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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Networking ROI (PRofessional Development Week Extra)

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Mar 10, 2009 in Networking

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 Dave Baker, a student at St. John Fisher College. Dave is a PRSSA chapter president and has previously served as vice president of client communications at PRIMA Connections (SJFC’s student-run firm).

This week I received some great advice and I felt it needed to be passed along. I have been seeking some help on which career path to choose among the many that are available to the future PR practitioner. My new mentor handed me a brochure for an upcoming seminar.

Now, I am no stranger to seminars. I attend them whenever I can, but this time it was sort of different. I asked her who was speaking and she hadn’t bothered to look yet. I asked what the topic was and again she didn’t know. Not only did she not know but also she didn’t completely care. “It isn’t about the topic or the speaker, it’s about who you can meet and that’s why you need to go. And while you are there, you should see about joining.” By the way, the speaker received high praise, as did the topic once her point was made.

I never thought of it this way. Sure, the speaker matters, when you have the job, as does the content but I don’t have anything yet and that was her point. Early in your career, you join as much as you can and attend whatever possible just so you can meet people. It’s always been about who you know and what better way to find friends, mentors, internships and even the inside track on the job hunt than to get out there and talk to the people who make this happen.

This discussion made me think about the events I have attended through PRSSA and other organizations and I realized I have been going about my seminar selection all wrong. I looked at what I would like and see what I can get out of it. I realize that this isn’t a great strategy for networking at all. I should look at the event and determine who is going to be at there and decide if that is the group I want to get to know. The social media marketing measurement group is a world apart from the non-profit fundraising one but attending both would provide me with the least amount of crossover and the most contacts.

Like I was saying, I have gotten a lot out of what I have seen so far and as I am about to graduate I think this is the best time to pass along the tips I have taken away…

  1. Get there early. The best contacts are made before the food is served, as many people can’t invest the afternoon in socializing after the speaker is done.
  2. Bring a friend. Any experience you see as a good one is worth sharing. Plus, two people can work a room easier than one.
  3. Meet the people working the registration table. It is so nice to walk in to a room full of strangers and see that familiar face behind the registration desk. Not only can they expedite getting you in the room they can also be a great resource to connect you with a stranger.
  4. Get on the mailing list. You don’t want to wait until the last minute to rearrange your life if you are among the early invitees and you can pay online adding that “I’m a regular attendee” air about you.
  5. Meet the speaker. You just paid $25 for lunch that was probably chicken French and you sat through a presentation that every professional in the room saw as valuable. Maybe you should think about meeting this person that was identified as a valuable resource by the sponsoring organization.

The bottom line about attending any event is ROI. What is your return on the money you spent and time you invested in attending. What everyone fails to realize is in this case ROI is what we make it. No one is going to hand you the perfect job just for showing up or introduce you to a wonderful employer if they nothing good to say about you.

Put yourself out there at these events and reap the rewards of your efforts. It only takes one good contact to make an event a success but you have to take that first step.

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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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Three Ways To Launch and Manage Your Career (PRofessional Development Week)

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Mar 4, 2009 in Career, Conferences, Public Relations

This post is a part of PRofessional Development Week. The posts from March 2 to March 6 will focus on the development of professional skills of public relations students. If you would like to contribute to this special week on A Step Ahead, e-mail Rachel.M.Esterline {at} Gmail.com.

Renee Walker, the associate vice president of public relations and marketing at Central Michigan University, shared this quote with us at the CMU-FSU PRSSA Regional Activity:

Don’t let the fear of falling keep you from knowing the joy of flight.

— Lane Wallace

Here are three ways to help launch and manage your career that I learned from Renee:

  1. Create a list of “must haves,” “deal breakers,” “professional goals” and “personal goals.”
    To help you evaluate whether or not your career is going in the right direction, Renee suggested creating a list. For example, one of my “must haves” is a job that challenges me. If it is too easy, I won’t be learning much. A “deal breaker” is a job that requires me to fetch coffee. I believe in paying my dues, but I don’t want my position of intern to be taken advantage of.
  2. Identify your talents and experience gaps.
    By identifying your talents, you can better promote yourself. And, by identifying your experience gaps, you can find ways to gain the experience you need. My talents include social media and writing for publications. But, I don’t have a lot of experience in media relations. In order to close the experience gap, I should work on gaining experience in media relations in order to advance my career.
  3. Establish stretch goals.
    Since working with Renee when I was an intern in her office, I have realized she believes in pushing yourself to reach higher goals. She calls these “stretch goals.” She said it is OK if you don’t always reach your stretch goals, but you can never reach them if you don’t try. This is where her favorite quote, at the top of this post, comes in.

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Mentors Make A Difference

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Mar 4, 2009 in Mentoring, Public Relations

I first realized the importance of mentors during my last two years of high school because of two teachers who had a significant impact on my career. I recently posted on the PRSSA blog about Mentors in Public Relations, but I had more to say.

My journalism teacher, Mrs. Tong, helped me find my passion for writing and design, which eventually led me to PR. She gave me a lot of responsibility as executive editor and I found out how much I enjoyed being a leader. (See her and the 2006 broadcasting class to the right…I’m the short one!).

My creative writing/speech and drama teacher, Mrs. Chema, also had an impact on me. She was very encouraging and very easy to talk to. She talked to me about writing, law (I was interested in becoming a lawyer then), college and more.

So how do mentors help you once you’re in college and preparing for a career?

Well, here’s how my college mentors have been helping me.

Last Saturday, I met one of my newest mentors. One of the perks of being an Allan Schoenberg Award recipient is being mentored by Allan himself (picture to left is of us at the conference last weekend). Allan has mentored many PRSSA students so far and I’m very excited to be a mentee. Allan has offered me ideas and advice via Twitter, which is how we usually keep in touch, and also has been helping me by taking a look at my cover letter.

Another mentor, Kevin Saghy, has talked to me about working at agencies, running for a national position and preparing a resume. Kevin was assigned to be my mentor at The Creative Career (which is in need of more mentors, so please sign up).

Two of the people I worked with at CMU Public Relations and Marketing have also been great mentors. Dan Digmann and Cynthia Drake gave great advice during my internship and I have stayed in contact with them both.

Nikki Stephan and Lauren Weber, both who are CMU alumni, have been like mentors too. Due to Twitter, I’ve been able to stay in contact with them since job shadowing them in 2007.

How do you be a good mentee?

I’ve found one of the key things with mentors is to maintain the relationship. When I find interesting information online that I think would interest a mentor, I send it on to them. For my mentors who are on Twitter, I try to talk to them when I can. It’s not all about helping the mentee–it should be a two-way relationship.

As a mentee, I think you also have the responsibility to be a mentor. For example, I gave advice to Dan about his new Web site. Although he has years of experience as a writer, I have more experience in social media. I also think it is important to mentor those who have less experience than you do. It can be as easy as helping a friend with a press release.

How Have Mentors Helped Your Career?

Here’s a few tweets about mentors:

ArizonaBrian I wouldn’t be in the position I am today w/o my mentors – the networking opps and advice they provided for me are priceless

kristen_okla I have 2 amazing mentors ~ taught me the basics of PR but also how to play in a man’s business world … and so much more.

CredibleKev They are your go-to sounding board for when you need a gut check.

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The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life)

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Mar 1, 2009 in Books, Career

More than a year ago I cut out an article from the USA Today. It was about Cathie Black and her new book, Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and Life). Cathie is the president of Hearst Magazines. I thought her book looked interesting and I kept the article as a note to myself to read the book.

Over Christmas, I walked into a bookstore and saw the book on the top shelf. Remembering the article, which was collecting dust at my desk, I bought the book.

For all of the young professionals and students who read this blog: Get this book!

The back cover really sums it up well: “Every woman dreams of having a wise, funny mentor who understands the challenges she faces.”

Cathie offers great advice to apply to your career and life. There are chapters about drive, risks, fear, power, passion, attitude and leadership. The book contains five case studies, in which Cathie gives you real-life situations in which she or someone else was able to step ahead in their career. There are four “Black and White” sections, which offers practical, every day advice in a list-type form.

This book really is essential. Even though Cathie isn’t in PR, her book offers a glimpse into the world of media which really is beneficial in the PR business. You also might be interested in reading a Marie Claire interview with her. At the end of the interview, you can listen to a few tips from the book.

Here’s a video from Forbes with her. It talks a little bit about the book, but also gives you an idea of who she really is. She is incredibly successful, but she knows how to balance her work and life.

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Agency Life, Internships and Resume Advice with a Ketchum AAE

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Feb 20, 2009 in Career, Internships, PRSSA, Public Relations, Resume

A few weeks ago I talked on the phone with my mentor I was paired with through the Mentorship Connection. Kevin Saghy, an assistant account executive at Ketchum, graduated from Ohio Northern University. He  served as PRSSA national vice president of chapter development during his junior year and was national president his senior year.

Here are a few of the great points he made:

About Agency Life

Kevin said agencies have an exciting work atmosphere and provide an opportunity to work with really smart people and on a variety of accounts. The hardest thing, he said, is to balance time between several clients and manage deadlines.


Kevin suggested getting as many internships as you can get and have completed at least two by graduation. Agencies generally like to see some prior experience at an agency, but varied experience helps too.


Kevin, who has had an inside look at Ketchum’s hiring processes, said relevance is important and experience trumps education. He suggested I organize my resume with relevance in mind; I had been unsure of whether or not I should list all of my experience (which would put my last internship towards the bottom), or sort it by professional and college experiences. By sorting these experiences, I was able to put my internship right up top.

My favorite thing he said about resumes: “It’s not a formula. You don’t need to listen to career services to get a job.”

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10 Ways I’m Being Brazen

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Feb 15, 2009 in Books, Career

First of all, I think Penelope Trunk is a fantastic writer. She’s the kind of writer that makes you think.

You can check out Penelope’s blog here. She’s down to earth and doesn’t mince words. She’s not scared to write about controversial subjects or her personal life.

I read her book Brazen Careerist in early January. Even though there were some parts I wasn’t sure of, there were a lot of points she made that got me thinking. Her book has inspired me to change 10 things about myself.

While everyone was making new year’s resolutions, I was inspired to come up with 10 ways to work on my career and life after reading her book.

10 Ways I’m Being Brazen:

  1. Accept uncertainty. Since I don’t know where I will be in five years, I am focusing more on how to develop the skills I will need to have perfected in five years.
  2. Be adventurous. There are so many opportunities to try new things. I’m heading to New Orleans in March to go to the PRSSA National Assembly. That will be an adventure in itself!
  3. Work on marketing. My Web site, blog and resume are all tool that market me and my brand. In mid-December I had launched a new design for my site. Now I plan on reevaluating my blog and resume so I can market myself better.
  4. Study harder. I’m not talking about school here. I’m studying the PR industry harder so I can be more knowledgeable when I get my summer internship.
  5. Become a negotiator. In order to get what I want, I need to be able to negotiate. Penelope offers great tips on negotiating salaries, which can be applied to other situations as well.
  6. Solve problems. I think Penelope said it best when she said, “Your success depends on your ability to get control of a problem and solve it.”
  7. Clean up the inbox. A few weeks ago, I had more than 250 e-mails in my inbox. I’ve followed Penelope’s advice on getting a “real to-do list” and have been able to keep my inbox organized by filing away and deleting messages as soon as I get them.
  8. Make time. When my schedule is packed, I don’t have time to think. When I do start thinking about stuff, I don’t have time to work on the ideas I have. This semester I’ve squeduled all evening meetings on Monday and Tuesday. I now have more time to breathe, think and blog.
  9. Be organized. According to Penelope, having a messy desk makes you look incompetent. I’m usually fairly organized at my desk, but not at home. I now have a better system of keeping things together at my apartment, which has made me more productive.
  10. Delegate. I used to say, “I might as well do this myself so it gets done right.” Since I have committees and teams in the various organizations I am in, I have started to delegate work more. Not only does this give them experience and portfolio pieces, but I also have more time to do things that matter more.

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