Impressed by New Grads

Thursday night I spent time reviewing resumes and portfolios at Oklahoma State University for the PRSSA students. I have to say I was quite impressed with their skills, ambition and willingness to take risks during tough economic times. Graduating seniors have been looking for jobs for a few months. However, they realize that they may need to take internships to tide themselves over until the economy turns around. I admire them for this, and wish them all the best of luck.

Entering the World of Social Media – Twitter 101

For those who are new to the social media revolution, Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length. So are you still wondering what that means?

The debate has started about social media and its’ uses in public relations. An interesting blog post from Bill Sledzik entitled Are Social Media Changing the DNA of Public Relations offers one perspective. Whether we like it or not, the evolution of public relations is moving toward using social media as a communication tool to help create an online community for gaining immediate feedback.

This does not mean the fundamentals we learned in PR 101 are gone, just that our methods for communicating need to be modified to address emerging markets and strengthening relationships. Social media, including Twitter, is a trend that allows 24/7/365 access to your community and provides immediate feedback on ideas and information presented.
To help you get started on Twitter, take a look at the sites below.

· Social Media Start Kit — Twitter … Amber Naslund (@ambercadabra) does a great job introducing you to Twitter and terminology you’ll need to know.
· You’re on Twitter — Now What? … Valeria Maltoni (@conversationage) goes into more depth about Twitter and what it means.
· The Thoughtful User Guide — 14 Ways to Use Twitter Politely … Margaret Mason’s (@maggie) 14-point guide to improved tweets; there is Twitter etiquette to keep in mind.

The best way to use Twitter is to jump in and get involved in conversations. See you in the Twitterverse.

Should you or shouldn’t you?

For years, decades possibly, communications professionals have debated about whether or not one should pursue his or her Accredited in Public Relations (APR) is important to growth in our chosen field. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I am an APR so I am a bit biased about the process and whether or not it is needed. Following I initiate what I hope is an objective discussion of the certification.

Professional Impact
While the Public Relations Society of America presents arguments as to why one should say “yes” to this decision, I somewhat disagree with the organization’s reasons. According to PRSA, accreditation defines the profession by:
1) Setting standards and recognizing the “science” of public relations

2) Legitimizing the profession and creating uniformity

3) Building accountability for ethical behavior and through legal knowledge

While I agree to an extent with PRSA’s case for why someone should pursue an APR, I also see that the true value in an APR is more hidden. Salary increases and professional recognition may occur, but I have found that is not necessarily the case everywhere. Perhaps it is a regional advantage for some. Tulsa has a proportionately high percentage of APRs in our PRSA membership but I have not found a single person who has benefited in overt professional recognition.

Statistically speaking, I don’t believe my experience is unusual in that my professional recognition or salary value has not increased due to the three letters which now appear after my name. Instead, I have found that my corporate credibility has improved. In a business setting where certifications are not usual, an APR provides the CEO and senior management with a unique look at my training.
While it does not replace the strong work ethic or exhibition of skills I must use every day, the APR certification does allow for a brief introduction of sorts with the management team. They see those letters and always ask what they mean. If nothing else, it allows me to educate and inform one of my key audiences about the communications profession and how a strategic program can help the business grow and achieve bottom line success. Ultimately, that’s all that matters in the corporate world.

Personal Achievement
My main reason for pursuing my APR is personal. I have set personal and professional goals over the years and work hard to accomplish each. Earning my APR is one of those goals. Having worked with and for several APRs who provided me with strong examples of what a public relations professional should be, I initially thought that earning my APR would be one way I could show them how much I had learned under their tutelage. While that may be the case, I have evolved in my thinking and now see the APR as a personal achievement which helped me build confidence in my skills. The process one goes through to earn his or her APR is difficult, and I believe I am a more solid professional because of it. I now have the strength to sit at the proverbial table and persuade senior management toward the appropriate communication strategy. Whether or not those three letters mean anything to the others at the table, I honestly don’t care. In the end, I know I worked extremely hard to earn this certification and am extremely proud of my accomplishment.

Importance of Learning

After more than a dozen years working in communications and marketing, one of the most important things I have learned is to never stop the education. During my undergrad years of college, I fought tooth and nail to finish my degree program so I could graduate and move into the “real world”. Little did I know but all that information I learned would only get me so far once I started my career. Following are a few tips I’d like to share with anyone, new or seasoned:

1) Ask questions ~ Never assume that you know the answers. Making assumptions, to me, means a professional is entering a stagnant phase in his or her career. My mentors over the years have shown me that being curious and looking to expand your horizons allows one to build more trust among colleagues and leadership. Be wise in your questions though. That leads me to point #2 …

2) Listen carefully ~ Pay attention to what is being said around you. In my experience, the communications professionals in most organizations are the people who need to know that most. While it’s rude to eavesdrop, be open to listening to conversations when they occur around you to gain insight into your business, your employees and the general culture of the organization. Through the years, I have become the go-to person for leadership when they need feedback on decisions that are being made because people trust me to listen and hear what is being said. However, that brings to mind point #3 …

3) Gain trust ~ Asking questions and listening carefully, along with being the communications representative for the company, usually means you are privy to information that may or may not be shared with others in your business or outside. Learn to discern what can be shared, what ethically must be shared and where to draw the line on remaining silent. The public relations practice is governed by a code of ethics through our national industry association, Public Relations Society of America. Each of us has internal morals and principles that guide us. Look to the code of ethics as a guideline by which to practice but also build a reputation of integrity, honesty and responsibility. Your professional and personal credibility is on the line.

4) Find a mentor ~ I have been fortunate in my career to have found amazing professionals who are my mentors to this day. These men and women have taught me a great deal about the communications profession and how I can strengthen my skill sets. I turn to each regularly for feedback and insight on my career, decisions I need to make, and more. I consider each a friend as much as mentor. A good mentoring relationship should never end. Thanks to these individuals, I have adopted an attitude that I hope will facilitate relationships with younger professionals where I act as a mentor. I believe it is my responsibility to share my knowledge, but I also learn a great deal from younger professionals too. And that takes me back to where I started …

5) Continue your education ~ Never stop learning. Whether you decide to pursue a graduate degree, are fortunate to work for a business with an internal professional development program, or choose to pursue education options on your own, find ways to stay on top of new communication trends. Also very important is to expand your knowledge to other areas of business. Look to learn about finance, IT, operations, and other functional areas of a business in order to make yourself an invaluable employee. One of the best pieces of advice I received (from a mentor) was to temporarily find assignments in other departments in order to be a better communicator.