Archives for category: Career

First things first…

“It’s been a long time since I left you, without dope beat to step to…”

“I Know You Got Soul,” Erik B. & Rakim

My little way of saying, I know, and I’m back! I love writing, and even in writing about what I do professionally; I take it seriously and personally. So when lots of things converge in my life, good and bad, which is what happened, it affects my writing and my urge to do it.

So having crossed some things off the life list, I am ready to get back in the saddle and hopefully won’t be away for so long…

Having said that…Leggo!

I read this article on NYTimes.com, Distilling the Wisdom of C.E.O.’s, an article based on Adam Bryant’s book, “The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed,” and got inspired. Not so much to become a CEO – I can easily say that isn’t in my “five plan” – but to develop the attributes listed in the piece to become a better employee today and one day a better leader. I think a lot is changing in the business world, and for the better, but there are a lot of bad habits still floating around that are being taught by those who should know better and embraced by those who don’t.

So here is what I am planning my present and future career on, and what I’ll be reading more in-depth on soon!

Best Practices from the Best in Business

1. A Passionate Curiosity: Learning, questioning, pondering, researching, doesn’t stop for these folks once they get into the big comfy leather chair specially ordered for them. So many times we see people getting promoted and their quest to get better and learn more just STOPS. They don’t seek to learn more not just about their industry, but the world around them as a whole. I vow to not let my brain ever turn to mush as a result of a JOB TITLE.

2. Battle-Hardened Confidence: Who do you want solving problems for you? It’s not the person who has never won or LOST a battle at work, or had anything bad happen to them, whether it is being fired by a client, laid off from a job, had a media interview go awry or some other catastrophe they bounced back from. There is a difference between those with battle scars and those that are damaged. Damaged folks don’t learn from the challenges presented to them; those with battle scars have faced adversity and know how to heal, learn from it and turn it into a new opportunity.

3. Team Smarts: I can’t do what I do alone. I can’t. I need to learn how to work with others, have an understanding of what they do, what challenges they face and what their day-to-day looks like. There is nothing worse than mindlessly pushing paper in your office and when asked to work with others, you are completely oblivious to what they need and how to get what you need from them. Don’t you hate working with folks like that? I do.

4. A Simple Mind-Set: The book describes this as “mental jujitsu.” I need to learn this concept, particularly in my industry. A lot of people just don’t get public relations, marketing, integrated communications or why any of it is necessary. Discussing strategies and initiatives simply can go a long way in helping folks understand – and getting them to say YES!

5. Fearlessness: This is calculated, informed risk-taking – not running off willy-nilly on some project. I think I have some of this, but probably not enough to do something really big and wonderful. I think growing my confidence will help the wonderful thing I do come about.

If you have read “The Corner Office,” please post below how it has inspired your work or changed how you viewed and managed your career. Thanks!

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When I was looking for a job, I was drawn (like a moth or maybe a looky-loo who comes upon a car wreck) to news stories and blog posts on alternative job search methods. I was discouraged, I was depressed, I was tired of watching Judge Judy (and I like her). I just wanted a job and it seemed as if everything I was doing, such as studying potential interview questions and preparing great answers for them, researching the company, developing a stellar resume and applying to appropriate positions while at the same time networking and following up on all leads given to me, weren’t getting me anywhere. I also wasn’t having much luck on the freelance side of public relations.

I ignored the stories about the people who printed their resumes on t-shirts and walked around in them, bought billboards advertising their skills and work experience, and those who delivered homemade pies and designer shoes to hiring managers (!). I didn’t judge them, because I understood their pain. I just knew I didn’t want to fall off into that, because I feared that some unscrupulous hiring manager would take advantage of some poor soul so desperate to land something they would try almost anything.

I did take a closer look at the Video Resume. According to news reports, unemployed professionals were paying thousands of dollars to develop Video Resumes of themselves discussing their qualifications, there were companies popping up all over the place offering these services at various price points, and many were just setting up a camera and posting their Video Resume on YouTube on the off-chance some recruiter or hiring manager might see it.

I was immediately suspicious. I didn’t put this in the same category, as say, the pie/resume delivery, but it seemed fraught with the potential to go utterly and horribly wrong.

  • There are lots of crazies on You Tube. How do you separate yourself from those people?
  • How do you come across natural, relaxed and prepared on camera when you have never given interviews or done work in front of the camera? This is NOT as easy as folks think it is!
  • Since this is so new, how do you know how long the video should be?
  • Do you read your resume, or speak conversationally? How do you tailor it to jobs you want?
  • What the hell do you wear for something like this?
  • How do you avoid the creepy factor with something like this?

And I just didn’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to give anyone to video tape me interviewing, but not really interviewing. So I found my job the old-fashioned way.

Just as I suspected, a recent article in Smart Money Magazine by Anne Kadet, discussed this new trend and the potential problems associated with doing Video Resumes. In the article, “Video Résumés Reveal Too Much, Too Soon,” Kadet suggests readers visit You Tube to watch these Video Resumes not for potential new hires, but as entertainment on a boring, lonely Saturday evening or during a lull in your work day. She writes, “It’s a chance to flaunt engaging qualities that a paper CV can’t capture. But more often, the effort goes horribly wrong.”

Ouch.

Kadet also goes on to state, beyond the obvious reasons why Video Resumes are an awful idea, that recruiters avoid them for legal reasons (federal antidiscrimination guidelines) and that it is hard to use the Video Resume in the application tracking process of most companies.

Read here for more information. This is a job-seeking DON’T. I know it is hard, and that jobs are scarce and you always want to find a way to stand out from other really like good applicants. But this…just…isn’t…it.

Good luck!

A personal situation I encountered a few weeks ago prompted me to write this piece on ethics. A person I thought I knew very well and trusted turned out to be not-so trustworthy. To make matters worse, she thought that the personal relationship between me and the others she wasn’t being entirely honest with would negate the unethical and duplicitous things she was pulling in trying to secure new business. She was wrong.

As public relations professionals, we are faced with ethical situations all the time. The very often sensitive nature of the information we are privy to and the challenges we encounter in our organizations and agencies force us to make tough decisions. We often have to give the media and other target audiences information that will make them disappointed, angry or both, or give honest answers to tough questions that put our clients and/or organizations in a negative light. We often do this under duress, in the midst of a crisis and on the turn of a dime. We have little time to think and prepare our answers and the information we need to provide.  It is even harder when the emergency situation impacts people’s health and lives. “No comment” is never a good option and even less so when it involves highly sensitive and emotional situations.

New forms of media also put us in difficult situations. Blogs, message boards, Facebook, My Space, Twitter, give us immediate and powerful ways to communicate with our audiences – but it also allows us to use those tools to influence the perception of brands, companies, clients and organizations in misleading ways. Recently a large public relations firm was exposed for using interns to post positive reviews on its client’s apps on the Apple store.  Now, PRSA and IABC have explicit guidelines for ethics in our profession. And gaming an app rating system isn’t explicitly listed as a no-no within the ethics guidelines provided by these organizations, but…

The management that developed the client plans executing this “tactic” knew it wasn’t right. They knew it was dishonestly influencing people’s decisions to use or pay for and use an application and the “strategy” was flawed. They ignored their gut and pulled this stunt anyway, getting quick results for their clients and eventually being exposed, along with the clients, for being dishonest.

Step outside the pressure of getting a client, getting results, getting the media off your back, and think beyond the ethics guidelines of a PRSA or IABC (although they are a great start!): Does what I am about to do pass the gut test? Do I feel good about this? If what I am about to do was written out fully and posted in the company lunch room, on the organization’s website, my church bulletin or my child’s school newsletter, would I feel embarrassment?

We operate personally and professionally in a social and natural environment. We also expect people to be straight with us. We have to be in return. We are bound by duty as a result of this to be accountable to the environment we live and work in. Everything you do should pass the gut test.

And if that isn’t enough to convince you, read this!

A lot has happened since my last post…I have a full-time job now! I accepted a Public Relations Manager position with a state agency and I start tomorrow. Pleased as punch. I am glad that my 16 months of unemployment has come to an end, and that I can truly put that chapter behind me and start a new one. I think everything happens when it is supposed to, and I think the position came when I finished working through the kinks of my layoff and the emotions surrounding something like that.

But with a new position comes a whole new set of emotions. I am happy and grateful, but scared too. I don’t think it is going to be easy being the New Kid On The Block after such a long period out of work. I wonder if I will be rusty. I hope I can live up to all the potential they saw in me to hire me in the first place and that I don’t disappoint them.  I think back on the last two jobs I had, and I can honestly say that I had rocky beginnings with both of them. I am reviewing those situations to see what role I played in that. To be fair to myself, I think both jobs were bad fits and the things that happened were going to happen anyway because I shouldn’t have been there.  But I think there are things people can do to make the transition easier. And of course, this is going to result in a follow-up piece (smile).

I am still going to blog on all things public relations and social media. I think this new position will give me even better ideas for pieces that will interest people and help them learn things and make them think.

But first, I need to figure out what I am going to wear on my first day…

Today, I read a tweet from a guy I follow named Jack Bruce (check him out here) about the story of David and Goliath and it resonated with me. I retweeted it, and then thought about it more deeply. Maybe it’s because this is Holy Week and Passover started yesterday.

The story of David and Goliath is important to Christians and Jews, but I think it’s also applicable to public relations professionals (no matter what your faith is), particularly during a recession, or whenever things are a bit more difficult than usual.

We all know the story of David and Goliath, but we may not remember an important detail in the story. Right before the showdown, three people told David he couldn’t kill the giant Goliath. His brother, his boss, Saul, and Goliath. And perhaps, after hearing all of that, a fourth person…probably David himself.

It is easy, especially when there are a number of people telling you the same thing, to believe the naysayers and to doubt yourself and your capabilities. Every day we read and watch the news and they tell us that the economy has come to a standstill and that it is nearly impossible to earn a profit, win that big account, get a raise or a promotion or even find a job if you are looking for one. We may have family, friends and coworkers, sometimes with good intentions, and sometimes not, telling us to put our dreams and aspirations on hold, or even set them aside completely, because the conditions around us make it impossible to achieve them. And when you hear the same thing over and over, it’s easy to believe it.

But going back to David and Goliath…David won that fight. He killed the giant. He ignored his family, his boss, Goliath, and the little voice inside him that told him this was a suicide mission. He believed in himself and what he had to do, and knew he had his faith to support and guide him.

What are the naysayers telling you today? What is bothering you inside that you are feeling unsure and uneasy about? That despite what you know you are capable of, you feel you can’t achieve your goals?

And what are you going to do to push past all the white noise and do what you know needs to be done – and that you CAN do?

I pounded the pavement for nine months before launching Creativita Consulting and deciding to make a strong push to do freelance public relations. It was not a case of my doubting the ability to handle projects on my own. Perhaps part of it was I wasn’t sure how to promote what I do and gain clients, or what I wanted to offer people in the way of services.

It was very much the client relations aspect of it that made me pause.

I’ve worked in agency for six years, and I’ve had some really great experiences with clients. These clients respected our team and were happy with our work and efforts.  And they were direct, open and offered constructive criticism when we didn’t quite deliver what they were expecting.

Then there were the others.

I have countless horror stories about nightmare clients from those days, too many to recount here on this blog. But everything is a learning experience. And one of the most important lessons I learned is what happens when one has to fire their own client.

It seems crazy to turn down any money in this crappy economy, especially when you are unemployed and need it, and you are just starting out and trying to build a client base.

But that is exactly what I had to do this weekend.

I am going to give you the background on my story, some tips on how to spot difficult clients and protect yourself, and how to extricate yourself from the situation professionally.

My former client started an online business several years ago. In getting it up and running, they were not able to dedicate the time needed for a good integrated communications program. Now, four years later, they decided they needed public relations.

This person also happens to be my spouse’s friend, which added an extra, difficult layer to this situation. But I didn’t see it that way at the time. In my mind, I felt this person was a safe bet, and I was ready to give them a break on pricing and throw some other things in that I wouldn’t do for someone I didn’t know.

A month before Christmas I spoke to them on the phone about their objectives and goals. From there, I developed a plan for them. It took about three hours outside of our initial call to write it. I had no intentions of getting that time (money!) back from them on this.

Because no one is perfect, I will admit the mistakes I made in this too – I didn’t push the subject of budget.

Later the same week, this person wrote me back and asked me to revise the plan with a year-long timeline for each activity and all the steps that would be involved, as well as how each activity and related activities tied in with their objectives.

Okay.

In my mind, that is something that is done AFTER we have signed a contract and I know if I am going to get paid and how much. I gently pushed back and provided pricing for everything and asked again what the budget was for this project.

No response for a month.

I put the whole thing out of my mind until last week, when I received a call from this person asking to discuss next steps on Friday. I agreed to this and spent an additional two hours on the phone with them, as they picked apart my plan, noting with each item, “Well, I can do this and I don’t necessarily need to pay you to do this.” I also received an e-mail from them, in which they took everything I proposed and wanted to only pay me $450 dollars for it.

At the end of the call, the project scope was further cut to simply me drafting a Wikipedia entry and a boilerplate for future press releases and I gave him a price – $150. This price included everything, including research, drafts and edits, and monitoring the Wikipedia entry against online enemies they feared would tamper with the entry. They agreed and I stated I would send a contract the next day, which I did.

Saturday afternoon, I received a curt response e-mail from this person, who had serious issues with my contract, one of them being an item about any additional expenses that might occur. They also wanted to stress that they fully expected me to send them everything for approval, because while they didn’t think I would write garbage, they wanted to be the final word on everything (their words exactly).

On that note, some tips on how to avoid difficult people such as the one described here.

Show Me The Money: I should have pressed for, from the first call, the budget for this project. I should have taken as a warning the fact that the person repeatedly said, “I want to keep the public relations costs as low as possible,” without telling me what that meant. Refusing to talk about money except what you DON’T want to spend is not the move of a shrewd negotiator. It is a sign of brokeassness. And as a general rule, the client who pays the least will expect the most. They also tend to be the most difficult.

Show Me The REAL Money: There is nothing wrong with cutting someone a break. There is something wrong with giving away your services and expertise in a fire-sale. People don’t respect or take seriously what comes easily or on the cheap. Make them see the value you bring and the serious folks will pay you for what you can do for them. The ones that are just wasting time or trying to scam you or get something for nothing will go away, which is EXACTLY what you want them to do.

Lack of Respect for Basic Business Operations: The person that always misses a meeting, is never around for scheduled calls, doesn’t return e-mails and consistently misses timelines is not reliable and will probably be unreliable about other things – such as paying you in a timely manner. I have also noticed in working with clients in the past that this starts to happen right before they are about to dump you as a PR person or agency or you are about to not get paid.

The Client Plays Power Games: In my case, this started with the contract. When a client wants to take out anything in a contract that protects you, relieves them of any responsibility in the partnership, and gives them complete control over you or they simply don’t want to sign a contract, just say no immediately. It is never a good situation – business or personal for that matter – when balance of power in the relationship is too heavily in one person’s favor.

The Client Always Has a Complaint and Is Never Satisfied: If my potential client had a problem with the contract, what else would they have a problem with? In this case, the aspects of the contract they had a problem with had NOTHING to do with their project – it was just a standard item in the contract. I am 100 percent sure that I would not have accrued any additional expenses writing content – I didn’t plan on charging them for ink and paper. And we not only discussed on the phone, but it was in my contract, that I would write and edit the content until they were completely satisfied and approved it. I even stipulated in the contract that they didn’t have to pay me until they got the content and everything was gravy. So what was the problem?

They Question Your Integrity: I felt that I was being accused of trying to get over on them, yet I hadn’t written a word or sent a bill yet. I work hard to be honest and forthcoming and I take it personally when someone accuses me of being less than that.

The Client Doesn’t Know What They Want – But They Want More Of It: Strategy is key to keeping a project on track. A client doesn’t need to know everything about public relations, but they need to know what their goals and objectives are. Scope-creep is also more apt to happen in these situations – a couple of things that you can easily do and wouldn’t charge for can turn into significant work outside the contract and you aren’t getting paid for it. Write into your contract that any significant changes to the project resulting in additional work will result in a new contract in order to move forward.

Does Your Check Arrive On Time – Consistently?: Do not continue to work for clients that don’t pay you on time. Again, a good item to include in your contract is that if they are more than 30 days late paying you, you are going to stop all work until you are paid. And stick to it. Don’t rack up four months of fees working for free. It is a standard business theory that the chances of you getting paid after 30 days drops substantially. Protect yourself.

The Client Doesn’t Know Public Relations – But They Know YOU Don’t: If a client or potential client won’t take professional advice, there is nothing you can do for them and it will probably end badly. I am not saying they have to do and agree with everything you say. But they are paying you for your expertise, right? If they are constantly questioning your recommendations and the work you are doing for them, it probably isn’t a good fit, and this also ups the chances that you won’t get paid in the end. They will feel they didn’t get what they were paying for and you won’t be able to convince them otherwise.

Unethical Behavior: It’s like porn – you know it when you see it. Examples include lying to you or asking you to lie; abusing you or your team; asking you to abuse their team – just don’t do it. Don’t sell your soul for a client. They are never worth it in the end, and you can bet that whatever they do to others they will do to you too.

In the end, I sent my new un-client a very nice note in response to their e-mail questioning the contract that I didn’t think I would be able to help them. I noted that they had the plan and a couple of hours of conversation in which I hoped they learned something about public relations and I wished them well in their future business endeavors. The person wrote back a crazed, angry rambling note in which they said they didn’t understand my tone and that they were simply trying to protect themselves from me.

When my husband called this person – because you know he was going to – this person said that they were being hard-assed about the contract because they were burned twice in the past.  The first situation involved someone who allegedly accrued expenses before they could approve them and they had to pay for them. The other involved a writer who drafted content for them. After DOZENS of rewrites and revisions, they simply handed over the content and said, I can’t help you anymore, but you have to pay me.

So…this person wanted a deal on public relations efforts for their company. They reached out to a friend’s wife to do so because they knew I would cut them a deal and do more for them than most others would. They knew they had no budget. They expected me to work with them in all aspects of this project, including substantially cutting the contract in their favor WITHOUT going into a working relationship with me with trust and openness that I would do a good job for them and not cheat them.

This was never going to work. Know the warning signs and if you do stumble into a bad relationship with a client, cut your losses professionally. Try to get paid first, then send a letter or e-mail ending the partnership. Tell them what the issues were and try to end it positively. Then move on to the next client. Wasting time with a bad client keeps you from doing great work and learning from a good one.

 

My inspiration for writing about resumé services came from a Facebook post by a job-seeking friend looking for a recommendation. Although I think this is a good start – getting recommendations – in securing such a service, I asked him if he thought that he might be the best person to write his own resumé. After all, he knows the product best and he is a pretty smart and articulate guy. His response was that he agreed, but wanted the extra polish that came with an expert preparing his resumé.

I’ve always written my own resumé, but I am not against resumé services at all. I’ve heard some horror stories, but I know that like in every profession, such as public relations, there are good and bad apples. That being said, here are some tips on finding a good resumé service, along with some reputable resources that can assist you:

1. Use a certified resumé writer. There are several certifications but The National Resumé Writers’ Association is the most prestigious. A certified resumé professional with a reputable organization can help ensure that the person you hire to write your resumé will give you high-quality service and a top-notch resumé.

2. Interview several writers.
 Ask the person you speak with if they are the one you will actually work with, or if they will give the assignment to a subcontractor. You want to work closely with the actual writer, know their credentials and if their writing and working style fits you.

3. Will the writer revise your existing resumé or develop it from scratch? It’s vital that the writer understands your skill set and work background, and offers a sound strategy to develop the right resumé to help you meet your goals.

4. Ensure you understand the process for gathering information for the resumé. A good resumé professional will not just use a form you’ve filled out – they will take the time to speak with you to get additional information and use that to develop a strong resumé that not just lists job responsibilities, but sells your accomplishments.

5. The writer should be open to your edits and feedback.  There is no way someone can provide you with a perfect resumé on the first shot – even minor changes and edits will be needed.

Other important questions to ask are the expected turnaround time (one to two weeks is standard), other services the writer offers (such as career coaching, job transition, cover letters and interview training), and cost.

For more good information on resumé services, here are some additional resources:

The National Resumé Writers’ Association

The Professional Association of Resumé Writers & Career Coaches

And good luck!

Best,
FlackChick