This isn’t news

May 8, 2010

A couple days ago, I did something unusual.  I actually managed to stay awake to watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  It’s not for lack of love for the show, my bedtime just doesn’t appreciate it as much.  When the interview segment came on (at which point I’d regularly be dozing off on the couch), I was intently listening and taking mental notes.

I’d have to give credit for my sudden stamina to to the show’s guest, Jon Meacham.  The Editor of Newsweek, the announcement that the magazine was put up for sale was made that very morning. The magazine was founded in 1933 and in 1963 (two years after the magazine was acquired by the Washington Post) Meacham notes owner Philip Graham coined the phrase that “journalism is the first rough draft of history.”

In spite of its relevance, the magazine still found itself struggling for its fiscal survival.  Faced with the financial realities of sustaining print media outlets, Stewart compared them to the horse carriage industry noting that it’s a good product but it’s no longer part of how the world consumes in terms of media…  He then continues to pose a critical question: Who is going to be doing the reporting? If we are all aggregators, if we’re all commenting, if we’re all analyzing who exactly is going to be doing the reporting?

As someone whose career-in-the-making will be about developing relationships and story ideas pertinent to reporters- I’m very interested in knowing the answer.

Meacham’s response: “I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them and I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.”  So there it is.  It’s a matter of quality, not quantity.  Real reporting is supposed to know the difference, even when the public potentially does not.  Of course journalism hasn’t lost it’s inherent value as being the foundation of our history books but Meacham points out we have to decide if we are ready to get what we pay for.

With all of the arguments about whether content is to be or not to be free, the purpose of this post isn’t to resolve the old debate about the future of journalism, rather it’s to truly think about who I trust to give me my news and to consider if that source will be there within the next five to 10 years.

Meacham acknowledges that maybe the traditional weekly model maybe just has it wrong, and is optimistic that with some tweaking they can get it right.  He agrees with Stewart that it’s probably time to flip the order and to start focusing on the digital, and at the end of the week take the best of the online and put that into print form instead.  For more details, watch the full interview on The Daily Show here.

The conversation reminds me of listening to Flare Editor Lisa Tant at a talk during Social Media Week a few months ago when the same arguments about the archaic print media model were presented to her.  Tant’s answer was that she considers Flare a brand, not a print magazine.  With that in mind, the brand can be experienced in various forms without taking away from what it fundamentally represents.

As someone who will be dealing with the media, I’m hoping that the editors’ positive predictions are correct and the talented journalists working for traditional outlets are among those who survive the digital shift.  We need more authentic, reliable voices in an informationally saturated world, not less.  Afterall, these are the people that are going to help get that first rough draft right.

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Pay it forward

March 30, 2010

The inspiration for this blogpost title comes from the 2000 movie that bears the same name… The premise of the film is built around a boy who believes that if you do a favor for someone, or support a cause or simply just help a person or an animal, you create a system of goodwill which will eventually provide returns forward payer.  As part of a school assignment to make the world a better place the young main character develops a scheme he calls “Paying it forward,” meaning the recipient of a favor does a favor for a third party rather than paying the favor back.  Actually, I think the specific rule is that one must pass along three acts of kindness/favours to three new people… and eventually everyone in the world will eventually benefit from a favour (or something like that… full disclosure: have not watched the whole movie in a long time or in its entirety), and the favour gets returned to initial sender.

The point is, I feel like concept of “paying it forward” is relevant when breaking into any new industry.  Especially those like public relations where most opportunities develop out of networking capabilities and contacts.  For those of us trying to get into the field, we rely heavily on the willingness of those who came before us to help guide the way (or, “Pay It Forward” as it were).

I’ve been lucky enough to be the recipient of some good advice along the way.  Most recently Justin Kozuch and Corey Reid, two very smart social media saavy guys, who came to speak at the “Rock the Talk: How to Use Social Media Effectively” event myself and my team mates Carmela Antolino, Cheryl Brean, Michelle Gradini, and Mike Kerr held on March 25, 2010. (Check out the images on Flickr). They were enthusiastic, approachable, and genuinely engaged with the class.  Hopefully our fellow students started to make some connections and maybe even picked up a thing or two…

Other experiences, however, have not been so positive.  On Episode 4 of Coming Up PR we read some comments about what people think about joining organizations like the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), and we did get some feedback that at least one listener feels it’s giving her opportunities to network and find career opportunities.  Alternatively, I know that some students have encountered some difficulties dealing with CPRS members, for example a school research project about accreditation (i.e., investigating whether or not CPRS members support mandatory APR) was asked to be discontinued (in a way that didn’t really provide an option).  While the CPRS member(s) may have had very legitmate reasons to ask that the study be stopped, I think it was the tone in which the students were demanded to halt their study that was the most unsettling.  Since we are communicators, we should be aware of the kind of message were are sending at all times.

My hope is that that a situation like that is rare and the majority of CPRS members and programs are designed to encourage fresh, eager minds who are determined to develop their future careers and the reputation of public relations on the whole.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting CPRS Toronto President, Martin Waxman, who has been incredibly supportive of the Coming Up PR podcast.  He has been the epitomy of the “Pay It Forward” model, and my goal entering the field is to remember to do the same for the next generation of ambitious students one day.

So hopefully as the latest batch of public relations students start to look for work, they’ll meet good examples of established practitioners kindly encouraging them to pursue higher standards and elevate the profession.  Who knows who the leaders of the practice will be tomorrow? One can only hope that if they’re helped along the way to the top they will return the favour one day.

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You are what you do

March 4, 2010

Approaching the end of the post-grad corporate communications program at Seneca, the career world is staring me in the face again, asking me to identify myself.  As the blog title indicates, all I can keep thinking about is the concept that we are what we do.

Turns out I’m not the first person to think this, a quick Google search came up with Robert Fulford’s aptly named article “You are what you do. (So choose carefully)” published in the National Post some two and half years ago.  Since the advice is timeless, I chose to liberally include excerpts that are best expressed in Fulford’s own words:

  • As you plan your life, play the cards that are dealt you. Don’t whine. Self-pity has a way of drowning ambition. We are all handicapped in some way, and we are all, from time to time, treated unfairly.
  • Whatever your job and your age, if you are not learning you’re dying. Education begins when you decide you are your own educator. Teachers provide an outline of an education: You have to fill in the enormous spaces they leave empty. Read books that are too hard for you. Not all the time, but often. They’ll slowly grow easier.
  • If you awaken on the day after you’re downsized and realize that no one outside your family and friends needs you, you have somewhere made a serious mistake.
Those are the highlights, and certainly a collection of wisdom worth reflecting on.
Being inspired and energized by your work seems intrinsically connected to continually learning about what truly interests you.  Another important factor within this whole “being what you do” philosophy seems to be personal reputation.  While I’m carving out a new career path, taking honest stock of my overall actions, beliefs, and behaviours will (hopefully) serve me well.  This brings me to a rather poetic post from Seth Godin’s blog:

What you say, what you do and who you are

We no longer care what you say.

We care a great deal about what you do.

If you charge for hand raking but use a leaf blower when the client isn’t home
If you sneak into an exercise class because you were on the wait list and it isn’t fair cause you never get a bike
If you snicker behind the boss’s back
If you don’t pay attention in meetings
If you argue with a customer instead of delighting them
If you copy work and pass it off as your own
If you shade the truth a little
If you lobby to preserve the unsustainable status quo
If you network to get, not to give
If you do as little as you can get away with

…then we already know who you are.

Noted.  Not that I’d do any of of the above (as a matter of fact I have on more than one occassion been in the middle of the line for a body pump class and somehow wound up without a spot or equipment- that’s right Good Life!), but it’s a critical reiteration of Aristotle’s quote that all the little things we do make up the greater parts of who we are.

I had an amazing English teacher in high school, Mrs. Christie, and when she taught us Shakespeare would always bring it back to the same point “All you have is your name.” (i.e., your honour, your integrity).  At the time her intensity and insistence was a little overwhelming but obviously, it stuck with me.  Whether Shakespeare’s great works are intended to teach us about our own honour or not (I’m sure there are many lit debates that can confim or deny), the point is that it doesn’t matter who sees you do what, it all comes down to what you know you did.  The goal is to (hopefully) feel good about it, and always aspire to be better.  Isn’t it?

Leaving the philoshophical meandering there and getting back to the resume.

Responses always welcome!

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Coming Up PR

February 18, 2010

It’s finally done! For the last month or so my classmates Cheryl Brean, Mike Kerr and I have been assembling the first Canadian student podcast about communications, aptly named Coming Up PR. It will be a bi-weekly show that identifies and discusses trends in the industry.

The title was chosen for two good reasons: First, because we are “coming up” in the industry and second, because we will be talking about topics that are up and coming in public relations.

We’ve just posted the first episode.  Curious? To listen you can visit the Coming Up PR blog to download, or suscribe on itunes here.

Thanks to Terry Fallis, Dave Jones and Martin Waxman at Inside PR once again for the inspiration.

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“Winners want the ball”

January 3, 2010

So I’ve already admitted to my Aaron Sorkin obsession… This post’s title comes from The West Wing, a line delivered by President Bartlet, it’s a pithy quote from his high school basketball coach.

I think this is definitely relevant on a career level.  It resonates far deeper than the multitude of cookie cutter “follow your passion” speeches I’ve received from well-meaning guidance counselors, et al.  This is because it’s an easy benchmark to follow.  When you find a career you want to commit to, it isn’t something that you mull over endlessly… It’s something that becomes clear when you’re thrown into a  game and your natural instinct is to fight for that ball.

From what I’ve learned from those working in the industry, to survive agency life is also to have the innate impulse to contribute to the play, and be able to see the strategy behind the game… Pushing the analogy too far?

Every person I’ve spoken to who has worked their way through the agency food chain is not only willing to give it their all, but to also (publicly) learn as they go.

This leads to another interesting concept- Failure.  Listening to episode #184 of the Inside PR podcast (with Terry Fallis, David Jones, Martin Waxman), Fallis makes the point that most of the creative and strategic communications process often looks like this:

Try- Fail- Learn

Try- Fail- Learn

Try- Fail- Learn

Try- Succeed- Celebrate

He encourages listeners to keep trying to learn and weather the curve.  Listen for yourself.

Breaking into the industry, I can only cross my fingers and hope to find good coaches along the way… And to experience minimal embarrassment while learning how to win.  Too much to ask?

For inspirational purposes, thought I’d close with an excerpt from Carly Fiorina’s lecture at Stanford, which was part of a Leadership and Choice series.  She’s been listed as one of the most powerful women in business by both Fortune and Forbes, survived breast cancer, and is currently campaigning for a US Senate seat.  Her sage wisdom:

“Don’t think about the next job, don’t think about what you could or should be doing…”  Again, a reminder to keep your head in the game in front of you, she also adds “People who focus on possibilities achieve more.”

Winners not only want the ball, they also learn from their mistakes, and look for every opportunity to accomplish more once they have it. Hence, heretofore, my motivational speech for 2010… Happy New Year!

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Time to lament? We’ll see…

October 19, 2009

While it took a little longer than I would have liked for my second date with Just Another PR Girl, I take comfort in the theory that all good things take time.  Time has been a scarce resource for me, since starting the Corporate Communications graduate program at Seneca this fall.

All of my favourite blogs like Todd Defren’s PR Squared, Lainey Gossip, and PR 2.0, among many worthy others, silently remain in my rss feeder quietly pleading with me to read them.  Between classes, assignments, presentations, required readings, research and group work, I try to squeeze them in.  Somehow I managed to read Gregory Levey’s “Lament for the iGeneration” from this month’s issue of Toronto Life (on my blackberry, while commuting).

Levey is an instructor at Ryerson lamenting over the behaviour of students today (armed with laptops, and Internet access, and smart phones) compared to the educational experience he remembers (Note:  Levey is 31 years old).  Being a student myself for the first time in a “few” years, going back to the classroom was quite a different experience from before.  One thing I should make clear- I was an English Lit major at U of T, hauling marked up copies of Shakespeare paperbacks and The Concise Oxford Guide to Literary Britain along with a variety of pencils and stacks of notebooks was de rigueur.

Now, I bring my laptop with me to every class.  There is (albeit extremely SLOW) wireless available throughout the school, which is definitely a new phenomenon in my educational experience, and makes a huge impact on my decision to take notes on my Mac instead of the old-fashioned way.  Most of the class content in Corporate Communications centers around discussions and group activities, as opposed to underlining passages from the course text read loud from the professor and writing notes in the margin.  Maybe it’s because I’m in my late twenties, but I believe having Google readily available for these tasks helps to enrich my learning process, I don’t feel as though it is a simple shortcut to replace my critical thinking.  How else am I supposed to do some quick research?  Why wouldn’t I use a basic tool that is common place in the real world?

Levey sees connection to the Internet in the classroom as a sign that future generations are not paying attention like they should, and consequently failing to truly learn, he also finds scientific evidence that young brains growing up online actually store information quite differently, which alters neural pathways.

Especially in the field of communications, understanding that the younger generation will be disseminating information in dissimilar ways is critical.  They are true digital natives, having used the Internet as soon as they learned to play with a keyboard.  For those of us studying public relations right now, we will need to be able to develop strategies that will be effective to a type of analytical thinking that may be foreign from our own.

While I deeply value writing skills and the art of (in person) conversation, to proclaim that the current direction of humanity is doomed, feels like a bit of an overstatement. The early 20s and younger set are really the first generation to be exposed to this kind of connectivity.  I’m sure learning to optimize these new technological advantages will have some terribly negative consequences along the way (e.g., students referencing Wikipedia as an academic resource, rampant plagiarism and new forms of cheating, an overall disintegration of writing and grammar skills, and even worse teenagers ruining reputations on scale that goes far beyond high school).  That said, I still do not believe the negatives outweigh the potential positives.  The awareness of the serious drawbacks of this emerging culture can help educators, parents, and even communicators to help set limits and promote better ways to integrate the advantages of these tools into young people’s lives.  It may just take some time.

Time, there it is again.  Perfect spot for my closing remarks.  Since I have been obsessed with Aaron Sorkin lately, I will end post with some wise words from his film, Charlie Wilson’s War, which I found (in about 20 seconds) here on IMDB:

Gust Avrakotos:  There’s a little boy and on his 14th birthday he gets a horse… and everybody in the village says, “how wonderful. the boy got a horse” And the Zen master says, “we’ll see.” Two years later The boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg, and everyone in the village says, “how terrible.” And the Zen master says, “We’ll see.” Then, a war breaks out and all the young men have to go off and fight… except the boy can’t cause his legs all messed up. and everybody in the village says, “How wonderful.”
Charlie Wilson:  Now the Zen master says, “We’ll see.”

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We’re all in this together

October 2, 2009

Or, at least that’s what Ben Lee said in the Telus commercials.

Actually, I’m hoping to apply the real sentiment behind the song to the purpose of this blog.  An informal “Mission Statement,” if you will,  would be “to create a community and engage with other like minded people, who want to develop their careers in the various public relations factions.”

Pretty sure I’m violating some APA citation rules by putting my own words in quotation marks.

As this post illustrates thus far, developing your voice in a blog about public relations, let alone in the industry itself, can prove to be a daunting task.  Although I’ve experimented with blogs before, forming a long term commitment with one that will reflect my professional life is slightly beyond my comfort zone.

I’m doing it because of this: Pressing the “publish” button is so terrifying, but the prospect of never trying is even more so.  The temptation outweighs the fear.  (Side note: I tend to think in relative terms)

With Just Another PR Girl, the chemistry feels right and the main reason I feel confident about our future, is the fact that I’m willing to work on it.

While challenging  (which is good), it need not be overwhelming (bad!)… I found the following link http://www.problogger.net/archives/2009/09/30/listening-successful-bloggin/ helped remind me that most skills are learned, especially in the realm of writing.  Tips that seem obvious, at the very least, can provide some comfort when trying to build up enough bravado to start the conversation…

So I will end my first engagement on an encouraging note, and a warm-fuzzy commercial tune as a reminder: We’re All in This Together by Ben Lee .

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