3 Ways to Help Your Leader Communicate Authentically

I once worked with a large organization where the CEO would often head to the employee cafeteria for lunch.

One day I asked him why.

He answered without hesitation.

“Because I’m hungry,” he said.

I believed him. For starters, he wasn’t one to miss a meal. Yet beyond that, you could tell by the ease in which he’d chat with others waiting in the salad bar line, that this was no employee engagement stunt.

Despite the stature that his title carried, he was the type of guy comfortable talking to anyone. And, as he mentioned, he was hungry.

I often think of him these days when I hear pundits talking about leaders acting and communicating in authentic ways.

I’ve seen other senior leaders launch more formal “Lunch with the CEO”-type events where you half-expect their arrival in the cafeteria to be announced amid blaring trumpets. It’s out of their comfort zone, and it shows.

And it doesn’t do them any favors when it comes to building credibility and confidence among employees.

This is not to say that the ease at which a CEO lunches with others is a key measure of their success as a leader.

Rather, it just underscores the value of encouraging leaders to act and communicate in ways that fit their individual style, and will feel authentic to those they are trying to connect with.

As communicators we can play a key role in fostering that authenticity. Through the nature of our work, we develop a good ear for what looks and sounds credible, as well as capturing a leader’s true voice.

There are some simple things you can do to start helping your leaders communicate more authentically. Here are three:

  • Schedule an interview: I am always amazed when I encounter communicators who provide executive communications support, but don’t really know the executive, and what makes him or her tick.  A simple step toward changing that is to lock down an hour for a journalism-style interview in which you get to know more about the leader’s background, experiences, interests, and philosophy.  Hold the conversation in a setting where the leader can feel comfortable, and provide some prep questions so they aren’t caught off guard. Not only does this approach provide you with ample fodder and insights for upcoming communications, but the hour can also serve to really strengthen your relationship moving forward.

  • Create a process for ongoing feedback: Critiquing a leader’s communication approach and style can be tricky business. Often, leaders get accustomed to hearing a steady stream of positive feedback, and can bristle at criticism. One way to manage that risk is to establish a consistent process for capturing and sharing feedback that’s aimed at helping the leader continuously improve their communications skills. By getting the leader’s input into this process at the beginning, you set the expectations and avoid the leader getting blindsided by unexpected feedback. 

  • Enlist outside support: Even with an established process, your organization’s internal dynamics—and the simple realities of the workplace pecking order—can sometimes make providing honest feedback to a leader difficult. Bringing in an experienced communicator who has a track record of helping leaders communicate effectively can help navigate this challenge. Such a consultant can bring a fresh perspective that opens the door to sharing important feedback that a leader might really needs to hear. Letting the consultant have the tough conversation can lead to a big improvement in how a leader communicates. 

 Acting and communicating in authentic ways can be a challenge for some leaders who are used to the status quo.  Yet once you make it clear that you are simply trying to get themin their comfort zone, it can lead to a huge improvement in their ability to communicate, connect, and ultimately, lead.

Want to explore further about ways to improve leadership communications? Shoot me ah e-mail and let’s talk.

The State of the Media: 7 Things Communicators Need to Know

Now more than ever, journalists need good PR people.

That’s the key theme in Cision’s 2019 Global State of the Media Report, which surveys reporters and editors about their working conditions and how they relate to public relations professionals.

Each year, I review the results of the survey to help pressure test how we’re approaching media relations with our clients.

And this year’s report — which surveyed 1,999 journalists — includes a number of takeaways that will help shape our media strategies in the coming months.

Here are 7 that stand out:

1. Keep your pitches short and sweet — Today’s journalists are more time strapped than ever, largely because there are fewer of them. One-third of large newspapers and one-fourth of online outlets have suffered layoffs since 2017. And that’s on top of years of previous cuts.

With fewer reporters on the beat, their time is valuable — and the number of pitches they receive is daunting. To cut through the noice, be selective with what you pitch — and keep it short and sharp.

2. Make it about them, not you — One of the biggest complaints among journalists in this year’s survey (and among the journalists I talk to regularly) is the fact that too many PR professionals spend way too little time getting to know the journalists they’re trying to pitch.

Your path to media relations success isn’t paved with press releases. Instead, it’s built through getting to know what matters to individual reporters, and being able to respond to their needs.

3. Be ready to move quickly — As a PR professional, it’s easy to forget that reporters aren’t planning all of their stories ahead of time. Many of them are jumping from story to story — and 42 percent of those surveyed say they work on stories no more than a day in advance.

This means you have to be ready to move quickly when they reach out — and that you should be paying attention to what’s breaking to see if you have something to offer for fast-moving news events.

4. Be patient — This might sound counter intuitive in light of the previous tip, but in a world where reporters are getting hundreds of pitches daily, you have to be ready to wait when you do send a pitch. “Your pitch isn’t the only one we receive in a single day, so please have some patience,” one reporter said.

With this in mind, don’t be too pushy. If you don’t get an immediate response, give the reporter some time to respond before you start sending follow ups. 

5. Have more than a release — News releases remain important, as more than 7 in 10 journalists say they rely on releases for information. But make sure you can provide more than a flat release. More than one quarter of journalists say they are likely to respond to pitches that include compelling images and nearly 1 in 5 say they are looking for useful infographics.

6. Be targeted — Journalists report the vast majority of pitches they receive are irrelevant. Most reporters say that less than one out of four pitches they receive are relevant or useful. In other words, most PR folks are wasting reporters’ time — and their own — by creating and sending off-target pitches.

Before you pitch, do your homework. Get to know what reporters cover before you craft your outreach.

7. Op-eds and submissions still matter — Newsrooms might be shrinking, but there’s still a real need for strong stories and opinions. To stretch their resources, more outlets are relying on guest opinion pieces, compelling images, and insightful data to help fill their pages and draw clicks.

We’ve been adjusting our strategies this year to focus more on how we can help our clients get their voices heard through op-eds and data — and we’re seeing some really strong results. Think beyond releases and announcements as you’re looking to get your voice heard in the media.

This Classic Storytelling Formula Can Make Your Case Studies Sing


Most aspiring writers don’t set out with dreams of authoring case studies.

But if you’ve been forced to shelve your idea for the great American novel in order to write copy that helps put food on your table, case studies offer an opportunity to use the classic storytelling elements you learned in creative writing class.

That’s because the best case studies rely on the same narrative arc found in most great literature: a protagonist faces a significant challenge, identifies a solution, and then lives happily ever after. 

Humans are hard-wired to relate to stories built like this, which is why even in our hyper-wired, attention-span-of-a-gnat age, a good case study can still break through the clutter.

With that in mind, consider approaching your next case study in three acts:

Act I: The hero of your story faces a vexing problem. The more detail and drama you can infuse into this section, the better. As with any great story, your goal is simple: to get your readers to empathize with your hero, and see elements of their own journey in the story they’re reading.

Act II: The second act provides the climax to your tale. After struggling mightily under the weight of the challenge—and perhaps unsuccessfully trying several fixes—the hero finds the answer. For your case study, that solution comes in the form of the services, products or advice that you offer.

Act III: The final section of your case study highlights how life is good since your hero found the right solution to their problem. Provide specific details and data to highlight the success, as well as quotes that provide insight why the solution proved to be the right fix—and how it has spawned positive change. In essence, this is your hero’s “happily ever after.”

Along the way, you can also use some other storytelling tricks, such as foreshadowing, to help add complexity and texture to your tale.

You might not be following in the footsteps of Hemingway or Tolstoy, but case studies give you a chance to showcase your storytelling skills in ways that help support your mission and achieve your goals.

How to Select the Right PR Firm

When you’re looking for outside help, the number of choices can be daunting.

When you’re looking for outside help, the number of choices can be daunting.

For many smaller and mid-sized organizations, media relations isn't a stand-alone function.

It's an activity that is either a small part of someone's job or is tag-teamed by multiple people.

Often, that's enough to get the job done.

But there are times when your in-house resources simply aren’t enough and you need to hire some outside help.

Finding a consultant or freelancer, though, can be a daunting task.

But by answering some key questions up front -- and being selective -- you stand a good chance of getting the help you need (and at a price you can afford).

Knowing When to Hire

So when should you consider outsourcing your media relations work?

Here are a few situations when it might make sense:

  • You are embarking on a new strategy or launching a new product. An outside firm can use its experience in media relations to help you identify key messages and execute a campaign that will help explain your new initiative to your target audiences.

  • You’ve been thrown into the center of a controversy and you don’t have enough in-house support to develop a communications strategy for handling the crisis—and for handling the media inquiries that accompany it. Without the right help, you run the risk of damaging your nonprofit's reputation and its ability to raise money.

  • You are looking to help an expert develop her voice as a thought leader, but she doesn't have much experience writing opinion pieces, delivering speeches, or appearing before the camera. An outside firm can work with you to identify opportunities, develop ghostwritten pieces, or provide media and speech training services.

  • You are looking to generate media attention outside of your local market and decide that you need the support of an outside firm that already has the contacts and credibility to help your organization get noticed by out-of-town or national media members.

In each of the cases above — and in many others — an outside agency or specialist can help you achieve results that would be difficult to achieve with your existing resources.

Questions to Answer

How can you make sure you find a firm or individual who won't waste your time or squander your money?

If you do your homework, you can often find experts who specialize in the type of media work you need (such as crisis communications, media training, or ghostwriting). And some firms specialize in working with organizations like yours.

To find the right expert or firm, it helps to answer a few key questions up front:

  • What are we looking to achieve? It always helps to know your goals before you start shopping for a consultant or firm. Once you've honed in on what you want to achieve, search for companies and people who specialize in meeting your needs. If you’re looking for help with a national campaign, for example, a local firm might not be the best fit. If you’re looking to develop your presence with a specific audience, you might search for companies that have experience with media outlets that hit that audience.

  • What is your timeline? Are you looking for something short term? Or do you need ongoing help? Having an idea of your needs will help you provide potential consultants with the parameters they need to bid on your project.

  • What is your budget? Before you start your search, have a sense of how much money you are willing to invest in the effort. Many consultants can design a scope of work for you that fits your budget. And if they aren't able to provide you with what you need for your budget, they likely aren't the right fit for you in the first place. Often, you can weed out a lot of bad fits by talking budget up front -- and you can avoid getting proposals that are out of scale with what you're able to afford.

Finding the Right Fit

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to go shopping.

But it’s often difficult to know where to start. To narrow your choices, think about the type of partner that best fits your needs.

For most, your choice will fall into one of three categories:

Big firms

Name-brand marketing and PR firms often have a wide range of capabilities. For instance, they can not only design your strategy, but they can also train staff, write press releases, and conduct media outreach on your behalf.

If your needs are extensive, such a firm might be your best bet. But there are often drawbacks. Some larger firms put their less experienced staff members on projects for nonprofits or take a more cookie-cutter approach to their work. If you’re looking at a bigger, full-service firm, take the time to find out who will actually be working with your organization and whether they have experience working with nonprofits and connecting with reporters who cover your areas of interest.

Specialty firms

If you already have some internal resources for its media relations or has a specific need or project, a speciality, or boutique, firm might be your best bet. A specialty firm might not have the range of capabilities of a full-service company, but if your needs are more specific or short term, it can often give you exactly what you need. You're also more likely to be working closely with a high-level expert than a junior staffer.


If your budget is smaller, or if you simply need an extra set of hands to carry out your strategy, you can hire a freelancer. Freelancers often need more direction and specific assignments. But they are also often able to provide you with what you need, quickly. And they can often do it for a lower cost than a firm.

Still need help? I'm happy to help you identify your needs and give you advice on finding the right consultant.

Drop me a line for guidance.