Alicia’s challenge

Account Executive Alicia Wells and I journeyed north to Poughkeepsie yesterday to meet with MaristMarist
College students. Our goal: to share advice on the needs and realities of today’s workplace.

We discussed the dearth of good writing, reliance on ‘TextSpeak’ and importance of creating and maintaining a personal brand and reputation.

I was pleasantly surprised by the range and quality of questions. Students were genuinely interested in agency business models, personal career paths and ways in which to improve their writing.

I was disappointed, though, that more students didn’t engage in the 90-minute conversation. As is usually the case, a small group seemed to ask the most questions, while others were content to sit back and listen. I’d encourage those who were reticent to act differently in future settings. Employers prize warm, engaging workers who can quickly connect with peers, clients and, of course, the media.

I was also disappointed, but not surprised, to learn most students didn’t participate in the Blogosphere. I encouraged them to do so, knowing that blogging, podcasting and all things digital will only become more important in years to come.

Last, but not least, Alicia issued a challenge to the Marist students: we suggested they read today’s blog and post their comments. So, c’mon guys: tell us what you thought. Especially those of you who were a little shy yesterday.

26 thoughts on “Alicia’s challenge

  1. That’s something we’ve all faced, Kristen. The best thing to do is to come prepared with questions in advance and hope someone doesn’t beat you to the punch.

  2. In response to not many people asking questions during your visit at Marist: I find a lot of the time that someone will usually get to ask the questions that I had before I do, and I won’t have anything left to ask at the time…and then thinking later sometimes I’ll find myself saying “I wish I had thought to ask about such and such before.”
    It also seems hard to ask questions when just a few people keep asking them…kind of made me want to say “Hey, give someone else a turn, you’re asking all the questions I wanted to ask!” which isn’t really a good excuse, especially in a field like PR, but there you have it.

  3. Great thread! I find it interesting that students from both Marist and Rutgers had similar questions/concern: the impact of shyness on their future career. I know when I was speaking at Rutgers, that question threw me for a loop (I wasn’t expecting it at all, nor was I expecting the questions I got on ethics). I don’t have an answer, but I wonder what’s driving this concern.

  4. First off, thank you to both Alicia and Steve for coming to Marist. As a Jersey Native, I would hate to battle against anyone from home, but Rutgers vs. Marist?? I’d bet on the PR talent of New York ; )
    I was one of those who did not vocally engage in the conversation last week. However, I do not consider that a bad thing at all. I believe you learn the most through listening. If I had a question, I would have asked it, but many of the questions I was thinking, were already being said.
    “To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well.” – John Marshall
    As Communications majors it is important to listen to those around us, take what they are saying, and fully try to understand it. Not just listening in order to say something back. The disappointment, in my opinion, will only arise if those who were silent continue to be and do not act in the future on what they understood from your 90 minute conversation.
    I would also like to thank Steve on a specific topic you covered in your talk. As Morgan mentioned, I was also debating my next step after I leave Marist. Grad school was definitely an option, but after hearing what you said about gaining experience, discussing the topic with others currently in PR as well, and “going with my gut” I have decided to pursue a job first and then go back to school. So, thank you. I was a little bit more relaxed about life after Marist on Wednesday afternoon.
    I hope that you both enjoyed your trip to Marist and will visit us again = )

  5. “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’d rather be the guy in the casket than doing the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld

  6. First off, I would like to thank Steve and Alicia for taking the trip up to Marist to share some very useful and relevant insight on the world of public relations.
    In regards to Steve’s disappointment in the lack of participation, I believe that most students felt intimidated, or lacked the confidence needed to speak up. I beleive that this will improve with experience and time.
    In regards to Steve’s disappointment in the lack of students blogging, I would just like to discuss a blog that many of us are involved in for our Public Relations Case Studies course. We blog regularly and are learning a lot through experimenting and commenting on each others’ posts. The introduction of this technology has not only taught us the important role blogging will have in the future, but has also opened our eyes to other blogs related to the PR world.
    I must agree with Steve and say that blogging will be crucial to much of our success in the future!

  7. Good question Matt. Of course, it depends on the situation, but I think I’d be more likely to go for a candidate with personality over one that’s more qualified, but lacks the personality that fits the organization.
    I recently interviewed an intern candidate that didn’t have a great PR background, but was enthusiastic, personable, and seemed eager to learn. We offered him the position even though he wasn’t fully qualified, because we trusted that his attitude would go a long way. I’d take that over a well-qualified candidate whose attitude or personality didn’t cut it.
    But I agree with Steve, that ideally it should be a combination of the two.

  8. Thanks for the feedback Matt. Re: your question, If I had to choose, I’d go for substance over style. But, I’d prefer a blend of each.

  9. Thank you Steve and Alicia for taking time out of your schedules to visit with our class. It is always valuable to any student to hear the experiences and lessons from any professional.
    All I can say about the Rutgers/Marist showdown is that it would be ugly because we have Tim on our side and he doesn’t mess around.
    In regards to the public speaking fear among students and adults everywhere, I feel it just takes practice. Much like writing a press release, with more practice the easier it comes. In my opinion, the keys to a successful public speech involve practice, being relaxed, and most importantly confidence. If one has confidence in their speech, things begin to get much easier.
    Anyways, I just had a question for Steve and Alicia about your interview stories. Have you ever had to choose between a candidate that isn’t that qualified in experience but exerts a great personality that would function very well in your environment versus a candidate that is very well qualified in experience but exerts a somewhat shy, introverted personality? I know Steve mentioned employees have to have a somewhat outgoing/easygoing personality to fit in with the scheme of things. Has this ever happened? If so who did you choose and why? Theoretically speaking, who would you choose?

  10. Thanks Morgan. As I said, what’s right for you may not be right for someone else. But, i think working for a year or two before pursuing a master’s is a smart move. That’s what I’d do if I was starting over.

  11. jeez..steve and dandy just BEGGING for comments. here’s a good one- if you have to ask more than once for something, its not worth getting…lunch boy, that should ring true for you. just think- if you boss asks you more than once to get his coffee or salad, you will find yourself getting those unemployment checks.

  12. Thank you Steve and Alicia for coming yesterday and speaking to us. I found your advice and comments very valuable and I could relate to what you were saying about concise writing. I have spent the majority of my life trying to elaborate on every thought and it is a challenge for me to get to the point.
    I also agree with Tim about students not opening up. In a smaller group I am definitely more outspoken. I think students feel intimidated even though I know we shouldn’t and there is no such thing as a “bad” question.
    Steve, I was pleased with the advice you gave about going to grad school. I wasn’t sure if I should continue with my education or work for a few years and go back later. I was advised to wait a fews years like you said and get some real work experience…so I hope I made the right decision!
    Thanks again!

  13. Thanks for the note, Dan. Yup, there are countless studies out there that shows public speaking is one of the scariest things in the world. But, public speaking (i.e. speaking in front of a group) is different than participating in a class discussion. Still, I do appreciate your input.

  14. Thanks Mike. I didn’t mean to imply yesterday’s group wasn’t engaged. They were. I just would have wished for fuller participation. As for Marist v. Rutgers challenge, I’m a Northeastern alum, so really can’t comment…”

  15. I think it is great of you to take time to visit the good folks of Marist College, Steve and Alicia.
    I am also surprised that so many of your current employees are from the learning institution…what happened to the love for Syracuse/Newhouse?
    Again, let the kids who took advantage of your visit blossom and let those that didn’t realize their mistake. Younger people, in my opinion, still don’t understand their role or place until they are a few years into the real world.
    It’s not always a bad thing to be quiet, listen, and learn by watching. Then, formulate your thoughts and speak.
    BTW, those Knights in Jersey sure got their asses beat by the Mountaineers. What a game!

  16. Both Steve and Alicia gave great insight about the public relations workplace yesterday during their visit. Classroom instruction only goes so far. A professional lecture is the opportunity to meet and network with people in the field, such as Steve and Alicia.
    With Steve being a managing partner and co-founder of a mid-size firm, it was only natural to be intimidated. Many students did put that aside, asking very intelligent and relevant questions. I definitely learned a lot about Peppercom and it is it unique to other firms.
    As for Rutgers, we could take them. (And I hope that wasn’t a Rutgers student follow-up email that Steve showed us yesterday…)

  17. Steve and Alicia, thanks for coming to speak with us yesterday. Your presentation and wisdom about the field were very interesting and helpful. I too have found that in most guest speaker scenarios, only a few students speak up with questions. Same is true in the classroom. Why do you think this is? Could it be that the majority of people are shy and afraid of speaking up in public?
    According to an article I found on (click on my name at the bottom of this comment to see the full article), studies show that students’ fear of public speaking ranks close to their fear of death! I am not sure why this is, but I guess it justifies why everyone wasn’t jumping out of their seats with questions yesterday!
    Thanks again for making the trip up to beautiful Poughkeepsie, and I hope that Marist College can supply you with some more great employees in the near future!

  18. I agree, Tim. I think a group setting sometimes inhibits people from speaking up. There’s an intimidation factor there that can make people less likely to participate. I was always this way in school- the smaller the group, the more likely I was to speak up. Perhaps in one-on-one conversations with you (Steve), the students would have been more “warm and engaging.” Regardless, I think there was a good handful of students that spoke up, were engaged and asked intelligent questions. I’d put Marist up against Rutgers any day.

  19. What I’ve found is that the larger the group, the less students say. I had 28 in my class last semester and it was hard to get them to open up. The group of 16 this semester has been much more vocal. It could also be an authority issue. As opposed to when you and I were going to college and questioning everything, I think today’s students accept wheat is said in class by professors — or in your case — potential future employers — as the Gospel. Perhaps they don’t want to come across as having a “wrong” opinion — although to me there is no such thing. My goal is to get students to be independent, strategic thinkers. Don’t take things spoon-fed. I think the three Marist students who work at Peppercom are proof of that.

  20. Steve, I was a guest speaker this week at Rutgers (discussed the realities of PR versus what they are learning in books). The Rutgers class was engaged, even to the point of sending questions beforehand…with even a few following up by e-mail immediately afterward (including one of your neighbors and former PepperCom intern). Maybe time for a Marist/Rutgers PR throwdown 🙂