Writer’s Block

It’s been a crazy few months between moving into our new house and dealing with family health issues, but I’ve also been struggling lately with what to write about on this blog. I need some inspiration. I read blog posts from other fantastic writers every day and read articles, books and other thought-provoking material offline as well. I’ve just lost my focus on what to write here. Maybe I think I need to come up with something amazingly original or truly set apart from the hundreds of other writers out there or perhaps it’s hard to get motivated here when other areas of my life are less than inspiring. Hmm … perhaps that is the real issue. Does anyone else ever feel like they’ve lost their mojo? How do you get it back?

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Are Professional Organizations an Antiquated Notion?

I’ve seen posts and heard discussions for a while now about the value of professional memberships. I find it interesting that this is such a debate, but it also made me think about my own memberships. Throughout my career, I’ve been a member of various communication organizations, and I remain an active member of the Public Relations Society of America.

I’ve been a strong proponent of professional memberships for a very long time, but I’m also someone who will tell you that your membership is what you make of it. Whether or not the company you work for pays your annual dues and local membership fees shouldn’t matter. What should matter is whether or not you find value in the professional relationships you build through the organization? Are you finding leadership opportunities that will help hone your skills and make you a better communications professional?

When I hear people question the validity of professional organizations in this age of social media, I get a little irritated. Yes, there are plenty of wonderful networking opportunities online and via social sites such as Twitter, Facebook and others. However, nothing equates to the face-to-face relationships I’ve built through PRSA, IABC and other organizations. Our online presence should not trump our offline relationships.

Now, back to the question about whether there is value in professional organizations. I strongly believe there is value. However, that value comes from your involvement. You cannot expect to attend meetings and periodically participate in professional development programs and receive 100 percent return on your investment. You must get involved by volunteering your time and talents to committees, chapter leadership, national projects and more. When calls for volunteers are made — and I guarantee this occurs more than once in a year — step up. Get involved. Find something you’re passionate about and help your local or national organization improve the experience for all members. If you’re sitting back waiting for someone to ask your opinion, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

My involvement in professional organizations has led me to great friends, amazing mentors, career opportunities, leadership development, and so much more. My network of professional colleagues has expanded with online social channels but there is nothing that compares to the relationships I’ve built through professional organizations.

What are your thoughts?

Strategic Job Searches

careerdevelopmentHow many people know of someone who has worked the same job for 20, 30, 40 years before moving on to the next phase of their life? My grandfather is an example of this — he worked for the United States Postal Service his entire life before retiring in his 50s. My parents are also examples — both of them have been in their current jobs for more than 20 years and plan to remain there until their own retirements in the next 10 years or so. My career has been a bit different.

Gen Xers tend to stay in jobs for three to five years before moving on to greener pastures. Generation Y is even shorter. In my career spanning more than a dozen years, I’ve held four positions and currently am working my fifth. At first glance, it appears that I’ve averaged two and a half years in each job. But if you dig a bit deeper, my career has been a bit more strategic.

Entry Level Education

My first few jobs out of college were truly educational experiences for me. Between being an editorial coordinator for a small publishing company and an account manager at PR firm, I learned a great deal about printing, vendor management, writing and editing, media relations, event planning, client relations, and so much more. All great foundational information for me to use as I continued my career. These jobs were very tactical in nature. I spent a great deal of time handling the details of our projects versus being strategic.

Mid-Level Movement

At this point, I’m about five years into my career and I realized that I needed more understanding of the client-side of the business world. I moved from the agency to the corporate side of things. Over the next seven years,  I learned a great deal about how the business world works. I took the skills I learned in the agency and expanded on them significantly. In this current phase of my career, I have learned how to manage communication with diverse audiences. This has been a fantastic opportunity for me to hone my strategic mind and look at how communications and marketing is done from a client’s perspective. This phase of my career has been about in-depth business and marketing training with a paycheck. Best training ground for me to have.

From here, the sky’s the limit …

Career Advice

The point of me writing this post is offer a bit of career advice.

1) Make career moves strategically. Don’t change jobs out of boredom. Whether it’s a promotion, an opportunity to learn new skills or new industry, choose wisely.

2) Consider more than money. While that paycheck is important, there’s more than money that can make a job worthwhile. Look at who you’ll be working with or benefits outside of salary that might be more valuable to you than you initially realize. I’ve taken pay cuts in order to accept a job where I felt I would learn a great deal about the business. Don’t be afraid to do the same.

3) Leverage relationships. There’s a lot written about mentoring and networking, but take advantage of the relationships you build in your career. Ask questions and learn from everyone around you, whether that is the long-time employee at your company, a client or your boss. Each step of the way there are people and projects that will teach you a great deal about yourself, your chosen career and more.

What would you add? What advice do you have for both new professionals and more seasoned?

What Should All PR Pros Know?

crayons_Education_72ppiLast week,  I wrote a quick post about what’s wrong with PR and it triggered additional thoughts on what PR pros need to learn to be better at their jobs. Over the course of my career, I’ve learned a great deal about the career I’ve chosen as well as business in general. While my degree in journalism played a small part in my knowledge, the mentors and professional relationships I’ve developed over the years have played a bigger role in my growth as a communications professional.

*** Note: we should always be learning. If we stop, then we grow stagnant as professionals and people.

Following are three things I believe all PR professionals should learn.

1) Learn how to read a financial report. While most of us have worked on an annual report or two, how many PR pros actually can understand what one says from a financial perspective? I believe it’s a critical skill that should not be overlooked. I realize that most communication pros entered this business because math and numbers are not our strong suit — I’m one of them. However, if communications departments expect to gain respect from senior management, the first step is in figuring out profits, losses and all that is associated with the financial side of the business. It will also make the budgeting process easier if you understand the company’s financial situation.

2) Learn your business. Whether you work for an agency or internally, take the time to get to know your business (or your client’s business). I think I’ve mentioned before that I had a boss who encouraged me to shadow other departments in the company to learn about their daily activities, challenges and successes. The experience better prepared me for questions from media, others in the company, external customers and industry partners who I worked with on a regular basis. Combining what I learned internally with what I heard from the outside, I was far better prepared to advocate for programs and projects that would strengthen our company’s market presence.

3) Share information. A key to building strong relationships with your internal and external customers, media, industry partners and more is to share information. As PR pros, we often find ourselves in positions where we cannot share information due to confidentiality agreements or clients who are not ready for information to be spread externally. However, this is more geared toward being a good team member. Many people believe that information is power so they hold on to important tidbits and dole them out only as necessary. This does not translate into a good team member. Managers and supervisors should take time to keep their departments up to date with internal news to ensure that they feel as if they are part of the company as well as better able to communicate with their customers, whether that’s internal or external. It builds trust between team members. If you are more entry level, be sure you share information with your superiors for a couple reasons. First, they need to be aware of issues that arise with a client or fellow employee to assist with combating problems. Second, sharing lets managers know about your successes that may not be immediately visible in a busy, fast-paced environment. (I’ve talked about this before | See this post on leadership.)

These are just three of many things to learn. What others would you add as top priorities?

What’s Wrong with PR?

questionmark2I started reading Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, the new book by Brian Solis and Deirdre Breckinridge. I’m not too far into it yet, but they pose a good question early on: What’s wrong with PR? Of course, when you ask what’s wrong, it makes sense that you then offer solutions. While the book suggests several options — some from the agency perspective, some from the corporate side — I started thinking about what I perceive as being wrong with our industry.

1. PR pros spend too much time telling people what we’re not, instead of focusing on what we are. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard PR pros tell people that we are not advertising, marketing, or that PR is more than publicity. Rather than take that approach, why don’t we spend more time educating companies and individuals about what PR is and how we can help businesses succeed. This is absolutely critical for getting a seat at the proverbial table. Defining our role in an organization requires us to look at our profession creatively. When someone asks what we do, don’t respond with a long list of generalizations or tactics. We strive to ensure our audiences know our messaging so why don’t we all spend a little time thinking about our own elevator speech. And make it good. Then you are prepared when someone asks “what is PR?”.

2. PR pros have limited business knowledge. Business owners, no matter what size, want to see financial return on their PR investment. I’ve been in meetings over the years where PR professionals tell CEOs that it’s difficult to measure PR’s success outside of number of media clips. That’s not true, and it’s not what CEOs want to hear. Despite our protests, PR must have an impact on sales for business owners and management to see a value in what we do, especially if we don’t do a good job with our explanations in point #1 above.  In my career, I have seen very few PR pros who have solid business knowledge. PR represents the entire business, and that means we need to understand it inside and out. We need to know the competition. We need to be well-versed on the business plan and how our communication efforts translate into that comprehensive plan. This also means we must focus more attention on research and evaluation. Take the time to learn. Ask questions of everyone. It makes our jobs easier, I promise.

2. PR pros focus on tactics rather than strategy. Too many PR pros start the conversation with potential clients or management teams with a laundry list of tactics that need to be done. That’s the wrong approach. We must understand the business objectives for why something is being done, and that means we have to build the right strategy to make our chosen tactics work. The laundry list is dependent on the strategies. If every single tactic doesn’t translate to a strategy, then we need to go back to the drawing board. This also goes along with point #2 above — understanding the business means we are able to drive strategy on the PR/communication side. Conducting the necessary research beforehand and then following everything we do with evaluation to determine our success is extremely important.

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I’m pretty sure we can all agree that PR is not just the art of schmoozing, but that may be how a number of outsiders perceive us. It’s time to change that perception.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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?

Being a Leader

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

Over the years, I’ve discovered there is a big difference between being a leader, a manager and a supervisor.

Managers are typically defined as people who have been put in mid-level positions who is tasked with planning, organizing and directing departments. Compare that with supervisors who are in a position to give instructions or orders to subordinates and are held responsible for the work and actions of other employees. I have found that supervisors usually report to managers.

However, being a manager or supervisor does not necessarily translate into being a leader. Having led various teams, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that leadership isn’t about power. Rather, the key to leadership is motivation. Does the person in charge create an environment where the team can shine and thrive? Or does that person choose instead to create an environment where the team only responds with minimal work in order to get the boss off their backs?

There are different leadership styles and traits, which have been discussed in numerous places. My experience has shown that there are three traits that work well for leaders:

  • Collaboration
  • Communications
  • Trust

Collaboration … Working together with the team is key to being a good leader. Walk the walk, talk the talk. While the manager may delegate a project to his or her subordinates, a true leader does not ignore the importance of showing the team that he or she is not afraid to participate and work toward a common goal. If it’s just about delegating and giving orders, then team members tend to become bitter or disconnected.

Communications … A critical component to leadership is open communications and sharing of information with the team. A sign of a poor leader is the unwillingness to share information. I’ve heard it said that “knowledge is power” so that translates to me that some people choose to keep all that knowledge to himself because that leads to perceived power. But if the rest of the team, who typically does the daily work, doesn’t know what is going on, then the work is done improperly or time is wasted by re-work. If all the information is shared early in the process, then the quality of work from the team is higher. Not only is communication important for sharing information, but creating an environment of open dialogue can lead to loyalty and support from team members. Just remember that collaboration is not about control or micro-managing the team; it’s about supporting each other through the process.

Trust … As Wikipedia says, trust is a relationship of reliance. Reliance on each other as a team and reliance on the boss as a leader to do what is right for the team and the company. When there is collaboration and open communication, then it’s easier for a leader to earn trust from his or her team members. A surefire way of losing trust is for a manager or supervisor to delegate all the work and take all the credit for projects. A way for a manager or supervisor to show leadership is to push the praise and credit down to the team, without taking any credit himself.

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

I had a boss who was fantastic at this, and also willingly took the blame when things went wrong. She earned loyalty by realizing that errors on her part in communication or collaboration led to mistakes on our part as a team.

These are my take on just a few leadership traits. I know there are others, and would love to hear your thoughts.