PR Niblets

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.