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Archive for May, 2007

When Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez forced Radio Caracas Televsion (RCTV) off the air recently, he was met with protests by thousands who filled the streets of Caracas within hours of the action.

Crowds of protesters seem to materialize instantly, as many as 5,000 strong, then disappear into the city when police cracked down. Office workers left buildings to join student protesters. Chanting “freedom”, protesters say that the Chavez action is a blow to democracy. RCTV was often the lone voice of opposition to Chavez.

What is most interesting, with Chavez and his goons now in charge of media, how so many protesters could gather simultaneously. The answer? FaceBook. Venezuelans eager to know what is happening and to join the protest over RCTV’s closing, plus other grievances against the repressive Chavez regime, simply use FaceBook to share information.

Viva la revolution. Viva la social media. Viva FaceBook.

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I try very hard to make More With Les practical, informative, educational, stimulating, and hopefully, interesting. Accordingly, I found out today something that the MWL Learning Community simply MUST know immediately.

There are now dark chocolate M&M’s. I had my first package a few minutes ago. They are orgasmic.

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Lessons Learned

I posted grades for spring semester 2007 yesterday. As predicted, there are a few students who question what they earned. That is to be expected. Some wanted to learn from it; others felt that someone or something else was the problem.

For the first time ever, I instituted a firm attendance policy spring semester. I checked with many more experienced colleagues and devised a system I thought was fair. I did it because in fall semester 2006, I had really bad attendance in my two PR Writing classes. I consulted the students themselves to determine the problem. I was told by my students that they will attend classes that have firm attendance policies and skip those that do not. They told me that they figure they can get by without anything resembling perfect attendance.

That got me thinking. When you go to work for a company, part of the package you get is a set amount of time off. Some organizations for which I have worked bundled the time off into a set number of days for the year, whether you took it as vacation, sick leave, or personal days. You had a set number of days that you were allowed to be away from work. That’s the deal, employers say  — you work here, we pay you, and you get this much time off a year. You simply do not keep good jobs by taking excessive amounts of time off. I rarely ever took all my allotted time off, and neither did my successful colleagues.

In college, students’ job is to go to class, learn carefully selected and prepared material, do assigned work, and learn skills that hopefully will help them in their careers. To me, the instructor’s role is like that of a good work place supervisor. The instructor must ensure that the “work day” is structured effectively, that meaningful and helpful career-oriented material is covered, assigned, and assessed fairly and in a timely fashion, that there is ample time for inquiry and reflection, and finally, that students are learning appropriate material that will in fact help them in their careers. A good instructor will tailor interventions for students who have trouble with certain material and enrichment for those who perform at high levels.

But what about attendance? Part of learning (like everything else in life) is discipline. Therefore, a good instructor must instill in career-oriented students the discipline to consistently show up and participate. On the job, you will not be specially rewarded for showing up as assigned, but you darn sure will be punished for excessive absenteism. It is better to learn this lesson now.

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Spring semester is coming to a close. Only a few final exams left to give. After days and days of grading, assessing, checking, rechecking, and contemplating, it’s time to assign grades. When grades are recorded, the semester is over.

Then the phone calls begin. “Why did I get this grade? I was shocked to see that I got a __ in your class!”

To be fair, students generally take courses seriously. They want to do well, and I want them to do well. But in the end, a professor merely records the grade a student earns. It is similar to a supervisor conducting performance appraisals in the working world. An employee has a job description that says what he or she is supposed to do. When properly administered, the job description is accompanied by standards of performance that say how well a job is to be done.

In a university, syllabi are both job descriptions and standards of performance for students enrolled in a class. Syllabi state clearly the rules and regulations that govern the course. Syllabi state what is to be done and how well it is to be done. Syllabi are “contracts” between an instructor and his or her students. Good syllabi spell out in clear language what assignments, behavior, and conduct is expected, how well the assignments must be performed, and what the rewards and punishments are for conformance or non-conformance in terms of behavior and conduct.

I put a great deal of thought into each syllabus I write. I include course purpose, course description, prerequisites, course objectives, required books, a complete week-by-week schedule of what we’ll study with assignments, a clear attendance policy, students’ responsibilities, points value of each assignment, and clear assessment criteria that tells students how each assignment will be graded.

One more thing on my syllabi: I list my complete contact information including office, home, and mobile telephone numbers, plus two email addresses. I encourage students to contact me with questions any time. For example, I took a call from a frantic student with a question at midnight during exam week. Did I get mad? No. I helped the student get through the problem and do well on the assignment.

I spend the first full class period going over the syllabus to make sure each student understands the syllabus. I refer to the syllabus frequently during the semester as a reminder. But in a few days, the phone will begin to ring with students questioning grades. The syllabi procedure explained above is part of my process for preparing students for careers by teaching them to work within guidelines of job descriptions and standards of performance. Students will have to meet employer expectations. Doing so now in a course is good preparation.

In the end, whether it is one of my courses or a student’s job after graduation, the only thing that matters is results.

Excuse me, I have a call coming in.

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I woke up this morning thinking of my favorite poem, “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars”, by Richard Lovelace (1618-1658). Written in 1649, this poem moves me on many levels.

But in business? You bet. For some reason, “Lucasta” got reworded in my brain to address the need for business management knowledge and skills for communication/PR students and working professionals. Here’s how it turned out:

Tell me not, Students, that I am unkind,

That from the nunnery

Of Mass Comm/PR to business management I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,

The first sales reports from the field;

And with a stronger faith embrace

A business plan, a spreadsheet, and percent of yield.

Yet this inconstancy in me is such

As thou too shalt adore; 

I could not love Communication/PR so much,

Loved I not business more.

The point is whatever we do with communication/PR, except government service applications, will be in and for business. Even 501(c)3 nonprofits are businesses, but cause related and not profit driven. Therefore, I have always advocated that communication/PR students and working practitioners must learn all they can about business management.

After all, membership profiles from surveys by both IABC and PRSA show that about 40 percent of practitioners work in corporations of all types and about 27 percent work in PR firms, ad agencies, marketing communication firms, or as solo practitioners. Many of their clients are for profit businesses.

So, what do we do now? In communication/PR, we are fond of saying, “walk the talk”. Before I offer my advice, I want you to know that I roll (think about it) the talk before advising anyone on what to do. As an undergrad, I took every course I could in the Business department and minored in Marketing with my Communication major. In my 40s, I earned my MBA before launching Les Potter Incorporated, my consulting firm. I am convinced that my success as a consultant with a great mix of domestic and international clients was due in large part to my business knowledge and skills. I continue to study business management along with communication/PR. That said, I recommend the following steps to help you succeed as a communication/PR professional:

  • Like I did, take as many business courses as you can in college, including economics, finance, business management, accounting, and marketing. Better yet, get a business minor.
  • If your university offers one, get a Marketing Certificate as a communication/PR major. Towson offers one, and it is quite useful and popular.
  • Consider getting an MBA. There are many convenient and affordable MBA programs for working professionals. If you are a recent grad just starting your career, consider waiting for several years before you take this step for two reasons: One, having some practical business experience will help you tremendously; and two, many employers have tuition reimbursement programs that will offset the cost.
  • I know you have been told this before, but read business publications like the Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Financial Times, etc. Keep up with what is happening in business. Know what the stock market is doing. Right now, it is setting records almost daily. I love it.
  • Build your personal library of good books on all the major areas of business management. As a beginning, one great book to purchase is The Truth About Money, 3rd Edition,by Ric Edelman. Ric’s firm, Edelman Financial Services, manages my portfolio, and his book is a must read for anyone who wishes to learn more about financial planning. In so doing, you will learn a great deal about business management, too. Many finance terms are simply and clearly explained. If you ever desire financial security, then start with this book.

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New York-based Spring Associates, Inc., a PR search and consulting firm, announced findings of its 11th annual PR and corporate communication study recently. Reported in PRSA’s PR Tactics and The Strategist Online, the study said average corporate communication base salaries grew 3.3 percent in 2006 compared with 2005’s increase of 7.6 percent. Average PR agency base salaries declined -3.2 percent compared with 2005’s increase of 8.9 percent, according to the survey.

As reported in PR Tactics and The Strategist Online, Spring Associates compiled the data from its database of approximately 17,000 corporate PR and agency professionals across the USA. The survey showed that the PR industry grew in revenue and new hires in 2006. However, the survey indicated that there is unhappiness among professionals over issues of pay and hours worked.

If this is true, then it seems logical that 2007 will see greater churn among working professionals. Given a chance, pros will bolt for better opportunities, thereby creating hiring opportunities to back fill positions. And so it goes…

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I can’t post anything new because I keep reading the comments to my previous post. For this one post, the quality and quantity of valuable information from the More With Les Learning Community is nothing short of amazing.

If you are a student, especially one who is nearing graduation, this is must-read information. If you are not near graduation, the information is especially relevant because you have time to make decisions and take actions to help prepare you for when you do graduate.

My heartfelt thanks to Jim Parsons, Michael Clendenin, Robert Holland, Jim Lane, Garry Bolan, and Rick Kaufman, who to date have elevated this discussion to a seminar for job seekers on what to expect and how to prepare for the world of work in communication/PR. Their collective wisdom is priceless.

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