Friday, May 15, 2009

Leadership Provides Positive Public Relations

Recognition For a Job Well Done

The women I meet through my global work, including my work with Vital Voices, never cease to amaze me. I love watching the “light bulbs” go on with the communication ideas that I present. What most of the trainees do not realize is how much they in turn inspire me!

My professional goals are very closely aligned with Vital Voices’ – to help women have their voices heard! I look forward to this regular column to pass on communication tips that hopefully will help you “let your voices be heard.”

I actually met Vital Voices through Eva Muraya. When Eva, CEO of Color Creations in Nairobi, Kenya, attended a communications seminar given by me at a World Bank/International Finance Corporation conference in Accra, Ghana, in 2003, Eva learned that I was advocating for women to publicize their awards and honors.

Many women at the seminar had reservations about this aspect of Public Relations (PR), as culturally it is not acceptable for most African women to “toot their own horn.” Eva had recently been named one of the “top 30 entrepreneurs in their 30’s in Eastern Africa,” and she said it would not be good protocol on her part to publicize that award. After discussing a variety of ideas short of sending out a public announcement, which would be perceived as bragging, Eva decided she could put a line in her e-mail signature that stated the award. It was a start.

Since then, Eva, who is a natural leader not only in her Nairobi community, but for African women throughout the world, has used her leadership skills and activities to promote not just her business, but to advocate for women’s leadership on her beloved continent. She was chosen for the Fortune Leadership Program and won the Goldman Sachs Fortune Leadership Award. She became Chairperson of the Zawadi Africa Education Fund ( and started the Kenya Association of Women Business Owners (KAWBO). When Color Creations earned the coveted ISO 9001:2000 global management systems standard in 2007, making Color Creations the first business in communications, and first woman-owned, in sub-Sahara Africa, to gain the standard, Eva and her work team put together a communications plan to announce the award and to enhance their branding.

For a girl who grew up and was educated in the rural countryside of Kenya, Eva now knows that letting her voice be heard has a strong ripple effect in helping others. She and Color Creations have started the “BE Campaign” to respond to Kenya’s devastating high rate of youth unemployment (3 million Kenyan youth are currently unemployed). The retail merchandising business program targets helping 22,000 youth start businesses in the next 4 years.

Being a leader in your community or industry (and we all are in one way or another) can create a strong brand for your business as well. Qualities associated with leadership include professional excellence, valuable service, strong business skills, creativity, and initiative – these carry through from your leadership work to your business and its brand.
Most importantly, your story may inspire others to aim for their dreams. Put modesty aside and publicize your success.

PR tips on awards:

• It may take a significant portion of time, but enter award competitions in your industry. These are one of the highest forms of recognition for your work. However, rarely do these awards "find you." Contact your local industry association(s) and find out if they have an awards program. Search the Internet for other related associations that may have awards programs.
• Sometimes, you may even need to ask, or remind someone, that you need to be honored. If you have done outstanding work or service above and beyond what is usually expected of a responsible citizen/worker/business owner, don't keep it a secret.
• Publicize awards and special designations. Use them as an integral part of all of your outreach for public relations, investor relations, community relations, public affairs, marketing and advertising. Third party endorsements are hard to beat--it's actually someone else tooting your horn--not you.
• The award process provides unique networking opportunities that allow you to talk about your business and yourself to potential clients and sources of referrals.
• Routinely applying for awards should be a part of everyone’s PR strategy because even if you don't win, you have the opportunity to increase your visibility and expose your business to a whole new group of potential clients.