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The Bicycle Connection: Focus on the Top

I ride my bike to work as often as the weather, my schedule, and daylight will allow. After Daylight Savings Time this spring, I found my first opportunity since Thanksgiving to ride the 10 miles from my home in Virginia to The Reis Group’s office in Washington’s Dupont Circle. The ride home is particularly challenging. It includes some intensely difficult climbs, especially two consecutive hills known by local commuters as “The Twin Sisters.” In the years I’ve been riding in this area, The Sisters have been my big test. On some of my worst days, joggers have passed me by as I shifted to my lowest gear and labored toward the top. On my very worst days, I stop at the first lamppost halfway up the first and hardest of The Sisters and trudge my bike up the hill.

Heading home on my first bike commute this spring, as I approached that first hill, I couldn’t take my eyes off a huge puddle near the bottom. If no bikes were coming the other way, I could go around the puddle to the left where the water was lowest. Or I could ride right through it, and certainly spray water and mud up my back and all over the newly cleaned bike. When I reached the puddle, I made it through just fine at a spot where the water was low, but then I immediately had to stop, without the momentum or strength to go any further. I got off the bike and pushed it up the hill. Got back on at the top, and completed my ride feeling dejected.

It hadn’t been that long since I had been bike commuting at least two or three days a week. In the fall, I had even felt great on a week-long bike ride across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Over the winter, I had lost a few pounds and done yoga and mountain climbers in my living room to keep up my core strength and endurance. Now, on my first ride of the spring, I couldn’t even make it to the lamppost. I felt even more tired the rest of the way home. I calculated that if I rode at least twice a week through April, maybe I could get back on my game by the end of April or early May.

A week after that first discouraging commute, my schedule, weather, and daylight cooperated again, and I got another chance. As I approached The Twin Sisters, there was still water on the trail. I decided this time not to focus on the water or getting past it. I decided not to worry about the darn lamppost either. My focus was fixed squarely on the top of the first Sister. This time, I made it. No problem. And then the second hill: No problem!

The rest of my trip home, feeling elated and strong, I thought about how this experience reminded me that staying focused on the primary objective—making the top of the hill without getting distracted by tactics—is critical in our communications work. Communications planning must begin with a clear vision of our goals that we remain focused on through any project. It’s easy to get wrapped up and diverted by the details, focusing first on the particulars of the press releases, social media, and other tactics that are critical to our work. But to reach our primary objectives and remain energized and focused, we have to keep our eyes on the big picture communications strategy: What are our client’s goals? Who is their audience? What is important to them? Where do we want to end up?

Whatever we encounter along the way, we must always bring our energy and our focus back to the top of the hill.

About the Author: Beth Casteel is a senior counselor at The Reis Group. With more than 12 years leading public relations for healthcare organizations after a career as an Associated Press journalist, she is adept at developing communications and media relations strategies and has a passion for communicating about science and riding her bike. Read more from Beth here.

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