Backstage Communications

Defining and unbinding PR in 2015
January 9, 2015, 4:30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
PR in 2015 - image courtesy of Blue Rock marketing

PR: Image courtesy of Blue Rock marketing

The past couple of years have been quite a blur for me and for my career. Since joining Charlotte Center City Partners as Director of Communications, I have held on tight for an amazing roller coaster ride of learning, experiencing and understanding the role of PR and strategic communications in a variety of contexts. In late 2013, I was honored to receive the PRSA Charlotte “Young Professional of the Year” award, and in May 2014, I graduated from the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte with my Master of Arts degree in Communication. My experience in graduate school opened my eyes to a completely new way of thinking critically – about communications, about work, and about life. Below is an excerpt of an interview where I talked about how the program was meaningful to me and how it is meaningful to the Charlotte community.  

As I approach a decade of experience in the world of PR, I can’t help but notice how very different this profession is depending on the context of the job, the industry, and the advancements in communications technology. It goes without saying that digital media tools continue to change HOW our industry does its work, but it does not change WHAT we do or WHY we do it.  In the agency world, we help our clients reach their business goals by reaching their clients. In the nonprofit world, we help achieve the mission of our organizations by telling compelling stories (and often by acting as a triage for never ending requests!). In the corporate world, we do the above, plus measure and report often. In all cases, we must continue to be strong writers and storytellers, using the most appropriate tools and techniques available.

PRSA young professional of the year award Lelia 2013

Honored to accept the 2013 PRSA Charlotte young professional award, alongside my husband.

In the last few years, I have begun to consider myself a communications professional rather than solely a PR pro. The national industry organization for PR pros, PRSA, adopted the following definition of PR in 2012:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

While I completely agree with this definition of PR, specifically in that PR is a process, most people continue to associate PR with media relations, or simply writing press releases. In my day-to-day experience, writing press releases takes about 3% of my time. Thinking about what I do as communications strategy rather than PR helps me feel less bound by any definitions – old or new. It also helps “unbind” any pre-set assumptions that colleagues have when they come to me with a communications need. For example, perhaps a colleague wants to “promote” an upcoming event, and he or she assumes that traditional media relations is the way to go. But, after thinking through some questions, perhaps we determine that a promoted social media campaign and direct email might better reach the target audience. Or, perhaps a video is the way to go. That “a-ha” moment, when I can help someone crystalize their goals and figure out the best strategy to meet those goals has become my favorite part of this career I love.

Lelia on morning news WCCB 2014

On a morning news show in Charlotte in 2014.

Of course, being on TV is always fun, too! I have so many learnings to share that I have accumulated over the last several years, and my hope is that this blog can become a platform in which to share them. It’s a great way for me to look back and make sense of my own experiences, and my hope is that it will help other communications and PR professionals do the same. Communication is a process, after all.

Now, I want to know: What is your job title? Does it reflect your day-to-day work?

Learning from Charlotte leaders
Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

A couple of weeks ago, I was honored to attend the Charlotte Businesswoman of the Year award luncheon honoring Laura Schulte of Wells Fargo.

North Carolina’s newly-appointed secretary of commerce Sharon Decker offered the keynote address. She talked about lessons she has learned from Charlotte’s great leaders, including Joan Zimmerman, Bill Lee, a homeless woman and a Buddhist monk. As a current student of leadership, I was really interested in Decker’s perspective.

What Charlotte greats have taught me (Sharon Decker)

  • From Bill Lee, Sharon says she learned that “you’ve gotta use what you’ve got.” When she asked him about whether she should get a degree in engineering to advance her career, he taught her that her perspective as a non-engineer was meaningful.
  • From Ellen, a homeless woman, Sharon learned that every human has value, needs purpose and love. She had encountered Ellen one day when she asked Sharon for directions to the hospital. Ellen suffered from mental illness, and fell into homelessness after both of her parents had died. She told Sharon, “I’m not sure where I go from here, but I’m sure there will be another way to make a life.”
  • From Joan Zimmerman, Sharon learned about priorities. After she started the Lynnwood Foundation, she received a letter from Joan. In the letter, Joan told Sharon that she was so proud of her, that she knew Sharon was working hard and that she wanted to remind her to set priorities – knowing what is first in your life, and loving by those priorities.
  • From Rolfe Neill, Sharon learned how to listen. After he read about her in an article, Rolfe reached out to Sharon and said that he wanted to meet her. “I had never had someone listen so intently to my story,” she said after meeting him. His listening touched her, and she never forgot the power of taking the time for real conversation.
  • From a Buddhist monk, Sharon learned what she considers her most important lesson – to be still. The greatest risk to us today is that we don’t know how to be still, she said. Sharon learned to meditate and “hear her own heart,” and she said that we miss things because we don’t listen to the story.

What I admired most about Sharon’s story is that she strives for balance and she is so open to opportunity. She doesn’t try to cover up that finding balance as a successful corporate executive, mother, wife and community leader is hard. Her transparency and honesty draw people in, and are impactful leadership traits.

BWOYlogoWhen introducing award recipient Laura Schulte, Charlotte Observer president and publisher Ann Caulkins described Laura with words like customer-focused, calm, direction, identity and said that Laura “steps up.” In Laura’s remarks after receiving the award, she said that the number one key to Wells Fargo’s success in the Charlotte community has been its goal of making sure that every team member understands why he or she does is important. “Why are we here? Of course making money is a business goal, but I come to work because our customers have a lot going on, and we want to build lifelong relationships with them,” she said.

Connecting customer service to team member engagement was the theme of Laura’s speech. “I believe the responsibility of business goes beyond making money,” she said. “Philanthropy, civic engagement, volunteering…local leaders know that this is what a community needs to thrive.” She also mentioned that it’s important to hire great people and then get out of their way – a great example of empowering others.

Each of these women taught me that there is not one road to being a good leader, and that they share many of the same struggles that the rest of us deal with. A recurring theme that continues to emerge in these discussions is emotional intelligence, a sense of self-worth and understanding, and a talent for helping others feel valued.

Choosing words

We all know that the “face” we put on each day – in our interactions with coworkers, our conversations with strangers, our social media presence, etc. – does not always reflect how we truly feel. For my Goffman fans out there, of course I’m talking about our “front stage” vs. our “back stage.” For those of us in PR, marketing or communications, this juxtaposition is something we think about often.

How we communicate is often a balance of how we feel and how we want to present ourselves. It’s not just the words you say or write, it’s also the meaning behind them. Were you short with a coworker because you are having trouble at home? Are you using your best grammar in an email to your boss because you are hoping for a good performance review?

The thought that I want to leave with you today is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, and was shared on Facebook by my friend Jen.

Emerson quote

Know that you are given a fresh start every day. Every day, you can choose how you communicate with others. Words are very powerful – choose them wisely.

October 24, 2012, 11:00 pm
Filed under: stories | Tags: , , ,

I’m currently in a class called “Interactive Media & Storytelling,” which has been an interesting and strange journey so far. However, as I was reading a chapter in my game design book by Jesse Schell tonight (the art of game design), he made a point that stuck with me.


He said that out of all skills for a game designer to develop, the most important skill is listening. On p. 5 he goes on to say that:

Game designer Brian Moriarty once pointed out that there was a time when we didn’t use the word ‘listen,’ instead we said, “list!” and where did this come from? Well, what do we do when we listen? We tip our head to one side – our head literally lists, as a boat at sea. And when we tip to one side, we put ourselves off balance; we accept the possibility of upset. When we listen deeply we put ourselves in a position of risk. We accept the possibility that what we hear may upset us, may cause everything we know to be contradicted. It is the ultimate open-mindlessness. It’s the only way to learn the truth

I couldn’t help but think about all of the scenarios in which this applies. Most of all, I’m glad that I’m developing my ability to really listen and consider others. Do any of us ever truly listen?

Digital learning: a snapshot
October 17, 2012, 7:23 pm
Filed under: my story | Tags: , ,


I am plugging along in school, and I wanted to share with you a snapshot of a typical evening at Queens. Tonight in my comm601 class, which is really the introductory class to this program, we are expanding our digital literacy through a blogging workshop. Here you see fellow student Jennifer sharing her expertise. We will discuss some of our readings around one particular communication theory, and share the results of an assignment we researched this week. It’s cool to share our experiences and hear from other students about what they have been through and how they use these tools. This program helps open students’ eyes to their passions, which is something I didn’t expect but am thrilled about. For me, it is really fulfilling to spend time exploring and sharing with other students, and it makes you realize how precious your time is every day. If you happen to be interested in learning more, let me know – there is an information session in Charlotte next week.

Representing Me, Visually

(click to enlarge)

As part of the Organizational and Employee Identity course that I am just about to wrap up (through the MACOMM program at Queens University – which I think you can tell that I love so far), we were challenged to create a “visual representation of your professional identity by creating a personal infographic ‘resume’ and Pinterest board.”

While this project was challenging – I had to try to quickly learn what I could about Adobe Illustrator and graphic design – it was also a really interesting exercise in figuring out and prioritizing those things that really define my identity. (Quick plug to my friend Courtney, who spent tons of time helping me navigate the graphic design world!)

What I found was that, for me, my professional and personal identities really do cross over. As much as I like to think that I can keep my work life and my personal life separate, my personal convictions and passions do factor into my professional decisions and goals. So, my visual resume infographic mirrors that. If I were to send this to a potential employer or client, I would want him/her to have an understanding of what my capabilities are and who I am as a person.

What do you think? If you are an employer, would you want to better understand potential employees through visual resumes? As employees, do you think a visual – one that you would feel comfortable sharing on LinkedIn or other social networks, per se – would help you in your career goals?

Review: The End of Business As Usual

I am currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Organizational and Strategic Communication through Queens University’s Knight School of Communication (long name, isn’t it?).

To complement my course in Strategic Communication: Analysis and Theory, I recently purchased Brian Solis’ newest book, The End of Business as Usual. I have yet to read his other works in their entirety, including Engage, which is still on my list.

What I like about Solis is that he continually returns to research – it’s not about his own observations as much as it’s about his continual questioning and probing. Makes sense, because he is employed with research-based advisory firm Altimeter Group.

Brian Solis’ latest book brings to life a new breed of consumer who will control the future of commerce in the palms of their hands. In The End of Business as Usual, Solis starts by giving us an in-depth look at how consumers – particularly the next generation of consumers – are actually changing their habits as a result of the social tools available to them.

This is not another “people like social media, so you should embrace it too,” type of book. I imagine that much of the research included in this book will be studied for years to come, as it points to a larger shift in consumer behavior. It’s not just where the behavior is happening (online vs. offline, shared vs. private), but it’s HOW the behavior is happening. How consumers make purchasing decisions today is already quite different from ten, or even five years ago.

Solis gives one example of a teenage girl who literally deactivates her Facebook page each night, only to re-activate it each morning, simply because she can better control who is able to have access to her information and who can post on her timeline.

He argues that the varied and vast ways in which people interact, coupled with how they choose what content they create and/or share, has changed us from “consumers” to “egosystems,” broadcasting our identities – our likes, our purchases, our loyalties – to our varied circles of influence every day. “You are the center of your egosystem,” he said. “Your connections and networks build a framework for how, when, and where information finds you.”

Solis focuses on the “connected consumer” – those of us who have varying layers of connections across multiple platforms, and who “bring our connections with us everywhere we go.” He points out that 81 percent of children under the age of two have some kind of digital profile – a sign that consumers of the future will be connected, whether they make that decision purposefully or not. As a result, their brains will be “wired differently” and their behaviors will inevitably adapt – so, businesses must adapt to be prepared for this next generation of consumer.

The key for business really clicked for me in Chapter 12 when Solis states:

Introducing shareable moments into the routines of connected consumers helps them curate interesting and personalized moments, spark threads of interaction, and collaborate in decisions. When shareable experiences are designed into products and services, the stage is set for advocacy and loyalty.

If you want the research to back up reasons why consumer behavior is changing, why companies no longer own their own brands, or why attention is the new currency for business, then the first half of this book is perfect for you. If all of that is already understood, and your business is ready to make changes, a guide to change management is also included (Ch. 19).

Solis provides some good examples from notable companies – Walmart, Virgin America, Ben & Jerry’s, Best Buy, Apple and Zappos, to name a few – to showcase how those companies are harnessing the power of their customers’ social networks. Though many of these social programs have not been the sole point of success or failure for these companies, Solis’ message is clear: “If we are not competing for tomorrow today, we lose critical opportunities to capture attention now and in the future. It’s a matter of digital Darwinism, through which if we are out of sight, we are indeed out of mind.”

This is not a book that you want to let sit on your shelf for the next year. The research is continuing to come in, but we already get the gist – start changing now, or get left behind. Use this guide to help inform your own business. Where and how are your customers engaging with you, and how can you collaborate and adapt with them? Without loyal customers, where will your business be in 30, 20, or even just 10 years?

I asked Solis (via Twitter) if he had some insight into how “un-connected” consumers can participate in shareable experiences, and he pointed me to WOMMA - the word of mouth marketing association. They define word of mouth marketing as any business action that earns a customer recommendation. Effective WOM marketing follows five principles: credible, respectful, social, measurable and repeatable. It’s the measurable part that I’m still looking into.

The End of Business as Usual has already made me think differently about many aspects of my own work. It isn’t about giving me the exact solutions to what will work for my organization (though real-life examples do help), but it’s about asking the right questions about the consumers we care about. I also really enjoyed the “Brand Essence” exercise (Ch. 14), a set of questions designed to elicit a better understanding of your brand as a living, breathing experience – not a stale corporate image.

I also really enjoyed reading about Zappos’ approach and investment in company culture, customer service, career advancement, and ultimately, happiness. Makes me want to work there, which certainly makes me feel better about shopping there. I find myself constantly switching back and forth from thinking as a brand to thinking as a consumer, and I think that’s Solis’ point. Brands have to think like consumers.

It might take 2 or 3 readings to really grasp some of the concepts Solis presents, but it’s worth the time.

Bottom line, for me: research, research, and more research. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t be afraid to try something new. And don’t be afraid to be human – it’s about relationships, after all.


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