Friday, July 13, 2012

10 Not-So-Obvious Items for Your Event Bag

If you plan and manage special events, you have an event bag.  The bag (usually an old briefcase or gym bag) contains extra items that might come in handy for any event, on top of all the supplies you are already packing.  So while you will already have pens for the registration desk, your event bag will contain an extra box of pens for when the ones you have go missing, which they will.  A well-stocked event bag usually contains typical office equipment such as scissors, a stapler, Sharpies, name tag holders, string, tape (of the duct, masking and double-sided variety), thumb tacks, pushpins, paper, USB sticks, and the like.

The event bag needs to be checked and inventoried before each event and in a perfect world, it would be restocked immediately after every event but, as any event planner will tell you, restocking the bag is usually the last thing anyone wants to do in the exhausted hours immediately following an event so it gets tossed into a corner where it remains until it's opened hours before the next event.

If you regularly plan events you know all the staples you need for your kit but there are many more, not-so-obvious items you may want to include.  Following is my list of the top ten must-haves for your event bag, based on two decades of managing (mostly) successful events.

1. Plastic ties (see photo above) At every event, there is something that needs to be secured, fastened or otherwise jury-rigged onto a pole.  When that happens, nothing beats plastic industrial ties.  They adjust to any size and you can just snip off any extra length with scissors.

2. Eye drops - Spectacular events don't happen overnight.  A seamless execution is the result of months of careful planning and last minute changes.  It is very rare to get a good night's sleep before an event, usually because you are still at the venue hanging banners at midnight.  To ensure you look fresh and awake at event time, always carry different varieties of eye drops.

3. Adhesive bandages - All that last minute lifting, hanging, shoving, cleaning wreaks havoc on your fingers and minor cuts and scrapes are the inevitable result.  Having these on hand will prevent you from dripping blood onto your beautiful rented table-cloths.

4. Chargers - Of course your cell phone is dead.  You were up all night trying to find a florist who could deliver 1000 purple lilies by morning since the florist you already booked fell ill.  Your event kit should include every type of wall charger available for today's array of smart phones, cameras, music players, etc.

5. Flashlight - Have you ever crawled under a stage trying to figure out why your PowerPoint presentation isn't working or your exploding confetti gizmo has malfunctioned?  It's a lot easier when you can see where you're going.

6. Sewing kit - I have never staged an event in 20 years where we didn't need to pull out the sewing kit. Dropped hems, popped buttons and inappropriate cleavage present themselves in the moments before the lights go up.

7. Stain remover - It's hard not to spill coffee on your shirt when you're quaffing gulps between table setups. A dab of stain remover may not hide it entirely but it will at least diffuse it over a larger area so it fades. If you have a car, bring along an extra blazer as well.

8. Flat shoes - Every seasoned (female) event planner knows that you wear flat shoes during set-up and put on the heels when it's event time.  Nowadays you can buy ballet flats that role up into a ball and come with their own carrying case.

9. Snacks - It's time for the event and you realize you've been onsite since 6 a.m. and haven't had a thing to eat.  When there's no time to nibble (and there never is), you can hit up your event bag for granola bars, protein bars, chocolate, etc. If you're super organized, you can include a small cooler with cheese strings and other items.

10. OTC medicine - Don't let your great work be sidelined by migraines, indigestion or nausea.  A well-stocked event bag can double as a portable medicine chest.

Those are just a few of the not-so-obvious essentials I make sure to include.  What are some other surprising things you pack for events?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

You're never too senior to carry boxes in PR

 Your first job promotion is a mixed blessing.  When you hear the news that you're moving up the ladder, you feel great.  You've proven yourself worthy of more responsibility, you have a more important-sounding title and hopefully, a pay increase. But the initial elation wears off when you realize that colleagues who were friends last week now report to you, HR has been added to your job description and you don't actually get to ditch all the things you disliked about your former role.  In fact, a promotion often means you will do your former job, as well as a new one.

In 20 years experiencing my own, often stumbling, movements through the management ranks and witnessing the behaviour of my own team members once they've been promoted, I've noticed one constant - delegation is not what it's cracked up to be.  In fact, it's much less fun than anyone ever imagines.

While a junior role requires you to draft a news release and submit it for review, your shiny new senior role has a lot more steps.  You have to receive the assignment from your manager, choose a team member to handle it, meet with them to discuss it, set expectations and deadlines, follow up if the deadline is looming and you haven't seen anything, review the draft, meet with the staff member to share your feedback and provide suggestions for improvement, set another deadline for the revised draft, and then go through the process all over again.  And when you do finally have a workable document, you must resist the urge to rewrite the whole thing and accept that just because it's not "the way you would do it" doesn't mean it isn't good quality.  

In a management role, even if you only have one direct report, this scenario repeats itself all day everyday and due to the frantic, often last-minute nature of public relations, many assignments don't have the luxury of time for training and mentorship so you do them yourself anyway and at events, you'll often find yourself carrying boxes, fetching water for speakers, tracking down A/V people and other tasks you thought you had left behind when you were promoted. No such luck.

When I finally became a vice president at a PR agency, I thought, "This is it.  I've arrived.  No more schlepping boxes for me."  Only, it didn't work out that way.  While there was certainly a delineation between my role, the most junior person in the office, and everyone in between, I still found myself carrying boxes of press kits, straightening signage, picking up lunch for demanding celebrity spokespersons and, on one occasion, doing a midnight Wal-Mart run because, after setting up for an early morning event, a client was unsatisfied with the particular shade of purple on the tablecloths. I could have delegated the task but I was the only person who owned a car, I lived closest to the store and my staff, who had been on their feet for 18 hours, were exhausted.  It was not the time for a power play.

When I kvetched about this to a mentor of mine who is president of a large global agency based in Atlanta, he said, "You have to realize that, in PR, no matter how high up the chain you are, you will never stop carrying boxes."  While I was immediately gratified to find out I wasn't alone, I was distressed to realize that if even he was admitting this, then it must be true.

He went on to explain that while everyone in an agency has a different role and each step involves the shedding of old duties and the responsibility for new ones, everyone on a team is responsible for the final product whether it's a perfectly executed communications plan, a spectacular launch event or successfully shepherding the organization through a crisis.  He also reminded me that event management is a big part of PR agency life and no matter how far ahead you plan and how many times you confirm the details, things will go wrong.  Speakers cancel, planes are delayed, product is stopped at the border, A/V systems malfunction, taxi drivers get lost, flowers wilt, employees get ill, there aren't enough coat hangers, client approval is late, and so on.  But the show must go on and at that point, it's all hands on deck to make it happen. While someone has to take charge and direct traffic, there's no reason that person can't also carry boxes, if that's what's required to make it happen.  

In his book, The 48 Laws of Power, which I recommend as a fascinating insight into how people operate, author Robert Greene suggests that to attain true power, you must "Keep Your Hands Clean" and avoid doing the dirty work.  He would suggest that, at a big business event, the true leader arrives at the last minute looking fresh and professional wearing a clean suit and carrying nothing.  This will set him or her apart from the "workers" who have only a few minutes to wipe the dust off their clothes, throw on their event shoes, slick on some lip gloss and squirt Visine into tired eyes before the lights go up.  

I'm sure Greene would disagree with my mentor's assertion that you'll always carry boxes in PR, at least in the sense of establishing your credibility as a powerful leader.  Others leadership gurus would say you need to roll up your sleeves to gain the support of your team. 

What do you think about carrying boxes?  Good or bad leadership strategy?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Why We Need An Undo-Send Button

I'm old enough to remember when there was no e-mail and I have no doubt that it has revolutionized the way we do business and coupled with smart phones, it enables us to work from any place at any time. This is good if you'd rather handle correspondence from your Muskoka dock, but bad if you're expected to respond to e-mails during your daughter's dance recital.

But e-mail's greatest benefit - quick and easy communication - is also its biggest downfall because it doesn't account for the limitations of the human brain. While some of us can manage multiple tasks at once, research has shown that none of us do it well, and with the same kind of attention to detail we would apply to single tasks. And with many people juggling multiple email accounts, Twitter handles, Facebook pages and Blackberry messenger contacts, it's inevitable that eventually, a mistake will be made and the wrong message will be sent to the wrong person. If you have done this, you know that it creates an extremely uncomfortable situation, for both the sender and the recipient.

I had my own e-mail mishap several years ago. A situation had been annoying me for a while and rather than dealing with it in a mature and forthright way, I chose to kvetch to someone else by e-mail, only I accidentally sent it to the subject of my aggravation. While the message was more factual than gossippy it was still derogatory and was the kind of content that belonged in a private conversation, not an electronic missive. I realized my gaffe about a nanosecond after I hit Send and the ensuing physical reaction was quite remarkable. Within two minutes, my heart was pounding, my palms were sweaty, a hive-like crimson flush was breaking out across my face and an unprintable string of profanity was coming out of my mouth. I believe it was the modern-day equivalent of the fight or flight response our neanderthal ancestors experienced when confronted by a hungry sabre-tooth tiger. Our bodies send out a shot of adrenaline to help us deal with a perceived danger but while the caveman used the adrenaline to hurl a spear at the tiger or high-tail it out of there, my adrenaline just collected and pooled in the pit of my stomach until I felt quite sick.

In my panic, I immediately sent a quickly-crafted apology email which acknowledged my guilt but didn't do anything to repair the damage or address the underlying issues. At the time, I had just finished reading The FourAgreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. If you haven't read this book, I recommend it. It's a quick, light read and helps you put life's ups and downs in perspective. In short, the four agreements are 1. Be impeccable with your word, 2. Don't take anything personally, 3. Don't make assumptions and 4. Always do your best.

Since the text was fresh in my mind, I decided to apply it to the matter at hand. Obviously I had failed miserably at Agreement #1 as I had used my words carelessly but I was determined to rectify the situation in a more appropriate way. Ruiz spends almost an entire chapter on apologies and the fact that humans are the only species who relive a mistake over and over. His advice, (which is infinitely easier said than done) is to apologize quickly and sincerely and then let it go. The rest is up to the other person. So, tail between my legs, I went to see the recipient of my misfired e-mail and apologized, in person. While she accepted my apology with grace, it took a while for us to rebuild our relationship and it actually took a similar mistake on her part for it to return to normal, our mutual errors having cancelled each other out to the point that neither existed anymore and the air was finally cleared.

There are many lessons here - address issues before they get out of hand, don't use e-mail to deliver sensitive information, always double-check the To and CC boxes before you send but in my experience, most people only make a mistake like this once. The experience is too traumatic to be repeated.