horse saddle

Back in the Saddle with the First Herd of Winter Term Linky Loves

Winter term is always my favorite in the academic universe. Students seem more focused, I seem more focused and productive. We could probably blame the dreary weather — after all, what else do we have to do in Oregon in January and February in Oregon? It lacks the distractions of Spring and is more settled in than Fall.

This term, I’m teaching Strategic Public Relations Writing (J452) for the first time in two years. In this class, students blog twice a week for the duration of the term.

Read more…

Woman using tablet computer in park. Sitting on a bench.

New Year’s Resolution #1: Read More for Pleasure

This is the last in my countdown of New Year’s resolutions.

Number 5: Learn Something New 

Number 4: It’s Ok to Say No

Number 3: Ask for Help

Number 2: Get Moving

I love to read. I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on. I consistently read above my grade level thanks to my parents encouragement of my love of books. 

Then grad school happened. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, academic reading and writing trumped reading for pleasure. Then my professional career. Then kids. Then… life. And, I kid you not, over the last 10 years, I’ve probably read two books a year that were totally and completely for my own pleasure. Half of those were probably audio books. I’ve read trade books, professional books, academic texts, too many blogs and articles to count… but reading for pleasure has definitely taken a backseat.

In the last five years, I’ve learned that I need input. In fact, it’s one of my top five strengths in the StrengthsFinder system. In crave input. I need it to feel strong and confident in my work. I’ve relied on the input from business, trade and academic press, but reading for fun is also part of that.

(You can learn more about how I feel about StrengthsFinder here. The short answer is that I love it.)

This quote from Stephen King, who often writes about writing, also resonates with me. I’m a writer. Strong writing is widely the number one skill required of a public relations professional.  I’m working on a book and I (quite literally) write sun up to sun down in my day-to-day work.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. ― Stephen King

Stephen King Writing Quote

So, I miss reading. I miss losing myself in a book, staying up too late to read one more chapter, crying into the pages or laughing out loud at a great scene.

To incorporate any new anything into my routine, it has to be convenient. I love the printed page and a physical book, but I have no problem with e-books. I have both a dedicated e-reader and a tablet.

I thought about it a lot and realized that I nearly always have my tablet with me. So I needed to find a way to use my tablet. The options for reading on it are vast! Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iBooks will let you buy nearly any book that’s available on the shelf for their respective platforms. In addition, the “Netflix” model of reading has resulted in a couple of apps that allow you to read an unlimited number of books for a monthly fee — Oyster ($9.99/mo) and Scribd ($8.99/mo).

I’ve subscribed to both to see which seems to be a better fit (I like the interface of Oyster better, so far). I also have books on my Kindle app that aren’t available via the subscription services.

Oyster Books Screenshot

My Oyster reading list: historical fiction, young adult, humor, essays.

My goal is to read a book a month. I’ve read one so far, a fun young adult fiction novel. Now to decide what’s next. Any recommendations? What do you read for fun?

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New Year’s Resolution #2: Get Moving

This is the fourth in my countdown to my number 1 New Year’s resolution. You can see number five herenumber four here and number three right here.

Just about every New Year’s resolutions list includes exercise among the top ten. You can add my voice to the choir. Exercise seems like it belongs a personal improvement list, though, not a professional list. But here’s why I’m including it:

Exercise Boosts Brain Power

In the book Brain Rules, the first rule for making your brain work better is to get moving. Regularly. Like more than once during the day. Sit on a stability ball, get a standing desk, take a walk around the block. Just move. It helps you think, helps you retain information, spurs creativity – all sorts of good things, right?

You can read more about Brain Rule #1 here. 

Let’s deskerciseOr just join the Ministry of Silly Walks. I think that looks like it probably burns a good number of calories and gets your blood flowing to your brain!

Exercise is always the first to come off my schedule when my calendar is full. But in all seriousness, I can sense a huge difference in my mood, my energy level and my focus when I’m sitting too much. For my sanity, I need to make time to move.

How about you? Do you have trouble fitting in exercise when your schedule gets busy?

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New Year’s Resolution #3: Ask for Help

This is the third in my countdown to my number 1 New Year’s resolution. You can see number five here and number four here.

theperfect.jpgI can be a little bit of a control freak. It’s not that I’m a perfectionist, per se. I’m really not. I have high standards, but I’m also ok with the idea that perfect is the enemy of the good. I do, however, struggle with the idea that someone else might be able to do the project in the same way that I can. Reality is that someone else can’t — but that’s not necessarily bad, right?

A colleague described trying to help me on a project as the pit crew watching a race car speeding around a track, just waiting for the driver to stop. The crew wants to help and has to hope the driver stops in time to get help.

If I can stop at the pits just a couple of laps earlier and give everyone time and enough info to get up to speed, the race will have a better outcome.

I’m looking at adding some different responsibilities to my plate this year and I need to give myself time to ask for – and get – help. Waiting to ask until I’m coming from a place of panic doesn’t help anyone.

People need two types of help — the first is when you don’t know how to do something and the second is when you have too much on your plate and need to do a good job delegating.

I struggle more with the latter than the former. I’m pretty resourceful when I need to figure out something new and tend to be able to recognize when I don’t know what I don’t know.

So my resolution is focused on doing a better job delegating and getting help to meet deadlines, project goals and my own expectations.

This list from About.com’s Small Business site about effective delegation really resonates with me. To summarize the points…

Analyze your needs: Get a clear picture of what’s on your plate to do a better job of knowing who to delegate to and what it is that you need them to do.

Explore your options: Can someone on your team do what you need? Do you need to hire? Is it a long-term need or a short-term project?

shutterstock_96303518Document everything: meeting notes, client or project expectations, email chain of communication, ideas… everything. You can’t literally download your brain, but if you get as much out of it as you can, you will be better able to share the details with someone else.

Use technology: Whether it’s sharing files, detailing project tasks, scheduling, etc. I love technology and finding the right tool to do a better job. I have a little “shiny new tool” problem sometimes, but you never know when you’ll stumble on something great.

Communicate well and often: For me, this means scheduling time with my team. It can’t be “give me a call when you have a minute” kind of arrangement. No such time. Email, of course, is crucial. But regular face-to-face (when possible) is equally important.

Cultivate trust: Oh, boy, is this a biggie. I have a hard time trusting someone to do something the way I would do it. You can’t delegate and make sure the work is working if you don’t build trust in your team and among your team.

What do you think? Do you have trouble asking for help when you need it?

Race car image: CHEN WS / Shutterstock.com

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New Year’s Resolution #4: It’s OK to Say No

This is the second in my countdown of New Year’s Resolutions. If you  missed the first, you can read it here.

I’m really, really bad at saying no. Really, really bad.

I like to say yes. I like to help. I like to do things I’m good at and I know I’ll do well. I am also very good at feeling responsible for, well, everyone.

And I will still do all of those things. But I must, in the name of all that is holy, say “no” more.

I have to remember that there are degrees of no. No doesn’t necessarily mean eff off. It may mean, “I can’t do that for you, but here are a couple of potential solutions.” Or, “I am not able to add that to my plate right now, but let’s brainstorm together over a cup of coffee.” Maybe even, “I’m not the right person to help you, but I know who is; let me connect you.”

So, here’s to saying “no” more! Or at least venturing into to “no” end of the spectrum.

Any tips?

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New Year’s Resolution #5: Learn Something New

This is the first in a countdown-style series of my professionally-oriented New Year’s resolutions.

I love to learn. I am insatiably curious, even when I don’t want to be (or have time to be!). I have a mental list of things that I wish I knew how to do but don’t necessarily have to for my day-to-day work. So this year, I’m going to start checking some things off that list. I’ll start with these two.

PhotoShop
shutterstock_134143397I know the basics, but for everyday photos, I use Aperture. It works fine, except when I’m taking more photos for friends and family that should be professionally edited. Lynda.com will be my go-to resource here. I found a few dozen tutorials from the basic-basics to the more complex/advanced skills I may never need. If you’re a student in the School of Journalism, you have access to Lynda for free. If you’re not, it’s worth the money to subscribe for a month or two.

Music Appreciation 

I work with the Oregon Bach Festival and often lament my lack of classical music know-how. I would love to learn to play the cello, but haven’t figured out how to bend time and space to find the time to do so … this year, a music appreciation e-course it is.

Yale Open Courses has one you can take for free.

Google Analytics 

The basics are pretty intuitive and straightforward and I even know some of the slightly-more-than-basic stuff. But I want to dig in, get to know the ins and out. There’s so much GA can tell you about making content decisions if you know where to look. Plus, I’m a data geek. Google offers an “academy” and even a nifty certification.

What about you? Anything you want to learn this year?

 

Bread Butter

Eat, Drink, Traffic: Food PR in Los Angeles

Kelli’s note: This is a guest post from one of my faves. I’m so proud of Samantha, how hard she’s worked and all that she’s accomplished in her career so far. Samantha Luthra is a Senior Account Executive at Bread & Butter Public Relations in Los Angeles. You can find her on Twitter

samanthaI work for Bread & Butter Public Relations, a boutique hospitality PR firm with offices in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, San Francisco, and (my city!) Los Angeles.  Our tagline is “We Tweet. We Drink. We’re Merry.”, and I can confidently say that is the best company motto ever. My clients include Bravo’s Top Chef contestants, local restaurants, chain restaurant brands, and food product lines.

Our office is located in Downtown Los Angeles, and we have eight employees. We do it all for our clients, and we thrive on getting results and having fun while we’re at it. 

Bread & Butter PR LA is a girl’s club, and it’s not uncommon to hear us discuss a client’s event, The Real Housewives of Miami, and the latest Mashable article all within the same two minutes. I head up our social media division, Bread & Butter Bytes.

When I’m not battling traffic, my day includes creating social media strategies for clients, managing my team to make sure all social media activities are carried out, keeping up on emerging social media trends, and meeting with clients to keep up with their ever-changing menus, events, and developments. It’s a lot, but it’s a good time!

My entry into life in Los Angeles and a career in the LA food scene was a crash-course, but I’ve survived and have some takeaways:

Read It & Eat It – The only way to keep up on the ever-changing dining scene is to read, and try not to get too hungry. To keep up on food news, I subscribe to Tasting Table, Thrillist, Eater LA, LA Weekly’s Squid Ink Blog, and LA Times Food to get the latest. Then, I follow up on my research by making it a point to try new restaurants and go after new, slightly scary dishes. Uni, anyone?

Meeting Media – Sending an email pitch is fine, but having lunch with an editor is a much more fun and effective route to getting coverage for a client. Our PR account teams make a point to meet with media often, whether it’s for a lunch, drinks, or at events like Los Angeles Food & Wine. These meetings build relationships, and they always include tasty treats. Win!

Social Social Media – To stay in the know on social media, I keep up on emerging digital trends, use social media both for clients and personally, and have made a ton of friends in the industry. I’ve learned that bouncing ideas off of a friend is often where the best strategies come from.  My favorite campaigns were created sitting at tables, sipping cocktails, and brainstorming/daydreaming. It’s important to keep the social in social. For the best social media brainstorms, I head to lovely restaurants like Gjelina in Venice or Little Dom’s in Los Feliz. All strategy is better with cocktails involved! I also Tweet about where I’m eating and tag the restaurants I like, which has helped me build relationships with chefs, restaurateurs, and food media.

It’s PR, not the ER – There are days when I am stuck in traffic, my hair is flat, I’ve spilled my coffee and everything feels out of whack. The most important advice I’ve ever been given is to relax, breathe, and think. At the end of the day, this is PR, and not the ER. (Same goes for social media, too!)

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Protected tweets? I won’t hire you.

I get it. I really do.

There’s a desire to have conversations, interactions, silly back-and-forths with a specific and “controlled” community — your friends. It’s nice to feel some sense of control about who sees or does not see your content. You don’t have to filter or self-censor.

In class last week, I made an off-handed remark that I wouldn’t hire someone who had a protected twitter account. When I said it, I heard an audible gasp in the room. What?! Why would she say that?

So here’s why:

When I hire, I need people who are smart and savvy about social media. For most entry-level professionals, the greatest indicator is how the individual uses their personal account. If your account is protected, I can’t see how you interact with people and what kinds of things you share (obviously). But what it also says is, “I don’t get how to use this tool as a professional. I’m just a student and the world revolves around me.” That’s fine. And your prerogative. But I won’t hire you. 

I know not everyone wants to manage social media and spend their days on Twitter. The entry-level professionals I work with do, so that’s important to me and to my clients.

However, there are plenty of other reasons you might want to reconsider protecting your tweets:

  • You’ll miss connections – plenty of people (including me) won’t follow people back with protected accounts. 
  • People won’t see things you might actually want them to see. Doesn’t do much good to share that portfolio piece or get job search advice if you’re not casting a wider net.
  • Your tweets aren’t searchable (and by the same measure, you can’t participate in tweet chats… just because you use the hashtag for a class, or a chat or a conference doesn’t mean everyone else can see your stuff. Only those people who are already following you can).
  • You can’t connect with new people and build your personal or professional network.
  • It’s not REALLY all that private – Screenshots, retweets and favorites make it really easy for others to share your stuff even if you don’t want them to.

Don’t take my word for it:

What do you think? Do you protect your tweets? If so, why? If not, why not?

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Five Easy Ways to Create Reader-Friendly Documents

I read a lot. Not much for pleasure, it seems, but between research articles, books for class, assignments and Web content, I read a lot. And I’m often frustrated with dense paragraphs, hard-to-decipher thesaurus-speak and unclear emphases.

I have some instincts and some knowledge by osmosis of basic design principles that apply to making your copy reader friendly. You’ll find two parts to reader-friendliness: the first is the basic design and document formatting concepts that work. The other part is that your writing should be concise and meticulously on point. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph has purpose.

I read assignments like I’m a member of the audience it’s intended for – the client, most often. Once you’ve edited and reedited, these tips can help your message get through, regardless of who you’re trying to reach.

  • Befriend white space – the space without words on the page gives the eye a place to rest. When powering through a 10 or 15 page PR plan, this can make the difference between an irritated reader who is just trying to find the point and one that follows your logic and keeps up with your best ideas.
  • Focus on short paragraphs – frequent paragraph breaks allow the eye to transition from point to point easily and soak up the main point. A good rule of thumb is to keep your paragraphs to three to five sentences (and sentences should be short – 15 – 20 words). Massive paragraphs that take up half the page are not reader friendly.Best case scenario, this makes me cranky. Worst case, I choose not to read it and you lose points (aka budget dollars, credibility, etc.). Of note: if you’re writing for the web, or in an email, consider even shorter paragraphs.
  • Slow the eye with bullet points – when your reader is scanning through your short paragraphs with ample white space, bullet points and numbered lists can slow your reader down and ensure that your key points stick. Of course, I’m assuming that you’re making good points to begin with. Bullet lists also help your reader understand steps in a process (awfully handy for, say, a plan).
  • Selectively use fancy formatting – ALL CAPS is difficult to read, as is underlining. Don’t highlight or use more than two fonts in any given document. For emphasis use bold and italics. For example, one might bold the key point of each item on a bullet list. ahem.
  • Think about margins – use left-aligned or ragged right margins, rather than justification for easier flow from line to line. I also prefer flush margins on the left with a hard return between each paragraphs (like the alignment in this blog post), rather than an indented paragraph with no space between. Using indented paragraphs is fussy and looks dated.

What tips do you have for making your copy reader-friendly?

Note: This is an updated & republished post from 2008. 
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Internship Prepares This Duckling for a PR Career

Kelli’s Note: This is a guest post from SOJC alumna, Kelly Brokaw.  

What a crazy summer it has been! Since July 8th I have been an intern on the consumer tech team at the award-winning firm, SHIFT Communications!

When I was an undergrad at UO, I never thought I would start my professional career as an intern. I had always hoped to skip that step and go straight into an account coordinator position. Thank goodness I did not choose that path!

The knowledge and experience I have gained through  such a short period of time has been overwhelming, but so exciting. Here are a few tips I’ve learned that can help you with your current/future internship:

Be proactive – when you’re not building media lists or performing other timely projects, make sure to do reactive research that can potentially help your clients. You can look at their competitors, search for relevant articles, get updated on the news related to their fields, and so many more tasks that can help your team out.

Communication is key – no matter if your team has 2 or 10 members, make sure to always have instant communication with them. When a team member gives you a project, let him/her know your progress throughout the day. This not only will help eliminate distractions, but it also reassures your teammate that you haven’t forgotten about the project that was assigned to you.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions – you’re an intern, therefore people are not expecting you to be perfect. If you are unsure about a project or have general questions, speak up! Your team would rather have you ask a million questions rather than you complete a project incorrectly or inefficiently. Plus, it also shows them you want to do great work.

These are my three biggest tips! If you are a little nervous about jumping straight into an account coordinator position or can’t find one, definitely consider doing an internship.

About Kelly: I am a recent graduate of the University of Oregon. During my time at UO, I was a member of Kappa Delta Sorority, UORotaract and an account supervisor for Allen Hall Public Relations. Go Ducks!