What is Professionalism?

Discussions that help define professionalism have been written in many places over the past few months. I find this to be an interesting topic, and wondered a bit about where people stand in their thinking.

Definitions of professionalism range from Merriam-Webster to Wikipedia … in between are efforts such as this one and this one or this one. In nearly 15 years working professionally I have determined my own definition and believe that professionalism relates more to behavior, ethics/integrity and overall work ethic.

Behavior

Behavior is critical to whether or not you are a professional. This can be anything from timeliness at work to maintaining a positive attitude in the office and with co-workers. But this also pertains to whether or not you are consistent in your behavior. Do you treat your male and female colleagues the same way? Do you plot ways to one-up a co-worker or identify opportunities to throw someone under the proverbial bus? While you may not admit it openly, there are numerous examples in work places around the world of this occurring. To me, this is not professional behavior. I work very hard to build relationships with my co-workers and colleagues that are centered on mutual trust, respect and the ability to work well together.

Ethics & Integrityprofessionalism

Behavior translates into ethics and integrity. Can people trust you completely? Do you act everyday with the company’s best interest in mind? Do you spend the company’s money as if it were your own? Do you lie or cheat your way into promotions and raises simply because you expect to get ahead? That is not professional behavior to me. Rather, that is the behavior of CEOs who have wound up fired or in jail for actions that have ruined companies and individuals. I live by a personal moral code that translates into honest, open behavior. I abide by a professional code of ethics as a public relations professional. Both of these solidify my belief that professionalism is not about you getting ahead or playing the corporate game well.

Work Ethic

I was raised by a father who grew up on a farm. That meant we were trained to work just as hard as he did growing up, just not at farm labor. We had chores that had to be completed along with homework every day. I was also taught that “idle hands are the devil’s playground”. This means I learned very young to keep myself busy with productive activities. As I’ve worked my way into a career as a marketing and PR person, it’s become evident to me that not everyone had the same work ethic. Comments such as “That’s not my job” are common place in many businesses, but do not represent a professional attitude. A professional work ethic means someone puts in the hours that your employer is paying for, but also going above and beyond when it’s required. Maintaining a positive attitude is important, albeit challenging at times. As a former boss of mine said, attitude equals altitude. If you maintain positivity, then you’ll be more likely to gain recognition and desired promotion within your career.

What do you think? Are there traits of professionalism that I missed?

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I Love This Town

My husband and I purchased a new lens for our digital SLR. It was a such great day in Tulsa that we drove around testing it and admiring our fantastic, beautiful city. All the photos can be found on my Flickr stream, but here are a few examples:

Sculpture with fountain, downtown Tulsa

Sculpture with fountain, downtown Tulsa

Boston Avenue United Methodist Church

Boston Avenue United Methodist Church

Boston Avenue United Methodist Church

Boston Avenue United Methodist Church

Philtower Building

Philtower Building

Atlas Life Building

Atlas Life Building

Cataloging Time

Wow! Time flies between blog posts if I’m not careful. I realized this morning that I hadn’t written anything in more than a week. Since my time the last few weeks has been spent working on catalog pages for the various retailers my company works with, I figured I would take a few minutes and share my thoughts on tactical execution of marketing programs. Why are certain tactics selected year after year and yet have limited return on the time and money spent to develop and distribute materials?

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

National retailers, for example, have depended on printed catalogs for many decades. Hundreds of thousands are delivered to homes around the world. As a child, I remember receiving the Sears Christmas catalog or Toys R Us supplements and pouring over them for hours. Pages would be dog-eared and passed on to my grandparents for Christmas or birthday gift ideas. But the question I have is whether or not catalogs remain a staple in the consumer world?

Considering the amount of time I’ve spent developing content and design for just a few pages, I can’t help but think about the time spent on the retailers’ side — combining all products and manufacturers into a book that makes sense to the consumer and will earn the best response in sales. But then I wonder about the web pages and store fronts where thousands of visitors each day browse and buy product from those same manufacturers. Is the amount of time and money spent developing catalogs really worth it? Or is this just another case of continuing a tradition just because that’s the way it’s always been, and it’s really not necessary?

Here are a few posts that have additional thoughts — Catalogs Still A Valuable Tool, Even in Internet Age, Glossy Catalogs Still Lure Shoppers. I’m actually torn. I see both sides of the need but am interested in your thoughts. Please share.

You’ve Got Us All Wrong

When you hear that I live in Oklahoma, what comes to mind? Cowboys and tee-pees? Flat terrain and pickups? You’d be right on some accounts. But you’d be wrong on others.Oklahoma Buffalo

I’m not a native Oklahoman. Born in Texas, I moved here in second grade. I left for college but chose to return after graduating because I love this state. I actually fell in love as a kid. I was fortunate to be raised in a home where we traveled a lot. I wrote about some of my favorite places here. My dad is a professor at Oklahoma State. Because of his work, we visited state parks, landmarks and tourist locations all over the state. Everywhere from the Black Mesa area in western Oklahoma to the rolling hills of the eastern part of the state. From the tall grass prairie of north central Oklahoma to the Quachita mountains in south central. Beautiful each and every location.

And the best part of Oklahoma in my opinion? The people. Without a doubt in my mind, we have some of the most caring, generous, friendly people anywhere. Some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met live in Oklahoma. People who put in a full day at the office, take hours of their personal time to give to local charities and churches, spend weekends at the ballpark or soccer field with their kids. I live in Tulsa, and we have a reputation for being unbelievably generous.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked for and with companies based on either coast. During this time, I’ve noticed a misconception about Tulsa, and Oklahoma in general, that I believe needs to be corrected. When dealing with Oklahoma and its’ people, it’s not uncommon for east and west coast business people to look at us simply as “flyover country”. People wonder why we choose to live in a state that’s difficult to get to. Perception is that we are a group of unintelligent and backwards people.

If that’s what you think, you’d be wrong.

We choose to live in a state where southern grace beats out back-stabbing competitiveness (in most cases). Oklahoma is a state where numerous large companies are based, and thousands of talented, smart people live. We’ve been rated by Forbes as a “recession proof area”, with Oklahoma City leading the way. Tulsa was rated the top place to relocate by Relocate America. Our colleges are some of the best in the country.

Don’t overlook the heartland.

Who Represents Marketing?

There have been several interesting posts recently about who owns the social media function. One of those posts generated a conversation on Twitter between myself, @mandy_vavrinak and @patrickallmond, and I started thinking. Dangerous I know. 🙂

The comment was made that PR or Marketing should manage the social media function, and if people using social media are not in Marketing then they need to be moved there. I don’t agree with that statement because I believe everyone in a company represents Marketing in some form or fashion.

Organizational structures are different with every company. Some have Marketing and a separate PR department, while others combine the two functions into a single department. I know there are arguments as to which is the ideal situation, but that’s not the point of this post. I think we can all agree that there must be an area in the company that focuses on strategic communication, messaging and the management of the plan’s execution. I would be surprised if we didn’t also agree that there needs to be an understanding that everyone within a company represents the brand, and therefore becomes an extension of the Marketing department.

Marketing’s job is to work with senior management to develop the right strategic communications plan that works with the business’ objectives. It is our job to not only determine how that message is to be shared with external audiences but, more importantly, how it is to be shared with internal audiences.

Whether you work in IT, Engineering, Customer Service, Sales or HR, every single person should recognize the talking points that matter most to the company for a given year or period of time. If you can’t walk down the hall and ask every one you see what those points are and get the  response you desire from your team members, then you are not doing your job as a communicator, in my opinion. Somewhere in the communication chain is a breakdown that needs to be addressed.

That’s not to say that the message is so scripted that there isn’t room for personality or individuality. However, a solidly prepared plan provides a foundation on which all conversations can be held. The company’s communication and social media policies must be shared throughout the organization.

I was fortunate at one company to work with a President who worked very hard to share the business and marketing strategies with all employees. He would host town halls, luncheons, manager meetings, etc. to create the opportunity to share but also listen to what employees had to say. If there was a disconnect between what he was saying and what he heard then he would come back to us in Marketing and figure out new and different ways of conveying the message.

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

Your employees are one of the most important assets for your brand. While products and services evolve, the core foundation will remain your employees, and allowing them to develop the knowledge, subject matter expertise and loyalty needed to do their jobs properly plays an integral role in how your brand is perceived in the marketplace. This means too that you are empowering others in the organization to execute on the communications plan, giving up a measure of control over what might be said, to build an employee base who believes in the brand and feels as if they have a true stake in the organization. The key for the business and for us as strategic communicators is to train others to use the available tools well and understand the messages completely. Our success as marketers depends on it.

What are your thoughts?

Do You Act or Continue Status Quo?

I recently conducted a survey of our consumer base for my day job. It led to some interesting findings about how consumers make buying decisions, especially in today’s tough economy. However, the most fascinating part of this process to me centered on how well the organization would respond to the feedback received.

The biggest question I had through writing the survey questions and the weeks of collecting data was whether or not we as a company would act on the information obtained. Or would we let the information dry up in the vault and continue down the same path?

I have found that one of the biggest mistakes made by businesses is overlooking the need for research. For those who do take the time and conduct research, the mistake then lies in not using the data to make strategic decisions. During my career, I’ve grown to dislike being told that the business participates in certain activities because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” What sense does that make? If you’re going to invest in sponsorships, advertising, PR activities, etc., then doesn’t it make more business sense to understand which of those tactics work best, where is the greatest return on investment?

In my case, the consumer data we gathered is being used to streamline our marketing activities. What does your organization do when it has valuable research data? Do you act as needed or instead continue the status quo?

Make Time for Volunteering

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

Ten years ago I started working for a fantastic lady named Melissa at a local public relations agency. She is an amazing woman who taught me a great deal about PR and the industry I have chosen as my career.  She is much of the reason I am the professional I am today and I thank her for that.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned from her is the importance of giving back to your community. From that point on, I’ve made an effort to continue that trend in my life. It’s also the one piece of advice I try to share with new professionals when given the opportunity.

If you weren’t aware, I live in one of the most generous cities in the United States. Tulsa has a reputation for giving and giving, even when the economy is suffering. This includes both corporate and individual donations. But it’s not just financial giving. People give of their time and talents, just as much as their treasures.

Finding the right organizations with which to volunteer can be daunting. There are hundreds of organizations out there looking for volunteers. I recommend stepping back and considering a few things.

Where does your passion lie? Are you a sucker for kids? Do you prefer working with the elderly? What about health issues? Take a long, hard look at exactly where you think you can provide the most support and look for organizations that serve that population.

Over the years, I’ve worked with organizations that serve children, elderly and everyone in between, but I started seeing my dedication dry up. I realized that I wasn’t working with groups that truly held my attention. The passion wasn’t there. That’s when I sat down and thought about what mattered most to me. I realized that my family comes first, and I wanted to figure out ways to best help people in my life directly. My mom has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for more than 15 years now. My grandmother passed away a few years ago from complications of Alzheimer’s after living with the illness for more than a decade. Multiple people in my life have faced diagnosis of cancer — some of survived, others have not. I realized that my time and efforts were best spent focusing on organizations serving these people and I have narrowed my non-profit organizations to the MS Society, Alzheimer’s Association and several cancer organizations. I found my passion.

Set up an informational interview. Once you’ve selected the types of organizations you wish to work with, set up time to visit their facilities and speak with the executive director. Find out how the money raised in this area actually helps the local organization. How are funds raised? What’s expected of volunteers? Some organizations expect board members to pay annual dues to maintain involvement, but not everybody is aware of this until they receive the invoice in the mail. Are their target amounts set for each volunteer for fund raising? Ask these questions up front so you’re not surprised down the road.

Then, get involved. If you’re going to commit to an organization, follow through. Non-profit organizations depend on their volunteers to thrive so to have someone join their forces and then not complete the task at hand is a let down for both the organization and the other volunteers.

Anything to add here? I would love to hear other feedback on volunteering.