Reigniting the Fire When You’re Burned Out

By July 16, I was a puddle. After a very busy spring term, a move to a new home after five years in our previous abode, travel to Chicago for a week with five PR students, teaching summer classes and lots of client projects, July 16 was the final day of my first summer workshop. Even though it was just a blimp, a (very) small milestone, it felt like a much needed end. After I left campus, I barely got off the couch for two days.

I realized as I shook off some of the fog of that crazy busy season was I was totally and completely burned out. I didn’t want to teach, I couldn’t get excited about client work and everything I was supposed to do felt like a giant drag. I wasn’t sleeping well at night, but wanted to sleep all day. My normal productivity is pretty high, but man, it was hard to get anything done. I spun my wheels. A lot. It’s taken me most of the summer to feel like I’m even remotely back on track.

It’s helped to set some boundaries (“I’m not going to be on campus this week, we’ll have to meet next week.”) and enjoy my time with my family. I’ve been reading a lot of advice from others on dealing with this state of mind and here are some of my favorite tips:

Do Only Three Things. I love this idea from an Entrepreneur article with a handful of “lesser known” tips. A big to do list can be totally overwhelming and when productivity is nil, it is impossible for me to get going. But committing to doing just three things a day for the next two weeks feels good. And a little momentum can go a long way. (I also like the “watch cartoons” advice in this article… I love cartoons.)

Create Outlets. Zen Habits suggests finding an outlet – maybe a side project or a hobby that can clear your mind. For me, it’s horses. I’ve also recently gotten involved with Stella & Dot as something completely different than everything else for me to focus on when I need a break. Sometimes “totally different” is a good thing.

Be Assertive. A PsychCentral post says to say “no” and don’t feel obligated to offer an excuse. Oh man, I’m bad at this one. But I’m working on it. I am saying “no” more often, but I totally try to explain myself. I was talked to our director of student advising just today and she was giving me a total out on speaking at an event and I still offered an explanation.

So I’m headed into the new academic year not feeling very motivated and inspired, but at the end of the day, I love my job and that matters a lot.

How about you? Ever felt burned out? How did you cope?

Getting Busy People to Answer Your Emails

Did you know that 247 billion emails are sent every day. This equates to one email every 0.00000035 seconds. Somedays it feels like half of those are delivered straight to my inbox. (Source)

An invaluable communication tool, email is probably the method I use most to interact with colleagues, clients, students and friends. However, I get around 300 or so emails a day. That, combined with a very full schedule means sometimes those emails go unanswered (or even unseen). There’s no way I have a corner on the lots-of-email-busy-schedule market, so I’m often on the other end — sending an email, trying to get a busy person to reply to my requests.

So how do you get busy people to respond to your emails? Some tips:

State your subject in the subject line: Your email subject line can make or break you in a couple of ways. If your subject isn’t clear, the recipient may not open it at all. If it has any kind of spammy words, it may trigger a spam or junk filter. Don’t be clever, be clear.

My friend Sherry says she puts the action needed right in the subject line. Something like, “Info to Share: Sherry’s Awesome” or “Approval Needed: Quote for Press Release.” Another friend, Amanda Ip (UO ’09) says if you’re networking and have a referral, put the name right in the subject. That helps get her attention and makes your message a priority.

Clear subject lines also make it easier for my email program to appropriately sort or thread your message and makes it easier to go back and find it later if needed.

Start on the right foot. Your salutation is your first chance to make a good impression.

“Hey, so-and-so” is universally panned as inappropriate and annoying, especially on first contact. It’s not friendly or casual, it’s immature and disrespectful. It’s not hard to do a bit of research and figure out how formal or informal someone is in their communications. Do some LinkedIn research or look for tone in Twitter content.

It’s safer to err on the side of being more formal at first. Ms. So-and-So or Mr. Blah-biddy Blah is usually appropriate and you’re not going to put anyone off. I will say, be careful about which honorific you choose, though. I hate (hate!) when people call me Mrs. Matthews. Matthews is the name I was born with and I’m not married.

In an academic setting Professor This-and-That is usually safe (the specifics of professor vs. instructor aren’t really interesting to anyone outside academia), but be careful about Dr. What’s-Her-Name. Dr. is a title bestowed upon those who complete specific requirements for their profession. In my case, I don’t have a PhD. Again, a little research will help you know what to use.

via GIPHY

Note: Mx. as a gender-neutral honorific was added to the Oxford English Dictionary this week. I’m not sure I’d use it with just anyone, it may look like a typo, but it’s definitely worth knowing.

Don’t bury the lede. You’ve been clear in your subject line, but make sure the body of your email is equally clear. Keep the introductory remarks to a bare minimum. You don’t want to be rude (and you want to be culturally appropriate), but keep it short.

Avoid the scroll. In a world where we often check our emails via mobile devices, consider a smart phone screen the ideal length of an email.

That’s about 115 words (the first two paragraphs of this blog post). If you can’t get your point in that space, you very well may have lost the battle. Busy people have a lot of things competing for their attention.

Another mobile tip: when you can, include the text of an attachment in the body of the email along with the attachments. Not all attachments open on all devices and you don’t want that to get in the way of getting a reply.

Make it skim-able. A big block of text is hard to read on a screen of any size. Breaking up the text into no more than two or three lines per paragraph makes it easier for the reader to see the point and take in what you’re asking. Making it hard to read your email is only going to slow the reply.

Try another line. If you have tried email and not received a response, you can try reaching out on Twitter or LinkedIn. Don’t be shy about resending the email. I call my email the Pit of Despair. Once an email slides off the first screen, it can be out of sight out of mind.

Sending a follow-up is not annoying to most busy people, as long as you’re professional, polite and gracious about how you do it.

Take it off-line. As several colleagues said when I asked this question via Facebook, sometimes an in-person meeting or a quick phone call is much more productive than a back-and-forth email conversation. Ask for a few minutes of their time and set a time that you can call them. You can work through multiple screens of emails in a short time and get more done.

But don’t just take my word for it. A handful of great blog posts and resources on this very topic:

How to get a busy person to respond to your email (Medium)

How To Write Emails To Busy People (Business Insider)

7 Tips for Emailing Extraordinarily Busy People (Inc.)

What tips do you have for getting replies from busy people?

A Year-Long Plan for Senior PR Undergrads

[Updated September 2014]

 “When should I start applying for that internship?”

“Where do I start with my job search?”

“Do I need to be sending my resumes out now?”

There’s a point of recognition where the senior public relations major realizes that yes, barring any major gaffes, chances are good that they’re going to graduate and need to find a job. And then the panic sets in.

Senior year both flies by in a blink and seems to drag on forever at the same time.  Benchmarking a few key activities may help you create your own plan for prepping for graduation.

A quick note: University of Oregon is on the quarter system – we start the last Monday of September and finish mid-June, so this calendar may vary based on your University.

Continue reading “A Year-Long Plan for Senior PR Undergrads”

New Year’s Resolution #5: Learn Something New

This is the first in a countdown-style series of my professionally-oriented New Year’s resolutions.

I love to learn. I am insatiably curious, even when I don’t want to be (or have time to be!). I have a mental list of things that I wish I knew how to do but don’t necessarily have to for my day-to-day work. So this year, I’m going to start checking some things off that list. I’ll start with these two.

Continue reading “New Year’s Resolution #5: Learn Something New”

What Applebee’s Should’ve Done: Armchair Quarterbacking a Social Media Crisis

The armchair quarterbacking as to how Applebee’s should’ve handled their total social media meltdown last week has begun. “They should’ve…”, “If they were smart, they’d…”, “Oh, you never do that!…”

First of all, if you’re not up-to-speed on the disaster that Applebee’s created, this is an excellent recap. You should read it.

As in most cases like this, the variables are hard to track and you’ll find speculation and rumors galore (not to mention rantings and rationalizations). So, for the sake of my argument, let’s start with a basic assumption: the server violated company policy by posting the image of the customer’s receipt.

With that in mind, here’s what I see as the problems with Applebee’s responses:

  • Firing people has a greater chance of making you look like a big, stinky jerk than not firing someone. This is especially true when the “facts” are in question and the violation is something that a lot of us have done (or can certainly understand why one would do so).
  • Not having a crisis plan with a social media component is stupid. Of course, not having either a crisis plan or a social media plan to start with is also stupid. Considering the shallow, promotional blather on the Applebee’s Facebook Page prior to this incident, I’m guessing it had neither.
  • The Applebee’s response on Facebook – from the contrite posts to the verbose comments to the time stamp of the responses (3 am? Drunk Facebooking anyone? This was an unfair comment based on time stamps reflecting time zone differences.) – violated social media management 101. But when you have no strategy and you don’t know how to talk to people, that’s what happens.

Awesome photo by Decoded Science, which has a nice recap, too. 

So, what should Applebee’s have done?

  • Not fired the server. I’m sure the company panicked, was trying to “set an example” and any number of knee jerk responses. Likely the action was taken by the franchisee and not the company (indicating the franchisee experience with social media and access to it is totally divorced from the corporate presence), adding a layer of complexity. But not firing the server would’ve saved a lot of headache. 
  • Issued an update early (as early as possible!) that said something like, “We value our relationships with our employees and our guests. We wouldn’t be here without them. We feel compelled to share our view on the photo shared by one of our servers. At Applebee’s, we’re committed to doing the right thing for everyone involved. We have apologized to the guest. In addition, we will immediately begin social media training with all our employees across every Applebee’s franchise, starting with the one in St. Louis where this occurred. We want our employees to be smart about risks not only to our business, but to their customers and to themselves. We also want employees who are empowered to share.”
  • Created a social media policy, which could be shared on social media channels.
  • Been transparent, authentic and, yes, human, in all its interactions.
  • Followed up with social  media training and demonstrated the company’s commitment in tangible, visible ways. Like maybe sharing photos featuring and taken by employees?

By responding quickly and framing of the discussion, rather than letting it get completely out of control, Applebee’s gets to come out looking like the good guy instead of the big, stinky jerk. By treating everyone involved – the server, the guest, the Facebook fans – like people, the conversation would’ve stayed civil and “on topic.”

Taking a longer-term view, Applebee’s clearly had no social media policy that was relevant to employees, had very little strategy in place (how many photos of food & promotional nonsense can you post?) and does not appear to have a crisis communications plan that included social media.

As with most things like this, there were a lot of things Applebee’s should’ve been doing well in advance of any incident occurring to build goodwill and provide a culture in which something like this wouldn’t have happened (because employees understood their role) or if it did the company could’ve activated a plan to minimize damage and maintain relationships.

Come sit in the armchair with me and do a little quarterbacking. What would your advice to Applebee’s be?

5 Ways to Spend Your Winter Break

Classes are wrapping up at the University of Oregon and we’re all more than ready. I get the need to hibernate over the break. I intend to do some of that myself. But if you feel like getting a job start on the intern or job search, winter break can be a great time to focus. And if I know our PR students, they’re not likely to “hibernate” for long.

Some suggestions to make the most of your winter break:

Update your resume (and LinkedIn). Adding new positions, editing based on instructor or professional feedback, playing with the layout and design… Your resume is in a constant state of change at this stage in your pre-professional career. Make sure it’s up-to-date. While you’re at it, update your LinkedIn profile and add some new connections.

Work on your e-portfolio. An online home for your writing samples and resume is a must. If you already have an e-portfolio, take some time to update the materials. If you don’t have one, this is a great time to start. Finding a platform (I like WordPress) and uploading your favorite writing samples is a good start.

Read. Pick up a PR, social media or general business book. Or update your feed reader and find new blogs to follow. Catch up on your PR industry news and trends while you have some time. Yes, you can even read some fiction for fun. It’s ok! This summer reading list is still pretty relevant if you need some suggestions for books. You can also use my public Netvibes dashboard for PR, marketing and social media blogs to read.

Research. Research companies you want to work for, who their clients are, what kind of jobs are available while you have time to follow the Internet rabbit trails (and have fun doing it!). You can find some tips here to get started.

Do some informational interviews. If you’ve done some research, reach out to people working in PR and set up a time to chat over coffee. Info interviews are a great way to network and get to know the industry. An oldie, but a goodie… this post gives some great advice for informational interviews. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to work in your hometown, you can always get out and meet some people. PR is a small industry and you never know where a chat over coffee will lead.

What are your winter break plans?
Photo via Flickr by niznoz.

Bad Judgment Creates Twitter Crises

In the last month we’ve seen two really high profile mistweets. In fact, they occurred one right after the other in the same week.  In both cases, the tweets were apparently meant to be sent from personal accounts, but instead were sent from the corporate accounts.

In case you missed it, the first was from KitchenAidUSA. It was tweeted the night of the first presidential debate.

 

The second was from StubHub (pardon the language). You can read more about this situation here.

 

Of course KitchenAidUSA and StubHub aren’t the first corporate accounts to have this happen (remember Chrysler?). What really stood out to me about both these tweets was this:

If you’re a company that’s hired someone who would tweet EITHER of these tweets (even on a personal account), you’ve made a bad hiring decision. Both of these twitterers used unbelievably terrible judgment. These are not the kind of tweets that should be sent out ever on a social network. Ever. Much less by someone who “does” social media for a living. The first error in judgment was KitchenAid and StubHub not taking their respective social media seriously and ensuring the people in place to manage corporate channels had the skills, sense of strategy and maturity to do so.

The second error in judgment was, of course, on the part of the individuals managing those accounts.

I’ve mistweeted from client accounts before, it’s pretty easy to do (and pretty easy to avoid). In each case for me, the tweet was not relevant to that client’s audience or the kind of content typically shared on that platform. But they were not offensive. Guess why. Because I do not tweet offensive things.

The mistweet issue is certainly one that, if you’re helping manage a brand account, you have to pay attention to. But I think the bigger issue in the KitchenAidUSA and the StubHub case was that the individuals responsible for those accounts showed a complete lack of judgment and shouldn’t have been in a position of responsibility.

No, I’m not suggesting that you have to tweet like you’re a corporate brand, but everything you tweet is part of your personal brand. And that should be just as important to you as if you were tweeting on behalf of a client or an employer. It’s through your personal brand that you can demonstrate your expertise, your professionalism and your good judgment. And it’s because you bring expertise, professionalism and good judgment that you’ll be a valuable employee. One that doesn’t tweet something that results in your boss having to apologize to the President of the United States of America.

As usual, a Chipism sums it up… In an interview last week, Oregon Ducks Football Coach Chip Kelly said this about Twitter (after the Washington State coach banned his players from using it).

What do you think? How do you think about your own presence on social media and how does that relate to managing a company or client account? I’d love to hear your experience.

Setting New (School) Year Resolutions

January, schmanuary. The real “new” year for those of us who are students and teachers is September. So as we all gear up to head back to the classroom, it’s time to set some new (school) year resolutions.

SWOT Yourself

Take an objective view – well, as objective as possible – about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Strengths and weaknesses are internal.

Strengths: What are you good at? What kinds of activities are a natural fit for you?

Weaknesses: What areas are more difficult for you to master? I’m not going to say “what can you improve on?” because that’s not always an effective use of your time. But are there specific skills that you need to add to your repertoire? Particularly tactics or skills that you want to learn?

I highly recommend a book called StrengthFinder 2.0. Take a little online quiz and get back your top 5 strengths. We did this last year with AHPR and it was eye-opening. You can read about it here.

Opportunities and threats are external.

Opportunities: What activities, events, programs can you take advantage of? Where can you gain the experience you need?

Threats: Where are the potentials for time sucks? What external factors can diminish your ability to achieve your goals?

Threats are tricky when you’re looking at yourself as a students. It might be a heavy class schedule, for example. You can’t really do anything about that, but you can be aware it’s coming and plan accordingly.

Thanks, @CBLangev for this suggestion.

Make a Plan

 


Now that you understand what your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are, make a plan for making the most of the good and minimizing the impact of the not-so-good.

Some tips:

  • Start with the end in mind. What do you want to accomplish? And what does that “end” look like?
  • Be realistic, but ambitious. You can’t do everything. You have to make strategic decisions about where your time will be best spent. Where is the best return on your time investment.
  • Have a good planner. Whether you need a written planner or an electronic version, make friends with your process and use it to stay organized. About.com has some nice (basic) tips for collge student calendar management.
  • Find tech tools that support your goals, and focus on those tools.  I’m a little bit notorious for giving a new tool or app a try, but not spending enough time with it to really integrate it into my schedule before I get distracted by the next shiny, new thing. Don’t do that.

Find Balance

You have to be able to balance school/academic work, extracurriculars, internships, volunteer opportunities and your social life (more on that in the next point). In a professional program like public relations, you really do have to look and think beyond the classroom – even in your in the honors college… even if you know you’re headed to grad school.

The challenge of course, is figuring out how to fit it all in. Refer to the aforementioned planner/calendar system. Find your process! It is possible to create balance when you know what your goal is and how you plan to get there. (Oh, look at that! All these fit together…!)

Thanks, @ColbyReade for this resolution.

Have Fun

You’re in college. Have fun! Find time to make what you do fun and to have a social life outside of the books and the work. I went through a goal setting process for myself recently and found that I was conflating “have fun” with “have a hobby.” I don’t have time for a serious hobby, but I do have time for fun.

And I have fun all the time. I think life is fun! And I find the fun in work, family time, vegging out in front of the TV… all those can be (and usually are) fun. So it doesn’t have to be BIG fun. But make sure you’re including time for you.

So there’s my list. They are all “big picture.” Tell me about what you have planned this year. What are your new (school) year resolutions?

Special thanks to my Twitter & Facebook friends for offering their suggestions! 

Finding Our Strengths

As the adviser for Allen Hall Public Relations, I spend a minority of my time teaching specific public relations skills. A minority would be an overstatement. It’s a sliver, a fraction… not much at all. So what do I spend most of my time doing? Mentoring and coaching students on how to be effective leaders, counselors and teammates.

Every year we tweak and morph, change and adapt, looking for the key to creating strong foundations, building communications skills and prepping these young professionals to be strong leaders. Every year it seems we don’t quite make it… AHPR members are always awesome. ALWAYS. But I usually feel like there was more I could do.

This year, I invited Corinne McElroy from Edge of Change to facilitate a workshop focused on the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book and assessment. I had the pleasure of being part of a workshop Corinne led earlier this year as part of my role on the Board of Directors of Committed Partners for Youth/Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lane County and knew immediately that it would be invaluable for AHPR.

The premise of StrengthsFinder 2.0 book/assessment is that if we focus on what we’re good at, we can be more effective and efficient. Spending time getting better at what we’re “bad” at is not terribly productive. Yes, that’s an oversimplification, but I think it works.

Let me give you a personal example. My top five strengths are: strategic, input, ideation, activator and positivity. What I learned through the workshop I did this summer and reading the material was that this means I’m a thinker. Most of what’s going on with me is in my noodle.

That was a big “a ha!” for me. It’s helped me understand that I need to do a better job of articulating what I’m thinking – otherwise I can seem a little pushy with my ideas and maybe even (gasp!) aloof.

The reality? I’ve been thinking about everything you’ve said, everything I’ve read and muddled it around until I feel like I can make the right recommendation. I’m not very good coming up with recommendations on my feet (unless it’s a situation I’ve encountered before) – and now I know why! I would often feel like I was lacking some skill or talent when I couldn’t speak extemporaneously like I saw colleagues do brilliantly. But all of those skills often mean I’m very deliberate and intentional and when I make a recommendation and I do so with conviction. It’s also helped me to embrace those things I’m good at naturally and focus my efforts more productively.

So, all that to say that I saw the SAME “a ha!” moments with my students as they discovered how their strengths manifest themselves in their daily life. The beauty of everyone going through this together is that we now all have a shared vocabulary. “You’re an achiever, so you need to be careful about taking on too much!” or “Because you’re a maximizer, it’s important to know when good enough is good enough.”

The workshop allowed students to do that individually, but also as an agency and in their client teams. So we have a profile of the agency (we are achievers, futuristic and maximizers!) and then each client team also has their profile. This is powerful stuff for student leaders to know and to be able to use.

Because one of my strengths is “positivity” (it means exactly what you think it means), I also love that the StrengthsFinder is such a positive affirmation that students are awesome! And that they come to the table with so much to offer. I heard some students beforehand talk about what an “ego boost” just taking the assessment was and how this can help boost their confidence in client situations.

None of this was technical or tactical. We barely even said the phrase “public relations.” It was all about connecting to each other and helping members step into their strengths as individuals, in teams and with the agency.

Even if you’re not in an organization that can participate in a workshop, get the book! Get it for yourselves and your teammates and dig in on your own. Or call Corinne. 🙂

But don’t take it from me! Here are some things that the members of AHPR had to say about the process:

Karly Bolton, AHPR Firm Director (Twitter)

I love StrengthsFinder! Corinne’s workshop came at the perfect time–it was only our third meeting, so Sam and I were thrilled to see new and returning members chatting and bonding over their shared and different strengths. The best thing about this exercise is that now we not only know our own strengths, but the strengths of our teammates, which will come in handy when it’s time to divide client tasks and projects. The only problem at the end of the night–I NEED to know the StrengthsFinder results of everyone I know!

Shawna Haynes (blog, twitter)

The workshop taught me that it is ok to have things we are not the best at. I am a maximizer too and I learned a lot about how to capitalize on it instead of letting it get the best of me. I also learned how to focus on what I do good instead of what I cannot do all that well. It was great to get to talk with others and find out how we can all work as a group to unitize each others strengths too. I think we have a great group and that it will be an excellent year!

Jenna Cerruti (twitter)

The workshop taught me to capitalize on my strengths instead of correct my weaknesses. I realized that I do focus on my weaknesses a lot more, and by trying to improve things about myself that I’m just not naturally good at, I am diminishing efficiency and confidence in my work. It would be much more beneficial (to me and my prospective employers) if I applied my strengths, which I learned are maintaining relationships and executing projects through strategic thinking.

Seven Ways Student Journalists Can Use Social Media

digital media

I had the opportunity to chat with the staff of the Oregon Daily Emerald about how they can use social media for themselves and the publication.I borrowed liberally from a recent Mashable article, adjusted, modified and expanded it to provide a handful of tips for student journalists.

I would preface all of these with the recommendation to sit down and spend a little time setting some personal and professional goals for yourself. Think about what you want to be known for and what you want people to remember about you. Knowing your goals will help you make intentional decisions about where to spend your time and energy when it comes to social media activities. Consider it a personal mission statement.

  1. Promote your content
    Use your social media network to promote your content. Post your articles/blogs on twitter, your links to YouTube videos on your Facebook page. As long as you’re using social media for more than just promoting your work, then sharing what you’re doing will be welcome by your network.
  2. Newsgathering and research
    This is probably the most obvious. Using  social media to learn more about the issue of the day, your sources, etc. can all be done with social media. I use social media for this purpose everyday and I even have a client who “facebook stalks” her clients to learn more about them (in a good way, I promise).
  3. Crowdsourcing and building source list
    You’ll meet lots of interesting people hanging out on social media, but even cooler? All those people know more people. Use your network to ask questions, find sources and generally do your job better.
  4. Publish more content
    If you’re a student journalist and you don’t have your own blog, your own YouTube channel and your own Flickr profile, you’re missing out on an opportunity to share more of your work than will ever fit in the print edition of your publication.
  5. Integrate blogs & other social content
    Look for ways to integrate your blogs and other social content on your organization’s home page. Different people connect in different ways, let them know where you hang out.
  6. Build a community & share rich content
    Join online groups and networks that make sense for your personal goals and while you’re there, ensure you’re providing rich content. For example, “I’m eating a sandwich” via Twitter is lame. But “Wow! This BLT from Marche Cafe has the most amazing locally-gown heirloom tomatoes” is interesting. This tweet shows you understand your local community and local business (which may be important for your network). But really, the specifics aren’t the point, the point is to think about providing content that says something, not total fluff. Although some fluff is ok sometimes, too.
  7. Personal branding
    Social media can really help you develop a personal brand. Find your niche and show what you know and who you are. Just remember your personal mission statement and goals. What do you want to be known for. And really a solid personal brand comes from having the work to back it up, not just a shiny image. There’s lots to say about this, and I won’t go into too much depth, but you can check out some posts I’ve tagged on the subject or just google it. It’s a hot topic these days.

Some bonus tips:

  • Always be mindful that you represent more than yourself. As a journalist, the stakes are higher.
  • Always be aware of what you put online – it will go further than you think.
  • Experiment!! Try stuff out!

image by the tartanpodcast

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