December 22, 2014
By Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA
(Note: This blog article originally appeared on A Professor’s Thoughts)
This “real-life” inevitability is something I try to impress on my charges, especially those who have enlisted in my Public Relations Concentration.
As I remind the troops day after day, life after graduation is going to be filled to the brim with looming deadlines. Get used to it… and be prepared.
As one student said wistfully a few years ago, “But I’m just a kid.”
He had some other issues he was dealing with besides registering for courses, but I gently reminded him that he was only a “kid” in his mind. In the eyes of those around him, especially potential employers, he was a “young adult” – a big difference and one that I remember from my own experiences half a century ago. I wanted so badly to just finish my studies and go home to be taken care of by my long-suffering parents.
Stuff happened, though, and I wound up in Vietnam teaching English as a second language to the Vietnamese military. Saw some things I’d like to forget. Did some things I love to remember. Learned a ton… grew up in the process.
And that’s the lesson I try to pass on to my disciples… things happen. You learn from your successes and your failures, and you get a better sense of who you are and where you’re going in life.
But this won’t happen if you just sit around and wait for someone else to tell you what to do. You have to take control. You have to make plans. You have to take action. On your own, but with the help of others. Now’s the time. Now’s your chance.
Don’t “fall behind”… “spring ahead”!
“We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it – and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again – and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one any more.” Mark Twain, “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,” ch. 19 
November 20, 2014
By Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRS
(Note: This blog article originally appeared on A Professor’s Thoughts)
As a (now) “professional” teacher doing my thing at Curry College introducing young undergraduate communication majors and others to my own lifelong career choice/passion of public relations, I talk about a lot of stuff. (Just ask ’em… they’ll tell you!)
Communication skills, relationship building, internships, and job skills the list can and does go on and on.
It occurred to me recently, though, that I’ve sort of missed one of the more important aspects of successful professional life… patience.
I talk about getting things done quickly, efficiently, and effectively, but I don’t really spend enough time talking about the role that patience plays in getting those things done.
I know this isn’t an earth-shattering concept, but it has really become apparent to me while I’ve been on vacation how valuable patience can be. (Note to cynics: I mean this in a positive sense!)
- Communication skills are developed over time. There’s not a pill that you can take that will make you a great communicator.
- Relationships are the same. They’re developed slowly and carefully. It’s not “speed-dating.”
- Internships are a way for you to figure out what it is you like and don’t like doing or what you are not great at. This takes time and usually happens over the course of several internships.
- Job skills come with experience, which means you spend time doing things in order to learn how to do them well.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that I’ve found the “secret sauce” that will change your life.
But I do know that when practiced patience can do wonders for your health, happiness, and ultimate success in your professional life.
All too often, I get panicky/irritated/confused messages from former or current students that go something like this: “I sent my resume two days ago and haven’t heard anything. What’s going on?” Or, “I’ve been in this position for six months now and haven’t gotten a promotion. I need to find another job.”
I know we all want things to happen when we want them to happen. But that’s not how the world works.
Your priorities are not their priorities. (However, to my past, present, and future students my deadlines had better become your deadlines! “Due in class” does not mean “later this afternoon at your convenience.”
Instant gratification… something that, I would venture to say is becoming the expected norm for emerging generations thanks to today’s online, ever-connected world…is not realistic.
As the saying goes, “All things come to those who wait.”
I’m not preaching procrastination here. Nor am I suggesting that delay is always acceptable.
How about this, though?
At the beginning… before you start firing out resumes… ask someone who’s been there what he or she thinks is an appropriate amount of time to wait before following up on a job application. (Students, this is where your Career Development Center comes into play… talk to them!!)
Or early on, when you’ve settled into your new job, talk with a co-worker or your supervisor about “how things work” so far as promotions, raises, etc., go. (Note: Work in these questions with those about “best practices” in the workplace, etc… performance-related questions.)
There’s nothing wrong with showing an active interest in your future. It shows you care and are serious about your professional life.
It also acknowledges your recognition that you are just starting out and are looking for guidance from those who are more experienced.
Then… take a deep breath… and be patient!
November 13, 2014
By Dan Dent, PRSA Boston member
I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur. I hardly knew what it took and didn’t think I had it in me. I thought that entrepreneurship was for other people, not me. But several years ago, I was working in a public relations agency when the floor fell out from under the economy. Within days, I was reaching out to my network for job leads, and before long a PR project landed in my lap from a client who said, ‘help me until you get back to work full time.’
That project led to others. Before long I was handling product launches, store openings, website development, executive coaching and media tours. Soon I had a real business, one that could benefit from the services of other entrepreneurs, and that’s when I found out there were others just like me.
Call me an accidental PR entrepreneur. I backed into it, reluctantly embraced it, and yet still find it one of the best things I ever did. Before you land in a similar spot, let me share my lessons learned over my 12 years as a PR entrepreneur.
- Just start. In most case, entrepreneurs are the product—they already know the business. For years, you have been the go-to guy for website design, accounting, public relations, or whatever knowledge and skill you have. So just jump in, and don’t let perfection in your business planning be the enemy of the good.
- Learn as you go. Think of yourself as a graduate of your old work life. You did well there (more or less), and now you are on to bigger and better things. Trust your instincts. Be curious, be ready to learn, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Forbes’ list of “100 Best Websites for Entrepreneurs” provides some informative and helpful online resources.
- Cultivate peers. Just because you work alone doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Find peers in your field who you can compare notes with—and don’t worry about competing with them. Clients will come and go, but your circle of trusted peers will be around for years. One way to connect with peers is to attend and participate in groups like PRSA Boston’s Independent Practitioners Network.
- Learn to say no. It takes discipline, but saying no to projects outside your wheelhouse is a good thing. It will keep you from wasting your time and precious brand equity. Instead of taking on every project, do what you do best and partner with others for the rest. (For more on how to say no to a client, check out this Ragan’s PR Daily article, “How to ‘fire’ an unwanted client.”
- Be a problem-solver. So what if you’re not an accountant, brand manager or event planner? If your client needs talent and trusts you to find it, be a problem-solver. Help them find what they need. Deepening your trust level with clients is the surest way to gain more work.
- Build a virtual team. A few years ago I was in a situation when I didn’t have a team. A prospect pointedly rejected my proposal because he said ‘it would be just you managing it.’ Once I recruited my team–composed of a web designer, research specialist, print production pro and web analytics expert—and managed them effectively, there wasn’t a client problem we couldn’t solve. Try these helpful strategies and software here to better hire and manage virtual employees. In a virtual environment, you also need to create opportunities for team members to just “chat” both formally and informally. Some effective options are online chat rooms (like Skype), project management software (like Basecamp), and video conferencing (free on Google+ Hangout).
- Become a smart saver. You can find plenty of free Internet applications for your business, such as FreeConferenceCall.com and DropBox. You can also take advantage of tax policies that favor entrepreneurs and small office/home office workers. A good place to start is Small Business Taxes & Management. Every dollar saved is a dollar earned when you’re an entrepreneur.
- Launch your website. It will become the most valuable real estate for our business. Find a social media pro to help connect your business with its natural constituency and get your blog up and active to help you differentiate your voice and services from others in the market. In my recent blog article, “10 Vendors Every PR Person Should Know,” I include links to some top website hosting sites.
- It’s not your name that counts; it’s your brand. Your brand is, essentially, the experience you deliver to clients. Are you the low-cost provider, the quality provider, the connected provider? While my first tip in this blog suggests that you ‘just start,’ you also need to make a few strategic decisions about your brand.
- Your age doesn’t matter. Entrepreneurs are born and made in equal measure. While I stumbled into it after 12 years in PR agency life, you could be that guy who’s always had an itch to run the show. Go for it. There are clients eager to work with smart, ambitious and driven entrepreneurs. You just have to go find them.
Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds on Flickr
November 6, 2014
By Karen Lavariere-Sanchez, APR, PRSA Boston member
Conventional wisdom once indicated that public relations career advancement could only be obtained by changing positions and/or agencies every two years. While some faithfully subscribed to this adage, others who were more inclined to a career path that entailed less upheaval—likely due to family ties or a desire for stability—looked longingly at a corporate practice.
Although many of the business practices and office protocol of the Mad Men era have fallen out of use (and in some cases, we say, “Thank Goodness”!), it is still true that agency PR practice provides a more fast-track career option, while a corporate practice requires a longer-view plan.
Broad vs. Specialized Knowledge: Agency practitioners work with a number of clients in a number of industries, gaining knowledge about businesses, what they do and what key stories work best for them. This knowledge can be easily transferred to other industries, businesses and clients, and so the range of experience that one gains in a PR agency accumulates very quickly.
On the other hand, corporate practitioners specialize in one industry. In a corporate PR office, a more detailed knowledge of the industry, business, products, services, target audiences and stakeholders must be obtained, and a variety of key storylines must be developed to continue to garner interest from the media. However, little experience is gained with other industries, business models, products, services and storylines.
Upward vs. Lateral Movement: Gaining bigger clients and more influential positions in larger and larger agencies is a common roadmap for career advancement in a PR agency. “Climbing the ladder of success” is an adage that still works in this environment, when it comes to career advancement.
Corporate settings have a shorter, narrower ladder to climb. As a general rule, the corporate practice consists of a small team that is part of a larger related division, but is not always strictly PR. In a corporate practice, less PR positions means less opportunity to advance. Climbing the ladder to the next rung may take longer when there is only room for one person on that rung. More patience and a longer timeframe may be required in a corporate setting. For those whose plan does not entail waiting, making lateral moves to other departments is another option. Gaining more experience and knowledge about the company and its business provides additional ladders to climb.
Implicit in these two career advancement strategies is the work-life balance that one achieves in the process. The fast-paced demands of an agency often dictate long hours, meaning evenings and weekends may not be free for personal pursuits. In a corporate setting, evenings and weekends are generally free, or as free as the profession allows, potentially providing more time for those personal pursuits.
The trade-offs are many, but whatever the career path, PR practitioners have a variety of options to achieve their goals.
Image credit: Abhijit Bhaduri on Flickr
October 9, 2014
(Note: This blog article originally appeared on Waxing UnLyrical)
I recently had a “talk ’em off the ledge” conversation with a young friend who has just passed the half-year mark with a big-city PR firm. She had targeted this particular firm because its focus and client mix mirrored what she had been passionate about in college, and she dove in with enthusiasm.
But, as those of us who have “been around the block” a few times know so well, nothing’s perfect, especially when it comes to working for a living, which I’ve talked about before.
It was 10 o’clock on a Friday night. She was holed up in her cubicle putting the finishing touches on some press kit materials for a client, and her phone kept up its insistent buzzing with messages from friends out on the town wondering where she was. This wasn’t the first time that she had been “stuck in the office” late at night.
All of a sudden, it wasn’t fun anymore.
When I saw her initial tweet of frustration, I responded and we traded several notes with my wrapping up around 11-ish assuring her that situations like this are neither unusual in the public relations world, nor are they an indication that her higher-ups don’t value her as an employee.
This incident reminded me, though, of the numerous conversations I’ve had with students at Curry College, where I oversee the Public Relations Concentration. They express an interest in public relations, but when the question is put to them,“What is it about PR that interests you?” more often than not the response is
“I like working with people. And I like planning and running events.”
To which I usually respond, “Do you like taking out the garbage?”
Then comes the quizzical “What do you mean?” look.
That’s one of the eternal challenges for those of us who work in or teach public relations. Our profession is viewed by many as a glamorous, rub-shoulders-with-the stars, party-every-night kind of business. And I’ll grant that… sometimes… it can be kind of cool.
But there’s a lot of grunt work that goes on in the background to make sure that the party goes off as planned, or that the VIP gets the attention he or she expects. There are any number of pieces of collateral material that have to be created. There is painstaking research to be conducted to ensure that no surprises pop up. And sometimes you’re the only breathing soul there at 10 p.m.
In today’s instant gratification world, public relations can be perceived as a glacially-slow process.
Yes, occasionally things happen quickly, and that’s fun. You do something, and you see results soon after. But, more often than not, it’s a process…a lengthy, evolutionary process. And the results may not be seen for weeks, or months, or years.
But the reward is still there, the feeling of satisfaction for having been a part of an initiative that resulted in good things happening for a client or employer.
So, as I assured my friend, there will be good stuff that she’ll be a part of as she progresses in her career.
But sometimes, she’s just going to have to take out the garbage.
(Note in closing: I spoke with my friend at the end of the following day. She was cheerful and excitedly talking about a new project that she had been asked to work on. She also thanked me for listening. We do that in PR, too… a lot.)
Photo Credit: Nehama Verter on Flickr
October 2, 2014
Having a job in PR is kind of weird.
There are still lots of people who might think you’re just pitching the media all day while in reality you’ve got a big job: counseling clients, brainstorming cool strategies, responding to the crisis du jour, making news and building strong connections to your communities.
That’s why it’s nice when someone raises his head above the noise and takes the time to identify the latest in labor saving and value-added PR services. Jack Jackson and Norman Birnbach did just that when they presented Smart Tools for Independent PR Pros. The occasion was a recent monthly lunch for PRSA Boston’s Independent Practitioners Network.
Both Norman and Jack own PR businesses – Norman manages Birnbach Communications and Jack heads On-Message Public Relations – so their map of the PR vendor landscape arrives with real-world experience behind it. In their presentation, they set out to describe the big service categories critical to any PR business, such as accounting software, collaboration tools, conference services and so on.
I took their lead and added my own two cents. My list of 10 vendors every PR person should know highlights products and services that have proved invaluable in my own career in corporate, agency and independent PR. The editorial comments and judgment calls are all mine.
- QuickBooks, PeachTree andExpress Accounts stand out in the accounting, billing, tax reporting and time logging category. If Excel is still how you track your numbers, it’s time to move up to one of these software packages.
- FreeConferenceCall.com and FreeConference.com are popular substitutes for paid subscription services. GoToMeeting, while offering a free version as well, is a top choice among pay-for services for anyone needing to accommodate more than 25 meeting attendees. Its toolset is deep, too.
- WordPress is the go-to content management system for many small and mid-size businesses. But keep your eye on open source competitors like Drupal and Joomla!, which are quickly becoming just as easy to use as WordPress, and bring with them deeper capabilities, like multi-site management, and tools, like personalization, that are already reshaping user experience on the web.
- Bizland, Google Apps, GoDaddy – it’s a toss-up. You need a site hosting service for your website. Your choice among these three comes down to minor differences in features and functions, but you can’t go wrong with any one of them.
- Cision and Vocus are the granddaddies in media databases. Now that they’re merging, get ready for a potential hike in subscription rates, or the debut of lighter versions for lower budgets. If cost is an issue, go lean with MyMediaInfo.com, but there will be trade-offs in the database’s breadth and depth.
- BusinessWireand PR Newswire are the gold standard in media distribution services, but gold is often what they cost. So, look around. PR Web and MarketWired, among others, use a more economical ecommerce model. There are, in fact, many media distribution services to choose from.
- Google News Alerts is a popular online media monitoring service, and it’s free. Paid services give you more reach and fancier reports, but you can pay thousands of dollars a year if you go with Meltwater, Cision, Vocus, or any of the others.
- DropBox is a super easy and ubiquitous document and image-sharing service. I’ve also heard good things about Box and Files Anywhere. Google Apps and Evernote fall into the same camp of collaboration tools. The real value of sharing documents in the cloud is to avoid the old bane of version control.
- Skype or Google Hangouts. What can we say? Hangouts and Skype are freemium voice over IP services with instant messaging capabilities. If you want face-time, you need one of these.
- GoToMeeting, JoinMe and WebEx run neck-and-neck as video and web conferencing services. If you are in PR, you already know them as a way to present PowerPoint slideshows for webinars.
Given so many choices for your PR business, the natural question is, where do I start? Start by cataloging your needs. List what you are using now, and make a note of what’s outdated. Ask yourself, what’s not working? Where am I frustrated? Next, determine your clients’ hot points, survey the technology landscape, calculate your price sensitivity, begin evaluating solutions, and define implementation based on priorities.