me by ME

the everyday thoughts of a twenty-something PR practitioner. this is anything and everything that may or may not pertain to my career and would otherwise clog my twitter feed (@marynedwards - if you're interested). enjoy.
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Today, as is my routine everyday, I had Hootsuite up and running on my Internet browser so I could monitor the social media accounts I manage. About 10 minutes ago, I saw this tweet (the company will remain anonymous):

Like us on Facebook. (link to the Facebook page)

I almost tweeted the company back to simply write “Why?”. It seems like we’ve got so complacent in our social media efforts that we put these one-sentence orders out and expect mass obedience: Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Watch our YouTube videos.

Sorry to be Cynical Cindy here, but you’ve gotta tell me why – what is it about your Twitter feed/Facebook page/LinkedIn group/etc. that is so compelling that I’m going to want to engage and pay attention? We live in a world where hundreds of thousands of brands, products and people are fighting for our time and attention, and as someone working in PR and social media, I’m seeing more and more the need to ensure that the characters I use are thoughtful and add value.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a time and place for promotion and requests for follows and likes, but how can we elevate the ask to give a competitive advantage against everyone else vying for the same users?

I sent this post to my trusty PR buddy and blog editor Andrea Lauder (@andrealauder) - she had this great bit to add:

I would say, just because you have a relationship with someone online doesn’t guarantee that they HAVE to do anything for you. Show your value and it will be easy for your friends to like you and to spread the word to their friends. If you’re getting your friends to like you just because you’re calling in a favour is going to do nothing to help your bottom line.

(a very small sampling of my fellow alumnus - photo courtesy of Nikki Macaraeg)

Ah, September. A time of endings and beginnings, when the summer slowdown makes way for the season where you can’t remember what eight hours of sleep in one night feels like.

And I’m not just talking to those in the working world; this is also being felt by the thousands upon thousands of students heading back to Calgary’s many universities and colleges.

Yes, it’s that time of the year again, and I was recently reminiscing about my time not so long ago at Mount Royal University (College back in ‘05), when I was studying for my Bachelor of Applied Communications – Public Relations. Talk about a learning experience – after spending almost three years in a classroom with 400 other people who I never really got to know, there I was, with 40 strangers who would quickly become a significant part of my life.

So I wanted to write an open letter to the Mount Royal University students who are beginning their PR journey, with some tips and tricks (a.k.a. “If I knew then what I know now”), and encouragement along the way. First thing, you’ve made a great choice – this program has a great faculty, and you will learn the fundamental skills you need to make a confident step into the PR world (and I’m not just saying this because I went there).

But you need to recognize that going to class, taking notes and completing your assignments isn’t enough. If you really want to take advantage of what you are being taught and make the most of this degree, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  1. You get out what you put in: Common sense I realize, but this is the time to make the most of your classes and the time you have in university. Ask lots of questions, debate, and don’t just limit this to the classroom. Follow Twitter and RSS feeds, blogs and industry sites to find out the current trends and how you can relate this to what you are learning.

  2. Remember that at some point in time, group work is going to suck: It’s a fact of life. There will be people you don’t want to work with, deadlines that change, new directives from the client, and while it may not be the most pleasant thing in the world to deal with, remember that this is a mirror to real life. You will have jobs with co-workers you don’t get along with, clients that will change their mind and tight deadlines to meet. So learn the ropes, figure out how to manage deadlines, personalities and clients, because I’ll let you know that these skills will be crucial as you move into your career.

  3. …but don’t burn your MRU bridges; these people will be your lifeline: It’s amazing how much your class will become a family as the semesters go on, with everyone looking out for everyone else. But just like every family, there will be bumps in the road (likely during group work). Were there times during the program that I wanted to wring someone’s neck? Likely. Were there times they wanted to wring my neck? Pretty much guaranteed. The key is to not burn your bridges. I’ve been incredibly lucky to make some lifelong friends through the PR program, but as an added perk to that, these people have also become my sounding board. I know now, because of the relationships I built early on, that I can call any number of PR peeps to bounce ideas off of, or get advice on, everything from media relations to crisis communications.

  4. The PR community operates a “3 degrees of Kevin Bacon” rule: You hear people talking about this being a small community; this isn’t rumor, it’s the cold hard truth. The spider web within the PR/Communications community is so complex, it’s not hard to find the person you’re looking for. But this brings its own set of problems. It is even easier to blow your reputation in the blink of an eye and even more difficult to restore it. So be smart – don’t go talking dirt about another practitioner or agency because you never know who they know, and you don’t want to be blacklisted in the community before you’ve graduated.

  5. Networking will give you a competitive advantage: This has been at the foundation of my PR journey for almost seven years – and it’s not hard to do. The “I’m a student” card is the best weapon you have in your arsenal right now, so use it! Go to CPRS and IABC events; set up LinkedIn and Twitter accounts; call up the agencies you’re interested in working for and take them out for coffee; follow some MRU PR alumnus on Twitter or LinkedIn and take us out for coffee [hint hint ;) ]. Start building your personal brand, because if you can establish yourself early, you will be one step ahead of the rest when you start looking for jobs.

  6. …So will volunteering: Another core of my PR journey, volunteering not only gives you an increased network, but you can add a breadth and depth to your skillset that most jobs can’t offer. On top of that, you get the opportunity to try out every field of PR, see what works, what doesn’t, and where you may want to eventually work.

  7. (most importantly) HAVE FUN!!! This is an amazing program, full of unique opportunities and people that will change your life forever. Carpe diem.

But, as LeVar Burton would say, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Here are some pieces of advice I grabbed from some of my MRU classmates:

"Stay true to who you are and what makes your happy. PR is not a narrow field and the job opportunities are incredibly diverse. My advice; constantly question yourself. What do you want to be doing for the rest of your career? Do you want to climb the corporate ladder? Do you want to be an expert in a niche field? Do you want to make a difference? Do you want to trail blaze an unbeaten path? Remember - the only limitations and obstacles are the ones you create. Ask questions, find your passion, stay committed and have fun." Greg Vanier (@gregvanier)

"Volunteer as much time as you can with people doing things you would love to do one day." Jason Krell (@jasonkrell)

"I think I’ve learned over the years that although having the best marks from class and wonderful recommendations from professors and employers helps with the job hunt process, the true networking and ‘door-opening’ has come through the different organizations I’ve volunteered with. Really invest time with your volunteering because that ‘free time’ can lead to some of the most fulfilling full-time employment opportunities." Andrea Lauder (@andrealauder)

I had the privilege of attending today’s #smbyyc (Calgary Social Media Breakfast) and the speaker was Olympic gold medallist Kyle Shewfelt (@kyleshew).

He was speaking about inspiring excellence, not only through his athletic endeavours but also through his work in social media, which started after he broke both legs in competition and was in the 11-month recovery process. It was an incredibly inspiring presentation (video stream is being uploaded soon, we’re told), but what stuck out for me were the tips he left us with about inspiring excellence through social media.

I think these are great tips, not only for personal social media use, but also for business application (situational, of course, to your organization).

So consider these ten points before your next tweet, blog post or Facebook update:

  1. Use social media for public goal setting and accountability
  2. Be proactive, not reactive
  3. Create inspiring social media habits and be able to identify when your #sm activity is becoming an energy/time drain
  4. Set achieveable goals (SMART, anyone?)
  5. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable
  6. Follow and interact with people that inspire you
  7. Reflect and journal (on a blog, or perhaps tumblr)
  8. Know when to unplug and take a step back from your #sm activity
  9. Karma, baby! (what you put out into the #sm world will come back to you)
  10. Share, share, share, share, share (ad infinitum)

Thanks Kyle for sharing these tips, and all the best for your new role @ CTV in 2012!

(photo from a Google search, all Dragons’ Den credit to CBC)

Have you ever seen the show Dragons’ Den (and/or the U.S. equivalent Shark Tank)? It’s where budding entrepreneurs bring their sometimes great/sometimes not-so-great ideas and inventions in front of a panel of potential investors (the Dragons/Sharks) and typically ask for large amounts of $ in return for little to no equity.

The reason I bring this up is because of what happens after the entrepreneur makes his/her pitch – this is when the “fun” starts. The Dragons/Sharks will begin to pull apart the pitch, asking questions about the business model, current and projected sales and the overall valuation of the company.

Savvy entrepreneurs come prepared with this data and can regurgitate stats at a moment’s notice. Unprepared entrepreneurs tend to fill this time with a series of “umm…”.

I was listening to a radio interview yesterday with two women that had recently started an online clothing boutique. When the host asked the two women how many hits they’ve seen to their website in the time they’ve been online, there was an awkward pause followed by this:

“I don’t know that number right now, I’d have to check our website analytics and get back to you.”

This isn’t good – if you want to persuade potential users to visit your site, you need to show success, and not having something as rudimentary as website stats available will not help your cause. Measuring success is something we are constantly challenged by in PR, but it is safe to assume that for a communications channel that is universally measured by a quantitative tool (i.e. hits), acknowledging that figure should be a no-brainer.

This is also media relations 101 - before any interview, make sure you know the answers to all the FAQs you would frequently encounter with your specific organization/product/service - think of it as your own personal “notes for editors” page, always handy whenever you are interviewed.

There is another interesting dialogue that regularly takes place on Dragons’ Den. A keen entrepreneur will throw out a stat, all the Dragons will look at each other, then one will say something akin to, “I don’t understand what that means in regards to your company…so what?”

In the same radio interview I heard yesterday, after the ladies were unable to provide website hits, one of them finished the interview by saying,

“But we do know our membership has grown by 300% since we went online.”

It’s fair to say 300% sounds like a huge increase, but there’s no context. Did they go from 1,000 to 4,000 members, or from 1 to 4 members? Without the context, it is a meaningless stat being used in an attempt to show success.

PR practitioners are guilty of this (me included) – we write a press release/newsletter article/matte story and add in stats that, to an internal audience, may be understood and show positive progress. However, to an external audience, without appropriate context or data to compare to, we leave the reader to ask “so what?”

So the next time you are sending a story/release, ask yourself – is my pitch complete? Would the Dragons/Sharks invest in what I’m talking about because I have all the information and context behind it? Or will I be hearing the two words all entrepreneurs dread – “I’m out”.

Interesting discussion over the weekend with my buddy Andrea (@andrealauder) as we talked about friends and PR colleagues looking for new jobs (sorry to those thinking this was a RENT post).

Traditionally when a company is hiring, the posting will list required experience; it has historically been identified based on number of years (i.e. “Minimum of 3-5 years in PR”).

However, with more and more practitioners working on contract, changing jobs every two-to-three years and increasing the breadth of their skill set, is “number of years” still a valid qualifier when hiring/applying for jobs?

Here’s a scenario we were posing:

  • Practitioner A graduated just under three years ago. While she has been working for a corporate organization doing mainly media relations, she has also been taking volunteer contracts all through university and alongside her current job. These contracts have allowed her to gain skills and experience in everything from event management to government relations.
  • Practitioner B has been out of university for almost seven years. She has been with the same company since her last semester and has only been working in the media relations team - she is in charge of the daily clippings and monthly reports, liaising with journalists and writing press releases.

They are both applying for the same job, and the posting asks for 3-5 years of PR experience. Practitioner A knows she’s not quite there in terms of number of years, but is hoping her breadth of experience/knowledge will put her in good standing. Practitioner B thinks in terms of the number of years of experience she is almost overqualified for the job, but applies anyway.

If you were the hiring manager, who would you rather have on your team - the candidate with a breadth of knowledge but not quite the physical count of days, or the candidate who might have the years but has likely been doing one year’s worth of work and skill set six or seven times over?

I don’t think there’s a concrete answer, and there are arguments that the candidate with more years under their belt better understands how to manage an office environment and the politics that come with it, but with the changing nature of PR and the skill sets employers are looking for, it’s interesting to consider if we need to redefine how we identify “experience”.

What do you think? Let’s get the discussion going.

Tonight’s seats for the dash for cash :)

The Teenage Paparazzo afterparty at West - great music, met Adrian Grenier - pretty sweet night

Great things about Stampede - free Gord Bamford show @ Olympic Plaza

OH in the office today: “I’m heading to a pancake meeting” - only in Calgary and only for Stampede

Seats for tonight’s Chucks - yahoo indeed :) #stampede #cspics