Going Back to College: An Inspiring Lesson on the Future of PR

UM students working on their group presentation

Millennials are often painted as lazy, entitled, impatient and unfocused but a group of college students with whom Jessica recently spent a weekend dispelled all of those stereotypes and gave us hope for the future.

At the first-ever PR Workshop for the University of Michigan’s Communication Studies program, 30 undergraduate students dedicated their entire weekend — giving up their Friday night and showing up at the ungodly hour of 8:30am on Saturday and Sunday (including having lost an hour to Daylight Savings Time) — to get a crash course in the public relations field.  UM does not offer vocational classes — nor did it when Jessica was enrolled there many moons ago — but because so many students have expressed an interest in the PR industry, the brilliant and energetic Susan Douglas, who heads up the department, decided it was worth doing a pilot program that involved alumni in the business sharing their lessons and knowledge with the undergrads.

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News You Can Use: Fighting the Battle of Sexes When It Comes to Self-Promotion

In the “Workstation” column of The New York Times‘ Business section this past Sunday, Phyllis Korkki notes that “women need to prove themselves multiple times” in order to move ahead in the workplace, whereas men have much more latitude.

According to experts interviewed for the piece, we are still living in a world where being aggressive is a compliment when referring to a man and an insult when it describes his female counterpart. Executive coach Peggy Klaus adds that women spend more time praising others’ contributions than their own because self-promotion makes them uncomfortable.

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PREPARE FOR A MEETING LIKE YOU’RE PACKING FOR A TRIP

This week, half of the BYOBP duo heads off to fulfill a dream first conceived in 7th Grade Social Studies — to see the Galápagos Islands. Years of pining and planning now hinges on making sure everything that’s needed ends up in the suitcase (and with her on the plane, of course!).

Funny…going through the process mirrors something we learned from a mentor about prepping for an important meeting: Come packing. We wouldn’t dream of heading off to see the Puffins or Blue-Footed Boobies without the right equipment to record the trip or shield us from the elements. The same holds true for meetings: We make sure to come to the table armed with information, knowledge of the topic at hand and fresh ideas to move the conversation along and make our points effectively.

So, how can you make sure you come armed and ready for any meeting, large or small?

Know where you want to go.
It stands to reason: You can’t get to your destination if you don’t know where you want to go.  If you’re hosting the meeting, have an agenda.  There’s nothing we hate more than going to meetings with no agenda — they usually end up accomplishing nothing because no one knows what the end goal was before they arrived.  Being crystal clear about your goals can keep the conversation moving in the right direction.

Use your key messages as your guide.
Key messages are the GPS of your conversation. While you may not have that annoying woman (or, if you prefer, Daria or Darth Vader) commanding you to “TAKE A RIGHT IN 10 FEET,” having thought-out understanding of what you want to say will help prevent you from wandering into dangerous territory. We’re not suggesting that you be stilted; just map out some thoughts so you can speak in the most compelling way about your subject of choice.

Be prepared with options.
Anyone who has ever packed for a trip knows that it’s challenging to say the least. You want to bring the necessary items, but also want to include enough stuff to have some flexibility while away. When “packing” for meetings, be sure to keep a few alternatives or “work arounds” in your back pocket, just in case you need to switch it out mid-meeting. Try to anticipate negative feedback or stumbling blocks and draft some responses to have at the ready.

When it comes to meetings, how do you “pack it in” to prepare? Let us know at Facebook or Twitter (@BestPublicist).

MOVING FROM BACKSTAGE TO CENTER STAGE

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” — so bellowed the Wizard of Oz as he tried to maintain the magic that he had created.

Jessica and Meryl "backstage"

We know his pain. In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we talk about how public relations people are typically the ones behind the proverbial curtain, pulling the strings and making other folks look good in the spotlight.  And, our goal with this book is to help you learn how to promote yourself in the best way possible, so you’ll reap rewards in the workplace. But in doing that, we have had to come out from behind the curtain and take a bit of center stage ourselves — that’s what you have to do these days to sell a book!

So, instead of setting up a photo shoot for our clients or being on set while a celebrity was photographed for a magazine cover, as is often the case with our jobs, we arranged a shoot where we were the subjects.  Let us tell you, it is not easy being a model — no wonder supermodel Linda Evangelista said she wouldn’t get out of bed for less that $10,000 a day!

In the talented hands of photographer Simon Alexander and makeup artist/hairstylist Sadah Saltzman, the experience was made much easier.   For fun, we took some shots of us “behind the scenes,” a few outtakes featured here.

Getting our dance on to Lady Gaga

Both of us prefer to be on the other side of the camera, but here are a few tips we used to loosen up and get comfortable on set, all of which you can also use before you going on an interview or speaking in public:

1) Music feeds the soul. Simon loaded up the 80s tunes and some Lady Gaga to get us going on set.  If you have a big interview or presentation, before you leave for work or on your way, crank up your favorite tunes to pump you up and help your confidence so you’ll do a good job.

2) Keep a sense of humor. Laughter truly is the best medicine and helps diffuse an awkward situation or a tense meeting.  It also instantly relaxes people.  We found plenty of comical moments during the shoot and it’s reflected in some of the best shots of the day.

Laughing on the set

3) Dress confidently and comfortably (and powerfully). We brought several outfits as options for the shoot but the common thread was that they were bold, stylish and yet comfortable enough to stand around in for hours. When you’re preparing for an interview, a speech or an important work function, pick something that will reflect your personality and style, help you stand out (even if it’s a great tie or necklace that elevates that simple black shift or grey suit) but doesn’t make you want to change into your PJs and slippers after wearing it all day.  If you’re going to sport those 5-inch heels, make sure you’ve broken them in and you can walk in them. Choose your “power” look (be it “business chic” or “casual cute”) and rock it.

Last of all, no matter what the situation–photo shoot, interview, presentation, networking event–the best advice is to have fun.

Have you ever had to be front-and-center vs. behind-the-scenes? Share your story with us on Twitter or Facebook.




WHY WE WANT TO HELP PEOPLE GET AHEAD AT WORK

Welcome to our blog!  We’re Jessica Kleiman and Meryl Weinsaft Cooper, longtime friends, PR professionals and now co-authors of Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Get Noticed, Hired & Rewarded at Work, which hits bookstores on Jan. 20, 2011 (you can pre-order on Amazon.com now).

A few years ago, we started talking about writing a career guide aimed at the young people we manage and their fellow “Millennials,” many of whom could use some help navigating the business landscape and learning that it takes dedication, hard work and patience to get ahead (in other words, they may not land their boss’ job in six months).  When we discussed the idea with our literary agent, he said that while he liked it, there were lots of Gen Y experts out there already writing books and doling out advice to this group.  He asked, “What makes you qualified to write a career guide?  What do you have that make you the only ones who can write this book?”

So with that, we went back to the drawing board and realized that the skills we had honed in our collective 30-plus years in public relations could easily translate to anyone trying to promote themselves in the workplace, whether right out of college or re-entering the work force after having kids, trying to start a company or move up in the one where you already work.

Once we had the idea, we banged out a proposal in six weeks and about four months later, we had a book deal.  The result, Be Your Own Best Publicist, will be out in January and we hope that the advice, expertise, anecdotes and exercises in its pages will help lots of people learn how to create a personal brand, develop a communications strategy and connect with others who can help them, whether in person or through social media.

Through this blog, our Twitter feed (@bestpublicist), Facebook page and speaking engagements, we hope to offer tips, tricks and wisdom (both ours and others’) on how to stand out from the competition using creativity, networking skills, key messages and a healthy dose of confidence.  We invite your comments, ideas and personal success stories.