What Millennials Know About PR – And Life

When the students in my PR Management class addressed me as “Professor Drucker,” I was taken aback. It’s a title I’ve never held before, and I felt both excitement and trepidation before the first class of seniors and grad students at Pepperdine University.

The excitement was from adrenaline and the anticipation of connecting with 25 young, energetic minds. The trepidation came from the advice offered by friends, colleagues and former teachers who warned me about Millennials.  “They don’t listen,” I was told. “They think they’re smarter than everyone,” someone else said.  “They don’t value experience; if you’re over 40 they’ll just tune you out,” was another theme.

But this class of Millennials defied the warnings. What’s more, I have a very strong feeling that the brains, energy, and commitment I’ve observed are not unusual. We completed our seventh class last night. All were in attendance for two-and-a-half hours of lecture. There was terrific attention and interplay and lots of great questions. All were alert, bright, energetic.  Here’s what I’ve learned about this one small sample of Millennials.

They value substance as long as it’s relevant. Once you establish something they believe is of value, they listen.  No closed eyelids, no light snoring.  They’re more than willing to commit time and attention when the knowledge is relevant to their upcoming careers and future, — and not just in the financial sense.

They respect experience. Research shows that the rising Millennials have a narrower generation gap with their parents than the Boomers did. My experience is that the students honor and understand experience as long as it’s placed into a context they can understand.

They’re connected and committed socially. They care far more about social change than my own generation. To these young people, social change is more than a marketing strategy or a reputation management tool. The environment, human rights, racial equality – all are part of  who they are and what they value. To me, this has implications for the future of workplace culture and ethical decision-making in our industry.

I gave them a weekly assignment asking each student to pick a mythical client – a product, brand, company, or organization – and explain why they chose it. Then they were to brainstorm some key communications campaign elements and explain the strategy behind the tactics.

Every one of them selected either a philanthropic or cause-related organization or a brand or company with strong equity in social responsibility. All came up with creative concepts grounded in a social need or cause. I don’t imagine that my generation, at that stage in our lives, would have done the same. Their list read like a Who’s Who of socially responsible brands, from TOMS shoes and Starbucks to MAC cosmetics and The Honest Company.

Of course, youth is idealistic, and the world is a different place than when I was a kid. Public relations, too, has morphed and matured as a communications discipline. But whatever the reasons, I think these Millennials have a different view of the world, our global culture, and our interdependence than previous generations.

So, if there’s one takeaway from my role as Professor Drucker to date, it’s renewed faith in this generation of digital natives, both as future PR practitioners and as committed citizens. In a crazy business and an even crazier world, it inspires me to have a chance to influence – and be influenced by – the PR leaders of tomorrow.

Social Media Tips For Millennial PR Pros

By guest blogger Heather Scott

Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Tumblr? For at least 25 hours a week? Do you think you have phantom phone syndrome?

If so, you are probably a millennial, and if you can claim that you do at least some of this social sharing for work, then you are more likely a millennial at a PR firm! Members of this cohort seem to share more intimate details of their lives via social media than other generations, leading experts to advise caution in how and how much they express themselves.

In this time of high unemployment and an economy that is only slowly recovering, millennials must learn how to use social media to advance their careers. Here are some tips to keep in mind when it comes to smart social media activity.

Profanity. Sometimes you just want to let your anger and frustration out with a four-letter-word tirade. While the occasion “hell” or “damn” is okay, keep the others off the internet. There are more articulate ways to express yourself.

Pictures. As with profanity, keep the drunken antics off social media. And profile pictures should be of you in career wear, not a halter top or a bridesmaid gown. This is not to say pictures containing alcohol should be kept off social media entirely (college students, proceed with caution), just keep it professional. A picture of yourself and friends enjoying a glass of wine says you’re a social person and that there’s more to you than your work.

Networking. Use your social media accounts to help get your foot in the door. Follow companies, employers, experts, etc. on sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn. If you want to go a step further, try to actually connect with them. Respond to a discussion post on LinkedIn or comment on an article they tweeted. Engagement shows employers you’re not afraid to speak up and interact.

Expand your social media skill set. While it is presumed that all millennials know how to work every social media site in existence, it isn’t always the case. Take time to learn all the ins and outs of the social media sites you frequent. Know how to start a discussion post on LinkedIn or tailor trending topics on Twitter to a specific region. Know how to set up a Google+ chat. You never know when these skills may come in handy. More importantly, familiarize yourself with the most successful PR or marketing campaigns with social media at the core. That way, you can converse with prospective employers on the merits of “Dumb Ways To Die” vs Virgin’s #fitfoo campaign.

Politics and Religion. There’s an old saying: you should never discuss politics or religion at dinner parties. This also generally applies to social media. Until you’re the next Rachel Maddow or Ann Coulter, keep your personal feelings/stances on these topics to yourself. If your comments are too extreme, future employers could be hesitant to hire you.

What other social media practices would you recommend to millennials? Leave a comment below.

Once Upon A Time In PR Land

Once upon a time in any given workplace, you could say this to anyone, and they would know what you meant, “So the whole team bought into this silly idea just because the CEO suggested it, it was so ‘emperor’s new clothes.’”

Today, if you were to say that to a Millennial, you would get a blank stare! You could translate, of course, to “Then they all drank the Kool-Aid!” (Though who even drinks Kool-Aid anymore?)

Therein lies the premise for this post. How long does a perfectly good and meaningful “shorthand” phrase last in pop culture? I don’t know the answer, but I thought it was a good time to review a few and see how they hold up. For the uninitiated, the origin of the “emperor’s new clothes” is a children’s story of a vain king tricked into parading before his subjects in his birthday suit by a tailor who claims he’s produced “magical” garments that only the worthy can see.

“This’ll get great PR, it’s a real Cinderella story.” In an informal poll, most 20-somethings know what the phrase means — “coming from rags to riches,” but not because they remember the glass slipper and original source material. They know it as the ultimate sports analogy, particularly in college basketball. Of course, were they to dig a little deeper, Cinderella is actually a tale of deception more akin to being “Catfished” today.

“Everything’s fine on the account; he was just crying wolf.” When I threw out this phrase, there was a vague sense that something called “Peter and the Wolf” existed, but when explained the parable, people immediately “got” that it meant inflating concern (over nothing) for attention’s sake.

“The minute we stepped into the presentation I knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore.” The association to Oz was clear to most, but not the meaning of the phrase. Of course, through the years it has come to be shorthand for “we are way out of our comfort zone now.”

“Looks like we will be losing our client soon, since she just met her Prince Charming.” Easily understandable, but here’s the question for anyone reading. In what story does Prince Charming actually make his debut? I’m going with Sleeping Beauty.

Any examples of terrific shorthand that may not stand the test of time in your office? Let us know here.

Is There A Cure For PR’s Entry-Level Turnover?

Bob Pickard’s recent post about junior-level turnover got me thinking. Bob, who is President & CEO of Burson Marsteller’s Asia Pacific region, challenges the agency mindset that we should accept churn at the entry level. His view is that we’re losing out if we don’t try harder to accommodate new talent.

The recession has helped keep some in their cubicles, but expectations of longevity among junior hires are minimal. There was an account support position at my old firm that was like a jinxed storefront location…you know, that street corner where nothing seems to stick. Despite best efforts to manage expectations and train well, no one seemed to stay past a year. We got smart and promoted anyone who showed real promise out of the position before they could bolt, which helped with staff retention. Yet the position was always in flux.

Some blame it on Millennial-generation entitlement. I’ve chalked it up lots of things…poor hiring choices, excessive administrative work, and the idealism of youth. But, should we really accept entry-level churn? A certain degree of shaking out is normal, even desirable. No one wants to invest in a staffer who’s not suited for agency work, or PR in general. But, don’t we have a responsibility to try to keep promising young people in the industry, if not the firm?

After all, today’s generation of college grads are far more focused and knowledgeable about PR than in my day, and there are many more excellent communications programs to prepare them. If you buy the negative Millennial stereotype, then you have to also consider its flipside – that of a connected, hypersocial digital native. In other words, qualities that figure prominently in PR’s future.

Many firms have set up trainings, apprenticeships, and mentoring programs to help transition new hires. Those help. They also need frequent check-ins, and open dialogue – something that we in…yes, communications – are sometimes sadly lacking. (One researcher even recommends a videogame-inspired structure of frequent feedback and incremental rewards.)

But if the results of my straw poll is to be believed, the most important lesson may be what we learned with our cursed support spot. Entry-level professionals need to see the daylight, and be able to move into it quickly. Among other things, they need a roadmap.

Working in PR can be difficult, with long hours and many masters to serve. For new PR practitioners or trainees, those aspects are exaggerated, and the contrast between what’s learned in school and the reality of the daily agency grind is sharp. As a recent IPR study points out, those who thrive on the agency side do so because they enjoy the challenge and opportunity for advancement. If we can balance those aspects, perhaps we won’t have to rely on a bad economy to fight the entry-level revolving door.

How To Get A Job in PR: Advice For Millennials

It’s graduation season, when advice is plentiful, but jobs are scarce.

Firms like mine are blitzed with resumes from freshly degreed communications grads eager to make their mark in PR. A tough economy isn’t the only obstacle. Those entering the workforce now are tagged as Millennials and stereotyped as indulged, overpraised, and entitled.

Here’s my contribution to the advice flurry, based on my own experience as an employer, and some field research among entry-level agency staff. I’ve read some advice for millennials looking to break into PR. For the record, I couldn’t care less about thank you notes, and most people in my position don’t expect most new hires to stay five years. In my view, agency life is not “supposed to suck.” But, it does help if you know what you’re getting into.

First, learn to write. (I know, I know.) Long-form journalism may be dying, but writing still matters. It’s how most prospective employers will first meet you. Learn to write for brevity, rather than for term-paper word counts. Be punchy. Be bold. But please be brief.

Get real. Experience, that is. When I co-taught a graduate-level PR course at NYU, I was struck by what the students knew that I didn’t. Cool stuff, like persuasion theory and cognition. But, very few could write a solid client recommendation memo with a budget, let alone a PR program. If your school doesn’t require an internship, get it on your own. It’s at the top of employers’ lists, and it will give you a taste of the basic agency or corporate PR functions.

Become an expert. On something. The best way to persuade an employer that you can help a client stand out is to do it for yourself. One way is to develop a special interest or expertise in a relevant area, like location-based social media, marketing to moms, or making technology attributes accessible. An informed POV will impress a prospective boss.

Have a mind of your own. In an interview or short cover letter, offer some independent thinking. It’s more impressive if, instead of saying how much you’d die to work on Cool Client Brand team, you have ideas or opinions about Client Brand or a competitor. If an employer asks you what you think of her agency’s website, blog, philosophy, or culture, be prepared with a thoughtful answer, not flattery. If she doesn’t ask, volunteer it. PR people are recommenders. Be one.

Package yourself. Have the elevator speech ready. Do a SWOT analysis on yourself and play up what works. One of my worst interviews occurred when a recruiter said to me as I walked in the room, “Tell us about Dorothy Crenshaw.” Overwhelmed, I babbled a life chronology rather than controlling the interview and focusing on relevant strengths. The open-ended questions can be the hardest. Have your brand identity and key messages in your mind.

Use the media. When the going is tough, the tough get on YouTube. And Facebook. Use that  Millennial creativity and connectedness. Make us laugh, or at least smile. Look at Eric Romer, who late last year launched a one-man Facebook, Twitter, and PR push to land a job at Headblade, a company that markets a scalp shaving product for men, and one that he personally uses and loves. Eric’s smooth social media moves and bald relentlessness grew into hundreds of blog posts, links, and mentions, massive Facebook attention, and even traditional media coverage. He also got the job. The best new example of digital media smarts – and pure creativity – is that of Alec Brownstein. He bought the names of prominent ad agency creative directors on Google adwords to get their attention when they googled themselves. He got it, and a copywriting job, for a total investment of six dollars.

Recently I was one of several PR firm owners targeted by Auburn University senior Amanda Pinto, who’s determined to fulfill her dream of working in PR in New York. Amanda launched a getAmandatoNY blog and personal marketing campaign with a little help from her friends. Her video is funny, original, and social – attributes that typify the Millennial generation. She’ll get there. And, with persistence and a little innovation, so will you.