APR Update

Last weekend, I visited Washington DC for the 2010 PRSA Leadership Assembly and PRSA Southwest District board meeting. To take advantage of the location, I invited my 94-year-old grandfather and mom to come with me to visit my granddad’s 98-year-old brother who lives in Bethesda. Some of my photos from the trip are posted on Flickr.

Now, for the real reason for this post — the discussions held at the Leadership Assembly. There were three bylaw changes proposed, with the most controversial being the removal of the APR designation as a requirement for PRSA National board members. The same issue was brought up last year and voted down by Assembly delegates. I wrote about it here.

The same arguments arose this year, but the conversation turned toward the need for PRSA to have a strategic discussion about the APR and its value. PRSA National has agreed to put together a task force to address the accreditation dilemma and assess the credential to determine what may need to change in the future. The task force is being chaired by Blake Lewis, APR, from Dallas. If you’re interested in helping, contact him.

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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?

Grad Degrees: To Do or Not to Do?

Last night, a group of my PRSA Tulsa colleagues and I made the short trek to Stillwater to participate in a panel discussion for the OSU PRSSA chapter. It was an educational experience for me. The turnout was fantastic and the group asked some smart, insightful questions. But, as with any opportunity to speak with the next generation of PR professionals, it made me start thinking.

The question came up about whether a masters’ degree is needed in the business world, and, if so, which degree program is the best. I’m just one person with an opinion but here are my thoughts. As an MBA student, I highly recommend pursuing an advanced degree. However, which path you choose depends entirely on your career goals.

Initially I began a masters’ program in Mass Communication because I believed that was the right path for me as a PR professional. After several semesters of studying communication theories and integrated marketing strategies, I realized that my career goals actually made more sense for an MBA. With an undergrad degree in Journalism, the lack of finance and business classes left me lacking in my ability to communicate with CEOs and other senior management colleagues.

I challenge anyone considering a masters’ program to seriously think about where you want your career to be five, 10 years down the road. Do you see yourself teaching communication classes at a local university? Or do you see yourself as VP at a PR firm or corporation? That plays a big part in which degree program makes the most sense in my opinion.

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?

Apologies but I’m Feeling Selfish

1101970609_400I have a pet peeve. I’m a member of Generation X. Born in 1973, I’m right smack dab in the middle of Gen X. Trapped between the Baby Boomers and Gen Y, we represent the transition from a generation that has more than likely worked only one or two jobs during their lifetime and the generation that has a reputation for needing immediate gratification. We are the sandwich generation now, taking care of our children and our aging parents. We are the group taking on leadership roles in more and more companies. We are overlooked, and unfairly so in my opinion.

I think it’s forgotten that Gen Xers are the ones who grew up with some of the most powerful technological advances and have played a large role in mainstream adoption of them. Most of my generation can remember when personal computers first became the norm in households. My generation fondly remembers Ataris and first generation Nintendos as precursors to the PSPs and Wiis. I remember moving away to college with a cell phone that was carried in a bag so I could use it on drives to and from home. Now, we all have small phones that fit in our pockets.

It’s for that reason that I wonder why so-called experts have chosen to push the need for Gen Y to be the leaders in social media.

In a world where new technologies are controlling how PR and marketing is handled, it’s important to realize that Gen Xers are the individuals who are choosing whether or not new tools such as social media are being adopted by companies of all sizes.  We are the ones who not only have to adopt and practice social media but also have to sell the value of social media to our management peers. It is our job to communicate to CEOs and presidents what our Gen Y employees believe strongly is the new frontier for PR and marketing.

It’s been approximately a year since I stepped into the social media world, and in that time I’ve learned a lot. While I’ve listened to numerous speakers, shared info from other social media practitioners, and grown more confident in my social media activities thanks to people around me, the greatest understanding has come from participating myself. I’m the one who understands my business so I’m really the one who must build the right business plan for implementing social media at a corporate level.

OK, I feel better now. Just had to get that off my chest.

The Case of the Misunderstood APR

*** Disclaimer: I am an APR as well as co-chair of the PRSA Tulsa accreditation committee.

I’ve posted about the Accredited in Public Relations process before. I earned my APR in 2004 after initial support from a former boss and then my personal decision that this was an important step for me professionally. It joins earning my MBA on the list of growth and education actions to complete.

There always seems to be discussion about the value of earning your APR and what it means professionally. I’m not going to rehash what I said in my earlier post. My reasons for earning my APR can be found there, but I did want to take a moment to share where I think the industry as a whole is falling short.

I am an active member of PRSA, serving in leadership roles at both the local and district levels. PRSA touts earning an APR as a valuable step in professional growth, but I’m not sure the association has done a good job of truly proving its’ worth. An argument I hear over and over for why people choose to not pursue this certification is that the letters mean absolutely nothing outside of the PR business and, in some cases, have very little meaning within PR circles.

If we expect the accreditation to mean something, then PRSA, the UAB and other organizations must work harder at proving the ROI. Take a long look at the process and identify ways to  justify the expense and time it takes as well as exhibit the benefits for the business. Business leaders expect bottomline results, and it shouldn’t be hard to compare the PR results of someone with an APR and one without. The process forces individuals to think strategically and more in line with what the business needs to succeed.

To me, it makes sense for an accreditation process that brings the need for research and measurement to the forefront to apply the same steps to its’ own promotion and build a plan according to what it means for those outside the industry as well as PR pros. What do you think?