Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Your Career and You... "Graduated, Got a Job...What Next?!?"

I've had a few email exchanges recently with former students about where they are in their young careers. As is perfectly normal, 
particularly for folks who are reaching the four-to-five year mark after graduation, they're wondering, "What next?"

Some of them are working in the field for which they prepared in college. Others are working in areas they hadn't considered but, in spite of the ongoing economic situation (a recurring theme in my posts, I know, but a reality for these folks), they have "a job."

Two examples...two situations.

My friend Alicia told me a couple of years ago in our Public Relations class at Curry College that (a) she wanted to start her own business and (b) she wanted to specialize in event planning. As she reminded me this morning when we were chatting, I told her she was nuts.

I didn't think, fresh out of college with a degree in Communication and a Public Relations concentration, that this would be the right time to strike out on her own.

Long story short...she didn't listen to her wise professor (as some of the smarter of my student-friends are likely to do!)...and she is now two years into building a vibrant business, Aliste Events, with some very satisfied clients to boot!! She's marketing her services with the skill of a seasoned professional, drawing on the variety of courses that she took at Curry and recognizing the value gained from each.

On the other side, Annette contacted me a couple of days ago to ask about graduate schools.

She found a job right shortly after graduation, as an administrative assistant in a major hospital in Boston. She has been there for three or four years, recently got an upgrade in her responsibilities, and believes she can do more.

She sees a Master's degree in some area of Communication as her way of making herself more attractive to potential employers.

The difference in the two?

Alicia knew early on what she wanted to do. She focused her energies and enthusiasm on achieving that goal, and is charting a path for her future.

Annette wasn't many of us have been at some point in our lives...but she knew she had to have something until she figured it out.

The similarity between the two?

Both are asking (or wondering), "What next?"

"What's the next stage in the development of my business?"

"What's the next stage in the development of my career?"

This is the question you should be asking yourself regularly...not every day...that's a little obsessive! But...even if you're deliriously happy with what you're doing right now, don't allow yourself to get too comfy-cozy with your situation.

Ask yourself...and ask others who know you..."What next?"

"The return from your work must be the satisfaction which that work brings you and the world's need of that work. With this, life is heaven, or as near heaven as you can get. Without this--with work which you despise, which bores you, and which the world does not need--this life is hell." William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, "To His Newborn Great-Grandson; address on his ninetieth birthday" [1958]

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Your Career and You..."Check the Facts; THEN Communicate!"

This week's USDA fiasco has proven once again the crucial need for accuracy in communication. It's one thing to spell the name of your board chairman wrong; it's another to publicly fire someone without checking the facts first.

What does this have to do with your own career as a public relations professional? Not to sound too snarky, but if you have to ask this question, maybe PR isn't the field for you!

Ask Dan Rather. A miscommunication...failure to thoroughly check facts before making a public announcement...led to his highly publicized resignation from CBS Evening News.

Both the Rather incident and now the Shirley Sherrod debacle demonstrate the rising power of the "other" media, including the legions of bloggers weighing in on any- and everything under the sun.

In the "good old days" (as those of us who have been around for awhile like to think of them), you had a pretty good idea who covered your territory, and you had a sense of his or her take on issues.

You also knew that, if this individual was doing a story about your organization, he or she was going to try to contact you for comment. (Yes, I know there were some unsavory types who were going to tell the story their way; but at least you knew who they were and where their stories were going to appear!)

Today, as I constantly tell my Communication major students at Curry College, where I oversee the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR-specific courses, things are different.

While we still have (and please, Lord, may they live long and prosper) mainstream media, most of whom are schooled in the ethics and practices of good journalism, there are growing legions of others who are not.

Things are changing, and it is on your shoulders to keep up with the times:
* The speed with which information can be transmitted has increased exponentially.
* The platforms through which information can be communicated increase daily.
* The audiences that potentially can be exposed to this information have expanded immeasurably.
* The ability to communicate ideas and opinions has no bounds.

The damage that can occur to your organization remains the same. Loss of reputation. Loss of revenue. Loss of...fill in the blank.

Back to you and PR. Part of your job is to make sure that your boss has the facts before he or she makes a decision and acts on it publicly... note the public part!

"But how do I keep track of the hundreds of bloggers and others who might have an interest in my organization?"

It's not easy, but there are any number of media monitoring services that you can use to monitor traffic and alert you to comments about your organization.

And, when you do become aware of potentially negative or inaccurate information being communicated about your organization, check it out. See what actually has been said. Then determine what kind of response is needed...if any at all.

Next step...get face time with the person who is most qualified to respond and make sure he or she has the full story and not the "sound bites."

You may not win the battle all the time but, as I have said in so many previous posts, at least you will have done your job as a qualified public relations counsel.

As Ivy Ledbetter Lee, arguably one of the "Fathers" of modern public relations, said in his Declaration of Principles (1906): "In brief, our plan is frankly, and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply the press and public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about."

It's as simple...and as that.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Your Career and You..."Keeping It in Perspective"

Today marks the end of a three-week "what the hell else can happen?" streak for my household.

Starting for my wife with a bout of shingles...proceeding to her drastically reduced sodium level that led to a sojourn in a hospital emergency room...and wrapping up with my own root canal today...I am tempted to think, as New Yorker editor Harold Ross reputedly did (according to Brendan Gill in his wonderful book "Here at the New Yorker"), that this was all because of "something I did to God."

There have been times like that in my own career progression, when things began to spin out of control and I felt like the world was coming to an end. I was tempted to think that, somehow, it was all my fault and this was the penance I had to pay.

Sent out 500 resumes and only got 3 responses? Been there; done that.

Went through three rounds of interviews and talked with close to a dozen team players, but nada? Yep, got that one checked off, too.

Finally I realized, as I have today as the Novocain wears off and I pop Advils like Cheerios, that it wasn't about me and it certainly wasn't my fault.

The 50o-resume episode? Early 90s, when the economy was in a shambles and everyone was hunkering down for the long run. Ditto the interview routine.

I've been in touch with recent graduates, both bachelor's degree at Curry College where I oversee the Public Relations concentration and teach most of the PR-specific courses, and master's degree at Regis College where I'm adjunct faculty teaching Conflict Resolution and Negotiation and Health Communication Management.

Some of them have landed great starting jobs, or have either moved up in their current workplace or moved on to a more challenging and rewarding position elsewhere.

Others are still looking...some for more than a year. The ones who have been looking the longest haven't been goofing off. They've been pounding the pavement while holding down temporary or part-time jobs...or keep the creative juices flowing and (to some extent) the money coming.

I assure them, as I have said in numerous previous posts, that things will get better, but it's going to take time. I also remind them that I'm tracking their progress because I believe in them and their capabilities.

I tell them that they have to keep things in perspective. It's still a crappy economy, and companies are going to move slowly and cautiously in their hiring...and they're not going to hire unless the short-term prospects of a positive revenue stream are good.

More than anything, I assure these talented men and women that they are not the only ones mired in this predicament. Some very senior professionals are in the same canoe. We've all been there at least once...some of us more than once!...and we survived and thrived.

Secrets? There are none.

Suggestions? Don't crawl into your shell and hide waiting for better days.

Stay out. Stay active. Talk to friends, colleagues, neighbors, whoever crosses your path. Communicate like you've never communicated before.

Better times are ahead, and opportunities will arise. If you believe in yourself, and you believe that you have the skills and talents that are going to be of value to the right will happen.

"We have only to believe. And the more threatening and irreducible reality appears, the more firmly and desperately must we believe. Then, little by little, we shall see the universal horror unbend, and then smile upon us, and then take us in its more than human arms." Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, "The Divine Milieu" [1957]

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Your Career and You..."Patience and Perseverance"

I saw a status update on Facebook last night from my friend Bobby that reminded me once again of the value of positive thinking.

Bobby's one of my Curry College superstar grads who, like a lot of us, took a couple of tries to find his passion as an up-and-coming public relations professional. He did all the right things...two valuable internships, active involvement in the Curry College Public Relations Student Association (he actually was the driving force and founder of CCPRSA), soaking up anything and everything he could about public relations.

His first permanent job after graduation was a great learning experience. Not only did he zero in on what he liked about public relations; he also got a strong sense of what, for him, wasn't the perfect environment to be in. Nothing wrong with it; it just wasn't him. We've all been there. I know I have!

Bobby then took a risk with a start-up company immediately after this and, to his and my surprise and delight, he found his passion. He was able to wrap his arms around the company's vision, and he was allowed to stretch himself to what he thought were his limits only to find that, lo and behold, he was capable of even more!

Unfortunately, when the vagaries of the economy took a toll on the company and it was forced to close its doors (temporarily, we all hope), Bobby found himself a victim of the aftermath.

And here's where the word "perseverance" comes into play. Bobby never missed a beat in his own professional growth. He looked at this turn of events as (a) something he had absolutely no part in causing...a good thing to learn as some of us know all too well!...and (b) a chance to stretch himself again and explore other industries where he might have similar opportunities to build on his ever-increasing kitbag of skills and abilities as a public relations professional.

It took a few months, but it appears that he has succeeded. Not only does his new job afford him the opportunity to use his rapidly-developing public relations and promotional skills, but it also gives him a chance to fine-tune his sales ability...a valuable and often-overlooked differentiator in our profession. Like it or not, and there are some who don't, public relations is about selling.

Bobby's adventure is a great lesson for us all, whether we be newly-minted entry-level public relations practitioners or seasoned-and-scarred veterans of the profession.

You can't allow yourself to settle into a funk muttering incoherently about the "unfairness of the 'system.'" You have to keep at it, exploring every nook and cranny of the market in which you want to work, and being willing to stretch yourself beyond what you think are your limits as a professional.

Not only do you become much more knowledgeable about that market; you grow exponentially as a professional capable of taking on ever-increasing challenges.

Bobby has reinforced my confidence in the next generation of public relations professionals. They are totally capable of rising to and mastering the challenges that "tomorrow" will bring. They will make themselves...and those of us who have had the honor of playing a small part in their professional evolution...proud.

I am proud...of Bobby...and of all the young men and women who I have gotten to know in my years both at Curry College where I oversee continuing development of and teach many of the undergraduate public relations concentration courses and at Regis College where I teach graduate communications courses.

"The necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude and perseverance." - Samuel Adams, Speech (1771)