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Our Flaws Are Our Strengths

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Not my best photo

I get distracted easily. I don’t call my mom nearly often enough. I’m sometimes, ok, oftentimes, arrogant. I have constant anxiety over the fact that I give presentations talking about how success isn’t measured using impressions and likes, yet I find myself building client reports that do exactly that. I’ve sent emails complaining about how bad my client is…to my client. I have no idea how to use power tools.

The list of my mistakes and flaws could go on and on. Just ask my wife. So could yours. So could everybody’s…if people were willing to talk about them.

But no one wants to talk about their flaws, mistakes, screw-ups and failures. They’re embarrassing. They’re uncomfortable. They’re awkward. They make us seem weak and inadequate.

That’s why we use technology to hide every flaw, cover up every defect, and filter every word. Every text, email, post, and Snap is concepted, staged, shot, and shared to emphasize our strengths and optimize our brands.

We can present the absolute best version of ourselves all the time. And that’s the problem.

Our flaws are our greatest strengths and we’re not only not using them, we’re actively hiding them.

Don’t believe me?

  • Think about the waiter that tells you not to order the fish because it’s not fresh.
  • The car salesman who tells you the car you’re considering has a lot of reliability issues.
  • Or the politician who goes on Saturday Night Live and lets the cast poke fun at him.

Now think about your reaction to those situations.

  • You don’t order the fish, but you do order the pasta the waiter recommended.
  • You believe the salesman when she directs you to another car she says is much more reliable.
  • You start to think that politician isn’t such a bad guy – you might even say you’d have a beer with him.

These reactions are driven by science. The Pratfall Effect states that people viewed as highly competent are deemed to be more likable following a blunder. And as Robert Cialdini explains in his book “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade” – when you admit your flaws, people are more receptive to what you say or do next. And several recent studies have demonstrated that while we over-magnify our own flaws, we minimize flaws we see in others.

It’s why we still embrace celebrities like Charles Barkley or Britney Spears. It’s not despite their scandals and mistakes. It’s because of them. It’s why celebrities read mean tweets about themselves on Jimmy Kimmel. It’s why shows like Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition and Dancing with the Stars exist. It’s why Dove’s Real Beauty campaign has won every award. It’s why Eminem won the final rap battle against Papa Doc.

Psychologically speaking, it’s our own insecurities that prevent us from using some of our greatest assets in building and maintaining relationships. We underestimate the power of authenticity, flaws and all. Our flawed reality, no matter how difficult it is to talk about, creates a stronger, more sustainable brand than a perfectly manicured one.

That’s why flaws are the basis for PRSA Pittsburgh’s annual PR Summit – “Failing Forward.” We’ve all bombed job interviews, flubbed presentations, sent emails to the wrong person, and shared unflattering pictures of ourselves. Instead of hiding from those things, let’s celebrate them. Let’s turn our flaws into our strengths.

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Create Better Content by First Creating a Better Relationship with Your Lawyers

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DMCA Notice

Legal would not approve using this screengrab of Tom Cruise from “The Firm.”

Using Google Images can cost you thousands of dollars. A Jewel-Osco ad about Michael Jordan resulted in a decade-long lawsuit and millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements. A Tweet triggers a $6M lawsuit. With every high-profile lawsuit, #socialmediafail hashtag, and cease-and-desist letter, we know lawyers and general counsel become more and more likely to pull out the red pen and cut anything that could be considered a legal gray area.

And so on we go, back to our desks to create content that will get approved. If it also happens to be funny, profound, engaging, or interesting, well, that’s an added bonus. The most important thing is getting it past Legal, right?  Wrong.

How did we let things get to this point? How did lawyers gain so much control over what we do and the content we create? How they did go from “General Counsel” to “What I Say Goes”?

It’s because they’re speaking a language that’s totally foreign to us. We accept their feedback because we are completely and utterly unfamiliar with things like copyright laws, regulatory guidelines, and legal precedents.

You see, their job isn’t to create engaging content. It’s not to accumulate likes, shares, or follows. It’s not to make something go viral. It’s to protect the interests of their organization. That’s it. That’s what they care about. No lawyer has ever been fired for saying “no” to a Facebook post. So, put yourself in their shoes – what incentive do they have to let you take any risk?

That communication breakdown is why I recently moderated a panel discussion for the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Pittsburgh chapter where I debated these topics with three intellectual property attorneys from The Webb Law Firm. I wanted to find out how content creators, PR people, and marketers can improve their relationships with their legal counsel. Here are three key takeaways for anyone creating content for their brand:

Do your own research. Your in-house legal counsel probably aren’t experts in copyright, intellectual property, or trademark law. Your job is to help educate them. Come to the meeting armed with knowledge about what is and isn’t allowed, what other brands have done and what the legal precedents are. Or, find a contact at a local law firm that does focus on these topics and connect them with your lawyers.  Demonstrate you’ve done the research and you’re comfortable enough with it that you can have a conversation about the benefits and risks.

“No” doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation. When asked a specific question, lawyers will give a specific answer. A question like “can I just take photos at this next event without needing to track down signed photo waivers for everyone?” will always result in “no” for an answer. However, by following that up with “but what if I posted a film and photography notice with all of the appropriate disclaimers at all entrances to the event?” you’ve now provided a potential solution that allows for compromise.

Resist the urge to make user-generated content more than it is. A celebrity’s video goes viral and she’s wearing a shirt with your logo on it? Retweet it but don’t imply that she endorses your brand because of it. A fan uploads an Instagram photo of him drinking your brand’s beverage? Like it, comment on it, but don’t download it and share it on Twitter with your own take on the photo. Brands get themselves into trouble when they try to modify external content, share it across channels where it wasn’t posted originally, or imply endorsement. The safest thing to do is ask for permission, attribute it correctly, and stay within the same channel (that way, you’re protected by the terms of use for that platform).

With a little research and a lot of empathy, you can help turn your brand’s lawyers into a content creation resource, rather than an adversary.

For more information on content curation and whether or not you can fall into legal trouble, take a look at The Webb Law FirmPRSA’s informational guide about copyright or visit lawyer, blogger and speaker Kerry O’Shea Gorgone’s blog that discusses legal issues social media marketers can face.

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Is Our PR Community Part of the New Pittsburgh or the Old One?

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This post originally appeared on PRSA Pittsburgh’s blog. 

Kayaks on the Allegheny

Creative Commons image from Flickr user Slackley

In this month’s Pittsburgh Magazine, there’s a story highlighting how millennials are literally and figuratively transforming my hometown.

Where there once existed the attitude that young people had to leave Pittsburgh to find a career, there’s now a sizable part of our city that feels is staying in Pittsburgh to create their career. And people around the country are taking notice.

From startup incubators to entrepreneurs to civil activists, Pittsburgh is attracting a demographic I grew used to being surrounded by over the last 12 years in both Washington D.C. and Chicago. People who care more about making an impact rather than getting a promotion. People who volunteer alongside competitors and clients to advance a cause they believe in. People who go to as many networking events, conferences, and happy hours as they could just to be a part of the energy around them.

When I moved back here in August, my friends and colleagues all asked if I’d miss that feeling, that energy. They said that atmosphere doesn’t exist here because if you’re talented and ambitious, you know better than to stay in Pittsburgh. They said I’d miss that vibe and that I’d wish I didn’t move. They said Pittsburgh is where you go if you can’t hack it in a bigger city or when you’re ready to slow down and take it easy.

I want to prove them wrong.

Pittsburgh and other mid-size cities get a bad rap in the PR and marketing industry. “You need to be in NYC to get access to the media,” they say. “The most creative work comes out of the big agencies because they can afford the talent,” they say. There’s a hell of a lot of talent outside of New York and Chicago that tends to get lost because, paradoxically, PR people generally do an awful job at promoting themselves. Even in our own city, it’s the startups in the East End, or the CMU engineers, or the foodie restaurants that are opening up who get all the attention for the “new Pittsburgh.” Where’s the PR, advertising, and marketing community in all of that?

I want to show them that we’ve got some cool things up our sleeves too.

And I think there’s a whole lot people here in the Pittsburgh PR community who feel the same way. Whether it’s the wonderful team that I have at my agency or the enthusiastic PRSA Pittsburgh Board members or the people I met last night at the PRSA Pittsburgh Renaissance Awards, I’ve seen that ambition and desire to make an impact, to be at the tip of the spear of something big. The potential is there.

This year, let’s show the rest of this city and the country what we’ve got here.

Let’s commit to never saying “because that’s how things have been done before.”

Let’s do a better job at educating the people in our organization about the value we bring.

Let’s collaborate and come together more often (virtually and physically) to learn from and push each other to do big things.

Let’s think bigger.

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