Monday, July 29, 2019

6 Steps to Managing Today’s Public Relations Environment

Jon Newman and Megan Irvin of Hodges Partnership present to Charlottesville audience.






Public relations today is about more than being quoted in the paper or online. PR today is about driving traffic, sales and business. What used to be newsworthy – anniversaries, new buildings, new hires – isn’t as newsworthy anymore. And gone are the days of relying on your favorite newspaper reporter to tell your story to the masses. Today’s savvy business owner is pushing out stories directly to their customers and prospects, bypassing traditional media outlets all together. 

“In the good old days, when you thought about public relations, you thought about media relations and telling your story through the media,” says Jon Newman, CEO of The Hodges Partnership.The media was a lot bigger, more robust then. We gauged success by how many placements we could get in newspapers.” Today, he says, newspapers are shutting down and TV news coverage is becoming even more niche. Technology and social media have changed the game. 

Jon has been in the media relations industry for more than 25 years, and he and his colleague Megan Irvin recently shared their PR knowledge at a VACEOs Lunch & Learn event in Charlottesville, Virginia. We learned that we currently live in a time where content is king, but it’s the social-savvy storyteller who really rules the PR kingdom.

Here’s where to begin.  



To become a good storyteller, you need to know your audience. Spend some time internally with your team and figure out who your audience is, what they like and where they live. You may have three or four different audiences. (Jon and his team like to create marketing personas for each customer type to really get into the mindset of each segment.)

Once you know who you want to speak to, use that information to craft your key message. Important: Keep in mind that it’s not about you. In other words … 


Don’t create stories or posts about yourself. Create content based on what your customer wants to hear. Jon and Megan suggest conducting informal focus groups, or informally interviewing customers or friends, to learn what to communicate. Ask them, “If you were a potential customer of ours, what are the types of things you’d want to hear from us?”

Know what topics and content your customers want to hear more about, but also hold tight and true to your brand.

“Know the key messages that you want to get across: ‘No collusion, no obstruction,’” says Newman. “What are your versions of that? What are the things you want to say? What are the three to five things you want to say over and over and over again? And if you’re in a service-oriented business, please don’t say that your customer service is better than anybody else’s, because everybody says that. Spend some time and really figure out what makes you different, what you’re going to sell.”

You know what you want to say. Now set specific goals for your content and make sure your internal team is on board.


In general, there are three levels of content:

  1. generating brand awareness and website traffic; 
  2. generating leads; 
  3. associating your brand with a cause, topic subject. 

New to the PR game? Start with creating content that builds brand awareness.

“The first level is about getting people to know your company and driving them to your website,” says Newman. “The second level – lead generation – is the world where you’re driving [prospects] to your website and you’re driving them to an offer, like a white paper or report, in exchange for their name, their title, their company and their email address.”

Once you have this fundamental information, you can use it to start building an email database and strategy to continue to nurture the business relationship over time.

The third level of content is brand journalism – “which is not as much about selling your product, but selling your brand in a way that people associate your brand with a certain movement or certain topic,” says Newman.


You know what you want to say. Now, where and how are you going to tell your story? Are you going to go the more traditional route, or are you going to go online and take advantage of social media, blog posts, podcasts, influencers, etc.?

A word about social media.

Newman cautions that the demographics behind the well-known platforms are changing. “Facebook, which used to be for my daughter, is now for my mother,” he says. “Instagram and Snapchat are now for my daughter and son. Twitter is for me, and YouTube is for everybody.”

LinkedIn and similar platforms offer business owners the ability to target the right audiences with the right message at the right time. 


A subtle but important takeaway: Don’t forget to communicate your content strategy with your internal team before you launch a campaign. Also, be sure to keep everyone in the loop as posts go up, and make sure you regularly encourage team members to comment and share the content you’ve posted.  

Make a point to commit to communication. Remind your employees of your PR goals and your key brand messages in staff meetings and in every internal communication — these are “little reminders along the way where they understand what your brand is and what you want,” Newman explains. 


The best content is dynamic and targeted, and not just written word. Think infographics, photos and video. “So, overall, [PR is] easier in a lot of ways – and it’s harder,” says Newman. “The stories need to be more defined. The audiences really need to be more defined. The content needs to be planned and ongoing. Once you start, this is not something you turn off. This is sort of a lifetime investment.”

The good news is that marketing technology, social media platforms and media companies like The Hodges Partnership offer business owners the data and information they need to create an actionable and trackable path toward success! 

 Hodges Partnership logoAbout The Hodges Partnership

Headquartered in Richmond, VA, The Hodges Partnership specializes in media relations, social media and community management, corporate and internal communications, and much more. Learn more at

Posted by Staff at 12:01 pm
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Friday, June 14, 2019

3 Ways to Manage Stress as a CEO

Dr. David Pong, author of the blog and Director of Executive Health, and Zack Smith, CEO, at PartnerMD. Dr. Pong is Zack’s primary care physician.

To address the unique stressors in your life as a busy business owner with many people depending on you, let’s first consider what you can change. Grab a pen and piece of paper and write down:

  • The external situations causing you the most stress right now.  It could be an employee letting you down, a difficult client, marital stress or caring for an aging parent. These are your stressors.
  • The activities that you rely on for downtime, “me time” or time that allows your brain to shut off and recharge. These are your short-term distractors.
  • Your reactions to stress. Do you get frustrated with others? Do you lose sleep? Do you eat poorly? These are your symptoms that you can be more mindful of when they occur.

Now that you’ve written down the main areas of current cause, effect and management of stress, we can start to refine your unique stress management strategy. And just as unique as we all are, each of us will end up with different way to manage our stress.  In general, there are three main steps better stress management.

STEP 1) Address the External Source of Stress

Now that you’ve identified your stressors, you can start to determine how to remove or minimize these external sources of stress. This might be what runs through your head at night and keeps you from falling back asleep at 2:00 a.m. It could be a situation you are avoiding because you’re not quite sure how to handle it yet. As long as you’re not dealing with it all, it’s not going to go away.

So, next to each of your stressors, write down why you’re not dealing it. Be honest with yourself. Are you afraid to have the tough conversation? Do you think you need more time to decide? Is there not enough time in your day?

Next write down one small step towards starting to solve this stressor. Is it a question that needs to be answered first? Do you need to delegate it to someone else? What one step can you make on each one to start to limit and remove that stress – or at least remove the physical or emotional roadblock to solving for it? Even a small step in the right direction starts to minimize the stressor, plus it lowers your body’s negative reaction to that stressor by knowing that you’re working on it.

STEP 2) Avoid and Distract from the Source of Stress

As busy as you are as a CEO, you actually can take a mini-break from stress through short periods of avoidance or distraction. In fact, the irony is that taking mini-breaks from stress allows you to take on even greater stress in short bouts. This is probably the most common method of stress management, and it comes in many forms as you listed above under your distractors.

Examples can be checking your social media feeds, brief exercise or even a walking break in the middle of your day, playing a video game, or binging the latest on Netflix at night on the sofa. Anything that allows your brain to think about something other than your stress counts as a distraction that helps you avoid feeling stress for a brief period and allows your body and mind to recharge. Even the greatest athletes in the world take small breaks from training so that their brain and muscles can recharge and come back even stronger.

STEP 3) Modify Your Response to Stress

Changing your internal response to stress requires introspection, but it also helps you develop a new set of skills to better manage stress for the long term. Now that you’ve identified the symptoms you exhibit when you’re stressed, you can more easily recognize them and change your reaction in the moment. Instead of the short-term reactions like raising your voice, choosing the unhealthy menu item, or delaying a critical business decision yet again, you can now work to change your reaction to a healthy one – both for you and your business.

Our physicians and health coaches at PartnerMD often recommend various forms of box breathing, meditation and mindfulness to assist in stress management. Learning to breathe more deeply through your belly and with intention to clear your mind can have powerful effects on your body’s physical and mental reaction to stress. Plus, it allows you as a CEO to get out of the rut of responding quickly out of habit and reflex, and into the more effective method of reacting with intention and productive outcomes. And if nothing else, just watch what happens to your employees and your kids when they see you inhale and exhale deeply with your eyes closed instead of yelling or complaining about the latest problem to solve.

Meditation is a powerful tool that allows you to become a neutral observer. One of the most important parts of meditation is the non-judgmental awareness — of seeing things for what they are rather than what you think they should be. The goal of meditation is not to think of nothing; it’s to ground you in the present making your more aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations without necessarily reacting to them. We can recognize our thoughts and then let them go. This physical practice over time can actually rewire your brain to stimulate calm, happiness and even more creative problem solving. In order to change how we react to stress, we first need to have this awareness.

Quick Tips for Beginners

In addition to the three-step process above, here are a few additional tips and easy activities to get you started.

  • Try journaling to get negative emotions out of your head and onto paper. Journaling is a great way to get both positive business ideas and negative emotions out for you to see them and more readily act on them. The most successful CEOs frequently tout the power of journaling and attribute much of their business growth to this daily reflective process.
  • If sitting in silence is too much, go for a walk outside. Try to take a different route than before, notice something new this time, or focus on each of your five senses while walking. What can you hear, see, taste, feel, smell?
  • Seek out an expert, such as a counselor practicing cognitive therapy or a certified health coach, to hone your skills. Even leveraging free apps on your phone like Calm or Headspace is a great place to start.


Ready to learn more about managing stress? PartnerMD is hosting a VACEOs Square Table event on June 20. Seating is limited and is for VACEOs Members and Sponsors only. Learn more and sign up.

Not able to make the Square Table? PartnerMD offers free consultations with a certified health coach to help you identify ways to better manage stress. Visit to learn more. 

Editors Note: PartnerMD is a Sponsor of VA Council of CEOs. This article was originally posted here.

Posted by Staff at 4:51 pm
Friday, June 14, 2019

How to Handle Crucial Conversations at Work

Whether it is with your boss, co-worker, or client, difficult conversations are challenging to manage, and the fear of failure can sometimes be paralyzing. The key to ensuring the best outcome for everyone involved is knowing how to manage the exchange.

Here are the crucial steps to ensure a smooth, successful, and productive discussion.

The Steps to Prepare for a Difficult Conversation

Step 1) Get yourself in the right mindset by asking yourself these questions.

1. What is your purpose for having the conversation? What do you hope to accomplish and what is an ideal outcome?

2. What assumptions are you making about this person’s intent? Be cautious about making any presumptions.

3. Which “buttons” of yours are being pushed? Are you more emotional than the situation warrants? Be aware of your heightened emotional state.

4. How does this person perceive the situation? Are they aware there is a problem? What solution do you think they would suggest?

5. What are your needs and fears? What are theirs? How have either of you contributed to the problem?

Step 2. Understand your emotional state and don’t forget to breathe.

No matter how well the conversation begins, you’ll need to stay in charge of yourself, your purpose, and your emotional energy. Your attitude toward the conversation will influence your perception of it. Being positive will impact its effectiveness. Be mindful of your body language.

Step 3. Cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity.

Pretend you don’t know anything and try to learn as much as possible about the other person’s point of view.  What do they really want? What are they not saying? Do you know all the facts?

Let them talk until they are finished; don’t interrupt them other than to show your understanding of what they are saying. Most importantly, do not take it personally. Your goal is to learn as much as you can.

Step 4. Acknowledge the other person’s position.

Acknowledgment shows you are listening. Explain what you think is really going on from their perspective; anticipate their hopes and honor their position. People rarely change their position unless they see you understanding. Also, take ownership of your role, this will help move the conversation forward. Lastly, know that acknowledging and agreeing are not the same. Saying, “this sounds really important to you,” doesn’t mean you are going along with their decision.

Step 5. Clarify your perspective without minimizing theirs.

When you sense that the other has fully expressed his or her side, then it’s your turn. Clarify what you think they may have missed and explain yourself without minimizing their point of view. For example: “From what you’ve told me, I can see how you came to the conclusion that I’m not a team player. But I think I am. When I introduce problems with a project, I’m thinking about its long-term success. I don’t mean to be a critic, though perhaps I sound like one. Maybe we can talk about how to address these issues so that my intention is clear.” 

Step 6. You’re ready to problem solve.

Now you can start building solutions. Brainstorming and asking questions are essential. Ask what they think might work and then find something you like and build on it. If the conversation becomes adversarial, go back to asking questions. The result will be sustainable solutions.

Additional tips and suggestions are:

Practice, practice, practice.

  • Acknowledge everyone’s emotional energy and direct it toward a useful purpose.
  • Know and return to your purpose at difficult moments.
  • Don’t take verbal attacks personally.
  • Don’t assume this person will see things from your point of view.
  • Practice the conversation with a mentor before holding the real one.
  • Mentally practice the conversation. See various possibilities and visualize yourself handling them with ease. Envision the outcome you are hoping for.

Use one of these conversation openers.

  • I have something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more effectively.
  • I’d like to talk about ______ with you, and first I’d like to get your point of view.
  • I need your help with what just happened. Do you have a few minutes to talk?
  • I need your help with something. Can we talk about it (soon)? If the person says, “Sure, let me get back to you,” follow up with him.
  • I think we have different perceptions about ____________. I’d like to hear your thinking on this.
  • I’d like to talk about ________. I think we may have different ideas about how to __________.
  • I’d like to see if we might reach a better understanding about ___________. I really want to hear your feelings about this and share my perspective as well.

About the Author

Kevin Grey is a Fractional HR Director for Warren Whitney. He serves clients requiring senior level human resource leadership and organizational development expertise across Virginia.

Editors Note: Warren Whitney is a Sponsor of VA Council of CEOs. The article was originally posted here.

Posted by Staff at 4:49 pm
Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Streamline Your Communications While Ramping Up Productivity

Ari Meisel, founder of Less Doing, shares his thoughts on productivity, including how to decrease email inbox clutter and more with Retreat 2019 attendees.

“Less Doing” was the theme of this year’s VACEOs Retreat, and there’s no better expert on the subject than Ari Meisel. The founder of Less Doing, Meisel is a self-described “overwhelmologist” who helps entrepreneurs find focus, flexibility and freedom in their work. His methodology enables founders to become replaceable so they can scale their business.

During his workshop at this year’s Retreat, he asked the audience, “What are some of your biggest productivity challenges?” No surprise: Many members in the audience reported managing email as problematic.

Here are a few email tips we gathered from Ari’s presentation. What techniques do you use to manage your inbox? Leave us a comment. We’d love to hear about them!


4 Ways To Streamline Your Communications While Ramping Up Productivity*

TIP #1:  Don’t use email for internal communications

“Email is a transactional communication,” says Ari. “Internal conversations tend to be exactly that – conversations, brainstorming, ideas, arguments. That’s why, when people try to use email, we get the 20 BCCs and forwards. It’s just not designed for it. People don’t use email very well to begin with. Using it for internal communication is terrible.”

To maximize our productivity, we need to stop unnecessary email from getting into our inbox in the first place. The best way to do that is by not using email for things we’re not supposed to use it for, says Ari. He suggests using at least four communication tools for different internal communications needs.

TIP #2:  Use these tools (or similar ones) to streamline your internal communications

There’s a tool for every job, and Ari suggests you have these four, at minimum, in your toolbox:

  1. A tool for conversation (he recommends VOXER) 
  2. A tool for procedural communication (think SLACK)
  3. A bridge between internal and external communications
  4. A project management tool

For daily check-ins and conversations, Ari is a big fan of Voxer. “Every morning in our company, at 8:00 a.m., there’s a message that pops up in our Voxer group, and it says, ‘Hey team, time to check in. What are you going to work on today, and what’s your biggest obstacle?’”

Ari also suggests a tool like SLACK. Use it for conversations that aren’t brainstorming and not really conversational. Use it to share things people need to know. Ex: “Hey everybody, make sure to respond to our recent Facebook post.”

The third tool is one that bridges the gap between internal and external communications. Ari suggests ones like Intercom, Freshdesk and Help Scout.

Lastly, you need a place where things get done. That’s important, because once you’ve decided something needs to get done, it needs to be removed from the communication stream and put into a project management space – a place where things get accomplished. “Trello is my choice for project management,“ says Ari.

TIP #3:  Inbox + Archive Folder + Optional Folder = All You Need

So you’ve got your communication tools in place to help with internal communications. Great! But, of course, you can’t stop the emails from coming in. Your productivity will soar if you learn how to streamline your sorting process when they do. First step? Make a dramatic change to your folder structure.

According to Ari, you only need two folders: Archive and Optional. “The inbox is the place where work should happen. That’s the Zen place. Then there’s the Archive in Outlook and Gmail, which is not garbage. It’s not deleted, it’s not gone – it’s just not in inbox. Everything else goes there. You need one other folder the Optional folder.

TIP #4:  Use a Filter (or Rule) to Optimize Your Optional Folder

To keep your email streamlined and your energy focused on the essential, it’s vital that you create an automatic method to filter messages to your Optional folder.

“In Gmail, it’s called a filter,” says Ari. “In Apple, it’s called a rule. It’s a very simple rule. It says that if an email enters your inbox and has the word ‘unsubscribe’ in it, it should skip your inbox and go right into the Optional folder. That usually takes care of about 62% of the emails that come into your inbox.”

“I know some of you are thinking, ‘But there’s that newsletter I love reading!’ which is fine,” Ari says. “It’s going to be there in the Optional folder. And you get into a habit, because our brains are not quite there with the technology, when you click on the Optional folder – which you might do once a day, or maybe once a week – and you’re now in “optional” mode. You know there’s nothing essential in there, so you can go through those Facebook updates, newsletters, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll read that,’ much faster. It’s a stress-free environment, and the inbox gets filtered for you.”

Ok, most of our messages have been filtered and moved. But we’ve still got messages in our inbox. Now what?

Utilize one of the three Ds in Ari’s decision matrix: Delete, Deal With It, or Defer.

Delete: Ask yourself, “Do I really need to respond?” “Something like 42% of the emails we reply to don’t require a response,” Ari explains. “If you’ve ever found yourself sending an email that says, ‘Got it’ or ‘Hey, thanks,’ don’t do that. There’s a boomerang effect in email: The more you send out, the more you get. We can get better about saying no. And sometimes ‘no’ is just you see it and you don’t respond to it.”

Deal With It: The second decision is deal with it. “Dealing with it could include a little Subset D, which is to delegate it,” say Ari. “If you can deal with something right now – like within the next three minutes – deal with it right now. I don’t know where we got this concept that something’s going to magically change three minutes later.”

Defer: (not to be confused with procrastination): Deferring is making an active decision and deciding that there’s a better time to do some things. “If you look at deferring as a way to decide that there’s a better time and place that you’re going to do things, it becomes really empowering for you,” Ari reveals.

Start using this decision-making matrix each day and watch your productivity soar!

*Source: Ari Meisel Workshop, VACEOs Retreat 2019

Posted by Staff at 4:17 pm
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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Business Growth by Vivid Vision: Cameron Herold at Retreat 2019

Cameron Herold, international speaker and author of Double Double and Meetings Suck, teaches Retreat 2019 attendees actionable, practical things to take their businesses to the next level of growth.

Cameron Herold is the mastermind behind hundreds of companies’ exponential expansion, and he’s rightfully earned a reputation as a growth guru by guiding his clients to double their profit and their revenue in just three years or less.

During VACEOs Retreat 2019, Herold taught attendees actionable, practical tactics for taking their business to the next level. More specifically, he explained how to build a culture, how to define your big hairy audacious goal (BHAG), and how to leverage a second in command. His most important message: Growth won’t happen unless you define your vision first.

Kelley Powell, CEO of MacLaurin Group, has already taken Herold’s words to heart. She netted an extra hour with Herold after submitting the top wager in a friendly bidding war that raised funds for an amazing cause, the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation. She’s recently spent her time working with Herold on her company’s Vivid Vision.

“Our time was incredibly meaningful…”

“I am humbled and appreciative that Cameron Herold is a part of MacLaurin Group’s journey,” said Powell. “For those who know Kelley Powell best, you will not be surprised to hear Cameron had me at ‘Goals. Measurements. Outcomes.’ Data always tells the true story. The only way to reach a Vivid Vision is to know you are on pace to get there,” she says.

“How you reach your destination of a Vivid Vision? Simply, focus,” Powell adds. She suggests you start as she did, by purchasing Cameron’s recent book, Meetings Suck for everyone on your team.

How to Create the Vision: Get Out of Your Box. Visualize and Define.

Ever think to yourself, “I wish my employees were as intuitive as I am”? If you’re like most CEOs, you have. “We’ve all said it,” said Herold at the VACEOs Retreat 2019. “The only reason you’re so intuitive is that you see the picture no one else can see. If they could see what you can see, they would be just as intuitive.”

So how do you get them to see what you can see? Create a Vivid Vision.

“The first step is you’ve got to get out of the box,” Herold told the VACEOs Retreat 2019 crowd. “You have to go, get out of the box, get out of your office, and go somewhere around nature – somewhere where you can get inspired. Pretend you’re flying in a time machine and you leave today and you arrive in the future to December 31, 2021, and I want you to look around your company, and I want you to describe what you see as if you’re standing in your company and you’re describing what you see.”

Herold’s approach includes capturing three or four bullet points about:

  • What customers are saying;
  • What employees are saying; and
  • What the media is writing about you.

Then move on to what your suppliers are saying, what your banker is saying, what your accountant is saying … your lawyer. Describe meetings, customer service, marketing, operations, IT, engineering and finance.

“Don’t worry about how these things are going to happen,” Herold explained. “Just describe what it feels like and then start pulling together your first rough draft. Your job as the CEO is to only pull together the first rough draft. A rough Word document – three or four pages of a Word document.”

Next, pass off your rough draft to a writer to capture it in such a way that it becomes a magnet and pulls people toward your business. Later, add some design elements to it to make it feel more like your brand.

Your Vivid Vision should attract AND repel those who take it in. “You have to be willing to push people away,” said Herold. “The alignment around vision is where culture starts. The media talking about the massages, the free bicycles, all the lunches – that’s not culture. That stuff comes way later. Culture starts with alignment on vision and getting a good employee in the same direction. Our role as CEO is to be the Chief Energizing Officer and communicate vision – and to bring in the people who buy into it.”

Learn More About Kelley Powell’s Vivid Vision Journey

About the overall experience with Cameron she tells us: “With a shared spirit of investing in others, our time was incredibly meaningful knowing together we contributed to the beacon of hope for those affected by teenage mental illness, the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation. I have personally signed up to run the 5k in the fall. I encourage each of you reading to do so as well. Special thank you to Cameron and to the team at Virginia Council of CEO’s for creating truly meaningful connections.”

Want to hear more about Kelley Powell’s journey with Cameron Herold? Cameron will be joining Kelley on the MacLaurin Group’s “Demystifying Technology” podcast soon. (Subscribe here:

Thanks for sharing your experience with us Kelley!

“Worth the Price of Membership”

We often hear that the VACEOs Annual Retreat is “worth the price of membership alone,” and it’s no wonder: It’s a three-day event filled with opportunities to learn from national thought leaders, participate in CEO workshops and network. But there are many other reasons to become a member of the Virginia Council of CEOs. Learn more about the benefits of membership.

Posted by Staff at 12:41 pm