I haven’t been asked to give a commencement speech in awhile, probably because in the last one I told graduates that, "You’re never wrong, you're just early," and,"'Tis better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.” As a result, several hundred recent graduates were launched into the business world who are probably driving their bosses crazy as we speak.
But if I were to address recent graduates of any of the hundreds of public relations and social media programs now sending throngs of newbies into the PR world these six nuggets of wisdom are what I'd offer.
As you venture out into the world you will encounter bosses and clients who will occasionally make no sense, and/or may turn out to be tyrants who are completely convinced that every word they say is the law and that the only ideas worth having are their own. The only way to defeat them is with data. Think of data and statistics as your powerful friends and allies, not something scary and incomprehensible.
Analysts would have you believe that you need all your organization's data at your finger tips. This is not true. You only need only right data: The data that is valid, verifiable, and meaningful. Decide on what metrics will define your success and make sure you have the data to come up with those metrics, 24/7/365. File the rest in your recycle bin.
No person or organization can please everyone, nor does he/she/it need to please everyone. In the world of health bars, for instance (see this Measurement Makeover for Brown + Dutch PR)) you don’t need 900 million impressions, you need 1 million new customers or 500 new outlets. So put yourself or your organization out there as authentic and real, and see who is attracted to what you have to offer. You don’t want to waste your time talking to people who aren’t going to be a good match. This is true whether you are job hunting or customer hunting. Too many job applicants contort themselves into a job that will always be a bad fit just because the benefits are good or the CEO is cool.
I made that mistake at Hewlett-Packard, widely seen as the best place to work in Silicon Valley. I was thrilled when I was offered a job there -- the brilliance of my co-workers, the fast pace, the beer bashes on Friday. What’s not to love? For me it was the hierarchy and the expected inexorable march up the corporate ladder. I learned a huge amount in a year, but ultimately realized that I didn’t have the patience to be a good HP employee. I left and two years later started my first company.
Anyone who has been around as long as I have knows that the lessons learned from your massive fails are far more valuable than any rewards you get from your successes. As I tell all my clients, make a list of all the projects you’ve done, or all the things you’ve tried, and force rank them by whatever metrics you define success. Now study the bottom five: What went wrong? Why didn’t they work? Learn from those mistakes. Do more of what works, and do less of the stupid stuff.
Young graduates and newbie employees frequently don’t have the confidence or the background to know when to push back when they’re asked to skate on ethical thin ice. Data and facts can help most of the time, but not always. When in doubt, do not compromise your reputation. Do what’s right and ethical. If you lose your job over it, it’s not a job you wanted for the long term anyway.
This isn’t just a plug for my book, it’s a philosophy for life equivalent to, “Don’t sweat the small stuff." Nothing is forever, although decisions frequently feel that way when you’re young. Stay focused on what matters to your business and your organization and your life.
Missing one clip out of 1,300, is not important. Losing 1% of market share, dropping 1 point on your trust score, or losing 1% of the profit margin is important. So think like a CEO: Guard your organization's reputation, bottom line, and profits with your life, and stop guarding your departmental territory.
This goes for your personal life as well. Those of us who have survived cancer often look at it as a gift that forces us to prioritize what we do with our finite amount of time left. You here today are young and invincible and I hope you never have cancer. But whether you do or don't, your life is precious and finite. It won’t be long enough to talk to everyone who wants to talk with you, or do everything that is on your action list, your bucket list, or your to-do list.
Figure out what is really important to your life and your business and do more of that. Do those things that will make your marriage, your friendships, and your business or organization more successful. If someone asks you to do something that doesn’t meet that criteria, reread #1 above, and give them the data to say why you’re not going to do it.
So yes, graduates, your life stretches out in front of you like a magic carpet ride, but you really don’t know how much time you have left on the planet. Chose wisely. Congratulations and all the best.
Katie Delahaye Paine is Chairman, KDPaine & Partners, (a Salience Insight company), and Chief Marketing Officer of News Group International. KDP&P delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine is a dynamic and experienced speaker on public relations and social media measurement. Click here for the schedule of Katie’s upcoming speaking engagements. Katie and Beth Kanter are authors of the book “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit,” to be published this year by Wiley.
The Measurement Standard is a publication of KDPaine & Partners, a company that delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine, Chairman of KDPaine & Partners, will be glad to talk with you about measurement for your organization.