Judging Award Entries Has Career Benefits

Last week I served as an awards judge for the first time in more than a year. It was a great experience and only took about 90 minutes after work on the way home.

Have you ever volunteered as an awards judge for one of your local professional communications, marketing or advertising,  associations?

While it might sound arduous, time-consuming and clerical, it can be a fun and worthwhile endeavor to work with a different group of professionals of varying experiences while expanding your “disciplinary dimensions” when casting judgment on an assortment of campaigns, tactics, programs or events.

By no means do I consider myself a seasoned judge, but I have done it on 10 occasions over the last five years.

If you haven’t done it before because you think you are too busy or no one as asked you directly, here are some points to contemplate and why you may want to be a little more assertive the next time a call for volunteer judges surfaces in your direction:

  1. It can be a great after-hours work session to draw you out of your daily “career comfort cushion zone.” It really is work to be taken seriously, and not a happy hour (though be sure to do that after to unwind from the brain drain that can ensue from reading through and rating many entries in a couple of hours).
  2. Judging in a group can also prove to be a productive networking and mutual-learning session. I know that I have met new colleagues in this environment that I never would have otherwise worked with.
  3. You can really glean the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of projects, campaigns, collateral and events in a way that can help your perspective in your work and lead you to develop a stronger award entry for your organization down the road.
  4. Analyzing a spectrum of budgets, core competencies, experiences and quality of collateral samples can help you benchmark what you have and what you are capable of doing in similar channels for your organization. Perhaps you borrow an idea or a new challenge or concept is sparked from scrutinizing entries. When you become immersed in the whole plan, recap of results and samples, you may end up pondering what the applicants could have done differently or better, all in a productive sense for your approach when faced with a similar project or challenge.
  5. When all the tedious calculations are done with the weighted formulas, it is just as important to provide some direct tailored feedback on the evaluation form. You are assuming responsibility as a judge and your name is on the form, so provide that valued input in a concise, constructive and straightforward fashion. Just a couple of sentences outlining suggestions or areas that weren’t fully addressed in accordance with the criteria would suffice for all entries whether they are winners or not. Always point out a couple of highlights or strong points in addition to the areas to improve the next go-around. Providing these feedback will help your strategic thinking and evaluating of projects and metrics in your job.
  6. No rating system is perfect when it comes to picking winners, All-Stars and other accolades, but as a participant it is important to be fair and independent while applying the criteria in a consistent and meticulous fashion. That includes not peeking at another judges sheet or discussing the entry until you have completed your process with it. These uniform best practices for judges are crucial to establishing the benchmark or threshold for submissions that will advance and those that don’t. Where there are discrepancies between judges, discussion, negotiation and a third judge weighing in will yield to a consensus for an entry that is clearly a winner or finalist vs. the caliber of the rest of the pack. Having these discussions with fellow judges is beneficial for being a collaborative thinker capable of accepting counter-points while being flexible in assessing the final summaries of projects and reported results.
  7.  On a related note, serving as a student scholarship judge is another way to be involved in your professional associations, provide your insights into the evaluation methods and get a feel for the work and interests of up-and-coming professionals in the academic pipeline eager to be in the industry and possibly become a future employee.

MBA Primer ~ Part VII: Patiently Chart Your Course

[This is the final post from my seven-part MBA overview series. To see the previous six posts, see the MBA Summary Category in the right column].

After you have completed the MBA program, you will have arrived at a juncture in your career primed, eager and feeling ready for significant advancement. You will take pride in your achievement for a while and exude optimism knowing you will represent a versatile asset for your employer or the next one. You have to think this way and be positive when faced with a challenging hiring environment.

You don’t want to get frustrated if time elapses with no new big opportunity calling your name. For evening program graduates, even if you remain in the same position for some time after graduating, it is essential to approach your role with a new sense of leadership, creativity, thoroughness and vision in how you can bring added value to your department and organization.

It is important for your confidence to embrace new possibilities in your position even if you seek other senior positions elsewhere. You want to avoid falling into the pessimistic perspective that earning the MBA hasn’t paid off for you. Even if you feel it isn’t in a direct, immediately measurable fashion, it is helping you and it will pay off in sustaining a career for many years. Just don’t worry about what other MBAs may be achieving and figure out how you can carve your path with the additional education that you proudly pursued.

If your post-MBA job is the same as pre-MBA, consider investigating other avenues to demonstrate your varied skills and leadership experience such as volunteering for a board position on any of the vast array of organizations in the professional, cultural or community services sectors. These can be intrinsically rewarding opportunities that can foster new working relationships, contribute to the augmenting of other professional skills and further shape your managerial mindset.

Other areas to step away from your routine could include mentoring college students in your field or offering to speak at some university classes or local business organizations. These are the kinds of experiences that bolster any C.V. and improve confidence and presentation acumen regardless of one’s expertise or industry.

What is the Difference Between the APR & ABC?

A colleague once asked me via LinkedIn, “Which accreditation – the APR or the ABC – was proving more valuable?” It was a great question and I was glad she asked. The result of my thinking this answer through is the following blog. This is entirely my personal experience and opinion. I love and value both of my PRSA and IABC memberships for the sixth year running now.

[**My aim is  to summarize my path through both accreditation processes and how I see their merits for those considering pursuing either].

The first response I would give is that with all due respect to both parties – the ABC was harder to complete. The  process was longer and required significant patience and second-effort at different stages of the journey. I completed the APR process in four months (from August – December 2010), while the ABC path took just over two years (I applied in January 2010 and received my passing notification in March 2012).

I am glad I worked hard toward attaining both credentials as they provided me with a great “academic experience” outside of my job.  The benefit of completing these certifications is the prospect of demonstrating significant transferability into other industries or markets. They are designed to exhibit versatile, broad-minded communications expertise that applies to a variety of disciplines and industries.

I venture to say that the APR accolade may yield a more concrete return for its usefulness and prominence for practitioners elevating themselves in a highly regimented public relations agency, government public information officer or public affairs environment. I think that the APR has a more tactical testing approach with its historical, practical and theoretical applications of traditional industry standards and current-day widely accepted best practices.

I feel the ABC has the potential for broader applications to attain higher roles in corporate, nonprofit and independent consulting sectors, especially for people in multinational firms or looking to work abroad. The ABC testing mechanisms require serious graduate-level writing (my three-part written exam was 14 pages after nearly four hours of writing). The oral exam requires quick thinking, simulating and planning when you are handed a few emails and documents and given 10 minutes to plot out a course of action for a crisis communications response

Some people may see the ABC or APR as a cosmetic addendum on business card. Others may think having either really doesn’t impact a career; rather it is all about your experiences and responsibility progression. Sure, it is nice to display the accomplishments as part of your calling card or signature. They should in theory command respect from colleagues versed in the accompanying efforts and merits. A variety of senior-level positions across the board are frequently calling for either certification as a required or desired qualification for candidates. For practitioners pursuing either or both, the end-game result should bring nothing but personal satisfaction while help propel said recipients to the top of the candidate pool for those coveted leadership roles across the spectrum of industries seeking the big-picture communication planners and thought leaders.

Overall, both certifications are somewhat interchangeable for experienced professionals. It may primarily depend on which association one opts to remain with because you have to renew your annual membership constantly to retain the designation.

September is PRSA Ethics Month

Every September the Public Relations Society of America commemorates the importance of ethics and advocates upholding its principles to members. Here is the Code of Ethics that outlines the core values and decision-making steps for members to abide by and adhere to the highest industry standards for one’s organization or clients.

Here is my “ETHICS” acronym since they are such a popular part of our business culture and everyday parlance.

   Everything That Helps Individuals Communicate Straight (or Comply with Stakeholders!)

Ethics is such a broad, complicated and much-debated topic in many sectors. Its mere mention can elicit a variety of perspectives and definitions, yielding to further discussion or debate that can be equally vast, divisive and troublesome. With so many controversial examples of ethical behavior looming large in the business and political arenas, ensuring that ethics has a prominent place as a core principle of normal operations is no easy feat. Rather, the elements and tenets of ethics, its considerations and consequences have such a far-reaching impact in which people can delve into philosophy, morality and legality when broaching the topic.

At some point in your career, you may have experienced, observed or read about ethical breaches or questionable situations such as:

  • Disparaging someone to further a cause or undermining a competitor, colleague or client.
  • Having a conflict of interest that wasn’t disclosed at the outset of a relationship or project.
  • Taking a shortcut that might otherwise go unnoticed by other stakeholders.
  • Manipulating information to fit one’s objectives or needs or those of a client.
  • Withholding material information from a member of the media.
  • A person or agency “stealing a client” or “poaching staff” from a rival, directly or indirectly.
  • Allowing others to believe someone else’s work or accolades were yours.

People like to say you can validate or test your response to an ethical scenario by asking yourself one of these questions:

  1. Would you feel good about yourself if your words or actions pertaining to the situation were printed on the front page of the newspaper?
  2. Would your mother be proud of you if she read about it?
  3. What if your actions were read to a ballroom full of your colleagues and friends?

When a potential ethical quandary emerges, one is left to ponder whether it could be a minor bump to navigate through or around (if said individual is the only one consciously aware of it) or does it have the potential to mushroom into a minefield of public awareness (when action is eventually discovered by organization, client, customer or independent third party).

Does the element of discovery only make an ethical breach more unacceptable? It is perhaps similar to the old saying about a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. If no other parties to the situation realize the significance of an ethical implication or ensuing consequences, is it a forgivable error, whether by acts of commission or omission, or a major professional transgression and violation of trust that could bring shame to the practitioner and his or her organization or firm?

Does your organization have a concrete code of ethics manual or resource guide to consult when faced with situations that require good judgment and proper decision making? Its scope and relevance probably should be formally addressed and posted or published in some fashion. Such a guide should also be issued as a requirement for managers and employees to sign as an acknowledgement and intent to comply, agreement to accept as part of the company’s culture and knowledge of location for quick access and reference for employees.

Earmarking the position ethics and decision-making principles holds within organizations and the emphasis in which they are maintained may vary among industries and individuals in terms of their priority or commitment. The ideals that come from developing and embracing an ethical standard guide outlining honesty and fairness when dealing with an organization’s many stakeholders and the public surely would seem to be strong candidates for universal adoption in the business world.

One person’s ceiling is another man’s floor, and the subjective, philosophical interpretations of ethical conduct pose so many sides to so many scenarios to opposing participants, creating the proverbial “grey area” or “he said/she said” defenses. Who is to judge when two sides are pitted against each other in their pursuit of their competitive objectives or management-mandated incentives, deemed righteous and earned in their eyes?

Even when the need arises for an attorney, mediator, ombudsmen or a human resources referee, both sides of a given ethical dispute may never budge even if the facts and actions are clearly documented for all parties to dissect in the aftermath.

If only the deployment of ethical behavior and the importance of honesty and disclosure were as simple as The Golden Rule. It is often a little more complicated than that oft-cited virtue depending on situations, perspectives and priorities. Perhaps The Silver Rule could at least be embraced in which one always aims to do the right thing by their organization and stakeholders.

PRSA Buffalo Chapter ~ Crisis Communications Panel

The PRSA Buffalo Niagara Chapter hosted its third Sunrise Seminar on Tuesday at the Hospice Buffalo Education Center. Twenty-five members of varying industry experience levels attended to hear a one-hour discussion and Q&A concerning crisis communications planning and response. The panel consisted of three public relations managers, Marissa Wilson from Perry’s, Katie McKenna from Tops and Kandis Fuller from Univera Healthcare.

The focus of the seminar was to hear the panelists’ perspectives on planning for, managing and effectively communicating during a crisis. Panelists touched on several recent public relations dilemmas, corporate-community issues and celebrity snafus, such as cruise lines, “pink slime” and Paula Deen. logo

The discussion reminded me of a great presentation on crisis response planning at a PIO symposium in Phoenix last spring.

Beyond the generally accepted best practices of updating your crisis response plan, preparing key messages, media training spokespersons, responding accurately and in a timely fashion, controlling your information channels and limiting your community/content managers to a select few, the key collective takeaways from the panelists for practitioners who may take on a significant role in an issues management or crisis communications situation were as follows:

  1. Don’t react too fast; be ready before you present the situation from your company’s perspective.
  2. Offer behind-the-scenes access to reporters to provide context and additional background for balanced coverage.
  3. Speak first, speak clearly and speak often.
  4. Stand firm in your role as the expert in the court of public opinion for your organization, management and stakeholders.
  5. Uphold your values as you prepare your key personnel and navigate the organization through the situation.
  6. Take a breath, pause and do research instead of fretting or rushing to a response.
  7. Gather the pertinent information and uncover all of the scenarios before you create your plan of response.
  8. Have an efficient approval process in place for your communications response approach and materials to avoid becoming mired in minutiae of edits with too many “wordsmiths in the situation room.”
  9. When monitoring employee social media behavior, use traditional face-to-face communication to address grievances or issues so they don’t always feel compelled to seek out media outlets to vent complaints or frustrations in the workplace. Sometimes people just want to be heard but yet often feel bad when they realize the scope of their “broadcast” of internal matters.
  10. Keep in mind that your ultimate goal in any issues management or crisis communications situation is to protect your company’s integrity, values and image while maintaining public trust in your organization.

Check out these 10 tips for preparing for a crisis from a 2012 PRSA blog.

August Issue of IABC Communication World

The August issue of IABC Communication World features the perils of social media.

Are You Meeting Your Meeting Efficiencies?

“What time is our 9 a.m. meeting?” “Do you know which room we are in today?”

Are these questions you hear too often in your organization? Do you get bogged down in a meeting meltdown when they are stacked on top of each other? Are you meeting after the meeting to clarify what transpired and schedule yet another meeting?

What is your solution when you feel like you have reached meeting threshold? Do you try to skip out on some or send a proxy to gather information?

If ideas are the soul of business and entrepreneurship, perhaps meetings are the veins to transfer and cultivate the concepts and visions of collaboration all while occasionally challenging, frustrating and confusing their participants.

We all have our share of meetings, and we need them to manage normal operations, improve communication and procedures and foster innovative thinking. Perhaps more intrinsically, we are social, curious beings that like to discuss ideas and have our chance to perform on stage with an audience regardless of its size.

But what happens when a meeting’s quest for efficiency begets new inefficiencies or additional meetings in troubling meta fashion?

I like to think about miscellaneous projects throughout any meetings I attend and lead. I listen and take notes, but I also scribble down ideas or activities for other projects simultaneously. It’s my own way of feeling efficient, staying focused and planning ahead if a meeting is running long or a discussion has gone off the track. I’m still engaged and still processing all that is going on in the meeting, but I feel the need to be glancing around the corner, asking myself:

  • “What are the concrete action steps that should be completed by the group for the next session?”
  • “Will this same issue or topic come up the next time we meet?”

I keep a dated page of notes for every meeting and I organize them into the appropriate folder. Sometimes I will refer to the last gathering to review what really transpired. I want to know where there was progress for the group or my own action items. That’s the old reporter in me trying to address the core news-gathering questions.

I aim to maximize productivity before, during and after meetings in the following ways:

  1. A day or two in advance, I like to email the group a 3/4-page agenda with three or four categories or sections comprised of bulleted updates or upcoming activities.
  2. I strive real hard to keep it to one hour; 40 minutes is ideal.
  3. To break up the routine of a standing meeting, I like to invite a guest presenter (where appropriate or relevant) to speak to the group for the last 30 minutes once the agenda has been covered. I used to bring in a different media or advertising representative every month. That worked great until we exhausted the supply of contacts. It was very productive for story idea discussions and networking.
  4. If I’m not leading the meeting and the discussion strays from the agenda timeline, I’ll try a subtle maneuver to steer the dialogue back to the next matter. A segue comment or “softball/leading” question can often do the trick.
  5. I like to take my action step notes on the agenda and provide a quick recap of what I am promising to deliver for the next session as the meeting concludes.
  6. For professional and nonprofit association board meetings, I always skim the PDF packet of minutes before the next meeting to see where ideas are reaching fruition or projects were actually completed [It also helps to do a search for your name to make sure you haven’t dropped the ball on something!].

In closing, if you hold a meeting, prepare an agenda; if you don’t have an agenda, share a story; if you don’t have a story, make a point; and if you don’t have a point, give up the floor and please pass the mic…!”