PRConsultants Group Selects Step In Communication as Texas Partner

PRCG Adds Step In Communication to its Nationwide Client & Agency Network

Step In Communication and Fran Stephenson, APR, has been appointed the San Antonio partner of the PRConsultants Group (PRCG), a nationwide network of leading public relations professionals.

“Step In Communication has proven its expertise in strategic communication, social media management and crisis preparation,” said PRCG President John Deveney. “We are excited that Stephenson is joining our nationwide network, and bringing her firm’s unique capabilities to PRCG’s expanse of clients.”

“I am excited to join the PRCG network, and such an elite group of PR professionals,” said Stephenson, APR and principal of the firm. “The team at Step In Communication looks forward to providing our skills to the network, as well as our ability to now offer boots on the ground to our clients in every major market in America.”

Clients of PRConsultants Group members enjoy boutique agency service alongside premier access to senior public relations professionals in every top US DMA. PRCG members have executed successful projects for national and international brands such as 7-Eleven, Cold Stone Creamery, Labatt USA, Mardel Christian & Education, Make-A-Wish America, MADD, Home Run Inn Pizza, and Wal-Mart.

About PRCG: PRConsultants Group (PRCG) delivers results through an exclusive nationwide network of nearly 50 public relations consultants. PRCG provides brands with a unique ability to leverage local market knowledge and connections along with the expertise of senior level PR pros in every major market in the U.S.  PRCG is recognized nationally for “National Strength. Local Power™”, the ability to engage audiences at the local level and deliver high-impact results in markets nationwide. Focusing on strategic planning and creative execution of media relations, social media, promotions, and news events, PRCG also offer crisis management services and event site selection via local market experts. PRCG members have successfully executed projects for national and international brands. More information is available at

About Step In Communication: Step In Communication is an award-winning San Antonio-based agency, specializing in strategic communications plans and is noted for its influencer outreach programs, social media strategy, channel management and measurement for clients in hospitality, tourism and health care.

Don’t Steal Stuff: Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Give Credit Where Credit is DueWe all learned the concept of giving proper credit in school. In research and composition, we called it “giving attribution.” The concept is not new and ethical communicators have always been very careful about using attribution.

The intense competition for activity on social networks, however, is making attribution a hot topic once again. The most recent “poster child” for lack of attribution involves a clever deception. A prolific Facebook user claims videos as his own, using a large FB following and advanced video capture software to re-post and re-claim videos. This story on Steamfeed explains it with a lot of images.

I won’t send you to the actual videos the story claims he has stolen, because then you’re giving more views to a piece of content with questionable credibility.

Is this obvious theft? Some say it is. At the very least, it violates the ethics of a number of organizations, and is not a good business practice — most of us would never counsel our clients to engage in this kind of behavior. It does serve as a great reminder of things that smart business owners can to do make sure that they are sharing well-sourced material.

Practice Digital Literacy

It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement and flow of information on social networking sites, but it’s too easy to lose track of where you are. Be digitally literate by following the guidelines in Andrea Weckerle’s book Civility in the Digital Age. She offers three principles for examining credibility of sources:

  • Examine the source of the information
  • Examine authorship
  • Examine credibility of the information

“Our modern challenge now consists of trying to sift through the mass amount of data at our fingertips and find qualitative and credible information,” Weckerle says in the book (page 173).

Curate Carefully

As a business person, you no doubt are trying to navigate the mix of content creation and content curation, by sharing things that might interest your fans and followers or things that might align with your brand. Curating carefully includes clicking through to the original source of the material and making sure the site is legitimate and the author transparent.

Give Attribution Freely

Even if you’ve asked permission from a photographer to use a photo, or are forwarding something (like creating a Pin on Pinterest), give additional clarity to the communication with attribution in your accompanying text. Something like: “special thanks to Sue Smith for giving us permission to use this photo.” Michelle Phan, the famed YouTube makeup demonstrator, might be rethinking the concept of attribution, as she is currently being sued by a record company for use of a piece of music in one of her videos. According to the story in Media Bistro, millions of dollars are at stake.

Protect Your Assets

For media creators, it’s important to protect the assets you own. The first line of defense is to copyright your work, but that won’t keep people from using things without your permission. Many of today’s writers and artists are so willing to share their work, that they implement Creative Commons Licensing. In many cases, the person who desires to use the work need only link back to the creator when they use it. Sounds simple, right?

Not always.

Nan Palmero, a business and technology expert, has a robust Flickr site and shares hundreds of photos. He simple asks that the user link back to his website or his Flickr feed. But recently, he’s come across two sites who wouldn’t comply.

“I hate it when people and brands do this. I’m experiencing this with right now. They keep using my photos for their “listicles” and I want them to link back but all they do is put my name on it,” says Palmero. “I don’t find that to be sufficient “payment” for using my photos. People should be compensated the way they want for their content. If the buyer feels the price is too steep, you don’t sell.”

How does he discover these violations?

“I do a Google search for my name, periodically. If I see use without a link back, I send a tweet or email asking to have it fixed. 9 out of 10 times people comply.”

Whether it’s videos, music photography or written works, everyone deserves credit for their original creations.


Reflections on SeaWorld’s 25th Anniversary

Some memories from SEaWorld including a photo, an award and name tags. It passed by with little fanfare earlier this summer, but SeaWorld San Antonio is 25 years old. This is an important milestone for our city, our region, and one that is important to me personally.

This largest of the SeaWorld parks opened in April 1988 in what was then considered a remote part of San Antonio.  I was part of the opening team to market the park, arriving in San Antonio 7 months earlier.

It would be easy to talk about how SeaWorld San Antonio changed the physical layout of the northwest corridor where it was built.  Even simpler (and more amazing!) would be to examine its economic impact in our region and on the city’s tourism efforts. Or how thousands of high school and college students called SeaWorld their “first job.”

But I will leave that to others to examine.  What I want to celebrate after 25 years is the effect that the place, the project and the people had on my life and on my career.

There’s something about this place – San Antonio – that is hard to explain.  Living in San Antonio opened my eyes to a radically different culture from my Cleveland upbringing. I knew nothing about Mexico, or the history of the region, much less the rich fabric of the Hispanic heritage here.  It drew me back to SeaWorld in 2002 as the Communications Director 10 years after I left the company to start a family and live overseas.

The enormity of the project—building the world’s largest marine life park—did not impress me until much later. We had a big job ahead of us: get the park open by April 15. We did whatever was necessary to make that happen. We traveled, presenting shows in dozens of cities across the U.S. plus Mexico and Canada. We hosted writers, business leaders and anyone who would listen to “park tours” from the vantage point of the Garden of Flags.  While that’s natural for a marketing team, we also planted flower beds, raked, picked rocks and laid sod during the two weekends preceding opening because there were not enough hours in the day to get it all done.

While the impact of San Antonio and the size of the project made a mark on my career, it’s the people I met and the leaders from whom I learned that made the experience a defining point in my career.

At this point in my post, I should start naming names, but if I did that, I would most certainly forget someone who made an extraordinary impact on me over the 15 years I worked for SeaWorld. There is no company I know with stronger leadership, singular direction and focused passion like that of my colleagues at SeaWorld.

Now, as a solo public relations pro, I frequently find something that I experienced during my SeaWorld career which applies to a completely different industry or situation.

While the exact moment of SeaWorld’s twenty-fifth anniversary may have passed, my gratitude is enduring.  I hope I get invited to the park in 2038 to celebrate fifty years.

Be More Productive

This week I led a session for the Texas Travel Industry Association on productivity tools and apps for small travel organizations.  It was fun to talk about some of the tools I use to increase my efficiency and simplify the day-to-day functions of my business.

At the beginning of the session, I polled the group about the pain points in their business and the participants weren’t shy about their challenges. Some of the challenges they shared included information overload, keeping up with technology, getting organized and learning to delegate.

Sound familiar? Most small business owners have felt at least one of these pain points.  The presentation offered some suggestions on tools for work productivity, project management, accounting and other small business needs. The tools and links to them are included below.


It’s easy to tie a perceived level of efficiency to the tools you use. Even more important than the actual tools, though, is to THINK productively.  That’s when the tools you choose will change your working habits. So before you run out and adopt a bunch of tools, you need to think productively. Here’s a few ways to get started:

Principle No. 1: Test it, Don’t Get Married to it

There are so many new tools out there, use the 30 day trial to see if this is the right tool for you. If it doesn’t live up to your expectations, move on. Chances are you can find something similar that does work for you.

Principle No. 2: Listen and Learn

Learn to monitor your brand and your industry to stay on top of trends and see what people are saying about YOU and about your brand.

Principle No. 3: Learn to Say No

Create reasonable boundaries for trying new technologies. You don’t have the time to try every new social network or cool tool out there. So pick a few, master them and add more as time and resources allow.

Principle No. 4: Invest to Simplify

Ask yourself: If I invest in this, what will I gain? If you invest 2 hours digitizing your business receipts which will save you at least 4 hours at tax time, that’s an investment worth considering. Sometimes thinking long term about adopting a tool or app is a better way to evaluate that tool.

Ready to be more productive? I’d love to hear how you made changes to your work habits in the comments.

Many thanks to the team at Texas Travel Industry Association for inviting me to share this information and for all the great work they do in Texas to help regional tourism organizations succeed.

Your Next Job Interview May be Weirder

I attended the “Rockstars vs. Roadies, Who Makes a Better Employee?” session at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival last month.

This session was a real stretch for me because I am a one person shop, so I don’t hire people, at least not right now.  A thread which emerged during the session about interview questions got me thinking about interviews today and how the whole structure of interviewing for jobs has radically changed.

The panelists confirmed the continuation of a trend related to interviews and hiring.  That the bizarre, unusual and off-the-wall interview structure is here to stay.

Don’t think this applies to you? Here are the panelists’ favorite screening questions and observations.

Do I want to grab a beer with this person?

Would I want to spend an hour stuck in the airport with this person?

What’s the biggest deal you ever did that fell through and why did it fall through?

They also suggested asking former employers if they would rehire the candidate and measure the time between question and answer. If the former employer hesitates, that indicates a “no” answer regardless of what they actually say.

PR Practitioners who are preparing for interviews need to think and prepare differently. Here are a few resources for prepping for your next job interview.

A recent Forbes article shared what top executive recruiters felt were the top three interview questions.

The Monster Job site offers a very long list of the most used interview questions. Fairly predictable.

It may be more useful to prepare for your next job interview by reviewing some of the weirdest interview questions in this Huffington Post article.

Or have a look at what Toilet Paper Entrepreneur has collected as the best job interview questions.

If you’ve read this far and have clicked through some of the resources, you’ll notice that the traditional questions are nowhere to be found. So, if you’re preparing for a job interview, you might want to prepare to answer some of these:

  • If you were an ingredient in your kitchen, what would you be and why? What about breakfast cereal? Hit song?
  • What color are you?
  • If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would you see yourself doing?

If you’d like to listen to the entire podcast of the session, go here.

What interview questions have you been asked lately? Share some here so we’re all better prepared for our next interview.

How to Put Your SWOT Analysis to Work for You

A SWOT Chart created from orange and yellow post-it notes

It's Time to Reflect on your SWOT Analysis

A SWOT Analysis, often used by businesses in strategic planning, is a great way to determine your next career step.  By now, you’ve created a SWOT Analysis with your “trusted advisors,” so  it’s time to look at it and analyze your results.

Reflect on Results

Put all the Strengths | Weaknesses | Opportunities |Threats together into one chart.  How does it look?  Did more than one person identify a similar trait?  Perhaps those observations should be weighted more heavily.  Are your results contradictory? This could mean that each of your trusted advisors knows you a little differently.

Take some time to reflect on your results –usually a couple of weeks.  Pull the chart out frequently and think about what it might be telling you. Now you’re ready for the next step.

Ask More Questions

Go back to your trusted advisors and ask additional questions or get clarification, if needed.  If your results already make sense, then go to the next step.

Consider Your Plan

Where you go next is up to you….and taking a new step is never easy. Your results might indicate you need further professional development or education. Or it might indicate that a sideways move or industry change is right for you.  Perhaps your results indicate that you are right where you need to be and change is farther off on the horizon.  Either way, it’s time to start sketching out some plans.

Get Help

No matter where you are, get some help!  If books are your thing and you are ready to jump into the job market, What Color is Your Parachute? Is a perennial favorite and is updated annually.

Join a discussion group on LinkedIn to see what’s happening in your professional area or in your city.

You might consider a career coach.  They are different than a job placement service and can help you further explore your future possibilities and plug you into networking opportunities you might not otherwise hear about.  My career coach was instrumental in helping me decide when the time was right to start my own public relations practice.

Implement Change

One step at a time. If you have made it through all these steps, then it’s time to map out your next move.  And those trusted advisors who helped you with the SWOT Analysis? They can help keep you on track as you chart your course to the next step in your career.

Related Posts: Don’t Be Surprised by This Year’s Annual Review.

Related Posts: Thinking about a Career Change? Think SWOT.

Thinking about a Career Change? Think SWOT.

Fly swatter laying in the grass

Not Swat, but SWOT!

No doubt you’ve made some resolutions about your career after your annual review.  If it’s time to evaluate your career path, why not start with a SWOT?

A SWOT Analysis is an acronym for a business analysis in which you evaluate Strengths –Weaknesses –Opportunities – Threats.  The concept is often credited to Albert Humphrey, who piloted a project at Stanford University in the 1960s with Fortune 500 companies to manage change.  However, according to a U.K.-based website called Marketing Teacher, the concept may have been introduced as early as the 1950s and have an entirely different author.

Traditionally, Strengths and Weaknesses refer to a company’s position or an internal analysis. Threats and Opportunities refer to market conditions or external factors.  The analysis is often done in chart form, with one square for each category.  It is considered a first step in a company planning its future.

This process is completely adaptable for personal professional growth.  That is, with some trusted professional friends.  Here’s how.

Start by thinking of your support network.  Who do you turn to when you have a professional dilemma or need to seek counsel on an ethical matter?  Who has watched and supported your career?  Think above and below where you sit on the career ladder.  Anyone who has mentored you would be good, but so might those you have mentored or have worked alongside.

Use only your most trusted professional friends and then ask them privately to share what they believe to be 2-3 items in each category.  You will obviously want to preface the request with some language to talk about how you are evaluating your career and considering future changes.  You might even supply a chart or use an online form builder like Wufoo  to put together your responses.

Once you have gathered your responses, read each one and take some time to evaluate them. It may be helpful to put them into one chart and see if some items appear more than once. Do you see trends in your career?

When I was considering a career change some time ago, I used this strategy to consider my options.  I asked four professionals for feedback.  While many of their observations were not a complete surprise, it is very beneficial to see how others see YOU.  There were some pleasant surprises. Two participants saw a future opportunity for me in a college classroom, a step I have since taken. Another pointed out that my current position was a threat to my future health, something I knew but was choosing to ignore at the time.

I didn’t use every piece of information I received right away, but over time, I have returned to these evaluations for guidance and direction.   Whether you are considering a career change, or need strategies for growth in your current position, a SWOT Analysis offers an outside-in look.

Next week, how to put the SWOT Analysis results to work for you.

Related Posts: Don’t Be Surprised by This Year’s Annual Review.

Related Posts: How to Put Your SWOT Analysis to Work for You.

Don’t Be Surprised by This Year’s Annual Review

You know it’s coming because it happens every year at this time.  Annual performance reviews are a ritual that we love to hate. Here’s why:  we are rarely prepared for them, they are often poorly written or vague, and we are not always convinced they are a true measure of our performance. Not to mention that we are rarely prepared to ask for a raise!

I ought to know – I went through more than a decade of reviews as a corporate communicator and know first-hand that PR pros are rarely prepared to promote themselves.

Why not take a new approach this year so you won’t have that “deer in the headlights” look when the boss calls you in for this corporate ritual?

Here’s a checklist to get the most out of your performance appraisal.

First take stock of your accomplishments for the year.  Have you met the objectives set by your employer?  If something is lacking or missed the mark,  what happened and why?  Be prepared to explain.

Were you missing important components like people resources, budget allocations or a timeline for planning?  How did that contribute to or hinder your efforts? Is there a way to pick up where you left off next year?

Is there a key program or campaign that was successful? Reflect on that and plan to highlight it in your review conference.

Now take a minute and write up an executive summary for your accomplishments that can be included in the discussion and added to your comment section of the document. It’s the section you always forget to utilize — but not anymore!

Based on what you wrote for your executive summary, would you give you a salary increase?  How much? While a 10-15% raise in this economy is very desirable, be honest with yourself.  How did the company do this year? Is a 5% bump a more viable increase?

Be prepared for a range of options.  Some companies have fixed ranges, while others have a “pot of money” to divide among those who have earned it.  Others will award a token cost of living adjustment.

Before the conference, set some goals for yourself, your team or your organization for the coming year.  By having an idea of where you want to go, you may even beat the boss to the punch.

By assessing your successes and challenges over the year, putting them in an executive summary, and creating goals for next year, you will be ready for your appraisal conference.

Let me know if it worked for you by leaving a comment.

Today’s My Friday

When is your Friday?

When is Your Friday?

You hear this frequently in the tourism industry. Particularly during the week, because tourism is not a Monday-through- Friday type occupation.

At SeaWorld, when someone said “Today’s my Friday,” it meant they were getting ready to celebrate the end of a busy week – especially in the summer when the majority of park employees worked each weekend.

Friday conjures up visions of wrapping up the week, cleaning up the desk or work area, and preparing for two days of freedom. In the old days, this included forwarding your phone, handing in paperwork or keys, turning out the lights and locking up.  In one of my office sojourns, we were expected to clean our desks every Friday afternoon – literally – get out the polish and go to town.

Of course, that was when people took two days off. And the two days people universally took off were Saturday and Sunday.  This was, of course, before pagers, cell phones and nonstop media.  When I was really young, in the dinosaur age, this meant that all the stores were closed on Sundays too.

Not anymore.

Friday as the final day of the workweek is dead.  It doesn’t mean what it used to be when we are tethered to our smart phones, use DVR instead of live TV, and the ephemera of work oozes into our personal lives. Gone are the days when someone rang a bell at an appointed hour and everyone left for the day.  It was a ritual, and rigid as it was, you knew what you were supposed to do.

But rather than mourn the loss of the traditional weekend, I prefer to celebrate the more flexible work week we have today. Let’s call it the concept of” Friday-ness.”

Now Friday is whenever you (or your employer) say it is.  It’s the concept of finishing a busy week, whether you finish Monday at 2 or Saturday at 11, and turning to whatever leisure pursuits you desire.  While we may still be using our mobile devices, to check in with work or with Facebook, we have more flexibility in our work/life balance than other generations.  Like my grandmother, who would fake the flu once a year so she could get her carpets cleaned.

So rather than mourn the loss of the ironclad weekend, I think we should celebrate the concept of Friday – the state of mind instead of an actual day of the week.  Now we get to create a new set of rituals to define it.  What will be your “It’s my Friday” ritual?