Your Career and You: “Who Should You Trust?”

publication1“Fake news” is the topic du jour these days. What’s true? What’s false? Who can you trust to assure you it’s true or false?

I love it, in my Introduction to Mass Communication classes at Curry College, where I head the Public Relations Concentration in our Communication Department, when we get to the chapter on Radio and read about the impact of “War of the Worlds” on that fledgling medium’s credibility.

Unknowing…trusting…listeners were excitedly informed via what seemed to be “special news reports” that Martians were invading Earth, and, to no surprise, panic came first, followed by media outrage at this communication of false information.

There also has been, for decades if not centuries, that handy little gadget called “propaganda” through which trusting publics have been fed seemingly credible information from seemingly equally credible institutions or individuals. Otherwise peace-loving citizens have been persuaded to speak up in fervent support of wars to “end all wars” or to express hatred for those who were “different.”

News consumers want and deserve to be able to trust sources of news and information. They should not have to parse every single detail of a news report and then have to conduct a full background investigation on the individual communicating that news in their desire to be informed.

There’s no easy solution to this conundrum. Social media has made it possible for anyone with internet access to “report” virtually anything he or she wishes, with no fear of a gatekeeper (whose responsibility in traditional media it is to verify both the information and the source of that information) “interfering.”

For those of you preparing to embark on a career in some area of communication, the challenge will be there…the pressure to “be first to report the news” for journalists or to “tell if fast and tell it first” for PR pros.

Remember…it’s your credibility on the line here, so, as I say to my advisees and others so often, “Take a deep breath. Then act.”

Particularly for those of us on the PR side, there’s the added pressure of bosses or clients breathing down our necks impatiently as we work diligently to verify the information that we’re going to release. Same holds true for journalists with editors pacing back and forth “waiting” for you to break the news.

This thought brings to mind the wise advice of Arthur W. Page, Vice President, Public Relations, AT&T, from 1927 to 1947. Mr. Page absolutely nailed it in the first of his seven principles of public relations: “Tell the truth.”

Not “tell the people what your boss wants them to know.”

“TELL THE TRUTH”

If only our nation’s leader(s) and others would take this advice to heart. Then we wouldn’t have to ask the question, “Who should you trust?”

Posted in Action, careers, Code of Ethics, Communication, Critical Thinking, Curry College, Ethics, PR, PR students, public relations, social media, Thinking | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “You’re Not In This Alone”

publication1Part of my “other duties as assigned” at Curry College where I head up our Communication Department‘s Public Relations Concentration is being available to students for advice and counsel. I do this “officially” for a couple dozen, “unofficially” for countless others. I share personal experiences, advice, and words of caution on a daily basis.

In that role, I’ve had conversations with three students just this week about changes they’re considering. Two were about a major change…transferring to another school; the other was about changing from one business-area focus to another.

As always, I asked in the course of our conversation, “Who have you talked with about this?”

I’m not being nosy. I just want to make sure that they are turning to others (besides me) for advice or a simple reality check. More often than not, the answer is “You’re the only person I’ve told about this except my parents.”

Talking to your parents is a good thing! You really don’t want to drop major surprises on them! Trust me…been there…done that…learned my lesson.

But I also learned that I needed to do some serious self-reflection in the process in order to be able to present my reasoning for doing what I planned to do. And, on occasion in the process, I changed my mind simply because I realized that what I planned to do was not a wise move.

We all like to feel like we’re adults and don’t need someone else to “tell” us what to do. But, believe it or not, you actually do…and it’s not “telling”…it’s “advising”…a BIG difference.

Successful business leaders don’t operate in a vacuum. They turn to others to get their take on thoughts, ideas, and plans. It can be as formal as a scheduled meeting or as casual as a quick chat in the hallway. Whatever the process, they’re getting another person’s input and benefiting from his or her own experience.

Getting someone else’s input doesn’t come easily or naturally to everyone. I’m notorious for coming up with ideas for PR programs, doing all the planning and organizing legwork, and then dropping the proverbial “’here’s what we’re doing’ bomb” on my co-workers. (Since this is a public blog, I won’t use the rather descriptive words that usually formed their responses!)

Bottom line here: Make your plans. Think them through carefully. Then turn to someone who you believe will understand what you’re trying to do and ask, “What do you think?”

Yes. You’re putting yourself out there by implying that you need others’ feedback to make a decision. But in the business world, that’s called “collaboration,” and that’s how you succeed.

The important thing to remember is this: “You’re not in this alone.”

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Curry College, Education, feedback, mentoring, networking, PR, public relations, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “The Rollercoaster Called ‘Life’”

publication1The past several months have been “less than optimal” on my side of the world. There have been some more-than-appreciated “ups”…accompanied by what is starting to seem like an increasing number of “downs.”

Kind of like a rollercoaster…which I rode once more than 40 years ago and swore I would never…ever…do again.

But that was also very early in my professional career. Looking back on it, I now realize that I actually never got off the blasted thing!

Life is like that. You’re going to have those moments/weeks/years where everything goes so incredibly well that you have to pinch yourself once in a while for a reality check. Then…WHAM! Something happens…professional…personal…both…that sticks a giant piece of bubblegum in your hair.

Quite a few meetings with my advisees and other students at Curry College, where I head up the Public Relations Concentration in our Communication Department, revolve around untangling the bubblegum mess.

Maybe it’s a personal thing…boyfriend…girlfriend…roommate.

Or it’s work-related…I’m always amazed at how many of my Rockstar COM/PR friends are excelling in their schoolwork, involved up to their ears in extracurricular activities, AND working one or two part-time jobs.

Or it’s about a particular course they’re taking…or a particular professor who’s teaching that course that they’re taking.

Whatever the case, the rollercoaster has reached the top and is picking up speed on the downward slope. And they’re worried/irritated/scared…pick your emotion.

My basic and unchanging overall response regardless of the cause of the mega-angst is “stuff happens, and most of the time, there’s not a doggone thing you could have done to prevent it.”

I’m not dodging the subject here. I’m trying to reassure them that we all, at some uncomfortably unpleasant time in our lives, have been through something similar. And, to put it plainly, “It sucks.”

But it also happens, so pick yourself up, get the rest of the bubblegum out of your hair, and move on.

Most of the time, the remedy to the problem is simple…ish. You make a change.

I’m not going to go wandering into the romantic briarpatch. It’s your girl-/boyfriend. Time for some serious self-evaluation and (as we/I love to talk about in “Principles of PR”) “two-way symmetric communication.”

Work problems are another thing. Especially for my students, they’re mostly part-timers and, to some extent, “disposable.” But I do recommend that they have a conversation with their work supervisor about the issue and see if there’s a way to resolve it. If not, decision time. Put up, or get out. And a few over the years have chosen the “get out” and have seen a change for the better.

Finally, course/professor… This is a tough one, too, but one for which there are proven steps to take to (hopefully) ease the agony.

If it’s the course, I advise students to have a serious, one-on-one conversation with the professor. Most of the time he or she has had other students with the same problem and has been able to offer suggestions on how to turn things around.

If it’s the professor…hooo boy…change if you can; stick it out and do the best you can if you can’t. I’m a realist here…once in a while you are going to meet someone who you just can’t stand. That’s life. It happens.

I had a professor my freshman quarter at Auburn University when I thought I was going to be the world’s greatest civil engineer. I flat-out did not like the guy, and the course was doing a spectacular job of driving me nuts. So I talked to him. It was obvious he didn’t care. I stuck it out…failed the course…changed majors…and went on to do well academically.

Looking back over my professional life after graduating, there are clearly-defined periods where I was on the uphill climb with success after success piling up. And there are the darker times when life, as I like to describe it, was “going to hell in a handbasket.”

But I always came back, and continue to do so to this day. This is the lesson/advice I try to pass on to my students, to colleagues, to anyone who asks. Have confidence in yourself. Give 110% to everything you undertake. And recognize that life truly is a rollercoaster. Wheeee!

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, Education, feedback, overload, PR, PR students, public relations, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “I Didn’t Have Time”

publication1A colleague at Curry College, where I oversee the Public Relations Concentration in our Communication Department, made an interesting comment recently that got me to thinking about priorities and common sense.

We were talking about how the spring semester had gotten off to a somewhat frenetic start and our days were basically disintegrating as a result of endless meetings and other “stuff.”

Then, out of the clear blue, he commented, “I don’t even have time to check my mail. I check it maybe once a month.”

Now on the surface this sounds like “oh, poor you, I understand completely” material except…

His mailbox is roughly 120 (I counted!) steps from his office and he seems to have enough time to go get coffee, “confer” with other colleagues on matters of “importance,” etc., etc.

As I tell my students when talking about public relations and expectations of employers or clients, “Setting priorities is a key element in your success as a public relations professional.”

Not checking mail isn’t going to bring the world to a screeching halt. But not meeting a deadline could throw a serious monkey wrench into the cogs of your own career progression machine.

How to avoid this time-controlled spiderweb? A couple of ideas…

First, know your own capabilities and available resources. If this is a project that requires skills that maybe you’re not yet at the top of your game with, find or ask for backup support. For example, I know for a fact that I’m a lousy designer so, if I’m working on some collateral material for a client that requires a certain level of design proficiency, I recruit someone to help me who does have that ability.

Second, I’ve been on this planet long enough to know that “life” has a tendency to do what it wants to do regardless of what tasks I might have on my to-do list. If some unexpected (or expected) thing bubbles up, accept the fact that you will very likely have to devote additional time…in other words, you’re not going to go out with your friends tonight…you’re going to be at your desk completing the project.

Third, it’s not about “you.” You “volunteered” for this assignment/project. You put your personal and professional reputations on the line by implying “I can do this.” It’s a slippery slope that you’ll find yourself on when you start finding excuses for not completing projects on time.

So do some serious self-assessment and come to a solid understanding of how you operate. Be realistic in volunteering for assignments. And don’t forget to check your mail.

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Curry College, overload, Planning, PR, PR students, public relations, Time management | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “So…What’s New?”

publication1I recently got an email from the Center for Career Development at Curry College, where I ride herd over the Public Relations Concentration in our Communication Department, asking if I had any idea what a few of our recent graduates are up to now.

My immediate thought was, “Well, yes…and no.”

We (the grads and I) are connected on Facebook and other platforms, but I don’t go prying into personal/professional details unless there’s a specific reason to do so.

In this case, I know a couple are giving themselves a well-deserved extended vacation before diving headlong into “life.” Others are diligently networking and applying for jobs that will allow them to (a) make use of their hard-earned degree and (b) do something that really excites them.

So I’m not pushing. I’m not asking, again and again, “Well, how’s the job search going?”

Rather, I’ll let them tell me when they’re ready. They know I’m here and ready to listen and offer advice.

This is the dilemma we all face at some point in our lives. We reach a point where change is required…peaked in a certain job position…company changed and things are no longer the same…graduated from college. It happens. Again, it’s called “life.”

In my role as an advisor/mentor for these young men and women, I make it a point not to discourage them. “Yes, things are a little uncertain for you right now, but it’s perfectly normal. It happens to all of us. It will get better.”

In the course of my own career, I’ve resigned, I’ve been laid off, I’ve been fired. And, always, I emerged from the dust to find another opportunity that allowed me to use my knowledge and the skills even more effectively.

The “secret sauce” in this concoction is believe in yourself. No one knows you better than you. You know what you’re capable of accomplishing, and you know (or will soon discover) what gets you really excited when you’re doing it.

This attitude and self-confidence will carry you through the ups and downs of your “life after college” years and beyond. You’ll tackle seemingly impossible challenges. And you won’t be discouraged when some well-meaning relative or friend ends a conversation with the inevitable words…“So…what’s new?”

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Curry College, Education, feedback, job hunting, job search, mentoring, networking, PR, PR students, public relations | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “MBA? Do Your Homework First!”

publication1As a public relations professional now teaching the next generation(s) of PR pros at Curry College, I am often asked by students whether or not they should pursue a graduate degree. My answer is invariably “yes, but don’t rush into it…don’t do it immediately…do your ‘homework’ first.”

This advice is met with skepticism by some of my more academic-minded colleagues who believe that the more “book knowledge” you can acquire the better, but I stick to my guns for some fairly simple reasons. First, particularly in public relations but other professions as well, experience (jobs, internships, volunteer activities) is a top priority for hiring managers. Second, graduate studies should provide you with higher-level knowledge about a specific area of your profession.

I advise my own students to do as I did…secure an undergraduate degree in the area (hopefully) in which they have an interest…then work for a while until they figure out/get a sense of what it is that they really enjoy doing and would like to have advanced knowledge of. Then pursue a graduate degree in that area.

I go on to explain that the benefits of this approach are two-fold. First, they will be studying something in which they truly are interested; second, in many cases, the employer will pay part, if not all, of the tuition.

Christine Santeusanio, a Boston-based recruiter with Chaloner, a national executive search firm that specializes in placing public relations, corporate communications, and internal communications professionals, says this question comes up often both from recent college graduates she interviews and from the firm’s corporate, agency and non-profit clients describing what they are looking for in candidates.

“New college graduates should gain at least a few years’ work experience in an industry and a function that interests them before pursuing a graduate degree. Working in a professional environment may help solidify someone’s desired career path. However, it might also expose him or her to other areas of the organization which may lead to an alternate path and, therefore, to a different graduate program.”

As one advances in one’s career field, of course, differentiators do come into play, and a graduate degree…along with proven work experience and skills…definitely improves one’s chances of that coveted promotion or job assignment.

A second tier of my discussions with students focuses on the “where” aspect of graduate education. This, too, should be carefully thought out. One’s undergraduate experiences will help to some extent in this area. Do you prefer a large university environment or a small college? What is the proximity to cities/areas where job and/or internship prospects are more plentiful? And, last, but not least, the graduate curriculum…what courses are offered that fit your desired goal?

I mention this last consideration speaking from personal experience. While I already had a marketing-focused MBA in the early years of my public relations career, I felt that I needed to get an additional graduate degree specifically in PR. With minimal research, I targeted a prestigious local university noted for its communication curriculum, applied, was accepted, and began my studies.

Things were rosy in the beginning…in quick succession, I took three courses that were exactly what I wanted to enhance my PR knowledge and that were applicable to current job as well as to my future plans. In a fit of giddy glee, I mentally mapped out a graduate degree that would strengthen my corporate communication skills and enable me to move up in my (then) corporate job.

Then registration rolled around for the fourth course…and the honeymoon was over! In spite of my own diligent searching and numerous meetings with my advisor, I was unable to find anything at all that met my needs. Granted my employer was footing the bill for my studies, so that was not an issue. But I could not, in all good conscience, take a course simply to fill in a blank…waste of my time and of my employer’s money. As a result, some 30 years later, the second master’s degree sits unearned.

As a public relations professional closing in on nearly a half-century of practice and teaching, I am a firm believer that one should never stop learning. I take advantage of every opportunity possible to attend programs that will enhance my own knowledge of my career field. I know very well that my profession is evolving rapidly and constantly, and I have no intention of becoming a “dinosaur.”

This is a sentiment I try to pass on to my students as well. Although it might sound like I’m discouraging further education after completing their undergraduate studies, I absolutely am not. Rather, I’m encouraging lifelong learning to ensure that they are equipped with the latest tips, tactics, and tools that will enable them to get a solid start on their career path.

A graduate degree is definitely a key factor in that start. Just do your homework first!

Posted in Action, careers, Curry College, Education, feedback, internships, job hunting, job search, liberal arts education, Planning, PR, PR students, public relations, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Looking Back; Planning Forward”

publication1Life’s funny (said the wise professor). It’s totally unpredictable, but so much of it can be, if not predicted, at least planned for.

I know that this uncertainty makes most of my PR Concentration students at Curry College a little crazy. They want life to be like the syllabus that each of their professors provides for each class they take…“on XXX date, we will discuss this…on YYY date, you will be tested on that,” etc., etc., etc.

I’ve taken this holiday respite to reflect on my own meanderings through life. Although there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of actual planning that went into stuff that I did, I actually did have certain personal goals that I wanted to accomplish.

First off, whatever I was going to do, I wanted to be able to look someone straight in the eye and say proudly, “I am a……

Yeah, there were a couple of part-time, meh gigs that I did in between my Air Force years and my civilian life. But I knew they were part-time and there was a reason for doing them. But every single professional career opportunity that I took on was something that I knew I could learn from and could make a difference somehow.

Looking back? My hapless students hear the stories until they’re ready to cry. I talk about almost every single job I’ve had in one or another class as a way to emphasize or clarify something that’s being discussed. I don’t hang my head in shame when I talk about these experiences…I brag about them!

Which leads to the second goal…I wanted to make a difference.

Now this wasn’t as clear-cut as it might seem. How, exactly, do you “make a difference”? I had to get inside the organization and figure out just exactly what I could do that either had never been done or had not been done very well. Then I had to establish myself as someone who actually could do what he said he would do.

My favorite example here (okay, students, you can take a nap here…you’ve heard this story) is the Army Intelligence School where I took an organization with literally zero public awareness and, by the time I moved on, had gotten media coverage in everything from the hyper-local Fort Devens Dispatch to the Boston Globe to the Department of Defense’s globally-distributed newspaper Soldier Sailor Airman Marine. People knew who we were!

My final goal was/is something I talk about again and again…I didn’t want to get myself into a position where I would stagnate…where I wouldn’t be able to learn something new.

Again, nothing new here for anyone who knows me. I take advantage of as many local opportunities as possible offered by the Boston Chapter, Public Relations Society of AmericaPublicity Club of New EnglandBoston Chapter, International Association of Business CommunicatorsBoston Chapter, National Investor Relations Institute and others. And I participate in countless online webinars offered by PRSA as well as subject-matter experts whose work I admire and know I can learn from.

And this is what I hope I’ve passed on to the amazing young men and women who, either on purpose or by accident, have wandered through one or more of my classes over the past 15-plus years…

Don’t settle. Believe in yourself and be proud of all that you do. Put your heart into your work and always be looking for ways to make whatever it is you do even better. And don’t get “stuck in a rut.” Always look for the “lesson to be learned” from what you’re doing.

For me, its’s not over yet. There are still figurative (I’m terrified of heights, so…) mountains to climb, and I am confident there are organizations or people who might benefit from what little knowledge I might have. And, most important, there is so, so much still to be learned.

Here’s to a fabulous 2017 and many succeeding and successful years to come!

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Critical Thinking, Curry College, Education, Inspiration, job hunting, job search, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, PRSA Boston, public relations, Public Relations Society of America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment