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Archive for February, 2008

Many current and former students, plus some working professionals, ask me about grad school. Should I? If so, in what? Where?

Many seek a master’s degree as a competitive advantage. A graduate degree helps differentiate you in the marketplace, adding a level of skill and experience through higher education. Nowadays, in a competitive communication/PR/IMC job market, added credentials are helpful. But so are undergraduate internships and work experience. Even if your work experience was as a restaurant server, you proved to potential employers that you can work and earn a paycheck. The internships give you practical, hands-on experience to complement your academic work.

My advice about whether or not to pursue a graduate degree is, first, tell me why do you wish to have a graduate degree? What do you want it to do for you? What are your long-term goals? Do you wish to have a competitive advantage in the job market? Or, do you wish to have a start on a doctorate perhaps to become a scholar later? Or, do you simply wish to continue learning?

The answer to that question leads logically to the next question: in what do you wish to obtain a graduate degree? Here’s where the cognitive dissonance appears in those with undergraduate mass communication/PR/IMC degrees — what should I study?

To answer this question, consider your goals again. Do you wish to gain marketable skills? Then choose a graduate program from a university that offers the best of what skills you wish to build. For example, if you wish to enhance your knowledge of mass communication or public relations or integrated marketing communication, then conduct research and choose from the many good programs offered. Consider programs that stress an applied approach. If you are considering a doctorate later, then choose a program with a more scholarly program.

There are other choices than only a master’s degree in communication. For example, the Master’s of Business Administration (MBA). I chose to earn an MBA. I graduated in 1970 with a B.A. degree in Communication. I was working in a corporate communication department when I joined IABC in 1973. IABC has been my personal “graduate school” all through my career. I wanted an advanced degree, but I knew that I wanted an MBA for these reasons: I knew that whatever I did in my career, I was dedicated to being an organizational communicator. I knew that I could learn the latest thinking, cutting-edge techniques, and best practices through IABC, but whatever I learned, it would be applied to business. Therefore, I chose to learn more about business management and administration. Conclusion: I wanted an MBA.

The MBA is one clear choice for those who wish to build their business credentials. But in the past few years, another attractive option has emerged, the Master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC). The Medill School at Northwestern University says it pioneered the IMC graduate program. According to its Website, the program “combines the traditional areas of marketing communications with business skills in marketing, finance, statistics and organizational behavior to form a unique program on the cutting edge of marketing communications and customer relationship management. ”

I have seen advertisements in business magazines that blatantly pitch the Medill IMC degree against the traditional MBA. I am not qualified to judge who wins this argument. Time will tell. The marketplace will be the judge. I know that as a consultant and head of my own firm, Les Potter Incorporated, business leaders/clients appreciated the fact that I had an MBA. The degree opened doors. I had credentials as a strategic communication planner and manager, such as decades of organizational communication management experience, my IABC accreditation, a best-selling manual on strategic communication planning, hosts of published articles, and hundreds of speaking engagements. But I am convinced that the MBA after my name sold many accounts.

Consider the timing of graduate study. Some may wish to complete undergraduate studies, then begin graduate school immediately. That’s fine. Get the most credentials you can before you enter the job market.

Here’s a tip: go to work for three to five years. Chances are you may land a job with an organization that has a tuition reimbursement program. Such programs reimburse part of the costs of additional education that enhances your job performance. You will have to have been on the job for a set time period, and you may have to agree to stay with the organization for a set period of time for the organization to pay part of your schooling costs. But it is still a great deal.

There is an added advantage to working for a few years before you return to the classroom. You will have valuable experience that will help you in your studies. You will have real world examples from which to draw in completing various assignments. Your work experience will prove quite valuable in your graduate studies. Plus, the school environment will be stimulating after a hard day’s work. You will probably be studying with other working professionals, thereby expanding your network and circle of friends.

Do not forget the value of professional associations in all this. I remain passionate about the positive role that professional association involvement plays in your career. All things considered, IABC and PRSA remain cheap grad school.

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Employers are looking at the Facebook, MySpace, and blogs of prospective employees, even internship applicants, in order to make hiring decisions. Is this legal? Ethical?

There is not a lot of case law yet regarding social media. Many situations simply have not been tested in court, so there is little in the way of guidance at present. But we do know a few things.

Can an employer legally decide not to hire you based on a review of the contents your Facebook or MySpace page? The truth is, yes they can, as long as employers do not violate federal or state discrimination laws in using social networking sites in making hiring decisions. For example, an employer cannot legally screen out applicants based on race or ethnicity.

Is it an invasion of privacy for an employer to gain access to your profile or photos? What is posted on the Internet has a lower “expectation of privacy” than, say, a private home telephone conversation. Once it is posted on Facebook or MySpace or your blog, the information is available to the public. Therefore, viewing it does not constitute an invasion of privacy.

Facebook is designed to limit the availability of your profile to your friends and only those in your other networks via the privacy settings. If you use the privacy features and believe that some employers got into your information unauthorized, then you might have a case. 

However, use of Facebook by potential employers is not addressed the Terms of Use for Facebook. The Terms of Use does say that its use is restricted to personal and non-commercial uses.  “Non-commercial” use means posting information for personal gain, like ads, which is prohibited. However, it does not mean an employer cannot access your information for commercial purposes, like research to make a hiring decision.

What about using social networking sites after you are hired? It is important to remember that when you go to work, you often have to sign an agreement that governs the use of company computer equipment that waives your right to privacy. Such agreements usually state that use will be monitored.

The message is clear: on the job using company equipment, simply do not post things that are potentially embarrassing or damaging to your career.

What about right now, while you are a student? Make your Facebook or MySpace pages and your blog more professional in tone and content and more career oriented. Employers may use social networking sites to look for potential candidates who have specific qualifications, education, experience, or interests. Redesign your Facebook and MySpace pages and your blog into marketing tools.

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I have been judging IABC Gold Quill awards all day today. I am a big fan of IABC’s Gold Quill program, especially the requirement for an excellent work plan as part of an entry. The work plan shows the strategic planning and management that is the underpinning of an entry. This makes the awards program a professional development experience, not a beauty contest.

Here’s what I want all of my students to get right now: to deal with any important communication/PR issue, there are certain steps that must be taken in order for there to be a credible strategic treatment of the issue.

First, you must conduct research to know all you can about the situation your organization is facing. Intuition and guess work won’t cut it. This is usually captured in a situation analysis. For the Gold Quill work plan, it is listed in the need or opportunity section.

Second, once the need/opportunity is understood, the professional communicator/PR practitioner must decide what to do and recommend a course of action. This is best captured by setting goals and objectives. Goals should be broad-brush statements involving things like improving a relationships with a key public. Objectives are more targeted, for they must manifest a goal into reality.

Here’s the problem: all too often communicators/PR practitioners set squishy objectives, like “communicate that we care about employees” or “inform the community about our …” For an objective to have any relevance, it must be SMART, or Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-sensitive.

Setting measurable objectives is the cornerstone of the strategic communication foundation following research and situation analysis. You simply must set measurable objective in order to be able to conduct meaningful summative evaluation in the end. All too often, squishy objectives can only be followed by summative evaluation that amounts to silliness like, “we got a lot a compliments on the [tactic]” or “the CEO really liked it” or “all of the copies were taken by employees”. These prove nothing.

If you are to claim any meaningful result of your communication/PR strategy and subsequent tactical activity, then you must state clearly and in a measurable way what the activity was to have accomplished in the first place. Make it SMART.

Meaningful, measurable objectives + well-thought-out, appropriate strategy and well-executed tactics = meaningful, measurable results.

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What is the true point of blogging for PR students?

One of my students and one of my colleagues have both recently asked this thought-provoking question. 

My colleague Stacy Spaulding, a journalism professor, says one of her students uses his blog to develop his professional identity. She says this is going to be a real asset when he goes looking for a job. Stacy says that not only does it tell an editor that the student is thinking about his work creatively, but it also demonstrates that he’ll be able to contribute to the expanding multimedia demands newspapers are making on photographers and reporters.

Accordingly, More With Les now asks the question: What is the true point of blogging for PR students?

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Today was a special day here at Towson’s Mass Comm department. Our PRSSA and AAF student chapters hosted a reception for a contingent of Russian PR students who are studying with us for a couple of weeks. The students are from St. Petersberg Electrotechnical University, an institution with which Towson has had a long and successful working relationship.

Three of the Russian students presented programs today on various aspects of what they are studying, what they wish to learn, and what they hope to do with their careers. They also gave the American students an interesting and useful overview of professional practice in Russia. There are many similarities with American communication/PR/IMC practice, but there are also some fairly pronounced differences, too. For example, Russian rules governing advertising are quite restrictive compared to American practices.

Also, according to these students, many Russian business executives don’t really understand or appreciate PR. It gets better year by year, but still has a way to go in their opinion. From my travels and work with clients all over the world, I’d say that could be the case most anywhere.

I have been a member of IABC since 1973. I have always taken the “I” in IABC seriously. Like so many of us, I am very interested in how communication/PR/IMC is practiced in other countries. Through IABC and my consulting work outside the U.S. over the years,  I have been able to learn and keep up with what is happening elsewhere. It is an enriching experience.

Listening to these remakable students today reinforced my belief in how much alike we all are in our goals and dreams and career aspirations and how, working together and sharing best practices, we can improve the human condition by who we are and what we do. I believe it is a message that has great value to not only students, but practitioners at every level of experience as well.

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10. I read David Murray’s blog Shades of Gray, got scared, and changed my major to Kinesiology.

9. I think blogging is a fad and will go away.

8. I kan’t type wurth a krap.

7. WordPress is too expensive.

6. I’m a effin dumb ass,  so why prove it to the world by blogging?

5. My mother might read it.

4. My mother might not read it, then I might not get any comments.

3. My instructor does not require me to blog for a grade.

2. I can’t ask my instructor “how long does this need to be?”

1. OMG! WTF! blogs like fkin gay, i’m like too busy texting my bff.

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My fellow blogger and Facebook Friend Meg Roberts, a senior PR student at the University of South Florida, is currently blogging about why college students are not blogging. She cites four reasons why they aren’t, but makes the point that they should be.

I have been wondering the same thing about my students at Towson University. I have around 100 PR Track students in four classes. I asked each class how many read blogs regularly, and in all classes, only a very few said they did. When asked how many blog themselves, there were virtually no affirmative responses.  While this is not scientific research, it is disturbing.

I do not require my students to establish their own blogs in any of my classes. Some of my colleagues do. Valued colleague and Facebook Friend Stacy Spaulding, Ph.D., who teaches Journalism and New Media at Towson, is one of them. Such an assignment fits her syllabus.

Tiffany Derville, Ph.D., formerly of Towson and now teaching at the University of Oregon, also requires blogging for her PR writing classes. I read some of Stacy’s and Tiffany’s  students’ blogs when I can. It is always enlightening. I am a regular visitor to the few students of mine who blog. And I would not miss one of Meg Robert’s posts.

There are other professors out there who require student blogs for various classes. These are just a few examples of how professors are dealing with the all-important subject of social media for PR students. Like Meg Roberts, I wonder why more PR students are not voluntarily embracing blogging.

Each of my classes will have blog-related assignments, but not a requirement to set up a blog of their own. I approach the need to learn about and participate in social media in a different way. When the semester is finished, my students will have read and participated in numerous PR and IMC blogs. They will know the impact on and importance of the blogosphere to organizations and the impact it has on the PR profession.

But is that enough? Is regular reading of a wide variety of blogs plus commenting to them and discussing findings enough to help them learn what they need to know?

At present, I believe it fits the style of my classes not to require blogging personally but to instill in students a desire to participate in social media combined with the knowledge to do so. I strongly believe in learning by doing (see Why is Uncle Lester Blogging?), but it stops short of requiring a student to blog.

Am I wrong here? Your advice and counsel please.

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