On Friday I attended the Real World Atlanta Conference in downtown Atlanta. Hosted by the PRSA Georgia Chapter, about 150 public relations students attend, as well as a healthy mix of agency and corporate public relations professionals. Overall, the conference was fantastic. I networked with some really interesting people, and gained valuable tips, tricks, and insight into the public relations profession.
Instead of doing a play-by-play of the day, I’m going to list the top five lessons I took away from the experience. The following list is geared towards public relations practitioners, but it probably applies to almost any professional industry…
1) Facebook is a major, major component of your online presence.
If you’re interviewing for a job, make sure you have cleaned up your Facebook profile ahead of time. Even if all of your privacy settings are customized for “friends only” or even “only me”, chances are high that you’ve been tagged in other photos by friends. Dimyka Roberts, Recruiter at Digitas Health, and Tia Jackson, Human Resources Manager at Porter Novelli, both stressed that potential employers will search and search until they find a back door into your Facebook profile. Employers want to know the real you, and that means Facebook. So do yourself a favor and untag or delete all those photos where you’ve got a drink in your hand, or you look drunk. Sure, Bonnaroo was an amazing experience. And sure, you were sober the entire time, but a prospective employer might perceive otherwise if they see a photo of you standing in the Hippie Fountain with some dude toking up in the background. Another good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you’d want “that photo” to show up on the front page of the New York Times. If you’re okay with the consequences of that hypothetical situation, chances are, a future employer wouldn’t have a problem with it either.
2) Work-life “blending” is the new balance.
These days, the public relations professional is a busy, busy person. Public relations is one of those professions that’s often hard to leave at work once you head home for the day. People often refer to finding a balance between work and home, to avoid heavy bias in either direction. But with the integration of social media and the ease of multi-platform, mobile communication in so many facets of daily life, where does work stop and home begin? It has become far too easy to work at home, or play at work. Craig Hodges, Vice President at Edelman, talked about “blending” work and life to find a sustainable mix of the two. If you’re still emailing clients or working on a project once you get home, are you also able to simultaneously interact with your partner/children/pets? How long do you keep the laptop open once you’re home? Do you answer emails on your phone during dinner? Do you care? Does your partner care? The answer is different for everybody, but it’s important to keep tabs on your own happiness, your professional productivity, and your personal relationships (whether it’s with another human or your pet), and find the best blend for your situation.
3) Underpromise and overdeliver.
For entry level public relations professionals, being able to meet expectations is essential to gaining trust and respect from your boss. For long-term professionals, the same is true in client situations. Elizabeth McMillan, Account Director at William Mills Agency stated that an excellent strategy is to under promise what you believe is possible in a situation, but then always strive to over deliver. Of course, if a deadline is crucial, you’re not going to say it can’t be met, but make sure you understand what is being asked of you, and seriously consider the resources you have available to accomplish the task at hand. If you need help, it’s always okay to ask for it. If you can consistently over deliver, people will take notice. Another question: If you’ve got an internship, do you always leave five minutes early? Are you unsure what you should be working on? At the end of each day, employers love it when interns ask if anything else needs to be done before heading home. A strong work ethic and flexibility with hours are easily recognized traits in a good intern. Interns with those qualities are typically the ones offered full time positions when an internship is over.
4) What’s your elevator speech?
If you found yourself in an elevator with the hiring manager or VP from the agency that you desperately want to work for, and the ride from the lobby to the 16th floor takes 30 seconds, how would you use those crucial seconds? Would you make small talk, mumble, or look down at your shoes the whole time? Would you stare at the doors, silently freaking out about what you should be saying, but are too afraid? Hopefully not! Instead, you should pitch yourself like it’s the only chance you’ll ever get. Stephen Brown, the Senior VP of MSL Group in Atlanta says that it’s a great idea to have 2 or 3 scenarios rehearsed beforehand, so you can nail that once-in-a-lifetime elevator ride with confidence and ease. Keep it simple, straightforward and to the point. The most important part to remember is that you are, in no way, asking for a job (that’s what the formal interview is for, right?): Instead, use the 30 seconds to tell this VP one interesting idea you have, what amazing skill you can bring to his or her agency, and how you can make his or her life easier. It’s as simple as that. With any luck you’ll make a great first impression and give yourself a head start over the other candidates applying for the same job.
5) Interpersonal networking is still incredibly relevant.
The past two to six years have exploded with opportunities to connect with industry professionals via online social networks. It’s great that you’ve created a LinkedIn profile, and you’re following the PR industry heavyweights on Twitter. But do they know who you are? What’s your in? As a public relations n00b, you need more than a digital presence. Stephen Brown kicked off Real World Atlanta, 2011, with a great talk on the advantages of interpersonal networking. He stressed the importance of going to local PR events or conferences and talking to people face-to-face. Even if the person you’re talking to doesn’t work in the same PR sphere as where you want to be, they might know somebody who does. You need to work that room and let people know who you are. Dress professionally, keep a stash of business cards on you (even if it just has your name and blog URL, that’s good enough), and stay positive! It’s a small world: Work some charm, establish some connections, and you’ll be surprised at how far it can take you.