On Friday I received a phone call from an acquaintance. Her friend is starting a new non-profit and needs my advice (for free, of course) on how to raise money, host an event, build a brand, stand out about her important mission…. All the same questions of every non-profit. I have heard these questions 1,000,000 times before. My response is always the same – do not start a non-profit. At least don’t start a non-profit until you are absolutely sure there is nobody already doing similar work with whom you can partner.
I am sensitive to the passion it takes to reach the stage of saying “I want to start a non-profit” and I applaud the desire to make an impact in our community. Austin has more non-profits per capita than any other city in the Country. And it’s a tough environment for raising money – we are a young, transient community built of hippies and hipsters, politicians and academicians and Californians. There is a SMALL pocket of incredibly generous people in Austin who are gracious and giving beyond comprehension. But that pocket is small and the competition...more
When I was 7 I tied my little brother to a tree in our front yard, naked. Or maybe in a diaper. Whatever it was, I left him for more than an hour and it was enough to get me in big trouble.
Lt Col Jim Horn went on to not only survive, but thrive. He graduated from WestPoint just before 9-11, went to Ranger school and then deployed to Iraq in what was to be his first of a handful of deployments. How quickly your attitude changes from annoying little brother to American hero. Jim has witnessed the death of too many friends and escaped his own more than he will honestly say. And Jim is just one of many. There are more than 1 Million active duty today and more than 40 million have served since 1776. Veterans Day is a time to pause, remember, and show gratitude.
Last week Jim invited me to speak to the Leadership Institute at the University of Houston where he now commands the Army ROTC. The 50+ in the class will soon have to choose active or reserve duty. I spent most of my time on the standard content I’ve taught before but the last few minutes I paused to try and give...more
Hurricane Harvey dumped twice as much rain on my beloved Texas than Hurricane Katrina brought with her. Twice as much. The devastation is beyond words.
My Facebook and Twitter feed are full of friends seeking help for evacuations for themselves or loved ones and other friends seeking where they can offer others help. It's been this way for 8 days straight. There's something else in my feed too - and I've noticed it on web searches - there are brands trying to market like it's business as usual.
Especially tough times don't mean business as usual. Are the 24-hour news cycles making brands immune to what is actually a tragedy versus a news grab for the day? THIS is an actual tragedy. Tone deaf businesses will find themselves disenfranchised from the greatest State in the union.
Texans are not interested in your lawsuit about a trademark related to the double-double cheeseburger; we aren't shopping your fall mattress sale. In fact, right now we think you should be donating your cheeseburgers and mattresses, like Texas business leader and hero...more
Social media hosts some of the biggest brand and personal blunders these days. Just ask the little league softball team recently ejected from a tournament over a Snapchat post. Rookie mistakes quickly turn major league when instantly shared in bits and bytes. And while it’s easy to say you’ll ignore social media (every legal department’s dream), it’s not the reality of today’s communication. Your social media simply needs some discipline to become your brand’s best friend. In this first of two-part series, let’s discuss better plans for proactive messaging in social media.
One of the best opportunities social media opens to brands is freedom to join conversations beneficial to but not directly about you or your brand. No more hoping a news release gets picked up or gnashing teeth when reporters go to your competitors for comments. (OK, you may still do that, but you see my point.) However, those jumping to the top of the feed often thought ahead.
If you’ve ever been around a newsroom, you know journalists often complete obituaries of aging public figures in advance,...more
Recently, CNBC released its ranking for top states for business. Texas ranked fourth. Fourth! We were first for years. In fact, at one point, we created more jobs in Texas than in all the other states combined. Texas leaders, we have to get back to business!
Texas has always been a conservative, even if not always a Republican, state. My dad ran for office in the early 1970s as a Republican when Texas was a deeply rooted blue state. Everyone laughed. Denton County had never elected a Republican. In fact, fewer than 20 Republicans served in the entire State House. My father proved the skeptics wrong, serving 18 years in the Texas House of Representatives as a Republican. While he retired before the GOP achieved a majority and elected a Republican Speaker, he and his party colleagues were part of a swelling movement that would swing the state more to the right … more “red.”
Many factors led to the political sea change during those years. Predominately, the Democratic party moved further and further to the left, abandoning its base of independent minded voters. Many...more
13. Thirteen. I can't believe I have another teenager! Nearly 5,000 days after I walked into the Travis County Clerk's office and filed a DBA to create JHL, today we celebrate 13 years in business.
How do I possibly capture the emotions and vision forward in this anniversary blog? The traditional gift for a 13th anniversary is lace. There is no way I can reference anything so fragile as I reflect on building a small business. My 11th anniversary blog about steel is much more appropriate.
Somehow 13 seems the exact right age for JHL. Teenagers are not still babies, have learned the basic skills to survive yet still need people to surround them with encouragement and guidance. Teenagers have learned to put energy and effort into what matters and what's important to their future. By thirteen, a teen knows that not everyone can be trusted and if it seems too good to be true, it is.
Not still a baby and not yet an adult, JHL is just now really hitting our stride. The public affairs, communications and event planning projects we take on are fascinating and...more
Today I once again guest lectured at the University of Texas in the Leadership Institute. I have guest lectured for years for a couple of universities and enjoy visiting with the students and teaching them from my experience (the school of hard knocks) and also learning from them. They will soon be in the workforce and their focus is naturally on where will they find a job, when and how.
More and more I see an upcoming generation of workforce that does not understand the soft skills required for success in business and in life. This generation has been told they can do or have anything they want and have it instantly. Us old folks know, this is not true. This generation has been told it’s not only okay to over-share the details of their life, it is rewarded through “likes” and “shares”. This generation thinks people want to know what they had for breakfast. There is a sad reality soon to hit. This generation doesn’t have any idea that what they put into the world will impact the brand of who they are and therefore their success path.
We work with clients...more
Many people still think of social media as a juvenile avenue to chat with friends or share feckless details about your day. But the 24/7 news cycle and the rise of conversations taking place on social media have greatly influenced the way thought leaders, influencers, and decision makers consume news and information.
As traditional news models continue to diminish, it becomes increasingly important for organizations involved with policy and the Texas Legislative session to have a voice on social media – and the numbers are even more convincing.
A recent study recorded astounding statistics on the Texas policy voice on social media during the 83rd Legislative Session. Not only are Texas representatives increasingly involved in legislative discussions on social media, but outside entities looking to advocate on their issues are gaining traction and increasing visibility by joining in online conversations.
Good old fashioned phone calls to Legislative Members and walking the halls of the Capitol is ever-important but it’s not the only outreach...more
The November election is under a month away and the 85th legislative session is around the corner. Lobby contracts are in place, teams are assembling. Who is managing the communications piece of the puzzle? Are you ready?
Over the summer I conducted a number of interviews with political insiders throughout Texas; some within the pink building and some running campaigns. I interviewed seasoned veterans and young whipper-snappers; both Democrat and Republican. I interviewed men and women. I interviewed those who work for long-serving politicians and those who work with newcomers. The only ground rule was that all discussion outcomes would maintain anonymity. Some chats lasted 15 minutes, others went for over an hour. I left the duration to the interviewee.
The biggest lesson learned is that politics as usual is gone. Now it’s politics as digital. Traditional communications efforts and personal relationships are important but now only part of the equation. If you aren’t present on social media, you are not present at all, and this can be a real challenge....more
The term “communication disruption” exploded with digital messaging. While industry disruptions – we’re looking at you, Netflix – alter landscapes long term, communication disruptions operate on smaller scales. Sure, surpassing a Twitter trending topic feels magnificent. It’s a mike drop. But too frequently, short-term disruptions cost you message consistency.
Communication Disruption Addiction
Repeated communication disruptions result in short-lived euphoria and a costly burden when carried across today’s media channels. Ignite curiosity with content marketing! Redirect social conversations! Why isn’t that video viral?!? It’s a tall order for one hopefully cohesive message. It’s also unnecessarily time consuming for your leadership to endlessly churn new material and ulcer forming for communications teams to uniquely position them. And, more often than not, these individual messages step on each other, converging in a cloud only vaguely resembling your vision.
Sound suffocatingly familiar in today’s political...more
As an employer to mostly millennials, the question I am asked in every interview is about work-life balance. My answer is that there is no such thing; not that any employer can give. Work-life balance is a state of mind that you must give yourself.
Work-life balance is knowing that it's ok to leave the office every now and then to attend a 5:30PM spin class. Just like its also ok to spend a Sunday afternoon catching up on work. It's ok to come in late here and there. It's ok to burn the midnight oil. It all comes out in the wash. That's work-life balance. There is no secret formula; just live. Don't apologize when you are out of the office and don't expect a cookie when you work late.
Last year was exceptionally busy. As a mom, my oldest graduated and started college and my two littles started new schools. At JHL, my team raised over $5M for our non profit clients, expanded our events business, and grew our public affairs work. As a spouse, we purchased and renovated two downtown buildings. All the while, I serve on several boards keeping me busy, but making me...more
Over the past year, we have had multiple clients endure significant crisis in their organizations. Just last month, we were brought into an urgent crisis situation for a brand new client. The best made plans can go awry. The people most dedicated to an organization might steal. One tweet from an employee can send social media into a spiral. Systems can break down. Technology can disappoint, and at the most inopportune times. The best defense is a good offense. Are you ready?
Given my past experience in incredibly tough situations with our clients, along with my years in politics (where nearly everything is crisis), I have developed a list of dos and don’ts on how to handle a crisis. Here you go….
Happy summer! Don’t let the warm sunshine and cool swimming pool fool you, the political clock is ticking away and session is fast approaching.
Interim committee hearings are well under way, the primary and runoff elections are done and the general election is only a few months away. The time is now, actually last week, to get organized for the upcoming session. Start your strategy meetings, line up your lobby and communications teams and get ready to rumble.
This session will not be easy. Conflicts are sure to arise: it will certainly be a tight budget year (low oil prices are only good at the gas pump – bad on the Texas state budget and likely your 401k), there will be an ever-more conservative legislature that will have to straddle the difficult line between “fiscal conservative” and “no new taxes”, and growing responsibility to have long term vision for our state and consider the importance of properly funding basic needs like infrastructure, schools, and healthcare for an expanding population.
There will be fights on bathrooms and fingerprints and...more
Last night my daughter and I were brainstorming for her class presentation on impactful women in history. She said she wanted to present me to her class as the most impactful woman in history. To the world, not so much. To her world, definitely.
JHL is 12 today. Being a working mom is not easy. The guilt is real at missing a volleyball game for a client reception. But beyond the opportunities I've been afforded through these past 12 years there lies a greater impact. My children have learned that a mom can be a great mom, have a career and volunteer in the community. You see, my children are the center of my world but they are not the center of THE world. And I feel such pride, not just in the work I do everyday, but in the ripple effect through my life.
What a blessing this business and all the people I have met have been in my life. I've had the pleasure of working with some of the smartest, most talented people anywhere - my employees and our terrific clients. We have solved problems, brought people together and raised millions for various charities.
Just as mid-December rolled around and I started thinking about slowing down for family time, Christmas shopping and holiday parties… I received a cryptic text from an acquaintance. The text said, “Can you talk? It’s big. Confidential.”
That text kicked off a two month project that culminated this week in the JHL Austin Best Events team coordinating the US side of Pope Francis’ visit to Juarez. Having worked with secret service and with international dignitaries in the past, I was well versed on what needed to happen and who would need to be involved. I was not as well versed in the language of the Catholic Church but I knew how to pull together the right team to make sure each nuance was attended to appropriately. I always say that our events team has done it all – and now, that really is the case! We have now done it all. And our communications team jumped in creating an event website, Facebook, hashtags and coordinating all messages in two languages and across two nations, multiple government entities, the Catholic...more
I intended to send this to you, my fine friends/clients/future clients a couple of weeks ago but alas, the cobbler’s children have no shoes! It’s a new year full of hope and excitement, a national election to look forward to (or not!) and so much opportunity to do good work and achieve great success together.
In the News:
We always encourage our clients to give back and get engaged in their community. Doing good is good business! Here are a few recent stories showing that the JHL team literally puts it’s money, and our time, where our mouth is…
Today as we run turkey trots and celebrate the holiday with family and friends, I pause to say thank you!
I'm thankful for my family encouraging me and supporting me in my small business adventure. I'm thankful for my team - the most dedicated professionals I've ever known. I'm thankful for my clients - you challenge me, you trust me, and I enjoy working for you every day. I'm thankful for so many of you who read my blogs and send me words of encouragement or constructive feedback.
I'm thankful for so many special moments in our work this year. A few favorites...
-Watching an attendee at a gala buy a $17,000 guitar only to give it to a cancer fighting kiddo there to give testimony. Raising thousands for Dell Childrens Blood and Cancer Center
-Watching Drew Brees and the Westlake football quarterback compete in a quarterback challenge in the middle of TopGolf. Just a small part of a huge day fighting child abuse in Central Texas.
-Watching a packed house rock out while Matthew McConaughey, Mack Brown and Jack Ingram jam on stage with Toby Keith....more
A couple years ago the New York Times published a story titled “The Unlobbyist” and the premise of the article is that the most effective lobbying efforts are those that work the front lines – steaks and handshakes, walking the halls, working through the committees and rules of the House and Senate… AND simultaneously work their issues at the local level and with the media. The grassroots and communications/brand building side of lobbying has reached equal importance now and with digital media ever more prominent this trend will not reverse.
The Washington Post recently wrote (link to article on our website) about the evolution of association lobbying – telling the story of their members at the local level to make them more effective for their members in Washington (or Texas). These efforts have dual impact – building a more loyal membership base...more
Recently, I traveled with the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce to Toronto to meet with business and community leaders about how they tackle major challenges such as congestion and infrastructure.
In every meeting, from government officials to CEOs — there was a discussion around philanthropy and the importance of giving back. The discussion centered not just on the good being done but on the marketing value to align your brand with a community engagement strategy. Doing good is good business here and in Canada.
Helping you tell the story of the impact of your business (or industry), including highlighting your community engagement, is part of a comprehensive public affairs strategy. It’s smart brand building and communications strategy and it’s what we do.
Don’t keep your philanthropy siloed — use giving back to emphasize your brand’s core values or commitment to a community.
And if you’re not already, get involved — giving back is not optional. Giving is expected and the more willing you are to recognize the importance and capitalize on the good...more
It wasn’t that long ago that digital media strategists had to fight to have a seat at the table —to prove that their work wasn’t merely an extension of the communications or marketing department, but a separate and distinct practice.
Today, the savviest corporations realize that digital doesn’t need a seat at the table – it is the table.
Everything your company touches should be viewed through an online lens. Your goal should be to reach, connect, share and engage your target audience in every way that they consume media.
But where to begin? At JHL, we’re redefining communications for our clients. We’re building a digital-first strategy that will turn casual observers into brand evangelists. Here are a few tried-and-true tips for upping your online game:
There’s no such thing as off-the-clock
The internet doesn’t keep office hours, and neither should your social media. Schedule your content to post around the clock, and your audience will never miss an update.
Be brief. Brutally brief.
Can you tell me...more
People don’t “go online.” They live online. From buying shoes, to researching a big purchase, from looking up recipes to keeping up with the headlines – life happens online.
Folks want to know, go, try and buy. Are you prepared to capitalize?
Do elected officials (and their staff) know where to find your policy agenda? Are you trusting that, armed with the entirety of the internet, that they’ll somehow make their way to you? If so, you might be in for a rude awakening.
While nothing will replace the need for personal relationships and a deep understanding of the legislative process, it’s just as important to have an intentional online presence that is strategic and focused toward your tactical goals. Layer those steak dinners and face-to-face conversations with a comprehensive Digital engagement strategy that complements your traditional communications efforts.
Whether you want to pass a bill or kill it. The time to affect policy begins right now. Do not wait until your bill has been referred to committee to try and build a grassroots army. Rome wasn’t...more
Last week I spoke to a group of marketing executives in Austin about the critical pieces to a successful marketing/communications strategy. I wanted to exhibit how important every detail is toward the overall goal. Jenga!
Jenga – it’s fun, it’s noisy. It’s a Stevens family favorite. When thinking about your marketing and communications plan, think of it like a game of Jenga. Every piece matters. One missing piece might be ignored for a while but eventually, it will be your downfall.
If you have a focused message, but no identified audience? Crash.
If you claim your brand represents quality but then your client gifts are junk? Crash
If you spend your entire client event budget on good appetizers and wine but the invitation falls flat and nobody shows up? Crash.
At JHL, we work with our clients to start at the foundation and build a communications plan that is intentional, strategic and memorable. Our clients tower above the rest (pun intended) and reach their targeted audiences in smart and effective ways.
Written communications like newsletters...more
Apple has finally entered the market of music streaming with its Apple Music service. Joining competitors Spotify and Pandora, the service will allow members to access the full iTunes suite of music – for a price. Where Apple Music can differentiate itself from competitors is through the “playlist.” Using your existing iTunes playlist and some basic data points, Apple can queue up music that they’re sure you’ll like and recommend artists you might have never considered. Essentially, they’re thinning out your choices.
Why are you hearing this news from your favorite public affairs/events/communications Company?!
Because we can all learn from Apple. Understanding a client’s needs to create a tailored plan just for them will always work better than one size fits all, or too many options with no leadership and thought behind them. And reaching your target audience is no different – think and present a few, focused messages. Who needs to know you, what do they need to know about you, and how will they know that and keep knowing that?
Streaming services, with their...more
The traditional gift for an 11th anniversary is steel. Guts of steel is just part of what it takes to have a small business.
11 years ago I sat down at my kitchen counter with a one year old baby boy and an old, used laptop that was given to me (rather than being thrown away!) by an old boss and I launched JHL. I didn’t mean to launch a company I would have for more than a decade. I didn’t mean to employ anyone. All I wanted to do is work. I love to work and I enjoy challenging projects that seem impossible to most. I enjoy being in control of my own successes and failures.
In the 11 years the only constant has been change. I have had the privilege of working with some incredibly smart and dedicated people and I have had to fire others who just couldn’t, or weren’t interested, in working at our pace and intensity level. Slow to hire, quick to fire – one of the many lessons I have learned the hard way as a small business owner. What else have I learned?
-never hire who you can’t fire