What I learned in graduate school in 700 words.

If you *really* want to know everything I learned in graduate school, it’s mostly captured in my thesis.

It’s 100 pages of academic discussion about how to apply accepted communication theories to a professional setting. The research  includes a literature review and content analysis examining  the online branding elements of user experience design, information architecture and social media content used by organizations to shape perception.

Bored yet? Imagine that paragraph times 500. Ugh. Give me 140c any day (<– this sentence is 81c including this.)

But graduate school was worth it. I learned a lot about my profession of Public Relations that I didn’t already know and came to understand the importance of establishing the field through proven scholarly research. I’m glad I went — but it’s not for everybody.

And I’m constantly asked about going back to graduate school: “Is it worth it?” “Should I?”

If you have to ask, I’d say you haven’t done enough research on your own. But that’s not always the mentality of recent grads facing a tough job market. Lately as job searches extend much past graduation dates, millennials in their mid-20s start thinking: “Hmm… that MA or MBA sure would help my resume stand out.”

Perhaps. But standing out is only  a fleeting opportunity — not to mention the epitome of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Far be it from me to hypocritize for a moment, but I strongly encourage anyone looking to jump straight from undergraduate to graduate school to take some time to gain real world experience before going back to school. The reasons are twofold:

1) Graduate school isn’t like undergraduate where you enroll first and think about what you want to study later. An *advanced degree* is more specialized than an undergraduate degree and you’ll be asked to narrow your focus of study from day one. If it’s required, your thesis or project will eventually be much more specialized than the title of  your program. And even if it’s not required, you should be exploring areas you’re specifically interested in throughout your studies. If you’re going to put in the time, come out with something you’ll truly use and enjoy.

The second reason why professional experience is important for graduate school is less selfish than the first, but it still plays into how much you ultimately take away from the experience.

2) Real world experience makes the graduate class room come alive. More-so than undergraduate, your classmates — and your professors — are just as important as the material in the class. The things they’ve seen, heard and done in the professional world provide practical context to what are distinctly more in-depth thoughts about a subject. Without your own set of experiences some of the education can be lost in translation.

Admission time:  I only half followed my own advice. When I left Miami University with my B.A., I joined Kent State to get my Master’s in Public Relations immediately after. I managed part-and-full-time schedules of school, internships, freelance gigs and LIFE, but also took 5 years to get a “2-year degree.”

Looking back at the half-decade I spent at #PRKent it’s sort of surreal to think I’m done. It was part of my life in varying amounts for a long time. I’ve also done a lot of other great things in that time, and in the end, I walked away not being over educated and under experienced. I’ve gained the tactical skills of my profession doing communications for a living and understand where my role in an organization is. I’ve also learned how to apply strategic public relations thought processes to my positions as well as the value of continued education both in the classroom and on the job.

Both the education and experience will serve me not only now but for the rest of my career. And never for a second would I discourage someone from going after an advanced degree. The upper echelon of academia, a.k.a. graduate school, is a noble pillar of society. Establishing new knowledge for future scholars through bureaucracy and regiment is certainly a big step in humanity’s upward march. And I’d encourage anyone to walk up those steps. But learn how to walk on flat ground first. And please: don’t run.

Posted from WordPress for Android — 4G LTE faster than your broadband. (With some edits on desktop, of course.)

May 8, 2012 at 7:17 AM Leave a comment

The Power of Reflection (Part 2 of 2)

I recently moved to the city to be closer to my new job and find a new social atmosphere – a definite change from my past homes near wooded parks or remote Northwoods wilderness areas. Yeah, “the city” is only Cleveland, but being surrounded by this much brick and mortar is unsettling for a nature-o-phile like me.

Riverside views of the Thelon, Nunavut, Canada, & Cuyahoga, Cleveland, Ohio.

The recent move has highlighted why I relish opportunities to retreat into the wilderness. To unplug from my electronic devices and recharge my mental batteries.  It’s something William Powers wrote about in his book Hamlet’s Blackbery (which my dad summarized here) and I strongly believe is essential to mental health. Especially for those of us who spend so much time in the digital world, limiting ourselves to a 2D, electronic perspective.

Getting away — whether it’s for a weekend unplugged or a week on the beach — has oodles of benefits:  avoiding the blinking lights, overflowing in boxes and ever-present notifications; remembering that there’s more to life than work;  dissolving stress by entering a world of relaxation; and enjoying the fruits of your labor by exercising free will.

But, most importantly, taking time away gives you a new perspective on your life: past, present and future.

Stepping outside the rigors of day-to-day routines and mindsets allows you to remember what makes you happy and what you need to do so that you can spend more time being that way — happy.

#Confucious quote just for good measure.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for the idea of having a job I love and “never working another day in my life.” But no matter how much I love what I do (and even practice in my free time a la writing this blog), the fact is:

“NOT working is better than working.”

And that’s a Bill Sledzik quote to live by.

Relating back to the first part of this post, an extended vacation from the doldrums (or playgrounds) of work life gives your mind enough of a break to look back and understand what you’re doing with your life and examine all aspects:

  • Do I enjoy what I’m doing?
  • Is it challenging enough?
  • Am I being effective and adding value?
  • Am I understood?
  • How can I improve; i.e. how can I be happier?

I haven’t been to the woods since early January and that was only for a weekend. I’m dying for some time outside my own head. Some time to reflect and think back on all of the great experiences I’ve had at my new gig, in my new place and everything else that’s been happening good or bad. But with my next wilderness getaway weeks away in April, I’m settling for long drives, workouts and the occasional mid-day zone out (it happens for a reason folks: your mind *needs* a break).

But I’m curious on how other people “reflect,” both short- and long-term. I’ve described what’s personal to me. Can you relate? What tricks, tips, trips or breaks do you use? Or is reflection just natural? Just curious…

(imgs: victoria-weather.com, nansons-place.com)

February 16, 2012 at 12:31 AM 1 comment

The Power of Reflection (part 1 of 2)

A prism shows the power of reflection turning one condensed blur into a variety of light points.

Reflection – A daily exercise

It’s a trite way to start any piece of writing, but looking at the definition of reflection (see #6 or 7) truly sums up what this post is all about: taking time to look at one’s self is important. And not in a vain way, but in a truly introspective, self-betterment kind of way.

Taking time to reflect means really looking in the mirror and understanding how you can be better. It doesn’t have to be a real mirror, and the improvement can be in any category. You just have to take the time to do it.

Reflection is a forced activity that no one will remind you to do. And something that I’m guessing you don’t have on your calendar. But a little bit of “me” time at the end of the day – or the end of the week – is a necessity if you’re looking to improve. It gives you time to assess your progress on a project and the manner in which you got there. “Am I as far as I thought I’d be? What worked or didn’t work?”

M.C. Escher, a man of artistic and mathematical genius, practices some reflection.

Take this into consideration: the majority of us jumping from meeting-to-meeting-to-task-to-lunch-to-project-to-meeting-to-life hardly have time to consider what we’re actually doing. In a world of information overload, fully stretched staffs and LIFE, our attention bounces around like a hyperactive pinball throughout the day. There’s just simply no time to look at the big picture.

Even when we get the time to focus on one task, by the end of the day we’re beyond burned out and ready to hang ‘em up. Not to mention making time for family, friends and errands.

Coincidentally, this is often the precise time we should be reflecting. The end of the day is paramount.

So here’s my suggestion:

As often as you can, take the last 5-10 minutes of the day to organize your thoughts. Review any checklists, progress reports or emails you worked from that day and truly reflect on what you did. Don’t look forward to the tasks ahead just yet; focus on what’s been done.

  • Did it take you longer than you thought?
  • Did you find the answer you sought out to find?
  • Where did you waste your time?
  • Could you have been more effective with help or more information?

There’s a myriad of questions you could ask yourself, but the key is to take at least five minutes and reflect on yourself in a way that focuses on improving your work for next time.

After this, take another five minutes to look ahead. Organize your thoughts for the next day and develop a hit list of items to be complete; think short-term and long-term so you’re not only knocking things off the list daily, but also making headway on those large daunting projects.

Paired with reflection on everything you’ve accomplished, looking ahead at even a massive workload will seem less stressful. You’ll have a better idea of what needs to happen to accomplish the list and be more confident knowing that you’re working diligently and efficiently to get where you’re at.

Admittedly, I don’t afford myself 5-10 every day. But on the days I do, I feel more organized, confident and happy at my job —  in control and less stressed. Part 2 of this post will focus on longer reflection periods taken less frequently. Look for that when I find a second to do just that: reflect.

February 1, 2012 at 6:57 AM 1 comment

My new gig: the offer I couldn’t refuse

For those who know me IRL (or read about it here), you know I’ve been on a job search for the last few weeks. Having my position eliminated at the end of October gave me the chance for some much needed introspection and the opportunity to redirect my career.

Being unemployed was unnerving, but I knew that the time was right for a career change. With my MA degree nearly finished, I was ready to take my next steps.

So what would I do?

After an awesome mid-October trip to San Francisco, I chose the Bay area and Greater Cleveland to focus my job search. The divergent choices may sound strange to some, but I was balancing my career drive with a growing itch to get away from my hometown.

I had a lot of great conversations and investigated a range of positions, after which I can say from experience that the PR industry is in a healthy growth mode. I was prepared to take on traditional PR roles as well as other content marketing and account service positions. I got to meet and engage with many fantastic folks and entertained a lot of incredible opportunities.

But in the end, I got an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. I started at Marcus Thomas this week, and after careful consideration, wanted to share the three main reasons I took the job:

It enables me to accelerate my career in public relations. My role within the PR group allows me to immediately put my B2B media relations experience to work for a top-notch team and client. I’ll also be working on some consumer-focused products with a combination of digital and traditional tools. Most of all, I’ll be surround by a team of truly passionate PR professionals I can learn from daily.

It allows me to expand outside my core discipline. As a truly integrated marketing agency, Marcus Thomas offers services that span the media industry. Though my forte is PR, being part of a firm that takes a “media agnostic” approach advising clients is a perspective I believe is necessary for success in our shifting media landscape. It’s also a firm that believes strongly in cross-pollination of skill sets and professional development – again a chance to learn daily from everyone around me,  in PR and beyond.

Being close to my nephew Jake was definitely a factor in my decision.

It gives me the chance to live by the lake. It was tough at first to put my SF dreams aside, but in the end it’s for the best. I’m moving from Akron to downtown Cleveland next month and am excited to sink my teeth into city living. As a frequent visitor for the past few years, I’m excited to meet new folks in the “216” and still be close to good friends and family down south.

I’m sure I’ll have more specifics to add about the gig in the coming weeks, but it should suffice to say that I’m pumped up enough after just three days to write a blog post about it. ;-)

And if you missed it, I wouldn’t have made it here alone. Another big thanks to those who helped me get here.

road image: nazareneblogs.org

December 15, 2011 at 1:08 AM 3 comments

Giving Thanks to my mentors and colleagues.

This thank you post has been a long time coming. Symbolic, perhaps, of people’s proclivity to put off and sometimes forget to thank people in their lives. For all the joy and retribution I get from acknowledging my appreciation of other people’s support, I certainly don’t do it often enough.

Editor’s note: I actually had this drafted to post on Thanksgiving, but didn’t get around to it until now. This either further proves my point above or shows I’m a lazy blogger – you decide.

But on Thanksgiving week, when Americans historically give thanks for a good harvest, good family and good friends, I see no better time to thank those who have helped me find good fortune professionally. I have certainly missed people on this list, and those who I’ve mentioned deserve much more than the few words I’ve written. I only hope that someday I’ll be able to return the favor.

If you don’t know me or these people personally, this post won’t mean much, but I’ve kept relevant copy near the top of each section at a more general level.

My College Professors
The wisdom I learned in both undergraduate and graduate school is invaluable. I’m both grateful and amazed by the ability of passionate college professors to shape impressionable student minds into motivated aspiring professionals. The one’s I list here are among my favorite.

Cherly Heckler – A journalism professor at Miami University who helped shape my basic writing skills from idea organization to succinct prose. Also a friend whose care for students has no bounds.

Jean Lutz and BATSC program – As head of the Bachelor of Arts in Technical & Scientific Communication at MU, Jean built a program that prepared students for the professional world of communications. The skills and work ethic I learned in the program from all its professors are assets I apply every day. I just wish my professors could hear the ‘thank you’s I utter to my cubicle walls.

Jeanette Drake – My first PR professor, I have much to thank Dr. Drake for, but it is the rigor she demanded for classroom preparation that I am most thankful for. Meeting prep is now a breeze because of the professionalism she demanded in the graduate classroom at Kent State. Thank you for pushing me!

Jan Leach – Though I never had Jan for class, working for her to plan the Poynter Ethics conferences was one of the best learning experiences I had during graduate school. Not to mention Jan’s ceaseless offers to help professionally – it’s always appreciated!

And from a new media stand point, I can’t go without mentioning Stefanie Moore from Kent State’s PR program and Karl Fast in Information Architecture. I appreciated the immediate applicability of their coursework and their patience as I balanced it with full time work. Both embody academics who can offer more to their students because of their real world experience and constant eyes on the future of their respective industries.

 

My Professional Network
Launching into the real world, I sought to build a network of dedicated professionals I could learn from. Starting small by learning office politics and workplace etiquette, I looked for a variety of people that could broaden my perspective and teach me the ropes of the PR world as I progressed as a pro.

Nancy Perkins – The first mentor in my PR career, Nancy has been a tremendous influence and source of advice since we worked together. Maintaining a positive attitude and standing behind solid writing skills are things I learned from her and will never forget. Thanks!

Jennifer Kramer – Jen is a consummate professional with a personal drive to be admired. I’m lucky if even an iota of her organization and preparation skills rubbed off on me planning conferences at Kent State.

Todd Snider, Frank Whanger and folks at JWT Action – For making me look great on projects at my last gig, I owe the team at JWT (formerly Malone Ad) thanks for a whole lot more than professional development. But it’s what they taught me about advertising and solid creative that will last throughout my professional career.

Gary Wells, Christina Klenotic and folks at D&E – Similar to JWT, my friends at Dix & Eaton aided my PR efforts on the job. But the career advice, networking opportunities and downright selflessness of folks like Gary and Christina are beyond the call of duty. I’m truly thankful to be networked with them and will continue to stay in contact for years to come.

Scott Baughman, Skip Scherer and Keith Price – The “Goodyear guys” in my communications network were a crucial resource for me when I worked with that brand for many reasons. Their willingness to provide advice and insight to me as a young professional is greatly appreciated.

Ben Brugler – One of the key PRKent grads to give me career advice, I’m appreciative of the opportunities Ben’s given me over the years. More than anything, I’m thankful for how he’s challenged me to be the best in my career and will certainly use his encouragement as motivation moving forward.

Chris Baldwin – As one of my dad’s first students, I’ve known Chris since I was a kid and always looked up to him as a leading PR practitioner in the Greater Cleveland area. A visionary for where the industry is going, Chris has helped me develop my thoughts on the industry and how to stage my career in its early stages.

Eric Knappenberger – Another from PR Kent, Eric’s advice while I was a “PR island” proved more than valuable in my last gig, and his positive attitude about the industry is something I carry with me today. His fun loving approach and entrepreneurial PR skills are something I admire and mimic as I seek success in the biz.

Chris Eck – The last PRKent grad in my list, Chris’s no-BS perspective is both refreshing and insightful. His willingness to help me sort through the aggravations of corporate PR and find success in a variety of atmospheres has been key to my success so far, and I know he’s always happy to give advice.

 

Countless Colleagues at Veyance
As with any professional position, I learned just as much from the other functions around me as I did about the field of public relations. I’m thankful for all of the managers and executives I worked with for embracing the power of strategic communications and putting faith in me as a young professional to fuel success.

My Bosses, Jim Hill, Laura Domchick, Jon Cocco and many more. My reporting structure at Veyance was much more complicated than anything listed on paper. Thusly, my “bosses” are too many to list, but I trust they know who they are. Their patience and advice as I navigated a corporate culture to execute internal and external communications strategies was crucial to my success and learning throughout my tenure with the company. I look forward to staying in contact as our paths take us in different directions.

Sue Deckard for sympathizing – A special mention goes out to Sue who understood my plight as a solo PR practitioner with the company. Her background with the field was crucial to me identifying opportunities and implementing solutions over the last three years and I’m eternally grateful.

If you’ve made it this far you realize there’s one tremendous professional thank you I’ve left out. Or shall I say left for last. As I list the professional thanks you notes above, I’d be amiss not to mention the single most influential person on my PR career to date: Bill Sledzik.

It may be obvious to thank my dad for all he’s given me over the years, but it’s something I haven’t fully appreciated until recently. Among the basics he instilled with me at a young age — strong writing skills, a work ethic bordering on obsession and confidence in my abilities – I continue to learn more from him every day I practice PR. An unshakeable positive attitude balanced by realism and a sense of humor to deal with the not-so-glorious days in PR are among many intangibles I’ve either inherited or absorbed along the way. I’ll undoubtedly continue to learn more from him over the years and look forward to having an “at-home” mentor to guide me. Thanks, Dad. ;-)

December 13, 2011 at 12:05 AM 5 comments

PRSA attempts to Define our industry

Being a relative new-comer to the Public Relations industry, I find myself in a situation familiar to most veteran PR professionals: unable to explain exactly what I do.

Most of my Gen-Y friends see what I do as a sub-set of advertising. Others view me simply as a corporate writer, while a few think I just “play” on Facebook and Twitter all day.

All these answers have some truth to them, but as someone who makes a living influencing perception I  feel pretty stupid not being able to give people a good definition for PR. Which is why I’m excited about what the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is doing for the next couple weeks with their “Public Relations Defined” initiative.

I won’t got into the details of the initiative here (you can catch good coverage of the why & how from the NY Times, Forbes or PRSA themselves), but I did want to share my definition.

As PRSA crowd-sources definitions, it will be interesting to see how pros, students and academics in the field collectively answer the question: “what do you do?”

Public Relations establishes and strengthens strategic relationships through ethical, honest and transparent actions

with/for key stakeholders of an organization

to establish mutually beneficial rapport and goodwill among these stakeholders

for purposes that support business objectives by arming stakeholders with the truth.

There’s room to expand on this definition, but knowing that PRSA has already collected over 400 responses in two days, I’m happy about my drop in the bucket.

What would you add or subtract from this? Anything blatant I missed? Small tweaks for improvement?

OR, fill out the PRSA form for yourself.

Unfortunately, my definition comes far from a concrete explanation that sufficiently communicates what I do. Here’s to hoping PRSA can bring it down to that level. :-D

pic courtesy of plrinternetmarketing.com

November 22, 2011 at 2:10 PM 2 comments

TFMCNB – 11/5/11 – Mediocre PR

In case you missed the first installment of “Thoughts From My Chinese Notebook,” these mini-posts stem from good ol’ fashioned pen & paper journaling I’ve done in a small 4×6-inch book. Short. Sweet. To the Point.

There’re plenty of opportunities to do mediocre PR.

Nothing against this; serving clients with the basics is a bountiful low-hanging fruit, and in the end agencies doing press releases on-demand are contributing to the marketing mix for organizations at the same time they’re adding credibility to the PR industry as a whole.

(BTW, “mediocre PR” doesn’t include the likes of Kim Kardashian – whatever she’s doing doesn’t qualify as Public Relations and I think most pros agree).

The difference I’m delineating is between pigeon hole PR and true strategically applied communications.

There’s responding to a request for publicity by engaging in media relations and then there’s authoring a researched communications plan that supports business objectives. Oftentimes they require the same skillset, just applied in a different manner.

A strategic approach to PR ensures your activities are aimed at the right target.

Think of it this way:

Being asked to write a press release with no information outside of the subject matter is similar to shooting blindly. No matter how straight and swiftly your arrow (the press release) flies, there’s no promise it’s aimed at the right target.

Strategy, on the other hand, takes into account the surroundings and accuracy of every tactic as well as the tactics themselves (a press release in this example). This includes business climate, other marketing/PR/Advertising activities and countless other factors.

Strategy enables success by identifying the right target. Strategy empowers PR by removing the mediocrity and tying your communication objectives back to a business need. Strategy lets you see.

November 21, 2011 at 4:58 PM 2 comments

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