Header photo by Hamish Grant. Used with permission.

Monday, March 29, 2010

How To Get a Job In PR

Like many of my colleagues in PR school at Humber, I will soon be on the job market. On Friday, I attended a Humber / IABC panel about the job hunt, and how to maximize success.

Three panelists spoke to a modest-sized group of PR students.  They were: Alison Bing from Canada Dry Mott's Inc; Daphna Nussbaum from Palette PR and Cyrus Mavalwala from Advantis Communications.  These three PR pros offered some outstanding insights into seeking, interviewing for and getting the job.  Here's what they shared with the group: 

Treat your job search like a communications plan and write it out
  • SWOT analysis (don't spend too much time here)
  • Goals / Objectives. Make them SMART, and be specific.  "To get a job" just isn't going to cut it.  Perhaps something along the lines of "To obtain an entry-level PR job in the CSR department of a medium-sized corporation."
  • Know your audience.  Who are you writing to?  What are you applying for?  Spend more time putting out fewer, more-targeted resumes and customized cover letters.
  • Strategies and tactics.  What are you going to do that will set your apart from the other people applying?  This relates to your personal brand, and yes, Cyrus assured us that PR pros care about it.  Also consider joining IABC and/or CPRS, fill out your LinkedIn profile and get recommendations, apply to awards and conduct informational interviews.  Be an A+ networker. Follow up with calls and (flawless) thank-you letters.
  • Feedback and evaluation. If you don't get the job, call the hiring manager and ask why.  Seriously.  Suck it up and get some feedback on your interviewing skills.  Not only will you learn from your mistakes, but you will also show the interviewer that you're serious.  Try asking for a referral.
Other really important tips
  • Buy your domain name.  Buy it now.  Don't you want control of yourname.com? 
  • Do your homework.  Learn about the company and brand that you're applying to.  "To whom it may concern" is not an option.  Following the hiring manager ahead of time is.  I'd do the latter.
  • In an interview, ask a couple of questions.  Show them you've done your homework.  Show them you're already engaging with the organization.
  • Go on information interviews. At the end, ask for a referral for a colleague who you can interview next. Interview and repeat.
  • Apply to the companies and brands you're passionate about.  Let that passion out of the cage.
  • Say thank you.  Then write a thank you card.  Then tweet it. 
Alison, Daphna and Cyrus - thanks for coming and speaking at Humber!

What else?  What would you add to the list?

Happy hunting.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kittens Inspired By Kittens

This made my weekend. I'm not really into the meme of kittens with funny captions, but the little girl narrating this video makes me laugh every time.

All I can say is that I hope I have a child this funny one day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Personal Branding on a T-Shirt

Brand strategist Paul Copcutt suggests that you think carefully about your personal brand before jumping in and trying to articulate it.  At Personal Brand Camp 2, Paul said that one of the first things he has his clients do for their personal brand is to send a questionnaire to their friends, families, colleagues and mentors.  The questionnaire is designed to develop a brand snapshot - a jumping-off point from which the personal brand can then be nuanced.

Three years ago, my brother Jeremy did this when he decided to make me an unforgettable Christmas gift.  Unbeknown to me, Jeremy emailed a number of my friends with a few questions:
In the future, Zack will be ...
If Zack had a super-power, it would be ...
If Zack were reborn as another life form, he would be ...
If Zack were a smell, he would be ...
Jeremy then collected and compiled the results, and made t-shirts based on his favourite answers.

The answers that he received reflected my personal brand through university (as well as my friends' senses of humour).  Some of the predominant themes were:
  • a desire to make a difference, 
  • environmental consciousness, 
  • vegetarianism
  • a love of sharing music
  • a sense of humour, fun and joy

The way that others perceive us is critical in our personal brand.  If I say my brand is one thing, but others see it as something else, then there is a disconnect, and I either:

a) view myself differently than others do; or
b) am being inauthentic with my personal brand.

In both cases, it is time to go back to the drawing board.

So how am I doing with my personal brand?

Some of the responses to Jeremy's questionnaire and more of the t-shirt designs after the jump.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Native Narrative: My Visit to Deer Lake, Ont.

The summer of 2007, my perceptions about the "developed world" changed.

I was nervous.  I didn’t tell anybody, but I was. I gazed out the window of the small, nine-passenger airplane and beheld a vast expanse of trees, lakes, and bare rock in all directions.  There were no signs of human existence anywhere below me.  That’s when it set in: I was going to Northern Ontario—remote Northern Ontario.  I remember thinking, What have I gotten myself into?  I was on my way to Deer Lake, Ontario, an Oji-Cree First Nations community of about a thousand people, and I was nervous.

I was travelling to Deer Lake as a member of a five-person team sent to run literacy-based day camps for the children whose ages spanned from four to fifteen.  We were sent by Frontier College, an organization devoted to the empowerment of Canadians through literacy.  Our team consisted of three individuals from “Southern Canada” and two from Deer Lake itself.

Over the course of the summer, the five of us worked together to come up with a daily program that was meant to keep the children coming back day after day.  Our goal wasn’t to teach them how to read; rather, we tried to show them the joy of picking up a book and enjoying it.  We wanted to get these young boys and girls excited about books, and give them something fun and constructive to do over their summer holidays. 

It wasn’t easy.  In fact, at times, it was devastatingly difficult.  As a team, we dealt with some issues that I had never been exposed to before.  We were faced with the issues of suicide and self-harm.  We saw poverty, unemployment, and substance abuse up close.  We learned how to creatively address the unique needs of children with special needs and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.  Our hearts were broken by the honesty of the children who would tell us about the challenges of their home lives.

Those moments of sorrow and hardship were, however, far outnumbered by the times of boundless joy, laughter, and strength that we witnessed day in and day out.  I was amazed at the sense of strength, support and solidarity that the community possessed and asserted, especially in times of need.  I was even more impressed by the strong-willed children whose determination and love of life was inspiring.

This arena of juxtaposition between challenge and vitality was where I made, what I perceive to be, my greatest discoveries.  Aboriginal people, particularly those in remote regions, face some serious difficulties and strains.  They have been relegated to the margins and forced to live on the terms of others.  This, of course, has had substantial economic, social, political, psychological and cultural implications.

What’s worse is the fact that most Canadians don’t seem to care.  They’ve heard the stories about residential schools; about xenophobic government policies and treaties; and about the many social problems that affect First Nations communities.  They’ve heard all these things, and they want to hear no more, so what do they do?  I would like to say that they try to help solve the problem from the structural level in order to ensure justice, but we know that this is not the case.  No, they flip to the sports section.

In my time up north, I came to realize the shocking degree to which Aboriginal people in Canada are being marginalized, and how little our governments and society are doing to help.  In Deer Lake, I witnessed the community fight to overcome challenges with solidarity and empathy.  When difficulties arose for individuals or families, others would step up and help in any way they could.  There was this feeling while I was there that they were all in it together, and each was going to help the other every step of the way.  This inspired me.  To think that despite some of Canada’s most extreme injustice and hardship, the First Nations people in these communities are finding the strength and agency to help one another and refuse to be overcome is tremendous.

But it’s not enough.  Some of the people have fallen through the cracks.  This concentrated effort, though incredible, can not be sustainable against social and legal frameworks that are set against them.  Land disputes, resource-hungry corporations, an apathetic Canadian public, and a government that does not meet the needs of the Aboriginal population are all forces that communities like Deer Lake are up against. 

They cannot and should not have to do it on their own.

We are all culpable in this injustice, and so I believe that we have a collective moral responsibility to seek to help and address the problems and issues that are affecting our fellow Canadians.  I’ll be the first one to admit that I, too have been ignorant.  I have tried to shut out the stories in order to shut off empathy.  That changed for me when I went to Deer Lake.  I can no longer be passive and just sit back as people suffer through so-called “Third World” conditions within the very borders of my home province.

To quote Thomas King, “Don’t say in years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story.  You’ve heard it now.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's YouTube Interview

This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a page out of President Barack Obama's blog, and utilized social media to engage with Canadians on a variety of political issues.  Canadians were invited to submit questions via text and video, and then could vote on their favourites.  The Prime Minister answered the top questions on YouTube.

According to the PMO:
"Social media is changing the way Canadians interact with politicians."
"Canadians, especially younger Canadians, are no longer getting their news from just television, radio and print media. They are turning to new media in increasing numbers."

Engage a younger audience using a relevant communications vehicle:  Excellent strategy.

The problem? The video ended up being a 40-minutes long.  To the PM's target audience, it was dull.  Poor execution.

The fact that the questions were crowd-sourced was useful.  Canadians could ask what they wanted frankly and with candour.  The questions were also "social" in nature because the community could vote on their favourite ones.  Excellent strategy. 

The problem? The process wasn't transparent.  You could not see how many votes each question got, nor could we see  a ranking of the top questions.  There was no way of knowing if the questions asked were the top questions voted on. This made the entire process appear controlled and manipulated.  Poor execution.

It seems that the interview missed the mark. If the Prime Minister wanted to utilize social media in an effective way to engage people, then he and his staff should have looked at social media at its best, and how it is being used effectively to generate conversations, build communities, and leverage connectedness.  That would have shown excellent strategy.

Instead, the entire exercise looked used the same, tired format - the fireside chat with a similarly-aged yes-man moderating questions, buffering the PM from the people.  The only difference is that this was presented on YouTube.  Poor execution.

This two-way asymmetrical model of communication fails to leverage the best of social media.  Though pundits and journalists may be calling the exercise a success, as an avid social media user and public relations student in PM Harper's target audience, I was neither fooled nor impressed.

All in all, the strategy was there.  The execution was not.

For more on this, check out the blogs of a few of my colleagues:

Sarah State
Robyn Landau
Kathleen Napier
Kaitlynn Dodge

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

College vs. University


I was recently discussing some of the differences between college and university.

Jeff, one of my colleagues, astutely observed:

"In university I was taught about the past and why; 
in college I'm taught about the future and how."

I think there's a lot of truth to this.  Thanks Jeff.  It makes me think about some of the differences between college and university - especially post-graduate programs.  Hmmm ...

Monday, March 15, 2010

What is Stephen Harper Reading?

Stephen Harper is at the centre of the country's most exclusive book club.  He hasn't acknowledged it yet.

Every second Monday, author Yann Martel (writer of the Man-Booker Prize-winning book The Life of Pi) sends Prime Minister Harper a book that will help him govern better through teaching more about "stillness."  Martel writes:
Who is this man? What makes him tick? No doubt he is busy. No doubt he is deluded by that busyness. No doubt being Prime Minister fills his entire consideration and froths his sense of busied importance to the very brim. And no doubt he sounds and governs like one who cares little for the arts.

But he must have moments of stillness. And so this is what I propose to do: not to educate—that would be arrogant, less than that—to make suggestions to his stillness.

For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness. That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written. I will faithfully report on every new book, every inscription, every letter, and any response I might get from the Prime Minister, on this website.
Since April 16, 2007, Martel has sent the Prime Minister 77 books.  He has received five replies from various assistants, correspondence officers, and even Industry Minister Tony Clement; but nothing from the Prime Minister. 

Martel recently also received a hand-written letter from President Obama. Nothing from Harper.

What an interesting series of political statements Martel is making.  In each letter, he explains why he has sent the book and the lessons he hopes the Prime Minister will learn from it.  He also posts the letters on his website.

What do you think about this?  What books would you recommend Stephen Harper read?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shaping the Future of Humankind

The internet is transforming the world.  There are countless examples of how the interconnectedness of the net changes social, political, economic and developmental landscapes.  This isn't news.  It is, however, important to consider.

BBC explores the ways in which the internet is changing the world in its series Superpower: Exploring the Extraordinary Power of the Internet.

This is the promo commercial:


Not only is the video compelling, but the entire project is chock full of fantastic information over various online platforms and formats.

Good one, BBC.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Three Days and 16,000 Twitter Followers

Conan O'Brien has 573,000 odd followers on Twitter.  He doesn't follow anyone back.

That is ... he didn't before Friday, March 5th.

Then he tweeted this:

... and followed Sarah Killen at random.

Sarah now boasts 15,896 followers.  Talk about star power.  This graph shows the number of people following her, and the utter explosion of followers after Conan's tweet.

Out of curiosity, I started following Sarah too.  It will be interesting to see how this affects her personal brand, and where else Conan plans to go with his newest friend!

How might Sarah leverage this exit from anonymity?

If you were going to get a boost from any celebrity, who would it be? President ObamaLance ArmstrongThe Dalai LamaMichael Ignatieff?

Me? I think I would go with Stephen Colbert.  I think the Colbert Bump would do my personal brand some good!

Volunteering Doesn't Get More Trendy

Toronto's 7th annual Timeraiser is coming up on March 20th.  This is an event where you can make a difference, bid on some local artwork and have a fun night out!

"What's a timeraiser?"

It's part volunteer fair, part silent auction and part night on the town.  Throughout the night, you meet representatives from different Toronto charities and not-for-profits who are looking for volunteers.  After you have found some agencies that interest you, you are able to bid on artwork in the silent auction.

But you don't bid with money.  You bid with volunteer hours. 

If you have the winning bid, you have 12 months to complete your pledge of volunteer hours to receive the artwork.  What a creative way to motivate people to make a difference in the community!

So far, Timeraiser events have:
  1. Generated over 51,000 volunteer hours
  2. Invested $300,000 in the careers of emerging artists
  3. Engaged 5,000 Canadians to pick up a cause
  4. Worked with 250+ charitable organizations.

I went to this event last year and was blown away by the number of young professionals in Toronto who took an evening out to learn about volunteering.  This is a tremendous opportunity to encourage volunteerism in the community and support local artists. 

Richelle Forsey
Late Night Laundromat
25" x 25"
Archival lightjet print

Click here for more of the art that you can bid on!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Zack Sandor-Kerr: Branded

I've been working on developing my personal brand through various avenues as a PR practitioner.  I'm hoping that it will help position me in the field as someone that companies want to hire.  I've developed a "Personal Brand Plan" that is meant to help inform and guide my efforts by generating goals, developing strategy and laying out tactics. 

This is really a guide for myself, but by blogging it, I am committing to the process of intentional brand-building, to which I will become accountable.  This is a part of a fluid process.  As I've mentioned before, personal branding isn't about creating something contrived or artificial.  This exercise has been about laying out some priorities, goals and ways to keep my brand on track.

Please feel free to share your thoughts with me on this journey.