Agency Life: Tracking Time

Posted by Rachel Esterline on May 28, 2009 in Career, Fahlgren Mortine, Internships

This is the first part in an ongoing series about working at an agency.

Even though it’s a very small part of working at an agency, tracking your time is very important.

For each task I do for every client, I must track how much time I spend working. I’ve discovered that this actually makes me more productive. At the end of the day, I have a quantifiable record of what I accomplished.

Tracking time also gives you a better idea on how long it takes to complete a particular kind of project.

Here are a three tips to make tracking time easier:

  1. Write down the start and stop time of each task you do. It’s not likely that you’ll be able to remember the times an hour or two later, let alone at the end of the day.
  2. When you complete the task, quickly calculate the amount of time you spent on the task. I hate doing a lot of math, so doing this saves me time and aggravation when it comes time to enter my hours in the program.
  3. When entering time and tasks into the program, highlight each task after you’ve entered it. This will keep you from entering it twice.

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Inked up: Are tattoos and piercings acceptable in PR?

Posted by Rachel Esterline on May 26, 2009 in Career

My recent post about wearing jeans brought up another thought related to perceptions and professionalism: tattoos and piercings.

Although I don’t have any tattoos and only have pierced ears, which never wear earrings since I seem to be allergic to most, I am still curious about how professionals and interns feel about this.

There are many inked professionals who keep their tattoos hidden. But what if you have it in an open area–like your neck, hand or even your foot? Are you concerned about how employers and coworkers might perceive you?

With piercings, what would an employer think about a nose ring? Or a tongue piercing? Or even an eyebrow piercing?

Although I have my own opinions, I’m more interested in hearing what you think.

Are tattoos and body piercings acceptatble in the public relations field? Have you ever not gotten a job because of your visible tattoo or piercing? If you are a professional, how do you think having a visible tattoo or piercing might affect potential interns or employees in your workplace?

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How do you dress for Friday’s?

Posted by Rachel Esterline on May 22, 2009 in Career, Internships, Public Relations

I wore blue jeans to work today…

Now before you go off in a big lecture about how I should always dress professional and dressing unprofessional could kill my career, let me get to the details.

First of all, I think professionalism and how you are perceived in the workplace are very important. There are many things I would never wear to the office, such as a tube top or mini skirt (especially considering I don’t own any!).

I’m not a style diva, but I am a cautious shopper. I even go as far as trying to buy closed-toe heels because a conservative employer might see it as “too much” and avoiding too much pink so I don’t come off as one of those girls who have no brains (have you seen Legally Blonde?).

On my first day of my internship, I wore a black suit. The next day I wore dress slacks and a button-up. But then someone said they generally “wear jeans on Friday.”

What!? Jeans? In the workplace?

This morning I had a serious debate with myself about the situation.

Should I really wear blue jeans? Will I be judged as a “lazy Gen Y intern” or sloppy? Is it really acceptable?

After going back and forth, I put on a pair of dark jeans with a nice shirt. Driving into work, I kept second-guessing myself. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn jeans, I thought to myself.

I didn’t relax until I counted several others wearing jeans.

What do you think is most appropriate for an intern? Is it acceptable for an intern to dress casually when the other employees are? Should an intern always dress business professional, even if they are told jeans are acceptable?

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My Tough Decision

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Apr 21, 2009 in Career, professional development, PRSSA


I joined PRSSA when I was a freshman. This year, I was on the executive board. There is no doubt in my mind that PRSSA and PR Central, the student-run firm, have given me priceless experience.

Opportunity for growth

As the semester has progressed, I faced a difficult decision. At first, I was sure that I wanted to run for executive board again and serve as PR Central president.

But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to freelance and pursue other professional avenues. I kept pushing that thought from my mind until I received two e-mails in one week that told me about two paid opportunities offering great experience.

Making the decision

The first thing I did was contact several mentors who have experience in varying areas of public relations. Two mentors told me that although PR Central and PRSSA are great experiences, there was more potential for me in freelancing and the other opportunities I had. Then, two other mentors told me to “follow my heart.”

I’m a very logical person, but my gut was telling me to take the tougher trail. Freelancing isn’t easy and the other two opportunities I was pursuing weren’t a sure shot.  With the support of my mentors, I made my decision to not be on the PRSSA executive board or in PR Central next year.

The results so far

Since making this decision, I’ve been offered the position of press secretary of the Student Government Association. As one mentor put it, this position will show a more diverse area of experiences. Additionally, I will expand my network to other majors and will get paid to do what I love.

I’ve also been offered a paid position as a manager for an upcoming corporate event. I still have the chance to be a leader because I will have the opportunity to hire about 15 other people to work with me.

One person in my network told me she has a few leads for me in terms of freelance work. I’ve also been given several great accounts for next year at Central Michigan Life.

Without a doubt, I am happy with the decision I made. I have enough leadership positions on my resume. And, like one of my mentors said, “Good leaders know when to let others lead.”

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The Founder’s Award

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Apr 15, 2009 in Career, Fahlgren Mortine, Internships

Reflecting over the past three years, I realize I’ve put in a lot of hours in developing my skills for a career in public relations. Sometimes I wondered if it was going to make a difference when I started applying for my six-credit internship.

On Wednesday, I found out it had. I was offered the Founder’s Award. One month ago, I wrote Fahlgren Mortine Award: 5 Things I Realized When Applying. I was ecstatic and shocked when I found out I got it. The award offers a $1,500 scholarship and a full-time paid internship at $400 per week. Although I do not know how many great PR students I was up against, I’m sure there was some stiff competition.

Fahlgren Mortine is listed in the top 100 public relations firms nationally by PR Week. It is the largest firm in Columbus, Ohio, pulling in $5.2 million in revenue in 2007. They have earned PRSA Silver and Bronze Anvils in ’08, ’07 and ’06.

So you can see why I’m so excited.

I start the internship on May 20, so be sure to check back on this blog if you are interested in what it is like to move out of state to complete an amazing internship.

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Achieving Success: Making the Most of Your Potential

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Apr 2, 2009 in Career, PRSSA, Public Relations

At the 2009 PRSSA National Assembly, Gary McCormick gave an inspiring keynote address. His presentation, “Achieving Success: Making the Most of Your Potential” provided valuable insight and advice to PRSSA members. You can see the slides from the presentation here.

McCormick talked about the ideas in Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell and related them to PR students. Here are a few notes from his presentation:

  • There are three things that impact success: Competence, Consequence and Competition
  • Competence in PR
    – Are you urgent? Do you work fast and get restless when you have little to do? Are you an intense person?
    – Are you  flexible? Do you thrive in change? Do you look at multiple perspectives? Can you work with multiple distractions?
    – Are you analytical? Do you enjoy complex games and puzzles? Do you find solutions easily?
    – Are you a strong communicator? Are you relationship-focused and issues-oriented? Are you entrepreneurial? Do you have a strong character?
  • Consequence in PR
    Many things affect who you are, including your culture, family, history/legacy, ethnocentricity and opportunity.
  • Competition
    Gladwell’s book found a 10,000 hour rule. It takes about 10,000 hours of practice to reach the point of greatness. Those who are born early in the year have a distinct advantage also.
  • PR Success
    – You are your brand and you have access to opportunity, growth and change.
    – PRSSA builds on your 10,000 hours. So do internships and relationships.
  • Networking is key.
    It provides access and opportunities.
    – It leverages someone else’s 10,000 hours.
    – It eliminates a lot of the competition.

  • Read Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz
    You must deliver value to other people first.
    – It is, “What can I do for you?”
    – Don’t worry about who gets the credit – everyone wins.
  • McCormick’s Recommendations
    – Protect your brand.
    – Always do what is right and ethical.
    – Avoid ethnocentricity (filtering).
    – Learn to network.
    – Recognize opportunity.
    – Keep learning.
    – Be passionate.
  • In regards to relationships with PRSA professionals:
    – Define what you need.
    – Give a time measurement. How long do you need their help? How much time do you want from them?
    – What do you need their help for? Why are they important?

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PRofessional Development Week Overview

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Mar 24, 2009 in Career

I recently had a special series on A Step Ahead called “PRofessional Development Week.”

Here are the posts from the series, featuring many great guest bloggers:

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The ultimate PRofessional test: Serving as your own crisis communicator (PRofessional Development Week)

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Mar 16, 2009 in Career, PRofessional Development Week, Public Relations

This is the last post for the PRofessional Development Week series.

This is a guest post by Lindsay Allen, who has worked in Central Michigan University’s Office of Public Relations and Marketing since 2002; she began as a PR writer and has been an assistant director of media relations since 2005. Due to reorganization, she will be laid off beginning May 1 and is in the midst of her first-ever comprehensive job search. Have a job lead or a freelance need? Send Lindsay an e-mail.

In your PR career, you will face crisis communication situations; they come with the territory. While you may be comfortable with and well versed in handling your clients’ crises, there is one crisis for which no PR pro is truly prepared …

When you find out you’re being laid off, the crisis is your own, and you suddenly are both the client and the crisis communicator; it will test your skills and your character more than any other situation you’ll face in your career.

After almost seven years at my job, including nearly four in my current position, I received notice about a week ago that my position and two others in my office will cease to exist in less than six weeks. I’m being laid off.

My initial reaction? Of course, I couldn’t help but tear up as the news was delivered to me. And as soon as I was alone in my office with the door closed, I allowed the emotions to escape before inviting a couple of my closest colleagues in to share a hug and a cry.

Everyone — even a PR pro — deserves some time for grief and emotion upon receiving news of an impending layoff, but it can’t last long, because you need to shift into crisis communicator mode. You have clients to inform, projects to wrap up, colleagues to train and transition, and a job search to conduct. In my case, I received nearly two months’ notice, and I’ve vowed to spend that time being positive and working diligently to serve my clients.

But before you start making those phone calls and tackling everything else, there is something you should do. Taking a cue from one of my clients, the brilliant and positive Sherene McHenry — who had spoken of the value of an “I’m thankful for …” list as a strategy for curbing complaining in my first-ever Wall Street Journal placement, which was published just two days before my layoff notification — I sat down and realistically thought about what I am grateful for, even under less-than-ideal circumstances. My list:

– A supportive family that believes in me and is going to be there for me no matter what happens

– Colleagues and friends who I felt comfortable calling upon for support when I needed it most and who value me as a professional and personal resource and problem solver

– Awesome clients who appreciate my skills and think highly of me as a person and a professional

– A large personal and professional network, both in person and online

– A reputation as a detail-oriented “utility player” and strong writer with diverse skills and education

– Experience working directly with the top executive of an organization and handling sensitive, confidential information with integrity

It’s amazing just how much the act of making this list will affect your outlook and attitude. Because creating my list reminded me that I have so much to be grateful for, I’ve felt confident and optimistic as I’ve shared the news regarding my situation.

And you know what? There’s no substitute for being sincere and positive, which I’ve discovered as my clients and colleagues praise my attitude and offer to serve as references and write letters of recommendation, offer to call up alumni from their departments to seek job opportunities for me and watch for job postings that might interest me, tell me how much I’ll be missed, and in some cases even admit that I’m handling this better than they think they could.

These conversations also have led to lots of very specific, very positive feedback from the clients I have served over the years … and even from journalists with whom I’ve worked! Pay attention during these conversations; you’ll learn new ways to present your strengths to prospective employers, and you may even learn about strengths you might not have realized others saw in you all along.

The ability to find positives in what in many ways is a negative experience, including seeing it as an opportunity rather than an ending; the ability to sincerely communicate positively about what has transpired and about your outlook for the future instead of being angry, bitter and/or mopey; and refusing to let your final days or weeks on the job be a “lame duck” session are all essential if you are to succeed as a crisis communicator during your time of turmoil.

The bottom line: You owe it to yourself to handle your own crisis with the same grace, honesty and dedication with which you’ve always approached your clients’ crises; you are the client now.

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Never Stop Learning (PRofessional Development Week Extra)

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Mar 12, 2009 in Career, PRofessional Development Week, Public Relations

This post is a part of PRofessional Development Week. This special week, originally to last from March 2 to March 6, will be extended. Here is one PRofessional extra.

This is a guest post by Jared Bryan, the PRSSA chapter president at Wayne State University.

Over the last several years, I have heard students mention how excited they are to leave school and not have to worry about studying or reading all these books.  I know that I may hurt some feelings by saying this, but after graduation, or for that matter after you own a company, you will never stop learning. Yes, that means you will need to read and study.  No, that does not always mean you will be taking a test.

Public relations is a changing industry. There was once a time when radio, television, and the internet did not exist, and with the growth of these technologies the industry had to change and adapt.  As these changes continue, it is your responsibility to adapt.

My sophomore year in college I attended the Student Development Conference at Eastern Michigan University.  John Bailey, President of John Bailey & Associates spoke about some key things to do as a student, and one stood out to me: read.  He emphasized the importance of reading books to improve both your writing and your understanding.  This is one of the best professional development tips I have ever received.

Below are a few tips to maintaining a great library of resources. 

  1. Keep your Textbooks – Many students sell back the textbooks for their classes thinking they will never have to look at them again.  Keep these books on your shelf, you never know when they will make a great reference tool.
  2. Bookmark Online Articles – Taking time to read blogs and articles online is a great way to stay on top of industry trends, but have you ever tried to find an article you read a week ago and are lost at where to start?  Start using an online bookmarking tool.  I use Foxmarks to organize and store important articles.
  3. Buy Books –  Ask professionals you meet if they can suggest a good read.  Many will be in the middle of a great book when you ask them.  Find cheap books on Amazon and purchase them for your personal library.  A few dollars for vast knowledge is a small investment with great reward.
  4. Subscribe to PR Week – Subscribe and read PR Week both online and in print.  This publication will have good information to keep you informed on changes and trends.
  5. Participate in Discussion – Don’t just read, but read with a purpose.  If you are not part of book club or a company required program, join Learn it. Live it Love it. This book club focuses on a book each month to help students and professionals to discuss the things they are learning from the books they read.
  6. Read PRSA Issues and Trends (for PRSSA members) – As a member you should be receiving emails called “Issues and Trends.”  Take time to scan the articles and read them.  PRSA has done the research for you, so take advantage of it.

I hope these tips help you to start creating a great library of resources for your future. You won’t know everything; you can’t know everything, but you better know how to find out!

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Crafting Winning Cover Letters (PRofessional Development Week)

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Mar 6, 2009 in Career, PRofessional Development Week, Public Relations, Resume, Writing

This post is a part of PRofessional Development Week. This special week, originally to last from March 2 to March 6, will be extended until next week. If you would like to contribute to this special week on A Step Ahead, e-mail Rachel.M.Esterline {at} Gmail.com.

Heather R. Huhman is the entry-level careers columnist for Examiner.com and the media relations manager at a national health care professional association.

You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again: Landing an internship or entry-level job is about who you know, what you know and how you show what you know. Your cover letter is a good tool for showcasing all three.

Hiring managers typically read your cover letter first. So, you really have to have them at “hello,” or the hard work you’ve put into your résumé won’t even matter.

· Use Arial or another sans-serif font. The size can be anything between 10pt and 12pt.

· Make sure your cover letter looks like a letter. You should develop a “letterhead” at the top that includes all of your contact information (including links to any professional, relevant social media profiles or blogs), followed by the current date and the organization’s name and address.

· If possible, address your letter to an actual person. Search the organization’s Web site, do a Google search, sweet-talk the receptionist, etc. If the position ad says not to call, that simply means the hiring manager does not wish to receive calls. So, when you reach the receptionist, do not ask for the individual—just his or her name and title. If you cannot track down the hiring manager’s name, personalize it as best you can—“Dear Public Relations Department Hiring Manager.”

· Believe it or not, your cover letter is about the company, not you—what you can do for the company and why you make a good fit for both the position and the organization.

· In your first paragraph, begin to tell your story, but don’t forget to include some vital information—what attracted you to that organization, the position for which you are applying and several characteristics/skills that make you the ideal candidate. Did an internal contact refer you to the position? Excellent—mention that here.

· Your second and third paragraphs, really show the employer (again, in a conversational, yet professional tone) that you can bring results. Using one example in each paragraph, outline a past accomplishment, why it was important at the time and why it would bring value to this position/organization.

· When sharing your accomplishments, try to be objective. There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness. You should share what you did in a way that showcases your strengths, but doesn’t give the impression that you think you are a superstar who doesn’t need any help or can’t see that your success is dependent upon others.

· Your cover letter should be crisp, clean and have plenty of white space. That means not a lot of adjectives describing you. Stick to the facts. Use statistics, percentages and numbers to quantify your experience.

· In your fourth (and final) paragraph, indicate you’ve enclosed your résumé (and any other requested supporting documents) for review. This is also where you’d list your salary requirements if mandatory.

· If you’re applying for a position not located near your “local” or “permanent” addresses, indicate that, while you currently reside in another area, you are extremely interested in relocating and will do so at your expense. Do you have an aunt or a friend that lives there already? Even better—mention local connections.

· Provide a phone number and e-mail address where you can be reached. Don’t make them hunt for it in your letterhead.

· Include a sentence about your plan to follow-up—and actually do it! For example, “If I do not hear from you beforehand, I will follow-up in one week.”

· Thank the hiring manager for his or her time and consideration, and close your letter with “sincerely,” “best,” etc. and your signature.

· When you are done, ask yourself, “Did I sound interesting, or did I sound like a taped message?”

· Always e-mail your cover letter as a PDF attachment, not in the body of your e-mail.

· If you are submitting your application via an online system, include your cover letter in the same document as your résumé. Don’t leave it off!

Heather R. Huhman is the entry-level careers columnist for Examiner.com and the media relations manager at a national health care professional association.

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