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?

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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?

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.

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.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Fourth Grade

For years, there has been a poster floating around that highlights all the great things we learned as kindergarten students. There are a lot of great things on this poster (“Play fair. Don’t hit people.”) but I have to say that my most profound school year was fourth grade.

My grandmother with me as a baby

My grandmother with me as a baby

My first major lesson came early in the school year. For the first time in my life I faced the reality of death. My grandmother, who I adored, was diagnosed with cancer and gradually faded to skin and bones. The treatment was no longer fighting the cancer and her body was shutting down. Over Labor Day weekend, my family decided it was necessary to gather the clan at the Minnesota homestead. Within hours of us arriving, we had all had the chance to say our goodbyes and my grandmother passed away. For the first time in my life, I was faced with losing someone close to me. For the first time, I saw my dad — my rock — crying. It was an eye-opening experience for me, but at the time I didn’t realize how much I would learn. It was during this long weekend with the family that I found out how important my extended group of relatives are to my life. No matter how much time or distance separates the clan, we are always there for each other. It’s the unconditional love of family that has helped me traverse the maze of life. For that I am eternally grateful.

During fourth grade is also when I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. One assignment we were given was to write a report about a career that interested us. We were to interview someone in that chosen profession as well as research what it would take for us to do that for a living. I chose to talk with my neighbor about his job as PR director for the state’s vocational education program. During our chat, he told me about his daily activities and I was fascinated. I then went on to the library and found out about degree programs and various other paths that would get me into a PR career. From fourth grade on, I took every opportunity to write, participate in school activities that would lead me into a journalism degree program and eventually into PR. In 2001, I had the chance, while working at a PR firm, to participate in an RFP process for my former mentor. While my firm was not selected, it did allow me to tell him “thank you” for his involvement in my career.

Fourth grade may have been just another year for most people, but it was a life-changing year for me. What about you? What year had the biggest impact on your life?

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.