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.

The Advantages of Hiring a Professional for Your Employee Survey

The advent of low-cost, easy-to-use measurement tools such as Zoomerang, Survey Monkey and Hosted Survey has opened the door to communicators eager to assess their employee communications efforts.  These tools offer templates, sample questions and instant reporting features, along with the ability to customize the look and feel of the survey to match the company’s branding.

I encourage my clients to take advantage of these types of online survey tools, and work with them to set up post-event surveys, as well as ongoing employee polls to gather information on employee issues and morale concerns.

But when it comes to a more complex survey, such as an annual employee opinion survey, I advise them to bring in the big guns and hire a professional research firm to conduct the assessment.

A professional survey provider brings to the table a number of advantages that communications generalists can’t offer, such as:

  • Knowledge of best practices – how to drive responses, how to report results effectively, and how your company stacks up against others of similar size and type
  • Understanding of the latest survey technology and knowledge of the best product for your circumstances
  • Survey design expertise – not just the look and feel of the survey, but also the development of the questions themselves
  • Assessment and analysis – advice on how to interpret the data and how to report it to senior management and back to the employees

Probably the biggest advantage that a professional survey provider offers is that of being an outsider.  They come to the table free of any internal bias that might slant the survey questions or even color the results.  That “outsider” status often results in more candid responses from employees, since they know their comments can’t be traced back to their user ID.  Plus, senior management will likely take less offense at critical verbatim comments when delivered by “the survey guys” instead of the employee communications manager.

Employee surveys are a valuable tool, and in the hands of an expert, can help identify the company’s core strengths, as well as areas of concern.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net.

What Communicators Can Learn from the 2010 Census

U.S. Census LogoI received my 2010 U.S. Census form yesterday, right on schedule.  I knew it was “on schedule” due to a well-planned, well-coordinated communication campaign which launched in early February.

First it was a series of rather weird TV and radio spots, then an advance notice mailed to all U.S. households to let them know when to expect the form.  Last week, news outlets all over the country ran stories about the Census:  when it would arrive, how long it would be, how to fill it out, and how to spot a Census scam.

In addition, over the past few days, a number of local news stations have aired interviews with county and municipal officers.  These segments provided local officials with an opportunity to tell their constituents why it was important to participate in the census.

But here’s where it got interesting:  instead of falling back on appeals to our civic duty (after all, we’ve seen how well that has worked with elections and jury duty), their talking points centered on how the collected data is used to determine Congressional representation and voting districts, as well as how Federal funds are allocated to local governments. 

As parents deal with cutbacks in school funding in the aftermath of the economic meltdown, as the national debate over health care and other legislation becomes more and more polarized, the decision to drive participation by focusing on these hot button issues is nothing short of brilliant.

Employee communicators generate lots of surveys and polls.  And with rare exceptions, we are frustrated by low response rates, falling back on gimmicks such as contests and rewards to drive participation.

The danger with stuffing the survey box, so to speak, is that responses rarely reflect the views of the overall employee population, so we end up working from misleading data.  And a program based on faulty data is doomed to fail.

We should take a page from the U.S. Census’s book and stress to our employees how the data will be used to implement changes (or even, improvements!) in the way the business operates.  Perhaps if we can identify the appropriate hot button, we’ll see much higher participation and gather more meaningful data in our assessments.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net.

Communicators, It’s Time to Board the Twitter Train

Twitter LogoOne of the most frequently asked questions at PRSA and other professional networking events these days is, “Do you use Twitter?”

Granted, social media is a hot topic.  Companies are using social media to market products, manage their public image, and build customer loyalty via YouTube channels and Facebook pages. 

Local TV newsrooms urge viewers to become fans on Facebook and upload images of breaking news and current events to the station’s Flickr page. 

Celebrities and politicians alike have embraced Twitter as a way to manage their visibility and raise awareness of their activities.

But not everyone is on board.

In fact, when I answer that yes, I do use Twitter on a daily basis, most PR and HR professionals alike are quick to dismiss it as a fad and something that has little relevance to the “business” of communications.

I disagree.

Look, I know all the arguments against using Twitter as an employee communications tool:  

  • “It’s a time-waster.”
  • “My employees are on the shop floor/at the service counter and don’t sit at a computer all day.”
  • “What if someone Tweets a profanity?”
  • “Who cares what Ashton Kutcher is doing?”  (OK, that one is mine.)
  • “Where is the ROI?”

All of these are valid arguments against adopting Twitter as an employee communications tool.  Sure, I can cite you companies that are using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Yammer and a myriad of other social media tools as part of their comprehensive employee communications tool kit.  But you’ve heard those arguments before and you still aren’t convinced.

So let me tell you how I use Twitter:  as a professional development and research tool. 

There are some great resources out there that Tweet the latest workplace statistics and communication research findings.  I follow them and scan their Tweets to see if there is anything I can use to help one of my clients or even prepare me for a pitch to a new client.

There are professional and educational organizations, as well as industry experts, who offer free training, either via informational blogs or webinars and live chats.  I participate in as many as I can and apply that knowledge to the projects I’m supporting.

And there are recruiters and professional organizations that Tweet job openings and tips for effective resume development and interviewing.  I share those leads with friends and clients who are actively (or passively!) looking for work.

Communicators, it’s time to stop dithering and board the Twitter Express, if for no other reason than to prepare you for the day when you are out on the job market again.  After all, when was the last time you saw a PR or communications job posting that didn’t require expertise in social media?

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net or follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RinkComms

Communicating with Employees in an Emergency

Susan Rink, of Rink Strategic Communications, provides three important employee communications tips to help your business or organization prepare, should a crisis or emergency arise.

For more information about employee communications strategies, please visit http://www.rinkcomms.com

Five Tips for Leadership Communications

Susan Rink, of Rink Strategic Communications, explains why strategic employee communications is more important than ever in this challenging economic environment. Learn five ways internal communicators can use to build trust in their company’s or organization’s leadership.

To learn more, please visit http://www.RinkComms.com or email RinkComms@Verizon.net

Manager Communications Strategies

Susan Rink of Rink Strategic Communications provides insight and strategies for manager communications in this video, including strategies for communicating adverse news to employees, such as layoffs.  For more information and employee communications tips, please visit http://www.RinkComms.com.