Embracing the FEEL First Model for Effective Communications with Deirdre Breakenridge, CEO, Author and Women Worldwide Podcast Host
In this episode of On Record PR, we go on record with Deirdre Breakenridge, CEO of Pure Performance Communications.
The author of six books, host of the podcast Women Worldwide with nearly 2 million downloads, and a 30-year veteran in PR, marketing and branding, Deirdre has worked with senior leaders and organizations, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, JVC, Kraft, Nasdaq, NBA Events & Attractions, and the Public Relations Society of America.
She is a career-long storyteller and relationship agent, helping brands and professionals to ignite their engagement, lead the conversation and grow influences. She takes a proprietary approach to communications with her FEEL First communication model that encompasses the findings of a 52+ week research project. Her most recent book, “Answers for Modern Communicators,” was published by Routledge and named by Book Authority among the Top 100 Storytelling Books in 2019.
Dierdre teaches communications for NYU, UMASS at Amherst, Rutgers University, and Fairleigh Dickinson University in addition to many organizations with communication training programs. She also speaks internationally on the topics of PR, marketing, branding, and social media communications.
Deirdre and Gina met at Susan Freeman’s Empowered Women 2019 conference in San Francisco – where they each spoke about life challenges that moved them to action. Gina touts Susan as a “true connector who brings people together.” Deirdre agrees.
For purposes of background, this episode of On Record PR was recorded in June 2020. People all over the world were still dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, working from home, conferences were canceled, and there was a resurgence of the anti-racism movement in light of the George Floyd killing.
What is the FEEL First Method and how did it come to be?
This is a story that I love to share. I do mention that when I share the purpose behind it, I still get this lump in my throat. It comes from a 24-year-old millennial. I like to say that she put me on the road to FEEL. My stepdaughter Noelle sadly she chose to end her journey. And when she did, I had so many questions, Gina, as you know, and how I talked about it on stage at the Empower Women 2020 Conference was that I needed these questions answered. I knew that only millennials could do this for me. I wanted to know, how do they show up to their conversations? Were they being authentic? What did they value? How do they want to be perceived? How do they build relationships, meaningful, trusted relationships? What does that take? But most of all, what do they expect from the people around them, in communication, in our interactions, especially their leaders and those that they look up to.
I did not realize that I was going on a 52-plus week research journey, passion project. It just happened because the millennials who flooded into my world, it wasn’t just 10 minutes, 15 minutes, one-on-one on the phone. It became 60 minutes and 90 minutes with each one. And I found myself with all of this qualitative data that I could then step back, organize and say, wow, look at how similar all of this is. This built the model FEEL First and the Feel First Test: https://feelfirsttest.com/#/.
FEEL is feel first in your communication. It’s face your fears, engage with empathy, live with ethics and good judgment, and unleash the love because that’s what millennials want but everybody really needs to FEEL all generations.
Gina Rubel: I took your feel test this morning and I loved the questions. Thank you. It really does require one to be honest with oneself and not try to pretend. Just by reading the questions, I know where I need to do work. We all need to do work. And we’re learning that, especially in a white America, with the anti-racism communications, if we choose to read, listen, and engage we can learn.
What is the F in the FEEL First Model?
The F in FEEL is that you face your fears to be more open, inclusive, and a lot of that, as well as the empathy. The E is for empathy because so many are too quick to speak, to share, to prove something when really we need to step back and listen and really learn and take that time, hit that pause button is so important because that’s what embodies FEEL. That’s the beginning of FEEL. And especially at a time right now.
How do you educate people and young minds to listen better when they are so passionate and so angry about what they believe?
So that is an interesting question. There is something about the more that you can step back, the young mind actually can take in more information and rich perspective. And I think that young minds are all about rich perspectives from many, many different sources and people. So there is an appeal to that, but you have to be willing to take a look at how you’re communicating now. It isn’t appeal to say, take three instances of a conversation where you were very quick to share an opinion and shut someone else down. Where did that get you? Right? Did that get you to where you wanted to be? And chances are no, because the minute you do that somebody else might just retreat to their own corner. And then you get a bunch of head bashing. The secret to it is to say, I need to let me just step back, because of the rich perspective I can get better, I can deliver and be more helpful.
That’s number one. But it’s also the technique to be it, it’s not as easy as you would think to say, well, why we, we all hear things or see things on social media and rather than shooting something back so quickly. And we’re, I think millennials and younger generations, because it’s instantaneous with technology, you kind of feel this need to grab and speak. It takes a lot of discipline to say, why, tell me more, how did you get to this? I want to learn, and what statistics are behind this? If you can begin to take that one little step to do that, perhaps you might not always agree. You can agree to disagree, but what you will do is keep the dialogue open, to have the possibility to move towards something better. And that’s the goal, because, as I said, you have a knee-jerk reaction, you’re done. Conversation over.
People want to feel validated. Want to be heard. Not everybody has to agree. We don’t have to be on the exact same page. It’s almost like I hear what you’re saying. And thank you for sharing. That’s powerful because it sends a very different message to somebody. That’s a lot better than trying to prove some point where you’re just on opposite ends of the spectrum and you won’t get anywhere. I think that I find it very interesting. FEEL is one of those touchy, feely words, but this is a business case for emotional intelligence. There’s a reason why you are strategic in your business and around your communication, the minute, you add this, FEEL lens to what you’re doing, it only gets better for the people you’re serving. All of your constituents. And that’s where it’s the difference between checking the box and actually doing something with it and creating a roadmap to get there.
How do people conquer their fears?
You have to make a conscious effort to step out of your comfort zone. That’s one way. So I don’t, I don’t know when you take the test, the www.feelfirsttest.com just have to plug that website there. If anyone wants to take the test, when you go and take the test, it recommends exercises for you to do. There are a few exercises around the fear based part of the model, and it could be, do something different every day, right? Move a little bit, one step out of your comfort zone, identify what your comfort zone is, right? You know what you do well, you’re in your comfort zone, take one or two steps out, do something new every day for a week that opens you up to something different.
The journey to FEEL and have a full understanding of who you are and how you’re facing your fears and the empathy, the ethics, and the love that you unleash is being really intentional.
I understand that you are writing your seventh book. What is it about?
I’m writing a book called Answers for Ethical Marketers. And of course, ethics is the second E in the FEEL First Model. I felt very strongly about this book, especially now with what we see in communication and on social media. And there’s all this fake news and the way that we’re sharing and the echo chamber, and I could go on and on about ethics and do no harm and have integrity. So this book is coming at a really critical time. I’m submitting my manuscript. It’s due in August with Routledge and it’ll come out, I’m hoping early January of 2021.
It’s near and dear to my heart for so many reasons. And it’s a book because I wrote Answers for Modern Communicators in a Q and A style. It’s the same thing. It’s actually the second book in this series, which is all Q and A, and I answer questions and there are others who chime in and answer and give their guiding principles around ethics and values. And I’m hoping that professionals and whether it’s CEOs who rely on professionals for communication or any business professional can read this book and kind of get that gut check on ethics and values.
As communicators, we have an inherent duty to communicate ethically. What is “ethics” to you?
It’s a personal choice. It’s a business practice. Who you are and that has to align with the group or the groups that you’re working with. So there’s not this resistance. Most professionals would understand that you don’t take your personal ethics, put them aside at the door of your company, the door and then just abide by whatever standards and guidelines and values are there. And you don’t leave those at the door when you go home and assume some other values that you are one and you take your values and they play out in your ethical behavior at every single crossroad, whatever you do. And that’s an important understanding.
Can you give us an example of a time where you had to make an ethical decision?
At my agency, we did a lot around healthcare and, you know, always choosing health and wellbeing. And we had a large tobacco company come to us and there were three partners. Two partners were very, very gung ho about it. I was the partner who said, no, this doesn’t fit in with what we do, what we believe. And I don’t see myself a part of it. I don’t want to pitch for this account. I have one vote. They were too, they out-voted me, but at least at the end of the day, I walked away with my integrity, intact feeling like this was, this was good. And I believe I did the right thing based on my values. It ended up that we didn’t get it anyway. So the universe delivered that to us. And I think we’re challenged in so many different ways. One of the, the issues is that we’re all moving so quickly that sometimes that the time pressures, the constraints that we have, that challenges the ethical thinking and the decision making. And that’s where we have to really be careful.
Gina Rubel: It’s so interesting that the example you gave, because I have almost the same example. We were doing wellness campaigns for an organization made up of 56,000 clergy members and wellness incorporates everything from emotional and financial to physical health. At the same time, we were asked to pitch work for a casino. On one hand, we were talking about why you shouldn’t gamble your life away and why smoking cessation is important. I just said, no, it’s not the right fit. I just knew. It could have been good money if we won it. And I think that’s the hard part for a lot of people that are hungry and don’t know that the word “no” leads to yes. One of my coaches over the years, Neen James taught me that “no is a one-word sentence.” You don’t have to explain why, if you know why, you can just say, no.
You have so many achievements: author, incredibly successful podcast, successful communicator. I’d love to learn more about your podcast Women Worldwide, almost 2 million downloads to date.
The show again was, I didn’t know, it was going to be a show that would be over five years old now. When I did it, I a real interest. It, I was actually it was with the social network station and they let me be a cohost of their show. And I thought, wow, this is just so cool. I really liked this. Let me experiment. I’m always all about reinventing yourself through media. How many, you know, I, I was, I still am a print book, author, digital book author, but you know, I’m also, I’m a LinkedIn video. They used to call them authors, but it’s instructors. So just changing using media to do different things. So I saw podcasting as an opportunity. I had learned that only 13% of hosts were women.
This was back in 2014 and I thought, wow, that has to change. And I also saw numbers from a media group that said women basically paled in comparison to men in media. So that was one reason. And then there was also, it was at a time that women were being bullied and cyber harassed online. And there was one particular case. I had heard about a teen suicide in Montreal and her name was Amanda Todd. And I actually met her mother Carol. And through my discussions with Carol, I had learned that Amanda was, had been struggling with cyber bullying and she did this really powerful YouTube video before she took her life. And you can’t see her face. You can only see like a flip chart with words written…
Gina Rubel: I know exactly what video you’re talking about.
Deidre Breakenridge: Right?
Gina Rubel: Exactly what video you’re talking about.
Deidre Breakenridge: Right. So how powerful. And there was something, I don’t know if, you know, I don’t know if she used these words exactly. But something came through to me where she said, I didn’t feel like I had a voice. I had no one to turn to. And I thought, no voice, no one to turn to. Well, there’s women worldwide. You, you know, we all need a voice and a platform. And guess what? That turned into Women Worldwide, where we give women a voice and a platform to share their amazing stories, but at the same time to give advice. And that’s the best part of it because all those listeners, and I get a lot of listeners who share what their challenges are. I line up the guests who can speak to the challenges, the network grows and grows and grows. And it’s just been really wonderful. I even created a mastermind group out of the women, guests. I pulled some of them into a mastermind. We meet once a month, we have this incredible conversation. You just show up, you share, you ask for help and you have all these incredible women giving you help resources. And the collaborating that goes on is really powerful.
It’s interesting all of the different perspectives, because when I just took a handful of women and offered them the opportunity to come in and share. And somebody had said to me, yeah, but you know, you have a novelist here and you have a woman lawyer there, and then you have somebody who came out of Microsoft and they’re also different. That’s the beauty of it.
What do you love most about podcasting?
The best part is learning. I always step back and say to myself, how lucky am I to be learning? Every time I record, I learned something new. And that is one thing, whether you’re in communications or you’re a lawyer, or you’re a banker, it doesn’t matter who you are. We have to be forever students.
Gina Rubel: Absolutely. And that’s one of the things I love about it. And in fact for On Record PR, any member of our team can be a guest host so that they’re interviewing someone that they’re interested in learning from. And then I and our listeners can learn from them. And it’s been a lot of fun. In fact, you know, so many of the people that you and I know in common, because ours is so new, we haven’t had a chance to interview everyone yet. But I noticed that you and I both have in common Patrice Tanaka, who is a brilliant communicator. And I interviewed her. She’s incredible. And Susan Freeman, who has been so busy lately that I can’t get her on the show just yet, but I will. I’m not going to let her off the hook. And Lindsay Griffith, who I know that you’re friends with has been a friend of mine for 16 years.
Ken Jacobs, who we both know very well, who also recommended I interview you after we interviewed him. Our network has come together with our friends from all around the globe. Really not just the U.S. and that’s one of the things that makes all of this so special.
You have something called the 555 video series. Can you tell me about that?
I started the five, five, five when it was my give during coronavirus. And I just felt there was so much uncertainty and business professionals were having a hard time. What can I give? Well, I can give my time and I can give feel. So the first five was, every time I did a post or a video, I would say the first five professionals to reach out to me, you get a feel first consulting session. And it’s, it’s a way of saying, okay, are you being, you’re probably being strategic in your communication. However, do you have the layer of feel? So that was the first five. The second five was always highlighting five people, professionals who were just also giving and giving them a platform. So that’s where you saw the shout out to Ken or Patrice or Susan. And then the last five was always my five tips, whether it was five tips on listening, five tips on working remotely, whatever the five tips were.
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