Investing in the Future of our Profession

By Susan Rink, President and Owner of Rink Strategic Communications, LLC

Throughout my career, I have been blessed with mentors and role models who have taken time to provide guidance, wisdom, a sympathetic ear and – upon occasion – hard truths to help me along. So as I have graduated into a “senior practitioner” role, I am deeply committed to sharing my experiences with those who are just starting out on their PR adventures. To me, it is both a way to give back to my profession and to invest in its future.

Over the past 10 years, I must have spoken to more than 100 college PR/Communications classes at American University, George Mason University, George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University and most recently, the University of North Carolina – Charlotte.

While my topics have ranged from crisis communications and strategic planning to “The Wacky World of an Internal Communications Professional,” the topic that drives the most engagement with both undergraduate and graduate students is, “How to Survive Your First Year in the Workplace.”

The reason for that is simple: Most colleges and universities are focused on building professional toolkits, with emphasis on research, measurement and strategy. But even professors who have come from the “real world” of PR don’t have time in their lesson plans to provide useful tips for dealing with workplace politics, finding a mentor or advocate, and dealing with the realities of today’s workplace. And that’s a darn shame.

Some of the topics I cover in my workplace survival presentation include:

  • How to know whether this opportunity is a good fit for you (it’s not just about the salary)
  • Why it is important to have both a mentor and an advocate (and the difference between the two)
  • When to listen and absorb, when to speak up, and how not to get sucked into workplace politics
  • What others can learn from you
  • How to demonstrate interest in advancing your career without seeming too pushy
  • What to learn from bad bosses as well as good ones
  • What to do if the organization turns out to be a bad fit

As you can see from the list, these tips could apply to just about any profession. That’s not a coincidence, since some of them come from my work experiences prior to moving into PR/Communications. I’m sure that as you read this list, you are thinking of your own survival tips and what you might share with a group of young professionals.

Which leads me to this piece of advice: Get out there and tell your story. The young men and women who are preparing to enter the workplace are eager and willing to hear how they can survive and succeed in their careers. They are looking for someone like you to share knowledge and experience with them.

If public speaking isn’t your thing, that’s fine. Reach out to the young professionals in your organization and offer to mentor or guide them. They will appreciate your time and your wisdom, and best of all, you may even learn something new from these bright young minds. Like what the heck Snapchat is and how to use it.

About the Author

Susan C. Rink is president and owner of Rink Strategic Communications, LLC, which helps their clients talk to and listen to their employees during times of change. Her clients range from global technology, retail, manufacturing and hospitality companies to professional associations and “think tanks.” Prior to forming Rink Strategic Communications in 2007, Susan spent more than two decades in employee communication leadership positions with Nextel Communications and Marriott International. A long-time resident of the Washington, DC, area and former chair of PRSA-NCC’s Independent PR Alliance, Susan recently relocated to South Carolina where she is learning to drive faster, speak slower and cook really good grits.

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Seven Tips for New Graduates: How to Launch a Successful PR Career

Seven Tips for New Graduates How to Launch a Successful PR Career

By Jen Bemisderfer

I recently attended commencement ceremonies for my alma matter, North Carolina State University. As I sat, waiting for thousands of graduates to stream to their seats inside the arena, I thought back to my own graduation, nearly 20 years ago. To be honest, I didn’t remember much about the day. Who was the speaker? What advice did they deliver? How did I feel? Was I excited? Scared?

For what is supposed to be one of life’s biggest milestones, my memory was fuzzy. What I do remember – clearly – is the first day of my first job. The first day of the rest of my life. I’d had internships in college, but this was different. I had a salary! Healthcare! A 401k! And lots to learn about building a successful career in PR.

For all the new graduates who will be flooding in to the National Capital Area ready to tackle the first day of the rest of YOUR lives, I wanted to share a few tips I’ve learned along the way, as well as some advice from my colleagues at RH Strategic Communications – many of whom have been in your shoes more recently!

Cultivate your network.

You might not know it, but you already have a network. Stay in touch with your professors, your friends from PRSSA and your internship supervisors. Even if you’re making a leap to a brand-new city, make the effort to stay connected. As you grow in your career, you’ll add co-workers, supervisors, even your roommates and friends who are in relevant or adjacent fields. You never know how a connection to someone may lead to a dream job, mutually beneficial relationship or just an interesting conversation.

Take time to read the news.

Any entry level job in PR is going to include monitoring the media. You’re going to feel like you get more than your share of news, but I’d challenge you to go beyond your company or your clients’ industry news. Read The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN.com, CNBC.com and the like. Knowing what’s happening in the world, even if it doesn’t have a direct tie to your day-to-day job, will add context to what you’re working on and will help you understand better what is newsworthy.

Ask for opportunities.

Don’t let your title hold you back. If you want to take a stab at owning a project, ask for it!  Bonus points if you can identify a need that your bosses and co-workers aren’t even aware of yet. “I noticed many of our contacts are out of date. Is it ok if I spend some time updating our company’s broadcast media list?” You’ll get noticed.

Don’t just write. Write well.

Quality writing is the most surefire way to stand out as a new PR professional. In particular, knowing how to translate a more complicated topic into something that’s easily digestible for your client or reporter’s audience is key to success.  Study the OpEd pages of your local newspaper. Ask senior staff for tips on how to write clearly and concisely. Also, knowing AP Style and proper grammar and punctuation is critical!

Learn to love feedback.

It can be hard to hear that your pitch didn’t hit the mark, or your project management skills need improvement. However, it’s also one of the most effective ways to learn. When you get feedback from someone, whether it be a colleague, account manager or a mentor (inside or outside of your organization), challenge yourself to DO something with it.

Differentiate yourself.

Whatever your first job, chances are you won’t be there forever. At some point, you’ll move on to a new opportunity. When you do, it helps to have a personal/professional brand that is unique and is going to stand out from the flood of others with the same training. Look for opportunities to dig deeper and develop skills that will set you apart.

Request informational interviews.

If you’re still looking for the right job or post-graduate internship, don’t be afraid to ask for an informational interview, even if the company that you want to work for doesn’t have a position available. It’s a great way to build relationships and learn more about the company or field that could pay dividends in the future.

Good luck, graduates! I hope you all find success, excitement and fulfillment in your PR career. One last tip: Don’t forget to join PRSA!

11 Podcasting Tips for Ambitious Creators

By Aimee Stern, Brave Now PR

I went to a well-attended podcasting seminar at George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration recently. Sponsored by PRSA-NCC, speakers included journalists, GWU professors, production companies and other types of professional podcasters.

They discussed how to create a successful podcast and offered a multitude of tips for how to find your audience, improve marketing, audience engagement and other areas.  I sat in on two sessions: “Production Strategies and Post Production Tips,” with Molly Ruland, CEO and Founder, Heartcast Media and Ian Enright, CEO & Co-Founder, Goat Rodeo; and

“Launch Campaigns and Promotion” featuring Jenn Sherman, Founder and Chief Strategist, The Influencer Collective and Michael Hempen, of the Associated Press and the National Press Club. Tips are highlights from their talks.

My favorite tip?  If you want to learn about podcasting do not read stuff on the Internet. Go to your local music store and talk to them.  They know a lot more about sound and can tell you about the podcasts they listen to.

Find Your Audience                                                               

You are nothing without your audience. Building it quickly will help you get feedback and make continuous improvements.

  • Get their emails. You can ask for emails when a listener signs up or during the podcast. Experts say that if someone listens to your podcast for more than 20 seconds odds are they will give you their email.
  • Be a guest on other people’s podcasts that have big audiences. That way you can boost your audience through theirs.
  • Invite guests with large followings to be on your podcast and cross-promote their appearances with them.

Engage Your Audience

Some episodes will be more successful than others. Measure everything. Google Analytics can help.

  • Your friends and families will be your worst critics. Don’t take it personally.
  • Ask “Do I really have to be funny?” If you are trying too hard, chances are you should not. Engagement does not always mean humor. Tell a compelling story.
  • Determine what makes your podcast engaging to listeners and how to do more of it. A great way to figure this out? Ask.
  • Your audio needs to be good but not perfect. Since podcasts are listened to in so many different settings there will be interference with sound. If you are engaging you will keep your listeners.

Keep Your Audience

I was struck by how marketing-driven the podcasters and even the professors were. Marketing can help you find your audience and keep them.

  • Have an ask. If someone sits through your entire podcast you can ask them to share it and you should.
  • Brand your first group of shows as your first season. Many podcasts don’t make it after a couple of shows and saying its season one of yours sends the message that you plan to stick around.
  • Use Facebook Watch. Facebook has a rule that you cannot advertise a podcast while it is live. But you can preview your podcast and promote that – giving snippets of what is coming on your next how.

About the Author: Aimee Stern is a writer and PR consultant who loves learning. Her company, Brave Now PR, works with thought leaders to help them shape and share their great ideas.

 

Thoughts from the National Board

By Sam Villegas, APR, Mid Atlantic District Director, PRSA National Board

As my first two-year term on the National Board of PRSA comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the experience, in search of the lessons I can impart and take with me into my next term. It’s been a challenging couple of years, but strangely, I don’t feel drained or defeated by the challenges. In fact, sitting here thinking back on the year and looking forward to next, I feel hopeful, empowered and wiser for the wear. And I think that’s because of three things: gratitude, patience and perspective.

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Five Reasons Why You Should Join a PRSA Committee

By Patty Nicastri, Co-chair of PRSA-NCC’s Professional Development Committee

I joined PRSA-NCC around five years ago. For my first two years, I was a very passive member. I would occasionally attend events and keep “PRSA member” as a phrase on my resume, but I found myself wanting more—to be more involved, to get more out of my membership, to learn more about the ever-changing field of PR. I decided the best way to do this was to join the professional development committee. It has significantly helped me with my professional development journey. As a committee co-chair, I want to share with you five reasons why you should join a committee and take your career to the next level.

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Crisis Management in the Age of Citizen Journalism

By Aaron Ellis, Professional Development Committee co-chair

If you attended the National Capital Chapter’s “Crisis Management in the Age of Citizen Journalism” professional development event Nov. 7 at Hager Sharp in downtown Washington, you probably walked away feeling you invested your time wisely.

Brian Ellis - Padilla Executive VP, presents on crisis communications 11-7-2017For most, it was their first interaction with crisis management expert Brian Ellis. A former broadcast journalist who is now executive vice president for Minneapolis-headquartered Padilla public relations and who also teaches crisis management at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ellis’ riveting, rapid-fire lessons about responding to various crises reminded participants that advance preparation is the key to success.

In today’s age of citizen journalists, where anybody with a smart phone can record an event and post it online within minutes, the timeline as to who controls the narrative of a story has collapsed to mere minutes. That means professional communicators and the organizations they represent must anticipate questions in advance to tell their side any story, or risk losing the advantage.

According to Ellis, there are three steps for effectively communicating during a crisis:

Brian Ellis5 - Padilla Executive VP, presents on crisis communications 11-7-2017

  1. Identify what audiences want and need to know by writing out in advance the questions they are most likely to ask.
  2. Based on the anticipated questions, develop three key messages and short, memorable quotes to go with them.
  3. Practice your messages and quote(s) out loud, honing your transitions until they’re seamless.

Ellis said the key messages should focus on: a) showing compassion for those impacted; b) providing information about your organization’s crisis response plan, and c) explaining your organization’s crisis investigation and how to ensure something similar doesn’t happen again.

For his advance crisis preparation exercise, Ellis provided each table with one of three scenarios: a data breach, a criminal activity and an active shooter incident. Each table’s participants were then given a few minutes to develop a list of questions they thought they might be asked, write out three key messages and quotes to use in response, and write out four social media posts and five action steps to take from a communications perspective.

The more questions each group anticipated, the more articulate were their key messages, social posts and action steps.

“In the blame game of a crisis, the CEO will usually get fired if he or she isn’t prepared and then tries to wing it,” said Ellis. “Being unprepared is inexcusable.”

Ellis cited an example of the apology made by BP CEO Tony Hayward during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Hayward concluded his apology by saying, “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.”

“Few will remember (Hayward’s) apology, but everyone remembers those infamous last five words,” said Ellis. “They negated everything else he said.”

In a more recent example, United Airlines made the mistake of using the term “re-accommodate” when referring to the action the airline took in dragging a recalcitrant passenger off one its planes. “United lost $1.4 billion over that incident. They transport millions of people a year. They should have foreseen the risk and been prepared to respond appropriately,” said Ellis.

In today’s 24-hour news cycle, Ellis noted that the “media beast” must constantly be fed. To that end, he highly recommends creating a dark website that can be quickly engaged in a crisis, then reviewing and updating its content regularly. He also reminded workshop participants that an organization’s internal audiences can be either their greatest allies or worst enemies in a crisis, depending on how they are treated and kept informed.

“In a crisis, the best strategy is to always play offense and be out there telling a positive story,” he said. “By pointing your audience to what they perceive to be inside information, they’ll pay more attention to your side of the story.”

Communications Can’t Cure the Current Chaos

Reflections on a thought leadership event.

by Samantha Villegas
Samantha Villegas, APR, is President of SaVi PR, and currently serves on the PRSA National Board of Directors. She was the 2013 president of the National Capital Chapter.

I don’t know about you but as a communicator, my optimism is at an all-time low, and my cynicism is at an all-time high. Though fake news (or lies or propaganda or whatever phrase you prefer) is nothing new, it’s now being created and disseminated at rates and volumes beyond what we’ve ever experienced before. And thanks to today’s sharing technology, it proliferates at warp speed. Couple this with the apparent loss of respect for facts and science – scientific method and critical thinking – and what is a professional communicator to do? It seems we can’t win for trying.

art-broken-explosion-glass

Courtesy: Pexels/Stokpic

The science, data, and peer-reviewed study behind such important issues as climate change, vaccinations, and gun violence, for example, is indisputable, and yet, here we are, every day, forced to engage in insidious conversations about whether sea levels have risen or fallen (they’ve risen); whether vaccinations cause autism (they don’t) and whether having more guns and easier access to them makes us safer (they don’t). Each one of those facts, whether someone likes them or not, can be definitively defended, because there is ample data, peer-reviewed studies and science to back them. I know them like I know hot food will burn my tongue and the sun will rise tomorrow morning. Despite that, people are disputing them, with points that are irrelevant, not fact-based or just wrong. And they dig in and stay put.

The scariest part is this behavior is not confined to a small group of naysayers or even only the uneducated. This behavior can be seen in Ivy League graduates, serving in some of our country’s highest leadership positions, who are using it as a tool to push political agendas. It’s used by leaders in business and government to relax regulations that were grounded in science and put in place to protect public health, just so they can pad profit. This adherence to misinformation and disinformation, whether involuntary due to ignorance or purposeful for politics, comes with tremendous consequences. It has me feeling a bit paralyzed, frankly, as if the only firm ground I’ve ever known has suddenly crumbled away.

So I was glad to have the chance, recently, to attend a panel discussion about fake news and its impact on journalism and the public relations profession. A lot of agreement on the state of things, and very sound advice for dealing with our new normal was offered, such as:

  • Use non-confrontational language, even when challenging those who present ideas based on false premises
  • Be advocates for teaching the next generation critical thinking skills, how to interpret, analyze and evaluate information
  • Invest in market research to understand your audience’s wants
  • Speak plainly and in an authentic voice
  • Don’t jump in without first understanding context and having a strategy
  • Keep messages short
  • Build partnerships and alliances rather than challenge misinformation, disinformation, lies and false “facts” alone
  • Be vigilant in advocating for truth in communications

This is all, undeniably great advice. But here’s the thing: all those bullets apply to any communications professional at any time in history. All of this represents some of the very basics of savvy communications. Granted, not all of us can practice all of this all of the time. Budgets get in the way of conducting meaningful research. Deadlines prevent us from building the critical partnerships. And sometimes, the arrogance of a decision-maker stops us from being able to say the exact right thing in the exact right way we should. I get it, we can’t always be on our game. But, if most of us are doing most of this, most of the time, how is this chaos still happening?

SONY DSC

Courtesy: Gratisography/Ryan McGuire

Someone on the panel said truth is now a differentiator. Truth, as a differentiator. Let that sink in for a second. On the one hand, I can’t contain my sheer despondence if that’s the case. And two, at a time when facts don’t matter and he who lies best wins, how does truth set you apart, let alone set you free? Whose truth? Which truth?

Fellow communicators, we’re facing the challenge of our careers right now. I don’t have any easy answers for you. Of course we must follow the panelists’ advice, as I hope you always have been. We shall endeavor to seek first to understand before being understood. We shall strategize first and write truthful pithy copy in snack sized bites, and we shall seek common ground and partnership with different minded but similarly missioned (or is it similarly minded but different missioned?) groups. We shall continue to do as I think we have all been endeavoring to do, with added vigor and purpose.

But please forgive me if I tell you that I don’t believe these approaches will cure what ails us.  So while I am grateful for the sage reminders, I don’t think these issues – this lack of critical thinking, self-control, or basic understanding of science, can be fixed by upping our communications game. We need to stay focused and bring our best every day, but I think we just need to let this stink bomb dissipate.

As one colleague put it so well, “The flames of emotion are being fanned at such an alarming rate that I have no sense of how to encourage critical thinking in so many people who form opinions about policy and events from tweets.”

Another I spoke to about this said she “fear[s] for what happens when too many among our citizens fail to reason rationally and logically, and fail to think independently,” and I couldn’t agree more.

So, we must do all these things the panel said. Do your best work. And bide your time, because we can’t change crazy but we can outlast it. I predict that in a few years, after another election cycle or two, we will look back at this and shake our heads. We may even get a chuckle. We will have volumes of remember whens and memes and footnotes and stories. And we will snap back to reality, where facts are facts, truth is truth, lies are lies, and love is love. At least I hope that’s what will happen. See you on the other side.