Thursday, October 17, 2013

My Advice: Avoid "Best Advice" Articles in Magazines

Magazines and websites often run "best advice" that executives have received. I usually find the advice to be of extremely limited value to me, no matter the publication.

Sometimes the articles are the result of lazy journalism.

Often I can see that the advice was meaningful to the person describing it as the best advice he or she ever received but of limited value to the rest of us.

Take, for example, Steve Martin's advice for how to be a millionaire and never pay taxes (delivered as part of his monologue for Saturday Night Live): "You.. can be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes! You say.. 'Steve.. how can I be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes?' First...get a million dollars. Now.. you say, 'Steve.. what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, "You.. have never paid taxes'?"' Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: 'I forgot!'" 

I couldn't find video of Steve Martin delivering that bit but a lot of advice dispensed in those articles are kind of like "First... get a million dollars."

 I recently came across "The Best Advice Elle Editors Ever Received From Their Bosses," and since I worked in NYC book publishing and had some experience with magazine publishing, I thought I'd take a quick scan.

Some of them fit right into what I expected: a beauty editor claimed her best advice was "sent via email in all caps one evening, 'NO JEWELS, NO RULES!' Interpret that as you wish."  Two pieces of advice may seem contradictory: "Don't sweat the small stuff" and "Pay attention to the smallest details." I guess it's important at various times to pay attention to details just as it might be important to not sweat the small stuff. But really -- those were the best advice they were given?

That said, three actually struck me as worthwhile:
    1. From's social media editor: "Don't be afraid of the phone. No matter how many times you've emailed, if you haven't called, you haven't done everything possible get the job done. It's not pushy; sometimes it's just the most effective way."
    2. From an intern: "Have a notebook at all times and write everything down,' which was told to me by Lauren Levinson. It's extremely simple advice but a life-saver when it comes to managing multiple tasks. Ideas are fleeting and details get lost in the mix, so putting it down in pen and paper keeps you on top of it all."
    3. From an Elle assistant editor: "You can't be afraid to ask for what you want, because rarely is anyone going to: (A) do it for you or (B) give it to you voluntarily. A raise, an assignment, a day off—such things could fall in your lap, but if you really want it and you can make a case for why you actually deserve it, then it's up to you to be your own agent in reaching your goals."
    For PR professionals, the first point should be obvious. Too many of us now rely solely on email when calling is an effective way to follow-up.

    For me, the second advice is relevant to PR folks because it's always important to make notes of new ideas because, given multitasking and juggling different assignments (even for the same client), it can be easy to forget that brilliant insight you had.

    The third point is important because we had a client once who had a way of working that was more complicated than it needed to be -- lots of people had to approve every document, for example, and if any of them made a substantive change, we'd have to start the review cycle over again -- but we never directly asked them to ask them to look at changing some of their processes so that we could be more efficient. We thought they might recognize that a two- or three-month process to approve a bylined article was not efficient or timely (and that time span hurt the pipeline of stories we could pitch and secure).  But we kept our frustration to ourselves for the duration of the assignment. When the project ended, we moved on, but we really should have spoken up to let the client know they should at least examine some of their processes.

    This may not be my best advice -- to avoid advice articles. On the other hand, feel free to post any advice you've received that you think are valuable.

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