Wearing three hats, and making that work

November 11, 2010

I’m a consultant, so it means I work for more than one client at once. That’s normal. And I work in public relations, so doing some media relations work, where I’m trying to get media attention for a client, is normal too. But today has been an unusual day, because I’ve had three issues in front of media today for three different clients.

Whenever my cell phone rang, I had to be careful who I was speaking for before the conversation got too far. It was certainly a busy day for me, but I’m proud to say all three issues ended up getting coverage, all three clients were thrilled to be contacted by media that I pitched on their behalf, and I managed not to mess up and put on the wrong hat at any time.

Although I did mess up when I was pitching media yesterday. I copied and pasted an email from one message to another, but forgot to delete the part about my pitch making a great story for that particular paper. So yes, I named the competitor. Whoops! Thank heavens for humility. I quickly noticed my mistake and sent an apology to the editor whose paper I mis-named, and lo and behold they covered the story today anyhow.

My productive day — learning humility, changing hats, and having happy clients. If only my home life went that smoothly at bedtime!


Is it really a vacation if you take your laptop?

May 31, 2010

As I draft this, I’m on holiday. We are taking our annual trip to the island to enjoy an extended weekend at the seaside. And as usual, the weather sucks. We come here every year (my mother-in-law owns a cabin we get to pull out of the rental pool once a year before high season), and while we love it here, we almost always get so-so or bad weather. It’s not that the weather is bad here, it’s usually absolutely gorgeous. Just rarely the weekends we come. This year it’s raining and cool. Whoopee.

But we’re away, and that in itself is nice. It took us a ferry ride to get here (and thanks to bad planning, a two-hour wait for the next ferry when we missed our reserved ferry by 15 minutes), but the kids were in okay moods and I managed to feel a bit relaxed en route. Yet now I’m on my laptop, following up with work stuff, checking in with the baseball team I coach, and drafting blog entries to post next week. So is it a vacation if I fail to unplug?

I often with I had one of those careers or jobs where I could walk away for a week or two and not have it all fall apart without me. But I’m a consultant, and if I’m not in touch, I could easily have no work, or at least, no income. Plus, I think I’m just one of those type-a people who needs to stay on top of things, even if I’m not doing much work. I want to know that I’m not missing anything.

I have unplugged before. I turned off my email and didn’t even check it for five days when we went to Mexico. And our lakeside cabin last summer had no internet or cell service, so I didn’t have any emails for five days that holiday. And of course I survived, and so did my business. But I don’t know if it made me any more relaxed.

Taking a long weekend right now necessitates having my laptop to follow up on some work. It’s the only way I could get away. And I’m lucky that my work is this portable. Besides, having my laptop means the kids can play games, we can watch movies and listen to music, and I can get some writing in. Those are all things that help relax me.

Yeah, I’m justified staying plugged in, and it’s not all about work. Let’s go with that.

Tomorrow I’ll try to avoid the laptop and spend more time walking on the gorgeous beach. If the rain stops.

What I learned about job seeking from hiring someone myself

May 28, 2010

Last week I interviewed and hired a communications specialist for a junior role at my part-time job. It was the first time I’d been in that role for a very, very long time, and it was a real eye-opener for me.

As a consultant, I’ve been on the other side of the hiring process more often than I can say. In fact, being a consultant or freelancer is basically like being a serial job applicant. I always have an up-to-date resume, because even though I have a website with a profile of me on it, I am asked for a resume all the time. I answer Requests for Proposals, Expressions of Interest, job ads, calls for consultants, and all sorts of application processes every month sometimes. I know what it is to apply, believe me.

To hire, well, that’s a newer one for me. But I figured with all my application experience, I’d be an empathetic hirer who could cut right through and find the perfect candidate without any emotion. Boy, was I wrong!

First, there was the shock at the flood of applications. I know the economy has been iffy lately, but I didn’t think PR was hit too hard. But judging from how many applications I got for a very specific role, things are tough out there. I advertised, just with the PR societies and through word of mouth, for someone with 3-5 years experience. But at least half the applications I got were from people with at least double that, some who were as experienced as I was!

I thought I’d find a few people who had most of the skills I wanted, some of the experience I wanted, and who were able to learn the rest. But I actually had several candidates who met every single one of the qualifications with exactly the experience I needed. I think the toughest thing I had to do was narrow down the list to the handful I would interview. Of course, the guy who misspelled “resume” was easy to eliminate.

I’ve decided my pet peeves in the application process are:

1. People who wait until the last day to apply. I was in a hurry to hire and wanted to interview as soon as possible. Waiting until the final resumes came in was a pain. I know, I should have set an earlier end date.

2. Long cover letters. All I want in a cover letter is to know where you heard about the job, where your previous experience is relevant, why you want this job in particular, and that you’d like to talk about this more. Four paragraphs. Not eight. Not a full page outlining every aspect of your experience or interests in 9 point type.

3. Resumes that are organized by skill. I want to know where you worked before and what you did there, not your list of skills. If you’re applying for this particular job where the needed skills are spelled out, I assume you have the general skills. I need to see how your previous work gave you the skills. Maybe this kind of resume is useful when being read by an HR manager (or computer scanning software) but not when it’s being read by the person who would be your supervisor. At least not by me.

4.Don’t spell out your conflict of interest. The job I’m hiring for needs a level of impartiality, as it’s a government issue with a lot of stakeholders. The job ad says that. Telling me up front where your politics lie and your sympathies doesn’t help, in the end it hinders.

I’ve decided I like the style of cover letter where the writer compares the words of my job ad (You asked for…) with their own relevant experience. At first they bugged me, but in the end I’ve decided that this really helped cut to the chase.

Now I’m facing the hard part. I have to tell the other people I interviewed that they didn’t get the job. And I really feel for every one of them. In fact, I feel for just about every applicant. I wish I could hire more than one person. I wish I could help most of the applicants find other work. I know exactly how it feels to be on their side of the table, and I hate that I have to dissapoint anyone. I want to hire them all, but in the end I can only hire one person.

Boy, will I apply for future openings with eyes open wider from now on.

Naming your company — should you use your own name?

March 5, 2010

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

—Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Years ago I read the E-Myth, a book about being an entrepreneur, and concluded that I really wasn’t much of an entrepreneur. According to the book, you should start a company to build a company, and not just to create a job for yourself. It made a lot of sense, but frankly, I wasn’t interested in building my consultancy into a business or becoming a PR agency. I just wanted to work for myself, make my own hours, and choose my own projects. Not much of an entrepreneur, said the E-Myth.

When I decided that this thing I had been doing, taking contract work and freelance assignments, was some kind of business that I should name, I decided I should name it after myself. Because basically it was me a client would be hiring, even if they paid my company. It was my reputation in my field that would get me work, and I would never imagine building up a business that wasn’t really just my job.

Luckily, my parents gave me the name they did. Because kitschy as it was when I was living in Ottawa, by the time I settled in Vancouver, calling my company C-Shore Communications, using my own name but sounding business-like all the same, was a natural for me.

Recently, a friend who is setting up a business asked my opinion on what to call her company. She’s in a similar situation in terms of building a consultancy and not aiming to create a business that she can work on, not in (as the E-Myth says any good entrepreneur should do). My first instinct was she should use her name in the title. After all, she already has a reputation in her field, and it seems right to build on that.

But there’s one problem — she has the exact same name as another woman working in the same field in the same city. She does, however, have a cause/industry with which she is closely associated, and while it’s mildly obscure, it also works well to sum up her skills and passions. So she named her company after that, rather than her name.

In my field, public relations, most companies are named after a person. It’s the same in advertising and law when you think about it. And I’m talking about big companies, not just one-person businesses like mine. You build your reputation, name your company after yourself, then if you want to be a true entrepreneur, hire lots of people and let them work “in” the business while you work “on” the business.

How did you name your company and why?

Media relations: Will there be a flood of pitches after the Olympics

February 22, 2010

The advice for media relations professionals from the time the Olympics pulled into full gear this month is to not pitch anything, unless it was an Olympics story. And that’s good advice, because very little else is making news anywhere in the Lower Mainland this last couple weeks.

I have a couple things I want to get out to media, but am advising clients to hold back until next week. In fact, I could be pitching about four different stories early next week. Yikes.

And that’s just me. If every PR agency and consultant is in the same boat as me, will we flood media with non-Olympic news? And if we do, will we fatigue them right away? Will they be too tired to listen after two weeks of non-stop Olympic celebrations?

Maybe I should wait another week or two. Oh, but then I run into the Paralympics. What’s your advice on timing for media pitching in the post-Olympic era?

Networking Olympics-style

February 20, 2010

Before I became an Olympics booster this week, I had vowed to stay out of downtown the entire Olympic period, other than must-do work meetings and the hockey game to which we have tickets on Sunday.

But then the Board of Trade sent out an email inviting members, of which I am one, to come to a free networking event at the BC Pavilion at the Vancouver Art Gallery. And while I originally said I wouldn’t attend, given that it was downtown and at night (working mom, not much for late-night partying), my husband talked me into it, reminding me that my part-time job is ending and I need to find more work now, which means I need to network.

So after biking home from Burnaby on Wednesday, I cleaned myself up and boarded a bus for downtown to see what all the fuss was about. The number of people milling about is staggering. I walked all around the Gallery, and it seemed like everyone was just walking around, not really doing anything, but with that many people, it sure seemed exciting.

In I went to the Gallery, and headed up to the fourth floor where the reception was. The displays were interesting and eye-catching, and the short 3D movie there is fun, but the touchscreen interactive art stuff was my favourite part of the Pavillion. Then I went to the bar part, and it was packed to the gills with networkers. Of course the giant screens were showing competitions, but people were moving about and sharing Olympic stories. It was kind of the same happy, no worries atmosphere I encountered on the bus to figure skating, but in a business context. I even traded some pins with a man who turned out to be the Mayor of Coquitlam!

It was getting late and I thought about leaving before things ended, but I was convinced to stick around to see “the show.” It seems that every Olympic night at 9:30 pm, there is a fireworks/laser light show in Robson Square, and the balcony of that bar overlooks Robson Square offering the best view possible. So I stayed, and it was phenomenal!

I can’t say I picked up any business leads, but I did reconnect with a few associates and friends, got access to a great venue without any lineups, and got to experience networking, Olympics style.

Good thing PR is recession-proof

February 10, 2010

Now that I have to scrounge up more work (with my part-time job finishing up at the end of February), I was delighted to read that my industry is “recession-proof.”

According to a major PR player at a big agency, quoted in a recent newspaper article:

He says the industry is almost “recession- proof” in the sense public relations agencies are experts at delivering both good and bad news, the latter being heightened at times of economic hardship.

But the industry has much more going for it than simply being the bearer of bad news.

Businesses often find PR to be more cost effective than traditional advertising and find it particularly suited to taking advantage of increasingly popular social media outlets, such as blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

I agree with all his points, although lots of communicators I know have found budgets slashed and staff laid off, so I am less sure about the recession-proof stuff. Still, they keep saying the recession is over. And hopefully the post-Olympics time period in Vancouver will mean work will get back to normal and projects will start to flow. Ever since November, between the regular holidays slowdown and then the pre-Olympics slowdown, business in Vancouver has slowed significantly. Once they’re over (if not sooner!), I hope things swing into higher gear and my phone starts ringing off the hook with new business.

Fingers crossed.