“Like, what? I’m inarticulate? But I’m a communicator!”

Being a communications and public relations student about to enter the workforce, I couldn’t help but notice this article, Are Your Words Holding You Back?  The article talks about women’s self-defeating speech habits.  However, I don’t think the habits described are strictly used by women.  I think many of us have made the mistake of using some of these before; “This is probably a stupid idea, but…”, “I think,” and the ever popular, “Like”. 

With my classmates and I finishing classes this week and starting internships soon, I think this article is important.  We have to delete these words from our vocabulary if we want to succeed in the workplace and have our co-workers and bosses take us seriously. 

According to the article, by devaluing our comments through downplaying our ideas as stupid we make it less likely to have people really listen to anything we say.  Makes sense, if we aren’t confident in what we’re saying, then why are we saying it?  If we think it’s stupid, then why should they listen?  I know that it is a nervous habit so that if the idea is rejected we won’t feel as bad, but a good employer will recognize our effort if we provide input in a confident manner, even if it is rejected.

According to the article, “I think I can handle the project” is used as a way to play it safe in case you can’t handle the project down the road.  We may think this will help us if we end up needing help with the project because we never fully committed to being able to handle it.  But in acuality “some people will get fed up with you never commiting yourself wholeheartedly.”  This will not go over well being a junior practitioner.  We need to prove ourselves in this business and we’re not going to be able to do that if we’re not confident in our abilities and willing to take on projects and, even though it’s scary, make mistakes. 

Personally, I am really going to have to work on this one, I can’t remember a time when “like” wasn’t a part of my vocabulary.  As the article states, “It’s used as a substitute for ‘said’, to soften what you say and as a filler.  It’s a nonword, like ‘um’ and ‘uh.’ Plus, using ‘like’ makes you sound inarticulate and young – in a bad way.”  I don’t think that’s the image any of us are going for.  Being inarticulate in a communications position isn’t going to fly. 

It’s ok to make mistakes, to ask questions and to have ideas rejected.  The more you try, the better you will get and with continued diligence and some guidance, you will be more respected by an employer than if you were to always get things right but never fully committing or being confident in what you say.  So be confident in yourself and your skills.  It’s the only way to, like, conquer these bad communications habits.

I thought we were past this

I’m sure many of you have seen the Mac vs. PC commercial where PC has hired a PR person to “smooth things over after that whole Vista problem.”  If you haven’t, here it is.

Ever since I first saw this commercial I have contemplated the reputation of PR professionals.  We have come a long way from the days of being “spin doctors”, but does society see it that way?  According to this commercial, I would tend to think not.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a funny commercial, but I can’t help but worry about the reputation we have in society and amongst other professionals we need to create relationships with, like journalists. 

During the first couple of weeks of my first semester at Centennial College, we were asked to track a journalist for our media relations class.  We would also receive a prize if we contacted our journalist and were able to get them to give us a tip about how a PR person should best approach them.  The answer I received back from my journalist was shocking to say the least.  Here is the response I received, “Sorry to disillusion you but……I see PR people as a barrier to be cleared.  If they come to me I usually run in the other direction.  If they get between me and someone I want to talk to, I usually jump over them.  Their interests and mine are complete opposites.  If someone at Centennial College has told you that journalists and PR people work together, you have been sadly misled.” 

Now I won’t say who this journalist was, but needless to say I do not read his column anymore.  To write something like that to a brand new student I think is very tactless and he could have said the same thing in a much nicer way.  Something like, “I don’t feel that journalists and PR people have the same goals and I suggest that PR people tread carefully when trying to approach me as I am suspicious of their motivation.  My tip to you would be to be honest and careful when approaching journalists.”  But that must be the PR person coming out in me. 

This comment still bothers me to this day though as I am concerned about my reputation and that of others in the business.  Any PR professional I have met has been very nice and helpful and many seem to have good relationships with journalists.  Many are creating good relationships with their publics through honest communication and by opening up the methods of communication through corporate blogs and sponsored events.  So why are there still so many out there who see us as people who cover up the truth and sugar coat the negative?  Is it as simple as stereotypes are hard to break, or is there some other reason this reputation still exists?

What is your experience with this issue?  What does society think of PR people?  Do we need to work on our reputation?

Facebook – Not the best way to reach your target audience

PR practitioners are always trying to find the best way to communicate their organization’s key messages to their target audiences.  Social networking sites have become a popular way to do this, but with a variety of social media tools available, is Facebook a good option?

I can’t imagine that many people haven’t heard of Facebook, but in case you haven’t, according to The New York Times, “Facebook is the second largest social network on the Web with around 60 million members.”  It can be used to connect with anyone else who is a member of the Facebook network.  Anyone over the age of 13 can sign up and many use it to connect with people they have lost touch with from their past.  But it is also popular for keeping in touch with current friends and for uploading and sharing pictures. 

With its increased growth over the past few years, it would seem that targeting your message through creating a group on Facebook would be a great way to reach your target audiences; over 200 companies are doing it.  However, this may not be the case. 

If your audience is college age students, this would have been a good idea in the past.  But according to Charlene Li, analyst at Forrester Research, we need to “beware of relying on what worked yesterday, especially with fickle college students.”  People in this age group are easily persuaded and, with so many spending a majority of their spare time at their computers, are likely to bore of any one site and quickly abandon it.  They are not loyal to Facebook.

Just look at the controversy that happened in November 2007.  According to The New York TimesFacebook created a major public outburst when it introduced a new advertising system called Beacon.  Using Beacon, members’ purchases or activities on some 40 partner sites were publicized to their Facebook friends.  Some Facebook members argued that they were not warned about the feature, which prompted the political activist group MoveOn.org to organize a Facebook protest group, attracting more than 70,000 members.  These members were quick to jump on the bandwagon and boycott Facebook after one problem and this number has likely grown since the incident.

But it is not just college students who are active on Facebook.  According to Li, “Facebook has projected that 75 % of worldwide users are out of college.”  The demographics have been changing rapidly and there are many more users that are over 35. 

So should we start a Facebook group for our organization if people in this age group are a part of our target audience?  Probably not.  Li also warns that the “newbie 35 + users” are just as fickle as college age members. 

Chris Clarke, coordinator of new media at NATIONAL Public Relations, posted in his blog 10 Reasons Facebook Has Jumped the Shark.  Among his reasons were advertising in the main feed, too many networks, it’s becoming too much like MySpace and social networking is becoming outdated. 

So, should we be using Facebook to deliver our key messages?  According to Li, “Facebook marketing requires communicating, not advertising.”  That is good, and probably something we could work with being in the business of communications, however it may be a better idea to invest more time and effort into the more popular social media tactics for your organization. 

Chris Clarke would agree as he feels that everyone should have a blog.  “Who needs a third-party system like Facebook when we have all the tools at our disposal to join in the existing social network known as the blogosphere?”  Although I am biased as I have never been an overly active Facebook user, I think he is right.

Is being a neat freak killing my creativity?

I found an article today on MSN.com that really peaked my interest – Neatness: A sign of godliness – or compulsion?  The article discussed and interviewed neat freaks.  I really felt for these people, as I can openly and honestly say that I am also a neat freak.  I was even telling one of my friends today how I spent the last two days cleaning my apartment; as if she really cared. 

I am one of those people who can’t handle clutter.  It makes me feel like I’m forgetting to do something.  I know it’s a cliché, but my apartment being cluttered makes my mind feel cluttered.  I completely agree with one of the people in the article when she says, “Sometimes I wish I wasn’t like this. But when I come in and everything is clean, I feel calmer. I think that’s why I do it.”  I never feel calmer or more at ease than when my apartment is clean.  I know it’s sad, but imagine how my boyfriend feels.  He learned early on not to try and put my clothes away in my closet as they are organized by type of garment and are colour coded from lightest to darkest.  And making the bed?!  Don’t even think about it!  He tried to put the pillowcases on the pillows with the tag side hanging out!  I know, I couldn’t believe it either. 

Ok, so you’re probably thinking I’m a little nuts, but I come by it honestly.  My mom is an obsessive cleaner, and come to think of it, my dad is too.  The article says that, “Our attitude toward neatness is likely shaped during childhood,”  and mine definitely was.  My mom was so proud of me when I was home visiting a few weekends ago when I said that I was happy to be at home for my first weekend off in months because I was forced to just relax and I couldn’t spend my whole weekend cleaning.  Pathetic, I know.

So now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with PR and why am I sharing all this crazy information about myself?  Well, I can see two ways in which it relates – one positive and one negative. 

The positive is that the crazy neat freak side of me helps me be the very organized person that I am.  Anyone who has seen the post-it notes around my computer and my massively large planner knows I am obsessed with writing things down.  It is the way I remember everything and keep myself organized.  This is obviously an important skill since many of our teachers have told us that being able to multi-task and keep organized will be a key skill to have in our upcoming PR jobs.  Project management is important.

The negative is a loss of creativity, as David H. Freedman, co-author of the book, “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder,” states in the article.  “If you make your environment very neat, you’re making everything predictable,” he says.  This is the downside to being a neat freak.  Creativity is a very important part of PR as well; we have to be creative with ideas for articles, events, media relations tactics, etc.  I’ve never thought of myself as a super creative person, so maybe now I know why. 

After reading this article I’m feeling a little more inclined to let the dishes in the sink sit and “do them tomorrow” as my boyfriend suggests.  You never know, maybe it will help my creativity!  But as Freedman says, “I’ve had hundreds of people tell me about neat freak habits, and not a single one has denied suspecting there is something a little wrong with them.  People who are neat are helpless to be otherwise — they’re prisoners of it.”  He’s right, this blog has taken me over  three hours to write… but the dishes are done (I couldn’t resist) and I’ve re-arranged my closet.  That’s creative, right? 🙂

We blog to exist

I was watching the series premiere of quarterlife last week and the main character is starting a blog talking about her life, roommates and friends.  But something she said really struck me, “We blog to exist.” 

This got me thinking about the blogs started by myself and my classmates.  While some have already said they will likely discontinue their blog once our online PR course is over, many of us have said we will keep ours going.  Why is that?  Because social media is becoming a very important part of a PR professional’s skill set and also because we have heard quite a few stories about people in the business landing our dream jobs because the professionals they were interviewing with had already heard of them and on some occasions, had pursued them because of their blog. 

Those of us who are going to continue our blogs I believe, and correct me if I’m wrong, are blogging to exist to those in the business that we are trying to impress.  We want to exist before the other up-and-coming PR professionals we are competing against; we want to exist before they are even a blip on our potential employer’s radar.  If we are known and they like our blog, they will know more about us than even the best interview can provide.  They can see our writing style and know a bit about our thoughts and opinions to determine if we are someone they would like to meet with and if we would be a good fit for their company.

 Basically, I want to prove to my future employers that not only do I know about social media, but I am already in the space and am out there for anybody to see.  I am confident enough to put myself out there for judgment, scrutiny and to exist to anyone who finds me.

Why we love to criticize

Teachers know they have to come up with a variety of different ways to keep us students interested and engaged in the material they are teaching.  They use case studies, in-class application assignments, videos and readings to get our attention.  But nothing seems to work better than “critiquing” the work of professionals.

I don’t know why this exercise works, but nothing seems to capture the attention of my fellow classmates more than discussing the reasons we don’t like a particular piece of writing and what we would do to make it better. 

Most recently we were given pieces of direct mail to critique.  It started out much the same with people bringing up points they liked about the pieces, but then one negative comment was made and that was it.  The negative comments just kept coming.  Mind you, they were all valid points and I think we all learned what we want our direct mail pieces to look like by discussing what we definitely don’t want them to look like.

There could be many reasons why this exercise of critiquing always works to get us engaged in the topic, but I think the reason we all get so into it is simple: it makes us feel better.  By seeing that those in the professional world can make mistakes and produce pieces that aren’t that great, we feel better about our skills since we are able to point out these mistakes.  By recognizing them we will likely be able to create better pieces when we are employed.

Also, I think it assures us that we will not be fired for writing pieces that aren’t quite up to top standard; that if professionals in the business make mistakes, so can we.  Maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves for our grades.  When we get constructive criticism from our teachers, we should be thankful for the opportunity to improve in the safety of the classroom.  That way, when we are working full-time, we can produce work that would make classrooms full of students jealous 🙂

To my fellow students, do you agree with my interpretation or do you feel there is some other reason we love to critique the works of professionals?

Judgment day

My fellow classmates and I were provided with a rare opportunity today during our career management class – to have Martin Waxman, APR – Co-founder and President of Palette Public Relations Inc., in to speak. He wasn’t in to talk to us about agency life or starting your own firm; he was, in fact, discussing our resumes.

A couple of weeks ago, we were given a job description for an account coordinator position at Palette PR and were asked to come up with a cover letter and resume tailored to that job description. We then handed in two copies, one for our instructor to mark, and one for Martin to mark.

To me, this was just as intimidating as starting this blog. Yet again, my writing and personality were being put out there for people to see; my professional reputation on the line.

The results came in today. Martin said he was generally impressed and gave us great feedback. But with all of the advice he gave us today about cover letters and resumes, one thing in particular stuck out in my mind. He said that “judgment” is one of the most important things he looks for in a potential employee.

This really got me thinking. While judgment is an important skill, it is generally not one that people think to highlight in cover letters, resumes and during interviews. But being able to use your own judgment demonstrates to an employer that you are confident in yourself and the skills you can bring as an employee. Most employers know they will have to answer questions for you in the beginning. But by demonstrating that you have strong judgment, you are letting your employer know that you are independent and will try to problem solve on your own first. This is a big help for busy professionals.

This is not something we should wait to demonstrate. This is a skill that we need to practice now, as students. We need to show our teachers that we are capable of making decisions about assignments on our own without having every detail. It is hard because we all care about our grades and by not asking questions and using our own judgment, we are taking risks, which can be scary. But in the end, we will be learning valuable lessons that we can apply during our upcoming internship interviews and in our many upcoming years as successful PR professionals.

I can see your lips moving, but all I hear is blog, blog blog…

I’m sure many of you visiting my blog may be wondering why I decided to call it “Little Black Dress”.  Rather than have you focus on that over what I am writing, let me get the explanation out of the way.  I was uninspired by the name “Shauna Turpie’s Blog” but couldn’t come up with anything catchy or creative on my own, so I decided to get some help from my Elle magazine.  While flipping through the pages, trying to keep my focus on coming up with a name and not on all the clothes, I passed an article called “Little Black Dresses.”

This got me thinking, every woman needs a little black dress, and it is appearing more and more that PR professionals need a blog, or at least need to be aware of them.  So just like a little black dress is necessary for a woman, a blog is necessary for a PR professional.

If you don’t believe me, you didn’t attend “Talk is Cheap” at Centennial College in November.  I, along with a team of my peers in the Corporate Communications and Public Relations Postgraduate program guided by teacher Gary Schlee, put on the event for PR practitioners to learn more about social media.  The event turned out over 150 PR professionals from the GTA and was a huge success.  After that event, I knew this was something I was going to have to learn more about.

Still, the idea of starting this blog was a bit daunting.  I remember during Julie Rusciolelli’s presentation at “Talk is Cheap”, she said that blogging isn’t for everybody, so don’t force it.  When Gary told us that one of our assignments for our online PR class was to create a blog, I was obviously nervous as I didn’t want to destroy my reputation by displaying horrible writing for all to see.  However, after coming up with this fun name and having now finished my first post, I think I’m going to be alright.  I hope you all agree and enjoy my blog 🙂