September 25, 2018
In my last blog, I highlighted lessons learned during the mind-numbing boredom of a marathon taper. As I began the long months of preparation for Marathon #6, New York, in November, and #7, Big Sur, in April, I found myself longing for some boredom and decided to take a break from running this summer.
For normal people, a ‘break’ would likely include relaxing of some sort and drinking wine and chatting with good looking people on the beach. For me, the ‘break’ was a long planned Backroads biking trip through Italy where my husband and I would cover hundreds of miles by bike before ending up in Paris for the end of the Tour de France. And as in the past, this ‘break’ allowed me to see the parallels between my personal sporting activities and the work I do in my professional life at LEWIS.
I started biking for triathlons five years ago. Anyone who bikes knows that clipless pedals are the way to go if efficiency and power are important to you. Even though I KNEW the pedals would help me, I resisted them for years because I wanted to spend time on the important things like training – the running, swimming and biking that make triathlons fun. I struggled to learn how to use my pedals before our Italy trek, but knew I wouldn’t be able to make it through the hills of Umbria and Tuscany on my own power alone.
How often does this happen in agency life? Are your 90 day plans updated? Do you regularly scrub your media outreach lists? Did you ask your clients WHY they are doing a project? If you do all these things on the regular, skip to Lesson Ten. If you’re like most people I know, you scramble to get these things done when the client or your boss asks for them. And then you realize how much easier your life would be with efficient pedals or a plan, clean lists and clear objectives. Do the basics. They will help you.
As someone who exercises regularly, I flew off to Italy fully expecting to be in the middle pack of our cycling cohort. Never mind that my longest ride ever was only 28 miles. Never mind that my bike training was limited or that I had only been using my pedals for a few training runs. I’m an athlete. Or a fathlete at least! On my first ride – a 30 mile loop around San Luca – I was still huffing up hills while my husband and the rest of our group were well into their second glasses of wine at lunch. At the end of the day, the group was relaxing at the pool while our tour guides practically rolled me into the hotel.
These kinds of realizations happen to me more often than not in my PR career. Even though I’ve been working in communications for more than 20 years, I am still confronted by how much I don’t know and how much more I can learn. While our clients pay us for our expertise, it’s important to remember that the communications industry is changing all the time and we need to be humble and constantly educate ourselves. I could have been upset by my poor showing in Italy, but at the end of the day, I was drinking wine and riding bikes in Italy – it’s not terrible. Same with my job. I could be upset that I don’t know everything, but looking at it from a different perspective, it’s a privilege to work in an industry where things don’t get stale and you get to learn new things.
On the third day of my trip, during a trek through gorgeous olive groves between Spello and Assisi, the battery on my Backroads-provided Garmin died. Because I’m slow, I was alone, and even though I had written directions, I’m American so my understanding of the metric system and metric distances stopped somewhere around 2nd grade. On top of this, Google maps was unable to pinpoint my location. While my husband and tour guide were panicking over how they would ever find me, I managed to remain calm, noting, “Guys, I’m watching YouTube videos on how to repair Garmins and checking my work email. How lost can I really be?”
Because of the changing nature of the communications business, we’re often confronted with situations that make you feel completely lost. A client has a data breach. A company goes bankrupt. That long planned IPO doesn’t pan out. The key is not to panic. When you’re calm, you’re able to think strategically and plan out a response. When you have a plan, you can quickly get back on track. And when all else fails, rely on the expertise of your team. Chances are that someone has encountered this issue or conflict in the past and can assist, much like my kind and patient Backroads guide.
I’m a marathoner. I enjoy a long, slow slog. I don’t like sprints, or really anything (cars, motorcycles, boats) that goes fast. While I was fine huffing through a few Alpine-like climbs, I was completely terrified of the downhills. Early in our trip, my speed-demon husband reminded me to not jerk the brakes on my bike before bombing down a hill, as my patient guide pulled up beside me and asked what meditation I kept repeating as we took in the gorgeous Umbrian landscape. If he was expecting brilliance, he didn’t get it. “Feather the brakes so you do not die” was my response.
If you’re unfamiliar with feathering, it’s a technique that keeps brakes from locking or overheating while also helping you slow down. It’s the opposite technique of my tried and true method of jerking the brakes until you either tumble over the handlebars or skid off into oblivion. I became very familiar with feathering in Italy and thought of its use during PR and Marketing campaigns. When something goes wrong with a campaign, a complete halt doesn’t make sense. The interview needs to happen, or the product still needs to be launched. Slowing down enough to stop and assess the situation and strategically plan a response is a much more effective way to operate than a stoppage.
There’s a reason this expression is on every cheesy throw pillow you’ll find at Home Goods. Clichés are based on truth. Even with my newfound love of feathering, I was still sweating my way through the downhills on our trip and dreading day 4 in historic Cortona with a 6 kilometer climb uphill, and an 18 kilometer descent. I debated having the van meet me at the top and take me to the bottom where I could drink a Negroni by the pool and wait for the group to join me. That was my plan until I reached the top of the hill. Words will never do that kind of landscape justice. I knew I had to experience it on the bike, smelling and feeling everything. I took the descent at my own pace, shed a few tears on some tricky hairpin turns, and probably burnt out the brakes. But I ultimately made it down and have zero regrets. In an industry where change is constant, it’s okay to be scared, but ultimately, you will need to embrace it if you want to thrive.
I first began watching the Tour de France in 2009 when I was home on maternity leave and looking for something that I could mindlessly watch for literally hours at a time. Prior to that, I was obviously aware of Lance Armstrong but thought you ended up being the Tour de France winner by riding the fastest. See above: American.
While this is technically true, the world of pro cycling is much more complicated. There are specialists in climbing, sprinting and time trials, and while each team has a leader, the rest of the team members are domestiques, riders who shield the leader and essentially help them win the race. My husband and I flew to Paris with the numbers of our favorite riders in our pockets (including future third husband, Peter Sagan and our American favorite, Teejay van Garderen) and more cheesy tourist t-shirts than a suburban dad at Disney World. We followed the teams on Twitter and stalked out their hotels. It was, in a word, AWESOME. And we were there at the finish when Geraint Thomas (originally a domestique to prior winner and expected victor, Chris Froome) took home his prize.
You get where I’m going with this analogy, right? You don’t win on your own. At the end of the day, it’s the strength of the team that gets you to the finish line. In a business like communications, we all have our strengths, but our clients win when they can rely on our collective specialties. Surround yourself by the best people and get out there and win!
Check out more PR analogies in our blog posts!