Does your major matter?

I was reading an article on the other day that really hit home with me. The article, written by Donald Asher, was entitled Does Your Major Matter? and it basically talked about how students’ majors are becoming less important because the skills developed through internships are what really get people into their careers.

I graduated from the University of Waterloo with an Honours BA in sociology. Did I become a sociologist? No. I’m currently finishing up my post-grad course in Corporate Communications and Public Relations. My internship starts in just over a week! Although I really liked sociology and learned a lot throughout university, my job is not going to have anything to do with that subject.

The article talks about how many people ask college and university students what they plan to do with their degrees, but the degree isn’t what matters it just matters that they get one. Louise Paradis, assistant director of the career centre at Portland State University, says she tells students and their parents that getting a degree is important but only a few careers require specific preparation:

It comes down to this: Do they have the skills the employer is seeking? Can the student articulate those skills to the employer? Can they communicate, solve problems, interact effectively in a group, think critically, do research, write to professional business standards? That’s what matters.

The importance of internships was also made clear through an interview with Eric Schwaab, an individual who majored in international studies and then went on to become a financial advisor on Wall Street. Schwaab is quoted as saying:

Undergraduate education should be more for broadening your horizons, breaking out of your preconceptions and predispositions from the world you grew up in. Graduate education is the opposite. It is more for honing in on very specific challenges. So it’s almost like undergrad is about expanding your mind, and graduate education is about focusing it back down on something narrow and important to you.

After reading this specific quote, I couldn’t help but agree entirely with him. I think it’s important to remember the importance of our undergraduate education, even if the specific subject doesn’t necessarily matter. Just because I am not going to be entering a career that directly relates to sociology doesn’t mean my degree didn’t do anything for me. I learned a lot of content from my courses, but I also learned a lot about writing since I was constantly writing essays.

I agree, though, that my post-graduate education has definitely honed my writing skills and made me a more concise writer. Let me tell you, it was definitely a change to go from writing 15-20 page papers to writing something in just a couple of pages. Most people might think it’d be easier but I found it challenging to learn how to get your point across that much more concisely.

I know there are only a handful of people in my program that actually got their degrees in communications, so I’m curious to know what my classmates majored in. Do you guys have any thoughts on this topic? Do you think your major matters or just getting a degree?


March 23, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Social Media Press Release – the press release of the future

Social media is something that is becoming more and more important to people in communications and public relations. In these professions, our job is to maintain communication between our organization and its audience, whether external or internal.

We’ve all heard a lot about social media, but what exactly is it? According to Bigmouthmedia, social media incorporates online technology that allows people to share content, personal opinions, perspectives and insights into various issues. The content can come in various forms, including text, images, audio and video. Overall, social media is a more interactive way to deliver messages and generate conversation.

For public relations, social media has become important because it has added new and innovative ways to get key messages out to audiences and gain coverage of the organization we work for. One new method of doing this is the social media press release.

In our Media Relations and Public Relations Writing courses, we have had plenty of experience writing traditional news releases but not much with the social media press release. We did learn about them, but I definitely thought it would be beneficial to learn more about this tool that could be very important in my career.

First of all, I wanted to know why social media press releases are used; what’s wrong with the traditional ones? Muhammad Saleem, at copyblogger, discussed how to write a social media press release and explained that it’s difficult to get social media communities interested in a press release because they don’t like the way the story is told.

He lists the top three reasons why the traditional news release fails in social media. They are:

1. They have the wrong singular focus, which is on the company issuing the release.

2. They are full of marketing-speak that inherently engenders mistrust in the eyes of the social media audience.

3. They don’t have a specific audience in mind, and are written broadly and presented blandly.

So, basically, the language and presentation doesn’t work with the intended audience. In a profession where the audience must always be kept in mind for communications efforts, we need to be able to adjust and use different methods.

But what is the difference between the social media press release and the traditional sort? Quite a bit, actually! In a Globe and Mail article, Maggie Fox, founder and CEO of Social Media Group, is interviewed and says the difference between the two formats is that the social media press release is multimedia:

It has all of the assets available to tell that story in one place. Instead of hosting it on a server, we do our hostings on YouTube and Flickr. People can access the information in different ways. It’s the press release for 2008. It’s not a piece of text—it’s everything that someone needs.

In her blog The Social Media Press Release – Digital Snippets, Fox discusses social media press releases and the new webservice her company developed called Digital Snippets. She provides a lengthy quote from Collin Douma, Social Media Group’s chief strategist, in which he further explains the difference:

Once released to the public, the traditional press release is not able to evolve the story. The content is often long, tremendously detailed and heavily editorialized text that the “traditional journalist” is paid to sift through. An SMPR, however, cuts out the editorial and streamlines the core content into easily digestible, quotable and most importantly, updatable “Digital Snippets”. This makes every item posted on an SMPR a potential “asset” for the influencers to quote, republish and editorialize credibly.

My understanding is that social media press releases narrow the content down so the core information is delivered in an easy-to-read way, also making it easy for journalists to use in their own stories.  With such advantages, I’m finding it very difficult not to agree that the social media press release will only continue to become more prominent in the future.

Not all social media press releases are laid out in the same way.  Shift Communications was the first to develop a social media release template and other PR firms have followed suit. This is not surprising because from what I’ve been reading, it’s the press release of the future.

March 19, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Roll up the Rim: even losers are winners


I was watching my boyfriend’s hockey game the other night and began chatting with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. One of them was drinking a Tim Hortons coffee and as soon as she finished, she did what every other Tim Hortons drinker does during this time of the year. She rolled up the rim. And she lost.

I have to admit that I am a dedicated Timmy’s girl. On those days where I feel like the world is crashing in on me, I know that my large coffee with one milk will make me feel better. That’s why I get excited during the Roll up the Rim season because it gives me another excuse to buy myself a coffee. I still have yet to win anything this year.

But when my friend discovered she’d lost, another girl piped up and told us about this new promotion that Country Style was doing: if you bring them your losing rim, they will give you a free coffee.

Despite my loyalty to the great Tim Horton, I decided to check this thing out because a free coffee didn’t sound bad to me! Unfortunately, I discovered that the promotion only lasted for a week, from March 3 to March 9. However, the whole thing got me thinking. Is this type of promotion respectable or a little too sneaky?

According to one article, Country Style engaged in public relations and media relations campaigns to get the message of this promotion out to coffee drinkers. Their tagline is: “It’s going to be a good day,” so they wanted to let the disappointed Tim Hortons drinkers aware that if they lose, they can have a good day by making the trip to Country Style. Some of the other tactics they used included viral marketing, Facebook postings, e-mail initiatives, print ads and some spots on radio morning shows.

Is piggybacking on a competitor’s promotion in order to gain some of their customers a legitimate method to increase your market? I actually think it’s a very clever tactic and I commend the people that came up with the idea. Yes, the Roll up the Rim contest encourages people to buy more cups of coffee and I’m a prime example of this. It was just last year that I was buying coffee two to three times a day in hopes of winning the big prize. But along with this comes the frustration that is experienced when you spend so much more money at the store and don’t win anything.

Why can’t another store take advantage of that in order to encourage people to at least try their product? Perhaps people are so attached to the Tim Hortons brand that they don’t even think about trying anything different. I’ve never bought a coffee from Country Style but if I had known about the promotion sooner I wouldn’t have hesitated to bring them my losing cup. Maybe I would have enjoyed the coffee and perhaps that might encourage me to go to Country Style more often.

But, I missed the bandwagon so now we’ll never know. Tim Hortons is still my first choice but maybe one day when I’m feeling a little risky I’ll try Country Style—even if I need to pay for it!

What are your thoughts on this style of promotion?

March 16, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

In the blink of an eye

I recently read a book by Malcolm Gladwell called Blink, which in my opinion is a definite must-read.

Blink is all about the power of thinking without thinking. It’s about those instinctive decisions and snap judgments you make in the first few seconds of a situation—the decisions you make in the “blink of an eye”. Gladwell uses numerous true stories to illustrate the power of snap judgments.

Now, I must begin by saying that I rarely read the Afterword in books, but for some reason I decided to read this one. And I’m glad I did because it really summed up the lessons in the book.

At one point, Gladwell says he is often asked when people should trust their instincts and when they should consciously think things through. This was his answer:

On straightforward choices, deliberate analysis is best. When questions of analysis and personal choice start to get complicated—when we have to juggle many different variables—then our unconscious thought processes may be superior.

This answer really got me thinking. It is a tough lesson to learn, as he notes that this goes against our traditional wisdom in that most people tend to trust their snap judgments on immediate trivial questions rather than on complicated ones. Nevertheless, I think this lesson is important for all of us.

Going into public relations, there will be times when we will need to make decisions quickly. In some cases, perhaps it will be important to trust our snap judgments. I’m sure we’ve all experienced situations in which we went against our instincts and later regretted it. However, I find it difficult to trust such judgments when my career is on the line. I always tend to feel better knowing that I have facts and research to back up my decision.

But there may be situations in which research may not be enough. If a company is going through a crisis and you need to work to fix it, you will have to make quick decisions about how to handle it. Perhaps instincts will play a role in answering such questions as: Should we address the issue now? Should we wait until we have more information? Should we apologize? Sometimes our conscious thoughts may be leading us in one direction while our instincts are telling us to do something else and we will need to decide which to trust in those moments.

The second important lesson that Gladwell emphasizes is the need to act and solve problems when we are faced with them. The particular story he references is of the classical music industry which, in the past, was very prejudiced against women. It was believed that women could not play the more “masculine” instruments, like the trombone, simply because they did not have the lung power that men had. However, when this prejudice became apparent, they made changes to the audition process and decided to have applicants audition behind a screen. This way, the committee would be able to focus solely on their instincts about the musician from simply listening to them play and without being influenced by their gender. Gladwell says that he wants to encourage this kind of practical problem solving among his readers.

I found this lesson to be of great relevance to us budding PR practitioners because I view public relations as a field in which problem solving skills are essential, not just in dealing with crisis situations but in dealing with everyday tasks. So much of the job involves some form of problem solving, whether it’s figuring out how to get our organization or client positive media coverage or deciding on strategies and tactics to help reach communications goals. Sometimes the solutions may involve very creative ideas, whereas other times it may be something simple—like having musicians audition behind a screen. It’s also important for us to realize when mistakes are made. In the end, I think we will be more respected in our careers when we acknowledge mistakes, apologize and fix them.

To my fellow classmates, how do you feel about trusting rapid cognition rather than conscious thinking? In your opinion, which kind of thinking is going to be more important in solving public relations problems?

 Oh and seriously, if you haven’t read Blink yet, what are you waiting for?  🙂

March 13, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

100 Days Later

All right everyone, it’s time to mark Tuesday, February 12, 2008, on your calendars. This day marks an extremely exciting day as it also marks the official end of the writers’ strike.

On November 5, 2007, the Writers Guild of America, West, and the Writers Guild of America, East went on strike. The strike lasted 100 painful days as television fans were forced to watch reruns instead of new episodes of their favourite TV shows.

The United Hollywood blog posted an article sent out by the WGA yesterday which stated that an overwhelming 92.5 per cent of the 3,775 writers voted in favour of ending the strike.

I bring up the issue of the strike because a central reason why the WGA went on strike is the direct result of advancements made with entertainment and the Internet.

In the posting, Patric M. Verrone, president of the WGAW, is quoted as saying:

This was not a strike we wanted, but one we had to conduct in order to win jurisdiction and establish appropriate residuals for writing in new media and on the Internet. Those advances now give us a foothold in the digital age. Rather than being shut out of the future of content creation and delivery, writers will lead the way as TV migrates to the Internet and platforms for new media are developed.

This quote illustrates the developments that the entertainment industry has made with the Internet. The WGA went on strike for 100 days because writers were not being sufficiently rewarded for writing specifically for new media.

Also posted on United Hollywood is a letter to WGA writers. I agree with a statement made in this letter:

Nonetheless, with the establishment of the WGA jurisdiction over new media and residual formulas based on distributor’s gross revenue (among other gains) we are confident that the results are a significant achievement not only for ourselves but the entire creative community, now and in the future.

I think this is a great achievement for Hollywood writers. In my opinion, it is only fair that they be compensated for their writing, even when it’s for the Internet.

To learn more about the deal between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), you can read a summary here.

What are your thoughts on the writers’ strike and the future of entertainment in the “digital age”?

February 15, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ask the questions, get the answers.

Over the past week, I have been applying to and interviewing for internships. During this process I have come to realize the importance of interviews; not only for the employers, but also for me as a future employee.

The first thing my interviewer said to me yesterday was that I should ask as many questions as I want during the interview because this is a “two-way thing”. I can’t even begin to explain how important it was for me to view the interview in that way. Not only did it help me relax, but it really helped me to learn more about the prospective job and whether or not I felt it would be a good fit.

Admittedly, I went into the interview not sure if it was for me. This was partly because I did not completely understand the corporate culture of the company or the job itself. However, after sitting with her for an hour and asking about the company, job and tasks that an intern would be responsible for, I left the interview feeling very positive.

It’s amazing what you can find out about a company and a job by simply asking the questions. Obviously there’s a little bit of intimidation when in an interview setting—here you are sitting across from someone who is judging the way you answer questions and the way you present yourself. But when it comes down to it, we also need to judge whether or not the job is right for us. In the end, employer and employee will be much happier knowing that they have both found the right “fit”. It’s just as important for the applicant to feel that fit as it is for the employer. This is a lesson I learned today and will be sure to remember during future interviews.

Have any input on interview etiquette? Should we be free to ask as many questions as we like or should that be left to the professionals?

February 7, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Red Bull Crashed Ice – a soaring success!

This past weekend, I went up north with my family to spend some “quality time” together. Now, what do most people do on weekends like this? Well, aside from the treacherous snowshoe trail my parents took me on to demonstrate their superior fitness, we did one of my favourite past-times: watched TV.

One show in particular that I was interested in watching was the finals for Red Bull Crashed Ice, a truly crazy and completely entertaining event. For those of you who are unaware of what Crashed Ice is, think of speed skating and combine it with elements of bobsledding and tobogganing! This sport is simply out of this world. The skaters race against each other in heats, with the top two progressing to the next race. This may sound pretty simple, until you factor in the fact that the skaters reach speeds of over 50 km/hour!

As I was watching the coverage of the event in awe, I couldn’t help but think of what a challenging job the event planners had in order to create such a successful event. A 535 metre ice-covered course was created through the Quebec landscape, including a series of steps and a steep drop that the skaters raced down. Over 75,000 fans attended the event, cheering on these daring competitors as they raced down the course. That’s a lot of attendees!

On top of all this, the ambiance was right on par—it was exciting, enthusiastic and a lot of fun. The signage was also outstanding: lights were shining everywhere and the Red Bull Crashed Ice logo flashed on the walls of buildings surrounding the track. All of these elements add up to a great job done by these event planners.

The event planning aspect of public relations has had a bit of a double effect on me: on the one hand I am apprehensive of letting myself succumb to the stress involved, but on the other hand, I find it really inspiring and satisfying to see the successful result of all your hard work put on display. I am really starting to get a new appreciation for the event planners out there and beginning to think that being a part of such a team would be a wonderful experience.  I think that being able to see the result in your mind as you are planning really helps in easing the stress and anxiety that may accompany such a task.

I don’t have a lot of event planning experience yet. I was part of a team that helped Gary Schlee run Talk is Cheap back in November—a social media unconference that turned out to be a huge success, attracting around 160 communicators to attend. I have to say, it was great to dabble in event planning right from the get-go and I think after witnessing Crashed Ice, I’m definitely starting to think more about this element of PR.

Did anybody else catch Red Bull Crashed Ice? Any thoughts on the event or event planning in general?

January 30, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It all starts with a name

        Well, I’m relatively new to the blogging world (and by relatively new, I mean brand new).  Sure, I read blogs now and then—mostly those by professors and a few others in the public relations industry—but I never anticipated that I might one day have a blog of my own.

        But here I am!  The popularity of social media is growing fast within the world of public relations and people are noticing it.  The program I am currently taking at Centennial College—Corporate Communications and Public Relations—has even undergone some changes to adjust to this growing trend.  I am among the first batch of students to take part in a new course, Online Public Relations.  Despite the initial intimidation I experienced when informed that I would need to create and maintain my own blog, one of the hardest parts was coming up with a blog name!  Entering an industry that relies so heavily on communication, you’d think that I would have an easier time finding a couple of words to describe what my blog would be all about.  Easier said than done, my friends. 

        After some extended deliberation, I finally came up with PR Runway, which I have spelled as PRunway.  I wanted something a little creative; something that would reflect my personality but also relate back to the reason I’m creating this blog in the first place: public relations. 

        Why PRunway?  Well, when you think about it, the runway is the stage for a designer to display his or her creations to the world—creations that reflect the vision and mind of that designer.  Now, I am in no way calling myself a fashion designer, or likening myself to one.  However, I’d like you to consider this blog as my own runway.  I want you to see it as the place where I will display my own thoughts, views and visions, whether PR-related or not, to you all. 

I hope you enjoy the show!

January 22, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment