A colleague of mine in the PR world, Ben Matthews, recently wrote a post on his blog, Pudding Relations, listing out 3 top tips for those looking into a career in Public Relations. This meme was passed on to him by Adam Lewis over at Flawless Buzz. I will pass this along as I know lots of you out there are getting ready to graduate from your respective programs in college and want to know some of the in’s and out’s of life in PR.
Keep in mind, of course, that I work in a support capacity at Waggener Edstrom – I am not a PR account person, but I do touch account people daily because I work on the staffing team. I’ve learned over the last 15 or so months of being here some of what it takes to be successful in an account role in Public Relations. I’ve come to discover that there are a lot of similarities between what I do daily and what PR folks do daily, and this is probably why I’m having so much fun these days!
Back to Ben’s request: the meme has three questions to it, with the aim of helping people looking to get into PR:
- What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone entering the world of PR?
- The favorite part of your job?
- Why did you decide to go into PR?
Let me preface all of my responses with a simple explanation of what my role is at Waggener Edstrom. As I mentioned above, I do not work on the account side of things in the PR world. I am a Sourcing Strategist, and for those of you who follow me on Twitter, or have read my LinkedIn profile, the easiest way I can describe what I do is that I am a professional match-maker. I develop online profiles of individuals who might be a fit for our job openings at Waggener, and if they’re a fit I make connections for the recruiters with whom I work. I piece together bits of information I find scattered across the Internet to form a “person” – I find these info bites from your social networks, blogs, company websites, press releases, etc. I’ve been jokingly called a stalker before, but that’s totally not what I do – don’t worry, I never use my information for evil. I prefer to be referred to as the Magnum P.I. of the Internet. So, even though I don’t operate in an account capacity, I am mingling with PR account folks on a daily basis. Hope that puts some perspective on my responses to this meme.
- What is one piece of advice you would give to someone entering the world of PR? If I only had one piece of advice to offer someone who was just entering into the world of PR it would be this: respect wisdom and experience. When I first started at Waggener, I began asking my peers who in the company had been there for awhile, and who the best people in the industry were. I then set about to try to introduce myself to as many of my new coworkers as possible (which proved a difficult task at times, as I work remotely). I used LinkedIn and Facebook to accomplish this and was able to make connections with over 100 of my colleagues within the first month of my employment. In addition, Waggener has a formal Mentor/Mentee program set up, so I signed up for that within the first couple of months and got hooked up with one of our VPs who has been a tremendous source of knowledge for me. I also took a pulse-check of my networks to see where I should be looking for outside knowledge. I used LinkedIn Answers to pose a question to my network on what blogs and industry publications I should be reading, and with whom I should be connected. This helped me build a reading base which I set up in RSS and try to read on a daily basis to keep up. One of the most unfortunate things I see a lot of new young professionals doing today is thinking that they learned everything they need to know in college. College helps you build a good knowledge base, but I think every working professional would agree that the School of Life is where you learn the must useful stuff. Gleaning real-world wisdom from those who’ve walked the paths before you is the best way for you to get settled into PR when you first enter into it.
- What is your favorite part of your job? This is hands-down the people and the communication. I have enjoyed working in the communication field so much for the past year and a half. I’ve been a researcher for nearly 7 years now, and I find that doing research in the PR world has allowed me to combine two things that I love – technology and communication. People who know me know that I can quite often be a terrible over-communicator. It must be the combination of working alone from home, and working behind 2 computer screens on a daily basis. I absolutely l-o-o-o-o-o-ve the fact that I get to “play” with Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook every day to communicate with people. What’s more, I get to communicate great opportunities to people, and in these tough economic times, my outreach is usually music to people’s ears (eyes?). The fact that there’s a potential that I could improve upon someone’s work situation with each outreach makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. Now, my situation obviously is different, but for those who love the technology/communication combo, PR is a fantastic field to be in.
- Why did you decide to go into PR? Well, this is where my answer is probably not going to line up with an account person’s. I actually accidentally stumbled into PR, just as I had accidentally stumbled into internet research (which is a good story all its own). The story of how networking got me my job at Waggener is actually quite interesting and weaves a neat web of people – it’s posted on my friend Jim Stroud’s website here. Long story short though, my decision to join Waggener, and the world of PR, was because the opportunity to work with an innovative and highly respected company in a brand new field was intriguing and exciting. I was not feeling challenged in the right ways in my then-current situation and needed something more. Waggener has certainly provided that for me – I have been learning not only public relations, but social media strategy, client interaction, and corporate culture as well as staying connected within my recruiting and research community. It is overwhelming at times, but I’ve often said that if you’re not green and growing, you’re red and rotting.
Now, in keeping this meme alive, I am going to tag three additional people to spread the love: one PR student, one PR Young Gun, and one PR veteran:
- The PR Student: Paul Matson, The Social Media Institute
- The PR Young Gun: Paull Young, Young PR
- The PR Veteran: Kevin Dugan, The Bad Pich Blog and Strategic Public Relations
All throughout my research career, one of the things I’ve consistently had to do is to look for individuals who possess a certain title level for whatever job I happen to be researching. This is always interesting because depending on the size of the company, the titles change for various levels of experience. For example: an employee at a 5 person company with the title of “Vice President” would almost certainly not be suited for a “Vice President” position at a company employing 500 people. At the same time, a person who is a group manager at a 10,000 person company would most likely be well suited to be a managing director or a VP for a 100 person organization.
Having an elevated title can be both a blessing and a curse. Achieving the next level in your career quicker than normal can be exciting – but at the same time, it can also potentially hurt your hire-ability elsewhere. There is certainly something to be said for earning your promotion – but if you’ve gotten a title boost without having really earned it, you might be in a tough situation should you ever decide (or be forced) to leave your current place of employment.
Let’s take a look at this scenario: a PR professional with roughly 3 years’ experience joins a company and is given the title of Account Manager.
Now, let’s back up a second and take a look at the title system in the world of PR. Public Relations is an ideal industry to use as an example, particularly in the agency setting, because titles are pretty universal. Entry level positions are Account Coordinator (AC) and Assistant Account Executive (AAE). From there, you get promoted to Account Executive (AE), Senior Account Executive (SAE), and then to Account Supervisor (AS) or Account Manager (AM), both of which are around the same level depending on which company you are with. Then, it goes to Senior Account Manager (SAM), Account Director (AD), and on to the various levels of Vice Presidency and Executive titles. There is a natural progression from one level to the next which is pretty universally accepted.
Back to our scenario: at 3 years’ experience, it’s pretty certain that an individual would not in actuality be at an Account Manager level in their career. Nevertheless, this individual is excited about having this title and accepts it. However, if this person ever wants to switch companies, they are going to run into some problems:
- Once you have a title of Account Manager, it is highly unlikely that you are going to want to take a step back. (hey, I wouldn’t want to either!)
- Other companies will see 3 years’ experience and will almost certainly not be willing to compensate at the Account Manager level for that amount of experience.
Is it possible for you to earn experience and be promoted quickly? Absolutely – companies call this fast-tracking. But it’s not for everyone. Just keep this in mind as you do your career planning. You do have a career path mapped for yourself, right? If not, this is something you should begin immediately.
When you are progressing through your career, this is something to think about very seriously. It is especially important for folks who are just starting out their careers. Be wary of taking positions that offer elevated or inflated titles with no exchange of earned experience. Titles will not pay your bills. Earn your experience – and your promotion to higher levels.
A good friend of mine has a great saying that I think fits perfectly with this important topic: “You can feed your ego, or you can feed your family.” Titles are not going to feed your family, so make sure that you aren’t hurting your earning potential by taking an elevated title too early in your career simply for the aesthetic pleasure of it.
Many job seekers often wonder when the best time is to be looking for a new job. My first response is “Always!” – you should always have an ear to the ground and be open to discussing opportunities because it’s part of learning and growing professionally. However, the beginning of a new year is also a fantastic time to be looking for a new job – companies are drawing up new budgets, looking to staff up for upcoming projects, and quite honestly looking to use up their budget dollars before they can be taken away over the course of the year. So, if you’ve been affected by the flux in the economy this fall, the holidays are a time to be thankful for the blessings you DO have, and the New Year is a time to really start hitting the ground running on your search for employment.
For those of you who have been fortunate to escape the layoffs/downsizings/”right-sizings”/restructuring (no matter what euphemism you use, it still sucks!) – here are a couple of suggestions I would like to offer up to you:
- Build your network before you need it. Starting to develop your personal network after you’ve lost your job isn’t going to do as much good as if you build it while things are going well. That way, when you have a need, you have a network to go to and ask for help.
- Be nice to recruiters, even if you don’t want their opportunity. Of course I am a bit biased in this piece of advice, being a recruiting professional myself. But it never pays to be nasty to a recruiter – the job you don’t want today might be the job you need tomorrow. Actually, this should just be re-written to say “be nice to EVERYone” because you never know how other people might be able to help you out some day. And someone in my own network pointed out to me that recruiters should also reciprocate the kindness – I agree! So, let’s just all be nice to each other, shall we?
- Be cognizant of your personal brand. If you deny that your online brand is important today, I would like to know what rock you just crawled out from under. Your online presence is important when building professional relationships and especially when seeking employment. Whether or not we want to admit it, a person’s perception is their reality. If the image you put forth of yourself includes drunken escapades, double fisting beers, and other various questionable activities, it will make it harder for you when job-hunting. What you do in your personal time IS your own business, I agree, but do what you can to keep it personal, especially if you’re looking for a new job.
A good article to read that will help you with some suggestions on how to keep your job and make yourself a valuable asset comes from one of my favorite authors, Dan Schawbel, in a recent article he wrote for Mashable. Please read it – his recommendations are sure-fire!
And….of course a shameless plug for my own sourcing efforts – if you’re a PR professional, Waggener Edstrom IS hiring, and we have a bunch of cool job opportunities listed on our new Facebook Careers page. Please consider becoming a fan, and let me know if any of our positions interest you! Some of our current opportunities include:
- Account Manager, Healthcare – Boston
- Account Manager, Public Affairs – Washington, DC
- Account Director/VP, Technology – San Francisco
- Account Director – Singapore
- Account Manager – Singapore
I love being able to have conversations with intelligent people. Especially ones who aren’t conceited about it I have had the absolute pleasure of dining with a fascinating man this week here in Cincinnati who has caused me to put some serious thought into communication methods today and the fact that they are really costing us in quality what they supposedly make up in quantity. As someone who communicates for a living, this is huge to me and I am compelled to share some thoughts, both his and mine, on the matter.
For those of you over the age of 30, think back to when you were a little kid – when you wanted to play with your friends, how did you contact them? You either called them up on the phone, or you went directly to their house to ask permission. Children today don’t have to do that – they can text, then can IM, or they can email. What’s obviously lacking here? Conversation – real live conversation. With the communication tools we have today, we really don’t have to have actual conversations with other human beings to communicate thoughts, ideas, and information with them. We seem to have managed to seriously devalue live human interaction as an “inefficient use of our precious time”, and that is a really scary thought. Next thing you know, we’ll be back to grunting and drawing pictures on cave walls (some are already leaning in that direction).
Have we allowed so much noise into our lives that we can’t filter things out and thus resort to perpetually skimming everything, including our face-to-face time with people? Here’s an experiment – for those of you with a PDA phone, do you freak out if you leave it at home when you go out? When you’re having lunch or dinner with a friend or colleague, are you constantly checking it when a new text, call, or email comes through? Imagine the message you are sending to that person you’re with while you do this – “you’re not as important as this message I’m receiving, even though I have no idea what it’s about.” I have a couple of colleagues who, when we do actually talk on the phone, I can always tell they’re doing at least 3 other things at the same time, because the conversations are short and choppy and usually get cut short due to an email or another, more important activity. I understand their lives are chaotic, but I can’t help but feel devalued when this happens all the time.
By the way, while eating with my new friend, both of us had our phones on the table, and while we were discussing this very topic, both of our phones were ringing and buzzing. But we maintained our conversation because that’s what was the most important thing at the moment. It was a breath of fresh air to eat with someone who was present, and it compelled me to return the favor to him.
What have Twitter and Facebook done to us? I of course bring these things up tongue-in-cheek, as you know I am a big fan of Twitter, and I just launched our Waggener Edstrom Staffing page on Facebook. I definitely see value in both of these tools – when used for the right reasons. And what are the right reasons? You have to make that determination yourself. But honestly, do we really need to know every sordid detail of everyone’s life? I read a Facebook update this morning about someone who said he was coughing up some nasty stuff – that, in my opinion, is WTMI (way too much information). I have contacts on Twitter who don’t respond to a call, text, or IM, but they’re right on top of a DM from Twitter. There are “friends” on my Facebook who won’t pick up the phone to talk to me, but continue to leave notes on my Wall, or write responses to my blog postings instead. And by the way, the loose use of the term “friend” these days lends about as much credibility to the word as people have assigned lately to the term “love”, but that’s an entirely different blog post.
Have we achieved critical mass in alternative communication methods? As an avid user of all these tools, I’ll say no. But I think we definitely need to return to the basics when it comes to gleaning any kind of value from them. It boils down to relationships – they must be built with human interaction. Technology cannot culture a relationship.
If you have a colleague who lives close enough to you, let them know that they are important to you and meet them for lunch one day. Leave your PDA in your pocket and put it on silent while you’re eating. Focus on that conversation, it’s only an hour and the world won’t come to a screeching halt if you don’t check your emails for 60 minutes.
If you do a lot of work on the phone, face away from your computer when you are talking with someone. You’ll be less tempted to multitask without seeing things whizzing across your screen. I learned this the hard way when one of my co-workers called me out for multi-tasking and not paying attention to our conversation one day. Busted!
Resist the Pavlov’s Dog reaction – don’t go dashing off to check your email, check your phone, or respond to an IM when you hear a buzz or a bell. Several of my colleagues have implemented a strict policy of checking email at set times every day to be more efficient in their work, but my hope is that in doing this, they’ve also made themselves more available for real human interaction. Donato DiOrio recently posted on his blog about filtering and actually requested some input for ideas on how to best tackle this issue.
Please don’t think I’m pointing fingers here – because there are 3 pointing right back at me. I’d be a hypocrite to write about this topic without acknowledging my own shortcomings in several of these areas. Admittedly, I’m not a big phone person. In fact, those of you who know me know I really dislike talking on the phone, and thus I don’t pick it up that often. But what you may not know is that I absolutely love in-person interaction. Having lunch this week with my fascinating friend was a breath of fresh air for me, not just because of the stimulating conversation, but because we actually got to be in the same place together having that conversation. Those of you whom I’ve met at conferences know how much I enjoy attending those because we take the conversation offline and get real with each other.
My take-home message is this: while technology has made it easier for us to consume more information, it doesn’t necessarily make it easier for us to decipher and organize that information on a basis of importance. Technology cannot substitute for human emotion. There is still a very real human element that must be present for quality communication. Don’t mistake efficient communication for effective communication – they are not the same thing.