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