Everything I Learned In School Can Be Applied to PR (Or At Least a Lot!)

Every year, a new crop of college grads enters the work force with little experience, but as a recent college graduate, I’ve found that certain skills and practices from my college life can be put to good use in a busy PR firm. I’ve boiled it down to four key “must-do’s” for the transition from student life to work life.

Take note! No, really, take notes. I was pretty good at keeping up with class notes, but working at Crenshaw Communications, I’ve found that carrying a notepad – even a small 5×8 one – comes in handy for keeping track of To Dos, How Tos, travel expenses, and relevant info from weekly meetings, among other things.  We also have a practice of sending out daily To Do lists in the mornings so everyone is aware of what everyone else is working on.

Deadlines and commitments. Just like in school where it came down to dealing with multiple assignments for numerous courses and at least one extracurricular, forcing yourself (or your supervisor) to set deadlines smoothes the process for getting work done in a timely manner.   The daily tasks I’ve taken up so far have solid deadlines that I’ve stuck to and structured my days around. I usually prioritize the time-sensitive projects and get them out of the way by the early afternoon, clearing the way for lower-ranking but still important tasks.

Own it. One major thing I learned in college was accepting my responsibilities! Here in the “real world”, if I’ve committed to completing media coverage by noon, even if a hundred other lesser tasks are sent my way, I know I have to get the top priorities done. Teamwork usually comes into play here, as we are encouraged to “share the wealth” of assignments to ensure that short term and long-term assignments are completed in an orderly fashion.

The upside of downtime. At work, just like in school, we all need a way to stay sane and level.  No matter how hectic my demands get, I seize some downtime every day. What I’ve come to do is hybridize my downtime: I relax and trawl tech blogs for stories that interest me yet pertain in some way to some of the clients whose social media profiles we handle. And a little of my favorite music doesn’t hurt.

Got any practices from school that you’ve transferred to the office? Let us know in the comments section.

Friends With Words?

PR pros tend to be wordy people, and we all have our favorites. Here are some of ours. You may not be able to drop them into your next client press release, but if they fill the bill without making you look like a sesquipedalian (given to or characterized by the use of long words), go for it!

Mondegreen – If you hear, “here we are now/ in containers” instead of “entertain us” when you listen to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” you have experienced the phenomenon of “mondegreen.” Mondegreen is mishearing or misinterpreting a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning. It’s most commonly applied to a line in a poem or a song lyric. Writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in her essay “The Death of Lady Mondegreen,” published in Harper’s Magazine in November 1954, and there are some very funny examples found here.

Disemvowel – A delicious take-off on “disembowel”! If this is how you text, you are disemvoweling: “pln 2 mt @ gt 12,” or removing vowels from text when writing it electronically, especially as a way of typing more quickly (or disguising offensive words).

Skeuomorph – A great word even without a definition. The etymology suggests some kind of strange change, and in fact, a skeuomorph is a physical ornament or design on an object made to resemble another material or technique. Examples include software calendar applications that resemble a paper desk calendar or “simulated woodgrain paneling” on a car.

Tartle – This is a terrifically onomatopoetic word for that panicky hesitation before you introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember.

Mumpsimus – If you are George W. Bush and you’ve been told countless times how to pronounce “nuclear,” yet still mispronounce it, you suffer from mumpsimus, an adherence to or persistence in an erroneous use of language, memorization, practice, or belief, either out of habit or sheer obstinacy.
Got any impressive vocabulary you’d like to share? Do so in the comments!

Don’t Say This In A (PR Agency) Interview

In the PR agency world, as in other industries, it’s tough to secure an interview for that first job or next best career step. So when you do nail it, you want to make the most of it. Employers differ, but I have a mental list of “red-flag” responses that make me wonder if the candidate is a fit for my firm, or even for public relations overall. After a straw poll of other employers in PR, I’ve come up with a short, and subjective, list of things not to say in a PR firm interview.

“I’m a people person.” It may be a personal quirk, but this one is the most cringeworthy in my book. Yes, relationship-building is important in our business, but “I’m a people person” is facile, smacks of naievete and does nothing to differentiate. It might make sense in an interview in hospitality or customer service, but I think it’s better unsaid.

“I’m the most qualified person you’ll meet!” This and similar proclamations could suggest an arrogance that isn’t appealing. It’s better to offer specific anecdotes that illustrate why you’re qualified, motivated, or dedicated. Sweeping statements, in general, are weaker than examples.

“How quickly can I be promoted?” Ambition is a good thing, as is having set goals. But the timing is wrong here. Save it for after you’ve proven your skills and work ethic. Talking about advancement prematurely, or in the wrong way, can make you look superficial or overly title-conscious.

“What kind of ads do you create?” You must ask questions, but make sure that they don’t betray a lack of knowledge about the industry or company.

“I wasn’t being given enough independence and creative freedom in my last job.” For some employers, this translates as, “I’m hard to manage.” While it may be important to offer reasons for your planned move, be careful to speak in positive terms, and whatever you do, be respectful of your current boss and company.

“I have lots of ideas for your clients X and Y.” This one depends on timing and approach. It’s wise to be ready with thoughts about the company, and, in the case of an agency, its key clients, but feel out the interviewer with some general questions (“What are your key initiatives for client X?) before you share your ideas.

“My last boss and I had a personality conflict.” This is a cliche, and it sounds hollow. You may be better off explaining a poor fit by saying something like, “I discovered that I work best as part of a team, but the agency structure wasn’t developed for that.”

“We just got an RFP from client X.” I can’t count how many times a junior staffer from another agency has volunteered information that shouldn’t be shared in a routine interview. If you’re working at an agency and interviewing at a competitor, take care not to divulge anything proprietary or inappropriate, including new business pending, confidential client insights, or office gossip.

You covered everything so thoroughly that I don’t have any questions. You must have questions. Even if this is your umpteenth interview at the company, have a question in your back pocket, or ask the interviewer to elaborate on something she said. It’s not fair, but having no questions can make you look incurious, passive, or disengaged.

Tricks Of Trade Show PR and Networking

Trade shows and conferences represent an opportunity to reconnect with friends and associates in the industry; make new contacts; and be inspired by influential speeches and personalities. But, too often we view attendance as a group effort, or even a chore, sticking with the team we came with or those we know.

Whether it’s a new product show, a blogger conference or a huge happening like SXSW, here are some tips to maximize the networking opportunity so you can get a return on your time investment in the form of insight and contacts.

Have a plan. Study the floor plan in advance and plot your path to make sure you visit the most relevant booths and panels. Most exhibit directories exist online and many have a calendar plugin so you can manage visits with location in mind and avoid walking back and forth all day. Cluster meetings in the same general area for convenience, if possible, and give priority to those exhibitors whose businesses are most likely to advance your own.

Take names. Don’t be shy about asking for cards or using apps like bump.com to download contacts. Use every opportunity to make a connection, whether it’s a journalist or blogger; potential business partner; or even a prospective employee. Limit your visits to 10-minute increments, but don’t leave without making a date to continue the conversation if  it’s warranted.

Document and share. Take smartphone shots of unique displays, note the best speeches, and share them on your social media feeds. It’s a great way of connecting with colleagues who might not realize you’re there!

Dress well. The trick to trade shows is to appear professional but be comfortable. A jacket or structured sweater is always good for a professional look, and for day-to-evening temperature changes, but you’ll be thankful that you wore smart flats!

Follow up. A quick note, a phone date, Facebook connection… just be sure to choose one and not all at once.  Be diligent to let no one go un-contacted after the event;  this is often the time when the “real deals” are sealed.

Got any trade (show) secrets you’d like to share?