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”

Wishing For Spring Linky Love

What an amazing week! There’s nothing like watching a revolution via social media to bring the power of shared communication, collaboration and instant connections into full view. Besides the revolution in Egypt, I found lots of great content this week to share with you.

This infographic is very busy, but has some good info about how people are using social media in crises and emergencies. Pretty remarkable, yet very intuitive.

I’m sorry, the story of Sony’s social media blunder, to me, just doesn’t have the weight or consequence that some of the other recent social media blunders (like Kenneth Cole’s). But it is worth noting how far and wide a single tweet can travel.

This Q and As on Quora is really interesting and has some good lessons about blogger relations with some of the most read tech blogs. I’ll note that most of the answers are not from PR people, which gives them a little different perspective.

Running low on blog ideas? Some great ideas from Kenna Griffin at The KRG to convince you (and she’s right!) that blog ideas are everywhere.

How is Facebook changing the way family history is documented? How will you be remembered on Facebook? This is a really interesting post from GROW Blog and guest blogger John White.

GROW is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs. This post is another good one (a guest blog, too) about how one blog post helped Antonia Harler get a job in social media. This stuff is powerful, you guys. Listen up!  You can follow Antonia on Twitter, too.

Lindsay Olsen, my favorite PR recruiter and mom of an adorable little girl, has a post about what questions your resume should answer. I picked up a few tips here, too. Worth a read, even if you look elsewhere for your weekly response post topic.

Grammar Girl’s podcast is a great listen and this episode is on how to use first, second and third person.

Now for something a little more philosophical from Presentation Zen. Garr talks about how there are really only two mistakes we should fear – not starting and not finishing. And yes, there are beautiful photos and some slide design ideas to go with.

Finally, a couple of posts on the horrid Groupon Super Bowl ads. This one from Spin Sucks criticizes Groupon’s “apology” and this one from Liz Strauss says clever is only clever when it doesn’t offend and offers some advice for Groupon to heal its black eye.

Enjoy! and in the meantime, hopefully this spring-like weather stays around. So thankful we didn’t have snowpocalypse here. 🙂

Guest Post: Embracing the Next Phase

This guest post is from my Twitter friend, Kellye Crane. Kellye is one of those PRos that I always recommend students follow. She’s super smart and has good advice for PR people at all levels.

As the school year draws to a close, I’m sure many PRos in Training are thinking about the future, and pondering what Modern PR means today. Whether you’re on the job market, starting an internship, beginning a new position or just trying to keep up with the latest advancements, you’ve no doubt heard and read a great deal about the vast changes taking place in the approach to public relations.

As current students know, whether it’s called PR 2.0, New PR, or some other catchy label, it’s clear that public relations is moving into a new age. At the forefront of this evolution is PR’s incorporation of a more conversational approach to communications, made possible – and necessary – by social media.

All this change can feel a bit intimidating, but the good news is this is truly an exciting time! Those who stay abreast of the changes and adapt to the evolving climate will thrive. If you’re worried, I’m going to let you in on an open secret:

Today’s students are every bit as prepared as the more experienced PR pros to succeed in this fast-changing environment.

For most of the class of 2009, adapting to new technologies, conversing online and being authentic is second nature. Much of what my colleagues and I are trying to learn – from the social norms of texting to the unspoken rules of Facebook – is old hat to you. PR is going to look very different in the near future, and the truth is some of the experienced pros are set in their ways.

Of course, the fact that the methods of communicating have changed doesn’t alter the fundamentals of public relations we should all be practicing. This is where the PR veterans have much to teach new PR pros.

These circumstances create a unique opportunity for emerging and experienced PR pros to join forces for a perfect partnership of wisdom and new ideas. While it’s essential to give appropriate respect to your managers, at the same time you should feel comfortable to share your perspective. The best workplaces will welcome your input and – whether it’s used or not – you’ll be credited with thinking strategically.

Your fresh perspectives combined with the expertise of your senior colleagues will be a powerful alliance. Together, you’ll be unstoppable!

———-

Kellye Crane founded Crane Communications, LLC in 1995, and has 18 years of experience in strategic public relations and marketing communications. Her blog is Solo PR Pro and you can find her on Twitter at @KellyeCrane.

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Setting Yourself Apart: A Job in PR is Possible

It’s scary to be a university senior right now. In just 6 months, the market will flood with recent graduates clamoring for what could be fewer entry level jobs than we saw in the last few years. I don’t think it matters much what your major is, this is likely to be the reality for a lot of folks.

But you’re interested in PR, so does that mean you should forget about working in public relations? After all, the media is dying (say some) and PR departments are downsizing.

Well, if your dream is to do traditional media relations in an old school model of public relations… um, yes. Yes, you should forget about PR.

However, based on my own experience with a wide variety of clients, as well as watching my students’ careers, I say that if you can come to the table prepared for the PR career of the future, you’ll be in demand. That doesn’t mean it won’t take hard work. It will take tons of work. Work beyond your classes. You have to set yourself apart in a sea of recent graduates.

What does that mean?

A “smile and dial” (aka telemarketing) approach to traditional media relations is out. To succeed, it’ll take the ability to be strategic and provide good counsel (even at a junior level), a broad skill set and the ability to measure and show results. Let’s break it down…

Be a Strategic Counselor
I find myself telling students that they need to be “strategic thinkers.” Let me explain.

The are a dizzying array of communication channels available. Being able to do meaningful audience research, think and then make smart recommendations for what tools to use to get the results you seek is crucial. Katie Payne suggested recently that this crush of options means that you need to make decisions based on data. I agree. You can’t just trust your gut instincts. The audiences are too complex, the media too fractured and the landscape changing too quickly.

With some audiences, traditional media is still the gateway to their mind, but for many, that is far from the truth. How will a company, cause or organization know the best strategy? By relying on a smart communication team (and “by relying,” I mean hiring and paying a salary).

Develop Broad Skills
Would YOU hire someone who only brought traditional media relations skills to the table? If that were my own skill set, I’d starve. This is a snapshot of skills that I need to have on any given project:

  • Web sites: navigation and site maps, Web copy, design recommendations, basic HTML and updating (I don’t do the design).
  • Marketing collateral: copywriting for all sorts of things, design & format recommendations
  • Social media: blog writing and editing, blogger outreach, research, social networking
  • Research: focus groups, survey construction
  • Planning
  • New business development & pitches
  • Presentations
  • Media literacy: read, understand, distill information from varied sources
  • Traditional media relations: press releases, media lists, pitching

Traditional media relations is still part of the mix. Most recent graduates work in agencies where they focus on this aspect of public relations. But to be valuable for the long term, you need a broader base. Having even rudimentary design skills, for example, can really save the day.

Measure & Be Accountable
This should probably be first on the list. If you can’t prove that what you’re doing is contributing positively to the organization’s bottom line (either contributing to revenue or saving costs), then you should be worried about your job (your budget, your career, etc.).

There are lots of smart people talking about measurement. I highly recommend reading Katie Payne and Don Bartholomew, for example. Both have blogs. You can also check out the Institute for Public Relations, where you can find lots of research on measurement and evaluation.

What Now?

The job market will probably be tight this year. It may take longer to get a job. You may be slinging lattes for a bit while you find a PR gig. But if you work to set yourself apart from the average graduate, you’ll still be able to find a good job in public relations. It’s just not likely to look like the jobs of the past.

I would love to hear what you think.

Photo via Flickr by AtomicJeep

International Student Job Search Tips

I often get asked for job search advice from international students who want to stay and work in the United States. Karen Miller Russell at University of Georgia tapped a former student for these tips: Tips for international students who want to work in the United States.

My favorite and the one I might not have thought of off the top of my head:

2. Look for jobs in the want ads in the foreign language press and on Websites for people [from whatever country you’re originally from] now living in the U.S. If an organization is looking for a bilingual speaker, that’s where they’ll advertise.

Thanks Karen (and George!) for these great tips.

Potential Client Googled Me

It finally happened… in a new client meet and greet the executive director of a local nonprofit came to the meeting having done a Google search on me.

Not the first time people have done this. I Google myself on a fairly regular basis to make sure some random weirdness hasn’t shown up in the online universe. A sales rep I work with at the very cool University Readers Googled me and brought up this piece of evidence to my past. Fortunately, something I’m pretty proud of.

However, it was in this meeting that the advice and the “warnings” to my students that you’d be Googled prior to a job interview came to pass. And it was a good thing. I blog, I have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile, I’ve been mentioned in others blogs… I also have a 2000 resume that floats to the top 10 results that I can’t seem to figure out how to get rid of. But it’s not inaccurate. In fact, it’s kind of fun to look back at how I positioned myself in my resume my senior year as an undergraduate.

So I was pleased that this client had taken the time to do his research. A Google search on me does a nice job of painting a picture of me as a professional and academic. Although this is not me.

I do have a MySpace page and I have much less formal baby blog for my son – so it’s not all PR strategy, client service and professional history information that’s out there. You can find the post I did about the Scrubs “musical” episode and cutesy videos of my baby grooving to George Michael’s “Too Funky,” but that’s ok. It’s not embarrassing and if someone spends that much time figuring out who I am, those goofy posts certainly give a glimpse into my personality.

If you’re having trouble with your online identity, take some time to clean up the stuff that worries you. It’s hard, but worth the time and effort. This Wall Street Journal article is a great overview.

Sloth: One of the 7 Deadly Sins

I love this analogy!

The Ladders, a job search engine that lists jobs mainly in the $100K + salary range, has this terrific site around the 7 deadly sins of interviewing.

My favorite is “sloth,” I think. Mostly because I see this with soon-to-be or recent graduates more than I’d like. Excerpt:

Winging it is never good, particularly in an interview. Be able to show knowledge of your potential employer, awareness of the industry, and the company’s business strategy. The level of detail in your questions should match your experience.

What questions match your level of expertise? If you know you’re going into an entry-level position that is going to be media relations focused, ask questions about the day-to-day of your potential job. Will you be pitching? Or providing support? What kind of mentoring does the agency offer?

There are plenty of ways to show your genuine interest in a position before and after the interview. But it takes time and effort. My absolute favorite idea comes from one of my superstar students, Laura Bishow who got her dream job at Maxwell PR Studio in Portland, Ore.

When she decided that she wanted to work at Maxwell, she found a few select clients of the agency and created Google News searches for those clients. She had a contact at the agency because she’d done an informational interview. So, connect the dots, here… when Client A came up on a Google News search, Laura emailed her contact and said (something along the lines of), “What great coverage! How did you work with this reporter? how did you pitch this story?”

Genius!

What other advice do you have? Any horror stories?

Common-Freaking-Courtesy

John Wagner of On Message posts today about how NOT to look for a job. His experience is just an example of the lack of common courtesy that is all too common.

Another example – last week, the managers of the student-run PR agency at the Univ. of Oregon conducted interviews and “hired” for Spring term (students don’t get paid, but all are treated as agency employees and the students can get credit).

After doing nearly 20 interviews, the 8 hires were called and congratulated and those who weren’t hired were also called. One student who was not hired proceeded to question the manager on her decision. The manager told that her best advice would be for the student to work on her professionalism – being sure to dress appropriately for an interview and coming to the interview prepared.

Rather than saying, “thank you. I will work on that and when I apply again in the fall, hopefully I’ll be a better candidate,” she said, “well, why did I have to dress up if you weren’t dressed up?!” Hmmm… what seems to be lacking. Oh! I know! Common courtesy (and that “professionalism” the manager mentioned).

And now, this student has damaged – one might even say destroyed – her chances of being hired in the future.

Use common courtesy! You’re not entitled to networking opportunities, being hired at a student agency (or any job) just because you’re wonderful, fabulous you. PR is a small world and word travels fast.

PR Rising

According to a great article in AdWeek, PR represents the largest growth sector as compared to our marketing and advertising sisters. The articles tracks trends from 1994, when the numbers were nearly equal, through the dot-com bust and then back again.

Excerpt:

One big winner in this shift has been public relations. A lot of marketers, notably the pioneering dot-com companies, relied heavily on PR to create a buzz and get their stories told. The PR sector, though still much smaller than advertising, grew more than three times faster than advertising between 1990 and the peak. And even though both disciplines saw massive employee cuts after the Big Burst, public relations today, as measured by the body count, is 44 percent larger than it was in 1990, while advertising is up by only 14 percent.

Read more

Steve Rubel says that this means that PR is really driving the marketing agenda and that ultimately it’s our game to lose.

I love that there are more opportunities for students. I wonder if these jobs are “PR” in title, but more integrated in function? I would guess the answer to that is yes. Lines are blurring, not becoming more distinct, between these sister disciplines. But I agree with Steve, the titling of positions as public relations means that we’re in the driver’s seat.

What do you think?

Guest Post: The Shaping of PR Superstar (part two)

This is part two of a guest post is from Marilyn Hawkins of Hawkins & Company PR. In part one, she listed 1 – 10. Here she rounds out the 25 qualities that will set you apart in the PR industry.

If you’re serious about the public relations business, you can never settle for being
just an average professional. Here are 25 ways to shine – waaaayyy beyond the solid list of tactical skills and basic attributes you may have acquired already. There are probably 2,500 qualities of a great public relations practitioner, but I’ll only tick off the top one percent. Are these in any particular order? Nope. They’re just as random and chaotic as the average PR pro’s typical workday.

So, what do you have to do – or be – in order to walk on water?

11. Tolerant of contradictory points of view. You must be able to see all facets of a problem, then propose a workable synthesis – without unnecessarily alienating any important stakeholder(s). Rarely are important decisions clear-cut. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of a small mind.”

12. Commanding of attention when necessary. If you have good ideas, make sure people get an opportunity to hear them. Be able to call attention to yourself – without making anyone squirm about your motives or your messages.

13. Thick-skinned and able to handle rejection and learn from it. Let’s call this the gift of a cast-iron stomach and a bulletproof business heart. Ambiguity, misdirection, contradiction, sarcasm, disingenuousness, passive aggressiveness—they’re all served up daily in a typical high-stress PR job. The counterparts of those negatives appear equally, but people often only hear the tough stuff. Your mantra must be: “Even great bosses and wonderful clients have really crummy days.”

14. Engaging – and comfortable conversing with complete strangers, at length if necessary. Then actually remembering most of what they said. In a field where we sometimes get paid to talk, listening is a vastly under-rated skill.

15. Perceptive and adaptive. Able to assess and then quickly mirror another person’s behavior and key characteristics. “People like people like themselves…” No, you don’t have to convert from one religion to another to impress someone. Just be able to see and quickly align your commonalities.

16. Gregarious and likeable: One characterization of a great PR person is “the one passenger who knows and says ‘hey’ to everyone in the elevator – from the janitor to the CEO.” If you’re not naturally outgoing and generous of spirit, commit to working harder at it. You want to be seen as the smiling golden retriever at the door, not the snarling pit bull or sad-faced Bassett hound.

17. Willing to admit your mistakes, then rectify the situation. Coupled with that is the skill to recover quickly and recycle to peak performance. Sports shrinks know that a big factor separating professional athletes from talented but hapless semi-pro jocks is the ability to move on after a mistake. Don’t sweep your screw-ups under the rug. Learn from them, don’t agonize and get right back on track.

18. Possessing a highly refined, appropriate and visible sense of humor. And the absolute best kind of humor is self-deprecating. Show people that you take your work seriously, but not yourself seriously.

19. Unafraid of conflict – and strong enough to be the bad cop if warranted. Also, it’s good to cultivate the knack of saying unpleasant things at just the right moment. When do people change? When they have to—and not a minute before. You’ve got to find the precise opening to share bad news and offer up curative cod liver oil. Most conflicts, interpersonal or international, arise over issues of power. One way to prompt an undesirable but necessary step is to show how the person gains a measure of power, not cedes it all.

20. Able to speed up without hurrying. Most of us are yawning Ferraris at work, moving along in second gear. When things get crazy, suddenly we’re up to sixth and the engine overheats. That leads to poor decision-making, ill-advised shortcuts and painful “What were we thinking?” moments. True PR pros glide through any level activity or anxiety, never losing the skill to plan the work and work the plan.

21. Easily accepting of responsibility and authority; not always looking for somewhere to push off work or blame. Never be shy of doing the heavy lifting and always be willing to take on the toughest assignments. Anyone can succeed on the easy projects – only superstars can improve truly impossible situations.

22. An enabler, in the best sense of that word. “You can accomplish anything you want, as long as you don’t care who gets credit for it,” said former Louisiana Congresswoman Lindy Boggs. Often, you need to play multiple roles simultaneously: strategist, producer, confessor and/or cheerleader.

23. Exhibiting patience beyond the saints. Don’t talk before someone is willing and able to hear you. “A worried mind retains nothing….” Don’t pitch your ideas or solutions until someone is ready to accept them. Constantly tell yourself: if not today, then tomorrow.

24. The capacity for keeping your head while everyone around you is losing theirs. At bottom, we’re all pack animals. If the alpha dog gets nervous and cranky, it spreads quicker than ringworm. You must project a genuine sense of grace under pressure. That’s the only reason anyone will ask for and accept your input.

25. Finally, the forbearance to take direction from seeming fools. Anyone with an inquiring mind and a decent sense of self will chafe at being ordered about or schooled by lesser mortals. There are few worse deals than taking clues from the clueless. The problem is that, sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know. Hear before you judge; understand before you opine; and think before you act.

Marilyn Hawkins is a corporate communications consultant based in Ashland, Ore. You can reach her at mhawkins@prhawk.com.

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