My parents recently moved to a continuing care community in Salisbury (which they LOVE). For my father, the hardest part of this transition was leaving the garden that he had cultivated and nurtured for decades. As a closing note, he wrote this column for the regional daylily association magazine. I’m sharing it because it is perfect. It captures his dedication, admiration and commitment for not only the beautiful flowers that grew in his yard, but the friendships and memories he formed by engaging with others who shared his passion. And I continue to marvel at his abilities with both the spade and the pen.
By Monty Hagler
I found it on a recent trip to Canada for the Worldcom Public Relations Group global meeting. A flicker came from the meeting itself, which was chock full of information, wisdom and best practices from leading public relations agencies throughout the world. A spark was generated from my final meeting as a Worldcom Global Board member, a responsibility that I greatly enjoyed and learned from. There was a glow during 2,500 miles of driving (with my fiancée Jane Nickles as my co-pilot) through gorgeous countryside along the old Canadian highway to explore Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City.
But the inspiration flame was lit while reading a book on the journey up and watching a band in an empty hotel bar on the way home.
Flying Colors is a novel by my friend Chris Laney. He worked on it for years and years, rewriting and refining it amid rejections from publishers who all wanted something different. Something this. Something that. It is so easy for people to say no. It is so easy to give up. Chris never did. He took the feedback that made sense and he incorporated it, but he never lost sight of his vision for what he wanted his story to bring to readers. He pushed it forward and he got it published.
When it debuted, Flying Colors was the #1 new release on Amazon in the Philosophy & Metaphysical category. It ranked among bestsellers like Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Mitch Albom’s Five People You Meet in Heaven.
It’s an easy, fast read that will make you think about life’s possibilities and perhaps change how you view the world. I encourage everyone to buy a copy.
On our way home from Canada, we reentered the United States via Vermont. It was the final state I had not visited. Like the other 49, it did not disappoint. Expanses of green, rugged terrain, delicious local restaurants, a Great Lake and historic town squares.
On a hot Friday night, The Chris Lyon Band set up to play in our hotel bar. Jane and I wandered in, ordered some drinks and sat down to listen. The band kicked in, playing mostly original songs rather than covers. They radiated passion and joy. We clapped, cheered and danced. We asked for more. For 2 hours, they played for us (literally, no one else showed up except for hotel staff). While I know the band would have loved a packed house, we could tell they were playing because they love music. Chris Lyon writes music because he has stories to tell, and emotions to capture. And he is going to get them out there. Find him on your favorite streaming music channel.
Since our return to Greensboro, I’ve reflected on the commitment and focus that both Chris Laney and Chris Lyon have to pursue their passions. They’ve inspired me to recommit to my own professional and personal goals. I’m fortunate that I have a clear vision of what is important to me, the path I want to follow and what makes me happy. I may or may not be successful in all that I want to achieve. I know it will require hundreds (thousands) of hours, with two steps forward and hopefully only one step back along the way. It is better than sitting still.
That may not be an actual expression, but it accurately captures the joy and whimsy of visiting the City of Wilson’s downtown park filled with enormous, artistic windmills. Created by Vollis Simpson, whirligigs are the official folk art of North Carolina and are at the heart of a transformation taking place in Wilson as abandoned tobacco warehouses, empty mills and vacant lots are redeveloped into housing, retail and offices. RLF is working with a development firm that is participating in public private partnerships in Wilson and other communities. A field trip to see the sites first-hand was overdue.
As part of the 36-hour trip, I visited East Carolina University for the first time in nearly 3 decades. While I have read about the remarkable growth and reinvention of ECU, it does not do justice to how this school has grown to meet the needs of North Carolinians. With a student body of more than 28,000 (and nearly half of those undergraduate and graduate students focused on STEM and Healthcare careers), ECU is a powerhouse.
Dr. Jin-Ae Kang hosted me and Jane Nickles to dinner the night before I met with her students in the Department of Communication. We met Dr. Kang last summer at an event in Charlotte hosted by my Worldcom partner Bill Imada out of Los Angeles. She graciously invited us to visit ECU, tour the campus and speak with some of the more than 700 students in the School of Communication.
As we had dinner at the Dickinson Avenue Public House, Dr. Kang told the story of how she had come to the United States. She was born and raised in South Korea. She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in Seoul. And then, without ever having visited the United States and knowing no one here, she applied for a doctoral program at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. How brave! How committed! I used to think I was being bold when I traveled from North Carolina to Philadelphia to attend graduate school at Temple University, but Dr. Kang’s story puts me to shame!
The drive back from Greenville is smooth and fast, with Highway 264 a paved testament to the vision of 4-term governor Jim Hunt and our unofficial slogan of “the good roads state.” But even from the highway it is impossible to ignore the sweeping landscape of farms and open spaces. I have often said that people who live in the I-85\I-40 crescent that spans from Charlotte to Raleigh have little concept of the rural power that has defined our state for more than 300 years.
The next time you take a trip to the North Carolina Coast, get off the interstates and highways to take the back roads. Let the history, beauty and significance of our state sink in.
By Monty Hagler
I recently traveled to Lambertville, New Jersey, for a two-day intensive presentation training workshop. When I first learned about the Heroic Public Speaking program, I was reluctant to commit to the class. After all, public speaking and presentations are a core component of my skill set. I competed in speech and debate competitions across the country in high school and college, have spoken at hundreds of conferences, seminars and college campuses and regularly present ideas for public relations campaigns.
But a good friend – whom I competed against more than 30 years ago in forensics – told me that I needed to make the time. “You’re very good,” she said. “But you can be great.”
Her comments reminded me of the seminal business book Good to Great. It takes vision, commitment and hard work to take performance to the next level. In my case, that started with acknowledging that my presentation skills can and should get better. So, I swallowed my pride and was richly rewarded for it.
Heroic Public Speaking was founded by Michael and Amy Port, who lead all of the sessions. They intensely believe a speech has the power to change the world and the people in it. The only other professional training I have done that compares to their level of excellence is the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) week-long seminar for managing agencies. Michael and Amy are a dynamic duo who run a tight ship, impart valuable strategies and tips in every part of the program and challenge you to be great.
In addition to wanting to improve my skills for my role as CEO of RLF Communications, I am also working on an outline for a keynote speech. I’m interested in how we move forward as a society in which there is constant disagreement and disbelief over the most basic facts, statistics, data and science. My thesis is that we will be better served – as individuals and communities – if we focus less on getting people to agree with us and spend more time on awareness and acceptance of what motivates our actions and those of others. I call my keynote “Positive Friction,” and I now have a better sense of structure and techniques to move forward with it. I hope to find some conferences and venues to test it out in the second half of 2023 and 2024.
All of us have things at which we are good. Figure out what is important to you, what makes a difference in your life and the world, and then make a commitment to get better. Make a commitment to be great.
It seems like a lifetime ago, but I was recently reminded that it has only been 11 years since I was deeply embedded in leadership positions with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). I was invited to attend the 2022 year-end meeting of the NC PRSA chapter in Raleigh, where I was recognized as a past president of the chapter. There were only a few familiar faces, and I definitely felt like one of the oldest rats in the barn.
When I started my career at First Union Corporation fresh out of graduate school, I joined the Charlotte PRSA chapter. I immediately got to know a wide range of public relations professionals and was exposed to the myriad ways I could build a career. I served on committees to get experience outside of my comfort zone, and I continued to grow in the organization when I moved to Raleigh to learn the agency side of PR with Capital Strategies. Over the next few years, I served as chapter president, Southeast district chair, a member of the National Board Nominating Committee and National Bylaws Task Force and as a National Assembly Delegate. I made great friends across the country, earned my Accredited in Public Relations certification, traveled extensively for conferences and meetings and deepened my expertise in this profession. And then I quit PRSA.
The reason was simple. I had started my own agency and had the opportunity for RLF Communications to join Worldcom Public Relations Group, the oldest and largest partnership of independent public relations agencies in the world. We needed to focus our time, energy and money on getting all the value we could out of this organization, so I dove in headfirst. Doing that has paid enormous benefits for my own professional development and the growth of RLF Communications. I have made great friends around the world, traveled globally, deepened my expertise and served in leadership roles on the North America Region and Global boards.
As I drove back to Greensboro from the NC PRSA meeting last week, I thought about the different chapters we all have in our lives both personally and professionally. How we can be deeply embedded in projects and people, and then, as those experiences run their course, we take on new challenges and opportunities. The key is to respect and remember what was once important in our lives and helped shape who we have become. PRSA played that role for me. Worldcom continues to play that role for me.
Now it comes full circle. While I am not going to dive back into the PRSA deep-end, I do want RLF team members to get involved for the professional development and networking opportunities that exist. We’re also going to explore ways our agency can help the NC PRSA chapter extend its programming to the Triad region of North Carolina.
Many people know that my favorite novel is “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren. It has been more than 40 years since I first read “how life is strange and changeful, and the crystal is in the steel at the point of fracture, and the toad bears a jewel in its forehead, and the meaning of moments passes like the breeze that scarcely ruffles the leaf of the willow.”
1984 was a great year. I graduated from high school and entered UNC Chapel Hill. The summer Olympic games were held in Los Angeles. “We Are the World” ruled the radio to help ease hunger in Ethiopia. Apple released the first MacIntosh personal computer with a legendary Super Bowl commercial. And with far less fanfare, Adobe Creative introduced its PostScript Type 1 fonts to support the brand-new professions of digital design and desktop publishing.
Nearly 40 years later, Adobe is still going strong. So is the Pantone color system developed long before that in 1962. Virtually every creative agency and corporation depends on Adobe fonts and Pantone colors through every stage of the creative workflow. That is why I took the news very seriously when changes were announced by both services in 2023.
Let’s start with Adobe fonts used in graphic design, video editing, web development and photography. When Adobe makes any sort of change to its suite of applications, it affects not only future work but the ability to edit past files. The original Type 1 fonts introduced in 1984 were supplanted by OpenType fonts at the turn of the 21st century. For 20 years, Abode has encouraged developers to convert Type 1 fonts to OpenType. Now they are pulling the plug and ending support for these legacy fonts across all platforms and apps in 2023.
That means the thousands of PDF or EPS files in your system with Type 1 fonts can still be displayed digitally and printed but can no longer be edited. It also means that your company, or your creative agency partner, needs to purchase an OpenType format to create new materials.
Pantone Color Systems will also make changes in 2023, including charging a subscription fee for the use of Pantone colors in Adobe Creative Cloud applications. In the past, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign came pre-loaded with Pantone Color Books; this will be phased out in all future software updates. Creative professionals, agencies and companies will now need to pay for a premium license or subscription to access the complete set of Pantone Color Books.
The trend toward subscription services for software is not a new development, but few tools or applications have the pervasive reach of Adobe or Pantone. RLF has already moved forward with purchasing the subscriptions we need to ensure the creative process is not interrupted for any clients. We’re also prepared to support clients who need materials updated or revised.
If it would be helpful to talk with RLF Creative Director Greg Monroy to understand what implications might arise with these and other changes, please let me know. Our mission is to support clients with ideas, strategy and service that advance their business objectives, and we don’t want a straight-forward software policy change to create chaos down the road.
My name is Graysen Shirley, and I am interning with RLF Communications this fall. I am currently a junior at Elon University studying Strategic Communications and Media Analytics and minoring in Business Administration. Some student organizations I am involved with are my sorority Kappa Delta, Elon News Network, the Public Relations Student Society of America and the American Marketing Association. I am a North Carolina native and love going to the beach!
What made you decide to pursue a degree in communications?
I have loved writing and storytelling since I was young. In elementary school, I spent much of my free time drawing and creating my own stories. I loved the feeling of being creative and imaginative. In middle and high school, I took classes like Yearbook, Media Studies and Creative Writing where I was able to better my writing skills and grow my interest in communications. While looking at colleges during my sophomore and junior years of high school, one of my teachers recommended I look into communications because of my love of writing and longing to be creative. Touring Elon University’s School of Communications and meeting some of the faculty during a Fellows Weekend event at the university further excited me to want to pursue a career in communications.
What is your favorite part about the internship program at RLF Communications?
One of my favorite parts has been the company’s creative and collaborative environment. I constantly feel challenged to improve my skills in public relations and marketing through different projects and tasks for client accounts — I love getting to be a part of the process and getting to see projects from start to finish! Many of my coworkers are also kind and talented and offer me advice and guidance when needed!
What is a cool place you have traveled to recently?
In January, I studied abroad in Germany for three weeks with other students from Elon University. During the three weeks I spent abroad, I was able to try schnitzel, which is a famous German dish, visit castles, and learn about the unique history of Germany. I especially fell in love with the cities of Munich and Berlin and hope someday to visit Europe again!
What is your favorite food?
I have always been very fond of Italian food. My love of Italian food began when I was in high school — I often had pasta dinners with teammates and friends from my high school’s cross-country team. My go-to order at an Italian restaurant is chicken alfredo pasta.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years, I would love to have a full-time job at a medium-to-large public relations and marketing agency or in corporate communications in the Boston or D.C. area. Throughout my internship experience with RLF Communications, I have been able to work with a variety of clients across different industries and hope to do this in the future!
“Come over and listen to this band from Ireland.”
Those words reshaped my life in February 1983. A high school friend invited me over to hear War, the third album from U2. Every song captivated me. The energy, the lyrics, the emotion, the passion. Until that night, I had never been a huge music fan. I immediately bought U2’s first two albums Boy & October (on cassette tape!) before launching out to explore different genres and sounds from a broader spectrum of artists. It was my gateway to appreciating, if not always embracing, new artists.
I frequently listen to XM satellite radio’s dedicated U2 channel, particularly the “Desire” program. Fans play their top five U2 songs and explain what the songs and the band have meant to them. Every episode is compelling. People recount how specific songs and concert experiences shaped relationships with friends, families and lovers; how lyrics and videos got them through heartbreak, sickness and tragedy; how the band’s activism, resilience and commitment to reinventing themselves over the past four decades has inspired people to make difficult decisions and positive life changes.
U2 is not alone in creating passionate connections with fans. Bruce Springsteen is preparing to launch a global tour that is instantly selling out despite insanely high “dynamic pricing.” The Rolling Stones still sell out the largest stadiums. I was never a big Grateful Dead fan but was fortunate to attend a few shows in the early 90s and was always amazed at the commitment and passion of Deadheads traveling from show to show across the country. I do confess to being a member of The Herd for Donna The Buffalo.
Brands need to act and think more like this. Make fantastic products that tap into perhaps unexpressed but deeply felt emotions. Deliver in an amazing and memorable fashion. Stand up for what they believe and give customers a reason to be passionate about them. Some brands have figured that out and taken their companies to the next level – Trader Joe’s (grocery) and Buc-ee’s (convenience store), Warby Parker (eyewear) and the stalwart, Apple.
At a recent Worldcom meeting, a guest speaker talked about a holy grail of finding positioning for your company that enrages 49 percent of your potential audience but thrills 51 percent. Leave no one in the middle. That’s not generally advice I would provide clients, but I strongly believe that consumers value authenticity. And when they believe in a company, they’ll brag about them, buy from them and return over and over again. The same is true for employees.
This Labor Day weekend, put on music from your favorite band (it does not have to be U2!) and take a few minutes to reflect on the core mission of your organization or company, why you do what you do and what you can do even better. When you have clarity on that, the odds are good you’ll generate more passion, loyalty and connection with the audiences that matter most. You’ll earn their loyalty… and their desire.
Worldcom, a global network of PR agencies of which RLF is a member, recently released an updated Worldcom Confidence Index report analyzing how the War in Ukraine is shifting global CEOs’ conversations on social media. Below is a press release discussing the top 5 topics CEOs were engaged in from Feb-May 2022.
THE Worldcom Confidence Index (WCI) RELEASES A SPECIAL WAR IN UKRAINE TOPIC TRACKING REPORT
The War In Ukraine WCI Report Highlights The Top Five Issues Where Stakeholders Expect Leaders To Be Taking Both Immediate And Sustained Action
NEW YORK (June 21st, 2022) – In a special topic tracking report from the Worldcom Confidence Index (WCI) of what CEOs are saying about the impact of the War in Ukraine, The Worldcom Public Relations Group (Worldcom) has identified five main topical issues that global CEOs and CMOs are talking about. In the period between February and May 2022, the top five topics are: The massive displacement of people and refugee flows; the impact on energy prices; the impact on food security; making the issues of hunger and poverty worse; causing divisions among people and countries.
Human cost of the war receives sustained attention, but global food security became the number one topic in May
Unsurprisingly, the most talked about issue at the beginning of the conflict was the massive displacement of people and refugees fleeing Ukraine. This topic had the biggest engagement from global CEOs and CMOs between February and March[i], out of the top five topics discovered. The Ukraine war has caused the worst refugee crisis since World War II, which could lead to a significant increase in human trafficking and child protection crisis. However, by May concern over global food security and the impact that would have on their people and their business, had become the top issue.
The Ukraine war is disrupting supply chains and has caused the price of oil and gas to skyrocket. This topic received the second biggest engagement from global CEOs and CMOs between February and May, out of the top five topics. The cost of energy has obvious implications for the cost of ongoing operations but has significant implications for the way organisations operate too. For example, companies that were returning to office-based working, might have to rethink their strategy to relieve pressure on the rising cost of living.
Todor Janev, chairman of The Worldcom Public Relations Group (Worldcom), said: “Leaders need to develop a clear strategy for protecting their brands from the impact of the war. Stakeholders expect immediate action to minimise the impact of increases in fuel and food prices. The WCI data shows that they also expect leaders to take action on policies which will have longer term implications. This includes increasing the pace at which they embrace ESG policies and demonstrate that their business believes in profit with a purpose. Communicating clearly, consistently, and transparently on these topics will be essential to building stakeholder trust and belief.”
Todd Lynch, managing director of Worldcom, said: “Many business leaders have been quick to show support for the people of Ukraine and make meaningful decisions about their business ties to Russia. But the results of this special tracking report, by the Worldcom Confidence Index, show that the focus is now switching to issues that have both immediate and sustained implications on operations, employees and their customers/key stakeholders. Brands with an international or global footprint need to identify how these five topics change in priority from one country to the next and then make sure they are communicating their positions/actions effectively and frequently to their key stakeholders.”
The Worldcom Confidence Index is the world’s most extensive monthly study of what the C Suite is talking about. And it is the only global study that shows the change in confidence and engagement across a range of important business topics. This extensive data is now available via an interactive online portal and can be filtered by geography, industry, and role. You can explore the latest Worldcom Confidence Index data here. Our Worldcom partners in 115 cities are ready to provide even more local context. Contact Todd Lynch to start the discussion.
About the Worldcom Confidence Index
The Worldcom Confidence Index (WCI) is the first AI-driven ‘living’ global market research, tracking the topics that over 80,000 CEOs and CMOs are commenting on online. The AI-fuelled tracker is updated monthly and is drawn from an active sample of over 100,000 C-Suite executives. It tracks data for two roles, six regions, 42 countries and 11 industry sectors. It identifies the levels of engagement with business topics and how much the level of confidence for each topic has changed. It is the first global study of this type to use AI supported data capture. The longitudinal analysis employed by ASI, the research company providing the data for the WCI, enables Worldcom to look back in time and make direct comparisons for levels engagement and confidence.
About The Worldcom Public Relations Group
The Worldcom Public Relations Group is the world’s leading partnership of independently owned public relations firms, with 143 offices employing some 2,000 staff in 115 cities across six continents. In total, Worldcom partners reported combined revenue of US$350+ million last year from 3,034 clients. Established in 1988, the group was formed so that the strongest, most capable independent firms could deliver immediate impact and sustained value through the intelligent use of communications – wherever in the world a client needs support. Partners serve national, international, and multinational clients, while retaining the flexibility and client-service focus inherent in independent agencies. Through Worldcom, clients have on-demand access to in-depth communications expertise from professionals who understand the language, culture, and customs of the geographic areas in which they operate.
Learn more about Worldcom at www.worldcomgroup.com or call Todd Lynch at 1-800-955-9675.
By Monty Hagler
The grand journey is complete. Five countries, fifteen states and nearly 50,000 miles over 11 months, beginning with a road trip through the Upper Midwest in July 2021 and concluding in Southern Portugal in May 2022. It was a deliberate cadence for work, professional development, play, exploration and self-reflection.
Three of the trips involved meetings with my partners in the Worldcom Public Relations Group, the world’s oldest and largest partnership of independent PR agencies. We last met in person in Vienna in 2019. For nearly three years we used online channels for knowledge sharing, professional development and networking. It worked, but it exposed the gaps created when any organization tries to function in an all-remote environment.
Our global meeting two weeks ago in London was attended by nearly every partner. Over the course of three days of formal presentations, outside speakers and informal conversations, I took away a wealth of information, including insights into these topics:
- “Return to Work” is about “why,” not “how” or “when.”
Virtually every Worldcom partner is struggling with the same issue facing our clients – how and when to get employees who love the flexibility of remote work to return to the office, particularly at a time when hiring qualified people is an enormous challenge. But the “how” and “when” must come after organizations figure out “why” employees need to return to the office.
Saying “This is the way it has always been done” or “We’re paying a lot of money for empty space” are not valid “why” reasons to employees. But leaders know “why” being re-engaged in-person matters so much. Young employees need to develop workplace and interpersonal skills. Mid-level managers need re-engagement in the conversations, ideas and teamwork that drive organizations forward. Teams need to address the cracks and resentment spreading between front-line workers who have no choice but to show up (on the assembly floor, the restaurant drive-thru) and professional staff who can email it in from the kitchen table.
If your organization is struggling with how to get employees back to work, make sure you have articulated to everyone the “why.” Then comes the “how” and “when,” which most likely will involve small operational steps. My counsel is to not drop employees into a boiling pot of water. Slowly turn up the heat. And for those folks who resist or push back too hard, let them go. At the end of the day, employees (at every level) come and go in organizations. Customers come and go. Clients come and go. The organization remains. Make choices that are in the best short- and long-term interests of your organization, communicate them clearly and then decisively act on them.
- Difficult topics will never be universally embraced.
Just as the return-to-work issue stirs people up, organizations face a host of other issues that do not have clear roadmaps to follow such as DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) and ESG (environment, sustainability, governance). In most cases, I find that organizations want to “do the right thing.” But on every one of these topics, there are different viewpoints as to what “the right thing” is and contextual issues that defy standard approaches.
One agency leader described how their organization was developing internal processes related to diversity, equity and inclusion. They assembled a diverse group of employees who struggled to reach consensus on plans, policies and even language. And once decisions had finally been made and shared with external audiences, even more dissension was raised.
While it is not quite as bad as the mantra “No good deed goes unpunished,” organizations need to take to heart the reality that sticky issues are not cleanly handled. It does not mean they should be avoided or hidden; but don’t expect gold stars and pats on the back from people who more than likely want to tell you these things should have been addressed a long time ago. As with return-to-work issues, make decisions that are in the best short- and long-term interests of the organization, clearly communicate them to all key stakeholders (and don’t stop communicating) and move forward.
- Learn about emerging technology, even if you decide it’s not right for your organization.
I listened in on multiple conversations in which I have limited knowledge – blockchain technology, NFTs (non-fungible tokens), establishing a presence for clients in the meta-verse. While many of these topics are related to finance or operations, they are also about communication and brand. Bring your communications’ team and/or agency partner into the loop (or seek out new ideas from them) to ensure your organization is not caught short in adapting to new technologies and realities. The choices you make on these fronts help define your organization. And as noted several times already, make decisions that are in the best short- and long-term interests of the organization, clearly communicate them to all key stakeholders (and don’t stop communicating) and move forward.
Last summer, at the conclusion of my 30-day road trip, I wrote a blog post that reiterated my belief the United States is an amazing country unmatched in the world. Having now added five more countries (Russia, England, Portugal, Costa Rica and Jamaica) to my overall list, I stand by that statement.
But don’t take my word for it. In every one of those countries over the past 11 months, I have heard the same refrain from waiters, hotel clerks, hairdressers, taxi drivers and countless others. When I ask if they have been to the United States, they all have the same reply. “No, but it is a dream.” Despite our challenges and shortcomings as a country, America remains a beacon in the world for personal, societal and political freedom.
I look forward to sitting at my desk, in my office, in the coming months and helping our clients make progress on many of the issues outlined in this blog post. If your organization needs a dependable partner to help navigate these issues as well, please reach out. We’d love to have a conversation with you.