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Guest

Curiosity: An Essential in Every PR Pro’s Toolkit

By: Guest | March 10, 2011 | 
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Lisa GrimmAs digital PR specialist at Mall of America, Lisa Grimm’s time is devoted to developing and implementing social media strategy, community management and other marketing communications initiatives.

“I read once, which I loved so much, that this great physicist who won a Nobel Prize said that every day when he got home, his dad asked him not what he learned in school but his dad said, ‘Did you ask any great questions today?’ And I always thought, what a beautiful way to educate kids that we’re excited by their questions, not by our answers and whether they can repeat our answers.” –Diane Sawyer

What a lovely anecdote and framework for living. If only it were widely accepted and practiced everywhere, I thought :).

It is evident to me that this very thing, the comfort level or permission for us to investigate beyond what we’re told, is generally absent the more informational interviews I have. Students and new professionals I chat with are always so worried about how they’re doing things, rather than if they’re enjoying it, or if it’s teaching them something. As they’re supposed to, every student asks me some variation of: How did you get to where you are? To which I always answer with some variation of: ASK a lot of questions; DO what you’re passionate about; and DON’T settle.

Sometimes I’m met with understanding, and most times I’m met with an “I want more” look, or some hint of confusion or hesitation. While the conversation usually progresses beyond this point, I find the initial reaction fascinating. What intrigues me about these reactions is the general inability to digest something that isn’t organized or structured. I’m not saying this as a knock, but rather an observation that many of us subscribe too often to the prescribed way of thinking. By this I mean, the track that we’re all ‘supposed’ to take: School, more school, professional organization, standard first communications job, and so on.

There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, and I’ve done them all, but what I didn’t do – and I think this an important discussion to have – was do them in order or how I saw others do them. I went to school for six years because I had to discover what I loved. I waited tables in fine dining establishments and learned a ton about people and customer service. I’ve had a variety of work and life experience based on MY process of discovery and what works for me. That philosophy and way of living has established within me a fierce faith and understanding in the whole process because of what’s been and continues to be revealed as the result of my actions. You should seek the same for yourself.

It doesn’t mean I’ve never doubted (or doubt), but because I seek answers to the questions I have, it allows me to better establish my footing and next step in everything I do. Following is boring and uneventful, so I challenge you to seek YOUR answers and desires in order to become and achieve whatever it is that you want; in your life; in your career; in everything you do. Seek your passion and keep asking questions instead of worrying about reciting the answers you think people want to hear. Life is so much more colorful this way.

For a great interview and conversation about ‘embracing curiosity’ with Diane Sawyer, check out her interview on Master Class, a new program on Oprah’s OWN network.

Lisa Grimm has a strong back­ground in integrated marketing communications, branding, public relations and emerging media. As digital PR specialist at Mall of America, Lisa’s time is devoted to developing and implementing social media strategy, community management and other marketing communications initiatives. She is an active member and volunteer of PRSA (Public Relations Society of America).

18 comments
jspepper
jspepper

Nice post Lisa. It's a good basis for what we should all be doing in PR or social media or for our blogs.

It was always odd to me to read about memes (current and past) and no one did the digging, no one took the initiative (especially with PR bloggers) to call and get the full story but to just dogpile and knee jerk attack.

The way I write (crap, when I write) my blog is to ask "how would I feel if I was the PR person on the other end?" It changes my writing to give a full, balanced view (or at least a more balanced view). I could have dogpiled onto Klout, but I interviewed first and took their points and addressed issues. Look at FedEx Furniture, Kryptonite, Dell Hell - all these are memes with just one side of the story, because few cared enough to get both sides because it wasn't good for the story. When I spoke to FedEx, it was shocking that I was the only person (blogger or journalist) to call to get their side of the story; that's pathetic.

So in any part of PR, you ask questions. You ask clients questions, you ask bosses questions, you get clarification to do your job well. When you write a blog post, you ask questions to your readers and to yourself to get the best story.

And as my old boss said about FAQs - any idiot can ask questions; it's about asking questions and coming up with answers that sets you apart.

bobnesper
bobnesper

Such good advice! I will definitely keep this in mind as I go forward with my career! It is hard to remember my passions and what I want to do when I get to thinking about getting a job after graduation and starting my career...

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

It's like you're in my head today, Lisa.

First, I LOVE the quote from Diane Sawyer. I've never seen that and it's really, really good.

I interviewed someone today and I asked her where she saw herself complimenting my leadership. She said, "I ask a lot of questions and I require the same of the people I work with." #lovethat

Then, on the radio, the DJs were talking about work and one of them said the most important business lesson he's ever had is to not rely on other's to get him where he wants to go. If he wants something, it's up to him to get it.

It's all wrapped with this beautifully written piece. Thank you!

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

I am a strong proponent of questioning convention. Not enough people do that, and that is why there are so many unhappy people mid-life. They start to wonder why they've been doing things the way they are supposed to. For me, it means I got started on my career path a little late (I share with you a background in waiting tables, fine dining. it taught me to dislike people, but I digress!), but I have no regrets. Thanks for a really thoughtful post. :)

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

Unfortunately, what I am passionate about - understanding the connections that make up our world and explaining the interconnection - is not something that makes money. Nevermind. I am working on a (3rd or 4th) career that is somewhat tangential and allows me to make a living.

In the meantime, I have my own blog where I not only follow my passion, but conduct experiments in social media development constantly. Over the nearly 4 years I've been on my current platform I've learned a lot of things that clearly go against "conventional wisdom" (an oxymoron if ever there was one!). Some of these tidbits have been confirmed by the research of others.

While my work is still a constant struggle, knowing that I am serving my clients very well is very gratifying. I can do the experiments on my own li'l blog and apply them to the bottom line of those who pay me. It's a living. It doesn't make me very popular among the people who think my methods are wrong, but I know I have data behind me. Too bad for them, eh?

Everyone in a new field like social media has to keep experimenting and trying new things. No one is an expert - but we can all be practitioners. It's not what I'd like to do for a living, but it's pretty close - and I can keep my li'l hobby on the side as a fun tangent to this career. Why not?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@jspepper Jeremy, I've been thinking about this very topic since you and I discussed it on @shonali blog. I disagree with you, to a certain extent. Blogging is not journalism so, while we should explore all angles and be responsible, it's really about our opinions and putting out different voices on topics. I always take a stance on one side of a subject (even if I really am in the middle) because that's what generates conversation and what opens all of our minds to different thinking. If we always provide a fair and balanced assessment, it's not blogging - it's reporting. I've been thinking a lot about what happened with Chrysler and their social media agency this week. I'm going to blog about it next week. I'm taking the stance of an agency owner and what I would do if a client told me I had to fire an employee. Am I going to call Chrysler or NMS? No. I'm not going to do that because the blog post isn't about them. It's about me and my experience. I've asked a lot of questions around this topic, with people I admire, in order to build my stance. But it's my blog, my experience.

Perhaps the difference is that you have access to some of the people (like Klout) who will take your calls/emails and quickly get back to you. As I build the Spin Sucks brand, I hope to have that same access, but right now I'm more concerned with providing one person's opinion in order to further a conversation and open, not only the minds of our readers, but mine, too.

lulugrimm
lulugrimm

@bobnesper Glad you enjoyed it. I know what that struggle is like. I will say this about that side of the equation: Keep your passion and desire to get where you eventually want to end up (if you don't know, spend a good amount of time mapping your immediate and near future goals) top of mind. That way, if you wind up in a gig you don't like, it will continue to propel you forward and you will understand the value of what you're learning always. That's worked well for me along the way.

HeatherWhaling
HeatherWhaling

@ginidietrich I had a boss once who made it very clear that you can't succeed in agency PR unless you ask questions. A lot of questions. Whether we're learning about a new client industry, or trying to expand our personal skill set, we'd all benefit by asking questions of those who have "been there, done that." It takes a good leader to foster an environment that welcomes questions, as opposed to making people feel dumb/bad for asking questions.

And, Lisa, I *love* that Diane Sawyer quote. Amazing! :)

lulugrimm
lulugrimm

@Lisa Gerber Enjoyed your thoughts here. Questioning convention is so simple to me I think because my life isn't conventional:-) The two go together. I felt so awkward about it for so long, but as I get older I'm pretty damn grateful for it. Part of that having to do with what you've mentioned:-) I was luck enough to work for a brilliant restaurateur who rocked operations and guest experience. Learned a ton from that experience. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Glad you enjoyed-)

jspepper
jspepper

@ginidietrich Disagree Gini - especially with the blogging isn't journalism tact, as that doesn't hold water. When it's convenient for bloggers, they're journalists. When they get called out for not conforming to certain journalistic standards, they're bloggers.

And being a journalist or reporter does not mean you cannot have an opinion - I present both sides, and then give my opinion. I don't do it for every post, but I'd rather write from a position of knowledge than just shoot from the hip. I'm about to write about Brogan's Blog Topics, but before I condemn the idea, I signed up and paid for it for a month so I could experience it; and yes, I spoke with him as well.

But, since we brought up that other post - not knowing that linking a name to an article would be an SEO move is an SEO 100 level thing. As an SM/PR person, and since it's a topic on your blog, I would think you would be more aware of it.

And thanks - these companies respond to me not because I've blogged for 8-9 years but because I ask to speak to them about their services, or to get their side of the story. Everyone wants to tell their story, pitch their service.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@wabbitoid @ginidietrich @jspepper Definitely. Although like any industry, there are quite a few crap journalists as well that don't care about integrity - bad eggs are everywhere, codes of standard and ethics or not. ;-)

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

@ginidietrich @jspepper While I don't think that bloggers are journalists, I think there is a lot to learn from the standards of journalism that make more effective blogging. That does not mean we can expect the standards of objectivity to apply for amateurs, however.

This comes up a lot when talking about Citizen Journalism. Can we expect someone who does not have the time and resources of an editor to match journalistic standards? I think that any blogger, citizen journalist or no, would do a lot better working as a "blank slate" rather than trying to force objectivity onto the situation.

What I mean by this is being as honest as possible in reporting "This is what I see in front of me". A (succinct!) description of where the observer is standing professionally / etc and a good shot of humility goes a long way.

Objectivity is a very artificial construct - one that assumes the most relevant perspectives are known, can be reliably interviewed, and then synthesized. I think that reporters rarely live up to this ideal, so I don't see why it would be considered a good approach for amateurs.

I wrote about this in more depth in my internet writing guide, put together for a group of citizen journalists some time ago. I would appreciate your comments, of course

http://tinyurl.com/4hsuu5q

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@jspepper @ginidietrich Techcrunch. Mashable. Huffington Post. Read Write Web. All their writers have to work to an editorial process, and have a team of people above them to approve, critique and advise on getting opinions and viewpoints. They're also paid and have to adhere to a journalistic code.

Despite how you try and spin it, Jeremy, bloggers are not journalists. Bloggers are writers, yes, as are journalists, but to put them in the same boat as journalists? That's as tired as the argument that not calling for a viewpoint is poor. Kudos to you for following up on companies; but just as much kudos to others for sharing their thoughts and how they would have dealt with it as well, without having to wait on someone from a company deeming whether they're worthy of their time or not.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@jspepper Yep - and I'm learning it. Which is why I agreed with you that you were right - I should have linked to the TechCrunch article on their name and Tim's LI profile on his. I made a mistake. I've learned from it.

jspepper
jspepper

@ginidietrich I'm not claiming any expertise in SEO - never have, never will - but just understanding the basics of it. I think that's every PR/SM person's responsibility nowadays.

Yes, we'll agree to disagree.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@jspepper I suppose we'll agree to disagree then. That's the beauty of blogging and the web. And yes, SEO is a topic on our blog, but not something I write about (unless I'm talking about something I learned at a conference). I run an agency - it's impossible for me to be an expert in everything...as much as I would really love it.

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