Pitch, Feverishly

I recently received a pitch from a PR agency through e-mail. At first, I was a little annoyed. There was no possible way I could have been interested in the watery social media company the practitioner was acting on behalf of. I thought of simply deleting the e-mail. I thought I might publish the pitch and critique it in a “how to write e-mail pitches” post. I thought of sending a “STOP SPAMMING” reply. But after my initial displeasure subsided, empathy sunk in as I realized that I have been that practitioner. I have shot a thousand pitches from the hip and I have received angry, threatening responses from bloggers. So I decided I would send back some constructive advice to the coordinator. Here is my response:

Hi Elliot,

Unfortunately, Stractical doesn’t solicit pitches from PR agencies. Also, there are some glaring spelling and grammatical errors in your pitch. You really should take additional care before sending out mass e-mails, especially to bloggers as many will publish your contact information and vilify your client if they feel they have been spammed.

I’ve been in the position of intern/account coordinator and I understand the pressure to get media hits without having my own media contacts. Perhaps a more focused approach with fewer journalists/bloggers would be an effective strategy — something to consider and discuss with your supervisors. Often senior level practitioners preach relationship-based media relations yet bill on the backs of coordinators who are building media lists from software services and pitching for quantity.

Best of luck with your pitching.

Cheers,

Adam

Stractical: Very Public Relations

I run this blog, more or less, for my own interest and amusement and therefore do not use unsolicited pitches from public relations agencies. But I never explicitly state that on this blog — and I should. Blogger relations, as a subset of media relations, is an unfriendly, impossible to navigate terrain right now. There are billions of blogs about millions of topics and 99.99% of them are not interested in pitches. But if 0.01% do then it is in PR agencies’ best interests to explore that space. What we need is to start the conversation: between media/bloggers and PR, between PR and their clients and between senior and junior PRtists. Focused pitches, developed relationships take time and investment. Agencies need to provide the time and clients need to make the investment. Until then, media pitches will remain a numbers game, an obfuscated practice we’re not proud of, yet refuse to abandon. Good luck, Elliot.

A typical pitch environment?

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Loyalty: A two-way street. With speed bumps. And roadblocks. And detours… Loyalty: A lot like The Amazing Race

Daniel Tisch, writing for PR In Canada, discusses loyalty and journeyman-ism. His thesis is that young PRtists lack loyalty and are looking to job hop their way to the top. As the self-proclaimed mouthpiece for PR youth in this fair nation, Stractical responds:

Journeyman or star? In PR, it’s about talent, effort and loyalty
If you want to work for a great employer, be a great employee

In a recent interview with a job-seeker, I noticed that she had moved around a lot, with several firms on her CV within a few years. “Oh, you know PR,” she said. “A new job every two years.”

In that moment, I realized the difference between a journeyman and a star.

I don’t mean to knock journeyman practitioners; like the veteran NHL player who’s traded from team to team to team, you can build a solid, respectable career in this way.

But as I read recently in the Brendan Wood Journal, which ranked the most influential people in the global banking business, “job hoppers rarely have influence.” That’s a fundamental truth in any industry.

Well, Michael Sabia might want to disagree with Mr. Tisch on that point but that aside, he does touch on an important truth: Companies (including PR agencies) hate to see good people go. They have invested time and effort into training their staff and want to see outcomes from their investment. Makes perfect sense.

With the circumstances of his job seeker unknown, we’ll have to improvise some scenarios.  Maybe she’s been working under contracts (many young PRtists find themselves working under shorter and shorter contracts) or maybe her last position was not in the field she ultimately wants to end up in, maybe the scope of her job changed from the time she was hired or maybe her last boss was a jerk.

The fact is, PR is a fluid, shifting industry. The pink elephant standing in every room (and Jobbing Out post) is that there is an over-supply of smart and savvy young practitioners fighting for very few opportunities.  In the GTA alone, there will be over 2,000 people graduating from PR diploma and certificate students and related communications degrees this spring who will all be vying to break into the industry any way they can. This environment doesn’t bode well for 3o year career progression plans, let alone two years. I think we can all agree that the age of the lifelong company man in a grey flannel suit spending his whole life with one company until he retires with full pension has passed. That age is gone because a) workers have become more creative and independently-minded (see the work of Richard Florida) and b) the companies choose to work with an elastic workforce where wages are kept low.

Most people we hire at Argyle want to be stars. They aspire to be at the peak of their profession. This means working for marquee clients, leading teams of talented colleagues, learning continuously, helping the firm grow and sharing in the rewards.

Aspiring to a be star is great, but it only works while the interests of the organization and the interests of the employee continue to dovetail. Predicting such stability and symbiosis would be quite a skill, but in reality we are forced to deal with the possibility of turnover led by employees chasing new opportunities and companies letting staff go to pursue new directions themselves.

So, how do you become a star?

Three words: Talent. Effort. Loyalty.

At the entry or junior levels of PR, we’re evaluating talent and effort all the time. We look for a blend of aptitude and attitude. And we look for people with a clear long-term vision of what they want: to be part of the growth of a mid-sized, entrepreneurial Canadian public relations firm.

At the intermediate and senior levels, the CV becomes very important in creating the right impression. Here, past performance is often a predictor of future potential. We look for a track record of long-term performance. Five years is a good starting benchmark.

If I see that someone has jumped around from job to job, never staying in one place longer than two years, the candidate must be able to answer why.

There can be good reasons: the work environment is uninspiring; the employer is unreasonable; the pay is below the norm for a firm of that size, with few countervailing positives; the company is stalled or in decline.

These are good reasons, but there are many, many more. A candidate may defend their job jumps or they may not — professional courtesy dictates we don’t bash our former employers and so a simple “I was ready to move on to new opportunities” may be the best answer you’ll get.

But look at any industry’s stars. Almost invariably, you see people who figured out where they wanted to be, helped their organization grow and thrive, and built their reputation over time.

Or they might have figured out how to advance their career at a faster pace than any individual organization could offer them.

Here’s a tip: when you meet a potential employer or employee, start from the proposition that you want to work together for five to ten years. Naturally, a lot can change along the way – but surely that must be the goal.

This point of view surprises some people. After all, not long ago you often saw articles in the careers media about the death of loyalty. Don’t buy it. It’s the most short-sighted thinking imaginable.

Loyalty isn’t dead. It’s simply no longer enough. With opportunities at a premium, rising stars are going to pounce when a new one arises.  Instead of condemning the ambitious, the company should work with its talent to address the changes they are seeking in outside employment.

Loyalty must go two ways. A great employer will see you as a long-term asset to the organization. He or she will treat you with respect, create a positive work environment and help you learn and grow. Would you like to work for such a person or company? Who wouldn’t?

Career preservation and advancement are a matter of survival. A crowded talent pool means the livelihoods of young PRtists are in constant flux. Sure, some people just get bored easily — in fact, the multi-tasking, hyperactive environments of professional communicators attract those kinds of personalities.

The bottom line: If you want a great employer, be a great employee. And if you have the talent and are willing to make the effort, your loyalty should be rewarded.

Let’s remember that many employers are looking for direct experience in often very specific industries: “We work with clients in the x industry, do you have experience working in x?” The ability to answer those questions with the necessary latitude may require a breadth of experiences that can’t be attained without job movement. It may make you appear less loyal but it definitely makes you look more interesting.

A Portrait of Online Job Searching as a Young PRtist

The overwhelming (okay, maybe it was merely whelming) response from my call for topic suggestions concerning job searching was to profile some online job listing services. While by no means an expert, I will humbly attempt to satisfy this request without assigning the now-ubiquitously arbitrary Stractical Points for merit.*

(*Fear not, Stractical Points will return shortly)

1) Charity Village

The 9-to-5 411:

If the corporate vs. agency dilemma is less interesting to you than advancing a great cause, check out Charity Village, the mecca for all things charity in Canada. C.V. is an excellent resource for volunteer opportunities and professional development tools but their job listings are where the site shines. With hundreds of listings posted daily in a variety of job categories including 61 current (as of this post) Marketing/Communications/PR jobs, you’re guaranteed to be piqued by at least a few. Listed organizations include registered charities, educational institutions and professional associations — all big users of PR talent.

Career Cheers:

  • Best layout and search function of any job site
  • Abundance of posts for PR jobs, including coordinator-level positions
  • The best way to find a great non or not-for-profit who shares your values

Career Jeers:

  • For profit companies often sneak on the job board

The Verdict: Employee of the Century.

2) Workopolis

The 9-to-5 411:

Trying to be all things to all job seekers, Workopolis is Canada’s premiere online job bank. A plethora of options for creating personal searches, e-mail updaters and storing resumes make Workopolis a job force to be reckoned with. There are ample postings for communications-related jobs of every level including entry — try looking under the “Marketing” category. Some companies who list with Workopolis use their online application process which is cumbersome and destroys resume formatting.

Career Cheers:

  • Wins for sheer volume of posts
  • Great customizable search functions
  • Best place for postings for big, big corporations
  • Did I mention there are a lot of posts?

Career Jeers:

  • Online application process a nightmare — look for postings that lead back to a website or have an e-mail address
  • Bleeding of categories means “communications” searches will lead to “telecommunications technician” posts
  • Too popular: If you’re applying to a job you saw on Workopolis, chances are so are ten thousand others

The Verdict: Employee of the Year

3) Monster.ca

The 9-to-5 411: Monster, another pan-career job site metropolis, offers little of value for budding PRtists. The postings in the “Advertising/Marketing/PR” categories are dominated by staffing services and commission-based promotion companies. Occasionally a diamond in the rough will appear, but usually the good listings will be posted on other, better job sites as well (see: Workopolis).

Career Cheers:

  • Pretty, easy to read layout that will display listings with or without details for quick reviewing

Career Jeers:

  • Not many real PR jobs listed here and there’s too much filler to sift through

The Verdict: Employee of the Day

5) Media Job Search Canada

The 9-to-5 411: Considered by many to be the beautiful secret of communication job sites, Media Job Search features a simple to search and browse interface and postings from the corporate, non-profit and even the agency worlds. Updates come daily, usually in the afternoon.

Career Cheers:

  • Maybe the only place on the web to find agency listings though usually for more senior positions
  • The only place many other organizations advertise (see: the CBC)
  • Decent number of “coordinator” level positions posted

Career Jeers:

  • PR jobs lumped in a category with advertising jobs, which tend to dominate

The Verdict: Employee of the Decade

6) Jeff Gaulin’s Job Board

The 9-to-5 411: Jeff Gaulin (the smiling gentleman on the homepage) posts Canadian media jobs, primarily for print and broadcast journalism but there is a section for PR/GR/IR jobs. Unfortunately, the listings are scarce, rarely updated and never unique. But thanks for trying, Jeff.

Career Cheers:

  • Pleasant enough site that’s easy to read
  • Nice of Mr. Gaulin to acknowledge government and investor relations although I’ve yet to see a job posting for either field

Career Jeers:

  • Little of value in terms of job posts — no need to check this site more than once every few months
  • Inexplicably you can only search by province: no broader or narrower

The Verdict: Employee of Those First Ten Minutes at Work in the Morning when Your Eyes are Still Crusty

7: CPRS / IABC

The 9-t0-5 411: I’ve lumped together the two major PR professional associations because they’re job listings are both available only to their respective members. The CPRS has a few listings that are rarely updated (is Jeff Gaulin running this job bank too?) The IABC does slightly better, with a bunch of listings for intermediate and senior level positions in corporate, government, non-profit and agency. There is a section for “Junior” positions which gets updated every couple of months or so. Senior PR advice-givers would point out that 90 – 110% of entry level PR jobs never get posted anywhere and that the next generation should be out networking somewhere, but both professional associations sell student memberships by promoting their career services so it’s reasonable to expect something better.

Career Cheers:

  • For IABC: A decent amount of intermediate postings that may consider junior PRtists in some cases
  • Member exclusivity ensures at least a few of the posts are not available to the general public
  • A good way to pump up your CPRS/IABC membership in your cover letter

Career Jeers:

  • Should do a better job of serving students/young practitioners if they hope to keep us as members

The Verdict: Employee of the Month

If, faithful readers, you believe I’ve missed an important site that demands a review, please leave a comment or e-mail at stractical(at)gmail.com. Also, I’m still interested in other topics we might want to see covered in the Jobbing Out category.

Hill & Knowlton Canada information session: a report

I attended an information session at Hill & Knowlton Canada today and thought I would share some of my thoughts and tag it to a new category, “Jobbing Out” where I’ll discuss the environment of employment in public relations and corporate communications.

The hour-long presentation led by Human Resources Manager Paule Bellegarde laid out a history of Hill & Knowlton, a brief overview of the practice areas of the company and the progressive stages of titles throughout the corporate hierarchy. The floor was then turned over to members of the consumer, technology and corporate practices, respectively, who very briefly discussed their backgrounds and clients and then fielded questions from the audience.

If this all sounds standard, it’s because it is. There is a growing trend among agencies to hold information sessions as an alternative to fielding requests for information interviews. While it streamlines the process and possibly creates a crowd-induced excitement or reverence for the agency, the knowledge gained from each additional session can easily become routine.

Nevertheless, these sessions are often the best way for up-and-coming PR stars to literally get their feet in the door of an agency. The hiring practices in PR are almost exclusively network-based which means the jobs will never get publicly posted. So if you’re trying to get in I recommend making every effort to make friends with the HR staff at the agencies you target. Ask to meet with them under other pretenses: for an information interview, to follow up on a session or even to buy them coffee and just say hi.

I’m thinking about putting together a best and worst interview questions post and possibly an online job searching post. If anyone has any suggestions for further Jobbing Out topics please leave a comment or contact Stractical through the ‘About’ link.