Mike the Headless Chicken

Have you ever worked with a client that is constantly running around like a chicken with its head cut off? I have.

Last year, Pushkin PR helped the world famous Mike the Headless Chicken Festival in Fruita, Colorado garner local and national media attention for this annual celebration of an actual headless chicken who became an international celebrity after he lost his head. It seems his farmer cut off Mike's head to prepare him for dinner. When he saw Mike shake it off like nothing happened, he kept Mike alive for years by feeding him through a straw and Mike toured the country as a famous sideshow. True story.

The truth is that economic pressure can often make any client feel urgency to see instant results. They feel pressured, so they try so many things all at once that nothing ends up working. Like a chicken without a head, they end up just running into walls.

Our job as communicators is to get them to calm down. There is a tendency for us to try so hard to please our clients that we allow them to dictate tactics over strategy and to decide too soon if a particular tactic is working or not. Our job is not to make them happy. It is to make them successful. And the way to do that is to be patient and strategic in our approach.

This strategic approach generally includes four steps:

Identify the problem and what you want to accomplish. A communications review can provide a picture of where you are today and where you would like to be in 12 months. What problem do you need to solve? What is working and what isn't?

Develop a communications plan that starts with your objectives, then determine what strategies you will use to meet your objectives and the tactics you will use to support your strategies.

Stick to the plan. Give it enough time to tell if it is working or if you need to make adjustments. Try not to get sidetracked. Make sure not to lose your head and end up bouncing around from wall to wall.

Give your plan enough time. Only then can you evaluate whether you met or exceeded your objectives, and if not, what you could do better next time.

Our clients depend on us to steer them in the right direction, not to let ourselves be steered off course by their fears and anxiety. Our job is to not lose our own heads when we see our clients running around without theirs. Like Mike the Headless Chicken, just feed them through a straw and send them back on their way.

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Sitting Shiva

My mother passed away on February 20. I got to spend the last two days of her life with her. She was not afraid, she was ready, and she died peacefully without pain.

Jewish tradition requires us to observe a seven-day mourning period called Shiva. When we "sit Shiva" we don't leave the house, so people from the synagogue bring us food and take care of menial tasks. They bring the services to us and say the daily prayers in our home, including Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. Once Shiva is over, I will continue to say Kaddish for my mother during daily prayers and on Shabbat for 11 months to honor her life and her memory.

Shiva gives you a lot of time to think, and I spent the past week thinking a lot about the lessons I learned from my mother. Sandra Pushkin was a proud Jewish woman. She was born in Brooklyn to immigrant parents who arrived in America with nothing. They taught her to be frugal and work hard, which she did her entire life. The only thing she loved more than the Jewish community and Israel was her family.

My mother was devoted to her husband, her children, her family and her friends. She taught me to waste nothing and appreciate everything. Responsibility was big with my mother. Not just being responsible for yourself and your family, but the responsibility we all have to help others, to practice kindness and charity, to stand up for what is right and to speak up for those who have no voice.

So as I sat there reflecting on my own life, I took heart from the lessons my mother taught me.

Be responsible. That means providing for my family, being accountable to my clients, behaving ethically at home and at work, contributing to my community, my people, my country and my planet.

Be grateful. Appreciate where you came from and everything you have. Treat others with kindness.

Be happy. Even though my mother was a big worrier, a trait I inherited, she always had a smile for everyone. She enjoyed taking care of people. She wanted to make sure everyone always had enough to eat. She ended every one of our phone conversations with "I love you, up to the sky and into space."

Be present. Understand what is important and what isn't. Don't sweat the small stuff. Always treat family, friends, clients, employees, colleagues and strangers with kindness, respect, dignity and love.

There are a lot of people who teach us important lessons in life. Sometimes we are too busy or too arrogant to remember to appreciate those lessons. Sometimes we need to sit Shiva to finally understand what it was that they were trying to tell us. If we are lucky, we will keep those memories with us when we stand up and move on.

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