Dec 21

The Lion in Winter

I've worked for two lions in winter. 334578-bigthumbnail 

Both were aging CEOs in the twilight of their careers. Both were both named Jim. And, both told me I should be ashamed of myself (but, for dramatically different reasons.)

The first Jim was president of a global consulting firm in the mid-1980s. He was terminally ill with severe emphysema, yet continued to manage day-to-day operations with charm, wit and dedication.

As the consulting firm's first director of global communications, I had my hands full to say the least. Maybe that's why Jim went out of his way to schedule weekly meetings with me (talk about having a seat at the table!).

Despite his myriad responsibilities (and intense pain), Jim always found time to discuss strategy, read my copy and suggest edits. After one lengthy session, I thanked him for his generosity. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Someday, you'll be in my position. I want you to be just as patient with your young employees as I am with you.” That made a big impression on me.

On another occasion, though, he sighed after reviewing an article I'd written about our Brazilian operations. He put the copy down and asked me if I spoke a second language. I shook my head no. Jim said he was ashamed of me, and added: “Every one of the foreign employees you write about speaks English as a second or third language. You should be ashamed you don't speak a second language. In fact, none of our American employees do. It doesn't matter to me. And, it probably won't matter to your generation but, trust me, foreign nationals will run rings around your kids' generation.” Talk about prescient.

The other Jim was the polar opposite. He reveled in intrigue, office politics and negativity. And, he was the antithesis of a mentor. Once, when four or five senior executives were sitting around a conference table, Jim folded his arms and sniffed, “You should all be ashamed.” When one of us asked why, he said, “Because none of you attended an Ivy League school. You lack the intellectual rigor that only an Ivy League education can provide.” We collectively shook our heads in amazement and disgust.

I didn't buy into his ersatz logic, then or now. It isn't where someone goes to college that determines success but, rather, how one performs at work. That's why we recruit from schools such as Marist, Northeastern and the College of Charleston. We don't want people who, like the second Jim, are elitists and think they're better than everyone else.  We want can-do, hard-working, team-oriented people.

When autumn turns to winter for this blogger, I intend to be the second coming of the first Jim.

Dec 15

The best possible preparation for a career in PR? Being a Mets and Jets fan

A Tip o' RepMan's cap to Sir Edward Moed for this idea.

 Forget about four years of undergraduate study at Syracuse, Northeastern or The College of  Charleston. And, don't stress about landing world-class internships at say, Ketchum, Coyne or Airfoil. If you really want to succeed at public relations, just adopt the New York Mets and Jets as your teams of choice.

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Here's why: rooting for the Mets and Jets perfectly parallels a career in PR. Both the Mets and Jets were built to disappoint their fans. Cheering for them toughens one up, opens one's mind to the harsh realities of the world in which we live and teaches one to bounce back from the most devastating of failures.

Think about it. PR is rife with ups and downs. And, like the 1969 World Series and Super Bowl victories by the Mets and Jets, respectively, the highs in PR can rival a long hit of crystal meth (that's anecdotal evidence, BTW). But, the unexplained client firings, the unwarranted editorial 'thumbs down' from PR Week's Keith O'Brian in 2006 and the countless serial prospects who pick your mind clean of ideas and then leave you hanging, can transform a Charlie Chuckle to a Debbie Downer in a heartbeat. And, those heartbreaks beautifully mirror the average Mets and Jets' seasons.

Rooting for the Mets and Jets is superb training for PR. I do not exaggerate when I say the resiliency that comes along with being a long-suffering Mets/Jets fan has made me a better public relations executive. I'm able to maintain a steady keel when others tend to panic. I treat small wins for what they are and don't allow myself to hop on the roller coaster ride that is the average day, week, month or year in PR.

I thank the Mets and Jets for toughening me up. That thick skin has served me well for years of 100 percent growth and 20 percent decline. It's also made me increasingly philosophical as I watched an over-achieving 2010 Mets team peak this past June before plummeting in July. And, it's been an invaluable asset as I've winced in pain as the once high-riding, trash-talking 2010 Jets have crash landed in a particularly ugly way.

So, do you want to succeed in PR? Switch your team allegiances now. You'll hate the decades of losing, but you'll thank me one day for the lessons in stoicism you've learned along the way.


Mar 10

There’s J. Paul Getty. And, then, there’s the rest of us

March 10 When the late, multimillionaire oil magnate, J. Paul Getty, was asked his secret for success, he responded by saying, 'My formula for success: Rise early. Work hard. Strike oil.'

Striking oil is a sure-fire ticket to a life of fame and fortune. For the rest of us, though, the rising early and working hard parts are the answer.

I thought of Getty's tongue-in-cheek remark as I networked with a group of College of Charleston students visiting New York the other day. Along with 25 or 30 other PR, media, branding and public affairs executives, I have the pleasure of serving on the college's communications advisory board. Aside from branding and marketing advice, our charge is to mentor the students.

The board members attending Monday night's networking event were swarmed by the eager, if somewhat desperate, students. Each had more or less the same set of questions: 'What sort of qualities are you looking for?' 'How can I set myself apart?' and 'What does an entry-level PR person do?' In response to the latter, I assured the students that entry-level life is nothing like the plight of poor Stephanie Skinner, the junior account executive punching bag in Bravo's reality show called 'Kell on Earth.' I somehow doubt The People's Revolution (the fashion PR agency spotlighted in the show) will find it way onto The Holmes Report's best workplaces list anytime soon.

That said, I suggested the students hold their questions and, instead, ask them of Peppercom's junior people when they visit our offices today (the students will also pay visits to the offices of MTV, Computer Associates, Edelman, Ketchum and Deloitte).

Aside from striking oil or getting your parents to pay for your internship, there is no easy path to finding work in public relations.

One has to do one's homework before an interview, be conversant with industry trends, and explain not only what was learned from previous internships but, critically, how one went above and beyond the call of duty to complete an assignment. The latter is huge. Demonstrate passion, a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to do more than what is expected and you'll build rapport with the interviewer. That doesn't mean you'll receive a job offer, though. There may be many more rounds of interviews, other candidates who are just as good as you and the intangibles of timing (the agency or corporation may have just lost a large account and instituted a hiring freeze).

These are the times that try graduating seniors' souls. Some will succeed in landing that dream entry-level job. Most won't. My only advice to those who won't is this: pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. And again. And again.

Or, strike oil.

Feb 28

Responsiveness 101

What do communications students from Marist College, Northeastern, the University of Vermont, the1_2
College of Charleston and the PRSSA share in common?

Almost all have failed to follow-up with me after being urged to post comments on my blog, submit a writing sample for my edits or just plain ask for my help in networking.

I’ll bet I’ve lectured before 500 or more college students in the past year alone. And, I’d guess that less than two percent have leveraged the ‘meetings’ to connect with me. These are the same kids who, in conversation with me, voice serious fears about successfully entering the workforce.

I’ve discussed the students’ lack of aggressiveness and follow up with search consultant par excellence, Bill Heyman. He agrees that, while the latest generation of college kids, live, eat and breathe all things digital, they lack either the competitive drive or intellectual wherewithal to connect, network and differentiate themselves as thought leaders.

I’m sure sociologists could have a field day with the various reasons why this is happening. But, in my mind, it comes down to two factors: my generation of parents has spoiled the current one, most of whom expect the business world to beat a path to their door. Second, the Web has become a virtual crutch of sorts enabling kids to avoid direct confrontation.

Regardless of the causes, we’re left with a group of kids who desperately want jobs, but seem reluctant or unwilling to roll up their sleeves and do it what it takes to succeed. File it all under the term ‘sense of entitlement.’

Sep 19

Who are those guys?

Tom Martin, current executive-in-residence at the College of Charleston, and former client of PeppercomAngryboss
as corporate communication chief at ITT, penned a fascinating opinion piece about abusive workplaces.

In his article, Tom, references conversations with several young people who complained about abusive bosses. These were heads of public relations agencies who, said the staffers, shouted, screamed and managed by fear.

Like Tom, I’m befuddled by the fact that leaders who are retained by Corporate America to manage image and reputation could be so oblivious to not ‘walking the walk’ themselves.

I once worked for a screamer and shouter and know how toxic such an environment can be. In that case, the CEO was a former NFL offensive lineman (talk about an appropriate job title), the firm was in the management consulting field and the times were decidedly different.

When the Council of Public Relations Firms, PRSA, Arthur Page and other professional organizations ‘screen’ for new members, they should include a background check on managerial style/corporate culture. And, prospective clients should conduct better due diligence in their searches (we’re rarely asked to discuss agency culture or our management style in new business pitches).

The Vince Lombardi School of Abusive Management should have died when the great Packers coach did. To hear that it is not only alive, but well, is depressing. To realize that such deportment is going unchecked in our own industry is a disgrace. We must police this sort of boorishness if public relations is to one day claim its long-coveted seat at the table.