Monthly Archives: February 2014

Who’s Got Your Back? How to Expand Your Circle of Influence


 By Jennifer Ransaw Smith

Ever notice that there are some people who seem to know everyone. They fly into a new city and instantly have a lunch companion. Or, walk into a room and have a connection within less than a minute. When they need something, they are able to open their Rolodex and place a call to someone who can help them personally or, refer them to someone who can.

The fact is, these people have developed what is often referred to as a powerful “circle of influence.” They have the ability to get answers, connect with the right person or simply get considered for opportunities they might not have otherwise.

Unfortunately, most people don’t fall into that category. Most people don’t even consider the power of their relationships (or lack of) until it is too late—like when they are looking for a job.

So let me ask you, how deep is your circle of influence? Are you in a position that you can instantly change the game by picking up the phone? If you wanted to host a gathering of people who spanned a wide range of levels (from junior to C-Suite), backgrounds, occupations and nationalities, could you? Or, would you find that most of the attendees were pretty much just like you?

One of the biggest secrets to building a successful personal brand is building a powerful personal network. However, this isn’t something that “just happens.” No, you also need:

1.     Time: Powerful networks aren’t built overnight. They take a while—a long while.

2.     Intention: You must be very strategic in your outreach and very consistent.

3.     Guts: You must get comfortable being uncomfortable. You are going to be reaching out and the truth is not everyone is going to be receptive. That’s ok. Do it anyway.

A few years ago, I read an incredible book by Keith Ferrazzi called Never Eat Alone (NY Times Bestseller).  What I loved about this book (besides the practical advice) is they everyday stories that reiterated the importance of building your personal network. I highly recommend picking it up and adding to your Success Library (I know you have one, right?).

One of the strategies discussed in the book is to leverage dinner parties or lunches to build your inner circle. However, Keith turns the idea of the traditional dinner party upside down simply by expanding the notion of who is on the invite list.

Keith believes what most people do when they are having a dinner or lunch is invite all of their friends, very seldom expanding beyond their small little circle. When in fact, that is the polar opposite of what you should be doing. He believes the more strategic way to approach the dinner party (or luncheon) is to invite people you would like to develop deeper relationships with or get to know better. If you want to have your friends connect with someone there, have them drop by after for dessert.

Sound like an interesting idea? Why not give it a try? Pick four to five people you believe would add value to your network (and you can add value to theirs), invite them to dinner or lunch. If a budget is an issue, do lunch and find a great restaurant that offers pre-fixed menus. Depending on the restaurant you could probably invite four or five people to lunch for around $150 with a pre-fixed lunch around $30 each (give or take a few dollars and one person).

Or, if that is still more than you would like to spend. You can do what Keith did while in college. Open up a card table. Grab a rotisserie chicken and a bottle of wine and start there. The goal isn’t the backdrop, it’s the company. Your job is to connect. Have lively conversation. Find out more about them. Ask lots of questions. See if you can help them  in any way. Offer value.  Make an impact.

Do this often and watch as your Rolodex and circle begins to expand.

Find out more from the attached Power Point.  JHU Blog PP Ransaw Smith

Jennifer Ransaw Smith is the CEO of Brand id|Strategic Partners, a full-service Personal Elevation Agency. They specialize in helping entrepreneurs and executives leverage their skills and talents to become break out stars in their industry. Http://



Filed under Uncategorized

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But…

When crisis strikes, leaders of organizations – whether they are corporate executives, nonprofit managers, or elected officials – tend to have one of two reactions when it comes to the flow of information:

  • We should draft a short, factual statement and then stick to our guns, providing no further information; or
  • We need to provide full transparency to the media, answering all questions and providing details about the incident.

Neither of these strategies is effective for reputation management. When such an incident arises, the value that an organization’s communications professional brings is being able to find the balance between these two extremes to manage the crisis while maintaining as much control as possible on the flow of information. The question is, how do we do it?

ImageCredit: Reuters

Say Something

One of the traditional clashes that can occur between an organization’s legal and media departments is over what should be shared in times of crisis. The lawyers are focused on protecting the organization from any legal action; the press office is fielding media calls and is anxious to get something out to satisfy interest. But even after a statement has been developed, it’s important for communications professionals to examine whether that is enough. Reputational damage happens much faster than any decision about legal action. Refusing to provide substantial information can cause very real harm that can take years to rebuild, if full repair is even possible. 

This doesn’t mean that an organization should rush to put their top executive on cable news. Far from it. But communications professionals can take the opportunity to think creatively about other ways to engage reporters, including:

  • Conducting off the record briefings with reporters;
  • Developing a Fact v. Fiction or Q&A document that helps reporters better understand the issue;
  • Facilitating opportunities for the media to speak with stakeholders who can validate the press statement and/or speak to the organization’s integrity;
  • Creating a post to place on social media networks; or
  • Publishing an op-ed in a publication that is well-read by the organization’s stakeholders.

Do you have an example where an organization was tight lipped and it worked against its best interests? Or to its advantage? Provide your analysis in the comments section below.

Say Everything

Particularly when a situation is personal, it can be difficult to convince an organizational leader that restraint can be their best asset. Many victims to reputational attacks respond with a desire to bombard the media with information that may prove their innocence. For corporate executives, an attack on a brand can translate into lost profits. This can often trigger a recommendation for an information overflow to calm interest. In these scenarios, the most important thing a communications professional can do is to hit the pause button. What is in the best interest of the organization? What information are reporters actually asking for? What is the most relevant information to use in response? While transparency and accountability are important, they can also leave an organization vulnerable to further attacks. It is possible to over-expose your organization as an overcompensating reaction to whatever it is dealing with. As the public calls for more information, think critically about what the pitfalls of that information may be. How can you be responsive and honest to stakeholders without digging a deeper hole?

Have you seen a scenario where an organization allowed the public deep access to details surrounding a crisis and it backfired? Or led to its success? Provide your analysis in the comments section below.

Say the Right Thing

When dealing with a crisis situation, rely on a strategy that is responsive, transparent and efficient:

  • Responsive: Answer reporter’s inquiries, even if the response is something as benign as “We will have no comment” or “I’ll let you know as soon as we have something.” This builds a dynamic of respect. Reporters are going on air whether you respond or not, but often times responding can buy you precious time and curry some favor with journalists.
  • Transparent: A commitment to transparency means that the organization will work to answer inquiries and provide information in as open a way as possible. It does not mean answering every single question. Answer the question you want, not the question you get. Frame the discussion, don’t let the context get taken away from you. Clearly define the terms of your answer.
  • Efficient: For most organizations, the goal during a crisis is to get out of the news. That means providing short and direct responses that aim to nullify the story, not perpetuate it. Take caution before introducing story lines that have not been raised. Throwing missiles at another organization or individual can extend the life of the story. Play through the next chapter of the episode before hitting send.

Melissa Schwartz is the Vice President for Strategy and External Affairs at The Bromwich Group, a strategic consulting firm in Washington, D.C. She was among the first students to enter and earn her M.A. in Political Communication from the Johns Hopkins AAP program. Ms. Schwartz has more than a decade of strategic and crisis communications experience in government, the private sector, and at nonprofit organizations. You can contact her at or follow her on Twitter at @MSchwartz3.


Filed under Uncategorized