PR Niblets

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

2020 Practices That We Should Bring into the Future

By Ashley Blas

On December 31, 2019 at 11:59 p.m., my friends and I stood in front of Seattle’s Space Needle and started counting down the seconds leading into the new year. We were all waiting to enjoy the spectacular fireworks show at midnight but were seriously disappointed when it was cancelled due to unsafe wind speeds. In retrospect, I think that was the first bad omen foreseeing the year to come.

Nobody could have predicted all that happened in 2020. Sometimes I can't even believe it myself. Luckily for us, the year is has come to a close, and while there are plenty of things we will be leaving behind in 2020, here are four things that we should bring forward into 2021 and beyond.

1. Embracing the virtual work environment

Earlier this year, businesses were forced to quickly adapt to an all-virtual workplace. Many of us were tasked with creating makeshift offices in our bedrooms, living rooms and even garages. Here I am at my first job in a public relations firm and I too am working 3,000 miles away – remotely. But by this time next year, we will all be on our long commutes back to the physical office…or will we? My hope for 2021 and beyond is that businesses will be more flexible with allowing their employees to work virtually or with a hybrid workweek. For many people, including myself, working virtually has been more beneficial and more productive than working in a physical office. After this year, businesses will already have the technological infrastructure to support a virtual workplace and it would be a shame to let this opportunity go to waste. Allowing workers to choose a virtual or in-office workplace takes into consideration employees' personal situations, creates more worker autonomy, encourages a safer work environment and, in turn, produces a higher level of productivity.

2. Thanking essential workers 

From managing crowds of pandemic shoppers to dealing with people refusing to wear masks, essential workers have risked their health and the health and safety of their families in order to keep shelves stocked, people fed and society running. When a COVID-19 vaccine is widely distributed and we try our best to put this year behind us, we shouldn't forget everything essential workers have done and will continue to do keep our society functioning. 

3. Embracing online interactive campaigns      

Thanks to streaming platforms like IG Live, Facebook Live and Twitch, businesses are more connected to consumers than ever before. Online interactive campaigns are an effortless way for businesses to connect with an audience real-time and encourage two-way communication while promoting their brand’s products or messaging. For example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently held a live Twitch stream while playing the popular game “Among Us” to encourage more young people to vote. These types of campaigns were already gaining popularity among public relations and marketing firms in an effort to attract younger audiences, but soon became the “go-to solution” once in-person events were cancelled due to COVID-19. In the future, I hope businesses will continue to use online interactive platforms in their campaign plans because they not only promote open communication between a brand and its consumers, but also encourage transparency and accountability within the company. 

4. Higher standard of cleanliness 

With plastic shields and hand sanitizer at every cash register in every store, public health and safety has never been taken more seriously. My fourth hope for 2021 and beyond the pandemic is that individuals will continue to wear masks if they are sick or have been exposed to someone who is sick. We've all gotten that nervous feeling when we hear coughing in the store and that feeling won't go away just because COVID-19 is gone. We also shouldn’t forget the flu, for example, that comes and goes every fall and winter. As a society, we should continue to practice healthy habits that reduce the exposure of sickness to ourselves and others.

2020 will undoubtedly be a long and complex chapter in the history books. But as the year comes to a close, now is the time to look back at what we did (or didn't do), how we reacted and how we are going to change for the better.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Taking the Long View in New Employee Training

Doug Wright

Whenever you bring in a bright, recent college grad as an entry-level employee, you want to make sure you take every opportunity to train them well so that they can get in the swing of things as soon as possible. By doing this, you not only efficiently integrate them into your team, but you are also facilitating the proliferation of your corporate culture.

As you work with new staffers to get their feet wet in day-to-day projects and responsibilities, you will undoubtedly find that you are reinforcing in your own mind the best practices and philosophies you’ve learned throughout your career. At a higher level, you are drawing on your personal benchmarks for what makes a “good” PR person. This will impact the new hire not just for the time he or she works at your firm, but throughout their careers. Your onboarding efforts take on a whole new significance when considered this way.

Here are some basic points I share with new colleagues as they begin their development as PR professionals:

1.       Present yourself well: It is important always to make a good first impression. While you can become friendly with colleagues and clients over time, don’t forget that you’re on the job. Pay attention to how you dress. Be on time. Focus on listening and what’s going on around you. Ask for your next assignment when you find you have free time on your hands.

2.       Be accountable and transparent: Communicate with your team. Let them know when things are going well and when they are not going so well. Let people know if you need help before getting overwhelmed and missing assignments. If you made a mistake, own up to it.

3.       Look forward, not back: Relating to the last point, you are bound to make mistakes as you are learning the job. Do learn from them, but do not dwell on them. It’s simply a part of your development and most people understand this.

4.      Seek out and recognize strategic thinking: In an entry level position, you may not be asked for input on higher level strategy for your client. However, by keeping your eyes and ears open, you will get an invaluable education that will position you to take on tasks that give you more responsibility going forward.

5.       Lean into teamwork and helping out: We all get busy and feel we have too much to do at times. It is still important to take the time wherever possible to assist co-workers in proofreading a document or making some extra follow up calls behind a client announcement. Besides being simply a nice thing to do, the sweat equity you expend will put you in a position to call in favors when you need them.

6.       Take pride in your work: Whether it’s a press release, pitch letter or even a quick piece of correspondence, you want to take a moment to read what you’ve written before passing it on to colleagues or clients. Don’t just look for typos, but make sure you are saying what you mean to clearly. Is there anything else that can be added to make the piece better?

Of course, it is rarely one person that is solely responsible for working newcomers into their agency and the PR field. It takes a village, as they say. However, the support you offer young PR professionals is invaluable as it will not only benefit them, but, by extension, the many entry-level practitioners they will need to train later in their careers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Shifting Job Expectations in the Midst of a Global Crisis

 Ashley Blas


On March 23, 2020, I got an email from my employer stating that I am being laid off from my internship, effective immediately. This was the third time in five years that I had been laid off from a job. Did I see this coming? Yes. Did it still shock me? Absolutely. I, along with millions of other people in the United States, had lost my job because of COVID-19.

Ashley Blas

A month passed and I was chatting with a friend on Facebook Messenger, checking in with each other while following our respective states' stay-at-home order. "What have you been doing since quarantine started," she asked. To be honest, my days consisted of logging into my Zoom classes while lying in bed, making lunch and playing Animal Crossing while watching TV. “Oh, nothing much,” I said. “How about you?”

While I was on a mission to watch every episode of Criminal Minds, my friend, on the other hand, had become proficient in Adobe Photoshop. As a marketing major, she told me that her extra time in quarantine was an opportunity to learn a transferable skill that could give her an advantage in the job market; she was right. While I knew employers weren't going to ask why I wasn't employed, they would certainly ask what I had done in lieu of working.

Professional growth isn’t measured by how quickly you land a job after graduation or how many certifications you have. Rather, it’s about the ability to lay the groundwork for your career by staying engaged and continuing to improve personally and professionally. Instead of putting all my focus into finding a job, here are four other things I did to grow as a new college graduate.

#1: Expand connections through online networking

There's a common saying in the PR field that it's not what you know, but who you know. Like many of my peers, I met most of my professional connections in a face-to-face setting, either at a networking night, club speaking event or something similar. This meant that many of my connections were limited to Seattle and the surrounding area.

The forced transition from meeting face-to-face to entirely online was frustrating, even for a tech-savvy young adult like me. However, I found that this shared frustration combined with excess time saved from not commuting to work helped me connect with professionals across the country. Even with the uncertainty that their job may not survive the upcoming months, many of the people I talked to were supportive of my goals and were willing to give me advice. My goal was to move to a new city after graduation and connecting with people outside of my immediate area helped lay the groundwork for job opportunities outside of Seattle.

#2: Take advantage of online skill and career-building programs

Many academic and professional institutions have started to offer a range of free programs and courses through platforms such as Coursera and edX. LinkedIn Learning offers a wide variety of free and paid courses from Time Management Fundamentals to Figure Drawing: Tonal Rendering to Social Media Marketing Foundations.

Personally, I wanted to find a free program that could help me grow in the field of public relations. After scrolling through LinkedIn, I came across the PR Council's Agency-Ready Certification,

which was designed specifically for college students and recent college graduates to learn more about the ins and outs of working in a PR agency environment.

Usually I would say that education doesn’t make up for a lack of experience. While this certification didn't make up for my lack of agency experience, it shows that I have taken the initiative to broaden my professional skill set.

#3: Use the quarantine to learn a new skill

Whether transferable or not, learning a new skill shows employers that you are taking advantage of an opportunity to grow personally and/or professionally. I had studied Japanese for a year during college but forgot most of it by the time summer was over. I had been meaning to practice, but it was always put on the backburner. Since then, the extra amount of free time that I had during my day was the perfect opportunity to practice Japanese, even if it was for 30 minutes every day. While I am in no position to translate or use it in a professional setting, the small victories of being able to understand what a passerby is saying tells me that I'm making progress.

#4: Set small goals to stay motivated, on task and at least a little organized

While I worked on long-term career goals, I never stopped applying for jobs. Every day, I set a goal to apply to at least five entry-level positions in public relations or a similar field. By the time I graduated, I had an Excel sheet with a list of over 100 completed job applications. Unfortunately, I was usually met with the generic "Thank you for your interest. Unfortunately, we are not hiring at this point because of COVID-19 but will keep your resume on file for future opportunities," reply email. However, I would rather get a rejection than to wonder if I had missed the perfect job opportunity. I also set a goal to only have one snack between lunch and dinner. Sometimes it’s the small wins that keep you going.

I recognize that my ability to utilize my time in quarantine is a privilege compared to others who may be dealing with financial issues, taking care of their family or just don’t have the time or capacity to be working on other projects. Nobody could have predicted the experience that we are all going through. This is an unprecedented time for all of us, and we all deserve a little slack for just making it day-by-day.

For many of us, this is not how we wanted to be starting our careers. My experiences throughout the last few months have shifted my expectations and helped me realize that the journey towards my dream job was never a single road, but rather a series of paths leading to the same destination.

With a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, I recently accepted a position with Feintuch Communications, a strategic relations firm based in New York City. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, I’m thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity to utilize the skills I’ve gained in a more professional setting.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Right Communication in a Time of COVID-19

Voxia Communication, a Switzerland-based firm and our partner in the PR World Alliance, offers practical wisdom for companies and individuals to heed as the world navigates the coronavirus pandemic. Originally posted in French on its website on March 24. See below for some actionable advice, as well as a reminder that the pandemic will end.

Covid-19 - comment bien communiquer?

By Guillaume Coet, PR consultant Geneva, and Laurent Ashenden, founding partner 

The COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic has an impact on all aspects of private and societal life. This event for which no one was really prepared illustrates the famous "black swan theory," well known to financiers. We look back at the essential measures in times of crisis, the lessons that can be learned from them and propose a critical outline of some actions already taken.

Offer a rapid and coordinated response

Ideally, your company should list and anticipate all the crisis scenarios it could face. This preparation includes a prior distribution of responsibilities, the development of key messages internally and externally, and the drafting of documents that can be easily adapted to each situation. All these arrangements will allow you to offer a rapid and coordinated response from the very beginning of the crisis that affects you.

In the case of COVID-19, communication is key. There are several main objectives. First, it is a matter of informing the public and fighting against misinformation, particularly by basing your response on the recommendations of experts in the medical field. Whether internally or externally, transmit the measures to be respected in order to curb the pandemic: frequent hand washing, social distancing or the implementation of teleworking when possible.

Secondly, reassure your employees, partners and customers in a time of sanitary and economic uncertainty. Keep in mind the human drama that is currently happening by conveying benevolent messages and showing understanding towards the various stakeholders. Nevertheless, remain transparent, as any deliberate omissions on your part can cause the crisis to worsen.

Ensure continuity

Beyond the tone to be set for your messages, it is essential to ensure the continuity of your activities throughout the crisis. Information must be kept up to date in order to deploy relevant communications across all channels. Community engagement is also of critical importance: it will allow you to obtain essential feedback to address the crisis as effectively as possible and strengthen unity within your structure. It will always be easier to convince employees who feel listened to and understood, even when difficult measures need to be taken.

Every crisis is also synonymous with opportunities. Several companies have been able to play their cards right by offering their support in the fight against the pandemic: perfumer Firmenich promised 20 tons of hydroalcoholic solutions to the HUG (Geneva University Hospitals), while Pernod Ricard donated 70,000 liters of alcohol to make hand sanitizer. Several luxury groups such as LVMH, Coty, Moncler, Prada, Armani and Versace are also making their financial and logistical resources available to participate in the "war effort" against the virus. While these actions undoubtedly have positive effects on the image of these companies, they can also be perceived as a form of reputation-washing or a diversion of philanthropy for mercantile purposes. It is therefore very important to anticipate all the repercussions, both positive and negative, that may result from each action.

On a more local scale, the initiative of a pizzaiolo who delivered 500 pizzas to the CHUV caretakers demonstrates that even a small company with few resources can take symbolic actions in times of crisis. (Update 03.26.2020: due to health and safety concerns, the delivery finally had to be cancelled. Nevertheless, the importance of the message remains.)
Poor communication management can, on the other hand, create irreparable damage to your image even in the long term. It is therefore necessary to be wary of hasty announcements and to always explain the reasons behind your choices. While the Spanish bank Santander has pledged to avoid any layoffs or reduction of working time, Virgin Atlantic has announced that it will put 8,500 employees on unpaid leave for at least 8 weeks. The measure may be unavoidable for the company to survive, but it remains draconian and requires particularly thoughtful communication.

Political communication also provides an opportunity to learn lessons from the COVID-19 crisis. The drastic changes of course by political leaders create a climate of uncertainty and reinforce the mistrust of the population. The initial positions taken by Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, which minimized the impact of the virus, are likely to be detrimental in the long term and may be at the origin of a preventable mortality wave. These examples highlight the importance of maintaining a clear and consistent line of communication. Policy changes can of course occur, but sudden reversals must be avoided at all costs.

Anticipate the return to normal life

All crises come to an end, and although uncertainties remain about the course of the pandemic, the coronavirus will be no exception. It is therefore necessary to plan follow-up campaigns and a proactive communication plan. The economic impact that accompanies the health shock will create demand from companies that will have to adapt to the situation and resume their activities under the best possible conditions. Communication is a privileged area to improve this economic recovery.

The crisis will also create new trends. While some sectors are suffering heavily, others are experiencing exponential growth with demand for online entertainment and home delivery services constantly increasing. There are opportunities to be seized in these areas.
Models that were introduced during the crisis will also be gradually integrated into everyday life. One example is teleworking, which has become an obligation today, but which will also be better accepted in the working world of tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Communicating in a Time of Coronavirus

Denterlein, a Boston-based communications firm and our partner in the PR World Alliance, has outlined some precautions that communications professionals can take in light of the current Coronavirus pandemic. They posted their first set of guidelines on March 2, and on March 9 followed up with a Part 2. So while you're here, take a quick break to Purell your hands, read their insightful posts, and then Purell again.

Communicating in a time of Coronavirus (Covid-19): Part 2

By Denterlein Team

As the facts and situation around Covid-19 (Coronavirus) continue to evolve, with the number of new cases growing daily, most of our clients have already communicated at least once to employees, customers and partners. However, communications needs are ongoing and diverse.
Some additional thoughts to build on our previous post (also full of useful tips) on the topic of communicating in a time of Coronavirus:
Update policies regularly and communicate accordingly. As new facts become available, companies are considering a broader array of policy changes designed to keep employees and customers healthy, as well as limit business interruption risk. These policies (and your process for making them) should be communicated in a consistent, timely manner. Some areas where we have seen clients provide updates:
  • Modifications to travel policies
  • Changes to meeting and events policies; this includes policies for ordering and sharing food
  • Information about how you will manage upcoming major events (for example, letting event attendees know that if cancellation happens or a switch to a webinar format occurs, you will communicate it 48-hours in advance and provide refunds)
  • Updates to sick leave policy (Trader Joe’s, for example, recently extended sick leave benefits to all associates)
  • Updates to policies around who should work from home; we are increasingly seeing that not only are companies asking sick employees to stay at home, they are requesting that asymptomatic individuals who may have had contact with a presumptive case (one where initial test results are positive, awaiting confirmation by the CDC) of Covid-19 stay home
Be consistent in information sharing: Whenever possible, information should be shared from a single source and be consistent, in both content and tone. Keep a log of the questions you are getting asked, develop a single company response and share it in a place where all manager, customer-facing employees or others likely to get that question can access it. Update answers regularly (and date/time stamp them) so that information is timely, consistent and, most importantly, accurate when shared.

Remind people what you can’t talk about: Sharing private health information or information about the travel patterns of your employees violates a number of federal regulations (and likely your internal privacy policies). You can let employees know if they may have been exposed in some way to a presumptive case of Covid-19 and provide context around that case without sharing personal health information of an employee. And be sure that both your internal and external audiences know that all official information about the virus and its spread is coming from the Department of Public Health (or other relevant agency).
Plan for media attention: If you are a consumer facing company and an experience an interruption to your business because of sick employees or a need to sanitize a facility due to potential exposure, you will receive media interest. If you are an event company and media believe you may be seeing a drop off in business, you will receive media interest. If you are an essential retail provider (think grocer, pharmacy, gas station), that must take remain operating even if as Coronavirus becomes more widespread, you will receive media interest.
Consider how you will:
  • Communicate with the media (statement, spokesperson or defer to public health officials)
  • What you will say directly to your employees and customers (particularly if there is confusion based on media reports)
  • How you will provide updates when media interest has passed, but your situation has changed
  • Whether and when you will use your social channels to share information directly to consumers if there is media misinformation
Share information about your contingency planning. Though many companies typically plan for crisis behind closed doors, Covid-19 is the topic on everyone’s mind. While you need not share all of the details of your planning process and possible steps, it will help employees and customers/business partners to know that you are:
  • Carefully monitoring CDC, state Department of Public Health, WHO and other trusted sources for information
  • Consulting with your own experts if necessary
  • Assuring that IT systems and other technologies are in place to support a robust process of tele-meeting with clients, working from home and continuing operations
  • Considering alternative business models to allow work to continue uninterrupted while maintaining the health of your team members
Make sure employees feel confident making personal health decisions: While most reports indicate that Covid-19 does not create a major risk for healthy individuals, you are likely not aware of all of the details of a colleague’s health risks or personal life. Perhaps a colleague has an immune-disorder they have not disclosed, shares a home with an elderly relative or is the sole caretaker for an individual at risk. Let employees know that regardless of corporate policies around meetings, travel or sick time, you want them to raise any concerns they have and can work through them on an one-on-one basis.
Create communications channels: This piece of advice from our first post bears repeating. As evidenced around the world, this is a fast-moving situation and changes in information can happen in a matter of hours. Establish communications channels for all of your important audiences, make sure those audiences know that these are the preferred methods for sharing information and keep them up to date. We like having separate channels for employee and customer information, since their needs and concerns are likely to be different. We’re also encouraging clients to monitor social media channels even more closely than normal to assure that rumor doesn’t take over and that facts remain primary.
Finally, be aware that this is not only the biggest news story in the world, it is likely a source of serious and legitimate concern among the audiences most important to your organization. Be relentless in your focus on communicating in a way that is both factual and compassionate.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Strategic Intersection of Business, PR and Marketing

By Henry Feintuch

Click here to listen to Henry’s appearance on Food for Thought: Lunchbreak with Steve Bookbinder.

A few months ago, my phone rang. On the other end was Steve Bookbinder, a long-time business friend and CEO/lead trainer at DM Training, a professional sales training and coaching business. Steve had recently started a podcast series, Food for Thought: Lunchbreak with Steve Bookbinder, as a vehicle to share his expertise and attract prospective clients.

Now, Steve is a salesman’s salesman. As a former actor, salesperson, entrepreneur, business owner and more, Steve has an uncanny ability to be able to sell any product, service or concept. And I mean that in the most flattering sense – he’s that good. Companies from around the world pay top dollar to fly Steve to meet with their sales teams to teach, motivate and expand their ability to grow and sell better in order to achieve their boldest sales objectives.

But back to the call. Steve was looking to broaden his podcast’s content by bringing in external subject matter experts. He wanted to know if PR had a direct impact on the sales process and – if so – could I join him for an episode to provide practical and actionable information for his listeners? I had no choice but to accept.

You see, his request hit me dead-on in my philosophical viewpoint regarding strategic public relations. Nearly every time I meet with a prospective client, after they express their want/desire/need for PR support, I ask, “why are you here?”

Now that’s not a glib question. I’m an entrepreneur and business owner, and my company’s income fluctuates based on the number and size of the PR programs I sell. But, as an ethical PR practitioner who really cares about his career and industry’s reputation, I always want to understand the motivation behind the need for PR – not just the perceived need. After all, how can my team design an actionable campaign to achieve each company’s business objectives unless we comprehend each organization’s needs and business challenges?
  • Is the prospective client losing business (or not growing as much) as a competitor?
  • Are there misperceptions about the company in the market?
  • Is there a business challenge in building distribution?
  • Are competitors quoted more frequently and prominently in the media?
  • Is there a long-term M&A or IPO strategy in the works and can PR help familiarize the market with a company?
…. Or any one of a hundred different underlying business reasons motivating the need for PR.
PR is far more than generating press releases and publicity; it’s about helping companies to build their thought leadership, generate more sales leads, improve their reputation, find more and better distribution channels, influence the thinking of their target audiences and more.
So, I recorded that podcast episode with Steve. The 15-minute segment turned into 34 minutes of airtime. I suspect I could have gone on all afternoon if Steve didn’t put an end to our “shop talk” segment. And you can listen to the episode here – perhaps during your lunch break.

Stop me sometime, whether you have 34 minutes or a couple of hours, to discuss strategic PR. It’s a critical part of this industry I love.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Developing Creative Social Media Content for “News Challenged” Organizations

By Doug Wright, Senior Account Director

Social media has come into its own as a widely accepted and sought-after PR tool. It’s hard to imagine that any business today that would go without LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook as a baseline for promoting themselves and their products and services.
Once you set up your social media platforms of choice, what are you going to say? This may seem particularly challenging for organizations that offer highly technical or niche products or services. So, what do you post when your company hasn’t generated much news recently? 

With a little creativity, you’ll find there are many opportunities to take the conversation in relevant directions that will connect with your audiences. Here are several opportunities to widen your perspective to new ideas that will keep your company’s or client’s social media content fresh and interesting.

1)  Promote or look back on event
     Is your company sponsoring or attending any upcoming events, such as training sessions, presentations, company off-sites or simply visiting customers? Social media provides a great way to drive traffic to these events. Posting about events after they happen, preferably with photos, also makes for engaging content.

    2) Share executive expertise
     Who at your company is an industry expert? Have they been recognized by a professional organization? Or have they written an article or report that would be of interest to the company’s followers? Even a simple shout-out to an employee who has accomplished something helps put a human face on your organization. 

3)    Leverage case histories
     Here’s the opportunity to share a third-party endorsement of your company’s products or services. Where has your product or service been used to solve a problem in the markets you serve? Posting the story of how your offerings improved performance, efficiency and productivity can forge a powerful sales message.

4)    Post industry-relevant media coverage
     Obviously, positive news stories about your organization and company should be a mainstay of your social media messaging. But as contributors and consumers of media, you should also post stories that are relevant to your industry and product areas. Be sure to vet these stories carefully as you do not want to introduce any unnecessary controversy or share news that promotes a competitor. Reporters also appreciate when you showcase their work and may tend to watch your feed for story ideas. 

5)  Celebrate special occasions
     Is there an upcoming national holiday or a certain awareness day, week or month that is relevant to your market? Holidays and national celebrations provide excellent opportunities to wish your followers well and show a little more personality, perhaps with a GIF or photo. 

     6)    Get a little silly
     While giving your company a means to wisecrack may not be the reason you set up your corporate social media platforms, everyone can appreciate a good joke or meme—particularly if it is good natured and positive. You’ll get extra points for keeping the gags relevant to your industry, products and services. Steer away from controversial subject matter, such as religion, politics, inappropriate language and themes. 

7)    Contribute to conversation
     All too often social media platform administrators are focused on posting their own content, but not reacting to their followers’ content. Social media is a conversation rather than a soap box for broadcasting your company’s messages. By liking, sharing or commenting on others’ posts, you are engaging with others. Also, by doing this you will undoubtedly find additional topics that are of interest to your audiences in real time.

As you hone your profiles and posts, a distinct voice will develop that your followers will be able to identify – smart, arrogant, funny, mean, happy or cynical. These tips will help you veer away from coming off as dull, repetitive and insular. Making your company’s platforms varied, interesting and attractive to your key audiences is well worth the effort and will help to keep your audiences engaged with your company brand for the long term.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Workplace Gender Equality Has Come A Long Way, But Still Has Work to Do

by Elana Spivack, Assistant Account Executive

What does a story about a woman in Harvard’s physics department have to do with public relations?

A lot, it turns out.

Right now, more women can work – and are working – than ever before. Public relations happens to be a women-dominated field, one in which women occupy positions at all levels and run entire agencies. However, an estimated 80% of C-level executives in the industry are men. Many people who work in PR are women, but most leaders are men, meaning women perform a great deal of work and might go unrecognized.

Here’s where that story comes in. In 1962, Miriam Rykles was hired to work in Harvard’s physics department as an administrative assistant. But, the duties she performed far exceeded her job description, and she often did her male bosses’ work.

While there are far more women in the work place than there were in 1962, and they possess far more power, gender inequality remains an issue. Much like how Miriam and her fellow assistants did hard work without thanks in a man’s world, women outnumber men but more men still sit at the top.

[This story was originally published on the Jewish Women’s Archive Blog on October 17, 2019]

Miriam Rykles at the Harvard lab, 1967.
Photo courtesy Miriam Rykles.
“I’ll be frank with you: Harvard is a man’s institution. Women don’t get anywhere. But, [they] run the university.” 

This was the answer Miriam Rykles, now 94, received when she applied to work in Harvard University’s physics department in 1962. In the more than 30 years that followed, Rykles would work with Nobel Prize-winning physicists, help manage the lab’s Cambridge Electron Accelerator, and witness one of the first US-Russia relationships during the Cold War, all under the modest title of Administrative Assistant.

This story may sound familiar because it’s also the story of many other women who sought careers in the mid-twentieth century and were met with skepticism. While working conditions for women in America have improved significantly, it’s crucial to acknowledge that for decades, women have been performing the grunt work—and more—to help run institutions like Harvard.

Rykles doesn’t have more than a high school background in physics. In fact, her story begins a long way from Harvard. Originally from Wilno, Poland (present day Vilnius, Lithuania), Rykles was only sixteen when she was forced into the city’s ghetto in 1941. After the ghetto’s liquidation two years later, Rykles was sent to labor camps until Europe’s liberation in 1945 after the Nazis surrendered. This story, unfortunately, also resonates with many people. 

After the war, she made her way to Warsaw. Competent in Yiddish, Polish, English, German, and Russian, she found work there as a translator. That same year, a French cousin persuaded her to move to Paris. In the early 1950s, more relatives found Rykles through the Red Cross and invited her to live with them in America. In October 1952, at age 27, Rykles arrived in Massachusetts. She initially found work with an insurance company, but found it dull. Unwilling to settle for any old American job, she went to Harvard in search of more interesting work.

“At that time, women were looking for something interesting to do,” Rykles says. “For a woman to apply for an office job, it meant being a clerical worker, a secretary. You were answering the phone, typing, taking shorthand.” However, the duties a secretary performed often went beyond this job description. Rykles and her female colleagues were on the lowest rung, but performed work at levels comparable to their male superiors.

“I spent time talking to the other secretaries who were taking dictation, answering the phone, but at the same time, they were answering very important questions for their bosses,” Rykles says. She describes the “impossible task” of trying to show the other women that they were as capable and intelligent as the other men in the office. “I would talk to a secretary who was running the office and really answering questions of policy and all kinds of things. I would sit there and watch her work and catch her each time she’d say something about policy. I’d say, ‘Look, Carol, this is not secretarial work. This is your boss’s work. You just told him the policy.’ And she just couldn’t get it.”

Miriam Rykles, front and seated, in her office, 1968.
Photo courtesy Miriam Rykles.

Rykles describes women at Harvard as “shadows”—they were nearly invisible, but moved in lockstep with their male bosses, sometimes doing their work for them. Her boss, leading high-energy physicist Karl Strauch, noticed her curiosity and nurtured it. He trusted her with more responsibilities. In addition to teaching two classes at Harvard, Strauch was involved in cultivating America’s scientific relationship with Europe. 

“He had an office in Switzerland where he had an experiment going,” Rykles says. “There was always a relationship between CERN (European Council for Nuclear Research) and Harvard…He had certain committees on that.” Some of Rykles’s work included preparing materials and changing contracts for such committees.

As Strauch was so involved with CERN, he was close to physicists from the USSR. Consequently, Rykles had access to all phases of the fledgling relationship between the US and the USSR, held together by the tenuous connection of physics. According to a 1990 paper by Roy Rubinstein, former director of particle physics and accelerator laboratory Fermilab, the two nations began collaborating on high-energy physics in 1966. Rykles helped to organize the 6th International High-Energy Accelerators Conference in Cambridge in 1967. She had access to one of the first amicable connections between these sparring nations.

Rykles’s language skills, which initially won her a translation job in Warsaw after the war, proved critical at Harvard. She used Russian for translating letters between the department director and Soviet physicists. Eventually, in the 80s, a personal telegraph was installed in her office so she could communicate directly with the Russian Academy of Sciences. Her Russian was so good that when one of the department’s physicists began learning the language, she jokingly told him, “You will never catch up with me!”

Although Rykles and the other women working in the physics department were performing duties outside their job descriptions, they didn’t receive commensurate compensation. So, why did she stay?

“I liked the work,” she says. “I had access to everything.” Between her curiosity and Strauch’s support, she had the freedom to do what she wanted. She realized just how much power she wielded, all things considered, and how much knowledge her curiosity afforded her. “I...learned things that no women would probably dare learn; women were really supposed to ‘not know’ and so they didn’t.” 

Rykles’s influence was subtle but effective. Her efforts may have gone undetected, but they were of consequence. Her curiosity compelled her to pore over the documents in her possession, and often keep things because she found them interesting. At one point, this tendency led her to make a crucial discovery.

“Experimental physicists are known for not keeping their papers. When it’s done and served the purpose, they throw the papers out,” Rykles says. “I did not.” She describes one experiment done at Cornell University that included participants from Harvard. One of the participating scientists wrote a “tongue-in-cheek” paper on the experiment, ridiculing its proposal. “I read it and it was fascinating,” Rykles says. Even though she was instructed to throw out these papers, she kept them because they were “too interesting to throw out.”

Twenty-five years later, Rykles learned that Nobel Prize-winning physicist Sheldon Glashow was trying to commercially develop a particular experiment. He found investors and was going full force. Rykles got ahold of his project description and noticed it looked familiar. She went to her files and found that wry paper from years ago, and realized it was the same experiment that Glashow was developing. “Officially, he would have to invite the former director of that project into his cooperation,” Rykles says. After Rykles made this catch, Glashow appointed the former director of the experiment as a corporate member. However, the one who originally wrote that wry paper “knew all along that it wouldn’t work.” And it didn’t.

Rykles worked as an administrative assistant for 30 years, and continued working freelance after her retirement in 1991 to assist Strauch, who had Parkinson’s. While her path is unique, her story as a curious, tenacious woman at Harvard is part of a larger, shared history of accomplished but unrecognized women. There are certainly many others like Rykles: women and other marginalized people who worked (and still work) as administrative assistants, but performed higher level jobs without recognition. Men’s successes are built on the backs of these people, and while, yes, men did make strides in research, physics, and beyond, they didn’t complete this work unaided. One doesn’t have to look too closely to see an army of women pushing progress forward.

Monday, April 8, 2019

How to Make It in America by Patryk Slodzinski, NBS Communications

Patryk, an account executive at NBS Communications, in Warsaw, Poland, and a member of the first class of the participants in the PRWA Exchange programme, shares his thoughts on the programme and the time he spent at Feintuch Communications in New York City and Stanton Communications in Washington D.C. at the beginning of this year.

When I first learned about the PR World Alliance’s exchange programme I was instantly sold on the idea. Despite a pretty fair deal of time spent living abroad, I had pretty limited experience of exchanges, Erasmus student exchange being the most notable I ever participated probably, but I’ve always found such opportunities alluring.

At NBS, I am usually involved in projects with a strong Public Affairs component, and although I am very much engaged in those issues and find that part of the job really interesting, I was curious about broader PR practices. NBS is pretty open organization and I am often asking around to learn more about what else we are doing, however our strong IR pedigree makes it a specific place, not an archetype of the industry at large. I realized that the exchange could serve as a good occasion to look beyond all that limitations.

I submitted the eleventh-hour application and the next thing I knew I was crossing the Atlantic. I’ve picked the United States as I imagined that there couldn’t be a public relations market, in the PRWA network, more different to Polish one than the American. The public relations industry did not develop in Poland until the early nineties, with NBS dating back to 1990 considered as one of the founding fathers of the industry, whereas modern PR in the US has been present since the beginning of the century.

As for many before me, my first step on the American soil was New York City, where Henry Feintuch hosted me for a week at Feintuch Communications. Henry set me up at hip place at heart of Williamsburg so every day I had a proper NY millennial experience with a morning commute to Manhattan and constant nagging at the L-train delays, topped with a great deal of after-hours fun in ever-changing Brooklyn.

Work-wise, I’ve came just after the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, an important event for technology-oriented Feintuch Communications. The aftermath turned out to be “an extremely quiet period”, per Henry’s estimation. However, that allowed me to have more time to talk and discuss with Henry and his team. We often exchanged information and opinions on how both our firms worked, identifying the areas of similarity and comparing differences between the market realities in Poland and the U.S.

The other advantage of that relative lack of pressure, was that it made room for more casual socializing with Henry and his staff and made a great combination with Henry’s hospitable attitude. Henry was an amazing host that eagerly carved some of his after-hours time to hang around Brooklyn, get an after-hours drink or see a Broadway show.

In terms of the programme’s objectives I’ve been regularly invited to client meetings and internal brain storming sessions, where I could contribute as well. Even if I didn’t know the client, or the industry that well it was genuinely interesting and informative as Henry and his staff were really forthcoming and frank in those exchanges. On my own I was able to do stuff I mostly don’t do at home which was really refreshing such as pitching journalist for the upcoming trade show in Amsterdam.

The next stop was D.C. where I’ve spent another week with Peter Stanton and his team. The general framework was kind of similar. I could get involved in practically anything that was in the pipeline, with my engagement ranging, from just observing, a kind of fly on the wall arrangement to full participation, according to my preference. 

Coming to Washington I had also bit of a different goal in mind, as I’ve imagined that D.C. could be a great place to observe some of the best practices from my particular turf – Public Affairs. And even if Stanton Communications did not have any on-going project in this field my conversations with Peter allowed me to get a fair deal of quality insight.

During my time across the pond, both Peter, Henry and their respective teams have been equally open, candid and willing to share their know-how and opinions with me while I was involved in many projects at various stages. Thanks to that sensibly loose structure I was able to have a broad perspective and see many aspects of the PR profession I am not exposed in my daily routine. On the other hand, the workload made it possible to stay in the loop with the developments back at NBS, and whenever I felt I need it catch up with some assignments there I was free to do so.

I highly recommend participating in the programme, I came back with a different, wider perspective and many fresh ideas I hope to implement at home.