Adventures of an Academic Acolyte Or How I Now Know What I Don’t Know

A little over a year ago I received a phone call from a Red Cross friend and colleague, Dr. Suzanne Horsley, asking if I would be interested in joining her in applying for a Page Legacy Scholar Grant from the Arthur W. Page Center for integrity in public communication. This particular grant takes the bold approach of pairing public relations practitioners with public relations academics. It is a great way to bring real world experience and research science together.

While I didn’t have much experience in academic research—my only brush with it was as an interviewer for the famous Middletown Studies in the late 80s—I figured I could learn “on the job.” Fortunately I consider myself an eager student, because academia had a few lessons to teach me. Namely, that there are hoops to jump through and hurdles to jump over before you run around willy nilly interviewing subjects. So here are the lighthearted, but hard-won, lessons learned during my first foray into academic research:

  1. First off, I found out that collegiate researchers answer to an institutional review board (IRB) that makes sure that their research is ethical and that humans are protected from physical or psychological harm while being studied. This seemed like a good thing to me and I was happy to have this type of oversight to ensure that we didn’t somehow slip into a dystopian research scheme.
  2. Thanks to direction from the IRB at the University of Alabama, I had the privilege of taking, and passing, a National Institute of Health online training course where I learned the many ways I could inadvertently cause harm while researching humans. Fortunately, our research method was participatory interviews, so there was little or no chance that I could cause any kind of harm to humans…or animals.
  3. Because I chose to focus my portion of the research on two disaster events I had personally participated in, I smugly assumed that I would be able to find a multitude of participating communications professionals who would be willing, eager even, to talk to me about their experiences. Initially I reached out to former Red Cross colleagues with great success. Several were happy to schedule a time to talk with me!
  4. Then I sent them the pre-interview questionnaire. In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I have spent hundreds of hours helping my clients procure testimonials from their customers. We’ve found people love to talk about how great you are, but when it comes to writing it down…crickets. I understand all the reasons for this; writing is drilled into us at school as something that must be perfect before it can be released into the wild. If you are a communications professional you suffer from this belief to the tenth power. So I knew I was asking a lot of those brave souls who had agreed to be interviewed by me.
  5. There is no doubt though, that those questionnaires were incredibly useful. They led to additional questions and insights that would most likely have not been uncovered if the exercise of filling them out hadn’t given interview subjects the time and space to consider those details. I know, because I filled one out myself on the theory that I shouldn’t ask someone to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself.
  6. Then there was the passage of time, for example one of the disasters I researched was the Oklahoma City Bombing which took place more than 22 years ago. At this point in my life, remembering what I did last week is a challenge, asking people to recount information about events so far removed is a serious test of recall.
  7. The other issue with the amount of years that had passed was the difficulty in finding additional subjects to interview. I tried a variety of sources and used many resources to track down people who had served as communicators during those two tragedies. I was ignored, rebuffed (albeit nicely) and stymied at nearly every turn. I also discovered that there were far fewer professional communicators in the disaster field 22 years ago. Many potential subjects had died, others proved impossible to locate. I learned that being an academic-type researcher means having a tenacious ability to keeping going moving forward even after rejection after rejection. I have to admit, even after conducting exhaustive research (I have the spreadsheets to prove it!), I felt like a failure for not being able to find more people to interview.
  8. Fortunately, after several months of silent suffering, I admitted to my research partner and friend that I wasn’t achieving the glorious results I had expected. She then told me several stories of her own lack of success in finding and procuring interview subjects. Sadly, this cheered me to no end to know that even with her superior research skills and years of experience, she too, sometimes hit roadblocks.

In the end, the insights and ideas that I collected from those that I did interview were profound and illuminating. As they say, it is the journey that matters and I now understand that many of the lessons I learned during the research process were impactful and applicable to my own life. My appreciation of the many academic researchers who spend countless years investigating this amazing world is truly unparalleled.

This project was supported by a Page Legacy Scholar Grant from The Arthur W. Page Center at the Penn State College of Communications under Page Legacy Scholar Grant. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pennsylvania State University.

 

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Kicking off the Summer Season

For many of us, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer. For a business owner, you should also consider it the start of your warm weather business game plan. In Indianapolis, Carb Day is the perfect time to kick-start your plan. Here’s how..Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

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Want more Time?

Who doesn’t want more time?

As a small business owner it is your most precious commodity, so it only makes sense to use it wisely.  Here is a simple, yet powerful, way to help you gain more time for your business and your family.  Best of all, you’ll be helping another business owner do the same!

Get More Time & Business Here

 

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A Little Reminder for Me (and maybe You)

I wanted to take 1 minute, to share this article that I wrote for BlogBNI as a reminder to myself today–no matter how busy you are, you can almost always scrape up 1 minute to do one of these things. I’ll bet the ROI will be far more than you invested!

One Minute to Better Networking

 

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Hate Exercise? Me Too! How I Accidentally got into Exercise

I absolutely HATE to exercise. I find going to the gym to be generally torturous and can no sooner imagine partaking in an exercise class than trekking to the North Pole. (If you love these things, this article is not for you, quit reading now, really, it’s not going to speak to you at all!)

However, as I’ve gotten older (which is a huge goal, to get older instead of not) I’ve had to acknowledge that maybe a little extra work is needed to keep my weight at a steady number. But I HATE exercise, so there was a built-in problem in losing or even maintaining weight.

I finally resolved the issue by tapping into my personality type–I am Goal Driven! But I really like short, sweet goals that I can see easily–which is why I love polishing silver, instant pay-off! It seems to be critical to my success that I accomplish something every.single.time. I exercise. But anyone who has tried to lose weight or gain strength or reduce body fat can tell you that results simply won’t show up the same day. So what to do?

I accidentally stumbled on the solution a couple of years ago. I had a letter that needed to be mailed the same day, but the mail had already been picked up from our house. Normally I’d hope in the car to drive the mile and a half over to the Post Office to make the 5:30 pm mail, but that day I had a mad thought, “What if I walked over to the Post Office?”

Side note here: I live in a suburban area where everyone runs errands in their cars. If you live in a more dense urban area, you are not going to find this post very inspiring because this is actually how you live your life already. To the rest of us though, it is life-changing!

And so I did. That first time was a bit of an epic journey as I wasn’t regularly walking more than a mile at a time with my dog and I also accidentally took the long way there, so I probably had a three and a half mile round trip. But the important thing was that I got exercise AND I accomplished something right away (mailing my letter)!

Soon enough I found myself walking all over town to return library books, pick up prescriptions and go out to dinner–anything that had a achievable task (even something like picking up paint color samples) was fair game and I was putting on walking shoes and heading out the door.

By that summer I had declared that if I had any event downtown, no matter the weather, I had to walk. Not only was I getting much needed exercise, I was also significantly reducing my “run-around-town” mileage on my car. You’d be surprised how fast that added up into significant savings.

Of course there were a few challenges to overcome along the way. For example, the shoes you typically walk in are not usually business appropriate or even very cute, so I figured out how to carry a change of shoes in my bag. I eventually stumbled (I do love puns!) on the fact that Sketchers makes sandals that are very walkable and look fairly “summer casual” professional (you can see some here, I have the Rumblers) which was even better than carrying an extra pair of shoes. I also didn’t like showing up a sweaty mess at various business functions, so I allowed more time for a slightly slower walking pace and took deodorant and wipes to help me maintain that “I just stepped out of an air conditioned car” look.

Now this mindset is so entrenched in our brains, that we don’t even consider taking the car to go to a movie at the local theatre or, better yet, have a drink at our favorite watering hole (There is something extra special about having a glass of wine that you feel like you “earned” by walking a mile into town to drink), we just dress for the weather and head down the sidewalk.

The bigger win however, is that I’ve hit some long-term goals without even trying too hard. My weight is lower (as is my body fat), I have killer calfs and I can now easily walk 5 or more miles in a day, a feat that would have had me whining about my blisters a few short years ago.

So tell me, how do you get your Accidental Exercise?

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Painting a Better Picture of Networking

I live in a historic, well really just old, house. It was built in 1920 and challenges us weekly with quirky things that are the result of many different people living and working on this house over the years. This summer I decided that I wanted to paint the exterior of my abode, so I spent some time with my husband picking out colors and trying them on for size. We eventually landed on a combo that we thought served our Craftsman-style home well.

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Good prep work is required to make sure the paint, or a referral, will stick.

With the colors all picked out, I was ready to paint. Just hand me a brush!

But, like the networking lessons I have learned in BNI, I quickly realized that a little prep work would go a long way toward making my paint stick. Like prepping for painting, prepping a referral can make all the difference:

  1.  Tools: Now is the time, before you start any actual work, to assemble all the tools you may need to do the work, such as business cards or brochures.
  2. Clean: Do a little ‘rolodex” housekeeping and make sure you have the most accurate and up-to-date info on anyone you plan on referring.
  3. Fill: Make sure that any possible referral holes are filled by having a one-to-one meeting with your fellow BNI member before you refer them.
  4. Sand: Knock off any rough edges or sticky spots during the meeting. Ask them to educate you on how to best refer them. For example some businesses may have set rates that they want you to share, while others simply want a warm introduction.

After making the referral (or painting), it simply makes sense to go back and check your work. Were there any areas missed? Does something need to be gone over again? Making sure to check in with both parties is a sure-fire way to make your referral stick.

 

 

 

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The Art of an Excellent Testimonial

We all love receiving a testimonial about ourselves or our companies, but have you ever thought about what goes into making a truly excellent and useful testimonial?

  1. Speak from a position of knowledge; you need to have used the goods or services before you can give a testimonial about that person or company.
  2. Be Specific.  People want know how and why you used the product and how it performed.  Be sure to include some basic details about your age and demographics. i.e. Forty-six year old, mother of two girls.
  3. Honesty is the best policy. If there were glitches in performance but you were overall satisfied, include that information so that others can make an informed decision.  Be sure to acknowledge your own role in any shortcomings.
  4. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. At least in public.  If you truly had a poor experience, take it directly to the company and let them know that you would like to offer them the chance to correct the situation.  Don’t use a testimonial opportunity to lash out at someone else; it will only make you look bad.
  5. Short is sweet. You can give a great testimonial without giving two paragraphs of back story about why you decided to use the service. While people like to know a little bit about you, the point of the testimonial is to tell them about an excellent company or person.Harry
  6. Put it in writing.  The very best gift you can give a company or person is your testimonial in writing.  Whether you write an online review on LinkedIn or speak up in a BNI or Chamber meeting, putting it on paper gives them something tangible that they can use to market themselves even better.

Bonus Tip: One of the best ways to receive excellent testimonials is to give excellent testimonials.  Use these guidelines the next time you want to give a testimonial and see if the good karma you generate pays off.

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