PR Struggle: Internships and Diversity

According to a recent report, PR professionals are among the worst offenders for exploiting interns. In our field, it is not uncommon for unpaid interns to perform job functions that could be performed by paid staff, meaning that they could be entitled to at least minimum wage.

Interns Wanted

For organizations offering unpaid internships, this functions as a double-edged sword: yes, short-term bottom lines benefit by the assistance that interns can provide for free, but the organizations could also be limiting the pool of talent to only include those able to work without financial compensation, potentially cutting out many qualified and talented individuals – after all, most students have college loans and monthly utility bills to worry about.

The catch-22 of the situation, of course, is that it’s hard to imagine a college graduate trying to break into the highly competitive field of Public Relations without completing a minimum of one or two internships. Soon to be enter the job market myself, I am all too familiar with the expectations and pressure that go along with being in this line of work. It isn’t uncommon to hear that a PR student’s GPA is not as significant as his or her experience, or that a decent portfolio is mandatory when walking into an interview.

The effects of this dynamic can be dangerous to the field as a whole. In fact, just this evening, a major question raised at the Rochester PRSA event was why the industry wasn’t becoming more diverse at a pace similar to that of society as a whole. According to David Grome, there were “several comments about the event’s location (Brooks Landing) being “difficult to find” or “near some sketchy areas,” which might be part of the challenge to unite people behind the issue of diversity. We tend not to go, literally and figuratively, where we’re not familiar.”

Is it too far a stretch to correlate the low amount of diversity in PR to the frequently unpaid internships that are all but a necessity to those trying to join the field?

Though I think there is definitely merit to that question and that it deserves to be discussed, I don’t necessarily think that all internships should be paid.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have completed five internships during my undergraduate career. Of them, two have been unpaid and three have been paid – giving me a unique perspective on this issue.

I learned an insane amount during one of my unpaid internships and built a relationship with one of the best PR professionals in the area – someone I am still lucky enough to consider a mentor today. Looking back, the experience proved to be worth every dollar of financial sacrifice that was associated with it. To those who would argue that they can’t afford to work for free despite the potential value in the experience, I would challenge them to reconsider.

The fact of the matter is that most unpaid internships are part-time (mine was only about 12 hours per week) and during normal business office hours, meaning that there is still plenty of time to have a part-time, paid job during nights and weekends. Not only that, but I also know that it is very possible to excel academically during a semester including both paid jobs and unpaid internships.

Unpaid internships are not limited to financially stable individuals. They are limited to individuals with professional priorities and excellent time-management skills.

I wonder what Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson would think.

The Internship

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Creating Viral Campaigns With Twibbon

REDCrossheader-copy

 

On behalf of the American Red Cross, I’ve been using Twibbon for the first time to rally support for a series of blood drives that will (hopefully) set new records and cumulatively collect over 1003 units of blood – one more than Theo, from Buffalo, NY, needed to save his life in March of 2011.

If you haven’t used (or heard of) Twibbon before, it’s a social platform that allows individuals to show their support for specific organizations, causes and points of view.

Twibbon

For example, check out this Twibbon for Special Needs, or this one for the Boston Red Sox.

There are a number of features that Twibbon offers that we in the world of digital marketing need to know about:

  • The actual “Twibbon” is a mark that is laid on top of supporter’s profile pictures on Facebook and/or Twitter.
  • Give users multiple Facebook Cover Photos to choose from for their own profiles.
  • Direct visitors to your campaign page to any website you want – use this link space to boost attendance, donations or sales.
  • Create copy for Tweets and Facebook posts for individuals to publish on their profiles when they support your campaign.

I think my favorite part of using Twibbon was the design support we received by upgrading to a Pro account. For a one-time fee of $99, the Twibbon team provided our Campaign Header, Twibbon image, and Facebook Cover Photos – and they did so surprisingly quickly.

This tool is under-utilized and there’s a lot of room for organizations to leverage it to create viral campaigns that result in brand visibility and consumer action. Think about some of these possible uses of Twibbon:

  • Colleges could invite incoming freshman to use Twibbon during orientation to be able to quickly recognize each other as part of the same class.
  • Professional organizations, like the PRSA or AMA could invite members to use their Twibbon to display their loyalty to the group and encourage others to join.
  • An organization with a strong brand, like Starbucks, could use Twibbon to let their brand ambassadors show off their love for Starbucks coffee!

How do you think Twibbon could help your organization?

Discussing the Butler/Till Family with Tracy Till and Laurin Fox

On Monday, I was fortunate enough to visit Butler/Till – a four-time top 50 fastest growing women-owned business. I was able to learn a lot about the agency and really get a feel for how it operates on a daily basis. Co-CEO Tracy Till was generous enough to extend the opportunity to me, and even gave me some time to blast her with questions that I anticipated being more difficult for her to answer.

Butler Till

I met Tracy after her participation in the PRSA’s YPRP Mentorship event. This is an important detail because it shows how open she is to giving back to the community – something that we will discuss in more depth shortly. Speaking at that event was not a rarity for her. She is very visible and active in the Rochester area, and I think that sets a tone for the rest of the agency’s employees about attitudes and values.

I hope you can gain some insight into Tracy Till and her company through the interview that I conducted with her and Laurin Fox, Account Executive.

What kind of atmosphere do you strive to portray at Butler/Till?

Tracy TillTracy: I wanted it to be a family atmosphere; a place where people could feel comfortable, protected, inspired, and participatory. Your culture is your brand, and ours is our family. It’s about being incredible, striving, and doing. It’s collaborative and it’s human. 

To me, I want people to walk in to our office and see us for who we are. At the same time, I want us to walk into other people’s offices and still see us for who we are. We are what you get, and that culture is very alive.

Tracy admits to not being very “corporate.” Whereas her partner, Sue Butler, is very detail and process oriented, she is more creative. They make a great duo, because they can balance each other out and provide the best of both types of leadership.

Rank the following in terms of their priority, in your opinion:

Clients, employees, Butler/Till, and the Rochester community

I think that you should treat your employees just as well as your customers, so I think they share a similar platform. Butler/Till would be third, and Rochester community is fourth.

My product is my employees and their skills. From a customer’s perspective, if I don’t have the right talent and I don’t train my employees, they can’t deliver what they need to. I need to be able to service customers who have unique needs. So caring for my employees directly influences the satisfaction of clients. We wouldn’t maintain our clients if we didn’t have great employees.

If employees and clients are treated well and they are in love with Butler/Till, it becomes clear that the agency and the community simply fall into place. The agency thrives, which in turn allows it to continue supporting the community. I was previously unaware that Butler/Till chooses one charity or local non-profit organization each month. A series of fundraisers throughout the month contributes to a donation to that charity.

The best part, in my opinion, is that the organizations are chosen by the employees of the agency. It gives individuals the chance to propose something that they are passionate about, and it’s fantastic that co-workers can provide support and get behind the cause.

Can you speak about the different ways that employees are able to grow and develop professionally at Butler/Till?

Laurin: One of the great things when I was starting out was that it was completely dependent on what I was interested. Everyone helped me learn about the things that I wanted to learn about. For me, it was being involved in digital media. As I grew, it became more about media buying and eventually account service. I’ve been able to do it all while I have been here. The agency has allowed me to grow the way that I wanted to grow.

Butler/Till University is set up similarly to a college curriculum in that you can take whatever courses you choose. Whatever you want to learn, there is someone here that is able to lead that class.

I want people to feel like they have an opportunity here. So growing and expanding their minds keeps employees invested and interested. Diversity of accounts and roles is what prevents us from getting stagnant.

Why should a young professional choose Butler/Till as their “dream job” instead of another agency?

First and foremost, our culture. Second, it’s the opportunities provided here from an account perspective and from an education perspective.

In large agencies, people can really learn the fundamentals of marketing. In smaller agencies, people can learn how to be nimble and be involved in the entire process. Butler/Till essentially combines those, and we can offer the best of both worlds.

Culture for me was really important. Everyone always said that Butler/Till was like a family, and why wouldn’t you want to be a part of a family? This is where we spend so much of our time, so it’s great when it doesn’t even feel like work.

The other part was that I wanted to be able to touch different things. There’s the ability at Butler/Till to master something and then move on to something else and constantly continue your development.

What are the top three characteristics you look for in an interviewing process?

I can really see Sparkle. I do well with finding talent that is eager and interested.

The passion in young professionals is what is important, and that’s what I like to see come out in an interview. And then, of course, knowing our business and knowing what we do is an important part of it. You would be surprised about the lack of preparation that sometimes exists.

Inside Butler/Till, it’s clear that “being remarkable” is more than a phrase written on the all. It’s an agency filled with movers and shakers that strive to create a an environment that embodies success, growth, and family.

Does it sound like your dream job?

 

 

Experienced Professionals Share Insight on Mentoring

On Tuesday, March 19, the Young PR Professionals of Rochester hosted an event called “How to Create, Expand or Maximize your Mentorship Opportunities.” Hosted by Tom Proiretti, the panel included Dresden Engle, Kevin Kane, and Tracy Till. In other words, it was a dream-team panel for any student or young professional.

Rochester PRSA

I heard a lot of great advice during the program, and following are the three major takeaways.

What is mentorship?

Dresden Engle

 

Dresden Engle: Mentorship is the generous sharing of knowledge with someone else.

 

 

Kevin Kane

 

Kevin Kane: Mentorship is a way to broaden your horizons and get outside your comfort zone to learn new things and meet new people.

 

 

Tracy Till

 

Tracy Till: Mentorship is a relationship with someone who inspires you to learn and grow. It produces aspiration within you. I still have multiple mentors today. 

 

 

How do you identify a mentor? What are they like?

Mentors respect their colleagues and mentees. If they exude generosity, it says “I respect you and value you.”

Mentors are non-threatening, and don’t feel intimidated by youth. Some experienced professionals might be afraid to help a younger generation, in fear that they could be replaced. Those might not be the best candidates for mentors.

Mentors are incredibly passionate about what they do, and they love to share their brilliance. If someone frequently gives tips and shares valuable information, they might be a great mentor.

Okay, so mentors are good to have. How do I get one?

In a word: Networking. Tracy Till explained that sending out resumes when looking for a job is like a broad marketing campaign. Networking, though, is a much more targeted campaign. There are two easy ways to network with people in your field.

1. Informal networking interviews

Professionals are usually flattered and happy to let students observe them or even come in to ask them questions about their jobs and companies. 

Anyone can email me, and I will always respond. Individuals should always respond to me, though. You need to be authentic and follow through.

You need to think about your personal credibility and reputation when participating in interviews with professionals. Make a good impression.

2. Attending professional events sponsored by the PRSA or AMA

Do your homework before the event. Know who will be there, who you want to see and speak with.

If you’re shy, set a goal for yourself before each event. That might mean that you start out with the goal of shaking five hands, but eventually you will get more comfortable meeting new people. You can increase your goal as you get better at it.

Tom Proietti

I think the best advice of the night came from the panel’s moderator, Tom Proietti, who suggests that everyone learns their zip code’s “+4,” and include it when writing your address. It shows the intense attention to detail that many hiring managers look for. Once you build a relationship with a professional – “stay  on their radar.”

 

What would you add? How did you find your mentor?

Can Twitterships be as effective as relationships?

For a long time, I have been a huge advocate of using online, social media platforms to make connections with professionals in one’s given field of choice. Specifically, I think it’s a great tool for students and young professionals who haven’t found the best fitting job for them yet.

To name a few, Twitter makes connecting easy because following does not need to be mutual. In other words, you don’t have to be accepted by a person in order to follow them.

Conversely, LinkedIn, known as the professional social

network, is great for connecting because connections on the site are generally only made between people who actually do have a legitimate offline relationship. In other words, it’s more authentic.

I want to clarify this a bit further, though.

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