Archive for the ‘Professional Insight’ Category

The last few months have been filled with trips nearly every week.  From weddings and visiting friends to work trips galore, at the end of this month I will have visited 12 different cities in three months (September – November) and it has been a whirlwind adventure.

Each trip was fun and I’ve always learned something new. In Portland I met the man who started the city’s microbrew culture, in South Bend I attended my first NCAA football game EVER and during several of the trips I had the pleasure watching my friends get married.

The Combos Team with Rob Widmer, one of the founding brothers of the Widmer Brothers Brewing Company and the Portland microbrewing culture.

The majority of my work trips have been on the weekends because two guys in my office and I are creating 10 city profiles for the Combos Facebook page. Earlier this year COMBOS, a client, released a ranking of the Manliest Cities in America and our video profiles highlight the manliness of each city. (The video profiles can be seen here.)

Since it doesn’t take more than an eight hour shoot to create our 2-3 minute profile, most of our trips are around 30 hours from the time we leave for O’Hare to the time I plop down on my bed and avoid laundry. And despite the years of traveling I’ve done with my family, these trips, combined with weddings and other trips, have forced me to hone my travel skills.

Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a young professional starting to travel more, below are a couple things I’ve learned from my travels.

1) Learn to sleep on a plane.

According to the Harvard Business Review, sleeping on a plane is one of the keys to corporate success. And from my own experience, learning how to do so will make your 4 hour flight feel like 2 minutes. When you can, throw a small travel pillow in the carry-on you plan to put below your feet. Also, try to snag a window seat.

2) Never check a bag.

Don’t believe me?? Mama Piehl works in the lost baggage office for an airline in Milwaukee and she can talk to you for hours about why you shouldn’t check a bag. If you have to check a bag, keep a spare set of socks, underwear and a shirt in your carry on, along with the essentials you can’t live without (house keys, medication, glasses, etc.).  Everything else, deodorant, tooth paste and a spare shirt, can all be replaced if your bag is lost or delayed.


3) Pay the bills ASAP!

If you’re traveling for work, bring an envelope and at the end of every day put all of your receipts in it. The last thing you want to learn two weeks after your trip is that you lost the receipt for your rental car or one of your meals. If you’re traveling with friends, ask them to bring their checkbooks so everyone can square up before you head to the airport.

4) Prepare for the security line.

Going through TSA stinks, and if you’re following my second tip, you’ll probably have two bags with you. Make TSA breeze by wearing shoes that easily slip on and off, putting your lovely bag of toiletries at the top of your carry-on, and taking off anything you know you’ll have to take off at the front of the line while you’re waiting in line. Imagine how simple screening will be if aren’t fumbling with a watch or trying to jungle your laptop in one bin and everything else in another.  (Hint: Don’t worry about your belt. A certain amount of metal is acceptable in the screen process and you can cheat the system by placing your hand over it when walking through the metal detector.)

5) Act like your trip is a night on the town.

Flying used to be a romantic event categorized by men in suits and fedoras and flight attendants that would make a teenage boy red in the face. Now an airport terminal is filled with men reading the soft core porn they purchased at the Hudson News store and women in velour tracksuits. Guys, use this as an opportunity to throw on a blazer, look sharp and travel like you’re the James Bond of coach. Ladies, nothing will turn heads like a pencil skirt and a pair of pumps walking through O’Hare or JFK – and if you see me at the airport bar, come say hi. Your first drink is on me.

In all seriousness… when you look nice at an airport, you’ll be more inclined to treat the occasion like a formal event and you’ll treat people better than normal. And in return, they’ll show you the same kindness, which might mean the window seat I mention in my first tip.

What are your travel tips / rituals? Any horror stories from TSA or an angry passenger?




If your company or client isn’t participating in social media you’re missing a chance to create a community and build advocates. Unless you’re connected to a mediocre product, or non-profit organization, interacting with your supporters can turn them into brand ambassadors. But who is the best group of people to manage the community you’re trying to cultivate?

From an agency perspective, the best group to do this is a public relations agency. I’ve felt this for a while but Tom Martin’s  Advertising Age article (Why Ad Agencies Should Own Social Media) prompted me to write down my thoughts and add the PR perspective in the article’s comment section.  As someone that has been interested in advertising since high school, I can agree with many of Tom’s points. The ad industry has phenomenal talent, the most experience driving consumers to purchase a product and experience integrating the same message through multiple channels… but this isn’t enough.

One Voice

The social media voice of a client should be limited to a small team of 1-2 people and the overall voice of a company is more than just advertising, it’s a variety of agencies and campaigns. However, PR plays a critical role in shaping the key messages used in proactive media campaigns, company announcements and crisis situations.

I’ve had an opportunity to work on about a dozen crisis situations, varying in scope, and one of the first places clients go to for messaging counsel is their PR agency. Nothing is more critical during a crisis than messaging that accurately responds the conversation occurring on the news and in social media. During the H1N1 outbreak of 20009, colleague monitoring the conversation on Twitter caught wind of an inaccurate Reuters’ article that would have been extremely damaging to the pork industry. By understanding and leading our client’s social media, he was able to have Reuters stop the article before it was published and respond accurately to consumers that had questions about other misleading articles.

One of the agency’s digital leaders was visiting Chicago a few months ago and he best described by PR should play an active role in a client’s social media:

Every client agency wants to manage the brand’s social media… until a crisis happens. Then they’re more than willing to give it up.

Creating a Community and Building Advocates
Most companies rarely have a crisis, which means they have an opportunity to engage consumers in a positive setting and create a community. Creating a community is the most important asset that can be gained from social media and unlike advertising, it is a two way conversation. The public relations industry excels in this area because our success is partially based on the conversations we have with reporters and the relationships that develop.

PR professionals understand that social media strategy needs to be about more than just pushing a product, it should be about creating a place where people feel comfortable sharing their opinions and contributing to a conversation that is larger than the brand itself.  Maybe it’s just me but I’m always disappointed to see a brand that never interacts with its followers on Tweeter or never shares content that doesn’t directly mention them or their product. Why wouldn’t a brand share information and articles that would interest their supporters?

Playing Nice in the Sandbox

Tom hits the nail on the head when he comments that social media cannot be in a silo and that it should be integrated into the brands communication programs. I’ve noticed from inter-agency planning that some ideas work as a cool advertising campaign but doesn’t have ability to garner a consumer’s attention beyond controlled media and the marketing section of a newspaper.

In PR we understand the importance of collaboration and sharing different media channels. One of the nicknames that floats around our office when people are in the middle of pitching a client story is  “bulldog.”  And as weird as it sounds, when someone calls a colleague a bulldog it’s compliment because like a bulldog you have to be aggressive, confident and the willing to fight for our client’s story. Sometimes this means “sharing” the spot light with a competitor or several other clients in a trend piece or “round up” article. My colleagues and I know this will always happen and we understand that providing information that adds to an article will make the reporter’s job easier and it will elevate the brands status. Our ability to play with other brands shows that we have the ability to look at the big picture and recognize that content will always be based on input from multiple sources. And similar to the bulldog itself, we know how to tackle a project and achieve success, no matter how much punishment we’re forced to absorb.

So Where Does Advertising Fit In?
Ad agencies should play a role in a client’s social media channels, especially in regards to content creation. We’ve seen amazing and moving pieces come from their creative departments and that talent should not be forgotten. However, PR agencies have the best track record for two-way communication (a.k.a. Talking to other people).

As everyone prepares for 2011 budgets and campaigns, we need to remember that we as agencies aren’t silos and that we all contribute to the success of our clients. A social media should strategy reflect these contributions and understand that the best content won’t always come from one source. Hopeful the new year will bring more inter-agency collaboration because at the end of the day, everyone’s budget grows when our clients grow.



Sandbox Photo: Source

Microphone Photo: Source

What is a Crisis?

Posted: September 28, 2010 in Professional Insight
Tags: , ,

“We’re in the middle of a crisis situation and I don’t have time to talk.”

Defining can crisis is difficult because a crisis varies for every person, company and industry. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a crisis as an “unstable or crucial time… especially: one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.” This definition does a nice job of calling out some key elements – instability, timing and undesirable outcomes – but it is broad. I left this definition broad because rarely do two companies, organizations or people undergo they exact same set of circumstances.

For a small business a crisis might mean their website is out of commission for a few days, for a Fortune 500 company this could be an international product recall lasting several months, or for a parent this could be losing their child 4-year-old at the hotel arcade in Disney World.* The first step for each of these situations is to determine whether or not you have a crisis.


I don’t have all the answers on how to handle a crisis but I’ve had an opportunity to work on 8-9 different situations** ranging in severity and duration. As a research savvy guy, I’m normally pulled in during the first step, analyzing and understanding the landscape. Even if you have a crisis communications plan, which hopefully you do, you need to fully grasp the situation before you tweak your action plan or issue a public statement:

  • How many people will this situation affect?
  • What is currently being said or asked by our shareholders (employees, customers / product users, brand advocates, competitors, the media, etc.)?
  • How have similar situations been handled in the past?
  • What is the worst possible outcome of this scenario?

Armed with these answers, it’s possible to determine the scope of your situation, the best message to communicate to your shareholders and the channels you use to share information. These answers also allow you to take a step back, look at the whole picture and develop an informed strategy.

This topic is surrounded by shades of gray and as my friend Crister points out in the comments section, each industry has a different understanding of what constitutes a crisis. I’m hoping to spend more time in the future writing about crisis situations, how to handle them and how various industries define a crisis differently. Let me know if you have specific topics you would like me to explore or if you would like to share some of the lessons you’ve learned from dealing with a crisis.



* This happened to me during a trip to Disney World when I was four. Papa Piehl told me he was walking less than 10 feet away to grab a cup of coffee but I wasn’t exactly listening. Eventually, a hotel employee found me wondering around the hotel restaurant trying to find Mickey and Pluto. After this my parents made me wear an ID bracelet during every family vacation until I was in third grade.

** The majority of the crisis situations I’ve worked on are confidential and I will never disclose or allude to who the client is. My clients trust and respect is of the utmost importance. Moving forward, I will do my best to share with you the processes I’ve learned that can be applied to other clients and businesses.

Voicemail, Sunday: “Hi Joey, it’s Mom. I just called to say hi, see how you’re doing and chat for a little bit. Give me a call when you have a chance. I love you.”

Voicemail, Wednesday: “Joey, it’s your Mother. Please give me a call when you have a minute. I need to talk to you about a couple things. I love you.”

Voicemail, Monday: “Joey. Call me. I need to talk to you. I love you.”

Text Message, Monday Night: Call your mom. – Dad.

When work gets really busy, I normally experience a series of voicemails and text messages like the example above. It’s not because I’m trying to ignore my mom or disappear from the social scene, it’s because the balance between my work and personal life is off.


Some people preach the phrase, “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life,” but that phrase can only apply in a world where your work is your life. Otherwise, it ignores the pressures of a personal life and the sacrifices we make to achieve success.

The people that love their jobs the most, are the people that have the best work life balance. For some people this might mean they work 50 hours in 4 days but Friday is the beginning of a three day weekend.  For others, this balance is a perfect 40 hour work week and a few vacation days throughout the year.

Since my past post, life has been a blur due to some challenging projects at work, client requests that had an extremely tight deadline and a professional development project. This also meant that Peeling Out had to take a seat on the bench until stability was restored.

Unfortunately, I don’t know if that will happen this week. Instead, I’m taking some time off and tipping the scale in the exact direction it went last week.

On Saturday, my college friends Mike and Ginny are getting married in Minneapolis and I have the pleasure of being part of the ceremony. I couldn’t be happier for these two amazing people and the future they have ahead of them. For me, this means I have even more motivation to GSD and leave the office on time Thursday to catch my flight.

Inevitably someone will ask this weekend about my job and if I like it, to which I’ll say, “I love it.”  I love my job because the people I work with are some of my close friends, the clients we have present unique challenges, and the office environment allows us opportunities, like a long weekend in Minnesota, to achieve a work / life balance.

As someone that’s always interested in exploring new ways to maintain a healthy balance, I’d love to hear what works for you. If you’re struggling to find balance, what are you doing to find it?

Whether you work in any environment where sending and receiving 200 emails a day is the norm or in a retail environment discussing the latest and greatest product, acronyms pop up everywhere. Some of them are easy to figure out (e.g. “FYI” – for your information or “IDK” – I don’t know) and other you may have to ask about but most of them have a purpose. As someone that has had the pleasure of working in both office and retail environments, I have a secret love for acronyms – especially when I get to introduce someone to a new acronyms.

Here are some of my favorite acronyms and how to use them:

ABC – Always Be Closing. People in sales should recognize this immediately because it’s what they do on a daily basis. While this isn’t used on a daily basis in my office, the spirit is thriving! Sometimes it’s coordinating an interview with a reporter and other times developing a client proposal, no matter what the task, we’re always taking one step closer to closing a “sale” and helping our clients “win.” (Also, if you haven’t seen the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin gives an amazing speech about ABC. Note, the clip involves profanity.)

FML – F-ck My Life. Everyone from the top down has had a rough day and sometimes this one slips out. The best way to approach this abbreviation is to say it, get it out of your system and turn on a GSD attitude. Remember you aren’t alone. [Ex: It’s 2 pm, I haven’t eaten since breakfast and I have another conference call in 5 minutes. FML.]

GSD – Get Sh-t Done. A GSD attitude is one of the key to success and it has a positive connotation. One of my supervisors was recently promoted to the level of vice president and I’d be surprised if his GSD attitude didn’t play a large role in the promotion. Everyday he walks into the office with a positive and upbeat tone that shouts gets conquer the day! His GSD attitude attracts other people with a similar drive and in doing so, he surrounds himself with a powerful GSD team. [Ex: It’s Monday guys, let GSD!]

OPM – Other Peoples Money. Unless you own your company, and you produce a physical product, you’re always spending somebody else’s money. If you’re low on the totem pole like myself it’s important to watch how you use your company credit card because the habits you develop early on, might be tough to break a couple years down the line – especially if someone in accounting starts to look into the $20 steak you had for lunch on a Tuesday in Cleveland. [Ex: I didn’t have to buy groceries this week because I have a client meeting in New York and I’ll be living on OPM.]

LMK – Let me know. Constant communication within a team is crucial and sometimes a friendly reminder to keep each other in the loop is helpful. [Ex: LMK your schedule for this week when we meet later today.]

PTO – Paid Time Off. I hope you don’t need me to explain why this is so valuable.

Do you have any helpful acronyms that you use at work?

A highlight of my week is reading the Harvard Business Review’s email newsletter (subscribe) and scanning the articles for insight that will take me to the next level and hopefully prepare me to someday write an article for the newsletter. Not all of the articles apply to PR or young professionals but I always feel a little smarter for reading them.

One of the blog posts that caught my attention last week was “10 Reasons to Stop Apologizing for Your Online Life” by Alexandra Samuel. Alexandra wrote about the separation people create between their “online lives” and their “offline lives” and how they consciously make the decision to “to engage in online interaction as if it were fundamentally different from offline conversation.”

As the first college generation to experience to Facebook, my friends and I loved the separation of our online lives and offline personalities. Online we could share the photos we wouldn’t show our parents, make comments on a friend’s wall that we would never say in public and it was worry free because Facebook was an exclusive group. But shortly after college, Weber Shandwick (my employer) changed my opinion by introducing me to the INLINE philosophy: Communication isn’t online or offline, it’s INLINE.

The key behind this philosophy is that a company or brand’s interaction with consumers needs to be seamless with no real distinction between the communication channels. James Warren, Weber Shandwick’s Chief Digital Strategist, had an opportunity to explain the company’s INLINE communications research and the evolution of consumer interaction with PRWeek and the result is a quick video packed with info.

Alexandra’s post offers 10 ways our Internet experience will transform by acknowledging our online lives as real. To help make this transition simple, here are a few ideas for a seamless life:

  • Share your Facebook photos with your friends. Not too many people block all of their photos but if you know someone that does, encourage them to unblock their photos. Photos show us who you are, your passions and who’s important to you. So instead of blocking out that part of your life, save a copy of the photos you think are funny but inappropiate and then detag them.
  • Limit your use of the phrase “In Real Life” (IRL). This phrase needs to go away for two reasons: 1) It implies that their is a difference between your online personality and your offline personality. 2) When I hear this phrase I think of people that play the online game World of Warcraft and their desire to create a separate online life. This seems kind of weird to me.
  • Call your Facebook friends on their birthday. Sending a Facebook note is great but who doesn’t love a phone call on their birthday. Use Facebook birthday reminders as a chance to be that awesome friend who calls instead of sending a generic happy birthday note. Its easier said than done, but try to make one b-day phone call a month.
  • Meet face to face with the people you know online.* It can be one on one over coffee or in a large group setting like a tweet up or a house party hosted by a mutual friend. By connecting face to face, you’ll feel more comfortable talking to the person online and you’ll open the possibility of expanding your network to include their friends. (Below is a photo from the Redeye Tweet up in July. L-R: @jasonmuelver, @ernestwilkins, @felska, and myself – @joepiehl.)

Source: Chris Vaughn (Follow him – he’s awesome)

  • Try Foursquare. As a Foursquare addict it’s easy for me to recommend the location-based game but its one of the simplest ways of telling your friends what you’re doing without having to send a mass text message. The ultimate idea behind Foursquare is that it allows you to connect with your friends if you’re both in the same area.

*It was really tough to not use the phrase “In Real Life.”

[I’m still trying to fix the font size… hopefully by next Monday I’ll have it figured out.]