About Kurt Heinrich

Who are you? I work as a storyteller. In my spare time I like to volunteer on a variety of environmental and political initiatives as well as help coordinate a soccer team based in the Downtown Eastside. What do you do for fun? I like to cook, cycle, read, chillax, eat French and Japanese food, play with my friends, shoot the breeze with my mom, dad and sisters, explore new and interesting communities, sip the Bump and Grind's delicious Clover brew, and spend time with my lovely red headed partner Theo. What’s your favorite community and why? Right now my favorite community is the Drive. It's hip, happening and varied hosting people as diverse as a Deloitte consultant (you know who you are...) to a stick twirling, leather-homemade-clothes-wearing dude known as "Cloud Man".

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The idea that adaptability and goal setting are good for your career isn’t rocket science. In fact, the University of Toronto’s Towards 2030 report highlights adaptability and self-management as two of the top 15 core competencies that positively impact your career. But while many people only begin seriously mapping out their goals in the early to mid-years of their professional life (or after a real or imagined career crisis), some students at David Thompson Secondary School in southeast Vancouver are getting a head start thanks to a new innovative career conference.

Launched by their principal Iona Whishaw with the help of career counsellor Jacky Mulder, this year’s David Thompson Career Conference was inspired by evidence that Whishaw saw presented at an education conference in San Antonio, Texas. At the conference, Whishaw was inspired by a workshop led by a principal from a poor neighbourhood in Los Angeles, who explained how simple goal setting at the age of Grade 9 had led to a significant increase in his class’ eventual graduation rate. The act of focussing on a goal/career and mapping out what’s needed to achieve it worked wonders for many of the school’s urban students.

David Thompson is a long way from an inner city school, but Whishaw discerned that the principles could be just as valuable to her students as the poorer kids described in the San Antonio workshop. Forget what The Harvard Business Review tells you about goal setting, because the Center for Education Policy at The George Washington University Graduate School of Education of and Human Development released a report in 2012 that says it does matter. A lot.

This year’s Career Conference drew roughly 300 Grade 8 students, 55 mentors (or “panellists”) and a handful of Grade 12 students to facilitate the conference’s workshops. During the daylong session at David Thompson, students had the opportunity to explore a variety of different sectors by asking candid question of local professionals from a wide range of fields of work including Trades, Film, Arts and Design, Air Traffic, Business/Commerce, Journalism, Health Sector, Enforcement, Hospitality (to name just a few). You can read more about the conference from a panellist’s point of view in the Vancouver Sun.

After talking to panellists in at least two sectors, students were then tasked with developing their own personalized career plan. While there’s discussion about the value of building a career plan for a job that may (or may not) exist yet, it is clear that the practice of thinking about what fields of work you want to work in and how you’re going to get there is a transferable skill that can used long into the future. With this in mind, students were tasked with researching the required courses and post-secondary education requirements they’d need to enter the profession they were most curious about and tasked with outlining the type of skills they’d need to hone in order to help their future employment prospects.

It was clear to Whishaw that what a student thought was interesting in Grade 8 might drastically change by the time they got to Grade 12. With this in mind, everyone was encouraged to modify/update their plan yearly. While the goals will evolve, Whishaw says she felt the practice of consciously mapping it out in an organized and thoughtful manner will yield significant dividends for her students in the future.

We weren’t all lucky enough to have someone force us to think of our goals (and more importantly the skills and time we’d get there) at such an early age. But we all have the opportunity to consciously consider our goals and what the best way to accomplish them. There are a number of resources out there connected to goal setting, particularly in a career context.

Once you’ve arrived at your goal – or your idea – career development research finds that the next logical, and exciting, step is to explore your options. Sure there’s always the internet, but an equally effective way to judge whether a career path or position is suitable for you is to discuss it with someone in an industry that interests you. That’s where information interviews can be so helpful.

Ultimately, there’s a reason why New Year’s Resolutions are so popular. Goal setting can be valuable to the evolution of your career. Research and information gathering from someone doing what you might be interested in doing in the future is a great way to begin transforming your ideas into reality. So what are you waiting for?

Photo courtesy of jean-louis zimmermann

What to Say When You Just Don’t Know

Every once in a while we’ll be asked questions that we don’t know the answer to. It could be a complex question in front of a large group of people or a brief query from your mentor. Failing to have the answer at your fingertips can be upsetting. No one likes to look stupid in front of their boss, co-workers or friends. To cope with this feeling, many people make things worse by making up an answer, theorizing at length or dodging the question. This can be damaging to your reputation and is a waste of everyone’s time.

The first thing you can do to avoid this embarrassing situation is be prepared. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who show up to a meeting without reading the agenda, minutes or considering the possible topics of discussion.

If you’ve done your homework in preparation for a meeting and still get hit with a doozy of a question, take a second or two to assess what they’re asking and why they’re asking it. Too often, people jump into a conversation and bombard the discussion with a range of anecdotes and interesting (but sometimes irrelevant) segues. Worse, sometimes you can provide an answer that’s not only false but also harms your objective in that meeting. If you aren’t entirely clear about what the questioner is asking you, take a moment to consider it.

Remember this helpful acronym: WAIT – it stands for Why Am I Talking?

If you need to, repeat back what you think your interrogator is looking for by framing your opening like:

“I just want to clarify what you are saying. From where I’m sitting you are looking to…..” or “Hmmm. This is an interesting question – I gather you are asking this because you want to understand …”

Framing up the issue and repeating the question can be very helpful particularly in conflict issues (as discussed in the great negotiation book Getting to Yes) or when you’re trying to understand where another party is coming from. This can be helpful in particularly in emotional and conflict-escalating situations as discussed by my former supervisor Deputy Superintendent Jordan Tinney, who recently wrote about on his blog.

You may be surprised that repeating this question can help re-frame what the issue is and help you understand what information your interrogator is looking for. It’s also great for helping your interrogator understand how you intend to answer their question.

If all this fails and you still don’t have a clue about how to answer their question, it’s ok to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question, but I will find the answer as soon as I can.” But with a few caveats:

  • Make sure to provide them with your thoughts on the situation and how you intend to solve the problem. Explain (as efficiently as possible) why the question is complex and how you plan on answering it
  • Provide a timeline – explain what steps you will take and when you plan on responding to them with an answer.

By clarifying, considering, re-framing (if necessary) and if all else fails, explaining that you don’t know but will get the answer, your response will be valued by your peers and superiors.

Four Reasons Volunteering Builds Career Success

In a world where many of us are already struggling to maintain some semblance of work/school-life balance, it is certainly challenging to spend your spare time working for free. While many people pursue volunteer opportunities purely for altruistic reasons, volunteering can also be a pragmatic and practical step for career development, which should appeal to even the most selfish of us. Here are four reasons volunteerism is an important part of your career.

Develops Your Skills

In university and college you’re paying to learn. Think of volunteering as a free program that has the potential to become a full time (paid!) gig. A volunteer opportunity, such as an unpaid internship or weekend service at your local community garden, will expose you to the hands-on requirements and the day-to-day environment of a job. It will force you to learn new skills, such as how to speak and write professionally or work on a team to achieve a strategic purpose and help you sharpen existing skills, such as researching, building websites or giving presentations, all without any necessary long-term commitment or stressful expectations.

Volunteering is the solution to the Catch 22 that so many young professionals face: they don’t have the skill to climb to the next level of their career, but can’t learn the skill unless they get the new job. Volunteering can offer a way out of this frustrating cycle. You can learn the skills on your own time and still help your organization.

Build Your Network

Most volunteer positions are connected to organizations with multiple employees or with other volunteers who may share some of your common interests and/or career aspirations. A volunteer position can be great for connecting you with the powers-that-be, who may one day be looking hire, know someone who’s hiring are willing to provide a helpful letter of reference. Your volunteering also gives you a platform to connect with people who share your interest in the organization and could one day support your career aspirations. Finally, once you’ve established your network, treat it like a puppy in need of lots of attention. Don’t ignore your new contacts once you finish your volunteer term. Stay in touch through social media (LinkedIn is better than Facebook), email or coffee meetings. Cultivate and nurture your network and it will positively influence your career direction in the future.

Volunteer Like a Pro

Volunteerism provides you with a wonderful way to demonstrate your work ethic. From an employer’s perspective this allows them to test out a potential employee without having to formally hire them. That’s why it’s important to treat your volunteer position like you’d treat a job. Do what you say you will do. Arrive promptly (or early) and try to add value wherever possible. Be proactive rather than reactive in your role. Finally, make sure you keep a smile on your face throughout your volunteer tenure. At the end of the day, your ability to get along with co-workers and your leaders will be a defining way you’ll be remembered.

Be Humble and Know Your Role

Many people are graduating from high school, colleges and universities with great education, but with few skills. Being able to think is important – especially the higher you climb –but when you are starting out, what is most important is being able to do stuff. When I worked in politics we frequently had volunteers approach us interested in writing policy. When I worked for a public relations firm, occasionally we’d have interns who were disheartened about being assigned the tedious task of media monitoring. They wanted to conduct strategic communications planning or crisis management. In each scenario the volunteers had unrealistic expectations about the value of their skills. Generally, organizations won’t put great responsibility on the shoulders of untested workers (let alone volunteers). That being said, by maintaining a positive attitude and treating your volunteer work as a learning opportunity to sharpen skills you can gain a huge amount of experience.

By treating your volunteer work for what it is, serious business that will inform your career, and mapping out what you want to learn (and who at your organization you’ll learn it from) you will develop more professional competencies than you ever could by pulling an all-nighter.

Pitching a News Story: The Phone is Your Best Friend

Photo courtesy of NS Newsflash

In this email saturated world, it’s difficult to penetrate the din and connect with a journalist about your story idea. Granted, you probably have a great idea that includes many news elements or is a perfect fit for the media you’re pitching, but if you aren’t able to communicate it effectively to your targeted audience, your idea will sit by itself on your blog and/or be discussed amongst your colleagues around the water cooler.

When I worked at a public relations agency one of the primary reasons our clients came our way was because of our ability to convince journalists that our stories were worthwhile. We didn’t usually accomplish this through well placed emails. We accomplished it on the phone.

Emails are easily ignored.
Photo courtesy of Sean MacEntee

There’s little magic to this method, but when compared to simply emailing journalists, the results are staggering. When making a call, make sure to call early in the day (ideally before 8:30 AM). Keep your call short, polite and “news-packed”, unless you sense the journalist is interested in chatting. Always ask if they have a moment for a quick pitch before giving them the details. They may not, and if they say so, respect that and call back another time. Never leave a message on an answering machine unless you have an incredibly hot topic or happen to work for President Obama.

For many junior communications people, picking up the phone can be intimidating. Cold calling is never easy and getting barked at by an impatient assignment editor can be particularly off-putting. Despite these reservations, it’s important to recognize that there’s a reason people do business over the telephone. Part of the reason for a phone call is that it allows the communicator more time to present the value of the story. Most emails (particularly those sent by PR people) will be lucky to get a scan by a busy journalist. Many emails are deleted before being read. A well placed call, on the other hand, gives you 15-30 seconds to sell your story to an (somewhat) attentive audience. If injected with enough news hooks, colour and enthusiasm, 30 seconds can mean the difference between a bite and another missed opportunity. As with email, you can still be ignored, but at least on the phone you’ll know you are being blown off or your idea isn’t getting traction.

In addition to giving you a better chance to convince a journalist to cover your story, the phone call also gives you the ability to begin the development of a relationship. This is key in sales, development and, most importantly, securing informational interviews. While email is passive and allows for little dialogue (unless the journalist is interested), a phone call, particularly during slower news times like very early in the morning or after deadline in the evening, gives you a chance to connect with your audience. What area is the reporter particularly interested in? Is there a longer-term story they are working on that you can help them with somehow? What do they think of the day’s news events? Any way you can connect with them so that they see you as a human being, not a faceless caller, gives you extra points! The stronger the connection you can develop with the journalist, the more helpful you can be (and they may be to you) in the future.

By picking up the phone practiced communicators know they can turn a good idea into a great news story. There’s no magic to it, just a simple method that anyone can pick up and find success.

Header photo courtesy of psd

The Foundations of an Effective Strategic Plan

Chess is strategic. You should be too.

Getting promoted and succeeding in a new managerial role often requires you to think strategically. One of the best ways to begin thinking strategically, organize your priorities, determine which projects to pursue and integrate your ideas with your organization’s vision is to build a strategic plan.

Building such a plan – as opposed to executing tactical tasks – means thinking differently. It requires you to take a step back from your day-to-day tasks to critically and systematically articulate the goals and associated strategies of your organization or department. Ultimately, your strategic plan needs to chart a path around how your team’s work will be connected and how it will inform the mission of your organization.

When tasked with creating such a document, consider it as a pyramid of action. At the very top of the pyramid is your goal or objective. This is the overriding priority for your team. Your goal or objective will generally be broad and usually fairly high level. For an organization like the Vancouver Whitecaps, a goal might be to transform the team and its associated apparatus (fans, community partners, sponsors) into a significant community asset. For an organization like the Vancouver School Board, your strategic communications objective may be to increase public awareness around its core priorities of an inclusive district of engaged learners and caring communities. The higher level your role, the more all-encompassing your goal will likely be. Here’s an example of a very high level executive strategic plan for an entire school district (the tactics of this specific plan aren’t available to the public). While the detail and focus may change depending on your level, the same rules of organization tend to apply. Try to keep your goal(s) short and sweet. Refine them to a sentence or two. If they seem to grow longer, consider breaking it up into multiple goals.

Once you’ve got your goal(s) set, now it is time to think about how you’ll get there. The next level of the pyramid is the strategic level. What strategies will you seek to implement to get your organization to where it needs to be? If you are creating a strategic communications plan, you might want to consider implementing a comprehensive social media outreach program, developing a proactive media relations campaign, implementing an engaging community outreach program, or having your executive deliver multiple keynote speeches to grow brand awareness.

Try to consider all the different ways that you can reach your overriding goal. What are some of the blue sky options (what you could do if money/time were not an obstacle) that might really help you accomplish your strategic objectives?  Consider bringing together your team to get their thoughts and feedback. Once you’ve got a whiteboard full of ideas, start classifying and prioritizing them. You likely won’t be able to do everything, but try to include a few more ambitious strategies that could help you really move the metre.

Once you’ve nailed down these strategies, consider who will be executing them. Will it be you, one of your team members or will you outsource the work? You may also want to put an estimated price tag on each strategic option and a timeline for them. Some strategies may take longer than others to implement. If there is no cost (aside from staff time) all the better. You may also want to divide up the strategies into several categories: the basics (what you need to do or are doing already) and the recommended options (what you would like to do in the future).

Now that you have your strategies mapped out, it gets easier. The tactics are the things you might have been doing a lot of when you were lower down the organizational food chain. Tactics are things like “tweet three times per day on the company’s topical issues” or “develop short pitch note for one top employee per unit to showcase their excellence.” These are the day to day things you will initiate in order to achieve your strategy.They should fit nicely under each strategy and will vary. Keep in mind, tactics need to be short and concise and you will likely not want more than five to ten tactics per strategy.

The aim of this strategic planning exercise is to allow easy assignment to various team members while always ensuring that all members are working towards the same goal. If you can develop and execute a good strategic plan, you’ll be worth your weight in gold as a middle or even senior manager.

Communicating to Different Media

Photo courtesy of Kdt. (on Flickr)

There are many stories out there. Some are so important that every media outlet in your area, region or country will want to cover them. Other stories are of more limited interest to particular media groups. Identifying which stories will be attractive to which media will save you a great deal of time when it comes to communicating your idea. It can also significantly aid you in the development of your story pitch and allow you to be much more convincing when you are on the phone speaking with a journalist or producer.

Here are some simple things to consider when you are deciding what, and for whom, is newsworthy.

Television

TV producers want stories that are visual. Cute kids performing a play, a car crash, or the infamous Vancouver riot make for very good TV (just ask CTV’s Rob Brown). If a picture says a thousand words, a minute and thirty seconds video clip can say the same thing as a cover story in The Atlantic. When you are considering your story, think about what people will see. If there are compelling visuals, the story doesn’t always need to be impactful. Since TV’s deadlines are usually tight, revolving around an evening news segment, producers and editors generally need to be in the studio with the day’s footage by 4ish at the latest. So, if you have an event and you want TV cameras there, try not to schedule it in the afternoon (this goes for radio and print as well).

Radio

There are two types of radio. The talk shows are great for longer more in-depth conversations. Producers generally want something that is topical and someone who is articulate, punchy and willing to talk candidly about interesting stuff. Consider the host of the show to whom you are pitching and make sure you call them a week or two before the segment. If you have a hot guest to offer up, this might not be necessary, but in many cases, some lead time will be helpful for everyone.

The other type of radio journalist to consider are newsdesk reporters. These radio reporters are frequently the first on the scene and because of the very short format of the medium (most news radio stories are only a few sentences sandwiching a quote from someone), they can turn around their news very quickly. At the school board, we frequently hear from the radio stations before anyone else in times of crisis. Keep in mind that good radio reporters are always thinking of background audio. CBC’s radio reporters do a terrific job of integrating this into their stories. If you have some good background sound that helps tell the story (like a choir at a school concert or the sound of a raging river near an environmental event) consider mentioning that to the reporter.

Print

These folks are best if you have an in-depth story that requires a significant amount of explanation. Stories about money, trends, big chunks of complex data, a big investigation, or that involve multiple sources/characters print can be a good medium to pursue. If you have an argumentative position, you could also consider a commentary or op-ed piece.

Because there tends to be more of them out there, print journalists frequently have a little more leniency (especially beat reporters) than the daily grind that TV and radio reporters are hampered with. This means that if the story warrants it, print journalists can often spend more time researching and writing their piece. Once you get really up there, feature stories and magazines pieces will often take months to pursue.

These observations and helpful recommendations around how various media types differ, ideally, will provide you with an in-depth understanding of how to communicate your story to the right audience at the right time so that it engages the public in the right way.

Header image courtesy of Roadside Guitars

Pluck and Persistence Will Drive Your Story into the News

Persistence pays off.

Every company and organization has an interesting story to tell. Finding news and honing it into a finely crafted pitch is the first challenge. You want to make sure you’re “selling” the best “product” that you can. Here are a few factors to consider when it comes to what makes news, well, ‘news’. Once you’ve got your story down, the next step is to convince a reporter or editor that it has a place on a newspaper page as opposed to remaining lonely and forgotten on your organization’s blog.There are many ways to do this. If you have a good relationship with a reporter or editor, a simple email will suffice. But if you’re like the vast majority of professional (or amateur) media pitchers out there, even the best written media prose will often get lost amid the torrent of emailed story ideas, news releases, and general mishmash that editors and reporters are constantly bombarded with.

Consider this – on an average day,a local newspaper editor will receive roughly 200 pitch emails  from communications people. Unless you happen to work for a big shot (like the Premier, the Prime Minister or Snoop Doggy Dog), your email address and subject line are unlikely to stand out.

So how do large media relations outfits still manage to get score media coverage for their clients? I chalk it up to pluck and persistence.

The pluck comes from the willingness to pick up the phone, dial the number of the assignment editor or beat reporter to convince them of how interesting, dynamic and unique your story is. It helps when the story has the news components discussed earlier, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is to keep your pitch, your client and your story front and centre while you give your pitch .

Many people (including some reporters) will warn that phoning is an annoyance and that you should avoid doing it. Some will be rude to you when making this point. But if you are brief, polite and enthusiastic, more often than not your pitch will be respectfully received. They might not decide to do your story, but they will at least consider it. Also, keep  in mind that by calling, you also give yourself an opportunity to begin developing a relationship with the journalist. The more you call with (good) ideas, the more that relationship can blossom and the more likely the editor or reporter will feel inclined to run one of your stories.

With the pluck to pick up a phone comes the persistence to keep calling till you get through. Often (especially in the middle of the day) it is very difficult to connect directly with the editor or producer you need to speak with. The temptation is always to leave a message. Resist that temptation! Messages are rarely, if ever, acted on (unless you have a really hot story). By leaving a message, you might as well wave the white flag. Call early in the morning when reporters are starting their shift and before they have a chance to get their marching orders. And if you miss them? Consider calling back later in the afternoon or even the evening (if they are a night reporter). I once called a reporter at the National Post five times in a day until I got through. The persistence paid off with a long column featuring my client.

Ultimately if you have both pluck and persistence with your pitching, combined with a BIG big dash of politeness and expediency, you’re bound to have more success than ceaselessly banging out emails into the what is, more often than not, the void.

The Elements of an Effective News Story

Photo courtesy of by Newsflash

Ever wonder why a spate of deadly car crashes makes the front page (or leads-off the news hour) while announcements about a new social enterprise that employs people with mental illness tend to get buried? It’s all connected to how “newsworthy” a story is considered by the editorial/production staff. Each day, thousands of producers and editors around the country are forced to rank what’s worth paying attention to and what they can safely ignore.

Understanding what makes news isn’t just a helpful skill for reporters or communications flacks. With the proliferation of social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook, everyone is becoming a mini-broadcaster in their own special way. Knowing what is relevant and what is “interesting” to your audience is a hallmark of successful communication.

Day to day, it is useful to think about what is worthwhile to share on your networks. What will people inside (and outside) your organization find interesting? Whether it is through traditional media like newspapers, radio or TV, or via social media, the elements of what makes “good news” are always the same. Some (though not all) of the elements to consider include:

  • Timeliness – your news item is “news” now, not later. Make sure that you treat it like a hot potato and don’t sit on it. Share or promote as soon as possible.
  • Currency – things become particularly interesting when they happen again and again. As soon as something happens more than a couple times, you’re often looking at a trend. If you can demonstrate or predict a trend, it’ll often be of interest to people. Consider roping separate incidents or occurrences together to show how they mean much more together than apart.
  • Emotion – who does your story impact? What sort of emotion does hearing about it provoke? If your news is about a new product, consider how the product makes users feel. The more powerful the emotion, the more powerful the story.
  • Conflict – this is the life blood of most news. It’s what journalists constantly sniff for when interviewing for a story. Anytime you can find an instance where one person says one thing and another person says the opposite you have the components of a good story. Conflict is frequently the driving force in news about politics, crime and even business.
  • Impact – how many people will your story effect and how deeply? One of the reasons car crashes always get great play on the news is that not only are particular families directly impacted, but thousands of commuters trying to make their way to or from work will also feel the effects.
  • Money – anything that has a big financial figure attached to it can be molded into a news story. If you’re working for a public institution, watch out, because tax payers (and the media) feel an entitlement to the money paying for your salary and your projects. If they feel it is being misappropriated, you could be looking at headlines.
  • Fear – this sadly can be a driving force of stories and often successfully integrates emotion and conflict. Its success in attracting audiences is part of the reason for its proliferation in media down South with news organizations like Fox News.

The more of these factors you’re able to incorporate into your story, the more newsworthy it will be. Part of the reason the maxim, “it bleeds, it leads” still has resonance is these stories tend to incorporate a heady mix of fear, impact, conflict, emotion and timeliness. Ultimately, by integrating as many of these elements as you can into your news story, you’ll be able to ensure your news or stories will be particularly honed for maximum interest among your audience.

Header photo courtesy of ed100

Bike Thief Gets Ambushed By Bike Thief Victim

Ever had your bike stolen? It really sucks doesn’t it. Well, one Portlander decided to not let sleeping dogs lie and went on the offensive. After tracking down his bike, which was being hawked on Craigslist in Seattle, he got a bunch of his buddies together and decided to confront the perpetrator. The resulting video is worth watching.

Vancouver Makes Life Easier for Binners

Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Sun.

The city of Vancouver is trying out a new recycling pilot project by introducing a series of transparent bins near by garbage containers across the city, according to the Vancouver Sun.

The aim of the program is to make it easier for binners to scavenge up cans and bottles. Apparently there will by 60 new bins spread across the city including at Kitsilano, Sunset, English Bay and Second beaches and along Commercial Drive between Venables and 13th Avenue.

The new bins will be specially designed not only to be see through, but also easy to open and access. That means binners no longer need to blindly reach into a dark garbage bin negotiating broken class and other poky objects. It will also mean lots more spots for folks to recycle their drink containers.

While some observers connected to the binning industry say we’re likely to continue to see people rooting through trash cans, I have to applaud this initiative. Not only will it make life easier for an often marginalized population, but it also makes sense for all of us who detest the idea of tossing a bottle or can in the trash or propping it awkwardly next to the garbage can.

Good on the city for coming up with a solution that’s both cheap and effective.

Header courtesy of chrissatchwell