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Be Curious

March 26, 2009 | Written by Cathleen Graham

These are certainly interesting times, with the failing economy, major frauds unveiled, people losing their homes, and unemployment on the rise. We are looking anywhere and everywhere for someone to chart the way out of this mess, and to avoid the helpless feeling we all share. Many of us have seen neighbors lose their jobs, or in some cases even lose their homes. We have read about people taking drastic measures when they find their fortunes amassed over a lifetime have vanished. I don't know if in my lifetime, I have ever seen things so dreary.

While its good to look at history to see what we can learn to address current problems and avoid future problems, let's leave the larger issues to the experts. In a time where so much seems uncertain, let's look at what is certain, and what we can control. For many of us here at Ruder Finn, we enjoy the privilege of working for an independent agency that cares deeply about its people, clients and its impact on the world.

In a step that reflects our commitment to professional development, Ruder Finn has just launched the S.T.A.R. program (Strategic Training and Recognition) program, providing creative and interactive course work at all levels in a lunch-and-learn setting. So in the spirit of what you can control, why not take this time to continue to learn and grow. Our professional lives do so very much to enhance our personal lives, so take this opportunity to look at programs that are available to you and continue to hone your skills, or learn new ones.

There is nothing quite as satisfying as professional success and growth. Perhaps you will be inspired to teach others. Why not invite someone in another practice to lunch. Get to know what they do and what their path has been. Outside the workplace, perhaps you always wanted to donate some time to a soup kitchen, or challenge yourself to complete a charity run/walk. Spend time with a friend, walk your dog, join a book club, improve your health and fitness, your mind and your spirit. These are all things you can control, and may have been on your life list. Why not take a look at that list again?

Remember when we were kids? We would ask about every little thing, why does that go there, how does my letter reach Aunt Mary in two days when she lives three states away? We were naturally curious. You may have seen recent PBS commercials that challenge all of us to be curious. I reiterate that challenge to everyone to find that curiosity again in their adult lives, to ask questions, meet people, and enrich ourselves, no matter what our circumstances. Randy Pausch, a Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, took the bad hand he was dealt with, cancer, and he decided to look inside himself, and find that child like curiosity. He delivered what is called 'The Last Lecture-Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams' on September 18, 2007. It is not as you would expect it to be, as a last lecture-it is neither depressing nor morbid, it is an uplifting wake-up call and challenge for all of us to achieve our childhood dreams, to overcome obstacles, and seize the moment.

Spring is a wonderful time to reflect on how we can make a difference in reaching our professional and personal goals. This lecture inspired me to look at my list, and I for one am taking up Randy's challenge.

Be the best that you can be. Be Curious. Keep learning. (And do sign up for S.T.A.R.!)

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Mentors and Other Inspiration

November 20, 2008 | Written by Cathleen Graham

As the head of HR for Ruder Finn, you wouldn't think I'd be integrally involved in helping shape our overall business. But I feel, as I know so many of you do, really lucky to be part of an organization that looks at every individual as just that, and really embraces the contributions each individual can make. My day-to-day responsibilities include recruiting, talent management plans employee relations and training, but I have been fortunate that many of our senior leaders work with me more in partnership to help them shape teams that can drive superb performance.

In my personal life, I and my family ride horses competitively, and in a funny way, the way my extended horse community works, the way we all work together in a synergistic way and depend on each other, there's a similar feeling for me at Ruder Finn. I have learned some great lessons working with horses which I think have amazing relevance to what we do: each person needs a great support network, but also needs to be empowered to hone skills, harness energies, and win! In order to even better enable this here at RF, we offer mentorship opportunities to help people learn and grow, and we're also rolling out a new training program to help people learn more about themselves and help them grow professionally, this is slated to roll out later in January.

RF typically attracts people who sit on the edge of their chairs (and I mean this in a good way!). We need to continually make their careers appealing so they can keep finding ways to grow and be challenged. I know in my own career there have been mentors and opportunities that have been critical to helping me grow and be successful, for instance when I started my career at Bank of Boston, the head of HR for the bank was someone who was a great mentor for me. She went on to be the head of the society of HR globally. She taught me to have the power of my convictions and to listen before I speak. Another mentor has helped me understand not only what I intend to say but also what my audiences hear from me so I can tailor my messages for receptivity. We at Ruder Finn have a terrific Mentor Program that allows everyone to have a mentor within two levels of their own level, who can serve as coach and guide in a non supervisory, non asessment way.

When I think about what keeps me going, it's gratifying to ultimately see a plan you've put together go in place, to see people achieving things from what you've done, that's when I feel I've earned my martini!

The moment in my career that is most memorable to me right now is when we hired Nick Leonard to head RF London and when we had turned around the London office and put Nick - the right man - in place. And when I sat back and looked during that process at how I was able to help so many people grow professionally in London, help open up the doors to London to help increase transparency across the agency and help everyone see what they were doing in that office, and help improve synergies across the agency with London - that was a "wow" moment for me.

I attribute my success to being really fortunate in that I've always being around inspiring thought-leaders. For instance here at RF, Michael Schubert recruited me - how bizarre is it for a creative guy to recruit the HR person! - he helps me keep my game up. So many people I work with inspire me. I've been really luck y to work with some of the best of the best to help me learn and grow and help me align myself and learn to excel at what I do. Another example, one of the people who I find really inspires me is Shirley Fitzsimmons, RF's CFO. She's someone similar to me in that she's in a block and tackle role but she thinks about the business and commits herself to the business not just in a financial way but in a way that has a vision for our people and for what we as an agency have the potential to be.

There are so many challenges in my day-to-day. There certainly are daily challenges with how you balance the life cycle of an employee with what their path and progress is. For example, there are people who continue to be promoted, people who voluntarily leave and who you want to keep in touch with for future, and there are people you recruit and then ultimately have to say goodbye to. Another of my biggest challenges is being a business partner within the agency, while still providing the perspective of the needs of the business. The typical HR role is to help the company grow, help individuals with their careers, help them have productive conversations with managers, help instill policies to help guide how we do business... but I always need to think outside that also, to remain a flexible partner to RF's managers and to stay aware not only of the policies we have, but to marry this with the pulse and trends of what's going on in the business and the environment, and to help craft individual solutions for employee's and manager's everyday problems.

I am most proud of the people who I've hired - and there are so many here at RF - the people who I've hired as junior people 8-10 yrs ago, who I see are doing such great things now. I'm really proud of the people I've been able to bring along in the business and in some cases introduce to PR.

Particularly at RF, I think the reason I have an expanded role beyond traditional HR, and what keeps me going, is that I really feel I'm a vital part of the business. I feel if I can be a part of driving our company forward and not just a cog in the machine, this is what keeps me going. The feeling of being needed in this capacity is something special. For instance, when Kathy sends me a note complimenting something I've done... I save all those emails, this opportunity to meaningfully contribute to RF's business is what drives me.

Do I have advice for young people starting out in PR? The advice I have is to read every newspaper either online or not, to be aware of current affairs, the news, global issues. If you're not aware beyond your daily work life when you get that job, you'll never succeed without that perspective. Point of advice #2: always ask questions. Do not fear asking questions, it's better to ask than to suffer without knowing. Finally always seek out mentors, who model what you wish to become!

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Choose Me, Part 2

July 29, 2008 | Written by Richard Funess

The whole process of hiring someone is fascinating. For instance, the physical aspect of confronting the prospect, no matter how many times one has done it before, can be very daunting for both interviewee and the interviewer. Potential employees know why they are there. You're facing them, judging them, rating their comments vs. those heard from others applying for the same job. Like professional boxers in the first few rounds of a fight "feeling each other out" until the opportunity comes for the applicant to strike hard with his or her best shot, delivering the strategic superlative--making the statement that turns the interviewee's "choose me" to the interviewer's "this guy's good!"

I began thinking about the numbers of people I spoke to over the years. Literally hundreds. Trying to remember them. Their faces. Their peculiarities. Their stories. Their desperation. Their smugness. Their confidence. How they greeted me -- shook my hand without worrying about holding it for too long or short of time. Their overall body language. And the banter: How many stories I heard as to why they wanted to leave their current job; or for that matter were out of a job and what made that happen? And then there's the reason they moved from city X to region Y-- because of a great opportunity from which they were now dying to exit!

Interestingly enough and more often than not, personal feelings surrounding their lives dovetailed with discussion of professional goals. Many times these revelations tipped the scale one way or another. How they felt about their past co-workers. How would their new job affect leisure time/personal time. How many kids they had, and dogs and cats too!

There were times, I must admit, that I obsessed over the most minute of details in order to make the right choice of a new hire. During luncheon interviews I started analyzing how they ate their food, and used their napkin. I found it important if they smelled of cigarette smoke or faked it by devouring too many breath mints...and did that really matter? I remember a few times thinking about a pretty good applicant sitting there, in a well-ventilated room, oozing copious quantities of perspiration on a very cold winter day. Would he do the same when meeting with a client? Conversely, I was envious of another potential hire who appeared cool as a cucumber when the temperature was in the 90's and we were sitting by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel!

And what happens to the people who don't get chosen? How bruised will their egos be? Will they be vindictive and when they get another job, will they smirk with glee when they hear about your firm losing a big piece of business or better yet, beat your firm in new business competition? For them, the phrase "Choose me, and see what happens", could very well be "Lose me, and see what happens!"

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Choose Me, Part 1

July 17, 2008 | Written by Richard Funess

In 1984, Alan Rudolph directed a film titled "Choose Me". It provided a lot of laughter, tears and radio talk show telephone calls to an on-air therapist. (If you have a chance you should order it on NetFlix when you're in the mood for a great little movie.) It also provided me with an apt title for this blog.

Of the many responsibilities I've had in my career, the "Choose Me" experience, as I like to call it, of hiring new people, at all levels, might be considered the most trying. The titles may have been different, the responsibilities varied, the market factors may have been an issue, the use of a good executive recruiter could have made it easier, but the bottom line would be for me to choose the best candidate for the job!

What really makes one a better choice than the next? You've reviewed their resumes, acknowledged their impressive education, their previously held positions, listened to their thoughts on business and business strategy, received input from the internal or external recruiters (who in most cases are going to try to match the best players for your team) checked references you've been given by the candidate (lot of objectivity there!) done your own Google search, Facebook, etc, etc. With all those things done, is making the final decision to choose one individual over another really as objective as it should be?

In the business book section at Barnes & Noble, I perused a book entitled "I Quit, But Forgot to Tell You". One of the first lines in the book cites a survey which states that 72% of management has failed to acquire interviewing, hiring and profiling skills. But, I find the surest way of choosing the right people lies in the little things we observe about a potential employee---the things that aren't mentioned in "How To Hire" books or business magazine features. They're not really measurable because I believe they're based more on personal feelings, life experiences and one's own ego -- few employers would admit to that.

(The second installment of this entry will appear next week)


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June 23, 2008 | Written by Richard Funess

Working with partner public relations agencies in South America/ Latin America can be exasperating or exhilarating, depending on one's fundamental understanding of the people, culture, the accepted local business practices (which are different in each country) and most importantly, on an established simpatico between you and the agency partner. And since simpatico, is a word taken directly from the Spanish language to mean "Sharing similar temperaments or interests, and therefore, able to get along well together" its usage here is very apropos.

Simpatico-- always loved that word. I liked the sound of it the first time I heard it in junior high Spanish class and derived the meaning without looking it up in a dictionary. Just got it!While it's not technically onomatopoetic, since it doesn't literally sound like the meaning, it did result in creating in my mind and even in my gut too, a feeling of likeability, friendship"being on the same page," if you will.

For me, there's an inherent quality to simpatico that reflects an emotional tie and not just a surface definition. And the ability to get along with someone and understand them on an emotional level is as necessary to complete a business deal as are the bottom line forecasts and profit margins. When negotiating and working with any foreign agency partners or businesses -- there's got to exist a simpatico between you and the principal of the other agency to make it work!

If there's simpatico, a "deal" in Latin America can be solidified and locked in by a handshake -- the letter of agreement can come later;

Making a point of correcting the "English" of a Latino partner-to-be shows no sign of simpatico, and in fact can be interpreted as a sign of "American" arrogance;

Under estimating the intelligence of a potential partner because of a language barrier is anti-simpatico (an actual word in Spanish);

Having simpatico with a business partner in Latin America reflects an understanding of his or her culture, and the comfort level that results makes negotiating that much easier;

Finally, simpatico with a Latino/Latina business partner imbues trust and will lead to more joint ventures in the future.

While most of the above can relate to all kinds of business dealings in any country, it has a uniquely Hispanic flavor to it ---kind of like the difference between ketchup and salsa --they both add flavor, but because of their origins the nuances make all the difference! In dealing with Latin America, the nuances of making a deal, closing it and continuing the relationship, require simpatico as the "special sauce."

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June 16, 2008 | Written by Richard Funess

If somebody mentioned 'Webby' to me a year ago, I would have immediately thought of a fantastic bakery on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City (outside LA proper) which made the most incredible Chocolate Cheesecake one could imagine. This week, I got my taste of the other Webby -- the leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet -- everything from websites, interactive advertising, online film and video and mobile site last Tuesday night at the Cipriani Wall Street.

I found myself entertained, informed and pretty darn close to having a revelation about where the PR industry and communications in general have come and are going into the future. I was also ashamed to admit that this tenth annual event was a first for me!

And the people in attendance! One of our Digital Studio staff members rushed up to tell me that she had just shaken hands with "Will.i.am" and how cool that was! Will Iam? I thought, "Gee, what's the founder of the pet food products company doing here? Maybe he wrote a blog to dog owners on nutrition and that was being honored! WRONG!

The majority of attendees were young enough to be my children but hip enough to fit into any crowd and hold their own intellectually. There were a few of us in attendance from the Baby Boomer generation (and we stood out like Don Johnson at a Twisted Sisters concert) wide-eyed and amazed at seeing how much in the dark we really were about current communications. But that's when I suddenly started thinking about one of the biggest challenges facing PR agencies and sr. execs right now that will impact the industry's future.

Getting senior managers, who have been in the business for over ten years to become fully acquainted with the newest Web 2.0-based tools, strategies, and solutions required to drive and/or assist us to handle public relations issues now and in the coming years.

After experiencing the Int'l Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences' Webby fest, I'd say the key to this challenge is more psychological than anything else---altering the mindset and attitudes of PR "vets" so that they are fully aware of and open to ideas and techniques to reach target audiences through innovative Internet approaches. Making the challenge a challenge and not a chore--that's what I'm talking about! Learning by not only exposing oneself to ideas of the young and bright, but actually becoming a part of the milieu, can add years to our business and personal lives.

This also requires smart hiring of X and Y-generation staff, who must be predisposed to joining in a collaborative process working with the uninitiated senior manager whose knowledge of all things digital is maybe only at Level One. "Teaching" without condescension can add years to their business and personal lives too!

Only if senior mangers realize the benefits of incorporating Web technology and current methodology into their agency's new business initiatives will they be comfortable enough and receptive enough to work with the younger "screen junkie"generations to "sell-in" program tactics based on online strategies to current and new clients.

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