Tuesday, April 26, 2005

PR can be a Circus -- Literally (Minnesota Public Relations)

For those who still believe that any publicity is good publicity you may
want to check out this story.

PT Barnum would be ashamed!


Oh, Say, Can You See Why This Story Mattered At All?

The big story for TV news today was the poor Canadian singer, Caroline Marcil, who forgot the words to the US National Anthem at a hockey game, gave up, came back, and slipped on the ice. The video was played over and over. Why? This was the most important story they could come up with? Some poor girl embarassing herself? How is that newsworthy, or have we gotten to the point where it's national news because we can make fun of people when they make a mistake?

Do news directors choose to use these stories simply because they have it on tape, so they can show it over and over again? It was on CNBC several times yesterday, and it made the rounds to all the local TV stations in the US.

Ms. Marcil isn't from Philadelphia, but the tape of her gaffe had a prominent place on the Philadelphia TV newscasts. Forget about anything of substance in Philadelphia, we'd rather show you someone from a thousand miles away being embarrassed in public.

No one from a single Philadelphia TV station has ever asked the Mayor of Philadelphia why the taxpayers are paying for him to have not one, but three BlackBerries (Scroll down to "BlackBerry Addiction" about 3/4 down the page). It's way more fun to humiliate a Canadian woman with no connection whatever to the "City of Brotherly Love", and do it repeatedly on newscast after newscast -- it's cheaper, too, since we don't have any film crews on the street any more, and we have to use mostly canned footage from somewhere else anyway.

The Toronto Globe and Mail rightly points out that few Americans know the words to "O Canada" and only about 61 percent of us know the words to our own National Anthem.

And please, don't get all high and mighty about the "Star Spangled Banner." The famous poem by Francis Scott Key only became our National Anthem after it was set to the music of a popular, and slightly bawdy, drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven."

We deserve better from the media than this juvenile glee at their ability to make a fellow human being look foolish.

Apparently Good Morning America tracked her down and let her sing it on the air, giving her an audience that maybe was more interested in hearing her succeed than in making fun of her.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Media's rush to judge corporations badly

I've been in corporate public relations for a long time, long enough to feel, like many others, that there is sometimes a predisposition on the part of the news media -- I won't call it a bias, just a lack of understanding, or sometimes even a lack of common sense -- but a desire to believe that consumers have valid claims all the time.

It is true that sometimes companies have poor management oversight of their operations, or that they are dirty places, or they deliberately overlook problems. But these things are not really the daily occurrences that you might think they are.

Look at the rush to put Anna Ayala on national network morning news shows with her claim that she found a human fingertip in a bowl of chili at Wendy's. She gets to tell her story, completely trash a perfectly reputable company in the national press, and absolutely no one in the media waited to see if this outrageous story was even verifiable.

And in case you didn't see the follow-up report, she's now been arrested for concocting the story. Meanwhile, food sales were off so badly at the store she accused of selling the chili, that they actually had to lay off employees.

The pressure for ratings and "eyeballs" from the audience is so intense that it doesn't even matter to the media to verify the claim before reporting it. In the rush to get this bizarre and ratings-pumping story on the air, it doesn't matter how many minimum wage earning single parents might be thrown out of work.

There's no time to think about the long term consequences, and there's no time to even consider how improbable the claim might be. Why isn't the media reserving a little bit of the skepticism they apply to the corporations in these stories for the people bringing the stories to them?

Now, the journalists will say, "Hey, we've reported accurately what the woman SAID happened, so we have no responsibility for the fact that she made up the story and has a history of alleging corporate misconduct." I don't really buy that.

When I was a radio news reporter in the late 1970s, I was working on the night they arrested some poor sap as a suspect in the famous Hillside Strangler case in California. They announced his name, and distributed his mug shot to the wire services. By 6 am Eastern time, they had released him -- he simply wasn't guilty. But every morning newspaper in the country published his name and photo as a suspect. I always was glad that I did not use the story on my radio newscasts.

Sure, you can say that it is news when someone is arrested as s suspect, but once you name that person, you can't unring the bell. So too for allegations against a restaurant or a convenience store that later prove to be untrue.

There used to be a time when reporters were supposed to try to figure out if the story they were being told was at least credible before publishing it. It reminds me of the time when Newsweek was sold a forged set of alleged Hitler diaries, published a big cover story about it, and then when it was exposed as a fraud, excused themselves in a later article by saying "it almost doesn't matter if they are real." Come on, folks.

The editors who appear on panels at conferences gnash their teeth over the fact that reader surveys indicate an increasing percentage of readers who believe that newspapers make up the news.

That's not really fair, but it sure seems like an increasing number of people INTERVIEWED by the news media are making things up. And the longer the media go on accepting this nonsense at face value, reporting what people say without even making an effort at finding out if it's true, the more skeptical their readers will become.

Sun CEO Schwartz thinks blog cuts through filters (FT story)

Here's why blogs are important to corporations: their CEOs think it's a great way to get the word out unfiltered, unvarnished, and yes, undistorted by the media and other third parties. A good example is in today's Financial Times, which has a profile (subscription required) of Sun Microsystems CEO and executive blogger Jonathan Schwartz by reporter John Gapper.

At the end of the feature comes this telling comment from Schwartz:

"If my readership in a month is greater than Computer World, why would I advertise through them? If I can capture their readership and ensure the content is faithful to what I think, why would I want to have one of them interpret it for me? I am humble enough to know my voice will never rise above the FT or The Wall Street Journal but will it rise above Slashdot? Yeah, it already has."

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Accredited in Public Relations - Credential gets new visibility

Full disclosure here: I'm on the national board of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and I earned my APR in 1989. But like the shoemakers' children, we PRSA leaders haven't done a great job of promoting the value of the APR credential to other PR people and hiring managers. But that is changing.

Thanks to some great research conducted to learn about the skills PR people actually use in their day-to-day work, we redesigned the Accreditation exam to be more relevant -- and harder to pass.

Now, PRSA and the other 10 partners in the Universal Accreditation Board are gearing up to launch some marketing efforts to help explain to members why they should try to achieve this distinction, and to help hiring managers understand why the APR means a candidate has an extra level of qualification through study and demonstration of skills and competency.

Today's South Jersey Courier Post explained the APR in its Alphabet Soup column on the Work and Life page in the Business section.

Advanta, Brian Tierney reach separation deal, or "Brian, I knew ye when..."

Philadelphia Business Journal reports that Advanta Corp. has resolved its contractual issues with former vice chairman and prominent marketing executive Brian Tierney after terminating his employment earlier this year. From the Advanta filing, it looks like Brian won't have to seek employment anytime soon, although the package is rich enough that he clearly can buy just about anything he wants.

I first encountered Brian in 1985 when he formed his first PR firm in Philadelphia, and got legendary Bulletin business columnist Peter Binzen to feature him in one of his first columns for the Inquirer after the Bulletin folded. The column was all about Brian's firm, and barely mentioned his first client, Norfolk Southern, which at the time was favored by then-Transportation Secretary (now North Carolina Senator) Elizabeth Dole to acquire Conrail. It was strange for the piece to focus on Brian, since Binzen and his partner Joseph R. Daughen had penned the original history of the northeastern railroad bankruptcies, The Wreck of the Penn Central.

Later that year, the Buzz column in the Daily News picked up on the fact that when Brian arranged for Norfolk Southern executives to speak at a lunch with local Philadelphia business leaders, there was a "lone Conrail PR person" working the crowd, handing out anti-NS literature...guess who?



Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Been around the blog? (bizjournals.com Business Services:Advertising & PR headlines)

While not yet mainstream, online personal journals, commonly referred to as "blogs," are fast becoming a new communications medium for just about anyone who wants to share topical news and information -- as well as their personal viewpoints -- with a global audience.

Lubetkin Communications Launches Weblog and Internet Broadcasting Practice; Will Develop Blogging and Podcasting Strategies for Clients

CHERRY HILL, NJ – April 18, 2005 – Lubetkin & Co. Communications LLC, a diversified communications consultancy here, has introduced a “blogging and podcasting” practice for its clients, the firm announced.
“Blogs,” or weblogs, are chronological diary/journals published to a website. They are often written by corporate executives to share day-to-day insights into their businesses, and to open a two-way dialogue with customers and others interested in their products and services.
“Podcasts” are recorded audio programs delivered via the Internet to listeners who can download the audio files to their Apple Ipods or other digital audio devices.
Both blogs and podcasts can be delivered automatically to subscribers through the use of technology called “Really Simple Syndication,” or RSS.
“We’ve been experimenting with leading edge technologies like these since dumb terminals attached to minicomputers ushered in the earliest days of the information revolution in the 1970s,” said Steven L. Lubetkin, managing partner of Lubetkin & Co. “We believe that expertise uniquely positions Lubetkin & Co. to provide strategic insights into the appropriate ways to integrate weblogs and podcasts into a company’s overall communications program.”
To enable clients and prospective clients to experience blogs and podcasts directly, Lubetkin & Co. has launched three blogs and associated podcasts.

“Lubetkin’s Other Blog,” features Steve’s personal commentary on the news media, journalism, and public relations, at http://lubetkinsotherblog.blogspot.com/. The blog also includes an audio podcast that visitors can download as MP3 audio files. Among recent podcasts are recorded presentations at conferences and seminars on public relations.

A second blog, “CompuSchmooze,” at http://compuschmooze.blogspot.com/, supplements Lubetkin’s monthly column on technology in the Jewish Community Voice of Southern New Jersey, a newspaper reaching some 40,000 subscribers. The CompuSchmooze podcasts feature interviews with technology company executives associated with products and services profiled in the CompuSchmooze column. More information is at http://www.compuschmooze.com/.

The third blog, “Lubetkin Broadcasting,” will allow clients to distribute their news releases and digital content by taking advantage of the RSS syndication system to deliver releases, audio news actualities and interviews, and digital photos directly to news media subscribing to the feed.

All three blogs are RSS-distributed through the feedburner.com web distribution. Subscribers using RSS reader software can subscribe to the blogs at:

Lubetkin is a veteran corporate communications executive for Fortune 100 companies. His firm specializes in strategic communications advice for corporate clients, executives, and other organizations. Clients include a national retailer and an international professional association. Its website is http://http://www.lubetkin.net/.

Monday, April 18, 2005

BBC Video Abandons the Colonies to Mediocre British Television; Fails to Release Civilisation on DVD in US

Media companies are incredibly arrogant and condescending to the people who keep them in business buy buying their music and videos. Perhaps that explains why people don't feel guilty about downloading music from the Internet.

Here's a real example of the lack of responsiveness you get from the custoidans of culture:

For some inexplicable reason vaguely hidden behind claims that there is insufficient customer demand, the BBC has failed to release a DVD version of the award-winning Civlisation: A Personal View series that appeared on PBS in the United States more than 30 years ago.

The 13-part series of lectures, based on Lord Kenneth Clarke's highly praised book of the same name, is available in the US only on VHS cassette. The four-cassette series retails for about $100, but a search of web video merchants indicates that the DVD version of the series is only available encoded for "Region 2" -- or the UK. There is no "Region 1" version of the DVD available, and the BBC's customer service has been somewhat evasive about why it has not made DVDs available in the States.

Here's the email I received from BBC when I first raised the question with them:

-----Original Message-----
From: customer.service@bbc.co.uk [mailto:customer.service@bbc.co.uk]
Sent: Thursday, February 10, 2005 11:03 AM
To: steve@lubetkin.net
Subject: I am Looking for a Specific Product

Thank you for your comments. We try to release the most popular titles
first, based on feedback from our customers; unfortunately we have not
received many requests for "Civilisation" by Kenneth Clark. I will
forward your email onto our Home Video Department.
We appreciate your taking the time to contact us at
Kind regards,

I wrote back:

-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Lubetkin [mailto:steve@lubetkin.net]
Sent: Thursday, February 10, 2005 11:20 AM
To: Customer Service
Subject: RE: I am Looking for a Specific Product

I'm shocked. All the email traffic I see at Amazon and elsewhere about the
VHS set always asks, "Why isn't this available on DVD?"
In the US, Civilisation is a classic of PBS. We desperately need a DVD
version in your catalog that can be played on DVD machines in the US.

Dan's response:

-----Original Message-----
From: Daniel Behalf Of
Customer Service
Sent: Thursday, February 10, 2005 11:34 AM
To: Steve Lubetkin
Subject: RE: I am Looking for a Specific Product

Hi Steve,
Please except my apologies, I wish I had better news for you then I do but
at the moment "Civilisation" is in the hands of licensing and rights so hopefully any issues attached to this title will be resolved so all fans can enjoy this great program. In the
meantime I will pass your email onto our Home Video team.

When I reiterated to Dan that there seemed to be strong interest in the US, and offered to start a letter-writing campaign, his response was:

Unfortunately a flood of emails will have little impact, our Home Video
Department is aware of the interest in this title but cannot move forward at
the moment. I will definitely reiterate that there is big interest in the
DVD format.

There has been no comment from the Home Video team at BBC since this email exchange took place in February.

Today, another Civilsation fan, Steve Wolf, shared with me the following email he wrote to BBC:

-----Original Message-----
From: Steven M. Wolf, Esq [mailto:swolfarb@comcast.net]
Sent: Monday, April 18, 2005 1:42 PM
To: customer.service@bbc.co.uk
Cc: steve@lubetkin.net
Subject: Kenneth Clark's Civilisation on DVD

I have been advised, from the response I received from Daniel Dowling's
e-mail address, to direct my message to your address.
I discovered on Amazon.com a comment from a devoted Civilisation fan that
Mr. Dowling had informed him there is not enough interest in providing us in
the US a properly-encoded DVD version of Civilisation. I have been waiting
for years for such a product, and my comments appear among Amazon's reviews
of the VHS release. If Mr. Dowling's message to the individual who inquired
is accurate, why do you find that the UK deserves a DVD version and we do
not? What exactly are your product researchers looking at? I am amazed
that you can reach such a decision, especially considering the large volume
of inferior programming we have no problem at all buying over here. Have
you at the BBC simply decided that Civilisation won't make enough cash over
I find the lack of a US-encoded Civilisation DVD to be absolutely baffling.
I feel the same about the lack of a US-encoded Ascent of Man. Both are, in
my mind, the best of the best from the BBC. Please do not advise me to be
satisfied with the VHS version. We both know the limited life such products
I have owned and enjoyed BBC videos for years. More recently, I have
purchased DVD products as well. However, if you have decided not to provide
US customers with a DVD version of Civilisation (or The Ascent of Man, for
that matter, which I also know UK customers will be offered soon), then I
have purchased my last product from you, and will advise friends with
similar cultural tastes to do the same.
The favor of a reply is requested.
Steven M. Wolf

Why does BBC refuse to explain why there is no US DVD version of Civilisation? We have to put up with the other rubbish they ship over among the gems, but when there is true quality programming, we can't get it in the format we want. Why?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Philadelphia Newspapers are blogging, will be podcasting in next two months

The Philadelphia Daily News will be podcasting weekly beginning next month, and the Inquirer will follow in July, according to Fred Mann, general manager of Knight-Ridder's philly.com. Mann was a panelist this morning at a program on blogging sponsored by the Philadelphia bureau of BusinessWire held at Ikon Office Products conference center in Malvern, PA.

Mann said the Daily News podcast will involve a podcaster "chasing after" sports writers and music reviewers for interviews about what's happening that week.

Also on the program, Russell Glitman, online editor of the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, PA. The Call's online site is mcall.com. Glitman says the newspaper is very wary about protecting its brand by keeping a separation between news content and reader-provided content like blogs and wikis. He says they are very interested in the "portal" model of web design exemplified by Delawareonline.com, where the Wilmington News-Journal's newspaper content is kept separate in a newspaper channel, and readers post their comments to a separate channel called "Community."

A separate feature of the Morning Call's offering is an entertainment web portal called MergeDigital.com.

Also on the panel was Will Bunch, senior writer for the Daily News, who has been serving up his own weblog, Attytood, since February, with what Bunch suggested was a liberal political view. He lists conservative blogs in his blogroll under the heading "If you must."

Monday, April 11, 2005

Annals of Bank Customer Service: We'll take the deposit, but if it's fraud, it's your problem!

My experience in banking industry public relations was also an educational opportunity for me.

Like most bank customers, I always thought cashiers' checks were "money good" because of the cashiers' check status. I thought that once you deposited a cashier's check, and the bank handed over the money by making it available to you, you were free to use that money.

Not really true, and many bank customers have learned this painful lesson over the last several years, as a very insidious cashier's check scam continues to swindle innocent consumers.

See also, American Bankers Association web site, or FDIC Consumer Alert from 2002, or National Consumer League's National Fraud Information Center.

Despite all the publicity about this scam, the banking industry stands ready to freeze customers accounts, but has been doing very little to help their customers avoid the fraud in the first place.

It would be very simple to stop this fraud, if the banks would proactively help their customers before taking a fraudulent cashier's check as a deposit.

Here's how this fraud works:

You are selling a large-ticket merchandise item, like a car, on an online auction web site. You get a winning bid from a stranger, often a stranger in another country. The winning bidder contacts you, the seller, and explains that they want to ship the item out of the US to another country, frequently in Africa.

The buyer further explains that their international consulting business includes US based clients who owe them money. Would you be willing to accept a US-based cashier's check sent by the buyer's client, deposit the money in your bank, keep the amount owed for the online auction, and then withdraw and wire the difference to the buyer?

Most people think this sounds fishy at first -- and it is. But they usually agree when an overnight package arrives bearing an official looking cashier's check drawn on a US bank for some amount larger than what is owed to the seller.

The bank is usually one you've never heard of, and the amount of the check is nearly always around $9,800 -- just $200 below the $10,000 threshold that would require a bank to report the transaction to the government under bank money laundering laws.

So the unsuspecting customer goes to their bank, and deposits the cashier's check. Tellers are not adequately trained to realize that there's a fraud being committed against the customer, and they are usually young, inexperienced, and reluctant to question a customer about a large deposit.

Banks, in a very competitive environment, make "funds available" from cashiers' checks within 24 hours. But they rarely tell the customer to wait before spending the money.

They never tell the customer that even cashiers' checks have to go back to the originating bank to be cleared.

They also don't tell the customer that if the cashier's check bounces, the customer depositing it is on the hook for the amount of the check.

That's what the crooks are counting on.

They pressure people to send the money right away, and so the customer withdraws thousands of dollars of this available money, not realizing that the check could bounce, and they could be asked to fork over nearly $10,000 or so.

What's worse, when the check does bounce, the bank will seize any money in the customer's account to begin recovery on the bad check, so checks you write to legitimate merchants, like mortgage companies, insurance, etc., will start to bounce. And there's a bounce fee attached to each of those, too.

Here's what the banks should be doing, in my opinion:

When a customer comes into the bank with a large denomination cashier's check, especially one close to $10,000 in value -- and their normal business relationship doesn't include routinely getting checks of that value -- the bank employees ought to be trained to say that there is a lot of fraud committed against bank customers with cashiers' checks, and could they sit with a manager for a few minutes to make sure the check is OK, so they don't get defrauded.

Then, the bank manager should call the originating bank named on the check to verify whether it is a good check or not. There's no excuse for not doing this. Every bank in the country has a toll-free number the manager can call.

This simple step would save banks from the reputation damage they get when the news media reports on their heavy handed collection efforts after some low- or moderate-income customer was swindled, and now the bank wants them to give back the money.

But consumers also need to be a little smarter. Any time you transact business with someone you don't know -- especially if they are in another country, verify the authenticity of any documents, securities, negotiable instruments, or checks. If you sell something online and the buyer wants to send you a check for more than they owe you, be suspicious. Before you deposit such a check, pick up the phone and call the bank that issued the check. Find out if the check is good before you make the deposit. If you must deposit the check, don't ever wire money to the prospective buyer until your bank tells you that the check is completely cleared. "Funds are available" is NOT the same thing as a check being cleared.

The basic piece of advice is that if the proposal sounds too good to be true, it is.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Lubetkin's Other Blog Podcast for April 5, 2005


We present the latest Lubetkin's Other Blog Podcast, a broadcast featuring a panel discussion about blogs and blogging from the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey.

Show notes are below. The podcast file is large, but the sound quality, if I say so myself, is excellent stereo.

CramerSweeney Blogging Presentation Podcast
Show Notes
Marketing Resource Committee
Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey
April 5, 2005
The Mansion, Voorhees, Camden County, NJ

* Blogging Facts and Statistics
* What Is a Blog?
* Recent Worldwide Impacts of Blogging
* What Makes Blogs so Effective?
* How Blogs Can be Used – Enterprise Applications of Blogs
* Blogs about Business Blogging
* A Blog Chamber of Commerce?
* Blogging for Profit
* Create a Blog for Free
* Final Blogging Tips

Co-moderated by
Jenna Sweeney, president
CramerSweeney Instructional Design, the corporate training and e-learning division of CramerSweeney Marketing Communications

Sean M. Sweeney, chief executive officer
CramerSweeney Marketing Communications & chairman, CCSNJ’s Marketing Resource Committee

Profiles of Jenna and Sean from their company website.

Sean's blog
: Advantage - The Smart Marketing Report - The Advertising and Public Relations Blog

Jenna's blog: Corporate Training & e-Learning Blog - Latest news, thoughts, trends, reports, and links focused on learning, instruction and e-Learning in today's corporate world.

Web Links and Resource References Mentioned in the Podcast

Recording and Editing Equipment

Olympus DS-2 stereo digital recorder: This portable digital recorder delivers stereo audio files in WMA format or the proprietary Olympus DSS format. It will also record directly to WAV files, but at a significant reduction in the available recording time.

We record the programs in WMA format to maximize the stereo recording time at about 2 hours and 15 minutes. The DS-2 connects to a PC with a USB cradle. We download the WMA files and convert them back to WAV for post editing.

For conversion to WAV files, we use dbPowerAmp Music Converter, which can convert in either direction from a wide range of audio file formats.

N-Track Studio: Our primary studio production recording software. This multitrack software allows visual editing of WAV files and contains extensive sound studio post production, equalization, and sound processing features.

Microphones: For our main studio microphones we're using a matched set of Shure RS-130 vocal mikes, with a [discontinued] Realistic (Radio Shack) 32-1210 six channel mixer driving our Aureal soundcard.

InfoSelect 8.00.26: For preparation of show notes.

This "protection of intellectual property" is getting out of hand!

You used to be able to clip an article out of a newspaper and send it to your friends. Now, if you want to clip an article from many newspapers, they want you to buy copyright clearance to do so, and the charges are exorbitant.

Some newspapers are charging as much as $600 to share an article from their website. That's a bad business judgment, in my judgment. Fair use of copyrighted material used to mean you could make a few copies of an interesting article for friends and colleagues. Now, everything has a price tag on it.

Another tactic that news media are using is the "free registration" approach to invading your privacy. I was recently quoted in a major North Carolina newspaper (see post below). If you follow the link to their website included in my posting, you'll be asked to give up a lot of personal information just to read the article, which I could have included on this blog as a PDF file -- if I wanted to cough up the $600 license fee. So you have to choose between your identity or your money if you want to tell someone what you read in the paper. Geez! I can make my own PDF files and share them with people for a lot less than that. Does anyone really believe they are leaving THAT much money on the table for the centuries when they didn't charge you extra to cut up your own newspaper?

What about the clipping services? Do they get shaken down for more than the cost of the newspapers they buy and clip for their clients?

Agence France Press is carrying this to a ridiculous extreme. AFP has sued Google for its news aggregator's practice of incorporating AFP dispatches and photos into the Google news summaries. It's almost as if AFP doesn't want people to read its reports. Fine with me. But a very bad way to encourage people to explore your content.

Shareware developers have always let people try before they buy. What's the point of distributing news content if you don't want to make people broadly aware of its existence?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

PRSA/Philadelphia Panel Discusses Career Enhancement for Public Relations Professionals

Janet Long, Recruiter, President, Integrity Search
Brian McPeak, Director of Corporate Communications, Rohm and Haas Company
Mary Kate Breslin, Account Executive, The Brownstein Group

Public relations professionals can best enhance their careers by seeking opportunities to broaden their experience outside of the traditional communications discipline, said panelists at a PRSA/Philadelphia breakfast on March 31.

Speaking on the topic "Taking Charge of Your Career: Making the Most of Your Opportunities," the panelists provided a broad spectrum of communications career experience, from an executive recruiter to a new professional in an agency setting, to a seasoned corporate director of communications.

Communicators need to incorporate in their personal career plans elements of continuing learning, challenge, growth, and above all, marketability, said Janet Long, president of Integrity Search, a retained executive recruiting firm.

“It’s a market where hiring managers often lament the lack of core skills among up and comers, yet at the same time frequently miss opportunities to hire skilled veterans who are able and willing to work as independent contributors and mentors,” said Long.

Communications professionals should “map out a plan, to really embrace the market’s contradictions and hedge your bets,” said Long. “You want to consider picking up some areas of concentration where you can stand out from the pack.”

Get close to the business, Long said. “This may sound radical, but even consider a stint in a line function, even if it’s a six month assignment you can grab at a company where you already have equity, but a role which will increase your credibility and your vantage point as a communicator. We’ve really seen that stand out with our clients that they like seeing communicators who’ve taken a risk and gotten another kind of experience.”

The biggest challenge for new professionals is juggling multiple client projects and managing time, said Mary Kate Breslin of The Brownstein Group. “Learning your clients’ personalities, what their business is like and being able to switch on command is definitely a hurdle, and we certainly look to our managers to help guide us,” she said.

Enhancing professional credibility with colleagues in other business disciplines can pay career dividends, said the panel.

“It didn’t get me a promotion, but it let me learn and get some different experience,” said Brian McPeak, director of corporate communications at Rohm and Haas, a chemical company headquartered in Philadelphia. McPeak spent two and a half years running an environmental remediation project, an experience completely outside the communications career path. “I knew nothing about cleaning up landfills, it was a financial, legal and political issue. I learned an enormous amount about construction, about labor unions, about all those things that I never in my life would have imagined. What I learned there I have used regularly in the Rohm and Haas Company. The most important thing is to just do something else.”

Long related the experience of a colleague who was having difficulty getting a communications budget approved. The colleague decided to engage in a closer relationship with the chief financial officer of the firm. The closer collaboration led to greater understanding of the role of communications on the CFO’s part, and resulted in a tripling of the communications budget, she said.

Junior staff members need to be given opportunities to participate in the information-gathering phase of managing an issue, not just in the writing process, said McPeak. “Don’t burden them with a lot of work, let them go out and learn,” he said.

The panelists agreed that continuing education was a plus, although they said they didn’t see significant value from advanced degrees or the APR credential.

“I wish that more employers and more hiring managers did ask for the accreditations, because people work so hard to get them, and they are so important, and there’s such rigor in the process,” said Long. Sometimes Long will add APR as a requirement in position specs for clients. As people move up the ranks, they are less likely to report to a communications professional, she said, noting that such managers are usually less familiar with the credential.

Where employers ask for a master’s degree, they are more likely to be interested in an MBA, she said.

“That signals to me a ‘learning person,’” said McPeak. “Have you been or are you interested in challenging yourself to learn new things?”