Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Career Advice From Friends: "Everything Communicates"

After offering my own PR career advice in anticipation of a recent IABC New Jersey event at Rutgers, I wanted to follow up with the advice given that night by two IABC friends.

Michelle Sangillo specializes in change management and employee engagement. She told students and those seeking a career change that she learned important lessons early in her career, when she was an administrative assistant. She began her talk by grabbing a stuffed elephant she had placed in the corner of the room. "You can't ever ignore the elephant in the corner," she said, noting that successful people are fearless and that she had trained to face down her own fear of public speaking.

  • Everything Communicates. "As a communications person, remember that you're being observed by everyone," she said, echoing the age-old PR advice: "Everything communicates!" (what you say or don't, how you treat colleagues, what you wear...). Yes, someone's always watching you.
  • Pay Attention to Details. This, more than anything else, convinced Michelle that she could advance her career. As an administrative assistant, she saw the carelessness of managers and thought, "Hey, I can do better than that," simply by focusing and by being thoughtful and competent. I related to this point. In my first job I wrote obituaries for a local newspaper, and it only takes one careless error in an obit to learn a lifelong lesson.
  • Don't Insult Yourself. "You have to have confidence in yourself for someone else to have confidence in you," Michelle said. She confidently left her admin job after 10 years because she knew she had been typecast. So she left, earned a master's degree, and pursued a career in a field she loved.

Joe Donner operates Thunder Consulting -- so named because Donner is the Germanic name for the god of thunder. He's had senior communications roles within large companies and advising large companies from the outside as the principal of his own agency.

  • Read More. Joe was an English major, and he's kept personal and professional journals throughout his life -- so already I admire him for that. My admiration grew as he stood in front of the room and said, "Read more. Learn as much as you can about everything you can." He added, "Learn about a diversity of things: Business, art, economics, engineering processes, current events... Join a professional organization, and share experiences with people from outside your company." This is a great reason to join an organization like IABC.
  • Prepare to Be Laid Off. "It can happen to anyone," Joe said. You can be great at your job, but if your job moves to Minnesota and you don't want to move your family, you may find yourself looking for work in New Jersey. You can't afford to have tunnel vision; you have to always prepare for other options.
  • Show Off a Little. Joe's first job was as a claims processor. One day he read an indecipherable memo from the company's CEO. "Whoever wrote this should be shot," Joe said -- with the person who wrote the memo, unbeknownst to him, standing right behind him. The memo-writer challenged, "Well, if you could do better..." So Joe edited the memo on the spot and handed it back. The author considered Joe's edits, shook his head and said, "Why are you processing claims? You should be working in corporate communications."

Ah... if only real life were like that all the time.

I’m going to take Joe’s advice and read Steve Martin’s memoir, “Born Standing Up.” I bet Steve never studied business in college, but I don't think his own career advice has ever been topped: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Here's to the Google Glass Explorers

My name is Bob, and I’m addicted to gadgets.

It started when I was young and my Uncle Frank purchased what might have been the first commercial pocket calculator with an LED display. I don’t know what he paid for it, but judging from Aunt Helen’s reaction, it was not cheap.

Still, Uncle Frank was silly with excitement and fearlessly in love with this new technology. He took me aside and explained about transistors and miniaturization. We solved impossible division problems with ridiculous ease. Then he punched in “.7734” and held the device upside down so that the numbers read, “HELL.O” – thus performing the world’s first calculator word trick.

Yesterday, I thought fondly of my late uncle as I decided against taking up Google on its offer of buying Google Glass for $1,500. For one thing, that’s a “7734” of a lot of money. Also -- as I joked on Twitter – given my wife’s healthy love of privacy, the resulting divorce would probably make such a purchase even more cost-prohibitive.

But I’m not a Google Glass Explorer hater. I admire people who try new things and share their excitement and their successes. I’m a technology optimist and believe that many new applications have great potential for good. The company I work for believes this too.

As Uncle Frank might say today: “OK Glass… Send a message to Bob that he hasn’t seen anything yet.”

Thursday, April 10, 2014

PR Career Advice: "If I Knew Then..."

IABC’s New Jersey chapter is hosting an interesting career development event at Rutgers next week. A few PR veterans and my colleagues on the IABC Board will discuss the topic, “If I knew then what I know now – planning your communications career.”

Which got me thinking… what have I learned in more than two decades in PR? Here are 5 things that come to mind:

  1. Results Matter. Just because you’re a good person, doesn’t mean you will succeed. In business, don’t kid yourself, results matter. I’ve seen some ridiculous behavior over my career, and met some jerks along the way, but, in the end, if someone was really good at their job and delivered great results, that trumped everything else… and I’d happily work beside them
  2. Be Kinder Than Necessary. I’ve noticed that several people at Verizon have this saying posted in their workspace… and with good reason. All things being equal (and Steve Jobs notwithstanding), if two people are both producing good results – and one’s a jerk, and the other is a decent person who treats others with respect – the jerk always loses.
  3. Loyalty Matters. See above. Karma really exists. You don't succeed on your own, and along the way you and your co-workers have to have each other’s back. As a corollary, keep in mind that playing office politics is highly overrated. The rules change too quickly for anyone to sustain an advantage.
  4. Surprise People. My college-age daughter is getting all sorts of good (and expensive) career advice on how to make a good first impression, how to network, how to dress for business… but, honestly, when it comes to your career, this cliché is better advice: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” You don’t want to be like Robert Redford in “The Candidate”… win the election and then wonder, “What do I do NOW?” It’s simply more effective to be good at your job and surprise people along the way. Don’t ever let people pigeon-hole you… keep learning, keep changing… reinvent yourself. THAT’S good for your career, and it keeps life fun.
  5. PR Is Hard. One of the great business fallacies is that PR/comms is a “soft” career unlike, say, sales or engineering. Having worked with C-level executives for years, I can tell you that communications is their most effective leadership skill, and PR can build or kill a company quicker than the best sales team. To reference another great old movie, think of that scene in “The Godfather” – which, by the way, should be required viewing for anyone wanting to know how business really works – when Vito Corleone says, “A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than 100 men with guns.”

Words, ideas and influence are always more powerful than guns. So, if you’re considering a career in PR, my final word of advice would be, “Let's be careful out there.”

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in the East

No, this isn't a photo of an 80s rock band after accepting their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame award (although that would have been a dream come true for me). It's the ESL in 2014.

The Eastern Shuttle League is a fantasy/rotisserie baseball league started in 1985, before we were married and started families. Today, we all arrived, like magic from several different states, precisely at 11 in the morning in Darien, Connecticut, to conduct our draft.

I'm not going to tag anyone here because, for all I know, there are people in this photo in the witness protection program.

My wife Nancy (who's also "off the grid" and who graciously drafted a team for someone who couldn't show up) and I were almost the last ones to arrive. Even though I'm always early to things. I was waiting for her in the car outside our house as she was drying her hair before we left. I told Joe (far right) that this never happened when he and I drove to an ESL draft.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Places In Between

New York is full of in-between places. I arrived ridiculously early (as usual) for a business event at the Financial Times last night (that’s me on the balcony, which offers a great view of the Freedom Tower), so I wandered around SoHo and the Village beforehand. It was a nice reminder that life doesn’t begin and end at destinations; it just happens at all the stops along the way.

I visited bookbook (think Hugh Grant’s shop in “Notting Hill”) and relived the increasingly rare experience of browsing at an actual bookstore. A little further down Bleecker Street, the doors opened at Our Lady of Pompeii, where there’s still an Italian-language Mass on Sundays. It was warm and welcoming inside, and stuffed with so many curiosities it was like a religious penny arcade. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of St. Lucy holding a platter of human eyeballs (in macabre artistic tradition), or of the ornate angel on the altar, holding aloft a white Italian Christmas light in imitation of a flame.