You’ve learned a lot in college, including algebra, U.S. history and how to text under your desk. But once you leave your beloved alma mater behind, you may realize there are some very important life lessons that you never learned.
If you want to avoid that terrifying task of entering the real world without many of the skills you need to succeed, take the time to learn these things, before graduation day rolls around. 1. How to manage your money. So you land a job in a New York public relations agency right out of college and the company provides you with the option to join its 401K. Without a basic understanding of the stock market, which is almost never taught in school, you will be dead in the water. 2. How to cook. Overprotective parents are not doing their children any favors. Upon graduation they not only don’t know how to slice a tomato, but have no understanding of how to buy groceries or prepare them. 3. Home repairs. Another area where parents should take responsibility for initially putting that hammer and screwdriver in their kids’ hands and explaining the basics of how to hang a nail on the wall for a painting or remove a screw. 4. Social skills. The best jobs require social skills, according to recent findings published in the New York Times. As a kid in kindergarten you learned to play well with others. Then, as you moved along in school these skills were replaced by impersonal lecture-style teaching of hard skills, with less peer interaction. In such fields as public relations, the softer skills like client interaction and counseling, motivating colleagues and being a team player are emphasized. 5. Leadership skills. A good leader’s job is to get work done through people. Skills like how to hire the best people, how to provide mentoring, and then how to get out of the way and let them do their job are skills that unfortunately are often left for on-the-job learning. 6. How to sew. So, what do you do when you have to sew on a hanging button? Either befriend your local tailor or learn this valuable skill. 7. How credit works. Just because you were able to secure a credit card doesn’t mean you should use it foolishly and mindlessly. With some credit rates as right as 28%, it could take you years to pay off a $1,000 balance. So, don’t party hardy unless you can pay with cash. 8. How to find a job. The very basics of how to go about researching and landing a job are skills that unfortunately are often self-taught. Seek out professors and counselors as well as taking advantage of career centers for assistance in this vital area.
There comes a time in every public relations staffer when all of the stars line up and it’s very obvious that its time to start the job search—while you are currently employed. There are lots of reasons for taking that next step; these are just a few. 1. Stay for a year. Unless the job is excruciating, the rule of thumb is to remain at a position for a full year. Why? It gives your time there validity. It shows that you decided to leave on your own terms instead of being asked to leave after a few months. 2.Exception to the one year rule. If the position absolutely is intolerable, or worse yet, you just made the wrong public relations agency decision, get out of there sooner than later. Why? Because a mistake of a few weeks/months can easily be erased from your resume—which means, not included at all. 3. Your boss is a terror. The interesting thing that I have witnessed about newly minted bosses is that in most cases the company has put little, if any, effort into creating an environment whereby junior people are shown how to be a manager/boss. In most cases, employees learn from example—they see how other managers manage and hopefully they extract the most outstanding leadership qualities. But, that’s assuming that their bosses have great qualities that can be emulated. I’m all for leadership and managerial training. If your company doesn’t provide training, look into courses at such institutions as Dale Carnegie. 4. You’re not learning anything new. Yup, there may come a time when you feel like you are just running around in a hamster cage—doing the same tasks every day with seemingly no opportunities to learn new skills. That may be a time to first talk to your supervisor and explain your situation. If your request for growth opportunities is ignored, well, then that is definitely a sign to start updating your resume and posting it on LinkedIn. 5. You weren’t promoted. So you think the time has come for you to get a promotion—and it didn’t happen. And even worse, someone who you think is your equal got the promotion. What to do? a.Make a plan with your boss. A former employee of mine did just this. She desperately wanted to be promoted to Account Supervisor. So, she made an appointment to meet with me to get me engaged in a plan to help her gain that promotion. We laid out a six-month plan and low and behold, she kind of had me between a rock and a hard place because at the end of the six months she had accomplished all that we laid out—and she received the promotion. b. You can just look elsewhere. But this is often a hard one because other public relations agencies usually require new hires to already be doing the work of that position. There’s the conundrum. 6. You made a big mistake. Now, how do I sensitively approach this one? OK, first is that I need to explain what may be defined as a big mistake. a.An office affair. In most instances and in most agencies, this is a big no no, especially if your affair is with your boss. There’s been a lot already written about this one so if you need it to be spelled out for you, go to Google. b.You’ve been dishonest. This is another big no no. This can include anything from taking money from the company by turning in falsified expense reports to searching for a new job on company time. For greater insight here’s an article from Small Business Chron.
So I had been working in public relations for about a year when my parents asked me, “What exactly is public relations? Is it like advertising?” If your parents or spouse don’t understand the difference, don’t be surprised. A recent survey of 1000 PR pros found 72% of them say their parents don’t understand what PR is, and another 41% say their spouses don’t know either.
So, in an effort to try to educate my parents I drove down to Philadelphia and gave a full two-hour public relations presentation to both my parents and an uncle. The case history revolved around a current client at the time, Mannington floorcovering. I brought down sample pitch letters and media lists, explained the difference between earned media and paid-for media, and even went so far as to show them final media placements for the client in both magazines and newspapers.
Although I wasn’t surprised when they asked why my by-line didn’t appear in these content-driven articles that had been basically lifted from my press release, I felt confident as I drove back to New York that my family definitely had a much clearer understanding of the difference between earned content and paid-for advertising.
And then, about two weeks later, I got a letter from my dad. The contents of the envelope contained a full-page, four-color ad of Mannington floorcovering appearing in the recent issue of Better Homes & Gardens magazine. Penned proudly at the top of the advertisement was a hand-written note from my dad proudly saying, “Great job! Love the work you did for your client.” That night I called to thank him for his continued interest in my success. What more could I say?
So, you are challenged with coming up with the proverbial Big Idea for a new public relations campaign. Where to start? How to begin? Well, I for one have always fallen upon a Big Idea in the most remarkably unremarkable places. Sometimes I find that if I leave the tumult of the office behind and literally remove myself from the everyday commotion that is forever going on in a busy office, that creativity soon follows.
Here are some of the most unremarkable creative venues in which I have come up with PR Big Ideas:
1. The bathroom break. I have gotten so good at coming up with either the lead sentence for a feature article, or a tag line to a brand launch or the Big Idea itself that, for years, I have never gone to the bathroom whether in the office or at home without a pen placed firmly behind my ear. Then, with relative ease, the roll of toilet paper becomes my writing surface.
2. The shower. I guess that it’s the sense-numbing sound of the water mixed with the penetrating heat that causes my mind to melt to mush and allows freethinking to emerge. Now, if someone would only invent a doodle board and pen that writes in the shower, that person would surely become the next tech millionaire.
3. The dog. I am fortunate to have a large black Labrador retriever who not only serves as my muse, but allows me to walk aimlessly around Manhattan, pen and note paper in tow, creativity flowing. And if I dare leave the house without pen and paper there is always my cellphone where I either jot down or send myself an audio message chocked full of Big Ideas.
4. The river. I live two blocks from the Hudson River and afford myself to glorious opportunity to walk its banks on an almost daily basis. During good weather, its banks are filled with bike riders, skaters and joy-seekers. But during the colder months of fall and winter I often feel as though the river and its hidden pathways belong to me alone. Looking out at the sturdy little tugboats pushing the larger unwieldy barges through the currents gives me peace of mind…and a peaceful mind often spawns creativity and great Big Ideas. Again, make sure to record your gems either my hand or via cell because trust me, you’ll never remember them once you return to office or home.
Life is a journey…and Big Ideas often lie in its path. Take the time to smell the roses, pet your pooch, take a shower or just meditate (with pen and paper handy). You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to close one door of your mind and open the other to a creative moment.
It’s been more than 15 years since I opened my own marketing/public relations agency and during that time I have come to realize that an entire new lexicon has developed while I was sleeping, so to speak. I’m a pretty curious gal, try so when I come across a new word I immediately Google it. And lately, more often than not, I find myself rolling my eyes, shaking my head and then just going back to reading.
The reason I resort to the eye-rolling is that marketing people now, more than ever, feel compelled to invent new words for us to learn and to replace the older, less exciting words. When I hear the younger generation of marketers uttering the newspeak, that’s when I once again find my eyes rolling.
Really? Do we really need a new lexicon to define what we’ve been doing all along? For your ease, and to enable your own eye rolling, is a list of newspeak:
1. Analytics—We used to call these reports.
2. Content—We used to call this writing.
3. Curating—We used to call this organizing.
4. Earned media—We used to call this public relations.
5. Evidence-based—We used to call this research.
6. Engage—We used to call this commenting, sharing, listening, viewing.
7. Infographics—We used to call this pictographs.
8. Layering—We used to call this researching.
9. Metrics—We used to say measurements.
10. Monetize—We used to call this value.
11. Multiplatform—We used to call this entertainment.
12. Narrative—We used to call this the story.
13. Optimize—We used to call this improve.
14. Organic—We used to call this connecting, referring.
15. Owned media—We used to call this promotion.
16. Paid media—We used to call this advertising.
17. Resonate—We used to call this shared emotion.
18. Traffic—We used to call this circulation or viewership.
19. Transparency—We used to call this what everybody knows.
20. Value proposition—We used to call this core values.
21. Verbiage—We used to call these words.
I’ve been living with cats for most of my adult life and let me tell you, they are the consummate leaders of the house and sometimes of my life. The first year that Jonny, my current 12-year-old cat, lived with me I hardly knew he existed. He hid from me, played hard-to-get, and really, quite frankly, I thought that he hated me. At one point I actually said to my sister, “OK I’ll keep him, give him free room and board, but we’ll never bond.” Well, was I wrong. Twelve years later he not only holds my heart in his tiny paws, but he has gone on to show me some interesting leadership skills that can be brought to bear on the public relations industry.
1. Understand the the target audience. I always thought that the manufacturers of cat toys arguably were not cat owners. Why else would they develop some of the least exciting and sometimes the largest play things ever? Just leave it to a cat to find creativity in a small piece of silver foil, ribbon or fallen paperclip. Great leaders find creativity in areas that the rest of us mortals may never explore as they go off to turn a problem over in their mind to come up with a creative solution. But first, they must understand their target audience.
2. Be observant. Honestly, it fascinates me to see Jonny staring off into space caught up in what, trying to determine the scope of the universe, the distance between Earth and Mars, the square root of 16? Great leaders know how to observe others, to listen to other points of view, and to thereby help to avert conflict, solve marketing problems or to just bring new perspective into an old marketing plan.
3. Be engaging. Whereas dogs have an in-your-face style of engagement, cats are far more subtle. They will quietly appear whenever you least expect them, bringing warmth and comfort. A good leader does likewise, often in the form of a fresh approach, problem-solving guidance or just a warm word of encouragement, “Good job.”
4. Be an explorer. Open a door, put down a empty carton, take out a shopping bag, and low and behold, faster than a speeding bullet your cat will be inside exploring the new space. And if you encourage him by putting in your fingers or a small toy, well, you’ve got the beginning of a brand new game. Well, a great PR leader does the same. S/he opens new ways of thinking about old problems, brings news challenges into your thought process and helps you to expand your own creative process.
5. Don’t be judgmental. A cat doesn’t judge you by your appearance, in fact, if you never put on makeup or shave that beard, your cat won’t care. A good leader doesn’t judge someone for trying out new ideas or new strategies, doesn’t put someone down for not knowing the next step and never judges a book by its cover, so to speak. Hiring someone who doesn’t seems to fit your traditional mold can often lead to new out-of-the-box thinking from someone who approaches their tasks with a fresh mine and a new perspective.
How many times have you wished that you could indeed read your client’s mind? Or even better, read the mind of the prospective client? I remember pitching a cruise ship line several years ago. They had called me because I had the relevant experience just recently having launched a new ship.
After the preliminary niceties, it was decided that I would fly out to Seattle to meet with them to present our initial public relations program. But first, I asked if they had a budget. Their response was the dreaded “zero-based budget” which quite frankly means that although they probably do in fact have a budget, they don’t want to tell us because they have the misbelief that we possibly will bring the budget in for less, and then they will have “saved money.” How foolish.
So, to remove the suspense, I didn’t get the piece of business. Why? Because when the client went to the back page budget and saw the total, he screamed, “On my goodness, this is much higher than our budget.” Now, if the potential client had only told me his budget number I would have been able to create the best public relations program at that budget number. But because I couldn’t read his mind, I came in too high and could never salvage the business.
So, what has this taught me? Here is some insight into what potential clients are thinking:
Can I trust her? Remember, it’s the presenter, not the presentation that gets you hired. They want you to look them in the eye and make them believe that if they give you their business, that you can truly help to solve their problems, make them richer, sell more product, whatever.
Will she be there when I need her? Back in the day, I remember a noted PR firm having mandated that their staff wear pagers even when they went to the bathroom. Today, with everyone’s mania about not going anywhere without their cellphones, the need for a mandate has been eliminated. Clients want to know that they can reach you anytime and anywhere. Yup, I know, that can mean nights and weekends, but if your client has a sudden crises, like a cruise ship fire off the coast of Alaska, they want to make sure that their team is there for them.
Will she be the monitor of my money? OK, so you developed a suggested budget but things happen during the implementation of a public relations program whereby you may need to spend additional monies. Don’t be an idiot and spend big money without getting client buy-in. I have never had a client tell me “no” I can’t spend that unanticipated money. I have only seen clients go ballistic when huge, unanticipated expenses come through.
Will she make me look like a hero to my boss? Everyone has a boss, even the CEO who just may happen to report to his shareholders. So, when you are hired it is your job to make him look good; to make his superiors believe that hiring a PR firm was a good and meaningful corporate spend.
Here’s a great “geek joke:” Where do you hide a dead body? Answer: On the third page of Google results.
I always tell young employees to be careful of what they post on social networks cause it may come back to bite them in the ass. Whether it’s partying at a frat house with beer bottle in hand or romping topless at a summer share, posting these shots on your social networks can lead to job declines and worse. The best protection is not to post ‘em. Next best is to become proficient at creating your own content and optimized profiles, to push offending content down to that proverbial third page in Google search results. Here are helpful PR tips to managing your online reputation:
Search yourself. Do a Google search on yourself including Google Images. Heavens forbid you see that photo of you holding that beer bottle, or worse. If you do, then you know you have your work cut out for you.
Keep private things private. Put privacy settings on all content you want to share only with a select group of friends and family. Remember that social networks are always changing their privacy settings and friends and family can easily forward embarrassing photo without your consent.
Buy your domain name. Yup, for a few bucks you too can have your own website. You don’t have to be a famous author like stephenking.com in order to get your own personal domain name. This is the place to start building your personal reputation: Place your bio, photos, blog posts, articles from sources you respect.
Join social networks. Here’s where you get the opportunity to tout yourself and your accomplishments. Post your personal information on sites like FacebookLinkedIn, Twitter and even Google+. And if you’ve got some good graphic illustrations try posting on YouTube, Tumblr and Pinterest. Then, if you want to be more active, try joining groups at sites like LinkedIn and posting new content.
Optimize your social presence. Fill out your information as completely as possibly including, of course, your URL and all social network links. Most websites give you the option of linking to other social media sites—do this—it will make your online presence stronger.
First published in 1988, medicalRobert Fulgham’s book, All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, rose to the ranks of a bestseller. But his rules from 27 years ago can easily be applied to today’s public relations industry with just a little jiggering. Here’s how just five of his rules can be applied today in PR:
1. Play fair. Realize that it’s not only what you do it’s how you do it. What did it take for you to land that big account? To get that big raise and promotion? To land that media exclusive? Did you play by the rules or did you have to do something underhanded in order to achieve your victory? Remember, what you do to accomplish your goals can often comeback to bite you in the rear. Play nice.
2. Don’t hit people. Remember, there is always room at the top to accommodate everyone who hope to become a winner in the public relations industry. There is never a need to bad mouth or go after your colleagues in order to assure your measure of success. Your superiors will ultimately see right through you and you will have caused your own demise.
3. Share everything. So you’ve worked half a day creating the most accomplished media list the agency has ever seen, or so you think. Would it kill you to share it will colleagues and ultimately save them the grueling time it took you to develop it? I know, it really irks you when you believe that colleagues are taking advantage of your expertise. But in the long run, remember the adage: share and share alike.
4. Clean up your own mess. I know it’s kind of a reflex action to try to put the blame on someone else for your mistake. But learn to take it on the chin and man-up to your mistakes and clean up your own mess. No one wants to have to clean up after your mistakes. If you forgot to get out that press release, admit it and move on.
5. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. That goes for not only tangible items like your neighbor’s stapler, but also your colleague’s glory. If you weren’t responsible for that great media response learn to give kudos to your colleagues.
Two years ago I rescued an eight year old black lab named Leo—and as the adage says, he rescued me right back. He was a 65 pound anxious wrecking ball who, when briefly left alone, ate my desk chair and raided my walk-in closet bringing out and destroying all my stored paper products and laying waste a bag of potting soil and a toilet plunger. After the first few weeks, we were able to sort things out and develop a truce whereby I would help him get his mojo back and he would show me the wonders that are a dog. Through him, I’ve learned the merits of unconditional love. I’ve also picked up a few important life lessons that can easily be applied to the workplace. Here are five that apply to working better: 1. Be loyal. Boy, when it comes to loyalty, Leo certainly scores high marks. But historically, there have been quite a few storied dogs including Japan’s Hachiko, an Akita who is remembered for his remarkable loyalty to his owner which continued for many years after his owner’s death and Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who supposedly spent 14 years guarding the grave of his owner.
In business, loyalty is a huge asset. I have had both staffers and clients who have remained loyal to my company for many years, and as part of the equation, I find myself rewarding their loyalty. For the staffer the rewards manifests itself in promotions and pay raises; for the client, in extra personal time and results. 2. Trust your instincts. On a very basic level, Leo has instincts that run like clockwork. If I am not out of bed by my usual 7AM, at 7:30 he gently jumps up and nuzzles me to get out of bed. He also reminds me daily that it is time for his 4PM walk and heaven forbid I am late for dinner, there is the nuzzle under my arm as I sit by my desk.
Just like Leo, trust your business instincts. You’ll know if the client is asking too much, if the editor is really on a deadline, and if your colleague is drowning and needs some extra encouragement. 3. Persevere. Leo likes nothing more than the nearly empty jar of Jif peanut butter as a treat. He holds it between his paws and uses him long snake-like tongue to patiently lick every remaining drop. The process takes him several minutes but by the time he finally relinquishes the jar, it is clean enough to be plunked into the recycle bin.
Perseverance is a quality that all good public relations people must acquire. As with any PR agency, you have to have the ability to go after that new business lead, follow-up with that elusive journalists, pursue that client for input, or mentor that less experienced colleague. 4. Be enthusiastic. Leo’s enthusiasm sometimes just makes me laugh. He’ll run for the ball with such gusto as to run right passed it. And when eating, he gulps each meal as if it were his last. Not to mention when I return from a brief outing without him, his jumps for joy make me love him even more.
Now I am not asking you to love your client, but I’ll tell you that a client will surely love you if you show enthusiasm for her company, product, marketing campaign, and even her children’s photos that are lined up on the desk. For a client’s birthday I once sent a humongous helium balloon with a small bucket dangling beneath filled with a bottle of champagne and chocolate kisses. Everyone in the company wanted to know who his PR agency was. He got bragging rights and I got browny points. 5. Go outside and play. Even though Leo spends most of his time curled under my desk on his comfy dog bed, at the end of our day we are both ready to go out and play.
I tell my colleagues that working in PR is not like operating in a hospital. No one dies as a result of our profession. Therefore, take the time to unplug from your computer and your cellphone and go out and play. Have fun!