesses, communities, social media, peer advisory groups, etc.   They are not getting the attention they deserve, so let’s shine a brighter light on them.  2) Take the lessons from those examples and bring them into your own life and to those closest to you.  3) When you encounter something worth telling the world about, or you have a story of your own that could inspire someone else, see to it that it’s captured for all of us on your favorite social media platform using (hashtag) #yearofthepeer.

As I write this, the voice of Ryan Foland is ringing in my head, asking me to answer the question,  “What problem are we trying to solve for?”  It’s a fair question, and I hope my response creates a sense of urgency as to why it matters so much, especially now.

What problem are we trying to solve for?

We’re coming off the most divisive presidential election in modern U.S. history.  As a society, we’ve come to debate more than dialogue, talk more than listen, and judge rather than learn.  Trust in our institutions is low and the political climate for compromise has never been more toxic.  It’s classic boiling frog syndrome.  It’s become a big problem and we’re paying a high price.

Consider this sobering example, the 1948 “Do Nothing (80th) Congress,” as labeled by Harry Truman, passed more public laws (906) than the 112th, 113th and current 114th Congress combined (as of October 2016).   Apparently, it’s become more acceptable for our respective representatives to be intractable and come home empty-handed, than to accomplish something that would actually benefit the American people.

That said, blaming our political leaders is not a solution, nor is it entirely their fault.  It’s bigger than that.  Collaboration and compromise breed casualties across all sectors  – winners and losers, leaders who “caved to the other side.”  As long as everything remains a zero-sum game and those who collaborate to reach sensible compromise continue to be marginalized by the media (and the public, by the way), we’ll all be the biggest loser.

Neither collaboration nor compromise are four-letter words.  This is where CEOs have an opportunity to lead by example.  Consider that in 2013, a study conducted at Stanford Graduate School of Business concluded that nearly two-thirds of CEOs don’t receive outside leadership advice.  Seeking the help and assistance of others is a sign of strength, not weakness, no matter what position you hold in an organization.

Together, we have the power to send a message to every sector of our society that it’s time for a change, because somehow, somewhere along the line, we stopped listening to what our elementary school teachers taught us all those years ago:  We’re simply not working and playing well with others nearly as well as we could.   This is the problem we’re trying to solve for, and if we don’t start now, it’s only going to get worse to our detriment.

A Positive Example of What’s Possible

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from two decades of watching the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team and studying their program (4 consecutive national championships and currently riding an 84-game winning streak) is that being a good teammate is more important than the individual stats or accomplishments of any one player.  That’s why in 2015, Nate Silver dubbed it the most dominant basketball program on the planet.  We need to borrow a page from UConn’s playbook.  What if all of us just committed ourselves to being better teammates?

What’s Next…

In addition to speaking and writing, let me talk about another small contribution to the larger cause.  For 50 weeks during 2017, I’ll bring some of the best minds in the world together to share their insights, stories, and recommendations about how we can work together more effectively – how to seek common ground and see one another for our gifts rather than our differences.  Guests appearing on my podcast: Year of the Peer with Leo Bottary during Q1 will include Altimeter Group CEO, Charlene Li; Forbes publisher and global futurist, Rich Karlgaard; Founder and Executive Director of the Business Owners Council, Lewis Schiff; Host of MSNBC’s Your Business, JJ Ramberg; Inspirational speaker, Rahfeal Gordon; global start-up evangelist, Vitaly Golomb; and best-selling coauthor of more than 30 leadership books, including The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes, among others.

My hope is that you’ll subscribe to the free podcast and invite your friends and colleagues to do so as well.  Of course the podcast is just one small part of a larger movement.  If you see this opportunity before us in 2017 as I do, I also invite you to read these two blog posts to get you ready for the Year of the Peer and, in turn, for you to share your ideas and stories with all of us during the coming 12 months.

This fast changing, complex world is going to ask more of us than ever before.  We’ll have to rely on one another to meet the challenges of a future most of us can barely imagine.  Going it alone isn’t going to cut it.  Who you surround yourself with matters.  Remember to use (hashtag) #yearofthepeer, share this post with your friends and colleagues, and join us on January 12th for our first podcast with guest Charlene Li!  Thanks for reading!


Add “Person of the Year” to Your Resume

It was Christmas ten years ago that YOU were named TIME’s Person of the Year!  My guess is that most of you never noted it on your resume or added it to your LinkedIn profile.  I’m just wondering, “Why not?”

For all these years, you probably believed that “you” wasn’t specific to you; it was more of an “us” thing.  You may have thought that because you didn’t earn this distinction entirely on your own, including it among your list of honors and awards would have been considered a stretch, so to speak.  That’s understandable.  So let me invite you to think of it this way instead:  No other human who has ever been named TIME’s Person of the Year did it entirely on their own either.  (Check out the list).  They had help – lots of it.  Here are a few excerpts from Lev Grossman’s 2006 piece, You — Yes, You — Are TIME’s Person of the Year, just to put what you did in perspective:

“The ‘Great Man’ theory of history is usually attributed to the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, who wrote that ‘the history of the world is but the biography of great men.’ He believed that it is the few, the powerful and the famous who shape our collective destiny as a species. That theory took a serious beating this year. To be sure, there are individuals we could blame for the many painful and disturbing things that happened in 2006…

“But look at 2006 through a different lens and you’ll see another story, one that isn’t about conflict or great men. It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It’s about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people’s network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.”

I encourage you to read the entire article, but here was the kicker for me:

“But that’s what makes all this interesting. Web 2.0 is a massive social experiment, and like any experiment worth trying, it could fail. There’s no road map for how an organism that’s not a bacterium lives and works together on this planet in numbers in excess of 6 billion. But 2006 gave us some ideas. This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person. It’s a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really, genuinely wonder who’s out there looking back at them. Go on. Tell us you’re not just a little bit curious.”

Fast-forward a decade.  In my first Year of the Peer podcast, to be released January 12th, Charlene Li suggests that despite the fact that we have more ways of connecting with one another than ever, real conversation has given way to the Bully Pulpit.  I agree with her assessment. There’s too much talking, not enough listening, and not nearly enough dialogue.  If that’s the case, we’re not maximizing our potential as a society when it comes to building international understanding – citizen to citizen, person to person.  We’re just not.

I don’t think we’re failing at what Grossman described as a “massive social experiment,” but I do believe we’ve gotten sidetracked.  My hope is that if, together, we embrace the Year of the Peer – or at least the sentiment behind it – that we can realize our global collaborative potential.   With any luck, we’ll be named TIME’s Person of the Year for a second time.  And when that happens, whether it’s 2017 or 2018, you can add another Person of the Year honor to your resume!

Don't Stay in Airplane Mode

Perry Maughmer, a Vistage Chair in the Columbus, Ohio area recently shared that he was reading The Power of the Other: The Startling Effect Other People Have On You From the Boardroom to the Bedroom and Beyond – and What to Do About It, by Dr. Henry Cloud.  When smart people tell me they’re reading a really insightful book, I’ve learned over the years that it’s a good idea to buy it right way and start reading it while it’s fresh on my mind.  I’m really glad I did.

Two points that struck me early in Dr. Cloud’s book are 1) “…the neglected truth is that the invisible attributes of relationship and the connection between people have real and tangible power” and that “it begins at birth.”  I often speak to audiences about how early it starts, but only as it relates to childhood memories of wanting to “belong.” It’s my way of helping people reflect on how peer influence has been part of all of our lives for as long as we can remember.  Dr. Cloud speaks to it as a biological and physiological imperative.  This explains a great deal about why our need for human connection is so visceral.

2) Our smart phones serve as a fitting metaphor for maximizing human potential. When your phone is in airplane mode, for example, it has limited functionality.  Connect it to a cellular or wi-fi network, and it transforms into a device with exponential potential.  We are capable of a great deal as individuals, yet we can realize so much more when connected to a network – a network of people who will cheer us on, share their perspectives and wisdom, and hold us accountable for achieving our own self-expressed goals.

In today’s fast-paced, complex world, there’s no need to go it alone.  No need to fight biology and stay in airplane mode.  Challenge yourself to engage in meaningful exchanges with others and take your life (personally and professionally) to new heights.

Image: Chinavasion