Mar 17

The lost generation

A recent PRWeek editorial posited the view that industry leaders have done a poor job of Capt.7a23ccc1c683d417205acba34c397564
explaining why the AIG's and Citigroup's of the world are entitled to spend their bailout money to hire PR firms. Where, the publication asked, are our leaders?

I would ask the very same question. But I would apply it to 'helping the next generation of PR pros.' Where are our leaders? Where are PR Week (as well as every other trade publication and industry association)?

I may have missed it, but I haven't seen, read or heard a single word aimed at assisting PR/communications majors who are about to graduate from college.

Where are the 'how to' columns? Where are the guest by-liners? Where are the podcasts and blogs containing useful tips for the next generation?

Industry trade pubs and associations are quick to publish articles about cost-cutting best practices and ways in which agencies can provide more value for lower fees. And, I wish I had a dollar for every opinion piece about measurement and 'what's next' in social media. But, where's the long-term thinking? Where's the investment in our industry's future?  Where is the practical knowledge our college kids need before they enter what may very well be the worst job market in 70 years?

To be sure, there are some individual leaders who are helping the college seniors: Tom Martin and Brian McGee at the College of Charleston come to mind. So do Larry Parnell at George Washington University and Maria Russell at Syracuse. But, where are the editors, reporters, association presidents and agency leaders?

We're only one midsized firm, but we're doing our best to try and help. For example:

– We're hosting a podcast next week that will be composed exclusively of college seniors majoring in PR. We're going to ask them what they're doing to prepare for graduation, how they are differentiating themselves and ask them to share best practices.

– We’ve posted a podcast on our website created by our interns. It's an amazing 'how to' in terms of succeeding at one's first job. It also lists things the interns know now that they wish they knew then. And, it includes tips for winning a job interview.

– We're also actively lecturing at colleges such as NYU, Northeastern, Monmouth University, the University of Vermont, Baruch, the College of Charleston, and others.

The average college senior has about six weeks until graduation. Many, though, are like deer caught in the headlights. They often use words like 'terrified,' when I ask them how they're feeling about the future. They have no job prospects, are saddled with significant student loans to pay and, worst of all, have no industry media or associations providing mentorship or advice.

So, here's a quick note to PRWeek, et al: hold off on the navel gazing for at least one week and devote some ink and advice to the next generation. It's later than we think.

Jul 23

You Can Blame TV and the Movies for PR’s Alarming Gender Imbalance

College of Charleston Executive-in-Residence Tom Martin hits the nail on the head with his call to action on the PR industry’s growing gender imbalance.

Like Tom, I lecture at many college campuses. I also speak at PRSSA conferences and the Council of PR Firms’ most excellent Summer Internfests. Like Tom, I’ve noticed the increasing gender imbalance (he cites a current PRSA member survey revealing that 89 percent are women!). And, like Tom, I agree the lack of men is troubling, since we need to reflect the society in which we live.

Unlike Tom, though, I’m less than sanguine about the success of any education campaign aimed at attracting more young men to our ranks. Why? Because I think peer pressure is the real reason keeping the average college guy from expressing interest in public relations. What red-blooded guy wants to be seen as a "party girl?"

Most high school and college students see PR as a mix of "cocktail parties," "fashion shows" and all things "glam." The reason why is obvious: popular culture has squarely positioned PR jobs that way. "Sex and the city," "The Hills" and hundreds of lesser659x600websatcsamantha known TV shows and movies almost invariably portray PR professionals as
gum-cracking, hair-twirling young ladies. But, as those of us in the profession know, Hollywood is grossly distorting the truth. Most distaff members of the PR industry work on everything from crisis communications and new product introductions to high-level executive coaching and strategic counseling. The Lizzie Grubmans are few and far between.

But until, and unless, we can lobby Hollywood to alter its misleading stereotyping, PR will continue to be totally dominated by young women. And, that lack of gender diversity spells big trouble in the long-term, just as it would for any industry that is too heavily skewed towards a particular race or gender.

Jun 10

In this case, ignorance is anything but bliss

I’m amazed at the number of resumes pouring in from recent college grads or students on SummerJobs vacation.

They’re hungry for jobs and have decided that, after some cursory research, Peppercom would be the ideal match for their talents, energy and aspirations.

That may be, but these college kids are a day late and a dollar short. Most, if not all, businesses finalized their Summer intern and junior hires months ago. We were all set in April.

I’m not sure why so many students and graduates continue to make this very basic mistake every year. It could be apathy on their part, poor guidance by their parents and professors, or some other combination of reasons.

Whatever the cause, the end result is the same. They find few, if any, job opportunities.

Job market ignorance sends a strong, subliminal message to prospective employers: we wonder how prepared these students are for the real world? If they don’t take the time and initiative to learn how and when most firms begin their interview process for Summer/full-time employment, how likely are they to hit the ground running?

So, here’s an assignment for next Spring’s graduating class: start your job research now. Narrow your employers’ list by the Fall. Schedule interviews over the Winter holidays and push hard for a commitment by Spring. Demonstrating knowledge of the hiring process is a small, but important, part of shaping your own image and ensuring a successful job search.

May 07

The B-school brain drain game

BusinessWeek reports that India’s best and brightest business school students are no longer flocking toBusiness
the Kellogg’s, Wharton’s and Darden’s. Why? Because India’s top b-school’s have at least caught up with, if not surpassed, our creme de la creme. Why should India’s best minds relocate to Philadelphia when they can stay in New Delhi?

To add further insult to injury, America’s top B-school recruiters such as BCG and McKinsey, are shelling out massive bucks to newly-minted Indian MBAs (how does a starting salary of $360k sound to you?).

I’m not surprised Indians are staying home. Having represented quite a few business schools over the years, I’ve always been struck by the internecine warfare and naval-gazing that abounds on our top campuses.

I’ve witnessed faculty turf wars that make Antietam look like a skirmish in comparison. I’ve heard corporate recruiters bemoan the lack of real-world experience, communications and team skills demonstrated by recent US b-school grads. And, I’ve listened to faculty, administrators and management spend hour after hour debating tactical, incremental curricula change.

I’m hoping Duke, UCLA and Tuck don’t emulate Detroit and become the GM, Ford and Chrysler of their industry.

America needs its business schools to remain the very best. It goes far beyond mere image and reputation; this is a global competitiveness crisis that needs to be addressed now.

It’s clearly time for America’s B-school deans to do some cramming and figure out a solution. Otherwise, we’ll all be left behind.

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.’

Nov 09

As written by today’s college graduates, communications are being weakened by a dependence on passivity

The active voice is an endangered species. College kids and recent grads uniformly write in the passiveWriting
voice. And, I’m at a loss as to explain why.

Is it the rise of text messaging? I don’t think so, because text by nature is short and to the point. Is it a lame attempt by kids to complete eight to 10-page-long term papers? Or, is it a misguided attempt to demonstrate intellect?

I wouldn’t mind if passivity wasn’t so pervasive. And, since poorly structured, verbose sentences reflect poorly on the writer, I think the entire topic needs more discussion. I’d invite thoughts from academics, PR professionals and others (med supply execs need not weigh in). I also plan to interview a few experts and post follow-up blogs next week.

In other words, and in the spirit of today’s blog, "…a healthy discussion from which much can be learned would be my goal."

Colter’s corollary:

Passive voice is acceptable or may even be required in sentences where you need to shine the spotlight on a certain word, such as putting a client name at the start. And an occasional passive sentence can break up a string of staccato declarative sentences. But generally prefer and strive for the active voice.

Nov 05

G.P.A.’s are M.I.A. when it comes to a hiring decision

Like many of his fellow college seniors, Chris ‘Repman, Jr.’, Cody is stressing out big time about his gradeGrade
point average (GPA). Believing that a 3.75 rather than, say, a 3.4 will determine his future prospects, Chris is spending hour after hour at the library, pulling all-nighters and volunteering for extra-credit assignments.

To which I say, ‘chill.’ A GPA means almost nothing to a prospective employer and, to the best of my recollection, has never, ever come up in the course of an actual interview.

Employers, instead, look for relevant work-study experience. We also prize grads who, prior to the interview, take the time to study our firm and understand our value proposition. Last, but not least, we want friendly, outgoing people who will fit in with our culture.

If I were to grade the image and reputation of a GPA in the hiring process, I’d give it a 1.0.

Colleges and universities need to do a much better job of educating students about the irrelevance of grades to the workplace. And, I’d love to debate anyone who thinks differently.

As one of Rep, Jr’s UVM professors would say, ‘Questions? Comments? Issues?’

Nov 01

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.

Oct 30

Talk about a ‘class’ distinction

Uber rich parents are paying a consultant as much as $40,000 to get their kids into an elite school.College
Michele Hernandez, who was a Dartmouth admissions person before becoming a gun for hire, literally schools rich kids on how to beat the college admissions system. She’ll help draft essays, suggest after-school activities and dry teary eyes. She even begins working with some Ivy League wannabe’s as early as the eighth grade.

Excuse me, but this is the stuff that could lead to class warfare. Affirmative action notwithstanding, affluent Americans already enough advantages without further tipping the scales. We have 30 million or more Americans living below the poverty line and yet a person like Hernandez can earn $1 million helping privileged kids become even more so. What’s wrong with that picture?

I’m not sure if this travesty reflects more poorly on the parents who shell out the big bucks for the college admissions coach, the elite schools who turn a blind eye to such skullduggery or Ms. Hernandez herself. Regardless, I’d give all three a big, fat ‘F.’

Aug 16

Did you know what you wanted to be when you were 14?

Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, NJ, is forcing incoming freshmen to declare their majors beforeImage_816_4
the very first day of class. Administrators say it will "…make students stay interested until graduation" and "…stand out in the hypercompetitive college admissions process." I say balderdash.

This is an absurd idea. Few, if any, 14-year-old kids I know have clearly formulated career goals. I know at that age, I was set on either succeeding Tommie Agee as the Mets centerfielder or cajoling Mick Jagger into finding a place for me with the Stones. I’d never heard of public relations or entrepreneurship
for that matter.

There’s enough pressure on adolescent kids today without adding a ‘career’ burden. ‘Repman, Jr.,’ for example, is stressing out big time about his future career path (and, he’s a college senior).

I’m all for improving the quality of our secondary school education system and its graduates, but forcing kids to make decisions that will impact their entire lives is unfair and potentially destructive. Let’s let them be kids a little longer.