The little intern that could…or was at least trying

I was reluctant to go for my evening run last night. I was tired from a long day at my internship and distracted by my loving animals who were vying for attention. I needed some motivation. After reflecting on the chocolate bunny ears I munched on at lunch and thinking about the warm Spring weather breezing in, I finally gave in. It felt good once I got going and my new downloads were certainly a great help.

So how important is it to be motivated? Well, as far as exercise is concerned – it’s everything. But I’ve recently been reminded of its importance in the workplace. You see, last week I started my internship. It’s that hands on, real-life experience that soon-to-be grads get to embark on, with no guarantee of pay, invigorating duties or sense of worth. Now, don’t let my negativity fool you. It has been good so far, but what I have come to realize is that in the absence of pay, you can’t help, but question – how am I being motivated?

I am a fairly busy person – busy by choice. I need to be immersed in many “things to do” and get gratitude through completing tasks well and efficiently. Leading up to this internship I was anxious to say the least. Following an exceptional client project (thanks to the communications department at Toronto East General Hospital), I felt ready to be of some value to a new organization.

Then the word “intern” came along.

As my soon-to-be father-in-law explained to me last week: “Karin, as long as that word is there before your name, you may never be looked at as valuable to some companies – regardless if you know what you’re doing.”  This is a bit of a disapointment, both as an eager learner and to companies who are willing to pass up on extra workers.

Well…where’s the motivation now?

So here I am, doing medial tasks and “paying my dues” that unfortunately don’t have a lot to do with communication or PR.  I’ve already been promised experience in writing and editing, to name a few, and I am optimistic that I will gain a lot of experience with this organization and hopefully benefit it at the same time, but I need a lot more. I need to be fulfilled, challenged and inspired. Not just now, but in any job. Internships are a great place to be exposed to your industry of choice and I am now realizing that for better or for worse I’ll learn to know what I will and will not accept in future jobs.

I’d love to hear your internship stories – good or bad!

April 10, 2008 at 11:10 pm 3 comments

Idol gives back

No PR post today.

Just trying to spread the message of a cause that we’re all aware of, but don’t always take the time to recognize and support.

American Idol’s annual “Idol Gives Back” is airing this evening. The Foundation raises funds for children and young adults in extreme poverty. Most of the focus is on Africa, AIDS and malaria.

Living in North America – especially Canada – it’s hard to imagine a world where food is scarce, parents are a rarity, education is for the privileged and death is prevalent. It’s hard to believe that we still find things in our lives to complain about.

Hopefully this Foundation and others like it will raise a large amount of money to provide some ounce of happiness in the lives of others.

If you’re interested in donating, please visit: https://www.idolaid.com/AidForm.asp

April 10, 2008 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Facebook fear

facebook.jpgI’ve been tossing around the idea of changing my name on Facebook. Like many people, I enjoy facebook. It has enabled me to keep in touch with old friends and has become another way of communicating. But there’s a growing debate not only about the safety of Facebook, but about its use when hiring employees.

As I have learned in some of my classes and discussions with guest speakers, an alarming amount of businesses and organizations have begun using Facebook as a tool for judging employees. What would you say if a company asked to view your Facebook profile? My automatic response would be ‘no’ – that’s personal, that’s private, but in another sense, what have we got to hide?

Exposing yourself on Facebook, some might say, is acceptable as long as your selected friends – and only them – can view your profile. Those who are conscious of their online reputation control the privacy settings in order to protect themselves. But what about those people who are unaware of these settings and unaware that their employers know what they did and who they did it with last Saturday night?

Earlier this week we held a debate in class about controversial topics. My group was given the ‘pro’ side of employers using Facebook when hiring new employees. We had 30 minutes to come up with our statements and strongest arguments. We concluded with: If you are a member of Facebook and have made yourself accessible then it is the employers right to conduct a reference check in order to protect themselves and their organization; therefore it is your right to deny access.

The other side argued that it is illegal for employers to ask about the religion, sexual orientation, etc. of an employee and by searching through Facebook they would be able to find that information. It was a good point, but I came back with the need for people to be aware and take responsibility for their own actions. On top of that, it’s up to the individual to write or omit those things, such as religion or age, in their “about me” sections.

You can see how there is a grey area between both sides. On the one hand, if I had my own company and I was interviewing candidates, would I want to learn that last weekend one of the interviewees put up pictures of animal abuse? Would I want someone like that working with me? On the other hand, if an employer was snooping through my page I would feel violated and mistrusted.

The more I learn about Facebook, the more I fear it. Not because I am ashamed of what I have on my profile, but because of the amount of information people can get from you. Employers aside – what about those old “friends” you added when you first joined, but haven’t seen for six years. Are they trustworthy? Do you want them to be seeing all those messages and pictures? I think Facebook has shown me how open and upfront some people can be, which isn’t always a good thing, especially when it comes to the internet.

My advice – enjoy Facebook and social networking, but be conscious because you never know who’s watching. Creepy!

March 25, 2008 at 10:27 pm Leave a comment

Blogging starts to make the PR world go round

Blogs are a rapidly growing phenomenon. Overnight anyone can become a “published” writer, but what are the benefits and downside of this participatory practice? Can it be trusted? Well, that depends on which blogs you’re reading. As a journalism student I was always told to be honest and transparent in order to maintain my credibility and although the perception of public relations may appear differently, I can tell you that what we’re learning in corporate communications is no different.

Blogs are not only enabling companies and organizations to have a voice, they’re providing the appearance of a real person in which you can have a two-way conversation with. Maggie Fox, CEO and founder of the Social Media Group recently stopped into our classroom to talk about social media. She believes that blogs are “all about the content” and that companies that use them must live up to the promise of the brand. The advantage of a corporate blog is that there is a human face on the issue, which Maggie states is “valuable business intelligence.” People who have issues with a company can go on to the blog and find a human to talk to. Receiving a response shows that the company not only cares, but that they are concerned for their public.

She explained that the benefits of a corporate blog can be difficult to measure. In one example, a blogger named ‘Yellowknife’ from a Yamaha blog wrote that he was pleased to be able to get a real person to answer his concerns. Maggie states, “it’s hard to put a dollar value to thread where he shines a positive light on the company.”

Maggie’s views are echoed in Tony Martin’s recent article in the Globe, “They blog, therefore they are…better CEOs,” which explains how CEOs of major corporations are jumping into this evolving trend. Yet as much as these powerhouses are blogging, even more are listening. Check out what Martin wrote about Jim Estill, CEO of Synnex Canada Ltd.

Indeed, Mr. Estill may be one of Canada’s most regular CEO bloggers. He devotes about two hours a week to an average of three postings at his blog, called Time Leadership and located at http://www.jimestill.com. He estimates his blog receives 3,000 to 4,000 unique visitors a week.

Clearly there is a strong demand within the public to hear what CEOs have to say, but regular bloggers, such as Maggie Fox and Martin Waxman, founder and president of Palette PR, warn that it isn’t for everyone and that you must be cautious before hitting “publish.” In a recent podcast interview with Mr. Waxman, he mentioned that blogs are a big commitment and that although they are currently on the rise, he believes we will soon see many disappear with only a few key ones remaining.

So where did blogging come from and why are they becoming an ever more important component of public relations? Well, Maggie believes that the rise in blogging can be attributed to the changing ways that people are organizing themselves. Instead of connecting with people in our community, we’re connecting with people over the internet whom we share common interests with.

We’re entering into an exciting time for public relations and if you’re not already on the social media bandwagon, then what are you waiting for?

March 18, 2008 at 10:47 pm 2 comments

Word of mouth pays the bills

hands.jpgI had heard of people like Clem Cummings before, but I was still surprised when he told me what he did. “You’re a – what?” I remember asking. I intently listened as though I knew what it was, but as he continued to tell me, my mind wandered as I questioned – “is this for real?”

You see, Clem Cummings is a spiritual healer. He heals with his hands. He has powers given to him by “the heavenly father” and has the ability to mend people with cancer, AIDS and arthritis – so he tells me.

I met Clem, a Cree chief from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, on an Air Canada flight out of Pearson International Airport last week. He was a kind-looking man who happened to be sitting next to me. He was on his way to Goose Bay, Labrador. He had been there many times before. Clem, had been many places.

“Are you heading there for business.”

“Nope, nope. I am there to heal. I am a healer, you know. A spiritual healer.”

“Ohhh,” I said trying to mask my puzzlement.

Behind Clem’s silver hair, large glasses and rough skin seemed to be an old soul – a wise soul who I felt compelled and somewhat privileged to listen to. Soon after clicking my seatbelt shut, I realized that I needed a pen and paper and had to write my thoughts down.

“What is it that you do?” he asked.

“Umm well I am still in school. Just about to finish a program in corporate communications.”

He shook his head as if he was trying to figure out what it was. “Basically, I like writing and I want to write for companies and organizations.” Hopefully that made more sense.

“A writer!” Clem said enthusiastically. Perhaps I had given him the wrong impression, but what the heck – sure, I am a writer. “What do you write about? Who was the most interesting person you ever met?” Clem loved hearing what I had to say.

“We’re not allowed to have things written about us,” he told me. “That’s not what we’re about. We don’t want to advertise what we do. We work through word of mouth.”

All this time I kept thinking, pen, pen, pen, paper, paper. Must find something! Then Clem told me to write down his number in case I ever needed him for anything. “Oh, let me just grab a pen and paper!” Perfect. “Do you mind if I write a few things down?” He leaned in as though he was almost waiting for me to ask him that question.

I had so many questions. Was this his full-time job? Did he get paid for this? Was this entirely done by word of mouth? Oh, where do I begin? I wasn’t sure how much Clem wanted to tell me and I didn’t want to press too much.

“What do you mean by word of mouth?”

“I travel throughout the country, meeting people and helping them. They find us and we come.”

“So this is your – job? Or….” I trailed off.

“This is what I do. It’s all about love and peace.”

Clem seemed pleased to see me taking so many notes. He even enunciated the sentences he really wanted me to include. “Looooovvveeee and pppeeaaacceeeee.”

The power of word of mouth, I kept thinking. Here is a man who goes through his entire livelihood based on the communication between one individual to another to another to another. He doesn’t make much at what he does, but he also doesn’t need to.

“So what if I wrote something about you?” I asked.

“Well as long as you’re doing it for the greater good. That’s different. We are true healers. Some others – I don’t know. They can’t always be trusted. We are told not to advertise. But you can tell people about me – if they need me.”

Although Clem hadn’t answered my question, I got the sense that he didn’t mind me writing about him. Can blogging be considered, word of mouth?

What Clem does is foreign to me, yet his passion for it was enough to make me believe in him and hope for the sake of others that he truly heals people. He told me to give him a call in a few years when I was stuck in the “corporate jungle.” I laughed and wished him luck in Goose Bay.

Clem Cummings: 306-922-4929.

March 3, 2008 at 6:30 pm Leave a comment

Networking 30,000 feet in the air

airplane1rgb.jpg“This is the final boarding call for WestJet flight 699 with service to Toronto.”

With ID and boarding card in hand I make it to the gate just in time and jog my way down the long walk-way to the aircraft. Most passengers are already seated, but I manage to find one small space in the overhead bin for my rather large winter coat.

Seat 2E. (I always make sure that I get a seat as close to the front as I can. I say it’s because of the noise, but really it’s to be as close to the captain as possible. That way, if there’s trouble, I’ll be one of the first to be warned – as if there is something I would be able to do.) I’m usually a window kinda gal, but the last window seat was in row 18. I decide that the flight from Halifax is only two hours so I can bare the middle. There is already a 30-something, business-looking woman sitting down. I give a closed-mouth smile and buckle up.

As well as window seats on planes there is also the “window of opportunity” moment in which you have to decide whether or not you’re going to start a conversation with your flying buddy. This window usually only exists from the time you sit down to the time of take-off. Otherwise, you’ve lost it and you better hope you remembered a good book or have money for headphones. The decision on whether or not you are going to talk depends on the mood you’re in and upon the chance your willing to risk talking to someone you wish you hadn’t started talking to.

This morning, I decided why not.

“So, heading home?”

“Yep. Just getting back from business. You?”

“Me too. Well, not from business, but heading home.”

After you break the initial, “we’ve both agreed to talk” stage, the conversation has the ability to go anywhere. I heard about her business, clients, trips, weddings, fiancee’s children, travelling, getting mugged – you can learn a lot about someone in two hours. Most significantly, I networked. The woman owns her own company that develops health care systems in other countries based on Canada’s system. Listening to her was fascinating. Perhaps it was the journalist in me, but I couldn’t stop asking questions. She then asked about my interests and future ambitions. I told her about school and career options, but was honest in that I was eager to practice in various areas of PR.

“We’re starting our decent into Toronto. Please ensure that all seats are upright and all luggage is stored away.”

I told her how gracious she was to answer my questions and hoped that I wasn’t too forward. She smiled and said not to worry and handed me her business card. “Give me a call once you’re done with school.”

I’ve thought about our discussion since we parted. The conversation we had would have been better than any interview or resume I could have sent her. I thought about the power of networking and how it can happen at any time – especially when you least expect it. It goes to show that on top of the CPRS or IABC events we attend, networking is a full-time part of the PR world. So talk away and hopefully you’ll get lucky!

February 4, 2008 at 12:14 am 4 comments

How thou prepare?

Job InterviewI received a call today from a potential employer. He said he had reviewed my resume and wanted to set up a meeting. After a sigh of relief, it hit me that I was back in the job interviewing process. It’s that stomach crunching, sweaty palm time when you need to become your biggest fan and explain to a company why you’re better than the rest. I already feel my nerves buzzing.

In our brief phone conversation, the employer asked that I bring along some samples and any other material that would help him get to know Karin. It’s the first time I’ve been told to do that so I must wonder – what else should be included on top of a portfolio?

I feel lucky to say that I have never had a really bad interview – I have had bad nerves, studdering words and a bit of a ramble here and there, but I’ve been pretty fortunate. However, that doesn’t mean I am any less scared, intimidated or worried about the interviews to come.

So for my fellow classmates, I’ve compiled some interviewing tips that you will hopefully find useful:

RESEARCH:

We’ve been told this in almost every class since we started at Centennial. Take the time to research the organization, learn about your audience and determine your key messages. With research comes confidence.

REMIND YOURSELF OF YOU

Although this seems like a bizarre slice of advice, it’s surprising that most of us can’t talk about ourselves. Think back to media relations last term when Christine asked us to write a 30 second speech about ourselves. Following the grumbles, how many of us couldn’t think of something right away? Well in an interview, we don’t have the leisure of pondering questions for 15 seconds before we say the first words. Determine not only who you are, but who you want to show in an interview. What are your best qualities and how do they align with the job you’re going for?

PRACTICE:

This requires a friend, family member or classmate. Reading questions off a piece of paper and reciting them in your head is completely different than speaking out loud – especially with another person in the room. A partner can give you great feedback and offer suggestions on how to be more clear, concise and appealing.

BE YOURSELF

This is perhaps the tip that I live by the most. Don’t try to dress, speak or behave in a way that isn’t natural. I fear that if I acted differently in an interview and got the job, I would need to continue the facade. Being honest and genuine does the trick.

Teacup

For example, I once mentioned my love for tea in an interview, which sparked a ten minute long discussion with the head manager about which teas were my favourite and which ones I would recommend. I was hired the following day.

For what they’re worth, these are my tips. I’d love to hear yours!

January 30, 2008 at 2:50 am 4 comments

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