Is being a good writer a necessary skill for PR pros today? Was it ever?

I’ve worked with plenty of solid dot-your-i and cross-your-t types who didn’t even know where to put the i’s and t’s in IT. They couldn’t spell paradigms, but there they were shifting them.

Who has time to read proper English on a BlackBerry anyway? You lost me at hello.

You don’t even need to do your research in this business anymore. Credit the wrong university for famous alums who actually graduated elsewhere, and you’ll land coverage in every major news outlet in the country.

Besides, it’s all viral video these days. It’s probably more important to know how to shoot in HD than write in AP.

A blogger friend of mine said bad writers are sometimes more efficient writers. “People who don’t know how to write don’t spend a lot of time doing what they hate to do in the first place,” he said. “Good writers, on the other hand, may be more keen on describing the point than getting to it.”

I know PR pros who aren’t so great with the page but are incredibly convincing forces in person or on the social networking side. Their genuine passion and creativity turns them into that which TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis says many more of us PR folk need to be: namely, interesting.

And when was the last time you read a press release that was interesting? This is a real-time, 140 character society now. If you can’t fit your news into a tweet when it matters most, chances are it’s too much, too late.

It’s probably better not to write at all lest you find yourself on the Bad Pitch Blog. Phoning it in is safer, though I guess Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin paid dearly for assuming the same.

Okay, so maybe you need good writers in PR. You just don’t have to be a good writer to be in PR. (Of course, none of these bad writers work with me.)

Disclaimer: Any punctuation and grammatical mistakes contained in this piece will not keep you from retweeting it.

The Hill of Self Discovery, Creativity & Employee engagement

Genuine self-fulfillment and happiness lead to increased creativity and productivity in the workplace. But how can we apply these principles to improve our business?

Start by going outside and lying at the top of the nearest grassy hill.

Then slowly roll yourself down the hill. When you reach the bottom, beleaguered and smiling, covered in grass and dirt, you’ll begin to understand how increasing employees’ happiness and fulfillment maximize the most valuable assets within your company.

As companies invest in making their employees happier they must also realize that the workplace environment is just as – if not more – integral to increasing worker output than financial rewards. Studies have shown that employees who are actively engaged in their jobs outperform people who don’t feel the same connection. This is the “big picture” aspect to the analysis: an employee who either does not have a genuine interest in his/her job or has not been correctly assigned interesting work will not improve a business’ bottom-line. Businesses should not strive for merely satisfied employees – they should create a positive, challenging and engaging environment in which employees who care about their role in their business can truly bring the company to new heights.

Our work with Dr. Ken Thomas, creator of CPP, Inc’s Work Engagement Profile assessment and the author of Intrinsic Motivation at Work, has taught us invaluable lessons on intrinsic employee motivation’s relationship to meaningfulness, choice, competence, and progress.

Anything done well starts with a purpose. The realization that the Hoover Dam would provide a stable water supply for millions of people gave construction workers and engineers motivation that pay raises could not attain. If an employee understands the end goals of a business, the 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete poured becomes more than just busy work. As PR practitioners, we must remain focused on the underlying reasons behind our work. We should constantly be asking ourselves how the service/product we’re representing improve peoples’ lives, and letting the answer guide our actions.

Beyond establishing purpose, employees must be given the independence to choose their projects as well as to make decisions on how to accomplish a task. It is important to note that while employees should be unified with a common vision, they should also be given the opportunity to choose what role they play in attaining it. The positive effects of choice cannot be understated, evident in Dr. Thomas’ statement that, “[choice provides a] feeling of being a responsible decision maker, of driving your own train.”

Quality is the end result of an employee who takes pride in and ownership of their work. Consequently, as Dr. Thomas points out, a feeling of competence is directly related to the level of satisfaction an employee receives from their work. Companies, therefore, are wise to invest in training initiatives that enable their employees to continually sharpen their skills.

Increasing motivation in the workplace is not solely about inspiring independent employees— it is, in the end, about producing innovative and productive leaders who positively impact the bottom line.

Nothing written here is theoretically revolutionary. In practice, however, these principles are rarely applied. We are one of a growing number of companies who understand and apply the principles of employee appreciation and intrinsic motivation. I hope your business, and your employees, take the tumble down the hill and become more creative, happy and productive.

Jordan Hodgson, MSR Communications

What Jim Carrey Teaches Us about Social Media in PR

Of all the movies I’ve seen in the past year, I have to say that one of my favorite was Jim Carrey’s “Yes Man.” Like most good comedies, the film manages to create ridiculous, hilarious situations that nonetheless are firmly rooted in our common experience, and endearing characters whose absurdity we can relate to. As a PR man, however, I can’t help but draw a parallel between the film and one of the hottest topics in the industry – social media.

Carrey’s character – Carl – essentially passes through a three-phase transformation over the course of the film. At the beginning Carl is a borderline depressed antisocial who says no to everything and takes absolutely no chances. He works in a seemingly dead-end job and has no social connections other than two long-time friends who only put up with him because they knew him during happier times. At the heavy-handed prompting of a friend, Carl attends a self-help seminar at which the guru tells his cult-like followers that the key to success in life is to say yes to everything – literally.

Carl’s second phase begins as he adopts this philosophy, saying yes to every request, invitation, and challenge. At first it seems pointless and troublesome, but soon he finds opportunities opening in all aspects of his life that he’d never considered or even imagined. He gets promoted, finds a great girlfriend, helps people, and makes fantastic new friends.

The third phase begins when Carl’s girlfriend finds out about his “yes” policy and assumes that the only reason he’s with her is because he says yes to everything. At this point, he begins to see that saying yes to everything also has a dark side. In the end, Carl achieves enlightenment, realizing that while he can’t really say yes to everything, practicing the essence of the “yes man” philosophy makes him a more interesting and happier person.

I think that as companies engage social media, they often pass through a similar transformative process, initially implementing any technique prescribed by anyone claiming expertise. Those that stick with it begin to develop a more mature strategy and an ability to distinguish between valuable communication and fluff. Often this enlightenment lies on the other side of painful lessons learned, but I don’t think it always has to. One of the great things about social media is that everyone else’s mistakes are in plain view to be learned from.

Nevertheless, social media is a brand new medium, and is kind of like the Wild West, so some rough spots are inevitable. Ultimately, however, the lesson of “Yes Man” is that life is going to happen whether you engage it or not – a fulfillment cannot be achieved without risk. Regardless of how you feel about social media, you can’t deny that it is where the conversation – and the action – is right now. While businesses ought to pick and choose how they engage, they must remember that the conversation and the action are going to happen whether they’re a part of it or not. Just like Carl, companies that say “yes” are going to find opportunities and make connections they never imagined. Sure, they might also hit some bumps, but most of those bumps are going to reveal underlying problems that can only be fixed upon discovery – and that’s a very good thing!

Michael Burke, MSR

Twitter: It’s Okay to Miss Tweets

I once read a children’s book called “Kartusch” by Stephen Cosgrove. It’s about these little forest creatures called Furry Eyefulls that were so enamored with the beauty around them, they never slept. They would not miss a thing.

You’ll find a lot of Furry Eyefulls on Twitter. Their networks are small—in the low hundreds at most. They’ll try to read and respond to every tweet. Not surprisingly, their networks are often highly active, tight-knit communities.

Inevitably, people who fit this profile ask me: how can you realistically follow thousands of people? Now I’m no Jason Calacanis. I only follow 13,000 tweeters, so I barely qualify as a Jason Crouch. But I tell them, rather than engage some people all of the time, I simply engage more people some of the time. Many have said this isn’t truly “following.”

Erin Kotecki Vest, who follows 15,000 people, admits, “It’s hard to keep up. So every so often I check in on a few streams to see what’s up.” (Her response to my query was immediate, by the way.)

Barrett Crites is right in saying, “Some people get caught up in the number vs. the usefulness.” But Chris Brogan isn’t one of those people. He follows more than 93,000 tweeters, and while I’m sure he can’t keep tabs on everyone, he seems to be widely and deeply engaged.

Brogan has said trying to interact with everyone is akin to being “someone with mind-reading powers walking down 38th Street in Manhattan.”

Even as a midsized tweeter, I feel this way. But while I may not get to know every passerby on 38th Street, I’ve certainly gotten to know many. So I continue to follow new people, because every time I put someone new on that street, I increase my chance of making a connection.

And it doesn’t have to be a deep connection. As Hutch Carpenter says in his fascinating post, “I don’t need to know all of you… I only need to know part of you.”

This may not sound like true engagement to some, but think about the many kinds of acquaintances in our lives. We all maintain different levels of interaction with our friends, family, and co-workers. Do we really have to be privy to every conversation they have for us to know them?

With some folks on Twitter, I enjoy very close relationships. I’ll read most of their tweets. I’ll check up on their blogs. I’ll buy their music and Obama statues made out of Coke cans.

And then there are those with whom I’ll have what Mr. Carpenter calls “drive-by interactions.” These might involve mundane exchanges about the lifesaving benefits of coffee or how house cats really are oh so much like us. But those minor exchanges over time can build into more meaningful conversations and relationships.

There are also those I haven’t interacted with at all. But just because I’m not interacting with someone now doesn’t mean I won’t interact with him or her later. By following more people, I’m simply expanding my universe of potential friends. When I click ‘Follow,’ I’m simply saying ‘hi’ to someone interesting.

You don’t have to be an unblinking Furry Eyefull to enjoy positive relationships on Twitter. It’s okay to miss tweets, and you’ll have to if you want to expand your world. But you also have to be good at making friends. And that means knowing how to broadcast and knowing how to listen.

Chris Blake, MSR

Social Media: Some Food for Thought

On Halloween night, just after trick-or-treating, I was struck by how many of our daily interactions revolve around food. As I watched my son and nephew intently discuss all the pros and cons of the various candy they had collected–“jawbreakers are yummy but they can also break your jaw”–I recalled how most of my own conversations over the weekend were about food. 15 minutes with my brother-in-law on the best way to grill a sausage, 20 minutes with my sister about our favorite breakfast cereals…

As humans, we’re fascinated by food. We don’t just eat it. We experience it. We form very strong opinions about it. We cook food to connect more deeply with each other. We rally around food to talk, laugh, catch up and even fall in love. This Thanksgiving, many of us will be gathering around a ham or turkey, and you can bet a great deal of the feast will be spent talking about… the ham or turkey.

Just last September, a cable channel scored the highest viewership ratings in the history of Scripps Networks. That cable channel was the Food Network.

Our fascination for food isn’t lost in social media. Almost a half million people follow Starbucks on Twitter. As Steven Johnson recently wrote in a Time article, “Twitter turns out to have unsuspected depth. In part this is because hearing about what your friends had for breakfast is actually more interesting than it sounds.”

I myself have often tweeted about food. Not only do food-related chats generally draw the greatest response, they can also spark debate and sometimes even heated protests. 50 people stopped following me on Twitter after I admitted I didn’t like cake!

Social media tools and techniques may allow us to communicate, but it’s what and how we communicate that allow us to truly connect. In creating our social media campaigns, we shouldn’t lose sight of the things that bring us together in very human ways. I’m not suggesting that your next press release or pitch has to include a recipe for the world’s greatest banana split (though it can’t hurt), but make sure what you are offering is a kind of food for your target audience. Or create something that appeals to us in the same way.

Is it a coincidence that the original iMac computers looked a lot like candy? Or that they were made by a company called Apple?

Chris Blake, MSR