Advice for students entering PR and communications in the digital era

This item was filled under [ Public Relations, Social Media ]

This post is prepared just ahead of my return as a guest panelist at Humber College. I outline how my career has evolved since graduating and close with some parting advice. What advice would you offer to the next generation of communication professionals?

I graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University in 1992 with a B.A. in Communication Studies and followed it up with a one-year post-graduate certificate program in PR at Humber College. My experience at university taught me how to think, while my year at Humber really taught me how to apply my thinking and do something with what I knew.

I entered the workforce in 1993 and landed my first full-time gig at Fleishman-Hillard (FH) Canada, an international PR firm that had just launched a Toronto office. I was hire #8, if memory serves me correctly.

I was keen. Energetic. Learning all the time. You know what. I still am, largely because of the path my career has taken. When I started at FH there was this “new thing” called the Internet. I was “voluntold” to go learn about it at our world headquarters. What a cool opportunity for a 24-year old. I got hooked. The early Internet adopters in the PR industry were far and few between. By age 28, I was a true Internet PR pioneer and had some incredible perspective and expertise.

The pace of my career development hasn’t slowed down. I left FH to work at Canada’s largest PR agency at the time, NATIONAL. The PR industry still wasn’t ready for the Web, so I spent a couple of years on the ad side of the business where interactive was rocking. I learned so much in that experience. I learned that I was ultimately a communications professional, not an ad guy. I migrated back to PR, working at NATIONAL again and then iStudio, a web communications agency. I found my home.

After six years I left “home” for the streets of New York where I returned to FH after more than a decade. I was given the opportunity to launch a digital, social and emerging media practice in the most marketing-savvy place in the world. I rocked NYC. I think there’s an old Sinatra song about it.

When I arrived a battle royale was taking shape on Madison Ave over social media. “Who owns social media?” My team was the powerhouse, scoring many truly exciting accounts and world-class projects. We were the winning team, educating the marketing world about social media. We still are.



So why am I writing about this today? Well, the kind folks at Humber College (actually, the students that occupy the seats I did 17+ years ago) have invited me to join a panel exploring the future of PR and social media. It should be fun. [photo: I am on the far right in this picture. Click on it for more images of the era].

My advice to the professionals of tomorrow?

Never stop learning

The next generation of PR professionals is entering the industry at a time of great turbulence and opportunity. It’s exciting and unpredictable.

PR is being reinvented

It’s not just PR that’s changing. Marketing is going through unprecedented change too. Chances are what you’re discussing in the classroom today will be a solid foundation but not necessarily a road map for your career.

Be courteous and creative on the job search

Last year at Personal Brand Camp, one of the comments I suggested was to deliver “personalized introductions and creative thank you’s.” There are many people competing for jobs and employers are becoming more specific in the desired skill set for new employees. A personalized introduction shows what you know about the company and the person hiring and effectively communicates why you’re a great fit. Be passionate. Be smart. A creative thank you reinforces your strengths, shows what you can do and catches the attention of the person making the hire.

Stay connected

Your classmates will do some exciting things. Social platforms allow you to stay connected and continue learning from each other. Share your experience. Ask your friends for advice. Introduce each other to new connections and invite each other to cool events.

Stay current

In turbulent times you need to keep your ear to the ground. Figure out how to stay on top of the trends relevant to where you are working or want to work.

Work is life, but work to live

If you’re working in social or digital worlds, it’s a 24/7 world. People struggle to find work life balance. Some argue that there’s no such thing any more. There is, but you need to figure out how much you’re willing to work and learn, and when you need to make time for yourself. You’ll figure it out. Ask others how they manage it.

So, those are some thoughts. Careers can be totally predictable or completely unpredictable. It depends on your personality. I like mine to be predictably unpredictable, especially leading the charge in digital and social. Predictability results in complacency.

How do you react to this? What other tips or advice would you offer? Leave a comment below.

Dealing with negative feedback in social media

This item was filled under [ Customer Service, Public Relations, Social Media ]

I came across a good article today in the American Express OPEN Forum site from Josh Catone, features editor at Mashable, where he outlines how to deal with negative feedback online. He suggests that there are four types of feedback: straight problems, constructive criticism, merited attack and trolling/spam. He then offers some good advice on how to react to the different types feedback.

Catone suggests, “The number one rule when responding to all criticism, even the negative type, is to stay positive. Adding more negativity to the conversation by letting yourself be drawn into a fight with a customer or user will only reflect poorly on your business.”

The one item that I’d suggest adding one other consideration, especially for the small and medium sized businesses who comprise the core of OPEN Forum, is evaluating risk. While customer engagement and service is important, small business owners often need to focus on their core offering. Few companies have the resources to respond to all feedback. When a company evaluates risk, they assess the potential influence of those generating feedback and the anticipated negative impact or fallout. The greater the influence or impact, the higher the risk and the greater the need to engage.

The final important point is something I learned early on. If you have a problem with someone, try to deal with it in private. Most companies want to migrate feedback to more intimate and controllable channels where a frank dialogue and resolution can emerge. If the resolution is satisfactory, often those sharing feedback will update their friends or followers on the experience.

People today want to support responsive companies that respect their opinion and want to improve the way they do business.

Bringing the conversation home – Google Sidewiki overview

This item was filled under [ Content, Public Relations, Social Media ]

The conversation on Google Sidewiki is heating up. Today we circulated some information at work that helps people understand its significance. The following snippet is edited for public consumption.

There has been a fair bit of discussion online over the last month about Google Sidewiki. This technology allows anyone with the current version of the Google Toolbar to leave comments on any Web site. Think of it as graffiti. Some people will try to beautify a site and make it better with their inputs. Others will try to defame the existing content. It could create a potentially polarized view from the communities of allies and adversaries that visit a Web site.

So what does this mean for communication professionals? As the guardians of reputations online and offline, we need to ensure that those policing the brand and concerned with reputation are aware of these types of developments. Sidewiki brings the conversation home. No longer do we need to just monitor the conversation in  social media venues. We need to monitor the conversation on our own site’s Sidewiki.

There are a number of things we can do to take control. This list is inspired by five steps (hover over links for quick summary – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) proposed by Tom Barnes earlier today on Twitter.

  1. Download the Google Toolbar with Sidewiki and check out your clients’ Web site(s). Is there any conversation there that they should be aware of?
  2. Learn about this new technology and its potential impact on online reputation management.
  3. Encourage the Web team to take ownership of your domain(s) and set up those responsible for reputation management as the Page owner.
  4. Once ownership is secured, insert a Page owner’s welcome message to set the tone and reinforce any terms, site usage standards or policies related to how conversation and interaction fits into the Web site. (see Ed Lee’s post linked below for some great recommendations)
  5. Update your reputation management plan to account for online threats and opportunities represented by evolving technology platforms and social media.If you don’t have a plan, develop one!
  6. Put the plan into action.

Here’s a good primer video from Google called Introducing Google Sidewiki.

Here are some other posts you may want to check out:

I hope you find this helpful.