Do Well on Assignments: Five Tips

I’m in grading mode this weekend. My “grading” includes two categories.

My classes: the assignments I’m grading on one’s that I’ve required. Often I kick myself in the butt for having complicated assignments of multiple pages, rather than making it easy on myself. But then I remember how ill-prepared I felt at my first job (or three) and how I wished for more exposure to more types of things while in school. So… tonight I grade!
Work from AHPR: Allen Hall PR is the student-run PR firm at the University of Oregon. The firm has seven to ten clients, all of which has various projects in the hopper. I’m the last link in the “editing chain.” When things get to me, they should be client ready. They often aren’t.

With both of these types of “assignments” in mind, I offer these tips for students.

  1. Be clear on the directions and format.I often think I’m being crystal clear, especially for a first time assignment. And, without fail, there’s a detail I’ve missed communicating. I appreciate when students ask for clarification. It gives me the opportunity to… well, clarify and to make sure everyone is hearing the same answer to the same question.
  2. Ask how much time I think it’ll take.I work in public relations every day. Chances are I’ve done the very thing I’m asking you to do and billed someone for it. I can give you a sense of how long it should take to write a press release, or put together a plan. Knowing this will help you better budget your time – help you put the big rocks first. I don’t always think to offer this information, though.
  3. Commit.You’ve chosen the PR major for better or for worse. Embrace each assignment with some enthusiasm. This assignment could be THE piece that your first employer hangs that job offer on. “You know, I wasn’t sure about hiring you, but then I saw that online newsroom material you wrote and I knew you should be part of our team!” Okay, that’s an instructor’s fantasy, but you get the point.Besides, I know when you haven’t committed. I can see it in the weak verbs, passive voice and run-on sentences.
  4. Ask for help.In most of my classes, I require my students think… at least a little bit. That lets you be more creative, more interested in what you’re doing. But, that may leave you with writer’s block, too. Ask for help! I’m a great brainstorming buddy. I’ll help find the right angle that will help it all “click” for you.
  5. Don’t be satisfied with “good enough.”I know. Sometimes you run out of time, cars break down, parents come into town. Trust me, I know. I’m afraid however, that empathy does not equal sympathy in my book. Every piece of work that you turn into me should be your best work. I’m the furthest thing from unreasonable, but I do have high expectations.

There you have it! Things you already know, I’m sure. But good to be reminded, anyway.

Who Do You Trust?

Edelman released its annual Trust Barometer survey results in early February. I’m always fond of nicely defined and clearly labeled categories. Categories provide a nice heuristic for linking new information with what we already know.

Based on seven years of research, the agency is able to draw some conclusions and segment influencers into categories.

Trust Holders provides an overall umbrella term under which several categories fall. Each category has a distinct way in which they “form or share opinions and how they act on trust in brands.”

From Richard Edelman’s 6 a.m. blog:

There are Public Activists who engage in outspoken public actions, Social Connectors who share, seek and value public opinions, Solo Actors who take personal action and the Uninvolved whose opinion of brands is not driven by trust reputation. We see that different spokespeople and media will reach these segments; for example, a Social Connector responds best to peers, employees and friends and family.

(Click on the image for a larger view)

I like it! I can easily see how most people I know would fit into one of these categories and even where I fit (I’d say I’m a social connector). I can also see how you could use this information to help your clients understand the importance of trust in the marketplace and that to build and maintain that trust you have to be consistent, but think about different channels, different spokespeople and different media to help get your messages across.

Read the full report and media coverage here.

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.

OOPS! US News Ranking Mistake Puts PSU at the Top 10

The annual U.S. News & World Report College Ranking Guide always seems to create controversy. This year is no exception.

In the version sent to bookstores, Portland State University’s electrical engineering program was ranked #9 in the guide with such heavies as M.I.T., Stanford and UC-Berkley. In press release:

“We are proud that PSU represents Oregon in this prestigious national ranking,” said President Daniel O. Bernstine. “It illustrates how state investments in higher education can increase programmatic capacity and excellence.”

“It is very exciting to have our Electrical Engineering program and faculty recognized by national engineering peers,” said Robert Dryden, dean of the college. “This acknowledges the fundamental transformation of the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science into a national and international academic and research institution.” Malgorzata Chrzanowska-Jeske, department chair, leads the Electrical and Computer Engineering program.

It turns out Portland State didn’t make the top 10, or even the top 70 for that matter. It wasn’t even ranked at a number that is typically listed in the printed directory.

So… what do you do?

The response from PSU (from Chronicle of Higher Education):

Portland State had to rush out an e-mail to its press list, advising recipients to ignore the earlier release and to contact Morse at U.S. News to find out why it happened.

Joan Barnes, assistant vice president for communications at Portland State, said that educators there were “disappointed at this unexpected turn of events,” but not discouraged. “We’re redoubling our efforts to serve Oregon with confidence that increased national recognition will follow our success.”

Seems like that’s about all you can do. U.S. News is notorious for screwing up the rankings and for the process being full of controversy. Plus… who knows, PSU might get some positive attention from prospective graduates who may take a second look at the program.

Tips for Your First Agency Job

Paull Young of Forward Podcast spends about 10 minutes chatting with a two men – one a Sr. VP and the other at an entry-level position in an agency about skills, tips and advice for your first agency job. Some great tips!

David Jones is a Senior Vice President at Fleishman Hillard, Toronto, and one half of the excellent Inside PR podcast. Ed Lee is a senior consultant at iStudio and the author of Blogging Me, Blogging You. Between the two of them they have 19 years of experience in PR agencies.

David Young (the Sr. VP): A good understanding of media, being well-read and following different media. Being interested in media. Strong foundation in writing skills are also important. He says these are the two core factors. At a personality level, he’s looking for someone who can add to the team. He may be hiring a jr. level person, but is looking ahead. Could this person develop into a leader on a team? with clients?

Ed Lee (the entry-level): Adds to David’s advice and says to bring enthusiasm and try stuff out!

Listen for some more great tips! Thanks, Paull (and guests).

Barack has more friends than me

According to TechPresident, Barack Obama is outpacing Hillary Clinton in the number of MySpace friends that each has.

Barak: 87,000+
Hill: 33,000+

Lowest number on the scale, Christopher Dodd (at just over 500). Shocking. This guy looks like he’d be hip to the MySpace groove:

On the Republican side, Ron Paul (load his page and get a clip from Fox News…) has the most MySpace friends at a whopping 5,000 (give or take a few). Brownback has just 285.

What will this all mean? Hard to say… but I’m sure we’ll all be tracking it.

note: Barack Obama has 1500 times the number of friends I do…

Are You Listening?

Participating in the blogosphere and social media requires that you have an ear to the ground. But where do you start?

Active listening is the first step to establishing a blogging or social media strategy (or any communication strategy for that matter…). As you think about blogging for a class or for a client or for your company, start with the basics.

Some resources:
Ogilvy Blog Feeds: A collection of some of the most influential blog feeds out there, from one of the most influential agencies.

Constantin Basturea: Blogger & PR Guru with Converseon has a variety of PR-related social media projects. My favorites: PR Blogs (a massive 600+ feed list of the PR blogs being published), The New PR Wiki (a collective knowledge base and collaboration tool) and his Google Co-Op project (a Google search that searches PR-related blogs, sites and wikis).

When you find a great blog like Communication Overtones or Spare Change, spend some time checking out the blogs on the author’s blogroll.

Of course, if you’re looking for something industry specific, give Technorati a go, too.

What resources did you find useful as you began blogging?

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?”


What other advice do you have? Any horror stories?

Some of the Best Posts from Students

Students in my Advanced PR Writing have been blogging the last five weeks. It was an experiment on my part and it worked pretty well. In fact, I think next term I’ll have the students start sooner so they have time to find their blogging “voice.”

Stu’s Clues: In my PR Thinkin’ Chair
First of all, more than a little odd that Stu references the perennial children’s favorite – down the the “thinking chair” – but he did an outstanding job with this assignment and I hope he keeps his blog up. My favorite posts –
I Keep a Fire Extinguisher in my Pants (ok, I admit it, I mostly like the headline. funny!)
NBA Severs Ties with Tim Hardaway

Danielle Galluzzo is a rising star. Not afraid to ask when she doesn’t know, contribute when she has a good idea and commit herself fully to every assignment (whether it is a new release critique, a blog assignment or a corporate booklet). Her blog was no different. A mix of the professional and the personal, Danielle has some great posts:
Spring Break in Oregon (my son, Braxton liked this. He was giggling the whole time it was on)
PR Portfolios (Thanks for these resources, Danielle!)

Jay’s Ad Blog
This is the first time I had Jay Hermele in a class. Now, in all fairness, he could’ve easily been in my PR Principles class but that doesn’t really count. There are typically 100+ students in that class. Jay was a great addition. He is a very thoughtful writer and does really top notch work. He had a couple of posts that I particularly enjoyed.
Product Placement at a Whole New Level
Entitled Kids

Will post more tomorrow….


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.

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